The studies gathered here focus on the Age of the Civil War and some of the leading personae in the tragedy of that conflict—among them, Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, Nat Turner, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Southern secessionists. On one level, this serves as a companion volume to my biographical trilogy— The Fires of Jubilee:Nat Turner's Fierce Rebellion, To Purge This Land with Blood:A Biography of John Brown, and With Malice toward None:The Life of Abraham Lincoln. Several of the essays, in fact, grew out of the reading and research I did for the trilogy. Among other things, they examine some of the literary and historical controversies that surround the three men and their era, try to clarify my ideas about them and add new insights, and generally pursue topics I thought more appropriate for essays than for biographies.
"God's Stone in the Pool of Slavery", for example, analyzes Harpers Ferry in the context of Southern anxieties and apprehensions over slavery that had been growing since the beginning of the Republic—and especially since Nat Turner's rebellion. The essay demonstrates that on one score John Brown proved himself a keenly perceptive man, for he correctly predicted the explosive impact his raid would have on Southern whites. For them, Harpers Ferry was no isolated outbreak of little historical import. It was instead an apocalyptic outgrowth of Northern antislavery agitation, an act of "outside provocation" that caused white Southerners to equate Brown-style revolutionary violence with Lincoln and the Republican party and that escalated sectional tensions over slavery to the breaking point. In this respect, Our Fiery Trial shows