cover image Half Slave and Half Free

Half Slave and Half Free

Bruce Levine. Hill & Wang, $14 (312pp) ISBN 978-0-374-52309-1

In this academic but accessible survey of the 80 years preceding the Civil War, historian Levine ( Who Built America: The Place of Labor History and Working People in U.S. History ) synthesizes a vast body of scholarship to show how the country's two different labor systems influenced economics, society, culture and, ultimately, politics. The North's free market nurtured ``free will'' evangelicalism over Calvinist predestination, and that evangelicalism clashed with slavery. In the South the slave system affected the planter class not only in religion but in entertainment and morality. Ironically, slaves ``appropriated both the democratic-republican and evangelical Christian doctrine of the nation that held them captive and reshaped those materials into weapons of liberation.'' Northern unity was for years undermined by differences regarding the ethics of its own free labor system, but the South's demand for increased federal guarantees for slavery--to preserve its own economy--finally forced the North to confront the issue of slavery. That led to increased polarization and war, what black leader Frederick Douglass called ``the inexorable logic of events.'' (Mar.)