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Friday, May 31, 2019
THE WAR BEFORE the WAR: FUGITIVE SLAVES and the STRUGGLE for AMERICA'S SOUL from the REVOLUTION to the CIVIL WAR (audiobook) by Andrew Delbanco
Published in 2018 by Penguin Audio.
Read by Ari Fliakos.
Duration: 13 hours, 40 minutes.
Simply described, this book is an in-depth look at the slavery controversy in the United States from its very beginnings through the Civil War. I am an avid reader of books that explore American slavery and the Civil War. Anyone that denies that slavery wasn't THE issue that pushed America to Civil War is deluding themselves and simply has not read the statements that five of the seceding states (Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia) issued in 1860 and 1861. Slavery was the most discussed item in four of the five declarations (Virginia's brief declaration does not mention many specifics but does refer to "the oppression of Southern Slaveholding states").
As the reader goes through this book it is easy to see that slavery was always a difficult problem for every generation of Americans to deal with. The Founders wrestled with it and ultimately kicked it down the road for later generations to deal with. By the 1850's the problem had come to a head. Interestingly, the thing that brought it to a head was a problem that rarely happened - what to do with runaway slaves.
When compared to the total slave population, very few slaves actually escaped and almost none made it to a free state. But, when a slave was caught in a free state, the media made a story out of it. Who can blame them? It was a riveting story. What was more important - property rights of the individual slave owner or the rights of a man to have his day in court to prove that he was actually a free man in court before he was taken away into bondage? What was more important - the right of a state to protect the property rights of its slaveholders throughout the country or the rights of a free state to declare slavery null and void within its borders?
When a slave was caught in the north and the process started to take him or her back to slavery the political system would often boil over. Both sides came to out, protested, wrote letters to the editor, gave speeches in Congress and generally used the occasion to rally their bases. The author makes a valuable point when he points out this is the same thing that modern political movements do (Black Lives Matter, Pro- and Anti-Abortion activists, immigration, etc.).
The book also looks at what individuals did when confronted with these problems. I was particularly struck by the judge that returned slaves in his courtroom but allowed his home to be used as an Underground Railroad stop by his grown children. He didn't actively help - he just actively ignored the extra people sleeping in his house from time to time.
This is an amazing book. I didn't think I could really learn a lot more about this topic. This will be my 108th review of a book that will be tagged "civil war" and the 77th book that will be tagged "slavery". But, seeing it all laid out in one big sweep is powerful. A great follow-up would be this book: Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865.
The audiobook was read by Ari Fliakos who did a fantastic job.
I rate this book 5 stars out of 5. Strongly recommended.
This book can be found on Amazon.com here: THE WAR BEFORE the WAR: FUGITIVE SLAVES and the STRUGGLE for AMERICA'S SOUL from the REVOLUTION to the CIVIL WAR by Andrew Delbanco.