South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War

Alice L. Baumgartner. Basic, $32 (368p) ISBN 978-1-5416-1778-0
Baumgartner, a history professor at the University of Southern California, debuts with an eye-opening and immersive account of how Mexico’s antislavery laws helped push America to civil war. After Mexico gained its independence in 1821, the country’s leaders enacted a series of reforms to bring slavery to a gradual end and in 1837 abolished slavery altogether. (Baumgartner notes that in parts of Mexico, “indentured servitude sometimes amounted to slavery in all but name.”) Though far fewer American slaves escaped to freedom across the southern border than on the Underground Railroad to the North, Baumgartner writes, Mexico’s laws contributed to the drive to annex Texas in 1845, which in turn gave rise to the free-soil movement and led to the founding of the Republican Party and its antislavery agenda. Baumgartner draws incisive parallels between U.S. and Mexican history on issues of race, nationalism, and imperialism, and recounts surprising stories of escapees, including a group of Black Seminoles welcomed as colonists in the border state of Coahuila, as well as 28 African Americans who fought with an artillery company in Tampico in the Mexican-American War and received their naturalization certificates from the Mexican president himself. This vivid history of “slavery’s other border” delivers a valuable new perspective on the Civil War. (Nov.)
Reviewed on : 09/14/2020
Release date: 11/10/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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