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360CIVIL WAR HISTORY glected the other factor stressed by Virginians in 1831: wild, emotional, religious enthusiasm. Today it is a commonplace, as it was not in Drewry's time, that slave rebellions are a characteristic of slavery itself. Negro uprisings punctuated colonial history, before the anti-slavery movement existed. What is unusual about the antebellum period in the United States is that slave rebellions were so scarce; what is especially unusual about Nat Turner is not that he acted on his conviction that slavery was wrong, but that he reduced his already slender chances of success by systematically butchering the families in his immediate neighborhood. Today this might be interpreted as an extreme example of "expressive violence " or "black rage." But Nat Turner's killings were too purposeful and thorough to be an outburst of pathological feelings: he clearly saw himself as an agent of God's wrath, an instrument of Divine Vengeance. Either he was right, or he was one of the most powerful and original religious fanatics in American history. Oates' new book, like those of Drewry and Herbert Aptheker before him, fails adequately to represent the religious, or spiritual dimensions of Nat Turner and his times. Otherwise Oates deserves all praise. His book is accurate, lucid, restrained, sympathetic, and imaginative. Especially useful is his attention to the aftermath of the rebellion: the slaughter of innocent blacks by roving white mobs, the Jeffersonian (but not Jefferson-like) insistence of Governor John Floyd on acting within the strict letter of the laws and constitution of Virginia , the simultaneous passions of white Virginians to find a way out of slavery and to make slavery perfectly secure, their contradictory desires to air the problem thoroughly and to silence all discussion. Oates now has the best book on the subject, though F. Roy Johnson's Nat Turner Story (Murfreesboro, 1970), however amateurish in conception and printing, should be consulted for its quantity of Southampton County folklore. Oates has mastered this material, but he is too urbane to preserve its flavor. Robert McColley University of Illinois The Abolitionists: The Growth of a Dissenting Minority. By Merton L. Dillon. (DeKaIb: Northern Illinois Press, 1974. Pp. xiii, 298. $3.00, paper.) Merton Dillon herein provides a useful overview of abolitionism. He demonstrates that he is saturated in the literature and sources of the abolitionist era. However, there are few new insights and ultimately it is a disappointing book from so ranking an authority. book reviews361 Dillon's work ranges over a period of more than one hundred years and it is a masterful, sustained narrative. But it is also seriously flawed. Although he talks about "abolitionism" prior to the 1820's he never really demonstrates the existence of anything like an organized social reform movement, especially during the Revolutionary period. And his discussion of the relationship between Quaker moralism and Revolutionary ideology is unclear. Furthermore his material on the rise of immediatism is skimpy and unpersuasive, attributing too much to changes in religious thought and secular philosophy, and too little to the growing strength and staying power of slavery itself. The editor of the series, of which this book is a first offering, promises the special insights and the sophisticated methodologies of the "new history"—but we are served many statements about "Northerners," "Southerners," "Most abolitionists," etc., with no delineations and no substantiating quantitative evidence. Rather, the technique resembles the very traditional "method" of unsystematic quotation. And Dillon's psychohistorical "insight" is limited to the following "Young men and women ardently seeking a cause commensurate with their capacity for passion found it in abolitionism. . . ." Professor Dillon does a good job of synthesizing the work of other historians to show that the enemies of abolition, by violating civil liberties and making arrogant demands, convinced many northerners that the power derived by slaveholders from slavery in the South threatened the interests of free men everywhere. But in his seventh chapter, this crucial, most important feature of northern antisouthemism is overshadowed by Dillon's unconvincing neoBeardian emphasis on economic issues. At his best in chapter ten, Dillon demonstrates that many abolitionists in the 1850's grew frustrated, disenchanted, and readier to acquiesce in the use of violence. But...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 360-362
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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