Free Shipping on Orders of $40 or More
American Radicals: How Nineteenth-Century Protest Shaped the Nation

American Radicals: How Nineteenth-Century Protest Shaped the Nation

by Holly Jackson

Narrated by January LaVoy

Unabridged — 11 hours, 30 minutes

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

American Radicals: How Nineteenth-Century Protest Shaped the Nation

by Holly Jackson

Narrated by January LaVoy

Unabridged — 11 hours, 30 minutes

Holly Jackson

Audiobook (Digital)

FREE With a B&N Audiobooks Subscription| Cancel Anytime

Free with a B&N Audiobooks Subscription | Cancel Anytime


Already Subscribed? 

Sign in to Your Account

Listen on the free Barnes & Noble NOOK app


with a B&N Audiobooks Subscription

Or Pay $20.00


A dynamic, timely history of 19th-century activists — free-lovers and socialists, abolitionists and vigilantes — and the social revolution they sparked in the turbulent Civil War era

On July 4, 1826, as Americans lit firecrackers to celebrate the country's 50th 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 today.

Related collections and offers

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

★ 08/26/2019

In this electric debut, Jackson, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, eschews presidents and generals to construct a mesmerizing story of people who committed themselves to a vision of the United States based on “collectivity, equality, and freedom,” who, she argues “built a tradition of radical resistance that would reshape American life.” Jackson focuses her attention on three areas—slavery and race, sex and gender, property and labor—bringing to life the activists who championed their causes. In the 1820s, Scottish aristocrat Frances Wright settled in the U.S. and established the Nashoba community to help enslaved people transition to freedom. At the same time, free black people in the North, led by men like James Forten, debated leaving the country to ensure their freedoms, and William Lloyd Garrison launched a decades-long abolition movement that provoked violent backlashes. A women’s rights movement emerged in the 1840s and 1850s, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Stephen Pearl Andrews and Mary Give Nichols promoted free-love doctrines that urged reevaluation of marriage and gender relations. Meanwhile, Albert Brisbane, a disciple of the French philosopher Charles Fourier, promoted a restructuring of industry that would benefit the working classes. Jackson’s perspective is both broad, encompassing lesser-known figures, and long, looking forward to these movements’ effects on later decades. This is essential reading for anyone interested in how the U.S. became what it is today. Illus. (Oct.)

From the Publisher

In this electric debut, Jackson . . . eschews presidents and generals to construct a mesmerizing story of people who committed themselves to a vision of the United States based on ‘collectivity, equality, and freedom.’ . . . This is essential reading for anyone interested in how the U.S. became what it is today.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Jackson adeptly interweaves all these stories, connecting one radical thinker to another to show the sweep of progressive thought in the nineteenth century that continues to echo today. Abundantly detailing political movements and the characters who led them, this history appeals to a broad spectrum of readers.”Booklist (starred review)

“Magnificent . . . This incisive and well-written overview of Americans who protested wrongs in their society deserves a wide readership. Many fine academic studies have covered the subjects here, but this account, written for a general audience, is authoritative and fast-paced and vividly portrays a crucial period.”BookPage 

“The author’s account moves swiftly and interestingly. . . . Jackson’s book merits attention as a study in what she calls ‘slow-release radicalism,’ with seeming failures that eventually turned into successes. A useful survey of American activism and its lasting repercussions.”Kirkus Reviews

“A forcefully argued and lyrical account . . . Readers interested in the history of social and radical movements, along with antebellum history, will find much to enjoy.”Library Journal

“By recovering the passionate lives and words of idealistic radicals and reformers, Holly Jackson reveals the better angels of nineteenth-century America. Telling a powerful story in lucid prose, she reminds us of what people of courage and conviction can achieve against long odds and powerful foes.”—Alan Taylor, Pulitzer Prize­­­–winning author of American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750–1804

American Radicals is a brilliant and timely firecracker of a book. Following the lives and activism of a diverse and fascinating cast of characters—men and women, black and white, all of them fearless—Holly Jackson has crafted a tale as dynamic and lively as America itself.”—Karen Abbott, author of The Ghosts of Eden Park and Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy

“A masterful history and a profound meditation on the limits of protest, American Radicals is immensely useful for today’s activists.”—Micah White, author of The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution

“Teeming with colorful and long-forgotten characters, Holly Jackson’s dazzling new history—at once wide-ranging and fine-grained—recovers anew the restless and improbable spirit of reform that animated America in the nineteenth century. American Radicals is a timely and powerful reminder that America has always been a work in progress—and that voices of protest echo with purpose and urgency across the generations. Amid the din of our daunting times, here is a history lined with hope.”—Brian Matthew Jordan, finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in History for Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War

