The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America's Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War

The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America's Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War

The devastating story of how fugitive slaves drove the nation to Civil WarFor decades after its founding, America was really two nations--one slave, one free. There were many reasons why this composite nation ultimately broke apart, but the fact that enslaved black people repeatedly risked their lives to flee their masters in the South in search of freedom in the North pro...

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Title:The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America's Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War
Author:Andrew Delbanco
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The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America's Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War Reviews

  • Alexis

    I can't recommend this book enough. It was a capitvating read in its own right, but the depth the author goes into adds even more enjoyabilty. I learned so much from it, and even had a whole conversation about what I had learned with a friend the other day. The topic is timeless, and sadly still applies today. The author makes compelling references to modern events without being political. Modern references and comparisons vary from Trump, to Vietnam, to the Iraq war and make the comparison with

    I can't recommend this book enough. It was a capitvating read in its own right, but the depth the author goes into adds even more enjoyabilty. I learned so much from it, and even had a whole conversation about what I had learned with a friend the other day. The topic is timeless, and sadly still applies today. The author makes compelling references to modern events without being political. Modern references and comparisons vary from Trump, to Vietnam, to the Iraq war and make the comparison without judgement on the topic, in a way that helps the reader understand the historical mindset. The North and South are both portrayed as flawed, and no one side is held up to be perfect or completely racially sensitive. Actual, human reasons are given as motives for slave owners, and abolitionists alike, which we can understand. Questions like, "why would people obessed with freedom have slaves?" or "What started the civil war?" are fairly answered. if you want to learn about the lead up to the civil war in an informative and easy to read manner, this is definately the book to do so with.

  • Lissa

    4.5 stars.

  • Darcia Helle

    Most history books covering the period from the Revolution to the Civil War are written from the white person's perspective. Whether looking at it from the south or the north, pro- or antislavery, events are often told as if African Americans sat silently awaiting their rescue. I love that this book flips all that upside down, showing us how slaves and free blacks both worked together and clashed during this period. We're shown how and why the Fugitive Slave Act was enacted, the resulting proble

    Most history books covering the period from the Revolution to the Civil War are written from the white person's perspective. Whether looking at it from the south or the north, pro- or antislavery, events are often told as if African Americans sat silently awaiting their rescue. I love that this book flips all that upside down, showing us how slaves and free blacks both worked together and clashed during this period. We're shown how and why the Fugitive Slave Act was enacted, the resulting problems for all citizens, and the ever-widening divide between the southerners clinging to their right to "own" people and the northerners growing inability to look away. And, maybe most importantly, we're shown how African Americans rose up and demanded change.

    Throughout the narrative, the author makes some compelling references to current events, inadvertently reminding us that maybe we haven't moved as far from our dark past as we'd like to think. He gives us much to think about, not least of which being how a country founded on freedom and personal liberty could ever legitimize the right to own another person.

    While the subject matter is dense and complex, the writing style is engaging. I felt like I was transported back to this tumultuous time.

    I'd like to see this book as required reading for every high school student. And maybe those students should then pass the book on to their parents. We need to acknowledge the fissures that divided our country have shifted but haven't healed. This book goes a long way to showing us the how and why.

    *I received an advance copy from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.*

  • Casey Wheeler

    This book is simply amazing. It is well written and researched and an engaging read. The author covers the time period from the Revolution to the Civil War and the struggles endured by slaves seeking freedom, maintaining freedom and those who could not escape the harsh environment in which they were kept. He makes excellent use of qoutes from the many different players involved during the time period including escaped slaves helping to bring clarity to the subject.

    I recommend this book for anyon

    This book is simply amazing. It is well written and researched and an engaging read. The author covers the time period from the Revolution to the Civil War and the struggles endured by slaves seeking freedom, maintaining freedom and those who could not escape the harsh environment in which they were kept. He makes excellent use of qoutes from the many different players involved during the time period including escaped slaves helping to bring clarity to the subject.

    I recommend this book for anyone who wants a definitive book on the issues of slavery in the United States.

    I received a free Kindle copy of The War Before the War by by Andrew Delbanco courtesy of Net Galley  and  Penquin Books, the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon and my fiction book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus pages.

    I requested this book as the description interested me and I am an avid reader of american history. This is the first book by the author that I have read.

  • Thomas

    Needs more than my usual two or three lines of Goodreads notes and I don't have time for more than two or three lines (later, then) - this is a masterclass in writing nuanced and imaginative history. Along the way, Delbanco includes just enough parallels to our current moment to spark readers' ethical imaginations (and make them squirm in their seats).

    Alan Jacobs reviews the book here:

  • Brenda Ayala

    The War Before the War covers everything that led up to the US civil war and how much went into it. A fair portion of it is spent on the Fugitive Slave Act and encompassed the ambivalent feelings many had over slavery. Most importantly, it covered the views of slavery from a variety of standpoints, including ex-slaves, northerners, religious officials, southerners, and loyal slaves.

