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About the Book

Beyond the Book

136 pp., 5.5 x 8.5, notes, index

Steven and Janice Brose Lectures in the Civil War Era

ISBN  978-1-4696-0877-8
Published: September 2013

Making Freedom

The Underground Railroad and the Politics of Slavery

By R. J. M. Blackett

The 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, which mandated action to aid in the recovery of runaway slaves and denied fugitives legal rights if they were apprehended, quickly became a focal point in the debate over the future of slavery and the nature of the union. In Making Freedom, R. J. M. Blackett uses the experiences of escaped slaves and those who aided them to explore the inner workings of the Underground Railroad and the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, while shedding light on the political effects of slave escape in southern states, border states, and the North.

Blackett highlights the lives of those who escaped, the impact of the fugitive slave cases, and the extent to which slaves planning to escape were aided by free blacks, fellow slaves, and outsiders who went south to entice them to escape. Using these stories of particular individuals, moments, and communities, Blackett shows how slave flight shaped national politics as the South witnessed slavery beginning to collapse and the North experienced a threat to its freedom.

About the Author

R. J. M. Blackett is Andrew Jackson Professor of History at Vanderbilt University and author of Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War, among other books.


"It deserves its place on the growing shelf of studies of the Underground Railroad."
--The Annals of Iowa

"A sharply focused, deeply researched, and insightful study, Making Freedom not only adds to our knowledge of the Underground Railroad, but also expands its breadth and deepens its importance. A very fine study of an important subject."
--Ira Berlin, University of Maryland

"This book will engage you with arresting stories and careful attention to the mechanics of the underground railroad--how slaves escaped, how free black communities rallied around them and squared off against slaveholders, government officers, and the Fugitive Slave Law. Blackett offers nuanced and hard truths about the African American struggle for a free soil North that change our understanding of the UGRR and the 1850s."
--Anthony E. Kaye, author of Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South

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