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The Trials of Anthony Burns: Freedom and Slavery in Emerson's Boston.

By Albert J. Von Frank '67. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998. 409 pp. $27.95.

Anthony Burns was arrested in Boston as a fugitive slave in the Spring of 1854 and held over pending a trial to determine whether or not he should be remanded to Charles Francis Suttle of Stafford County, Virginia, who claimed to be his "owner." To the administrators and supporters of the Fugitive Slave Law, and specifically Judge Edward G. Loring, the legal issue was simply a question of the identification of the ownership of a "piece" of property: could ownership be established by documents and testimony? Was this Anthony Burns the Anthony Burns that was sought? The abolitionist community was less unified in the way it defined the problem--whether to admit that Burns was a "slave" in any sense at all, for instance, for fear of endorsing a law it contested; but it was energized and roused to action along a number of alternative lines, seeking to liberate Burns by force, by purchase, or by legal argument. Other agencies and factions were brought to repressive counter-action, including the mayor and the newly formed Boston Police Department.

In the process, all sides in the controversy managed to articulate their assumptions and reasons for action about such issues as the interpretation of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the sovereignty of states, and fundamental human rights. Subsequently, the most famous statement inspired by the event was Henry David Thoreau's essay, "Slavery in Massachusetts," a remarkable piece of revolutionary writing, on which Albert Von Frank '67 provides a brief but insightful comments. None of the discourse in and around the case lacks interest, and one is especially grateful that the voices of such actors in the drama as Theodore Parker, Richard Henry Dana, and Burns himself are well represented.

Eventually, the administrative court did remand Burns to "ownership" by Suttle; after that, abolitionists purchased his freedom. Thus, the challenge to the established order posed by abolitionists was muted in an outcome that was, for many, a morally ambiguous victory. Yet these events did not transpire without bringing Boston into what Von Frank sees, within a rigorous definition of the term, as a revolutionary moment.

Von Frank is convincing in his argument that this moment should be called revolutionary, citing Hannah Arendt's "cogent and particularized characterization" of such moments as those when "governmental policies are identified not just as despotic, but as simultaneously despotic and unnecessary or revisable." The aim
of revolution must also include a redefinition of the body politic and the constitution (or re-constitution) of freedom. Implicitly, the trials and struggles over Burns are contests about the definition of the body politic because the Fugitive Slave Law had the effect of disenfranchising and enslaving individuals in a supposedly "free" state like Massachusetts. The law posed the dilemma of whether individual states were both sovereign and contained in their dominion, and whether--as Thoreau was especially keen in pointing out--some kind of principle or merely the will of a majority would hold sway over states and individuals. The effect was to create a "pocket revolution" in which individuals of all classes would align themselves variously on one case that resolved itself into one contradiction: either Burns was a man and entitled to the protection of a writ of habeas corpus (or the more obscure, and now defunct, writ of personal replevin), or he was a slave and a thing with no rights. Since he was evidently a man, the abolitionists with some logic concluded that self-evidence made the state, and those who supported it, guilty of self-contradiction in its case against Burns.

In this study of the Burns story, Von Frank narrates and analyzes a dramatic series of events that could easily be overlooked among the many cases of fugitive slaves in the decades prior to the American Civil War--easily overlooked except for the fact that these events uniquely focus so many issues brought forth in that historical moment. He deftly maintains his focus on the implications of these occurrences so that we see (and feel) their depth and range. He confesses the desire "to linger" over this moment "and to understand [it] in such depth and detail as a novelist might command." And he achieves that goal in narrative style and technique while also reaching a level of insight that makes one see that this story matters. His treatment shows how the case involves central concerns about the
meaning of freedom, calling upon the reader to understand history not as a sequence of inevitable actions leading from one set of circumstances to some other supposedly further or higher in the organization of society but as a contest over contingent relationships of ideas to action and action to ideas. In telling the story, Von Frank moves almost seamlessly between novelistic narration and historical analysis so that the two tendencies toward subjective engagement and intellectual judgment--inform each other.

