Ta-Nehisi Coates, David Brooks, and “Listening While White”

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Image credit: Penguin Random House

I just finished reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ bracing Between the World and Me. It came in the mail this afternoon, and I picked it up to read this evening. I could not put it down. I read it in one sitting.

This morning, before receiving my copy of Coates’ book length letter to his son, I read David Brooks’ article, “Listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates While White.”

Since I had not yet read Coates’ book, it was hard to critically assess Brooks’ piece. Now that I have read Coates’ book, I am most uncomfortable re-reading Brooks’ words.

I enjoy David Brooks’ writings. I don’t agree with him on everything. He’s definitely to my political left. But I often find him insightful, and he helps me consider points of view that I might not have considered had I not read his insights on some particular topic.

But perhaps Brooks should have indulged himself in a couple of solid nights’ sleep before writing this particular piece. I think–and take this for what it’s worth–but I think that perhaps Brooks would have been better served to follow his stated first intuitions–and just sat and listened.

Coates’ world is not my world. He describes my world as if it were part of another galaxy, separated by light years of cold and empty space from his own. I was one of those

little white boys with complete collections of football cards, and their only want was a popular girlfriend and their only worry was poison oak. That other world was suburban and endless, organized around pot roasts, blueberry pies, fireworks, ice cream sundaes, immaculate bathrooms, and small toy trucks that were loosed in wooded backyards with streams and glens (20).

Aside from the football cards and pot roast, Coates described the world I grew up in as accurately as though he were one of the Dillon brothers who lived next door to me on Brook Hollow Road.

But he didn’t grow up next door to me. He grew up in Baltimore. He grew up in a black body, a body that was perpetually in danger of being destroyed.

The crews walked the blocks of their neighborhood, loud and rude, because it was only through their loud rudeness that they might feel any sense of security and power. They would break your jaw, stomp your face, and shoot you down to feel that power, to revel in the might of their own bodies. . . . To survive the neighborhoods and shield my body, I learned another language consisting of head nods and handshakes. I memorized a list of prohibited blocks. I learned the smell and feel of fighting weather (22-23).

I didn’t grow up in Coates’ world. And he didn’t grow up in mine. And I do not live in a black body, so I have to concentrate as I read each word in this book in order to strain at understanding just what it is he is talking about. There isn’t time to think about what I think of his words. There is only time to listen and learn–while white.

In his article, Brooks writes,

I read this all like a slap and a revelation. I suppose the first obligation is to sit with it, to make sure the testimony is respected and sinks in. But I have to ask, Am I displaying my privilege if I disagree? Is my job just to respect your experience and accept your conclusions? Does a white person have standing to respond?”

He then assumes the answer is yes, and goes on to say,

If I do have standing, I find the causation between the legacy of lynching and some guy’s decision to commit a crime inadequate to the complexity of most individual choices.

I think you distort American history. This country, like each person in it, is a mixture of glory and shame. There’s a Lincoln for every Jefferson Davis and a Harlem Children’s Zone for every K.K.K. — and usually vastly more than one. Violence is embedded in America, but it is not close to the totality of America.

No, I do not think that a white person has standing–at least to disagree. And I’m not saying this as a guilt-wracked liberal. Who am I to disagree with that about which I know nothing? So what is the proper response from one who is, yes, white and privileged?

I think the proper response is to be quiet; to listen; to let the man speak and be heard. To let the man speak and be heard, not out of pity because of his experiences, not out of sorrow over past injuries to his people, but because of his humanity. And also because he is sharing with all of us a deeply personal letter to his son, his very flesh and blood.

Brooks closes his piece with these words:

Maybe you will find my reactions irksome. Maybe the right white response is just silence for a change. In any case, you’ve filled my ears unforgettably.

Yes, the right response is silence. For a change. Let privileged white commentary on the wisdom bestowed by a black father to his son on living in a black body be overshadowed and hushed, at least this once.

Toni Morrison, in her endorsement of the book, said that Coates was “clearly” the person to “fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died.” Baldwin also wrote a letter to a young relative, his nephew James, to be exact. The letter is included in his work, The Fire Next Time, and is entitled “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation.”

Speaking of white people, Baldwin said to his 15-year-old nephew:

There is no reason for you to try to become like white people. . . The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it.

Baldwin goes on to say:

And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers [white people] to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. . . . The country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon. We cannot be free until they are free.

Instead of feeling the need to defend the American dream, to justify American history, to inform Coates of one’s own differing personal narrative, and to disagree with Coates’ perspective–sit at the man’s feet, be his student, and ask, What can I learn from reading Coates, rather than, what can Coates learn from reading me? Because if Baldwin was right, then it is we who are white who need to be taught.

An American Exceptionalism Bibliography

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Below is a list of selected sources on American exceptionalism that I have found useful over the past several months. The topic is quite broad—my book is a treatment of exceptionalism in terms of historical theology, intellectual history, and American religious history. But exceptionalism can also be studied as political theory, sociology, economics, and even geography. So this bibliography is nowhere near exhaustive.

Still, I found each of these books helpful as I considered American exceptionalism. If you are interested in the topic, I hope you may find this bibliography useful. I’ve divided up the books by the following categories:

1. General Titles
2. Political Theory
3. Nationalism/American Nationalism
4. Puritans
5. Colonial Period
6. Revolutionary War
7. Early Republic/Antebellum America
8. Mexican American War
9. Territorial Expansion
10. Manifest Destiny
11. Slavery
12. Civil War
13. Abraham Lincoln
14. Theodore Roosevelt
15. Woodrow Wilson/World War I
16. World War II
17. Cold War
18. Ronald Reagan
19. War on Terror
20. American Exceptionalism/Civil Religion
21. Historical Thinking
22. Christian America
23. American Religion
24. Millennialism
25. Chosenness
26. Land
27. Civic Engagement
28. Church and State
29. Race

This bibliography is a work in progress, so if you see something I’ve missed, please do not hesitate to let me know!

