Academic journal article Journalism History

Forgotten Firebrand: James Redpath and the Making of Nineteenth-Century America

Academic journal article Journalism History

Forgotten Firebrand: James Redpath and the Making of Nineteenth-Century America

Article excerpt

McKivigan, John R. Forgotten Firebrand: James Redpath and the Making of Nineteenth-Century America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008. 291 pp. $45.

John R. McKivigan's biography, Forgot- ten Firebrand: James Redpath and the Making of Nineteenth-Century America, comparable to the life profiled, is the first of its kind. The author makes a convincing case that Redpath has been "one of the nation's most colorful and unjustly forgotten characters," noting that before this book appeared, no one had compiled a biography of him, with the only previous attempt coming from Charles F. Horner's The Life of James Redpath and the Devehpment of the Modern Lyceum (1926). Yet, Redpath, at least to nineteenth-century readers, was a well-known character: an impresario writer, a reformer, and a public relations practitioner.

Forgotten Firebrand marks the culmination of more than two decades of research. The author refers to the amount of time spent preparing the book, at least somewhat facetiously, as "a shamefully long period," but indeed his scholarship shows. The book is extraordinarily well documented with the endnotes and index comprising almost a third of the text. The time invested in researching Redpath was not frivolous; McKivigan notes that the firebrand's correspondences, to date, have no central location.

Secondary accounts of Redpath's career were based primarily on his 1859 book, The Roving Editor, which was an autobiographical account of the Scottish immigrant's travels through the American South in 1854. McKivigan describes how the experiences intellectually and emotionally challenged the writer, who at one point even considered suicide. The conditions motivated him to embark on a career that promoted reform causes, such as abolitionism and Irish nationalism.

Shortly after his ttavels through the South, Redpath joined John Brown's small army of abolitionists in Kansas. He published sympathetic accounts of the militant's role in the infamous Pottawatomie massacre, and in 1860 - shortly after the execution of "Old Osawatomie" - wrote the biography, The Public Life of Captain John Brown. Horace Greeley's New York Tribune was among the newspapers that popularized his writings about Brown, but as McKivigan notes, he found his experiences with the Tribune to be unimpressive with Greeley taking credit for editorial content that was not his own. …

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