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American Radicals: How Nineteenth-Century Protest Shaped the Nation

American Radicals: How Nineteenth-Century Protest Shaped the Nation

by Holly Jackson
American Radicals: How Nineteenth-Century Protest Shaped the Nation

American Radicals: How Nineteenth-Century Protest Shaped the Nation

by Holly Jackson


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A dynamic, timely history of nineteenth-century activists—free-lovers and socialists, abolitionists and vigilantes—and the social revolution they sparked in the turbulent Civil War era

“In the tradition of Howard Zinn’s people’s histories, American Radicals reveals a forgotten yet inspiring past.”—Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life and Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast


On July 4, 1826, as Americans lit firecrackers to celebrate the country’s fiftieth birthday, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were on their deathbeds. They would leave behind a groundbreaking political system and a growing economy—as well as the glaring inequalities that had undermined the American experiment from its beginning. The young nation had outlived the men who made it, but could it survive intensifying divisions over the very meaning of the land of the free?

A new network of dissent—connecting firebrands and agitators on pastoral communes, in urban mobs, and in genteel parlors across the nation—vowed to finish the revolution they claimed the founding fathers had only begun. They were men and women, black and white, fiercely devoted to causes that pitted them against mainstream America even while they fought to preserve the nation’s founding ideals: the brilliant heiress Frances Wright, whose shocking critiques of religion and the institution of marriage led to calls for her arrest; the radical Bostonian William Lloyd Garrison, whose commitment to nonviolence would be tested as the conflict over slavery pushed the nation to its breaking point; the Philadelphia businessman James Forten, who presided over the first mass political protest of free African Americans; Marx Lazarus, a vegan from Alabama whose calls for sexual liberation masked a dark secret; black nationalist Martin Delany, the would-be founding father of a West African colony who secretly supported John Brown’s treasonous raid on Harpers Ferry—only to ally himself with Southern Confederates after the Civil War.

Though largely forgotten today, these figures were enormously influential in the pivotal period flanking the war, their lives and work entwined with reformers like Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Henry David Thoreau, as well as iconic leaders like Abraham Lincoln. Jackson writes them back into the story of the nation’s most formative and perilous era in all their heroism, outlandishness, and tragic shortcomings. The result is a surprising, panoramic work of narrative history, one that offers important lessons for our own time.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525573098
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/08/2019
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Holly Jackson is an associate professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, as well as a number of scholarly venues. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt


Foul Oppression in the Wind of Freedom, 1817–1840


A Tremendous NO

On the morning of August 16, 1824, a majestic flotilla appeared on the water in New York harbor: a series of ships decorated like floating palaces, all in the service of escorting one man safely to port. The Marquis de Lafayette stepped ashore to the sound of fifty thousand people cheering wildly, among them the vice president of the United States and two hundred of the city’s leading citizens. After a month at sea, the cacophony must have been overwhelming: cannons booming, bells ringing, flags flapping, the West Point band in full swing. Militias stood at attention, wearing Lafayette’s portrait over their hearts. Elderly veterans embraced him, openly weeping. Mothers thrust their children into his arms. Men and women fainted. Others approached him so choked with emotion they could not speak. They placed a crown of fresh cypress and laurel boughs on his head and ushered him into a grand carriage drawn by four white horses. The parade proceeded up Broadway to city hall, passing flag-draped buildings and banners stamped with the name of the returning hero, fresh flowers raining down from the windows. The shops were all closed, the business of New York City standing still for the day.1

As a mere teenager, the Frenchman had joined the Americans in their War for Independence, not only risking his life in battle, but volunteering his own money to feed, clothe, and pay his battalion. His leading role in the Battle of Yorktown had earned him a place in the pantheon of military heroes whose victory brought into being a new nation. Now that nation was nearing its fiftieth anniversary, and Lafayette was back to help celebrate: the only general from the Revolutionary army al