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Slavery, Freedom, and Expansion in the Early American West

John Craig Hammond

BUY Cloth · 256 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813926698 · $43.50 · Nov 2007
BUY Ebook · 256 pp. · ISBN 9780813946047 · $43.50 · Nov 2020

Most treatments of slavery, politics, and expansion in the early American republic focus narrowly on congressional debates and the inaction of elite "founding fathers" such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. In Slavery, Freedom, and Expansion in the Early American West, John Craig Hammond looks beyond elite leadership and examines how the demands of western settlers, the potential of western disunion, and local, popular politics determined the fate of slavery and freedom in the West between 1790 and 1820.

By shifting focus away from high politics in Philadelphia and Washington, Hammond demonstrates that local political contests and geopolitical realities were more responsible for determining slavery’s fate in the West than were the clashing proslavery and antislavery proclivities of Founding Fathers and politicians in the East. When efforts to prohibit slavery revived in 1819 with the Missouri Controversy it was not because of a sudden awakening to the problem on the part of northern Republicans, but because the threat of western secession no longer seemed credible.

Including detailed studies of popular political contests in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Missouri that shed light on the western and popular character of conflicts over slavery, Hammond also provides a thorough analysis of the Missouri Controversy, revealing how the problem of slavery expansion shifted from a local and western problem to a sectional and national dilemma that would ultimately lead to disunion and civil war.


Scholarship on American slavery and politics has traditionally turned either to the revolutionary and constitutional era, or to the antebellum and Civil War period. But what happened in between? An awful lot, says John Craig Hammond in this fine monograph.

Francois Furstenberg, J.W. McConnell Family Foundation Chair in American Studies, University of Montreal · H-NET

This argument is a valuable addition to the historiography of early national state formation in the United States... [a] careful delineation of the emergent boundary between slavery and freedom in the western United States.

Adam Rothman, Georgetown University · American Historical Review

Why did the young American republic, committed as it was to freedom and equality, fail to outlaw slavery in its western territories? John Craig Hammond addresses this perennial question in his well-written, carefully argued book.

James Simeon · Journal of American History

Hammond's well-written monograph should certainly be read by anyone interested in slavery in the territories.

Nicole Etcheson, Alexander M. Bracken Professor of History, Ball State University · H-NET

Hammond has proven himself to be an important figure in an emerging new wave of scholarship on the critical early years of slavery and its expansion in the United States... Hammond's discussion is sure to add to the ongoing debate about how to understand the legacy of slavery in the United States.

Glenn Reynolds, Mount Saint Mary College · History: Reviews of New Books

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