007: Jonathan Earle, 37


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

7: Jonathan Earle, 12-19-05

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Associate Professor of History, University of Kansas, Department of History; Also Associate Director for Programming, Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics.
Areas of Research: 19th Century U.S. antislavery and democratic movements, and U.S. political history.
Education: Ph.D., Princeton University, 1996
Jonathan Earle JPG Major Publications: Jacksonian Antislavery and the Politics of Free Soil, 1824-1854 (UNC Press, 2004); The Routledge Atlas of African American History (Routledge, 2000)
Earle is currently working on a book on John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry for Bedford/St. Martin’s Press.
Awards: Winner of the 2005 SHEAR First Book Prize, Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. Co-winner, 2005 Byron Caldwell Smith Book Prize, Hall Center for the Humanities, University of Kansas.
Celebration of Teaching Honoree, Center for Teaching Excellence, University of Kansas, 2002
National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, 2000; American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, 1999-2000; Huntington Library Research Fellowship, 1999-2000 (San Marino, California).

Personal Anecdote:

I was already almost a year into research on a dissertation about the New York Anti-Rent Wars of the 1840s when I found out someone else was working on the same topic. This is exactly the type of horrific fantasy that keeps graduate students up in the middle of the night. The place I found out was more than a little ignominious – in the men’s room of the Library Company of Philadelphia, where a senior scholar one urinal over remarked “I think there’s someone at Yale working on that very topic.” Well, I told myself, maybe this person had a peculiar or different take on the uprising from me. Maybe he or she had stalled and would never finish. Or perhaps the topic was meaty enough to support two dissertations.

A very long phone conversation with that particular graduate student convinced me that I should back off. He had a five-year head start on me, was working with David Davis, and was interested in the same political and cultural ramifications that I was among landless tenants in the Hudson Valley in the decades before the Civil War. I decided to take some of my preliminary conclusions about democracy, land, and antislavery politics from that project and broaden the study to look at the entire antebellum North. After that initial trauma, I couldn’t be happier with my decision. Not only do we have an important study of the Anti-renters from Prof. Reeve Huston, but my own book on the origins of the free soil movement has begun to garner good reviews and even some praise from prize committees.

If there is any moral to this story, it’s that oftentimes conflicts over shared topics can have positive outcomes for all parties. I may have added to my time in graduate school, but I think my dissertation and book benefited from my year with the Anti-Renters. They’re still in there – it’s just a little harder to find them. And they’re part of a larger story about how the politics of land and slavery collided in North the 1840s and 50s.


By Jonathan Earle

  • Free Soil Democrats’ opposition to slavery did not imply the abandonment of other established ideas or positions. Indeed, this particular antislavery impulse grew straight from the roots of the Democracy’s long-standing commitment to egalitarianism or, put in opposite terms, the rank and file’s ingrained hostility to centralized power and its perceived tendency to promote social and economic inequality. As Marvin Meyers noted in the 1950s, radical, hard-money Democrats developed a shorthand description for this interlocking set of powerful individuals and institutions they called the Money Power. Vaguely defined and characterized in pictures and prose as a multi-tentacled monster, the Money Power exerted its majesty through privileged access to the nation’s banking system…By the mid-1830s, however, Democratic dissidents, reasonably satisfied that Jackson and his administration had the Money Power on the run, discovered that another enemy – slavery – had arisen in its place. To make matters worse, this Slave Power was allied with the New England textile barons to ensure a profitable future for cotton, market capitalism, and slavery. — Jonathan Earle, in Jacksonian Antislavery and the Politics of Free Soil, 1824-1854

About Jonathan Earle

  • “Jonathan Earle revises the revisionists in this lucid and well-argued demonstration of the vital Jacksonian contribution to the abolition of slavery. Jacksonian Antislavery enriches the literature of the age of Jackson.” — Arthur Schlesinger Jr.
  • “In this first-rate, path-breaking book, Jonathan Earle engages familiar literature and, much to his credit, takes our understanding of political antislavery into unexplored terrain. He shows persuasively that Free Soil Democrats stood apart from other antislavery activists whose reformist agenda was both broader and infused with evangelical uplift. He illuminates a largely ignored dimension of the Free Soil and Republican parties and, in the process, enriches our understanding of the sectional crisis.” — Michael A. Morrison, Purdue University
  • Loved it, Loved the man, great class, very funny.”…”I loved this class, it was my favorite at KU.”…”Awesome Professor!!!” — Anonymous former students

Posted on Saturday, December 17, 2005 at 11:49 PM

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