The Author’s Corner with Stanley Harrold

American AbolitionismStanley Harrold is Professor of History at South Carolina State . This interview is based on his new book, American Abolitionism: Its Direct Political Impact from Colonial Times into Reconstruction (University of Virginia Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write American Abolitionism?

SH: For years I concentrated my research and writing on the physical clashes between antislavery and proslavery forces on both sides of the North-South sectional border. Particularly in writing Border War: Fighting over Slavery before the Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2010), I came to appreciate how these confrontations influenced the sectional politics that led to the Civil War. Those involved included escaping slaves, black and white abolitionists who encouraged and aided the escapees, and defensive white southerners who pursued the escapees. But, in focusing on these clashes and those involved, I limited the book’s scope to a restricted region and a relatively brief time period. As a result I began to wonder about other ways that abolitionists directly impacted American politics and government over a much more extended period, stretching from the late 1600s into the late 1860s. Also the recent upsurge in interest among historians regarding the abolitionists’ impact on politics has emphasized their indirect political impact through preaching, holding public meetings, and circulating antislavery propaganda in attempts to influence public opinion. Because other broader forces than these influenced northern popular opinion, this is an impressionist enterprise. Therefore American Abolitionism focuses precisely on direct abolitionist impact on colonial, state, and national government, through petitioning, lobbying, and personal contacts with politicians, as well as the direct impact of abolitionist physical action on northern and southern politicians.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of American Abolitionism?

SH: American Abolitionism argues that, beginning during the Colonial Period and extending through the Early National period, the Jacksonian Era, the 1850s, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, abolitionists’ direct political tactics helped influence the course of the sectional conflict. The book emphasizes that even those abolitionists who emphasized moral suasion and refused to vote engaged in effective efforts directly to influence formal politics.

JF: Why do we need to read American Abolitionism?

SH: As I suggest above, the book provides a much more precise understanding than previous studies of the abolitionist impact on American politics and government over an extended period of time. It begins with Quaker abolitionist petitioning and lobbying from the 1690s into the 1770s. It discusses expanded efforts to influence politics, undertaken by the first antislavery societies, mostly at the state level, during the Revolutionary and Early National periods. It covers the expanded direct tactics undertaken by immediate abolitionists, aimed at Congress and begun during the late 1820s. It explores the relationships between abolitionists and the Free Soil and Republican parties from the late 1840s through the Civil War, including increasing abolitionist efforts to personally influence Radical Republicans and President Abraham Lincoln. The book concludes with an evaluation of such efforts.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

SH: For me becoming an American historian was a gradual process. I enjoyed a fine liberal arts undergraduate education at Allegheny College, where I took courses in art, literature, philosophy, as well as history, and did not decide to major in history until the middle of my junior year. I graduated in 1968, while the Vietnam War was raging. I decided to go to graduate school at Kent State University in part because I was not sure what else to do and hoped being a graduate student might provide a continued draft deferment. At first I was not sure that I wanted to be a professional historian or continue in graduate school after earning a master’s degree in American history. But, as I learned more about the historical profession, and came under the influence of my adviser John T. Hubbell, I finally committed myself to a career as a professor of American history, with a concentration on the Civil War Era and the abolitionist movement.

JF: What is your next project?

SH: For the first time, I have not begun a new book project after completing one. I shall, though, remain co-author, with Darlene Clark Hine and Willian C. Hine, of the African-American Odyssey, the leading black history textbook, which is currently in its seventh edition. I shall also remain co-editor, with Randall M. Miller, of the Southern Dissent book series, published by the University Press of Florida.

JF: Thanks, Stanley!

What Did Trump Mean by Capitalizing the Word “TRAIL” in a Tweet About Elizabeth Warren?: Some Historical Context

Donald Trump tweeted this today:


  1.  Trump is definitely worried about Warren’s candidacy.
  2.  Why did Trump capitalize the word “trail?” As an American historian, one thing comes to mind when I see the word “trail” emphasized in a tweet about native Americans.  That is the “Trail of Tears.” Perhaps you are unfamiliar with this tragic event in our history.  Learn more here.
  3.  Andrew Jackson initiated the Trail of Tears.  He believed native Americans were racially inferior and an impediment to the advancement of white settlement across the continent.
  4.  Jackson called Indian removal a “just, humane, liberal policy towards the Indians.”  This reminds me of Trump’s statements about his “humane” border wall. He has said on numerous occasions that the wall will protect both American citizens and the immigrants.
  5.  Jackson understood the removal of these Indian groups in the context of democracy.  In the 1830s, of course, democracy was white.  The white men who voted Jackson into office wanted Indian land.  Jackson heard their voice and gave then what they wanted by forcibly moving native Americans to present-day Oklahoma.
  6. Andrew Jackson’s portrait hangs prominently in Trump’s Oval Office.
  7. Is Trump really smart enough to know that capitalizing the word “trail” would send such a message?  If he is, this is blatantly racist and yet another appeal to one of America’s darkest moments.  (I mention other such appeals in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump).  If he does not know what this tweet implies, then it is just another example of the anti-intellectual clown we have in the Oval Office right now–a man who is completely unaware of the national story to which he has entered as president.

