Review: American Uprising by Daniel Rasmussen

Publisher: Harper
Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: January 4, 2011
FTC: Review copy provided by the publisher
Blurb: (due to the length, placed at end of review)

I love micro-histories. They highlight stories often lost to history, and often have a narrow focus that allows them to go in-depth into the subject. And such is the case with American Uprising by Daniel Rasmussen.

The research into this forgotten piece of history is amazing. The volume of first person quotes and primary source material used is tremendous. And Rasmussen's writing avoids that dry, textbookish style of writing often present in so many histories.

Unfortunately, the author seems unwilling to trust his reader to form her own opinions based on the information presented, choosing instead, to use sarcasm and hit-you-over-the-head condemnation to make sure the reader knows that slavery was a violent, evil system. I could have done without it. I don't mind having a distinct premise, but I do not like being told how I should feel about something. I'm perfectly capable of doing that myself.

Aside from the "slavery was awful" premise, there is a much more interesting one: that this slave revolt was not the rag-tag group of slaves that the few surviving mentions of the event described. Instead, it was a politically motivated, highly organized rebellion that was deliberately erased from the collective memory of the region. And, that far more compelling thesis is shown through a vast collection of correspondence and contemporary sources.

My Grade: B-

The Blurb:
In January 1811, five hundred slaves, dressed in military uniforms and armed with guns, cane knives, and axes, rose up from the plantations around New Orleans and set out to conquer the city. Ethnically diverse, politically astute, and highly organized, this self-made army challenged not only the economic system of plantation agriculture but also American expansion. Their march represented the largest act of armed resistance against slavery in the history of the United States. 

American Uprising is the riveting and long-neglected story of this elaborate plot, the rebel army's dramatic march on the city, and its shocking conclusion. No North American slave uprising—not Gabriel Prosser's, not Denmark Vesey's, not Nat Turner's—has rivaled the scale of this rebellion either in terms of the number of the slaves involved or the number who were killed. More than one hundred slaves were slaughtered by federal troops and French planters, who then sought to write the event out of history and prevent the spread of the slaves' revolutionary philosophy. With the Haitian revolution a recent memory and the War of 1812 looming on the horizon, the revolt had epic consequences for America.
Through groundbreaking original research, Daniel Rasmussen offers a window into the young, expansionist country, illuminating the early history of New Orleans and providing new insight into the path to the Civil War and the slave revolutionaries who fought and died for justice and the hope of freedom.

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