General Titles

Adams, James Truslow. The Epic of America. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1932.

Stark, Rodney. America’s Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton, 2012.

Peterson, Houston, ed. A Treasury of the World’s Great Speeches. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1954.

Augustine. Concerning the City of God Against the Pagans. Translated by Henry Bettenson. New York: Penguin, 2003.

Mead, Walter Russell. God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World. New York: Knopf, 2007.

Kazin, Michael. American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation. New York: Vintage, 2011.

Bancroft, George. History of the United States, From the Discovery of the American Continent. 8 volumes. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1860.

Durant, Will and Ariel. The Story of Civilization. Vol. 7, The Age of Reason Begins: A History of European Civilization in the Period of Shakespeare, Bacon, Montaigne, Rembrandt, Galileo, and Descartes: 1558–1648. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961.

________. The Story of Civilization. Vol. 6, The Reformation: A History of European Civilization from Wyclif to Calvin: 1300–1564. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957.

Beard, Charles. The Rise of American Civilization. New York: Macmillan, 1930.

Commager, Henry Steele. The Empire of Reason: How Europe Imagined and America Realized the Enlightenment. New York: Anchor, 1978.

Political Theory

Hacker, Louis and Helene S. Zahler, eds. The Shaping of the American Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1947.

Locke, John. Second Treatise on Civil Government. Edited by Peter Laslett. Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, edited by Raymond Geuss and Quentin Skinner. 1960. Reprint, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Hartz, Louis. The Liberal Tradition in America: An Interpretation of American Political Thought Since the Revolution. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Co., 1955.

Sandoz, Ellis. A Government of Laws: Political Theory, Religion, and the American Founding. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2001.

Rousseau, Jean Jacques. The Social Contract. The Great Books of the Western World, edited by Robert Maynard Hutchins, no. 38. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952.

Lerner, Max. America as a Civilization: Life and Thought in the United States Today. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957.

De Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America. With an introduction by Alan Ryan. New York: Knopf, 1994.

Nationalism/American Nationalism

Kedourie, Elie. Nationalism. 4th exp. ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1993.

Boorstin, Daniel J. The Americans: The National Experience. With a foreword by Sean Wilentz. Francis Parkman Prize edition. New York: History Book Club, 2002.

Swomley, John M. American Empire: The Political Ethics of Twentieth-Century Conquest. London: Macmillan, 1961.

Baldwin, Leland D. The American Quest for the City of God. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1981.

Fousek, John. To Lead the Free World: American Nationalism and the Cultural Roots of the Cold War. Chapel Hill, N.C., 2000.

McKnight, Scot and Joseph B. Modica, eds. Jesus Is Lord; Caesar Is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies. With a foreword by Andy Crouch. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2013.

Nichols, Christopher McKnight. Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age. 2011; repr, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015.

Ninkovich, Frank. Global Dawn: The Cultural Foundation of American Internationalism, 1865-1890. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.

________. The Global Republic: America’s Inadvertent Rise to World Power. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.

________. The United States and Imperialism. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001.

Kohn, Hans. American Nationalism: An Interpretive Essay. New York: Macmillan, 1957.

Baritz, Loren. City on a Hill: A History of Ideas and Myths in America. New York: Wiley and Sons, 1964.

De Riencourt, Amaury. The American Empire. New York: Dell, 1968.

Ferguson, Niall. Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire. New York: Penguin, 2004.

Hart, Justin. Empire of Ideas: The Origins of Public Diplomacy and the Transformation of US Foreign Policy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Hartman, Andrew. A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Puritans

Bercovitch, Sacvan The Puritan Origins of the American Self. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975.

________., ed. The American Puritan Imagination: Essays in Revaluation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974.

________. The American Jeremiad. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978.

Bremer, Francis J and Lynn A. Botelho, eds. The World of John Winthrop: Essays on England and New England, 1588-1649. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2005.

McKenna, George. The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.

Miller, Perry and Thomas H. Johnson, eds. The Puritans: A Sourcebook of Their Writings. Vol. 1. 1963. Reprint, Mineola, NY: Dover, 2001.

Miller, Perry, ed. The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1956.

________. The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1956.

________.. Errand Into The Wilderness. Cambridge: Belknap, 1956.

________.. The New England Mind: From Colony to Province. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954.

________.. The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954.

Perry, Ralph Barton. Puritanism and Democracy. New York: Vanguard, 1944.

Colonial Period

Phillips, Kevin. The Cousin’s Wars: Religion, Politics, and the Triumph of Anglo-America. New York: Basic, 1999.

Revolutionary War

Wood, Gordon .The Radicalism of the American Revolution. New York: Knopf, 1992.

Albanese, Catherine L. Sons of the Fathers: The Civil Religion of the American Revolution. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1976.

Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Enlarged edition. Cambridge: Belknap, 1992.

Bonomi, Patricia U. “Religious Dissent and the Case for American Exceptionalism.” In Religion in a Revolutionary Age, Ronald Hoffman and Peter J. Albert, eds. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994.

Byrd, James P. Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Colbourn, Trevor. The Lamp of Experienced: Whig History and the Intellectual Origins of the American Revolution. 2nd edition. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998.

De Crèvecoeur, J. Hector St. John. Letters from an American Farmer and Sketches of Eighteenth Century America. Edited with an introduction by Albert E. Stone. New York: Penguin, 1986.

Gaines, James R. For Liberty and Glory: Washington, Lafayette, and Their Revolutions. New York: Norton, 2007.

