A lucid, thought-provoking account of slavery’s dark roots and vexed progress.




Slavery’s malignant influence on American politics and constitutional law is illuminated in this probing historical study.

Johnson, a law professor, traces the tensions that would eventually explode into civil war back to America’s foundations: the corrupt pro-slavery “deal” struck in the Constitution—embodied in everything from the infamous three-fifths clause and fugitive slave provisions to the cumbersome Electoral College—to secure the support of the Southern slave states. The result, he contends, was a near-fatal “structural flaw” that put lawless oppression at the heart of a blueprint for democratic governance and individual rights. Johnson elaborates a nuanced, far-reaching analysis of the effects of this contradiction through the 19th century. He explores the growing sectional divide as slavery became ever more the backbone of the Southern economy and social order, and ever more inimical to Northern abolitionists; the Congressional compromises that papered over the widening fissure; the religious and racial ideologies deployed by slavery’s defenders; the constitutional crises provoked by territorial expansion, and the tortured states’ rights theories Southerners used to justify slavery’s spread, and later outright secession; and the court cases in which judges tried to square the circle of buttressing slavery in the land of the free. The pivotal figure of Abraham Lincoln anchors Johnson’s analysis. In the author’s shrewd portrait, Lincoln is bedeviled by the conundrums intrinsic to American slavery—he abhorred it, but felt that the Constitution protected it in the existing slave states—but also possesses a keen lawyer’s mind capable of threading a way through the legalistic thickets surrounding the institution. (The author gives a fascinating exegesis of the subtle strategies Lincoln used to trip up Stephen A. Douglas in their debates.) Johnson grounds his arguments in close readings of original documents, from the Federalist Papers to the Dred Scott decision, supplemented by his incisive commentary and nuanced discussion of later historiographical debates. Scholars and lay readers alike can enjoy this thoroughly researched, fluently written volume.

A lucid, thought-provoking account of slavery’s dark roots and vexed progress.

Pub Date: July 31, 2009

ISBN: 978-1441510594

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2010

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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