- Black Masters: A Free Family of Color in the Old South, and: No Chariot Let Down: Charleston's Free People of Color on the Eve of the Civil War (review)
- Civil War History
- The Kent State University Press
- Volume 31, Number 3, September 1985
- pp. 285-287
- View Citation
- Additional Information
BOOK REVIEWS285 But it clearly was not Lincoln's intention to establish any precedent for an "imperial presidency," one which would allow subsequent presidents to meddle in the internal affairs of other nations, under the pretext of saving the world. If Lincoln went beyond the law to save the national government, Oates posits, the Congress went with him, sanctioning his actions (121). This portrait of the tough Lincoln also extends to Reconstruction. Oates argues that Lincoln was prepared to reform and even to reshape the South's shattered society with the help of military force by 1865 (137). In his concluding essay, Oates presents a detailed reconstruction of Lincoln 's assassination and its aftermath. This is followed by a review of the theory that Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln's secretary of war, was a ringleader in a conspiracy to assassinate the president. With justification , Oates crushes this with relish (176). In all fairness to the recent exoneration of Stanton among scholars, however, it must be said that the secretary of war was still responsible for the personal safety of the president. The buck must stop somewhere. Contrary to Oates's belief that he is offering much in new material, new ideas and insights (xiv), he is not plowing new ground. Instead, his sound interpretations and lucid style, combinded with a narrative which sweeps the Lincoln story from birth to death, effectively probes the galaxy of Lincoln myth and countermyth, giving the general audience an upto -date, living portrait of Lincoln. All in all, I think Mr. Lincoln would recognize himself and would be pleased. Ronald D. Rietveld California State University, Fullerton Black Masters: A Free Family of Color in the Old South. By Michael P. Johnson and James L. Roark. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company , 1984. Pp. 432. $22.50.) No Chariot Let Down: Charleston's Free People of Color on the Eve of the Civil War. Edited by Michael P. Johnson and James L. Roark. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984. Pp. xii, 174. $16.95.) Black Masters tells a fascinating story, and one equally improbable. In 1816 in upland South Carolina a young slave was freed by his master, who may also have been his father. This freedman, April Ellison, started out to make his way in the most densely slave of all the Southern states. Though surely a daunting task, Ellison had more than his freedom. He possessed indomitable determination along with a special talent: his former master had taught him the trade of making cotton gins. With new status and a new name, William Ellison, this former slave took his trade into the midst of a major plantation district. He moved to Stateburg along the Wateree River in Sumter District. There William Ellison succeeded, but as considerably more than a maker of cotton gins. 286CIVIL WAR HISTORY His gin business did prosper, and with his earnings he bought land, acquired a big house, and became a substantial slaveowner. By 1860 Ellison owned a prosperous gin shop, nearly nine hundred acres, and sixty-three slaves. Moreover he was a respected member of the Stateburg community. Ellison's home, Wisdom Hall, which he bought from Stephen D. Miller, a former governor and father of Mary Boykin Chesnut, was situated in the village amidst the houses of major white planters. Ellison even had a pew in Holy Cross Episcopal Church, the same church in which the white gentry worshipped. William Ellison's rise reads like an American classic, and it surely underscores the economic and social mobility possible in the antebellum South, even in an old state like South Carolina. All the touted virtues of hard work, thrift, and integrity Ellison had in abundance. He also made the right strategic moves to insure the station and future of his family—his children, like those of other successful midlands planters, married into the Charleston aristrocracy. But Ellison was different from all the others. He was black or, more precisely, mulatto, and in the antebellum South that was an important distinction. Even more impressive , Ellison accomplished his rise not in a city like Charleston or New Orleans, not even in the more tolerant racial environs of south Louisiana...