Maier, Pauline. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Knopf, 1997.

Smith, Page, ed. Religious Origins of the American Revolution. Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1976.

Early Republic/Antebellum America

Cheathem, Mark R. Andrew Jackson: Southerner. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013.

Ellis, Joseph J. American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.

Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. Oxford History of the United States, edited by David M. Kennedy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Beeman, Richard. Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution. New York: Random House, 2009.

Freehling, William W. The Road to Disunion: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Meacham, Jon. American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation. New York: Random House, 2006.

Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War, 1848–1861. Completed and edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher. 1976. Reprint, New York: Harper Perennial, 2011.

Reynolds, David S. Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.

Shalev, Eran. American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013.

Wood, Gordon S. Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different. New York: Penguin, 2006.

________. The Creation of the American Republic: 1776 –1787. 2d ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

________. The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States. New York: Penguin, 2011.

Wilentz, Sean. The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln. New York: Norton, 2005.

Mexican American War

Clary, David A. Eagles and Empire: The United States, Mexico, and the Struggle for a Continent. New York: Bantam, 2009.

Pinheiro, John C. Missionaries of Republicanism: A Religious History of the Mexican-American War. New York: Oxford, 2014.

Territorial Expansion

Billington, Ray Allen. Westward Expansion: A History of the American Frontier. 2nd ed. New York: Macmillan, 1960.

Drinnon, Richard. Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire-Building. 1980. Reprint, Norman, OK: The University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.

Etulan, Richard W., ed. Does the Frontier Experience Make America Exceptional? Historians at Work, edited by Edward Countryman. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999.

Goetzmann, William H. Exploration and Empire: The Explorer and the Scientist in the Winning of the American West. Francis Parkman Prize edition. New York: History Book Club, 2006.

Kluger, Richard. Seizing Destiny: How America Grew from Sea to Shining Sea. New York: Knopf, 2007.

Kukla, Jon. A Wilderness so Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America. New York: Knopf, 2003.

Morgan, Ted. A Shovel of Stars: The Making of the American West—1800 to the Present. New York: Touchstone, 1995.

________. Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of the North American Continent. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

Manifest Destiny

Gomez, Adam. “Deus Vult!: John L. O’Sullivan, Manifest Destiny, and American Democratic Messianism.” American Political Thought: A Journal of Ideas, Institutions, and Culture 1.2 (Fall 2012): 236–262.

Hawk, L. Daniel. Joshua in 3-D: A Commentary on Biblical Conquest and Manifest Destiny. Eugene: Cascade, 2010.

Heidler, David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler. Manifest Destiny. Greenwood Guides to Historic Events, 1500-1900, Linda S. Frey and Marsha L. Frey, eds. London: Greenwood, 2003.

Hietala, Thomas R. Manifest Design: American Exceptionalism and Empire. Revised edition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985.

Hofstadter, Richard “Manifest Destiny and the Philippines.” In Daniel Aaron, ed. America in Crisis: Fourteen Crucial Episodes in American History. New York, 1952.

Merk, Frederick. Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History. With a foreword by John Mack Faragher. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Stephanson, Anders. Manifest Destiny: American Expansion and the Empire of Right. New York: Hill and Wang, 1995.

Slavery

Baptist, Edward E. The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. New York: Basic, 2014.

Blassingame, John W.. The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South. 1972. Reprint, New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Davis, David Brion. Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Horton, James Oliver and Lois E. Horton. Slavery and the Making of America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Northup, Solomon. Twelve Years a Slave. 1853.

Civil War

McPherson, James. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Moorhead, James H. American Apocalypse: Yankee Protestants and the Civil War, 1860-1869. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978.

Noll, Mark. The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Abraham Lincoln

Diggins, John Patrick. On Hallowed Ground: Abraham Lincoln and the Foundations of American History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Wolf, William J. The Almost Chosen People: A Study of the Religion of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Doubleday, 1959.

Guelzo, Allen C. Abraham Lincoln, Redeemer President. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.

Lincoln, Abraham. Selected Speeches and Writings. With an introduction by Gore Vidal. New York: Library of America Paperback Classics, 2009.

McPherson, James M., ed. “We Cannot Escape History”: Lincoln and the Last Best Hope of Earth. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001.

Mead, Sidney E. “Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Last, Best Hope of Earth’: The American Dream of Destiny and Democracy,” Church History 23:1 (March 1954): 3–16.

White, Ronald C. The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words. New York: Random House, 2005.

Theodore Roosevelt

Beale, Howard K. Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power. The Albert Shaw Lectures on Diplomatic History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1956.

Burton, David H. Theodore Roosevelt: Confident Imperialist. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1968.

Dalton, Kathleen. Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life. New York: Knopf, 2002.

DiNunzio, Mario, ed. Theodore Roosevelt: An American Mind, Selected Writings. New York: Penguin, 1994.

Roosevelt, Theodore. The Winning of the West. 4 volumes. Introduction by John Milton Cooper, Jr. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

________. Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography. 1913. Reprint, New York: Da Capo, 1985.

Woodrow Wilson/World War I

Babik, Milan. Statecraft and Salvation: Wilsonian Liberal Internationalism as Secularized Eschatology. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2013.

Gamble, Richard. The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2003.

MacMillan, Margaret. Paris, 1919: Six Months That Changed the World. With a foreword by Richard Holbrooke. New York: Random House, 2001.

Ninkovich, Frank. The Wilsonian Century: U. S. Foreign Policy Since 1900. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Wilson, Woodrow. A History of the American People. Five Volumes. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1908.

World War II

Borgwardt, Elizabeth. A New Deal for the World: America’s Vision for Human Rights. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005.