American Radicals is a wise and vivid history of the women and men who imagined a nation that would live up the ideals of untrammeled personal liberty and direct democracy and then dared to build movements and communities dedicated to that purpose. This is a book that will educate and thrill progressives of all ages.”—Michael Kazin, author of War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914–1918 and professor of history at Georgetown University

“Jackson gives readers stories that are inspiring, infuriating, hilarious, frustrating, and meaningful for our complicated present. An outstanding book that any modern radical should read.”—Erik Loomis, associate professor of history at the University of Rhode Island and author of A History of America in Ten Strikes

Library Journal


In her latest book, Jackson (English, Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston; American Blood) explores how a diverse group of Americans aimed to re-create the nation based on a vision of collectivity, equality, and freedom. Radicals such as Fanny Wright, Henry David Thoreau, John Brown, and William Lloyd Garrison worked in several related and overlapping fields, becoming interested in topics such as birth control, prison reform, and religious beliefs. Many quickly realized these issues were inextricably linked to the issue of slavery. By their account, no true reform or realization of America's promise of equality for all could be achieved until the millions of men, women, and children were freed from their bonds. Once slavery ended, some radicals considered the fight won, while others argued that true equality could only be obtained once every last bit of injustice and prejudice was erased from American society. Drawing on a wide variety of printed and archival primary sources, Jackson delivers a forcefully argued and lyrical account of these varied movements, their successes and failures. VERDICT Readers interested in the history of social and radical movements, along with antebellum history, will find much to enjoy.—Chad E. Statler, Westlake Porter P.L., Westlake, OH

Kirkus Reviews

Sturdy historical account of the contributions of 19th-century radical thinkers to the present.

That most Americans, at least on paper, work an eight-hour day is a product of American labor activists who took on the cause as an extension of abolitionism. That women have the right to vote was an outgrowth of the feminism that similarly grew from abolitionism, while it was largely the labors of the son of socialist reformer Robert Owen "that made no-fault divorce accessible nationwide." So writes Jackson (History/Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston; American Blood: The Ends of the Family in American Literature, 1850-1900, 2013) in this overview of labor, political, and social activism throughout the 19th century. At the center of her story is Owen Sr., a wealthy British industrialist who saw in early America and its people "free and easy manners, the ‘extreme equality' across classes, and their universal, near-fanatical engagement in politics as a form of social engineering." The author writes that the figures who populate her narrative, among them William Lloyd Garrison and Susan B. Anthony, "worked across three entwined fields: slavery and race; sex and gender; property and labor." Some of them would have been easily confused with the hippies of the 1960s while others were straitlaced in affect but fiery in effect. The great firebrand John Brown was neither, and while his raid at Harpers Ferry failed to incite a Nat Turner-like slave rebellion across the South—on that note, writes Jackson, Turner was the subject of gruesome remembrance, his "severed head…passed around for decades"—it did result in a hastening of Southern secession and with it the Union victory that led to abolition. The author's account moves swiftly and interestingly, though the argument is not entirely novel; Manisha Sinha gets at many of the same points in The Slave's Cause (2016). Still, Jackson's book merits attention as a study in what she calls "slow-release radicalism," with seeming failures that eventually turned into successes.

A useful survey of American activism and its lasting repercussions.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940171792138
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication date: 11/15/2019
Edition description: Unabridged

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 alive, and still a robust presence a month before his sixty-seventh birthday. But underneath all the patriotic pride was an undeniable note of anxiety.

The election year of 1824 was the very first in which no founding father appeared on the ticket. From Washington to Monroe, the first five presidents had been active participants in the conception of the new republic, but the country would soon outlive the men who had created it. To survive, it would need to transition from an experimental republic steered and administered directly by its makers to a permanent state, which would require a particular interpretation of its history. Thomas Jefferson had argued that every generation ought to be able to remake American society and all of its laws so that they would not be tyrannically ruled by his generation’s dead hand. But by 1824, Americans were looking not for constant reinvention but for stability. Most wanted to believe that the words and deeds of the founders were final and the era of insurrection closed. France loomed as a cautionary tale, having torn up a number of constitutions by this time, its revolution followed by periods of terrible violence, a dictatorship, and finally the restoration of the monarchy in 1814. American society bolstered itself in this troubling changing-of-the-guard moment with a near-religious commemoration of the founding generation—a worshipful attitude that Ralph Waldo Emerson would denounce as the tendency to “build the sepulcres of the fathers,” to be “retrospective,” or conservative of what had been, rather than following the lead of the founders in daring to imagine what else might be. In short, revolutionary iconoclasm had been replaced with filial piety in American political culture.2

