Academic journal article Journal of the Early Republic

Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America

Academic journal article Journal of the Early Republic

Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America

Article excerpt

Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America. By Fergus M. Bordewich. (New York: Amistad, 2005. Pp. xvii, 540. Illustrations, maps. Cloth, $27.95.)

The Underground Railroad is "hot" these days, a facet of American racial history that suddenly widely disparate groups have embraced. Staunchly conservative right-to-life advocates invoke abolitionists aiding fugitive slaves to justify civil disobedience aimed at abortion providers, while liberals see in the Underground Railroad an example of interracial collaboration that speaks to the needs of a nation that race still divides. Unquestionably the most visible manifestation of this new interest has been the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, which opened a year ago with remarks from Laura Bush and Oprah Winfrey, and which has become one of the city's major tourist attractions.

Fergus Bordewich's Bound for Canaan is doubtless intended to take advantage of this public interest, and it will serve that public interest well. Bordewich is an engaging writer with a knack for crisp prose, an eye for the appropriate quotation, and a gift for telling stories. Combined with wide-ranging research and an understanding of the work of academic historians on abolition and the Underground Railroad, Bordewich has produced an excellent book.

Aimed at a popular audience, Bordewich does not posit new or groundbreaking ideas about his subject. He begins with an overview of slavery in America down to the early nineteenth century, then takes up the story of a few central figures who felt it right to aid fugitive slaves-the Quakers Isaac T. …

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