Kaye, Harvey. The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014.

Cold War

Inboden, William. Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945–1960. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Kinzer, Stephen. The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War. New York: Henry Holt, 2013.

Niebuhr, Richard. The Irony of American History. New York: Scribner’s 1952.

Offner, Arnold A. Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War, 1945–1953. Stanford Nuclear Age Series. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002).

Preston, Andrew. Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith. New York: Anchor, 2012.

Van Dusen, Henry P., ed. The Spiritual Legacy of John Foster Dulles: Selections from His Articles and Addresses. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960.

Freeman, Joshua B. American Empire: The Rise of a Global Power, the Democratic Revolution at Home, 1945–2000. The Penguin History of the United States. New York: Viking, 2012.

Ronald Reagan

Harrison, Maureen and Steve Gilbert, eds. The Speeches of Ronald Reagan. 2004. Reprint, Excellent Books, 2014.

Reagan, Ronald. Speaking My Mind: Selected Speeches. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989.

________. The Reagan Diaries. Edited by Douglas Brinkley. New York: Harper Perennial, 2007.

Skinner, Kiron K., Annelise Anderson, and Martin Anderson, eds. Reagan, In His Own Hand. New York: Touchstone, 2001.

War on Terror

Bacevich, Andrew J. The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. New York: Metropolitan, 2008.

Woodward, Bob. Bush At War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.

American Exceptionalism/Civil Religion

Ceasar, James W. “The Origins and Character of American Exceptionalism.” American Political Thought: A Journal of Ideas, Institutions, and Culture 1.1 (Spring 2012): 3-28.

Cherry, Conrad, ed.. God’s New Israel: Religious Interpretations of American Destiny. Revised Edition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Bellah, Robert N. and Phillip E. Hammond. Varieties of Civil Religion. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1980.

________. Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditional World. New York: Harper and Row, 1970.

________. The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Time of Trial. New York: Seabury, 1975.

Cobbs Hoffman, Elizabeth. American Umpire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013.

Chesterton, G. K. What I Saw in America. Civium Press, 2012.

Deneen, Patrick J. “Cities of Man on a Hill.” American Political Thought: A Journal of Ideas, Institutions, and Culture 1.1 (Spring 2012): 29-52.

Dunn, Charles, ed. American Exceptionalism: The Origins, History, and Future of Our Nation’s Greatest Strength. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2013.

Edwards, Jason A. and David Weiss. The Rhetoric of American Exceptionalism: Critical Essays. London: McFarland, 2011.

Fischer, Claude S. Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Gamble, Richard M. In Search of the City on a Hill: The Making and Unmaking of an American Myth. New York: Continuum, 2012.

Gardella, Peter. American Civil Religion: What Americans Hold Sacred. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Gelernter, David. Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion. New York: Doubleday, 2007.

Gingrich, Newt and Vince Haley. A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters. Washington: Regnery, 2011.

Glaser, Elizabeth and Hermann Wellenreuther, eds. Bridging the Atlantic: The Question of American Exceptionalism in Perspective. Publications of the German Historical Institute. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Greene, Jack P. The Intellectual Construction of America: Exceptionalism and Identity from 1492 to 1800. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

Guètin, Nicole. Religious Ideology in American Politics: A History. London: McFarland, 2009.

Guyatt, Nicholas. Providence and the Invention of the United States, 1607-1876. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Haberski, Raymond. God and War: American Civil Religion Since 1945. London: Rutgers University Press, 2012.

Hodgson, Godfrey. The Myth of American Exceptionalism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Hughes, Richard T. Myths America Lives By. With a foreword by Robert N. Bellah. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003.

Kagan, Robert. The World America Made. New York: Knopf, 2012.

Leithart, Peter J. Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective. Theopolitical Visions, Thomas Heilke, D. Stephen Long, and C. C. Pecknold, eds. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2012.

Lieven, Anatol. America, Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Lipset, Seymour Martin. American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996.

________. The First New Nation: The United States in Historical and Comparative Perspective. London: Transaction, 2003.

Lockhard, Charles. The Roots of American Exceptionalism: Institutions, Culture, and Policies. New York: MacMillan, 2003.

Madsen, Deborah L. American Exceptionalism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998.

Mead, Sidney E. “Nation With the Soul of a Church,” Church History 36:3 (September 1967): 262–83.

Onuf, Peter S. “American Exceptionalism and National Identity.” American Political Thought: A Journal of Ideas, Institutions, and Culture 1.1 (Spring 2012): 77-100.

Pease, Donald E. The New American Exceptionalism. Critical American Studies Series, George Lipsitz, ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

Pierard, Richard V. and Robert D. Linder. Civil Religion and the Presidency. Grand Rapids: Academie, 1988.

Pullen, John J. Patriotism in America: A Study of Changing Devotions, 1770-1970. New York: American Heritage Press, 1971.

Remillard, Arthur. Southern Civil Religions: Imagining the Good Society in the Post-Reconstruction Era. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011.

Restad, Hilde. American Exceptionalism: An Idea That Made a Nation and Remade the World. New York: Routledge, 2015.

Robbins, James S. Native Americans: Patriotism, Exceptionalism, and the New American Identity. New York: Encounter, 2013.

Schuck, Peter H. and James Q. Wilson, eds. Understanding America: The Anatomy of an Exceptional Nation. New York: PublicAffairs, 2008.

Shafer, Byron E., ed. Is America Different?: A New Look at American Exceptionalism. Oxford, 1991.

Strong, Josiah. Our Country. Jurgen Herbst, ed. Cambridge: Belknap, 1963.

Historical Thinking

Boyd, Jonathan. “This Holy Hieroglyph: Providence and Historical Consciousness in George Bancroft’s Historiography.” PhD diss., Johns Hopkins University, 2001.

