Beacons of Liberty


Beacons of Liberty:
International Free Soil and the Fight for Racial Justice
in Antebellum America

Coming soon from Cambridge University Press


The Arrival in Canada, plate 12 from 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-96) engraved by Claude Regnier (fl.1840-66) (litho)
Adolphe Jean-Baptiste Bayot, The Arrival in Canada, engraved for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s  Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Tracing stories of escape, capture, resettlement, and life abroad, Beacons of Liberty tells the story of the profound influence that free soil abroad had a on ideas about emancipation, freedom, and national identity long before and long after the American Civil War.

The story of the American anti-slavery movement is often told in light of national politics, local activism, and domestic civil war. Beacons of Liberty offers a new approach.

Beacons of Liberty introduces readers to the world of the nineteenth-century anti-slavery movement as its participants would have seen it: as a struggle for freedom unfolding on an international stage. Drawing from a rich vein of anti-slavery newspapers, novels, pamphlets, and poetry during the fifty-year period between the War of 1812 and the American Civil War, this book illuminates the remarkable and underappreciated impact that international “free-soil havens” had on American anti-slavery thought and activism.

In the wake of slave rebellions, independence movements, and hard fought anti-slavery campaigns, legislators in the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries began passing emancipation laws that either immediately or gradually freed enslaved people in places like Haiti, Canada, Mexico, West Africa, and several newly independent South American republics.

Beacons of Liberty tells the story of how these international free-soil havens raised American hopes and anxieties around the issue of slavery and became powerful referents in the fight for freedom and racial justice. They became symbols of liberty, they became high-profile destinations for fugitive slaves, they offered alternative homes and economic opportunities for free African Americans, and they represented various models of black freedom from which American abolitionists could learn. By looking abroad to places where slavery had been abolished or curtailed, American slaves, free people of color, and white anti-slavery advocates imagined alternative possibilities to slavery and racism in the United States.

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