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BOOK REVIEWS Strange Enthusiasm: A Life of Thomas Wentworth Higginson. By Tilden G. Edelstein. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968. Pp. xi, 425. $11.00.) Yankee Stepfather: General O. O. Howard and the Freedmen. By William S. McFeely. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968. Pp. 351. $10.00.) In recent years scholarship about the nineteenth century whites who identified themselves with the welfare of the Negroes has become increasingly critical. There has been a tendency to question the depth of the ideal of racial equalitarianism. Increasingly, these friends of the blacks are being pictured as paternalistic believers in Negro inferiority, who wished to uplift their sable brothers but did not really welcome them as fully equal partners into American society. John and Lawanda Cox, in their discussion of General O. O. Howard, and James M. McPherson in his impressive study of the abolitionists during Civil War and Reconstruction, have argued persuasively to the contrary, while Willie Lee Rose has described with subtlety the complexities and ambivalences of the Sea Island teachers and missionaries. On the other hand, scholars such as Leon Litwack and William and Jane Pease have adduced telling evidence for the paternalistic and prejudiced attitudes of the white antislavery leaders. Regardless of the merits of the various arguments, the Litwack-Pease viewpoint is the one that, in the short run, is likely to prevail, given the current search of academics for the historic roots of white racism in this era when the burden of southern history has become the burden of American history. Both of the books under consideration here must be regarded as important contributions to this historiographie trend. Edelstein's Strange Enthusiasm is a straight-forward well-researched biography of the noted abolitionist, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, vastly superior to Mary Ann Wells' Dear Preceptor of 1963, and focusing primarily on Higginson's career as a reformer rather than his literary efforts. Edelstein pictures this scion of a Boston family which had lost its wealth as a person who found fulfillment in helping people whom he regarded as his inferiors. This accounts for his enthusiasm for a variety of causes, ranging from women's rights to abolition. He was one of the most militant of the abolitionists, and one of the most courageous , as was demonstrated by his part in the effort to prevent the rendition of Anthony Burns to slavery in 1854, and later by his refusal 168 to flee die country after John Brown's raid, when his part in it might have been exposed. After the Civil War he was numbered among the radical group of former abolitionists who advocated the vote and land for the freedmen. Nevertheless he also felt that Negroes were childlike, docile and basically inferior to Caucasians. Beginning in 1868 he lost his enthusiasm for their cause and, shifting his reform interests to Mugwump politics, arrived at a position that justified the southern white solution to the race issue. Later, aroused somewhat by the atrocities at the turn of the century, he became an enthusiastic supporter of the black accommodator, Booker T. Washington. Edelstem does not adequately explain this shift in Higginson's outlook. It is perhaps unplainable except in the terms suggested by Edelstein, i.e., Higginson's basic paternalism toward the black man. Where Higginson was a radical Unitarian abolitionist, O. O. Howard was essentially a Congregationalist Christian missionary. Where Higginson was an activist, Howard was an army bureaucrat, loyal to his chief, and anxious to retain his position. Where Higginson was courageous , Howard, in McFeely's deftly drawn portrait, emerges as an inept compromiser who deceived himself—and the public—into believing that he was the freedmen's benefactor and defender. McFeely maintains that Howard was so concerned with staying in office as head of the Freedmen's Bureau that he gave in to President Johnson at every critical juncture. The result was that the Bureau functioned not to advance the cause of the freedmen but to advance the interests of the southern white planters. Purposely omitting from his discussion a treatment of the Bureau's work in education (which he agrees was an area where it made a significant contribution), MoFeely argues brilliantly that in regard...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 168-170
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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