Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Booknotes: The Press and Slavery in America, 1791-1859

New Arrival:
The Press and Slavery in America, 1791-1859: The Melancholy Effect of Popular Excitement by Brian Gabrial (Univ of S Carolina Pr, 2016).

Slave revolts were a surefire way to bring the institution into public discourse in pre-Civil War America. In The Press and Slavery in America, author Brian Gabrial "closely reads the mainstream press during the antebellum years, identifying shifts in public opinion about slavery and changes in popular constructions of slaves and other black Americans, a group voiceless and nearly invisible in the nation’s major newspapers. He reveals how political intransigence rooted in racism and economics set the country on a perilous trajectory toward rebellion and self-destruction."
"This volume examines news accounts of five major slave rebellions or conspiracies: Gabriel Prosser’s 1800 Virginia slave conspiracy; the 1811 Louisiana slave revolt; Denmark Vesey’s 1822 slave conspiracy in Charleston, South Carolina; Nat Turner’s 1831 Southampton County, Virginia, slave revolt; and John Brown’s 1859 Harper’s Ferry raid. Gabrial situates these stories within a historical and contextual framework that juxtaposes the transformation of the press into a powerful mass media with the growing political divide over slavery, illustrating how two American cultures, both asserting claims to founding America, devolved into enemies over slavery."
I wonder if Gabrial considered expanding his date range through 1860 to include the infamous slave conspiracy panic of 1860 in Texas. Even though that particular insurrection alarm turned out to be baseless, the event and media storm that accompanied it did much to radicalize the state's population right before the divided national elections that fall, stoking fears of abolitionist plots (sourced both internally and externally) and promoting secessionist sentiment.

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