The Trials of Anthony Burns: Freedom and Slavery in Emerson's Boston

Synopsis

Before 1854, most Northerners managed to ignore the distant unpleasantness of slavery. But that year an escaped Virginia slave, Anthony Burns, was captured and brought to trial in Boston - and never again could Northerners look the other way. This is the story of Burns's trial and of how, arising in abolitionist Boston just as the incendiary Kansas-Nebraska Act took effect, it revolutionized the moral and political climate in Massachusetts and sent shock waves through the nation. Albert J. von Frank introduces us to the individuals who contended over the fate of the barely literate twenty-year-old runaway slave - figures as famous as Richard Henry Dana Jr., the defense attorney; as colorful as Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Bronson Alcott, who led a mob against the courthouse where Burns was held; and as intriguing as Moncure Conway, the Virginia-born abolitionist who spied on Burns's master. Von Frank links the deeds and rhetoric surrounding the Burns case to New England Transcendentalism, principally that,of Ralph Waldo Emerson. His book is thus also a study of how ideas relate to social change, exemplified in the art and expression of Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Theodore Parker, Bronson Alcott, Walt Whitman, and others.