Von Frank supplely engages contemporary critical discourses and seeks to revise previous critical premises. Among his revisionary aims, he tries to show (citing Stanley Elkins' Slavery [1959]) that abolitionists were more various in their ideological assumptions than is often assumed. His mode of exposition and inclusion of the voices of a novelistic array of characters in the drama help to support this claim. He also attempts to revise, somewhat, estimates of Ralph Waldo Emerson's role in this revolutionary moment, although in this he is less successful. Emerson can be charged with a lack of feeling and engagement in the moment. Compared to others like Theodore Parker, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and Thoreau, he displays a "notable absence . . . of any direct sympathy or fellow-feeling for the slave." Emerson's abolitionism stems, if I paraphrase fairly, from a concern with "the regime of freedom" rather than from a combination of principle and sympathy that Thoreau called "magnanimity." Von Frank's choice of the phrase "regime of freedom" is itself notable and perhaps condenses as well as any words this paradox within Emerson. For how can one have a "regime" of "freedom"? How can "freedom" be something instituted or "installed," especially when the revolution involves not the severing of ties to a government but a corrective movement within its framework to enfranchise those whom it had imperfectly excluded?

Von Frank seems to hold that it was Emerson's more distant and austere idealism that propelled Higginson, Parker, Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, Moncure Conway, and others to action. Thus the embedded assumption of the phrase in the subtitle of the book, "Emerson's Boston," is that his idealism was the dominant motivating force in that time and place. Certainly none of these individuals was outside the scope of Emerson's influence, but neither was any of them wholly within it, and Von Frank's narrative itself reveals that there were other forces--intellectual, cultural, and personal--that motivated each. What comes through more strongly than a sense of Emerson's intellectual dominance is how wonderfully Boston became a contested place in which different people contributed passionately and articulately to the redefinition--if only momentaryof the body politic, and how pitiful most of our own contemporary public discourse on similar issues sounds in comparison. His account of the "trial" or administrative hearing over Burns provides a fine example of how the logic of law sometimes reduces itself to a mere consistency that must be broken--and so, how laws must be broken
to let reality in. Von Frank's story does not just describe how things happened in a particular case; it provides a kind of parable of how things get to be the way they are, how administrative logic loses all track of something fundamental like good sense or courage and must be revised--by whatever means.

Whether as an example of how history can be engagingly and sympathetically written or as a work that gives insight into the history of conditions of citizenship and government in the United States, The Trials of Anthony Burns deserves a broad reception among readers--not just among specialists in American history and letters but among any who desire to understand our own contradictions in the pursuit of freedom.

--Stephen Hahn '75
Professor of English and Associate Provost, William Paterson University

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What they are reading


Prof. Allen J. Hart teaches the popular Introduction to Psychology two-semester course at Amherst. Below he offers suggestions for readers who would like to do some reading in psychology and related disciplines.

Current directions in psychology increasingly seem to be incorporating interdisciplinary approaches both within psychology and across discipline boundaries. Two such examples include: Darwinian principles to understand human social behavior and implications and application of psychological research for social policy.

Two examples of the former are Pinker, Steven, How the Mind Works, and LeDoux, Joseph, The Emotional Brain. Pinker espouses Darwinian principles to understand the human mind. He suggests that the mind is not a thing; rather, "the mind is what the brain does" and "intelligent systems" including "common sense" that can produce "sensible solutions" result from the same evolutionary forces that are responsible for the human body. LeDoux invokes Darwinian principles to explore how the human brain processes emotional stimuli. LeDoux considers a set of structures in the brain described as the "fear system" as a "cognitively unconscious" system that operates without engaging the higher processing systems of the brainilluminating ways in which our behavioral responses to objects are affected by factors outside of our conscious awareness.

Three examples of the latter are Etzioni, Amitai, The New Golden Rule, Bowen, William G. & Bok, Derek, The Shape of the River, and Jencks, Christopher & Phillips, Meredith, The Black-White Test Score Gap.