Cheng, Eileen Ka-May. The Plain and Noble Garb of Truth: Nationalism and Impartiality in American Historical Writing, 1784-1860. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011.

Clark, Gordon H. Historiography, Secular and Religious. 1971. Reprint Jefferson, MD: Trinity, 1994.

Fea, John, Jay Green, and Eric Miller, eds. Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010.

Fea, John. Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013.

Keillor, Stephen J. God’s Judgments: Interpreting History and the Christian Faith. With a foreword by Mark A. Noll. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2007.

Le Goff, Jacques. History and Memory. Translated by Steven Rendall and Elizabeth Claman. European Perspectives, Lawrence D. Kritzman and Richard Wolin, eds. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

McKenzie, Robert Tracy. The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2013.

Molho, Anthony and Gordon S. Wood, eds. Imagined Histories: American Historians Interpret the Past. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998.

Momigliano, Arnaldo. The Classical Foundations of Modern Historiography. With a foreword by Riccardo di Donato. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

Nash, Ronald H. The Meaning of History. Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1998.

Noble, David W. Historians Against History: The Frontier Thesis and the National Covenant in American Historical Writing Since 1830. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 1965.

Wood, Gordon. The Purpose of the Past: Reflections of the Uses of History. New York: Penguin, 2008.

Christian America

Fea, John. Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011.

Hughes, Richard T. Christian America and the Kingdom of God. With a foreword by Brian McLaren. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009.

Kruse, Kevin. One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. New York: Basic, 2015.

Noll, Mark A., Nathan O. Hatch, and George M. Marsden. The Search for Christian America. Colorado Springs: Helmers and Howard, 1989.

Throckmorton, Warren and Michael Coulter. Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President. Grove City: Salem Grove, 2012.

Wilsey, John D. One Nation Under God?: An Evangelical Critique of Christian America. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011.

American Religion

Gaustad, Edwin S. and Mark A. Noll, eds. A Documentary History of Religion in America Since 1877. Third ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.

Gaustad, Edwin S. Faith of the Founders: Religion and the New Nation, 1776-1826. Second edition. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2004.

________.. A Religious History of America. Revised edition. New York: Harper San Francisco, 1990.

Heimert, Alan. Religion and the American Mind: From the Great Awakening to the Revolution. With a foreword by Andrew Delbanco. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1966.

Herberg, Will. Protestant-Catholic-Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology. New York: Doubleday, 1955.

Hoffer, Peter Charles, ed. The Marrow of American Divinity: Selected Articles on Colonial Religion. New York: Garland, 1988.

Hoffman, Ronald and Peter J. Albert, eds. Religion in a Revolutionary Age. Perspectives on the American Revolution, Ronald Hoffman and Peter J. Albert, eds. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1994.

Holmes, David L. The Faiths of the Founding Fathers. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Kidd, Thomas S. God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution. New York: Basic, 2010.

Lambert, Frank. The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Marsden, George M. Fundamentalism and American Culture, 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

________. Religion and American Culture. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990.

Noll, Mark A. A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992.

________. America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

________. Christians in the American Revolution. Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2003.

Humphrey, Edward Frank. Nationalism and Religion in America: 1774-1789. New York: Russell and Russell, 1965.

Sandoz, Ellis, ed. Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730-1805. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991.

Stout, Harry S. The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture iln Colonial New England. 25th Anniversary ed. With a foreword by Mark A. Noll. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

West, John G., Jr. The Politics of Revelation and Reason: Religion and Civic Life in the New Nation. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1996.

Witham, Larry. A City on a Hill: How Sermons Changed the Course of American History. New York: HarperOne, 2007.

Millennialism

Bloch, Ruth Heidi. “Visionary Republic: Millennial Themes in America Ideology, 1756-1800.” Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1980.

Tuveson, Ernest Lee. Millennium and Utopia: A Study in the Background of the Idea of Progress. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1949.

________. Redeemer Nation: The Idea of America’s Millennial Role. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968.

National Election

Anderson, Braden P. Chosen Nation: Scripture, Theopolitics, and the Project of National Identity. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2012.

Smith, Anthony D. Chosen Peoples: Sacred Sources of National Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Land

Brinkley, Douglas. The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America. New York: Harper, 2009.

Burge, Gary M. Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to ‘Holy Land’ Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010.

Burrow, John. A History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, Romances, and Inquiries from Herodotus to Thucydides to the Twentieth Century. New York: Knopf, 2008.

Fiege, Mark. The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012.

Glave, Dianne D. and Mark Stoll, eds. “To Love the Wind and the Rain”: African Americans and Environmental History. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006.

Glave, Dianne D. Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage. Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 2010.

Hersey, Mark D. My Work is That of Conservation: An Environmental Biography of George Washington Carver. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011.

Kennedy, Roger G. Mr. Jefferson’s Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Muir, John. The Eight Wilderness Discovery Books. London: Diadem, 1992.

Nash, Roderick. Wilderness and the American Mind. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967.

Smith, Kimberly K. African American Environmental Thought: Foundations. American Political Thought, Wilson Carey McWilliams and Lance Banning, eds. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2007.

McClay, Wilfred and Ted V. McAllister, eds. Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America. New York: New Atlantis, 2014.

Righter, Robert W. The Battle Over Hetch-Hetchy: America’s Most Controversial Dam and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism. New York: Oxford, 2006.

Stoll, Mark. Inherit the Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism. New York: Oxford, 2015.

Civic Engagement

Forsythe, Clarke D. Politics for the Greatest Good: The Case for Prudence in the Public Square. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009.

Guiness, Os. A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2012.

Hauerwas, Stanley. After Christendom? How the Church is to Behave if Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation are Bad Ideas. Nashville: Abingdon, 1991.

