The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition

Ira Berlin in The New York Times:

BookWithout question, the most important liberation movement in American ­history — from Jacksonian democracy to gay rights — was the long struggle against slavery. Abolition established the principles and rhetoric, while setting the strategies and tactics, that have guided all subsequent reform movements — even those that have stood opposed to one another like prohibitionism and antiprohibitionism, or pro- and anti-abortion rights. Recently, historians have been taking a new look at the struggle against slavery as a way of examining contemporary movements for securing human rights, expanding democracy, liberating colonials and criticizing capitalism. Manisha Sinha, a professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is one of those historians who are trying to connect the war against slavery to other liberation movements. She is the author of previous studies of slaveholders and their ideologies. In “The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition,” she turns her attention from the slave masters to their greatest opponents, and her new book is an encyclopedic survey of the movement against slavery in the United States from its first stirrings before the American Revolution to the institution’s final demise in the ashes of civil war. It is difficult to imagine a more comprehensive history of the abolitionist movement.

Sinha’s work is also a biographical dictionary, naming practically every individual and group that struck a blow against slavery. She tells us that “The Slave’s Cause” can best be appreciated as an interpretation of abolition’s long history, though the seemingly endless detail presented over the course of nearly 600 pages of text and another 100-plus pages of notes frustrates her effort to present a clear alternative narrative to the familiar one.

More here. (Note: At least one post will be dedicated to honor Black History Month throughout February)