The real story, however, is much more complicated—and dramatic—than that. With Who Freed the Slaves?, distinguished historian Leonard L. Richards tells the little-known story of the battle over the Thirteenth Amendment, and of James Ashley, the unsung Ohio congressman who proposed the amendment and steered it to passage. Taking readers to the floor of Congress and the back rooms where deals were made, Richards brings to life the messy process of legislation—a process made all the more complicated by the bloody war and the deep-rooted fear of black emancipation. We watch as Ashley proposes, fine-tunes, and pushes the amendment even as Lincoln drags his feet, only coming aboard and providing crucial support at the last minute. Even as emancipation became the law of the land, Richards shows, its opponents were already regrouping, beginning what would become a decades-long—and largely successful—fight to limit the amendment’s impact.
Who Freed the Slaves? is a masterwork of American history, presenting a surprising, nuanced portrayal of a crucial moment for the nation, one whose effects are still being felt today.
The importance of Shays's Rebellion has never been fully appreciated, chiefly because Shays and his followers have always been viewed as a small group of poor farmers and debtors protesting local civil authority. In Shays's Rebellion: The American Revolution's Final Battle, Leonard Richards reveals that this perception is misleading, that the rebellion was much more widespread than previously thought, and that the participants and their supporters actually represented whole communities—the wealthy and the poor, the influential and the weak, even members of some of the best Massachusetts families.
Through careful examination of contemporary records, including a long-neglected but invaluable list of the participants, Richards provides a clear picture of the insurgency, capturing the spirit of the rebellion, the reasons for the revolt, and its long-term impact on the participants, the state of Massachusetts, and the nation as a whole. Shays's Rebellion, though seemingly a local affair, was the revolution that gave rise to modern American democracy.
When gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in 1848, Americans of all stripes saw the potential for both wealth and power. Among the more calculating were Southern slave owners. By making California a slave state, they could increase the value of their slaves—by 50 percent at least, and maybe much more. They could also gain additional influence in Congress and expand Southern economic clout, abetted by a new transcontinental railroad that would run through the South. Yet, despite their machinations, California entered the union as a free state. Disillusioned Southerners would agitate for even more slave territory, leading to the Kansas-Nebraska Act and, ultimately, to the Civil War itself.