Koyzis, David T. Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2003.

Lasch, Christopher. The True and Only Heaven: Progress and its Critics. New York: W. W. Norton, 1991.

Noll, Mark. One Nation Under God? Christian Faith and Political Action in America. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988.

Noll, Mark, ed. Religion and American Politics: From the Colonial Period to the 1980s. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Noll, Mark A. and Luke E. Harlow, eds. Religion and American Politics: From the Colonial Period to the Present. 2nd Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Schlossberg, Herbert. Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture. With a preface by Robert H. Bork and a foreword by Charles Colson. Wheaton: Crossway, 1990.

Church and State

Driesbach, Daniel L. and Mark David Hall, eds. The Sacred Rights of Conscience: Selected Readings on Religious Liberty and Church-State Relations in the American Founding. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2009.

Kemeny, P. C., ed. Church, State and Public Justice: Five Views. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2007.

Wilson, John F. and Donald L. Drakeman, eds. Church and State in American History: The Burden of Religious Pluralism. Second ed. Boston: Beacon, 1987.

Race

Blum, Edward J. W. E. B. Du Bois: American Prophet. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.

________. Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2005.

De Beaumont, Gustave. Marie or, Slavery in the United States. Translated by Barbara Chapman. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Du Bois, W. E. B. Writings. Edited by Nathan Huggins. New York: Library of America, 1986.

Horsman, Reginald. Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981.

Marable, Manning and Garrett Felber. The Portable Malcolm X Reader. New York: Penguin, 2013.

Washington, James Melvin, ed. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: HarperOne, 1986.

Obama is Definitely an American Exceptionalist

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President Obama’s views on American exceptionalism are famously nuanced. In almost all of his statements on exceptionalism, he stresses America’s need for partnerships with other nations as well as America’s past failures to live up to its stated ideals. Nevertheless, Obama insists that he believes in American exceptionalism.

Since visiting Selma last March, many have commented on Obama’s articulation of exceptionalism. Articles have appeared in the Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Hill, National Journal—and even one by an obscure writer over at Then and Nowanalyzing Obama’s unique strain of exceptionalism that is inclusive, impatient with hypocrisy, calls America back to its original vision, and animated by an objective articulation of justice.

Many on the right become frustrated with Obama’s views on exceptionalism because he does not leave room for American innocence—which I argue in my forthcoming book is a facet of an exclusionary and imperialistic brand of exceptionalism which hijacks Christian theological affirmations (closed exceptionalism), and has been articulated throughout American history. Perhaps one reason why Obama comes under such criticism from conservatives is because we became accustomed to Ronald Reagan’s version of exceptionalism. Reagan sincerely believed that America was morally regenerate. To point to one example among many, he said in his 1984 presidential nomination speech at the RNC in Dallas, “America is the most peaceful, least warlike nation in modern history. We are not the cause of all the ills in the world. We’re a patient and generous people.”

But Obama’s reflective version of American exceptionalism is not an innovation. The Puritans of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries gave us a patriotic tradition of what George McKenna called “anxious introspection.” This anxious introspection appeared in their jeremiads, their particular genre of sermon that called their communities to repent from their sins and return to what they believed was their covenantal relationship to God. In his excellent book, The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism, McKenna argues that the Puritan tradition of anxious introspection has been handed down to every generation of Americans since the colonial period, and has been a distinguishable mark of American patriotism for centuries.

Today, Mr. Obama took to the podium to talk about the progress of the fight against ISIS. He made a salient statement in his remarks—“Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they are defeated by better ideas and more attractive and more compelling vision.” Doubtless, many conservatives are sure to pounce on those words as being weak. But in making that statement, Obama again firmly situated himself in an American exceptionalist tradition. The idea that America’s real strength is moral, spiritual, and philosophical rather than military is one that was articulated by two luminaries of American exceptionalism: John Foster Dulles and Ronald Reagan.

Dulles served as President Eisenhower’s secretary of state from 1953 to his death in 1959. No one has more consistently and strenuously articulated an image of America’s divine commission in the world than Dulles. He cast America’s confrontation with Soviet Communism in the early Cold War in cosmic terms of an eternal battle between good and evil. But he was confident in America’s final victory over Communism, because America was on the side of right. Furthermore, America would finally prevail over the Soviets, not because of superior arms, but by using the weapons of ideas. He said in his 1952 speech titled “A Policy of Instant Retaliation,” “Non-material forces are more powerful than those that are merely material. . . . We should use ideas as weapons; and these ideas should conform us to moral principles.”

Reagan saw the Cold War in similar terms. In his famous speech to the National Association of Evangelicals in March 1983—the same speech in which he said that the Soviet Union was “the focus of evil in the modern world”—he stressed that the way to fight the ideology of Communism was with the ideology of freedom and democracy. He said, “While America’s military strength is important, let me add here that I’ve always maintained that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith.”

Obama’s insistence that he believes in American exceptionalism is undeniable. His brand of exceptionalism is more nuanced than Giuliani’s, and even Reagan’s, to be sure. But even when Obama is not making any overt references to exceptionalism in his rhetoric, he shows himself to be squarely within the historical tradition of open American exceptionalism. This open exceptionalism is a Lincolnian articulation that appeals to the “better angels of our nature” in order that we may more consistently uphold the vision of the Founders and renew our faith in the justice of that vision as we face any and every trial.

Susan Castle on Life After Emancipation

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Here is the last segment of Susan Castle’s testimonial for the Federal Writer’s Project. I don’t know about you, but when I reach the end of Susan’s testimonial, I am loathe to part with her.