Etzioni advances the communitarian position that seeks to balance the needs of the individual with those of the larger society. He suggests that there are trade-offs that must be made in the name of the common good. The book details the implications that such things as mind-set have for a variety of social policies and practices.

Bowen & Bok provide a data-rich examination of the efficacy of affirmative action programs in college and university admissions, offering a kind of question-and-answer dialogue. They focus on how the students who attended the schools in their sample themselves benefitted, rather than focusing on other by-products of such programs, i.e., how a diverse student body enriches the educational process for all involved.

Jencks & Phillips, in an edited volume, investigate why the test-score gap between blacks and whites has persisted, and how it has changed, despite decades of political and policy attention. The contributors emphasize the psychological and cultural factors (such as socialization practices and responsiveness to classroom experience) that will close the test-score gap and will, they feel, do more to promote racial equality than any other strategy.

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Amherst College Books


A Politics of the Ordinary. By THOMAS L. DUMM, Professor of Political Science. New York, N.Y.: New York University Press, 1999. 215 pp. $18.50 paper.
Dumm explores today's political sceneincidents from daily life, political spectacles and popular culture. He describes how daily life in the United States intersects with and is influenced by the power of events, on the one hand, and by the forces of conformity and normalcy on the other. He combines poststructuralist analysis with a reading of American thought that begins with Emerson and culminates in the work of Stanley Cavell.

Cultural Pluralism, Identity Politics, and the Law. The Amherst Series in Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought. Edited by AUSTIN SARAT, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, and THOMAS R. KEARNS, William H. Hastie Professor of Philosophy. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 1999. 179 pp. $49.50 cloth.
It once seemed that the ideal of American citizenship was found in the promise of integration and the hope that no one would be singled out or judged by race or ethnicity. Nowadays, however, racial and ethnic groups are demanding that their distinctive histories and traditions be recognized and preserved. In their ongoing exploration of the relationship between law and culture, the editors have chosen essays by scholars from a variety of disciplines to explore the implications of this debate between separatism vs. assimilation and the law's role in both.

Rereading Russian Poetry. Edited and with an introduction by STEPHANIE SANDLER, Professor of Russian and Women's and Gender Studies. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 1999. Part of the Russian Literature and Thought Series. 384 pp. $40 cloth.
In this collection of essays, scholars, translators and poets from the United States, Britain, and Russia examine 20th-century Russian poets and poetry and the role of poetry in Russian culture. Sandler's introduction summarizes modern Russian and Western scholarship and introduces integrating themes. Contributors consider a cross-section of Russian poets from Pushkin to Brodsky, Shvarts and Kibirov. Some essays are devoted to individual poets while others take up broader trends; the poetry is cited in both Russian and English translation. Included are essays by CATHERINE CIEPIELA, Associate Professor of Russian, and ANDREW KAHN '84.

The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories. Edited and with an introduction by ILAN STAVANS, Professor of Spanish. London, England: Oxford University Press, 1998. 587 pp. $30 cloth.
This collection of stories, written over two centuries by 52 Jewish writers from around the world, encompasses a full spectrum of Jewish literary tradition. Beginning with a tale by the Hassidic Rabbi Nakhman of Bratzlav, Poland (1772-1811), Stavans includes works by not only the world's best-known Jewish writers (i.e., Aleichem, Babel, Bellow, Ozick, Oz, Singer, and others) but also lesser known and sometimes neglected writers.

Trying It Out in America: Literary and Other Performances. By RICHARD POIRIER '49. New York, N.Y. : Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1999. 320 pp. $25 cloth.
In defense of American literature's richness and an appreciation of American culture, Poirier presents 19 essays on literary criticism, authors, performers, and new editions of works. A noted scholar of American literature, particularly of the late 19th century, Poirier exalts Americans whose language, he feels, breaks free from constraints. These range from Whitman, James and Stein to novelists Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer and Truman Capote and includes even the ballets of George Balanchine and performances by Bette Midler.

