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Confronting Slavery : Edward Coles and the Rise of Antislavery Politics in Nineteenth-Century America



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Northern Illinois Univ Pr
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Edward Coles (1786-1868) is famous for his decision to liberate his enslaved subjects and his political activities in Illinois during the 1820s. He was raised amidst Virginia's wealthiest slaveholders and was on intimate terms with many of the nation's most renowned leaders, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison among them. He also shared with them the conclusion that slavery was morally and ideologically wrong. Unlike both of these men and most of his Southern contemporaries, however, Edward Coles followed through with his convictions and liberated his human property. For this act of benevolence, Coles has been recognized by many scholars of the post-Revolutionary antislavery impulse as a singular figure in its history. His role in the Illinois convention contest in the early 1820s is notable as well. During his tenure as Governor from 1822-1826, Coles led an antislavery force that ultimately defeated a local effort to legalize the institution in Illinois. During the campaign against slavery, he sacrificed his salary, wrote dozens of essays, and became the most visible opponent of slavery in the Midwest, a move that ensured his antislavery reputation for the rest of his life. Still, his victory in the Prairie State, then, was bittersweet, because an antislavery reputation in an increasingly partisan environment held diminishing power. Another welcome addition to the Mellon-sponsored Early American Places series, Confronting Slaveryrevisits the abolitionist efforts of Coles and explores his contributions to slavery's end on both a regional and national level. The book will be heralded as an elegantly conceived study of slavery and social activism in nineteenth-century America.

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