Guyatt argues that, from the Revolution through the Civil War, most white liberals believed in the unity of all human beings. But their philosophy faltered when it came to the practical work of forging a color-blind society.
...brilliant and provocative...Guyatt can at times overstate his case...[but] by demonstrating that segregationist ideas began at the founding, were sanctioned by well-intentioned white liberals, and had spread across the nation, Guyatt has written a remarkable history that matches the gravity of the problem.
Many intelligent Americans held these ideas, including Jefferson and Madison, as well as prominent physicians such as Benjamin Rush and David Ramsay. They and many others get attention in Mr. Guyatt’s engaging narrative. His account is so all-embracing that at times it fragments into stories that overlap thematically but do not intersect...Mr. Guyatt’s argument might usefully be qualified in other ways. He shows that racial segregation found some support in the Enlightenment’s 'benevolent' concern for the well-being of America’s non-whites. But his account plays down other guiding ideas. Racial segregation often reflected a raw fear of racial mixing and racial warfare, as well as anxieties felt by the liberal and illiberal alike.
Guyatt’s juxtaposition of attitudes and policies relating to Indians and blacks yields important insights. But the book is not entirely persuasive. For one thing, its structure seems at odds with its argument. Chapters on Native Americans alternate with those on blacks, creating a disjointed narrative that makes it difficult to find the links between the two stories. Like many writers with a bold thesis, Guyatt is prone to exaggeration...Viewing the story fundamentally as a problem of race relations obscures the crucial difference between the place of Native Americans and blacks in the emerging national economy.