“The First Reconstruction: Black Politics in America before the Civil War,” Friday Colloquium with Franklin & Marshall’s Van Gosse

 10/15/2021

As part of the Kinder Institute’s Friday Colloquium Series, Franklin & Marshall Professor and Associate Chair of History Van Gosse will provide an overview of the research that went into his 2020 University of North Carolina Press monograph, The First Reconstruction: Black Politics in America, from the Revolution to the Civil War (see book description below). The talk, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 3:30pm on October 15 in Jesse Hall 410.

Book Description

It may be difficult to imagine that a consequential black electoral politics evolved in the United States before the Civil War, for as of 1860, the overwhelming majority of African Americans remained in bondage. Yet free black men, many of them escaped slaves, steadily increased their influence in electoral politics over the course of the early American republic. Despite efforts to disfranchise them, black men voted across much of the North, sometimes in numbers sufficient to swing elections. In this meticulously-researched book, Van Gosse offers a sweeping reappraisal of the formative era of American democracy from the Constitution’s ratification through Abraham Lincoln’s election, chronicling the rise of an organized, visible black politics focused on the quest for citizenship, the vote, and power within the free states.

Full of untold stories and thorough examinations of political battles, this book traces a First Reconstruction of black political activism following emancipation in the North. From Portland, Maine, and New Bedford, Massachusetts, to Brooklyn and Cleveland, black men operated as voting blocs, denouncing the notion that skin color could define citizenship.

Van Gosse received his A.B. in History from Columbia University and his Ph.D. in History from Rutgers University, and he currently serves as Professor and Associate Chair of History at Franklin & Marshall College. His teaching and scholarship focus on the African American struggle for citizenship and the politics and culture of the global Cold War, as evidenced in monographs ranging from The First Reconstruction: Black Politics in America, from the Revolution to the Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2020) to Rethinking the New Left: An Interpretive History (Palgrave MacMillan, 2005), which was named a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Book for 2006. He also recently co-edited, with Prof. David Waldstreicher, Revolutions and Reconstructions: Black Politics in the Long Nineteenth Century (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020). Among many career accolades and achievements, Prof. Gosse has published in a wide variety of academic journals and newspapers; founded Historians Against the War in 2003; received a 2015 NEH Fellowship; and since 2004 has helped direct Franklin & Marshall’s “F&M Votes” campaign, which seeks to register and turn-out the college’s entire student body on Election Day.