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Force and Freedom: Black Abolitionists and the Politics of Violence

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From its origins in the 1750s, the white-led American abolitionist movement adhered to principles of moral suasion and nonviolent resistance as both religious tenet and political strategy. But by the 1850s, the population of enslaved Americans had increased exponentially, and such legislative efforts as the Fugitive Slave Act and the Supreme Court's 1857 ruling in the Dred From its origins in the 1750s, the white-led American abolitionist movement adhered to principles of moral suasion and nonviolent resistance as both religious tenet and political strategy. But by the 1850s, the population of enslaved Americans had increased exponentially, and such legislative efforts as the Fugitive Slave Act and the Supreme Court's 1857 ruling in the Dred Scott case effectively voided any rights black Americans held as enslaved or free people. As conditions deteriorated for African Americans, black abolitionist leaders embraced violence as the only means of shocking Northerners out of their apathy and instigating an antislavery war. In Force and Freedom, Kellie Carter Jackson provides the first historical analysis exclusively focused on the tactical use of violence among antebellum black activists. Through rousing public speeches, the bourgeoning black press, and the formation of militia groups, black abolitionist leaders mobilized their communities, compelled national action, and drew international attention. Drawing on the precedent and pathos of the American and Haitian Revolutions, African American abolitionists used violence as a political language and a means of provoking social change. Through tactical violence, argues Carter Jackson, black abolitionist leaders accomplished what white nonviolent abolitionists could not: creating the conditions that necessitated the Civil War. Force and Freedom takes readers beyond the honorable politics of moral suasion and the romanticism of the Underground Railroad and into an exploration of the agonizing decisions, strategies, and actions of the black abolitionists who, though lacking an official political voice, were nevertheless responsible for instigating monumental social and political change.


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From its origins in the 1750s, the white-led American abolitionist movement adhered to principles of moral suasion and nonviolent resistance as both religious tenet and political strategy. But by the 1850s, the population of enslaved Americans had increased exponentially, and such legislative efforts as the Fugitive Slave Act and the Supreme Court's 1857 ruling in the Dred From its origins in the 1750s, the white-led American abolitionist movement adhered to principles of moral suasion and nonviolent resistance as both religious tenet and political strategy. But by the 1850s, the population of enslaved Americans had increased exponentially, and such legislative efforts as the Fugitive Slave Act and the Supreme Court's 1857 ruling in the Dred Scott case effectively voided any rights black Americans held as enslaved or free people. As conditions deteriorated for African Americans, black abolitionist leaders embraced violence as the only means of shocking Northerners out of their apathy and instigating an antislavery war. In Force and Freedom, Kellie Carter Jackson provides the first historical analysis exclusively focused on the tactical use of violence among antebellum black activists. Through rousing public speeches, the bourgeoning black press, and the formation of militia groups, black abolitionist leaders mobilized their communities, compelled national action, and drew international attention. Drawing on the precedent and pathos of the American and Haitian Revolutions, African American abolitionists used violence as a political language and a means of provoking social change. Through tactical violence, argues Carter Jackson, black abolitionist leaders accomplished what white nonviolent abolitionists could not: creating the conditions that necessitated the Civil War. Force and Freedom takes readers beyond the honorable politics of moral suasion and the romanticism of the Underground Railroad and into an exploration of the agonizing decisions, strategies, and actions of the black abolitionists who, though lacking an official political voice, were nevertheless responsible for instigating monumental social and political change.

30 review for Force and Freedom: Black Abolitionists and the Politics of Violence

  1. 5 out of 5

    Steve Smits

    A well-researched, compelling argument that draws attention to significance of the use of force, physical and rhetorical, by blacks of the antebellum era in opposition to slavery. Jackson correctly concludes that the strategy of moral suasion by the Garrisonian's was not only ineffective but also dismissive of the underlying issue of the social and civic inequality of blacks widely held by white Americans in the era (and sadly beyond). The impact of the Fugitive Slave Law, the Kansas-Nebraska Ac A well-researched, compelling argument that draws attention to significance of the use of force, physical and rhetorical, by blacks of the antebellum era in opposition to slavery. Jackson correctly concludes that the strategy of moral suasion by the Garrisonian's was not only ineffective but also dismissive of the underlying issue of the social and civic inequality of blacks widely held by white Americans in the era (and sadly beyond). The impact of the Fugitive Slave Law, the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott decision on the emergence of violent resistance are cogently posited by the author.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    This book is stunning and mind-expanding. It should be essential reading for the pre-Civil War era. It would make a wonderful triptych with Field of Blood and The War Before the War

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kimi

    This book is mandatory reading. Through extraordinary writing and research, Dr. Kellie Carter Jackson has presented to us a history that serves as a template for necessary work in our lifetime. This is a book for anyone who has ever felt a desire to fight towards liberation. Thank you Dr. Kellie Carter Jackson —you’ve allowed me to fall in love with history in a way I never have before.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Merricat Blackwood

    I can't say enough good things about this book. Richly researched, completely opened up my understanding of a part of American history I thought I knew fairly well. You have to be a little patient with Academic Prose but it is so, so worth it. I can't say enough good things about this book. Richly researched, completely opened up my understanding of a part of American history I thought I knew fairly well. You have to be a little patient with Academic Prose but it is so, so worth it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    MsBrie

