Until justice be done America's first civil rights movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction

Kate Masur

Book - 2021

"A groundbreaking history of the antebellum movement for equal rights that reshaped the institutions of freedom after the Civil War. The half century before the Civil War was beset with conflict over freedom as well as slavery: what were the arrangements of free society, especially for African Americans? Beginning in 1803, many free states enacted black codes that discouraged the settlement and restricted the basic rights of free black people. But claiming the equal-rights promises of the D...eclaration and the Constitution, a biracial movement arose to fight these racist state laws. Kate Masur's magisterial history delivers this pathbreaking movement in vivid detail. Its advocates battled in state legislatures, Congress, and the courts, and through petitioning, party politics and elections. They visited slave states to challenge local laws that imprisoned free blacks and sold them into slavery. Despite immovable white majorities and unfavorable court decisions, their vision became increasingly mainstream. After the Civil War, their arguments shaped the Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment, the pillars of our second founding"--

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New York, NY : W. W. Norton & Company, Inc [2021]
First edition
Physical Description
xxi, 456 pages, 12 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 373-434) and index.
Main Author
Kate Masur (author)
  • "On The Grounds Of Expediency And Good Policy" Free- State Antiblack Laws In The Early Republic
  • "A Free Man Of Colour, And A Citizen Of This State" The Privileges And Immunities Of Citizenship In The 1820s
  • "The Sacred Doctrine Of Equal Rights" Ohio Abolitionists In The 1830s
  • "The Rights Of The Citizens Of Massachusetts" African American Sailors In Southern Ports In The 1830s
  • "Self- Preservation Is The First Law Of Nature" State- To- State Conflict And The Limits Of Congress In The 1840s
  • "That All Men Are Created Free And Equal" The Liberty Party And Repeal Of The Ohio Black Laws In The 1840s
  • "Injustice And Oppression Incarnate" Illinois And A Nation Divided In The 1850s
  • "Establishing One Law For The White And Colored People Alike" Republicans In Power During The Civil War, 1861- 1865
  • "To Restrain The Power Of The States" The Civil Rights Act And The Fourteenth Amendment.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

The struggle against racist oppression in the antebellum North is excavated in this illuminating history. Northwestern University history professor Masur (An Example for All the Land) explains that even in so-called "free" states, Blacks were forbidden to vote or testify in court cases involving white people; were required to collect guarantees of good behavior from white sponsors in order to move to a new state; were for years banned from settling in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Oregon; and endured the threat of kidnapping by slave-hunters or arrest and enslavement if they ventured into Southern states. Masur also explores the growth of a multiracial civil rights movement that braved mob violence to challenge these measures through protests, action in state legislatures and Congress, and increasingly powerful antislavery political parties. She tells this complex story in lucid prose that brings out the drama of charged racial politics while insightfully analyzing the era's tortured constitutional theorizing about states' rights and Black citizenship. This engrossing study goes beyond sectionalist accounts of the South's peculiar institution to show how racism and civil rights activism have shaped every corner of America. Photos. (Mar.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

In this telling book, historian Masur (An Example for All the Land) shows that the movement for civil rights has a long history that provided the vocabulary, directions, dimensions, and legal and constitutional imperatives that shaped civil rights thereafter. She closely tracks the arguments and ways that Black and white activists persistently challenged racist laws that denied free Blacks basic civil rights, such as free movement, on the grounds that state and local governments had the right to protect themselves from persons likely to pose dangers to public health and safety. Activists organized petition campaigns, lobbied governments, and published literature to make the case for rights. Throughout her clearly written and compelling book, Masur makes the essential point that definitions and protections of civil rights was largely a struggle carried on in the states, before the Civil War and Reconstruction invested the federal government with such an interest. VERDICT At a time when definitions of citizenship and civil rights are again under assault, Masur's careful accounting of the ways Americans came to understand such terms provides an informed perspective to appreciate that such concepts never were, and thus never are, self-evident. They require due diligence and vigilance to secure and sustain at all levels of government. An essential book.--Randall M. Miller, St. Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

A well-respected scholar of racial issues in 19th-century America offers a history of "the first civil rights revolution." Masur, a professor of history at Northwestern, chronicles the efforts by Black and White Americans, from the Revolution through the 1870s, to end slavery and racial discrimination. Following An Example for All the Land (2010), which looked at Reconstruction in Washington, D.C., the author expands her study to the entire U.S. She introduces a broad coalition of people, with women and African Americans as much in the forefront as White males, who, working to capture political force, eventually gained their victory through the young Republican Party. Though Masur focuses on the Old Northwest, she does not exclude major nodes of activism such as Missouri and Massachusetts. Her major interpretive innovation is to locate the roots of the legal fetters on Black Americans not just in slavery, but also in enduring Colonial laws regarding poverty, vagrancy, and local taxes. The prejudice hidden under the cover of local ordinance proved to be as difficult to overcome as White Americans' heedlessness toward their Black neighbors. Facing such realities, reformers used petitions, court suits, and political action to gain their objectives through a bloody civil conflict and passage of the 14th Amendment. Masur fittingly closes with a sobering lesson for today--i.e., that the gains of constitutionalized manumission and equal rights were reversed by the Supreme Court starting in 1873 and ending in the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson. It required a second civil rights movement decades later to reignite Americans to further work. The author could have provided more on the role of religion in awakening Americans to racial injustices as well as on the general context of social reform in antebellum America. Nonetheless, her book joins Manisha Sinha's The Slave's Cause (2016) in providing authoritative historical coverage of its subject. A fine history of the first phase of the nation's most enduring moral reform effort. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.