Slavery (Great Speeches In History), edited by Karin Coddon
This book’s biggest benefit relative to the many books that are written about the subject of slavery and presenting a variety of different perspectives is the way that it focuses on the primary sources of people during the 19th century. As one might imagine, throughout the entire history of the United States there has been contentious discussion about every aspect of slavery, including but not limited to the question of the civil rights that freed blacks should have (a subject that would continue to roil the country for another century or so, and whose repercussions linger on to this day) as well as the equivocal and ambivalent position of slavery in the Bible, a subject that also continues to roil writers and was a major issue during the period just before the Civil War. As this subject is of great personal interest to me, I found this book to be an interesting one that was well worth celebrating and enjoying and hopefully if you take up this work and have a similar interest in slavery that you too will find this book to be of interest to you as well in reading what people at the time thought as they were wrestling with slavery.
This book is about two hundred pages or so and is divided into four chapters. The first chapter of this book deals with the question of the morality of slavery, which includes questions about whether slavery is just or unjust and whether resistance is called for on the part of whites (and blacks) and whether it leads to a national sense of guilt. After that there are selections that deal with the question of slavery in the law of antebellum America, including the history of slavery in Massachusetts, the question of American nationalism, and what behavior was justified in opposing the spread of slavery as so many (including moderates such as Abraham Lincoln) did. The third chapter of the book looks at the divided house of the United States during the period before and during the Civil War, including selections from Buchanan, Davis, Stephens, and Lincoln. The fourth chapter, interestingly enough, focuses on emancipation and the aftermath of freedom and discusses what the place of freed blacks, male and female, is to be in the postwar American republic. As one might suspect, there was considerable debate about this that would continue for some time and that even continues to the present-day.
In many ways, the shadow of the Civil War and of Abraham Lincoln in particular hangs over this book and its contents. In Lincoln’s prewar speeches, in Peoria and in the 1858 Senate race with Douglas, Lincoln pointed out that Northern Americans viewed slavery as unjust while being unwilling to concede that blacks were worthy of equal civil rights with themselves. Black women like Sojourner Truth insisted that they receive the same civil rights that black men like Frederick Douglass demanded for themselves and that many whites in both the North and South were completely unwilling to give them. The shadow is one that continues to the present day, since what justice requires to people is a subject that is still in dispute. In putting the reader in the position of looking at the history of various disputes over slavery and the justice involved in the matter, the editor does a good job at getting the reader to think about where they stand and how they would have thought in the 19th century and where they would have stood in the period of the Civil War, which is well worth thinking about.