Here is a forthcoming history of slavery entitled A Short History of Transatlantic Slavery by British/Irish historian Kenneth O. Morgan that looks fascinating. You can pre-order the book prior to its scheduled release, which is November 2015 (same as another book with promise, hmmmm). Here is the description from Amazon:

From 1501, when the first slaves arrived in Hispaniola, until the nineteenth century, some twelve million people were abducted from west Africa and shipped across thousands of miles of ocean – the infamous Middle Passage – to work in the colonies of the New World. Perhaps two million Africans died at sea. Why was slavery so widely condoned, during most of this period, by leading lawyers, religious leaders, politicians and philosophers? How was it that the educated classes of the western world were prepared for so long to accept and promote an institution that would later ages be condemned as barbaric? Exploring these and other questions – and the slave experience on the sugar, rice, coffee and cotton plantations – Kenneth Morgan discusses the rise of a distinctively Creole culture; slave revolts, including the successful revolution in Haiti (1791-1804); and the rise of abolitionism, when the ideas of Montesquieu, Wilberforce, Quakers and others led to the slave trade’s systemic demise. At a time when the menace of human trafficking is of increasing concern worldwide, this timely book reflects on the deeper motivations of slavery as both ideology and merchant institution.

And here are Susan Castle’s final words to us–

“Christmas was somepin’ else. Us sho’ had a good time den. Dey give de chilluns china dollas and dey sont great sacks of apples, oranges, candy, cake, and evvything good out to de quarters. At night endurin’ Christmas us had parties, and dere was allus some N****r ready to pick de banjo. Marse Thomas allus give de slaves a little toddy too, but when dey was havin’ deir fun if dey got too loud he sho’ would call ‘em down. I was allus glad to see Christmas come. On New Year’s Day, de General had big dinners and invited all de high-falutin’ rich folks.

“My mudder went to de corn shuckin’s off on de plantations, but I was too little to go. Yes Ma’am, us sho’ did dance and sing funny songs way back in dem days. Us chillum used to play ‘Miss Mary Jane,’ and us would pet our hands and walk on broom grass. I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout charms. Dey used to tell de chillum dat when old folks died dey turned to witches. I ain’t never seed no ghostes, but I sho’ has felt ‘em. Dey made de rabbits jump over my grave and had me feelin’ right cold and clammy. Mudder used to sing to Miss Lucy to git her to sleep, but I don’t ‘member de songs.

“Marster was might good to his slaves when dey got sick. He allus sont for Dr. Crawford Long. He was de doctor for de white folks and Marster had him for de slaves.

“My mudder said she prayed to de Lord to not let N*****s be slaves all deir lifes and sho’ ‘nough de Yankees comed and freed us. Some of de slaves shouted and hollered for joy when Miss Marion called us togedder and said us was free and warn’t slaves no more. Most of ‘em went right out and left ‘er and hired out to make money for deyselfs.

“I stayed on wid my mudder and she stayed on wid Miss Marion. Miss Marion gave her a home on Hull street ‘cause mudder was allus faithful and didn’t never leave her. After Miss Marion died, mudder wukked for Miss Marion’s daughter, Miss Callie Hull, in Atlanta. Den Miss Callie died and mudder come on back to Athens. ‘Bout ten years ago she died.

“I wukked for Mrs. Burns on Jackson Street a long time, but she warn’t no rich lady lak de Cobbs. De last fambly I wukked for was Dr. Hill. I nussed ‘til atter de chillum got too big for dat, and den I done de washin’ til dis misery got in my limbs.”

When asked about marriage customs, she laughed and replied: “I was engaged, but I didn’t marry though, ‘cause my mudder ‘posed me marryin’. I had done got my clothes bought and ready. Mrs. Hull helped me fix my things. My dress was a gray silk what had pearl beads on it and was trimmed in purple.

“What does I think ‘bout freedom? I think it’s best to be free, ‘cause you can do pretty well as you please. But in slav’ry time, if de N*****s had a-behaved and minded deir Marster and Mist’ess dey wouldn’t have such a hard time. Mr. Jeff Davis ‘posed freedom, but Mr. Abraham Lincoln freed us, and he was all right. Booker Washin’ton was a great man, and done all he knowed how to make somepin’ out of his race.

“De reason I jined de church was dat de Lord converted me. He is our guide. I think people ought to be ‘ligious and do good and let deir lights shine ‘cause dat’s de safest way to go to Heben.”

At the conclusion of the interview Susan asked: “Is dat all you gwine to ax me? Well, I sho’ enjoyed talkin’ to you. I hopes I didn’t talk loud ‘nough for dem other N*****s to hear me, ‘cause if you open your mouth dey sho’ gwine tell it. Yes Ma’am, I’se too old to wuk now and I’se thankful for de old age pension. If it warn’t for dat, since dis misery tuk up wid me, I would be done burnt up, I sho’ would. Good-bye Mist’ess.”

Susan Castle: Thomas Cobb “Had Too Many Slaves To Do Anything Himself”

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T. R. R. Cobb’s house in Athens, Georgia. Susan Castle was a slave in this house.

In this segment, Susan tells us more about life as a slave of T. R. R. Cobb in Athens, Georgia. Here she tell us about Cobb’s family, that he sometimes whipped his slaves, and about his funeral after he was killed at the battle of Fredericksburg. Cobb was killed by stray shrapnel near the end of the day’s fighting, but there were rumors that he was shot by his own men out of spite. Susan’s perspective on Cobb’s death is interesting.

Susan was a child in the waning years of slavery, but the work was still hard. We get a sense of the never-ending labors endured by slaves, even from the standpoint of a child slave.

