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02.06.14 Floan, Howard R., The South in Northern Eyes, 1831-1861, published in 1958

Notes Concerning the Author

Howard R. Floan (1918-2001) was professor emeritus of English and World Literature at Manhattan College, N.Y., and specialized in 19th century American fiction.

Our Review

This concise study explores a number of Northern writers and publishers who contributed to what Floan termed “the psychological conditioning for civil war” in the United States. Chapters and sections are devoted to William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, John Greenleaf Whittier, James Russell Lowell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, William Cullen Bryant, Walt Whitman, and various New England and New York magazines. Many of the authors, especially those from New England, wrote influential denunciations of slavery and the South, but in fact knew very little about either from any firsthand experience. A few of the subjects of Floan’s book, especially those who had spent time in the South, were sympathetic or at least fair to Southerners in their writings, but others, like William Lloyd Garrison, founder of the abolitionist newspaper the Liberator, were virulently anti-Southern. Floan wrote of him: “Garrison’s hatred of slavery became a hatred of the slaveholder, and the slaveholder became indistinguishable from the Southerner.” The picture of the South painted by many of these writers influenced public opinion in the North.

The South in Northern Eyes focuses on literary men, and perhaps for this reason Floan leaves out other important, influential abolitionist figures. For a more extensive study of the anti-slavery movement, a better book would be Otto Scott’s The Secret Six: John Brown and the Abolitionist Movement, published in 1993 (and recommended by the SISH). Some of the most influential anti-slavery agitators were Theodore Weld and his wife Angelina Grimke. Angelina and her sister Sarah Grimke purchased large quantities of Southern newspapers sold as waste from the New York Commercial Reading Room, and for six months the sisters went through thousands of them gathering details of any reported cruelties committed against slaves, as well as advertisements for runaways. Their efforts, with Weld as co-author, resulted in the sensational and influential book American Slavery As It Is, of which Otto Scott wrote: “Culled from over twenty thousand papers, the indictment—for it was just that—presented one atrocity after another with all the force of fact. It was, of course, a one-sided and incomplete picture of the condition of millions, as misleading as a compilation of arrest records and court cases would be in depicting the entire life of a nation…Charles Dickens’ chapter on slavery in American Notes in 1842 was based on Slavery As It Is…and Uncle Tom’s Cabin was also based on it.”

Availability of this Book

Published in 1958, Floan’s book has not been reprinted, but used copies (hardbound and paperback) can be purchased through the major online book retailers.