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Evil Necessity cover
February 2005
Evil Necessity
Slavery and Political Culture in Antebellum Kentucky
by Harold D. Tallant

Kentucky, birthplace of both Civil War presidents, also produced both ardent defenders of slavery and firebrand abolitionists. But as Dr. Harold Tallant details in Evil Necessity, most white 19th-century Kentuckians fell somewhere in between. Uneasy about the morality of slavery but fearful of the imagined consequences of emancipation, they espoused gradual solutions such as colonizing freed blacks to Africa—or simply hoped that slavery would wither away on its own. Activists on both sides were tolerated, but then found their efforts blocked by one group or another as the issue of slavery intersected with class differences, underlying regional resentments within the state, deep-seated and widely shared racism, and a fundamental distrust of sudden change. In the end, Kentucky seriously debated the very existence of slavery longer than any other slave state—but then became the only state to specifically reject the 13th Amendment that abolished it. In examining Kentucky’s ambivalence about the “peculiar institution,” Tallant sheds light not only on an important period of Kentucky history, but also on themes that still resonate in the state’s politics and culture.

Watch the program [requires RealPlayer®].

Card catalog entry from the Library of Congress information page

Barnes and Noble information page

Also on our shelves:

• Steven Weisenburger’s Modern Medea, our January 2003 selection, examines the legalities of slavery as reflected in the story of Margaret Garner, the runaway slave who inspired Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

• William Wells Brown’s Clotel, probably the first published novel by an African American, was based on his experiences as a slave in Kentucky. It was our February 2002 selection.

• Kentucky didn’t ratify the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery and granted citizenship rights to African Americans, until the nation’s bicentennial year of 1976. Passing for Black by Wade Hall, our March 1999 selection, is a biography of Mae Street Kidd, the legislator who campaigned to right the historical wrong and finally get the amendments ratified.

• Lowell Harrison’s Lincoln of Kentucky, our February 2001 selection, is a biography focusing on the ties Lincoln maintained to Kentucky throughout his presidency.

Harold Tallant
Harold D. Tallant

Contact information from the Georgetown College History Department pages

Video interview with bookclub host Bill Goodman, 1/21/05

The author’s web page at Georgetown College includes links to more information about Evil Necessity.

Related resources: web links on slavery

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