A professor of history at Bowdoin College, Patrick Rael is a specialist in African American history. His most recent book, Eighty-Eight Years: The Long Death of Slavery in the United States, 1777-1865 (2015), was a finalist for the Harriet Tubman Prize, awarded by the New York Library’s Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. His other works include Black Identity and Black Protest in the Antebellum North (2002), African American Activism before the Civil War: The Freedom Struggle in the Antebellum North (2008), and Pamphlets of Protest: An Anthology of Early African-American Protest Literature (2001). He has written extensively about teaching, has contributed to the development of African American history curricula, and for over a decade has led seminars and workshops on teaching American history in primary and secondary schools.
Why did it take so long to end slavery in the United States, and what did it mean that the nation existed eighty-eight years as a “house divided against itself,” as Abraham Lincoln put it? The decline of slavery throughout the Atlantic world was a protracted affair, but no other nation endured anything like the United States. Here the process took from 1777, when Vermont wrote slavery out of its state constitution, to 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery nationwide. In this talk, Rael shows how African Americans played the central role in ending slavery in the United States. Fueled by new Revolutionary ideals of self-rule and universal equality—and on their own or alongside abolitionists—both slaves and free blacks slowly turned American opinion against the slave interests in the South. Secession followed, and then began the national bloodbath that would demand slavery’s complete destruction.