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Demon Cruelty

Eric Foner: What was it like on a slave ship?

31 July 2008
The Slave Ship: A Human History 
by Marcus Rediker.
Murray, 434 pp., £25, October 2007, 978 0 7195 6302 7
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... and in the United States until the end of the Civil War in 1865. (This perhaps explains why Americans all but ignored the anniversary of their own country’s outlawing of the trade on 1 January 1808.) Also lost, of late, according to Marcus Rediker, has been the human experience of slavery. Historical debate has focused on the trade’s economic ...

Tired of Giving in

Eric Foner: Rosa Parks

10 May 2001
Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: The Life of Rosa Parks 
by Douglas Brinkley.
Weidenfeld, 248 pp., £12.99, January 2001, 0 297 60708 1
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... more than met it. A historian whose previous work has concentrated on Presidential politics and American foreign relations, Brinkley faced a difficult challenge in approaching the life of Parks, and not only because this is his first book on the struggle for racial justice. Despite her status as the ‘mother of the civil rights movement’, as a ...
18 April 1996
A Struggle for Power: The American Revolution 
by Theodore Draper.
Little, Brown, 544 pp., £25, March 1996, 0 316 87802 2
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... The American Revolution is the subject of a rich and complex historical literature. In the 19th century, George Bancroft, the father of American historical writing, portrayed it as the culmination of a long, divinely-inspired progress – the triumph of freedom and democracy on the North American continent ...
11 December 1997
A History of the American People 
by Paul Johnson.
Weidenfeld, 925 pp., £25, October 1997, 0 297 81569 5
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... the claim that it ‘has new and often trenchant things to say about every aspect and period of America’s past’. No one who knows his earlier writings is likely to be surprised by its strengths and weaknesses. For better or worse, A History of the American People is vintage Johnson. Johnson proudly asserts that he makes ...
20 February 1997
Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution 
by Jack Rakove.
Knopf, 439 pp., $35, April 1996, 0 394 57858 9
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... its own constitution, have come and gone. Britain has yet to commit its constitution to paper. Americans revere their enduring Constitution as a symbol of national identity and the ultimate authority for resolving political controversies. To become a naturalised citizen, it is still necessary to pass a test dealing with the Constitution’s provisions. The ...

Reasons for thinking that war is a good thing

Eric Foner: The death of Liberalism

27 June 2002
The Strange Death of American Liberalism 
by H.W. Brands.
Yale, 200 pp., £16, January 2002, 0 300 09021 8
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... Presidential campaign by castigating his opponent, Michael Dukakis, as a liberal, virtually no American politician will voluntarily accept the label. One unlikely exception is Michael Bloomberg, New York City’s new billionaire Republican Mayor, who during the campaign proclaimed: ‘I am a liberal.’ In New York, liberalism still survives ...

Purchase and/or Conquest

Eric Foner: Were the Indians robbed?

9 February 2006
How the Indians Lost Their Land: Law and Power on the Frontier 
by Stuart Banner.
Harvard, 344 pp., £18.95, November 2005, 0 674 01871 0
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... By ending rule from London, where the authorities had tried to avoid conflict with the Indians, American independence severely weakened native bargaining power and the respect paid to their property rights. Independence created governments democratically accountable to voters who craved Indian land and to powerful speculators with claims on Indian ...

Enter Hamilton

Eric Foner

5 October 2016
American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804 
by Alan Taylor.
Norton, 704 pp., £30, November 2016, 978 0 393 08281 4
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... campaign is widely seen as an aberration, as if reasoned debate had been the default mode of American politics. But precursors to Trump do exist, candidates who struck electoral gold by appealing to exaggerated fears, real grievances and visceral prejudices. Among Trump’s predecessors are the anti-immigrant Know-Nothings of the 1850s, white supremacist ...
11 January 1990
Oxford History of the United States. Vol. VI: Battle Cry of Freedom, The Civil War Era 
by James McPherson.
Oxford, 904 pp., $35, June 1988, 0 19 503863 0
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Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 
by Eric Foner.
Harper and Row, 690 pp., $21.95, April 1988, 0 06 015851 4
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... With the passing of generations, the Civil War will lose its chronological centrality in American history, and may well come to be regarded, not so much as the great crisis of the very principle and possibility of the Union, but rather as an early difficulty that had to be overcome – one of the Union’s teething troubles ...
4 February 1999
Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North Americ
by Ira Berlin.
Harvard, 512 pp., £18.50, October 1998, 0 674 81092 9
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The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern 1492-1800 
by Robin Blackburn.
Verso, 602 pp., £15, April 1998, 1 85984 890 7
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... It is more than 130 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, but Americans have yet to arrive at a generally agreed understanding of either the history or the legacy of slavery. When a Congressman from Ohio recently proposed a national apology for the enslavement of African-Americans as a way of easing the country’s racial tensions, the result only demonstrated how polarised the historical memory of slavery has become ...
1 June 2000
Working-Class New York: Life and Labour Since World War Two 
by Joshua Freeman.
New Press, 393 pp., $35, May 2000, 1 56584 575 7
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... it mainly conjured up images of street violence and urban deterioration, New York is once again America’s number one tourist attraction, and neighbourhoods long in decline are undergoing remarkable revivals. To be sure, a few blemishes mar the renaissance: the periodic killing of unarmed black men by the police, for example, or the persistent failure of the ...
23 March 1995
Telling the Truth about History 
by Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt and Margaret Jacob.
Norton, 322 pp., £19.95, August 1994, 0 393 03615 4
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... of history been the subject of such intense public debate as in the United States today. While America’s now-famous ‘culture wars’ originated in disputes over the teaching of literature – the demand that the canon should be expanded to include works by women and non-whites – history has recently taken centre stage. Assaults by ...

The Lie that Empire Tells Itself

Eric Foner: America’s bad wars

19 May 2005
The Dominion of War: Empire and conflict in North America 1500-2000 
by Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton.
Atlantic, 520 pp., £19.99, July 2005, 1 903809 73 8
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... than 700 military installations overseas. It is not surprising that in such circumstances, many Americans feel that the country can impose its will on the rest of the world, establishing rules of conduct for others while acting as it sees fit. In recent times, it has mainly been critics of the country’s foreign policy who have spoken of an Am...

Divinely Ordained

Eric Foner: Lincoln

23 October 2003
by Richard Carwardine.
Longman, 352 pp., £16.99, May 2003, 0 582 03279 2
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Lincoln's Constitution 
by Daniel Farber.
Chicago, 240 pp., £20.50, May 2003, 0 226 23793 1
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... Great Awakening, a prolonged series of religious revivals that reinvigorated and democratised American Christianity, but seems to have been unaffected by these revivals. As a youth, he had a reputation as an ‘infidel’, who read Paine’s Age of Reason and never became a member of a church. But he studied the Bible carefully, and biblical language and ...

Tremendous in His Wrath

Eric Foner: George Washington, Slave Owner

9 December 2019
‘The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret’: George Washington, Slavery and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon 
by Mary Thompson.
Virginia, 502 pp., £32.50, January 2019, 978 0 8139 4184 4
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... One of the few​ facts of American history of which Donald Trump appears to be aware is that George Washington owned slaves. Trump mentioned this in 2017 as one reason for his opposition to the removal of the monuments to Confederate generals that dot the southern landscape. In Trump’s view owning slaves probably enhances Washington’s reputation: like him, the first president knew how to make a buck ...

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