Crusade against Slavery: Edward Coles, Pioneer of Freedom

By Barker, Gordon S. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Crusade against Slavery: Edward Coles, Pioneer of Freedom


Barker, Gordon S., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Crusade Against Slavery: Edward Coles, Pioneer of Freedom · Kurt E. Leichtle and Bruce G. Carveth · Carbondale: Southern Illinois Press, 2011 · xii, 268 pp. · $34.95

In their well-crafted study, Crusade Against Slavery: Edward Coles, Pioneer of Freedom, Kurt E. Leichtle and Bruce G. Carveth enhance understanding of the Virginia-born governor of Illinois who freed his slaves while "drifting down the Ohio River" and later helped them carve new lives on free soil (p. 69). Focusing on the legendary emancipator's early development at the College of William and Mary, his career as James Madison's private secretary, his term as governor of Illinois, and his relationships with such prominent figures as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Dolley Madison, James Monroe, William Crawford, Benjamin Rush, Nicholas Biddle, and the marquis de Lafayette, Leichtle and Carveth examine Coles's eventful life against the background of America's transition from an "ideal republic" guided by virtuous, disinterested leaders to a "powerful new motif variously called the era of the common man, the age of Jackson" (p. 2). The authors reveal Coles's role as he embraced emancipation and sought to advance a vision of republican liberty that he believed reflected the Founding Fathers' intentions as well as his own "conviction in a natural law ordained by God - that all men were created equal" (p. 15). The authors underscore the rough-and-tumble of antebellum politics, impassioned slavery debates, the hard-fought battle for emancipation in Illinois, the impact of the market revolution and the second party system on the frontier, the diversity of views concerning slavery even among slaveholding families in Virginia, and free blacks' challenges in an Illinois shaped by racial prejudice, harsh black laws, and the everpresent threat of being kidnapped and sold into bondage in the Deep South.

Leichtle and Carveth cull information from an array of sources including newspapers, pamphlets, personal correspondence, deeds, wills, committee reports, federal and state legislation, and the biographies of leading Americans to support arguments that Coles's republican vision and antislavery beliefs were fashioned early on at the College of William and Mary and then shaped his political stance, relationships, and influence, helping to make him "a common man who made uncommon history" (p. …

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