The American Scholar

The Runaway Question

THE WAR BEFORE THE WAR: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War

BY ANDREW DELBANCO

Penguin, 464 pp., $30

TRY AS THEY DID to define people as property, early American slaveholders knew that the enslaved had volition. Not surprisingly, various measures over the decades required that bonded laborers be restored to their owners, but although many people supported these laws, others resisted them. Runaway slaves forced Americans to take sides. As Andrew Delbanco shows in this wide-ranging, thought-provoking volume, slaves who sought to self-emancipate via escape transformed the law, politics, and culture of the

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