Historian Alice L. Baumgartner tells the story of why Mexico abolished slavery and how its increasingly radical antislavery policies fueled the sectional crisis in the United States. This is an account of the coming of the American Civil War, showing the crucial role of slaves who escaped to Mexico.
The story of how Black people in a slaveholding society affected federal policy by their movements, by their defiance and by their very existence has been told before. But rarely has this story been told as compassionately, or rendered as beautifully ... Significantly, [the] author take[s] the long tradition of Black resistance as a given; the book [is] not [a] study of racial exceptionalism, but of Black political agency as a persistent current ... masterfully researched, yet [the author's] greatest contribution lies in the radical implications of [her] thesis: that 19th-century American politics were shaped as much by Black resistance to enslavement as by the institution of slavery itself ... Baumgartner’s placement of fugitive slaves at the center of this story is not merely cosmetic. The fact that the commander in Nacogdoches wrestled with whether to grant them freedom, despite the legal precedent for doing so, shows how slavery, emancipation and empire were constantly renegotiated based on enslaved people’s movements across geographical and political boundaries.
Gripping and poignant stories ... There is much to admire in South to Freedom, starting with Ms. Baumgartner’s dogged and extensive binational research ... Ms. Baumgartner is a fluid writer, with a natural gift for structure and pacing as well as the nicely turned phrase ... South to Freedom is at its best when Ms. Baumgartner describes, with skill and great sensitivity, the experiences of those enslaved men and women who, in resisting their oppression, bravely quit the United States altogether. Their stories challenge the glib assumption held by many Americans—those of the 19th century as well as the 21st—who have long taken for granted the idea of Mexican national inferiority. Most of all, their accounts serve as a stark reminder of the severely circumscribed nature of liberty in the antebellum United States and its tragic costs not only for the enslaved but also the republic itself.
Her book shows that 'enslaved people who escaped to Mexico . . .contributed to the outbreak of a major sectional controversy over the future' of slavery in the U.S ... Many individuals on all sides are portrayed here, but the most compelling stories are those of enslaved people who, at considerable risk, escaped for what they hoped would be a better life in Mexico ... Baumgartner’s fast-paced yet detailed exploration is consistently illuminating and offers a new way to understand the past. It is a must-read for anyone seeking a fuller awareness of our history.