    It was well researched and had a breadth of information to cover, which it did very well. At times it was repetiti

    The War Before the War covers everything that led up to the US civil war and how much went into it. A fair portion of it is spent on the Fugitive Slave Act and encompassed the ambivalent feelings many had over slavery. Most importantly, it covered the views of slavery from a variety of standpoints, including ex-slaves, northerners, religious officials, southerners, and loyal slaves.

    It was well researched and had a breadth of information to cover, which it did very well. At times it was repetitive, but it wasn’t bad enough to be a distraction and detract from the overall effect.

    The author did a good job of throwing in anecdotes to the narrative so it wasn’t so dry. Nonfiction can be hard to get through if it reads too much like a dry timeline of events, and this author made sure to spice it up. Easily my favorite was a certain light colored slave woman pretending to be a rich lady and smuggling herself and her husband out of slavery. It’s tales like that that force us to recognize these events happened to real people, not just a generic population of faceless masses.

  • Donna Davis

    Well documented and readable. Review will be up soon.

  • Mara

    I appreciate this as a part of the growing area of popular historical non-fiction that is contextualizing the role that resistance among enslaved people played in catalyzing the conflict of the Civil War. This book helps reclaim our public memory & narrative on the true level of resistance that enslaved people enacted, which not only changed their personal lives, but also drove the forces of national policy and dialogue leading up to the Civil War

  • Richard

    In recent years I have read numerous books on Abolitionism and the Abolitionists, the Underground Railroad, Abraham Lincoln's life and political career and the formation of the Republican Party, etc. Despite this I decided to read The War Before the War for two reasons. First, I have found that any book which gets an overall rating of 4.0+ on Goodreads deserves my consideration. Second, the blurb describing it sounded quite interesting.

    I can happily note that I was quite satisfied overall with t

    In recent years I have read numerous books on Abolitionism and the Abolitionists, the Underground Railroad, Abraham Lincoln's life and political career and the formation of the Republican Party, etc. Despite this I decided to read The War Before the War for two reasons. First, I have found that any book which gets an overall rating of 4.0+ on Goodreads deserves my consideration. Second, the blurb describing it sounded quite interesting.

    I can happily note that I was quite satisfied overall with the book. While the author's primary focus was on the legal aspects of the way in which the fugitive slave issue bedeviled relations between the North and the South, he included other societal and cultural elements of the conflict as well. For example, he gave reasonable attention to so called slave narratives and to Abolitionist newspaper accounts. His expertise on Herman Melville and such other authors of the antebellum era as Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau, and Beecher Stowe allowed him to demonstrate how American authors wrote or in many cases did not write about the problems that slavery was causing the country.

    All of this was systematically organized in a readable prose. I agree with those Goodreads reviewers who observed that there was some repetition in the points or examples that Delbanco gave. However, for the most part the anecdotes which he wove into his narrative made for a rich, multilayered, nuanced, and illuminating read.

    Besides the mild redundancy the book had some other flaws as well. The author noted a number of important politicians as JQ Adams, Stevens, Sumner, Chase, Seward, Birney, Stephen Douglas, and Calhoun. He also wrote about such well known Abolitionists as Frederick Douglass, Garrison, Lovejoy, Lundy, and John Brown in the course of telling his story. But there were other noteworthy people he failed to give credit to. For example, he wrote of Angelina Grimke but not her sister Sarah. He also failed to make mention of Theodore Weld and the start of Oberlin College as important contributors to Abolitionism. He briefly articulated the donations to the Abolition movement of philanthropist Garrett Smith but did not comment on the role that the Tappan brothers also played in this respect. Finally, the significant part in Abolitionism played by the Quakers both in Pennsylvania and North Carolina was not articulated in TWBTW. Neither were African American or women Abolitionists, aside from Angelina Grimke, written about in this book.

    The author's attention to the Underground Railroad was far too superficial, IMHO. And he wrote nothing about the Canadian settlements of escaped slaves which developed in the 1840's and 50's.

    While somewhat disappointing, these acts of omission did not detract a great deal from the overall quality of TWBTW. I realize one has to make choices in writing a book like this or else it would become much longer than it already is. Thus, I would rate it as 4, maybe even 4.5, stars. As one Goodreads reviewers noted, this is a fine book for someone to read who knows little of the conflicts leading up to the Civil War. A reader will come away with a pretty thorough accounting of the basic elements. Then one can go ahead to read about other related issues and/or people as he/she might wish.

    For those who would like some suggestions about other books to read about Abolitionism, the Underground Railroad, etc please contact me via Goodreads. I would be happy to make anyone 'a friend' and give them access to the books that I have read.

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