Trouble in Academe: A Memoir. By FRITZ RINGER '56. New York, N.Y.: toExcel, 1999. 96 pp. $8.85 paper.
Trouble in Academe is a partly autobiographical account of two academic crises: one at Indiana University in the late 1960s and the other at Boston University during the 1970s. Now a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Ringer, an activist and self-described "cultural outsider," discusses his opposition to John Silber, Boston University's President.

Nadar Warhol: Paris New York: Photography and Fame. By GORDON BALDWIN '60 and Judith Keller, associate curators of photographs. Los Angeles, Calif.: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1999. 240 pp. $60 cloth.
This vividly illustrated book was written to accompany the Getty Museum's current exhibition devoted to two portrait photographers19th-century Parisian Nadar and the 20th-century New Yorker Andy Warhol. It traces their individual achievements and illuminates the role of the visual artist in the conscious creation of celebrity and the changing nature of fame.

A Guide to California's Freshwater Fishes. By BOB MADGIC '60, with illustrations by William L. Crary. Happy Camp, Calif.: Naturegraph Publishers, Inc., 1999. 160 pp. $19.95 paper.
This guidebook offers comprehensive and detailed information on the fish species inhabiting California's rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs. It shows ways that fish can be grouped for identification and study purposes, discusses the history and ecological importance of native fish species as well as the significance of governmental legislation such as the Federal Endangered Species Act, and identifies habitat conditions necessary for maintaining healthy fisheries.

Historic American Towns along the Atlantic Coast. By WARREN BOESCHENSTEIN '62. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. 352 pp. $39.95 cloth.
North American seaports developed as places of commercial exchange between the New World and Europe and the West Indies. With the industrial and transportation revolutions, some coastal settlements grew into cities while others fell behind and survived in relative isolation. The focus of this book is on those "towns left behind," from Castine, Maine, to Saint Augustine, Florida, that reflect the diversity of American culture and the changes in town planning and architecture over four centuries. Using nearly 200 historic maps, drawings, and photographs, as well as interviews with community leaders, Boeschenstein provides a guide for coastal travelers and a handbook for historic preservation and town planning.

For the Record: 150 Years of Law and Lawyers in Minnesota. Edited by WOOD R. FOSTER, JR. '65 and Marvin R. Anderson. Minneapolis, Minn.: Minnesota State Bar Association, 1999. 458 pp.
An illustrated history presented by the Minnesota State Bar Association, this book was published at the intersection of the 150th anniversary of the appointment of the state's first judge and the end of the millenium. It provides a compact public record of the achievements and national leadership exhibited by Minnesota lawyers.

The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828. By SAUL CORNELL '82. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1999. 352 pp. $55 cloth, $19.95 paper. Fear of centralized authority has been rooted in American history since the struggle over the U.S. Constitution in 1788, which pitted Federalists against Anti-Federalists. While the Federalists won the battle over ratification, Cornell claims that the ideas of the Anti-Federalists continue to define American politics. Exploring the full range of Anti-Federalist thought, Cornell illustrates its continuing relevance, noting that Anti-Federalist writings are increasingly quoted by legal scholars and cited in Supreme Court decisions.

The South in Black and White: Race, Sex, and Literature in the 1940s. By McKAY JENKINS '85. Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 1999. 240 pp. $34.95 cloth, $16.95 paper.
Focusing on four white southern writersW. J. Cash, William Alexander Percy, Lillian Smith and Carson McCullersJenkins examines the changing nature of racial politics in the 1940s South. In discussing race and gender, identity and repression, Jenkins describes the impact of these and other Southern writers on white southern literature, history and culture.

A Native's Guide to Chicago's Northern Suburbs. By JASON FARGO '92. Chicago, Ill.: Lake Claremont Press, 1999. 207 pp. $12.95 paper.
Written by a Highland Park native, this guide explores the many facets of Chicago's northern suburbs. Fargo offers a personal tour with historical anecdotes of the local landmarks, architecture, nature preserves, botanical gardens, sports and cultural centers, and provides advice on the best restaurants, boutiques, and inns.

Compiled by Elizabeth J. Rolander

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