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Empire and Slavery in American Literature, 1820'1865

Empire and Slavery in American Literature, 1820'1865

Eric J. Sundquist
Copyright Date: 1995
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  • Book Info
    Empire and Slavery in American Literature, 1820'1865
    Book Description:

    The flourishing of pre-Civil War literature known as the American Renaissance occurred in a volatile context of national expansion and sectional strife. Canonical writers such as Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Henry David Thoreau, as well as those more recently acclaimed, such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe, emerged amidst literature devoted to questions of nationalism, exploration, empire, the frontier, and slavery. This outpouring included some of the most important early works in African American, American Indian, and Chicana/Chicano literature.Empire and Slavery in American Literature, 1820-1865tells the story of this exceptionally vibrant and wide-ranging multicultural "renaissance" of our national literature.

    Scores of diaries, reports, and memoirs, in addition to a diverse imaginative literature, documented the nation's expansion to its modern continental borders, along with exploration of territory far beyond. Driven by belief in the "manifest destiny" of Americans to bring liberty to new lands, narratives of empire ranged from the heroic to the fantastic, and they spawned a popular frontier literature that created some of the most enduring myths of America. At the same time, expansion provoked a corresponding literature of dispossession by American Indians and Mexicans that combined protest with statements of pride and independence.

    Accompanying expansion was the contentious and ultimately tragic debate over slavery carried out in a voluminous proslavery and antislavery literature that took the form of speeches, pamphlets, autobiography, poetry, and fiction. By juxtaposing the literature of slavery with the literatures of exploration and the frontier,Empire and Slaverytraces the formative features of the national image of the United States.

    Eric J. Sundquist is UCLA Foundation Professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author ofTo Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature,The Hammers of Creation: Folk Culture in Modern African-American Fiction, andStrangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holocaust America, among other books.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-614-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-2)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    “Escaped from the house of bondage,” wrote Herman Melville in a well-known statement of the nation’s post-revolutionary mission inWhite-Jacket(1850), America is “the Israel of our time.” Bearing “the ark of liberties” for the world, the new nation appeared to be the long-awaited “political Messiah,” to whom God had given “the broad domains of the political pagans, that shall yet come and lie down under the shade of our ark, without bloody hands being lifted.” Elected to liberate the world in fulfillment of scripture, according to one strain of Protestant millennialist theory, Americans absorbed biblical typology into national history...

  4. The Land of Promise Exploration and Empire
    (pp. 11-64)

    Looking back on the years following the U.S. conquest of the territories of northern Mexico in 1848, the former Mexican military commander Mariano Vallejo concluded his five-volumeRecuerdos históricos y personales tocante a la Alta California, completed in 1875, with an illuminating but unusual critique. Despite the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, he wrote,

    the Americans have treated the Californians as a conquered people and not as citizens who willingly became part of that great family which, under the protection of that glorious flag that proudly waved at Bunker Hill, defied the attacks of European monarchs, those who, seated upon their...

  5. To Muse on Nations Passed Away The Frontier and American Indians
    (pp. 65-137)

    In 1879, Hinmaton Yalakit (Thunder Rolling in the Heights), a Nez Percé leader known to whites as Chief Joseph, delivered an oration in Washington, D.C. His words summed up an escalating history of betrayals by settlers and government officials:

    The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it. You may as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. If you tie a horse to a stake, do you...

  6. No More Auction Block for Me Slavery and African American Culture
    (pp. 138-239)

    On the first anniversary of the founding of his famous antislavery magazine, theLiberator, William Lloyd Garrison invoked the “Spirit of Liberty” that was “thundering at castle-gates and prison-doors” throughout the world. Rather than celebrate the fires of democratic revolution that had spread from America in 1776 to revolutions in a number of European countries by the early 1830s, however, Garrison dwelt on the significant failure of the American Revolution—the problem of slavery. When liberty “gets the mastery over its enemy,” Garrison inquired rhetorically, “will not its retaliation be terrible?” Only “timely repentance” could save the American nation’s “blind,...

  7. A Note on Sources
    (pp. 240-243)
  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 244-244)
  9. Index
    (pp. 245-254)