When It Was Grand: The Radical Republican History of the Civil War

Hill & Wang. Jan. 2020. 352p. notes. index. ISBN 9780809080311. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781429947589. HIST
In this aggressively argued book, Keith (The Colfax Massacre) casts radical Republicans as the principal engine driving politics, defining rights, and transforming government in the Civil War era. The author insists that antislavery Republicans moved from the fringe to dominate the party because of their determination, discipline, and ability to seize the moment. In Keith’s accounting, the radicals included poets, philosophers, social reformers, industrialists, and others who allied to push the Republicans to a no compromise on slavery that endorsed any means to achieve emancipation. Keith writes at length and with eloquence about the role of black abolitionists in pressing for emancipation before and during the war; black military service during the war; and radicals’ efforts to use confiscation, loyalty oaths, and especially black enfranchisement to reconstruct the South during and after the war. Some scholars might be surprised by Keith’s assertion that radicals brought on secession and war by their uncompromising politics.
VERDICT A new perspective on the Civil War. All will appreciate the gripping accounts of partisanship, political ambition, civil disobedience, and the creative ways that radicals used print and speech to persuade Americans to understand and accept the necessity of emancipation and the importance of equal rights.

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