Liberty to the Downtrodden

John Turner

I've been looking forward to the appearance of a new book by Matthew J. Grow, an incoming YSAR and historian of nineteenth-century American religion.

Yale University Press has just released (available today on Grow's "Liberty to the Downtrodden": Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer. Kane, a diminutive hypochondriac, is most renowned as the friend of the Mormons who negotiated a peaceful solution to the 1857-58 Utah War. While drawing on rich archival sources to illuminate Kane's friendship with the Saints, Grow also uses Kane's varied career to reevaluate antebellum social reform:

Kane is representative of reformers who combined an allegiance to the Democratic Party, anti-evangelicalism, and romanticism. The antebellum Democratic Party, though usually depicted as antireform because of its general support of southern slavery, had a significant reform wing, driven by the party's egalitarian impulses and more inclusive vision of American religious and ethnic pluralism ... The ethos of these anti-evangelical, Democratic reformers also resonated with romanticism. The emphasis that Jacksonian Democrats placed on liberty, by which they meant removing barriers to individual progress and freedom, corresponded with romanticism's emphasis on the individual and its belief in the perfectibility of mankind ... A romantic impulse impelled these reformers to sympathize with those on the margins of society, declare war on human suffering, and create a self-identity rooted in protecting the oppressed -- including slaves, prisoners, the poor, Catholic immigrants, and Mormons. (xvi)

I anticipate Liberty to the Downtrodden will reach the wide audience it deserves. Not only does Grow enrich our understanding of social reform, romanticism, and antebellum religion, he also writes eloquently and has constructed a lively narrative fitting of Kane's own unusual path through life.


Hanafi Mohan at: February 4, 2009 at 6:34 AM said...

really useful article. thanks.

Hanafi Mohan

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