The Author’s Corner with Mark Cheathem

CoD Book Cover.jpgMark Cheathem is Professor of History and project director of the Papers of Martin Van Buren at Cumberland University. This interview is based on his new book The Coming Democracy (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write The Coming Democracy?

MC: Originally, I started out writing a book about the 1840 election for undergraduate students. As I researched the Log Cabin and Hard Cider Campaign of 1840, however, I saw a need for a more general book on presidential campaigning in the Jacksonian period. The closest one we had was Michael J. Heale’s The Presidential Quest: Candidates and Images in American Political Culture, 1787-1852. Heale’s book is excellent, but it was published in 1982 and did not address the new scholarship on Early Republic cultural politics. Having research and written extensively on Jacksonian politics, I thought I could provide a book that provided an interpretive framework for understanding this fascinating period.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Coming Democracy?

MC: This book argues that forms of cultural politics (e.g., political cartoons, political songs, etc.) were essential to engaging voters in presidential campaigns during the Jacksonian period. Not only were these political expressions increasingly used to engage voters between 1824 and 1840, they also played a critical role in making them a permanent part of presidential campaigning.

JF: Why do we need to read The Coming Democracy?

MC: This book is immensely relevant to today’s political culture. As I argue in the conclusion, while some forms of Jacksonian-era cultural politics have changed, all of them continue to exist in some form. For example, political cartoons may not be as relevant in today’s world of disappearing newspapers, but the popular memes on social media essentially serve the same purpose: providing a visual shorthand of a politician or issue that requires some level of political literacy on the part of consumers.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

MC: My undergraduate adviser, Monty Pope, knew that I wanted to teach history, and he convinced me to go to graduate school so I could teach at the college level. Monty’s course on Jacksonian Democracy and his encouragement to work at The Hermitage, Jackson’s home in Nashville, led me into the period I study.

JF: What is your next project?

MC: I am currently at work on the Papers of Martin Van Buren project, which is making the eighth president’s papers accessible in both digital and print editions. I am also writing a book on the 1844 presidential election for the University Press of Kansas’ American Presidential Elections series.

JF: Thanks, Mark!

The Author’s Corner with William Bolt

boltWilliam Bolt is Assistant Professor of History at Francis Marion University. This interview is based on his new book, Tariff Wars and the Politics of Jacksonian America (Vanderbilt University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Tariff Wars and the Politics of Jacksonian America?

WB: I wrote Tariff Wars and the Politics of Jacksonian America because the tariff had been neglected for over 100 years. Since the tariff provided the national government with ninety percent of its annual revenue, I deemed it to be an important subject that historians had ignored for too long.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Tariff Wars and the Politics of Jacksonian America?

WB: Tariff Wars argues that the tariff needs to be a part of the narrative on antebellum politics, but it also argues that the tariff helped to spread democracy. Whenever Congress debated a tariff, scores of petitions and memorials arrived in Washington and public meetings were held regarding the tariff. Many Americans followed these debates and the tariff, in my opinion, helped to draw more Americans into the political process.

JF: Why do we need to read Tariff Wars and the Politics of Jacksonian America?

WB: People should read Tariff Wars because this issue was important to the people of the era. The people understood it and closely followed all efforts either to lower or raise the tariff. 

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

WB: I decided to become an American historian about twenty years ago, I took a course on Jacksonian Democracy and the instructor, the late Richard E. Ellis, was having the time of his life relating studies about Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, and Martin Van Buren. Sitting in that classroom and watching him reenact duels and congressional debates I found my calling.

JF: What is your next project?

WB: I am currently working on two follow up projects. A long-term project and a short terms one. My labor of love is a study of the rivalry between Millard Fillmore and William H. Seward. It is tentatively titled, “Empire State Rivalry.” It examines how two men with so much in common came to be bitter enemies. Their rivalry, I argue, hastened the demise of the Whig Party and contributed to the coming of the Civil War. My short-term project is a study of the year 1841. It is tentatively titled, “Year of here Presidents.” It looks at the presidencies of Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, and John Tyler. This work also is relevant to today because there is an intriguing Supreme Court confirmation battle in the final days of Van Buren’s presidency, and also a replace and replace battle over the Independent Treasury and National Bank. The year 1841 also sees the fate of the Amistad captives resolved. So there is a lot going on. These projects will helpfully keep me out of trouble.

JF: Thanks, Will!

Accept Jesus as Your Savior! Vote for Me!

Today in my United States history survey course we talked about democracy in early 19th-century America. When I lecture on this topic I try to show my students how the process of democratization influenced virtually every dimension of American life in this period.

After I talk about the Second Great Awakening and its free-will approach to salvation (drawing heavily from Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity), I show the students this image from the Cane Ridge Revival of 1801:

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Then we talk about democratic political reforms such as the caucus system, universal manhood suffrage, and the rise of popular political campaigning.

