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The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race Hardcover – February 28, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Two of the four "passionate outsiders" (which would have been a better title) presented here were black: Frederick Douglass and doctor-scholar James McCune Smith. Two were white: John Brown and philanthropist-reformer Gerrit Smith. Brought together at the inaugural convention of Radical Abolitionists in June of 1855, they formed an interracial alliance of a kind that would not be seen again until the civil rights movement. Harvard history professor Stauffer offers an account of these four lives joined for a historical moment by "their vision of a sacred, sin-free, and pluralist society, as well as by their willingness to use violence to effect it." Stauffer shows how the four worked together on temperance and feminist issues, party building and other political work along with their antislavery activities, exploring the practical and ideological glue that held them together. A splendidly illustrated excursion into the American fascination with daguerreotype shows the four using that form to further their public image, an image the 1859 raid on Harper's Ferry and its federal arsenal destroyed, along with all their careful bridge-building. Brown's Harper's Ferry raid was discussed beforehand by all the men, but the actual act dimmed the revolutionary fervor of all who remained (Brown was executed) and probably made for the first, albeit unofficial, casualties of the Civil War. While the author's plain style doesn't include much imagistic amplification of events, this book offers an intense look at the mechanics of freedom. (Feb. 7)Forecast: The Unites States' violent internal conflicts over its values, via raids such as Brown's, can probably be better imagined now than at any time over the past 50 years at least. This book will have its main audience via campus libraries and syllabi, but anyone thinking historically about the U.S. road to fuller civil liberty will find it fascinating.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Black abolitionists Frederick Douglass and James McCune Smith and white abolitionists John Brown and Gerrit Smith proclaimed that America would realize equality and freedom when white Americans acquired a "spiritual heart that was a black heart that shared a humanity with all people and lacked the airs of superiority of a white heart." Historian Stauffer (Harvard Univ.) examines the lives of these four radical abolitionists, who linked their personal faith and Bible politics to their public behavior and forged strong bonds of friendship based on racial equality and interracial identities, envisioning an America free of racial, gender, and class distinctions. More than an engaging history of antislavery, this volume, with its abundant use of primary sources, restores James McCune Smith and Gerrit Smith to their historical positions as preeminent radical abolitionists and pioneer fighters against racism. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. Charles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State Univ., State College
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (February 28, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674006453
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674006454
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #673,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Stauffer is Professor of English and African American Studies and former chair of American Studies at Harvard University, and the new editor of 21st Editions, a limited edition photography press.

He is the author or editor of 15 books and over 100 articles focusing on antislavery and/or photography.

Two of his books ("GIANTS" and "State of Jones") were national bestsellers. "The Black Hearts of Men" was the co-winner of the Frederick Douglass Book Prize and the Lincoln Prize runner-up. "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was a Lincoln Prize finalist.

He has been a frequent contributor to 21st Editions. His writings on photography have also appeared in "Young America: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth and Hawes," "WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY," and "Listening to Cement."

His new book, "Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century's Most Photographed American," will be available in November 2015.

His interest in visual culture extends to exhibitions and film. He consulted on the traveling exhibition "WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY" (2012-14). He advised and appeared in three award-winning documentaries ("God in America"; "The Abolitionists"; and "The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross"); and he has been a consultant for feature films including "Django" and the forthcoming "Free State of Jones", directed by Gary Ross and starring Matthew McConaughey, which is based on his book.

His essays and reviews have appeared in "Time", "Wall Street Journal", "New York Times", "Washington Post", "Huffington Post", and in scholarly journals and books.

He has appeared on national radio and television shows, including "The Diane Rehm Show," "C-SPAN," and "Book TV with Susan Swain," and he has lectured throughout the United States and Europe.

In 2009 the U.S. State Department's International Information Programs hired him as one of its speakers.

That same year Harvard named Professor Stauffer the Walter Channing Cabot Fellow for "achievements and scholarly eminence in the fields of literature, history or art." He has also received two teaching awards from Harvard: the Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Award; and the Jan Thaddeus Teaching Prize.

He lives in Cambridge with his wife, Deborah Cunningham, and their two sons, Erik and Nicholas.

