When It Was Grand: The Radical Republican History of the Civil War

LeAnna Keith. Hill and Wang, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-0-8090-8031-1
High school history teacher Keith (The Colfax Massacre) resurfaces the Republican Party’s progressive, antislavery origins in this energetic yet muddled account. Beginning with the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, Keith documents how the party’s “most ardent faction” helped to provoke the Civil War and laid the groundwork for constitutional amendments abolishing slavery and granting African-Americans equal protection and the right to vote. She categorizes congressmen Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens, abolitionists John Brown and William Lloyd Garrison, philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, and unitarian minister Theodore Parker as “Republican Radicals,” and credits the raising of the 54th Massachusetts and other African-American Union Army regiments, the funding of Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry by the “Secret Six,” and the launch of Garrison’s Liberator newspaper as major achievements in the cause. Keith stretches the definition of radical Republicanism to the point of distortion, claiming that it was both a political faction and a “religious and philosophical movement,” and grouping nearly every American who opposed slavery, assisted freed slaves, or supported the Union cause under the same banner. Ending her account before Reconstruction, however, she obscures the Radicals’ greatest legislative achievements. The result is a wide-ranging history that does little to illuminate its weighty subject. (Dec.)
Reviewed on : 10/08/2019
Release date: 01/14/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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