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Making an Antislavery Nation: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Battle over Freedom

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This sweeping narrative presents an original and compelling explanation for the triumph of the antislavery movement in the United States prior to the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln's election as the first antislavery president was hardly preordained. From the country's inception, Americans had struggled to define slavery's relationship to freedom. Most Northerners supported abolition in the North but condoned slavery in the South, while most Southerners denounced abolition and asserted slavery's compatibility with whites' freedom. On this massive political fault line hinged the fate of the nation. Graham A. Peck meticulously traces the conflict over slavery in Illinois from the Northwest Ordinance in 1787 to Lincoln's defeat of his arch-rival Stephen A. Douglas in the 1860 election. Douglas's attempt in 1854 to persuade Northerners that slavery and freedom had equal national standing stirred a political earthquake that brought Lincoln to the White House. Yet Lincoln's framing of the antislavery movement as a conservative return to the country's founding principles masked what was in fact a radical and unprecedented antislavery nationalism. It justified slavery's destruction but triggered Civil War. Presenting pathbreaking interpretations of Lincoln, Douglas, and the Civil War's origins, Making an Antislavery Nation shows how battles over slavery paved the way for freedom's triumph in America.

280 pages, Hardcover

Published August 31, 2017

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About the author

Graham A. Peck is a professor of History at Saint Xavier University in Chicago. He is the writer, director, and producer of Stephen A. Douglas and the Fate of American Democracy, an award-winning documentary that aired on PBS. His film, podcasts, and publications are available at civilwarprof.com.

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Displaying 1 - 2 of 2 reviews
157 reviews
September 15, 2022
The years leading up to the American Civil War were years filled with angst, strife, and sadness. In the Old Northwest, especially in Illinois, the complicated question of whether or not to allow slavery to continue to dominate political discourse and territorial expansion controled every aspect of political life. Professor Graham A. Peck has written an in-depth history of Illinois in the run up to the Civil War and has provided the reader with a clear description of just how much slavery dictated the mood and beliefs of Illinoians and American’s in general. Making An AntiSlavery Nation: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Battle Over Freedom (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2017, 274 pgs., $29.71), is a great blend of scientific history, statistics, and narrative. The decades before the Civil War are presented in perfect microcosm in Making An AntiSlavery Nation.
In the years before the Civil War, Illinois was a state that was politically divided through an electorate that was divided about how to handle the possibility of slavery in the territories. Professor Peck discussed how the “Little Giant” Stephen Douglas attempted to manipulate that confusion in hopes of establishing his legacy both in Illinois and in Washington. Douglas would eventually wind up running for President in 1860 in a futile attempt to bend the will of the people to his own. Douglas would persuade many that slavery was not the evil that politicians in the North were portraying it as. This blind ambition would not only move Illinois to war, but would also succeed in fracturing the country into hostile sections.
Making An AntiSlavery Nation would make a great addition to any Civil War bookshelf. Scholars who are looking for a foundational piece of a research project need look no further. The narrative underscores the importance of making scientific history easy to read and enjoyable for the Civil War buff. Professor Peck’s inclusion of the numerical data throughout the book make the narrative a sensible read for anyone who is interested in the intersection of political ambition, sectional strife, and civic duty. Making An AntiSlavery Nation is essential reading for anyone who seeks to understand the many growing pains of this great country of ours.
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171 reviews2 followers
September 18, 2017
I received this book as an eARC courtesy of University of Illinois Press and NetGalley, but my opinions are my own.

Based simply on the subject matter, I expected to like this book a lot more. Although I'm not 100% sure why it didn't work for me, I suspect that it was the academic nature of the writing. I felt like I was reading a very well-done dissertation instead of an informative book on the history of the anti-slavery movement.

Also, I feel that this book misrepresents itself in two ways. First, it is primarily a book about the state of Illinois, and that fact does not make it anywhere in the book description. Of course I understood at some level that it would have a lot to do with Lincoln and Douglas, both of whom were Illinoisans, but an in-depth history of antislavery in the state of Illinois wasn't exactly what I signed up for. Second, the subtitle implies that Lincoln and Douglas will feature mightily in the book, but I would say that most of the book doesn't have to do with Douglas, and Lincoln doesn't appear (except for brief mention) until the last chapter.

Despite all that, I feel I did learn a good deal from this book and still enjoyed it to some extent.
Displaying 1 - 2 of 2 reviews

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