SOCIAL SCIENCES

America's Longest Siege: Charleston, Slavery, and the Slow March Toward Civil War

Overlook. 2013. 384p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781590207192. $27.95. HIST
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Kelly (literature, Coll. of Charleston; Our Joyce) brings a literary sensibility to this vivid and engrossing study of slavery in and around one of its trading hubs, Charleston, SC, site of the first and longest Civil War siege and a hotbed of political, economic, religious, and moral debates about importing, owning, and trading slaves. The author explores the popular ideological arguments for and against slavery in the only American city (and state) in which black slaves outnumbered whites. Digging deeply into documentary evidence such as journals, letters, and printed public speeches to illuminate what both abolitionists and slave owners thought about using human capital to build wealth and maintain a power imbalance, Kelly frames the issue of slavery as a cultural battle within the South rather than of the South versus the North. Politically powerful pro-slavery "fire-eaters" such as John C. Calhoun and James Hammond claimed to use logic and reason in perpetuating the slave trade while painting abolitionists as dangerous idealists who failed to see that slavery was a "necessary evil" or even a "positive good."
VERDICT Well written and finely detailed, Kelly's debut historical work is an important contribution to Southern antebellum history and is highly recommended to scholarly readers.

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