    Force and Freedom tells the untold story of black Americans, both enslaved and free, taking ownership of their own pursuit for freedom and equality. The premise of the book is that there was a pervasive myth, in the years leading up to the Civil War, that only non-violence could lead to freedom. However, for the institution of slavery, this myth is debunked. Non-violence resistance is seen as mostly a white abolitionist idea, ineffective and from people with no skin in the game. Interestingly, e Force and Freedom tells the untold story of black Americans, both enslaved and free, taking ownership of their own pursuit for freedom and equality. The premise of the book is that there was a pervasive myth, in the years leading up to the Civil War, that only non-violence could lead to freedom. However, for the institution of slavery, this myth is debunked. Non-violence resistance is seen as mostly a white abolitionist idea, ineffective and from people with no skin in the game. Interestingly, even Frederick Douglas preached non-violence - before he was brutally attacked. The book introduces us to such black American heroes as Nat Turner, Anderson, Parker, and others, along with their participation in violent attacks, well planned defenses, and cleverly carried out rescues, such as the Jerry Rescue. Additionally, the history is told about not only the striving for freedom, but also the striving (less successfully) for equality. The attack on Harper's Ferry, by white abolitionist John Brown, is included, recognizing and focusing on the black Americans who funded the attack, participated in the attack, and provided the geographic intelligence. Many black Americans escaped to Canada and some (Harriet Tubman!) even returned to the US to provide assistance to the cause. I had expected Force and Freedom to be didactic but on the contrary it was not only educational, but also full of heroes and villains. Unfortunately, the author failed to provide a character index at the start of the book. This would have been extremely useful, as throughout the book, references were made to people who either were previously mentioned in passing, or who were focused on in detail, but, due to the oft differing 'plots', led one to forget who was who and who participated in what. Though there is a glossary at the back of the book turning pages constantly is highly impractical. Over I recommend Force and Freedom.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Chris Bettencourt

    This book is phenomenal. Well researched. Well organized. And so important to read as Americans contemplating the next stages of civil rights battles. Too often non violence is romanticised and used as a tool to discourage marginalized groups from defending themselves against the violence of the state. While at the same time the violence of the American revolutionary war is held up as patriotism. This book walks through exactly how much was or was not gained from decades of attempts at moral app This book is phenomenal. Well researched. Well organized. And so important to read as Americans contemplating the next stages of civil rights battles. Too often non violence is romanticised and used as a tool to discourage marginalized groups from defending themselves against the violence of the state. While at the same time the violence of the American revolutionary war is held up as patriotism. This book walks through exactly how much was or was not gained from decades of attempts at moral appeals versus fighting back and a few years of all out war. It's a good reminder to all of us that violent systems built on fear often only topple under the same pressures.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Debra Foster Greene

    Historian Kellie Carter Jackson does an engaging job of highlighting the fact that black abolitionist in the United States fully understood the need for and usefulness of violence in bringing about the end of slavery and pushing the agenda of black equality in the Nation. For historians and educators her evidence may not be new but her interpretive use of it is. For lay readers prepare to be educated. Spoiler - John Brown's raid at Harper's ferry has a very interesting back story. Don't skip cha Historian Kellie Carter Jackson does an engaging job of highlighting the fact that black abolitionist in the United States fully understood the need for and usefulness of violence in bringing about the end of slavery and pushing the agenda of black equality in the Nation. For historians and educators her evidence may not be new but her interpretive use of it is. For lay readers prepare to be educated. Spoiler - John Brown's raid at Harper's ferry has a very interesting back story. Don't skip chapter 4. Jackson's writing style is engaging as well; making the read enjoyable. I kept thinking about this book in an upper level course or graduate seminar.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jason Scoggins

    "Black abolishionist saw freedom as revolutionary, complex, and multifaceted because it IS revolutionary, complex and multifaceted." "Black abolishionist saw freedom as revolutionary, complex, and multifaceted because it IS revolutionary, complex and multifaceted."

  9. 5 out of 5

    ػᶈᶏϾӗ

    Recasts the history of the abolition of slavery as an armed struggle against the tyranny of slaveholders. If you think nonviolence is the apex of political change, this book is for you.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Steve Dustcircle

    Sometimes being peaceful is not always an option...

  11. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    i enjoyed this book immensely. being a proponent of nonviolence myself, it very much challenged many of my assumptions and led me to have to think long and hard about some of them. I still believe in nonviolence, but I had to wrestle with this book long and hard. It's definitely well-written and well-argued. i enjoyed this book immensely. being a proponent of nonviolence myself, it very much challenged many of my assumptions and led me to have to think long and hard about some of them. I still believe in nonviolence, but I had to wrestle with this book long and hard. It's definitely well-written and well-argued.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ella

  13. 5 out of 5

    Emily

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sofia Acito

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mark Cheathem

  16. 4 out of 5

    David

  17. 5 out of 5

    Derrick Wall

  18. 5 out of 5

    Talia

  19. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nata Lia

  21. 4 out of 5

    Malik

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joe

  23. 5 out of 5

    Katie

  24. 4 out of 5

    Glen

  25. 5 out of 5

    John

  26. 4 out of 5

    Quinn

  27. 4 out of 5

    Zachary Kime

  28. 4 out of 5

    Michael Miller

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

  30. 4 out of 5

    Too Good

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