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The Worst Passions of Human Nature

White Supremacy in the Civil War North
Paul D. Escott

BUY Cloth · 248 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813943848 · $29.95 · Mar 2020
BUY Ebook · 248 pp. · ISBN 9780813943855 · $29.95 · Mar 2020

The American North’s commitment to preventing a southern secession rooted in slaveholding suggests a society united in its opposition to slavery and racial inequality. The reality, however, was far more complex and troubling. In his latest book, Paul Escott lays bare the contrast between progress on emancipation and the persistence of white supremacy in the Civil War North. Escott analyzes northern politics, as well as the racial attitudes revealed in the era’s literature, to expose the nearly ubiquitous racism that flourished in all of American society and culture.

Contradicting much recent scholarship, Escott argues that the North’s Democratic Party was consciously and avowedly "the white man’s party," as an extensive examination of Democratic newspapers, as well as congressional debates and other speeches by Democratic leaders, proves. The Republican Party, meanwhile, defended emancipation as a war measure but did little to attack racism or fight for equal rights. Most Republicans propagated a message that emancipation would not disturb northern race relations or the interests of northern white voters: freed slaves, it was felt, would either leave the nation or remain in the South as subordinate laborers.

Escott’s book uncovers the substantial and destructive racism that lay beyond the South’s borders. Although emancipation represented enormous progress, racism flourished in the North, and assumptions of white supremacy remained powerful and nearly ubiquitous throughout America.


Paul Escott deftly weaves together an avalanche of direct evidence to challenge the celebratory view that the Civil War substantially changed white racial attitudes. Although many white northerners during wartime did come to accept emancipation, few embraced genuinely equal rights for African Americans.

Daniel Crofts, The College of New Jersey, author of Lincoln and the Politics of Slavery: The Other Thirteenth Amendment and the Struggle to Save the Union

Revealing and disturbing, this important book is the fullest examination of the northern press and the dynamics of developing ideas about race-thinking. With sweeping scope and sobering detail, Escott offers an instructive corrective to commonplace assumptions about a supposedly enlightened northern public.

Randall Miller,, coauthor of, Saint Joseph’s University, coauthor of The Northern Home Front during the Civil War

About the Author(s): 

Paul D. Escott is Reynolds Professor of History Emeritus at Wake Forest University and author of Slavery Remembered: A Record of Twentieth-Century Slave Narratives, winner of the Mayflower Cup, and Lincoln’s Dilemma: Blair, Sumner, and the Republican Struggle over Racism and Equality in the Civil War Era (Virginia).

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