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Until Justice Be Done: America's First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction

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Finalist for the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in History
Finalist for the 2022 Lincoln Prize
Winner of the 2022 John Nau Book Prize in American Civil War Era History
One of NPR's Best Books of 2021 and a New York Times Critics' Top Book of 2021

A groundbreaking history of the movement for equal rights that courageously battled racist laws and institutions, Northern and Southern, in the decades before the Civil War.

The half-century before the Civil War was beset with conflict over equality as well as freedom. Beginning in 1803, many free states enacted laws that discouraged free African Americans from settling within their boundaries and restricted their rights to testify in court, move freely from place to place, work, vote, and attend public school. But over time, African American activists and their white allies, often facing mob violence, courageously built a movement to fight these racist laws. They countered the states’ insistences that states were merely trying to maintain the domestic peace with the equal-rights promises they found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They were pastors, editors, lawyers, politicians, ship captains, and countless ordinary men and women, and they fought in the press, the courts, the state legislatures, and Congress, through petitioning, lobbying, party politics, and elections. Long stymied by hostile white majorities and unfavorable court decisions, the movement’s ideals became increasingly mainstream in the 1850s, particularly among supporters of the new Republican party. When Congress began rebuilding the nation after the Civil War, Republicans installed this vision of racial equality in the 1866 Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment. These were the landmark achievements of the first civil rights movement.

Kate Masur’s magisterial history delivers this pathbreaking movement in vivid detail. Activists such as John Jones, a free Black tailor from North Carolina whose opposition to the Illinois “black laws” helped make the case for racial equality, demonstrate the indispensable role of African Americans in shaping the American ideal of equality before the law. Without enforcement, promises of legal equality were not enough. But the antebellum movement laid the foundation for a racial justice tradition that remains vital to this day.

ISBN-13: 9781324005933

Media Type: Hardcover

Publisher: Norton W. W. & Company Inc.

Publication Date: 03-23-2021

Pages: 480

Product Dimensions: 9.20(w) x 6.30(h) x 1.60(d)

Kate Masur is professor of history at Northwestern University. A finalist for the Lincoln Prize, she is author and editor of acclaimed books on the Civil War and Reconstruction. She lives in Evanston, Illinois.

Table of Contents

Preface xv

Chapter 1 "On the Grounds of Expediency and Good Policy" Free-State Antiblack Laws in the Early Republic 1

Chapter 2 "A Free Man of Colour, and a Citizen of this State" The Privileges and Immunities of Citizenship in the 1820s 42

Chapter 3 "The Sacred Doctrine of Equal Rights" Ohio Abolitionists in the 1830s 83

Chapter 4 "The Rights of the Citizens of Massachusetts" African American Sailors in Southern Ports in the 1830s 119

Chapter 5 "Self-Preservation is the First Law of Nature" State-to-State Conflict and the Limits of Congress in the 1840s 152

Chapter 6 "That All Men are Created Free and Equal" The Liberty Party and Repeal of the Ohio Black Laws in the 1840s 185

Chapter 7 "Injustice and Oppression Incarnate" Illinois and a Nation Divided in the 1850s 225

Chapter 8 "Establishing One Law for the White and Colored People Alike" Republicans in Power during the Civil War, 1861-1865 267

Chapter 9 "To Restrain the Power of the States" The Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment 303

Epilogue 342

Acknowledgments 359

Note on Historiography 365

Notes 373

Index 435