(August 2015)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on April 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
This collective biography of abolitionists Frederick Douglass, James McCune Smith, Gerrit Smith, and John Brown presents an elegant portrait of the varieties of antislavery sentiment in the United States prior to the Civil War. The four men, two black and two white, formed a de facto alliance--although they would not have recognized it as such--to end slavery and were willing to use violence to do so. In a scintillating narrative that provides both enjoyable reading and penetrating analysis, John Stauffer links the four together as opponents of slavery seeking to overcome the "black hearts of men" but also partaking of the "black hearts of murder."

Organized into topics, rather than chronologically, Stauffer pursues the "literary turn" to analyze the four abolitionists, their writings, and their changes over time. His chapters relate to how these individuals perceived images of race, religion, economics, politics, identity, and women. At some level the most interesting figure presented in this book, perhaps because I knew the least about him, was Gerrit Smith. Although virtually every history of abolitionism mentions him, Stauffer goes deeper to explain Smith's patrician background, his adoption of antislavery, and his vigorous campaign to end it that sometimes resulted in violence. He notes how Smith attempted to found a multiracial community in New York state, an endeavor clearly tied to the utopian experiments of the era. He participated in an 1851 effort to rescue slaves and supported John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. Shocked by the outcome of that raid, however, Smith then adopted white supremacism.

One of the central tenets of this book, and it is boldly stated, is that radical abolititionism led to the transformation of race as a concept in American history.
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26 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Louis A. Decaro Jr. on June 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The Black Hearts of Men is a well-written and thoughtful study of four closely-associated anti-slavery figures. John Stauffer is an excellent writer, and he should be credited for taking a fair approach to Brown, free of the usual bias and thinly-veiled racial-political scorn that motivates so many white male writers on the subject.
Stauffer must also be credited for overcoming the difficulties of reading Gerrit Smith's (one of the four figures in the study) handwriting. He has also brought four men--two black and two white--together in an engaging study, something apropos of this age of diversity awareness, and something long overdue from the academy. The author introduces and reintroduces Frederick Douglass, James McCune Smith, Gerrit Smith, and John Brown in the context of partnered (or at least overlapping) struggle. He seeks to flesh out various aspects of their worldviews and interests, including their self-presentation (via daugerreotypes, a new photographic technology in the mid-19th century), their sympathy for women's and native rights, and other aspects.
Yet Stauffer's study is deeply flawed insofar as he attempts to yoke the four men in a similar style of religious belief---particularly insofar as John Brown is concerned. In fact, Stauffer's analysis of Brown as a religious figure is thin, generalized, and largely self-serving in its speculation.
In essence, Stauffer contends that John Brown, like his three friends, moved away from conventional religion. The author would have us believe that Brown repudiated his Puritan theology for some Perfectionist form of millennnialism. The problem with this thesis is that its author has ignored millennialism in its orthodox forms in Puritanism, and the fact that Brown was immersed in millennial belief from his childhood.
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7 of 17 people found the following review helpful By John Wood on November 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
John Stuaffer has one of the finest minds and finest prose styles of any contemporary historian. This book is both brilliant and a wonderful read. It won the prestigious Frederick Douglass Prize "for the year's best non-fiction book on slavery, resistance and/or abolition, the most generous history prize in the field, and the most respected and coveted of the major awards for the study of the black experience" ... That fact alone should answer any comments of the book being deeply flawed by any less respected historian with his own religious ax to grind about John Brown. No one who buys and reads this book will be disappointed.
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1 of 24 people found the following review helpful By O. A. Glazebrook on December 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author has no idea who John Brown really was -read Hill P. Wilson's - "John Brown Soldier of Fortune: a Critique" or Robert Penn Warren's - bio to understand that John Brown was a serial killer and livestock thief who played the Radical Lefties known as the Secret Six and most of you...
Google James Townsley's confession before you start this book
Gerrit Smith was a the only member of the group who might have had a conscience. But he was a raging do-gooder and diletente who helped to destroy the Constitutions' original intent....
Understanding the truth of John Brown is key - He was a Radical Republican, America's first "White" terrorists and "community Organizer" who started the Civil War...
Google - John Brown's constitutional convention - Chatham, Ontario...
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