By the time his body hung from the gallows for his
crimes at Harper’s Ferry, abolitionists had made John Brown a “holy martyr” in the
fight against Southern slave owners. But Northern hatred for Southerners had
been long in the making. Northern rage was born of the conviction that New
England, whose spokesmen and militia had begun the American Revolution, should
have been the leader of the new nation. Instead, they had been displaced by
Southern “slavocrats” like Thomas Jefferson. And Northern envy only
exacerbated the South’s greatest fear: race war. In the sixty years preceding
the outbreak of civil war, Northern and Southern fanatics ramped up the
struggle over slavery. By the time they had become intractable enemies, only
the tragedy of a bloody civil war could save the Union.
In this riveting and character-driven history, one of
America’s most respected historians traces the “disease in the public
mind”—distortions of reality that seized large numbers of Americans—in the
decades-long run-up to the Civil War.
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