I then show them George Bingham 1854 painting “Stump Speaking”


When we look at these pictures together sometimes it is hard to tell which speaker is trying to win souls and which speaker is trying to win votes.  Whatever the case, both men are appealing to the democratic sensibilities of the American people.  The people have the choice to accept or reject the Gospel and/or accept or reject a particular candidate.  This is democracy.

The Author’s Corner with Elizabeth Clapp

A Notorious Woman.jpgElizabeth J. Clapp is Senior Lecturer of American History at the University of Leicester. This interview is based on her new book, A Notorious Woman: Anne Royall in Jacksonian America (University of Virginia Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write A Notorious Woman?

EC: I discovered Anne Royall the ‘Grandmother of the Muckrakers’, when searching for a new project after finishing my book on Progressive Era women reformers and the juvenile courts.  I thought she would make a great subject for a book.  I wanted to know more about this woman who, in her fifties, traveled alone on stagecoaches and canal boats to explore the United States as it existed in the 1820s, and wrote about her travels.  She claimed respectability, yet her behavior appeared to contradict such aspirations.  I read her books and newspapers, and what people wrote about her in their private letters and in the newspapers, and I found that she was a highly controversial figure.  She was a forthright woman who voiced her opinions in public without regard to her gender, and who roundly condemned the agents of the evangelical revivals who, she claimed, were undermining American liberties.  Her prosecution as a Common Scold by an evangelical congregation in Washington in 1829 threatened to silence her, but it made little difference to her presence in the public life of Jacksonian America.  As I found, with the aid of her supporters she continued to write and publish for another twenty-five years, until her death in 1854.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A Notorious Woman?

EC: Casting aside characterizations of Anne Royall as a virago, or pioneer for women’s rights, A Notorious Woman concentrates on how Royall sustained a viable publishing career in the boisterous political and religious world of Jacksonian America.  An often divisive figure, she asserted her right to a political voice despite being a woman and demanded the attention of Americans as she fought to defend American liberties against those she claimed were undermining them.

JF: Why do we need to read A Notorious Woman?

EC: I think Anne Royall deserves to be better known, but she is difficult to pigeon-hole.  In part this is because she wrote so little about her own life, but also because she divided contemporaries.  By placing Royall firmly within the context of her time, A Notorious Woman is more than simply a biography of a fascinating woman, but makes a contribution to the history of early nineteenth-century American politics, religion and print culture, and women’s place within those arenas.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

EC: I was inspired by my teachers as an undergraduate and when deciding to study for a PhD it was not difficult to choose American history.  My graduate studies at University College London allowed me to spend a year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I was introduced to American women’s history.  Since gaining my PhD, I have become part of a strong community of nineteenth-century American historians in Britain who have a long tradition of transatlantic scholarship and close connections with their American colleagues.

JF: What is your next project?

EC: The next project was prompted by my research into Anne Royall’s childhood on the Trans-Appalachian frontier during the Revolution.  It looks at the role of women in building communities on this frontier, and has so far been supported by a fellowship at The Filson Historical Society in Louisville, Kentucky and several research trips to other archives and libraries in Kentucky, Chicago, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.  It aims to challenge the focus on male pioneers such as Daniel Boone, to consider the significant contributions of the women involved in creating this first American West.

JF: Thanks, Elizabeth!

The Launching of the Martin Van Buren Papers

Alternative title: “We at The Way of Improvement Leads Home are not the Only Historians With Presidential Pez Dispensers” (Fast forward to the 18:00 mark in the video below).

But seriously, I am very happy for Mark Cheathem and Cumberland University.  I am also impressed that the administration of Cumberland is so supportive of this project.  An announcement for the project is now featured in the most prominent spot on the university’s website.

Read all about it here.

And here is the video of the launch ceremony of the Martin Van Buren Papers Project:

New Books Series on Jacksonian America

Do you have a manuscript on Jacksonian America sitting around?  Mark Cheathem wants to see it:

Beth Salerno and I are co-editing a new book series at Vanderbilt University Press (VUP). Entitled New Perspectives on Jacksonian America, the series will examine the period from 1812-1861, which generally spans the decades when Andrew Jackson was a significant figure in life and death. The chronological definition of the series recognizes the importance of the War of 1812 in elevating Jackson to national prominence and his continued importance, even after his death in 1845, to United States politics and society in the years leading up to the Civil War. This series will consider any manuscript that addresses the Jacksonian period and its place in shaping the United States during these decades.
Our current advisory board consists of:
John Belohlavek, University of South Florida
Andrew Frank, Florida State University
Lorri Glover, Saint Louis University
Stephen Mihm, University of Georgia
Kirsten E. Wood, Florida International University
You can find submission guidelines at the VUP site. Proposals can be sent tomeBeth Salerno, or VUP Acquisitions Editor Eli Bortz.