Lafayette’s return was a landmark event in this culture of commemoration. He and his compatriots were to be remembered no longer as militant radicals, high on Enlightenment theory and ready to die for untried ideals, but as patriarchs of a static lineage that must be revered and preserved. While most of the other founders were dead or nearly so, Lafayette still had the physical wherewithal to reassure the American people at a moment when a certain crucial thread threatened to snap. Congress felt it was so important for him to visit at this time that it offered to send a ship to any port in France to convey him to the United States, to live on America’s dime for two years, and receive payments in stock and land for his contributions to the revolution, a show of largesse that made the young nation feel strong and rich as its semicentennial Jubilee approached.

So they rolled out a welcome like no other. Before he left New York, Lafayette was honored by “the fete” at Castle Garden, which one attendee described as “the most brilliant and magnificent scene ever witnessed in the United States.” This seems to have been the actual party of the century, a dazzling visual spectacle more lavish than anything anyone present could remember, surpassing even royal coronations. Six thousand partiers with two hundred servants in tow danced the cotillion under an arrangement of chandeliers reflecting the light of a thousand torches. Lafayette went on to tour all twenty-four of the states, paraded around in fine style as the “guest of the nation.” Wherever he went, he was greeted with festivals, dances, and speeches. Maidens robed in white and wearing crowns of myrtle marched under newly constructed triumphal arches in choreographed formation with engraved lances aloft. They named streets, towns, counties, and city squares for him; at least one newborn was saddled with the name “Welcome Lafayette.” On one occasion, a young army officer sang some verses he had composed, but when he came to the climax of the song, his voice faltered with emotion and he was unable to say the general’s name. He fell at Lafayette’s feet crying and rushed away.

But on the day of his arrival, Lafayette’s mind was occupied with thoughts of one woman, who was at that moment still in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean en route to the United States. From the center of the celebratory hubbub, he wrote to a friend how eagerly he awaited the coming ship that would reunite him with his “beloved.” A month behind his hero’s welcome in New York, a far less distinguished vessel pulled in to the harbor with no fanfare, with a woman aboard who was too indispensable to Lafayette to be left out of his American tour but already too controversial to have arrived by the same boat or to be mentioned in any of the official accounts of his visit. As the general’s intimate friend, she would soon be entertained in the homes of the nation’s first families, only to be regarded in the years to come as the most notorious radical in its history.

Lafayette was the revolutionary past, but she was the revolutionary future; the press would call her “the female Tom Paine.” No one worshipped the founders more than she did, and for that very reason she refused to regard their accomplishment as mere symbolism, their rhetoric as empty, or their project complete. In 1824, she was the hushed-up younger woman behind the man who was bringing the country they both idolized to its feet. But within five years, her name would be denounced from pulpits and splashed across the front pages of newspapers, shorthand for a festering fusion of interracial sex, Free Love, gender-bending, and atheism that threatened to bring down the Republic: “that she-demon and unprincipled profligate, FANNY WRIGHT.”3

Frances Wright was an orphaned Scottish aristocrat who had been raised, along with her younger sister, Camilla, by a string of relatives in England. She spent most of her youth with an aunt who lived in a twenty-room mansion in a tiny town called Dawlish, on the southern seacoast of Devonshire. When she was seventeen, Wright happened upon a history of the American Revolution in the library of a family member’s estate, later recalling how strange it had been to find a “subject so politically heterodox” in that patrician context. Opening the book had awoken her to “a new existence” in an instant. “From that moment my attention became riveted on this country,” she would later write, “as on the theater where man might first awake to the full knowledge and the full exercise of his powers.” Restless and bored with the limited round of activities available to a genteel young lady under the watch of a persnickety aunt, she began to dream of the United States as a nearly magical new world “consecrated to liberty,” where traditional constraints and distinctions had been abandoned, and vowed to see it in person one day.4

Wright went off to live with one of her father’s relatives, James Mylne, a professor of moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow, a hotbed of the Scottish Enlightenment; her uncle held the faculty position that had once been occupied by Adam Smith. In this environment, Wright imbibed a devotion to reason and empiricism, a suspicion of received wisdom, traditions, and religious authority that would animate her activist career. Women would not be admitted as students at Glasgow until 1883, so Wright’s free access to the university library enabled an education that would remain unavailable to other women for generations. She wrote poetry, a philosophical treatise, later a play.

Customer Reviews