McCabe Greer Professor of the American Civil War Era, Department of History
In this book project, I argue that the Civil War was not the end of American slavery, but rather a major turning point leading to the transformation of bondage. In the war’s aftermath, northerners and southerners reconciled as they extended their dominion west and overseas. In doing so, the postbellum United States claimed moral authority as a liberator, touting the spread of freedom and democracy even as it colonized Indigenous nations and denied rights of citizenship to people of color. Federal authorities did attempt to eradicate forms of chattel slavery reminiscent of southern plantations, but the United States tolerated and even embraced other forms of bondage, including Indigenous slavery, indentured servitude, debt peonage, and carceral labor. Exploring the period from 1850 to the 1920s, this book analyzes how and why so many Americans have been denied their right to liberty. Each of the book’s seven chapters explores a different context, ranging from abducted Indigenous children forced to work on western ranches to prisoners who built Georgia’s college campuses, illuminating varied forms of American unfreedom, the historical and ideological currents that linked them, and the enduring legacies that continue to shape our world.