The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 1st Edition
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- James Oakes, Washington Post
“One of the greatest works of American history I have ever read…The elegantly written and carefully researched volume shatters a good deal of received wisdom.”
- Stephen L. Carter, Bloomberg View
“Deeply researched and movingly told, The Internal Enemy is a great historian’s masterwork.”
- Peter Onuf, author of Jefferson’s Empire
“The Internal Enemy reinforces Alan Taylor’s standing as our leading historian of colonial and early national America. This deeply researched, beautifully written account of the slaves who sought freedom by escaping to the British during the War of 1812 illuminates a little-known episode in our nation’s past and offers a dramatic instance of the persistent interconnections between American slavery and American freedom.”
- Eric Foner, author of The Fiery Trial
“A comprehensive, scholarly work, made accessible by Taylor’s skill as a storyteller.”
- Kel Munger, Sacramento Bee
“Alan Taylor has added a remarkable chapter to American history, showing how the actions of black Virginians in the War of 1812 remade the nation’s politics in ways that profoundly influenced the racialized lead-up to the Civil War. Taylor’s meticulous research and crystal-clear prose make this essential reading for anyone seeking new insights into a troubled American past.”
- Elizabeth A. Fenn, author of Pox Americana
About the Author
- Item Weight : 1.04 pounds
- Paperback : 624 pages
- ISBN-10 : 039334973X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0393349733
- Product Dimensions : 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
- Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company; 1st Edition (September 2, 2014)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #231,448 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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In The Internal Enemy Taylor examines the role of slavery in Virginia from 1772 to 1832. Most of the book concentrates on the War of 1812 and how it impacted slavery. However, Taylor also shows that Virginia had firmly rejected the idea of emancipating its slaves long before this war. A great deal of confusion still exists about how the Founders viewed slavery and whether or not they thought it would die out. Taylor’s research validates many other historian’s interpretations which show that instead of slavery dying out, it was even more entrenched by 1812 than ever before. Any attempt to discuss ending slavery was met with derision and scorn, and failed to garner a modicum of support in Virginia’s state legislature.
Taylor’s research shows that slavery was growing in this time period and that Virginians were already beginning to sell off excess slaves to buyers who were taking them south or southwest into the newer territories. He also shows how the events of the War of 1812 and how slavery was part of it began to expand the sectional divisions in the nation. Many historians have claimed that the War of 1812 unified the country, but a new generation of historians is rejecting that claim. Taylor’s work shows that slavery was the main wedge dividing the sections although it was not the only wedge. Crises such as the admission of Missouri as a state would continually occur and slavery was at the heart of every one of those crises.
Works such as this are extremely important in understanding why events in the American past occurred as they did. This book also shows how the British viewed slavery and exploited it in order to inflict massive damage to the coastal area of Virginia. In addition, Taylor shows how the slaves themselves took matters into their own hands by escaping to British ships, and then returning to rescue their families from slavery with the help of the British. These were not a handful of slaves who were dragged off by the British nor were they sold in the West Indies as popular legend would have it. Taylor dispels those myths with ease using primary sources. The research in this work is impeccable.
I highly recommend this book for those who want to learn more about the history of the Early Republic. So much from that time is utter myth and historians like Taylor are doing a great job uncovering the facts and presenting them to us. Taylor especially is good at this because he writes via a narrative method. He uses primary sources to construct his interpretations and has demonstrated a great deal of skill at writing for a larger audience instead of the formal academic prose which far too many historians still use. The result is Taylor’s works are read by more people. This is beginning to have an impact in American in my opinion as people are reading these works and discovering actual history instead of some cheap polemic garbage meant to persuade people for modern political ideologies.
Now if this book was titled “Runaway Slaves during the war of 1812 and their choices” then I would give it 5 Stars, but if you’re looking at a comprehensive book that will enlighten you about the Slave system in Virginia and how it evolved from 1772-1832 then THIS IS NOT THE BOOK FOR YOU.
To be fair, the book is well written and each page contains an interesting story about a particular slave and Taylor does a great job of keeping the reader interested in the continuation of his story. This book is informative and definitely adds to the subject but the title and description really isn’t doing it justice on what it really aims to do.
Of course, Virginians do come off as bumbling idiots, arrogant, and hypocritical (no doubt many of them were) but it feels like Taylor went out of his way to present them as backward and lacking any form of intelligence. This didn’t interfere with my rating but it’s just something to note. The Madison administration is particularly portrayed to be clumsy and idiotic.
If not for the misleading title of the book, then this would be 5 stars. Unfortunately. This was not what I was looking for, though I am glad I picked it up.