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A must-read on the history of slavery from women’s perspective is Deborah Gray White’s Arn’t I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South. Slave women had to endure the crushing weight of racism, but also had to deal with sexism as well. White’s book was first published in 1985 and the second edition appeared in 1999, but it is a classic work on the subject of women in slavery.

“In summer time us wore checked dresses made wid low waistes and gathered skirts, but in winter de dresses was made out of linsey-woolsey cloth and underclothes was made out of coarse unbleached cloth. Petticoats had bodice tops and de draw’s was made wid waistes too. Us chllun didn’t know when Sunday come. Our clothes warn’t no diffu’nt den from no udder day. Us wore coarse, heavy shoes in winter, but in summer us went splatter bar feets.

“Marse Thomas was jest as good as he could be, what us knowed of ‘im. Miss Marion, my Mist’ess, she won’t as good to us as Marse Thomas, but she was all right too. Dey had a heap of chillum. Deir twin boys died, and de gals was Miss Callie, Miss Sallie, Miss Marion (dey called her Miss Birdie), and Miss Lucy, det Lucy Cobb Institute was named for. My mudder was Miss Lucy’s nuss. Marse Thomas had a big fine melonial (colonial) house on Prince Avenue wid slave quarters in de back yard of his 10-acre lot. He owned ‘most nigh dat whole block ‘long dar.

“Oh! dey had ‘bout a hundred slaves I’m sho’, for dere was a heap of ‘em. De overseer got ‘em up ‘bout five o’clock in de mornin’ and dat breakfast sho’ had better be ready by seben or else somebody gwine to have to pay for it. Dey went to deir cabins ‘bout ten at night. Marse was good, but he would whup us if we didn’t do right. Miss Marion was allus findin’ fault wid some of us.

“Jesse was de carriage driver. Carriages was called phaetons den. Dey had high seats up in front whar de driver sot, and de white folks sot in de carriage below. Jesse went to de War wid Marse Thomas, and was wid him when he was kilt at Fredericksburg, Virginia. I heard ‘em say one of his men shot ‘im by mistake, but I don’t know if dat’s de trufe or not. I do know dey sho’ had a big grand fun’al ‘cause he was a big man and a general in de War.

“Some of de slaves on Marse Thomas’ place knowed how to read. Aunt Vic was one of de readers what read de Bible. But most of de Niggers didn’t have sense enough to learn so dey didn’t bother wid ‘em. Dey had a church way downtown for de slaves. It was called Landon’s Chapel for Rev. Landon, a white man what preached dar. Us went to Sunday School too. Aunt Vic read de Bible sometimes den. When us jined de chu’ch dey sung: “Amazing Grace How Sweet de Sound.”

“Marse Thomas had lots of slaves to die, and dey was buried in de colored folks cemetery what was on de river back of de Lucas place. I used to know what dey sung at fun’als way back yonder, but I can’t bring it to mind now.

“No Ma’am, none of Marse Thomas’ N*****s ever run away to de Nawth. He was good to his N*****s. Seems like to me I ‘memberrs dem patterrollers run some of Marse Thomas’ N*****s down and whupped ‘em and put ‘em in jail. Old Marse had to git ‘em out when dey didn’t show up at roll call next mornin’.

“Marse Thomas allus put a man or de overseer on a hoss or a mule when he wanted to send news anywhar. He was a big an and had too many slaves to do anything himse’f.

“I ‘spect dey done den lak dey does now, slipped ‘round and got in devilment atter de day’s wuk was done. Marse Thomas was allus havin’ swell elegant doin’s at de big house. De slaves what was house servants didn’t have no time off only atter dinner on Sundays.”

American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion Available for Pre-Order

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Head over to the InterVarsity Press website and order your copy now. Click here or on the book’s image to the right! Looks like there’s a 20% discount going on.

This is pretty exciting! Can’t believe that it will soon be in print and on the shelves! Release date is November 1.

Crèvecoeur and Du Bois on Being an American

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J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur (1735-1813) and W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963) are two figures who wrote extensively on the meaning of American identity. True, Crèvecoeur and Du Bois are products of two different historical and ethnic contexts. Their experiences and backgrounds were entirely different. But these thinkers’ considerations on American identity are worth examining alongside one another.

Head over to Then and Now to read some thoughts I put together on Crèvecoeur and Du Bois on being an American. Here is a taste:

First, some similarities: both recognized the promise of America. Crevecoeur saw the freedom of living on the frontier, the freedom from constraints, and the vast potential of the land, and exulted. Du Bois saw the hope in freedom from slavery after the war, which was a dream of centuries that was finally realized. He also saw hope in that new political rights, particularly the ballot, could be claimed by African Americans for the first time. And he also saw that African Americans had new access to the land, like the land in south Georgia, the “Egypt of the Confederacy,” as well as its potential. 

For both authors, the American promise was unfulfilled. Crevecoeur’s James—reflecting Crevecoeur’s own experience—is harried out of the land by war, thus losing his farm and his freedom. Du Bois writes about poor black farmers in Dougherty County, Georgia, languishing under crushing debt, exhausted soil, and the legacy of the degradations of racism and slavery. 

Both Crevecoeur and Du Bois understood that the idea of being an American was not neat and tidy. America offered freedom, hope, and opportunity in theory. But Crevecoeur could certainly affirm Du Bois’ statement in Souls, that “America is not another word for Opportunity to all her sons.”

Still, there are critical differences between these two American thinkers, aside from the obvious gulf between their cultural and historical circumstances. The most important difference is anthropological. Crevecoeur’s placid and optimistic perspective as a gentleman farmer on the American frontier, free from traditional constraints, is vexed and disrupted by the coming of war. American promise is denied him by external circumstances. Absent those unfortunate circumstances however, Crevecoeur may well have secured that promise of fruitful labor and a fulfilled life.