Making Freedom

The Underground Railroad and the Politics of Slavery

By R. J. M. Blackett

136 pp., 5.5 x 8.5, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3610-8
    Published: August 2017
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-0877-8
    Published: September 2013
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4506-1
    Published: September 2013
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-0878-5
    Published: September 2013

Steven and Janice Brose Lectures in the Civil War Era

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The 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, which mandated action to aid in the recovery of runaway slaves and denied fugitives legal rights if they were apprehended, quickly became a focal point in the debate over the future of slavery and the nature of the union. In Making Freedom, R. J. M. Blackett uses the experiences of escaped slaves and those who aided them to explore the inner workings of the Underground Railroad and the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, while shedding light on the political effects of slave escape in southern states, border states, and the North.

Blackett highlights the lives of those who escaped, the impact of the fugitive slave cases, and the extent to which slaves planning to escape were aided by free blacks, fellow slaves, and outsiders who went south to entice them to escape. Using these stories of particular individuals, moments, and communities, Blackett shows how slave flight shaped national politics as the South witnessed slavery beginning to collapse and the North experienced a threat to its freedom.

About the Author

R. J. M. Blackett is Andrew Jackson Professor of History at Vanderbilt University and author of Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War, among other books.
For more information about R. J. M. Blackett, visit the Author Page.


"The clarity of Blackett's vision make[s] this book suitable for a variety of audiences, including undergraduates, graduate students, and professional historians. Blackett's storytelling makes for compelling writing, while the implications of those stories stimulate thinking."--Journal of the Civil War Era

“[A] riveting book.”--Journal of Southern History

"Perceptively demonstrates that although marginalized, oppressed, and persecuted, formerly enslaved African Americans impacted 'the politics of scale' and determined the trajectory of the slavery debate in the United States."--Journal of African American History

“Blackett delivers many vivid accounts of escapes. . . as well as an illuminating discussion of slave catching and the organized kidnapping of free blacks.”--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Gracefully written. . . . Clear and supported by evidence.”--The North Carolina Historical Review

“A must-read for all scholars of American slavery and the [Underground Railroad]”--West Virginia History