Kate Rube and Merriah Fairchild. RIPOFF 101: 2nd Edition: How the Publishing Industry’s Practices Needlessly Drive Up Textbook Costs: A National Survey of Textbook Prices. February 2005: State Public Interest Research Groups. 1.
Mutter, John. “High Textbook Prices Draw More Attacks.” Publisher’s Weekly. 7 February 2005 accessed 13 December 2005 at .
The authors explain in their Preface that Morison wrote Volume 1, except for the chapters on the Civil War. (Preface, v)


This essay reviews U.S. history textbooks written by scholars associated with Columbia University from 1911, when the first such book was published, to the present. The survey examines the epistemology of the authors, and the display, organization and size of the books, and discusses the histories of three varied subjects that result: a woman leader with similarities to a prominent contemporary man (Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams), a disadvantaged social group (the life of slaves in the South), and a political abstraction (the Marbury v. Madison Supreme Court decision).

Textbooks are defined as survey histories produced for an educational market. Limiting the study to scholars with similar academic backgrounds, many of whom were personally acquainted, highlights, it is hoped, the differences in their approaches to history.

The works considered, arranged by date, are believed to be a comprehensive list of U.S. history textbooks produced by Columbia scholars. References to these textbooks are provided in-line.

  • David S. Muzzey. The United States of America. 2 Vols. (1911 revised 1922: Ginn and Company). Muzzey received his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1907. He taught at Barnard College from 1905-1922 and at Columbia from 1922 to 1940. His text is perhaps the most popular U.S. history ever. “For nearly half the century, a high percentage–perhaps even a majority–of American schoolchildren learned American history from [this] book,” wrote textbook historian Frances Fitzgerald.

  • Charles A. Beard, and Mary R. Beard. History of the United States: A Study in American Civilization (1921 revised 1929: Macmillan). Charles Beard received his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1904. He taught at the University from 1907-1917. Mary Beard enrolled as a Ph.D. student in Political Science at Columbia but did not complete her degree. She was not subsequently affiliated with any institution of higher education.

  • Richard Hofstadter, William Miller and Daniel Aaron. The American Republic (1959 8th printing 1965: Prentice-Hall, Inc.). Hofstadter wrote that the work of Charles and Mary Beard inspired him to study history. He received his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1942 and taught at the University from 1946 to 1970. His colleagues and he offered a “special acknowledgement” to Graff and Shenton in The American Republic. (vi)

  • James Shenton, History of the United States: A College Course Guide, 2 Vols. (1963: Doubleday). Shenton graduated from Columbia College in 1949 and received his Ph.D. from the University in 1954. He served on the faculty from 1951 to 1997.

  • Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager, The Growth of the American Republic. 2 Vols. (1930 5th Ed. 1965: Oxford University Press). Commager taught at Columbia from 1939-1956. The Growth of the American Republic was “the most successful American history textbook of the mid-twentieth century,” historian Alan Brinkley wrote in 1999.

  • Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager. A Short History of the United States (1952 5th Ed. 1966: Alfred A. Knopf). Nevins taught at Columbia from 1928 to 1958. He became friends with Commager in 1932 and helped him obtain a position on the Columbia faculty, according to Brinkley. Their relationship was “the most important friendship in both men's lives,” Brinkley says.

  • Harry J. Carman, Harold C. Syrett and Bernard W. Wishy. A History of the American People. 2 Vols. (1952 3rd Ed. 1967: Alfred A. Knopf). Carman attended Columbia College and taught at the University from 1918 to 1950. His colleagues and he acknowledge the “invaluable criticisms and suggestions” provided by Graff, among others, for their textbook . (Vol. 1: ix)

  • Henry F. Graff, The Free and the Brave (1967 3rd printing 1968: Rand McNally & Co.). Graff received his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1949 and taught at the University from 1946 to 1992. He dedicated his book to his “beloved teacher” Carman. (Frontispiece)

  • John A. Garraty, The American Nation: A History of the United States (1966 3rd Ed. 1975: Harper & Row). Garraty was Gouverneur Morris Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University.

  • Alan Brinkley. American History: A Survey (1959 10th Ed. 1999: McGraw-Hill College, Boston). Brinkley has been a faculty member at Columbia since 1991. In 1999, he described Commager as “one of the best-known and most revered American historians of the twentieth century.”+

  • Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty! An American History (2005: W. W. Norton). Foner received his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1969 and has taught at the University since 1982. He thanks Brinkley for “advice and encouragement throughout the writing…” of his textbook. (xxvii).



All of the authors appear to agree that facts exist and the essence of useful history is interpretation. Muzzey sets the tone when he writes that he “aims at something beyond that mere chronicling of the facts of the past in fuller detail…” (Vol. 1: iv). Shenton agrees: “What is history–an accumulation of chronological facts about a nation? It is that, of course. But ‘facts’ do not tell the whole story. More important, more significant, and more interesting are the theories, the problems, the reasons behind the facts. History, then, answers not only what?, where?, when? and who?, but also why?, and how?” (vii). Brinkley writes, “The world, some scholars argue, is simply a series of ‘narratives’ constructed by people who view life in very different and often highly personal ways. ‘Facts’ do not really exist. Everything is interpretation. Not many historians embrace such radical ideas; most would agree that interpretations, to be of any value, must rest on a solid foundation of observable fact.” (9)
There is less agreement, however, about what goal, if any, should be served by their texts. The earlier writers favor broad philosophical objectives. Muzzey argues for nationalism. “Our destiny is not the making of money, but the making of America,” he says of historians (Vol. 1: iv). The Beards advocate a better understanding of spiritual matters: “Mankind lives not by politics alone nor by bread alone but also by things of the spirit which form ideals, inspire love of beauty and ennoble action,” they write. (v-vi) Hofstadter, Miller and Aaron pump for self-awareness. “To understand our heritage is to improve our knowledge of ourselves,” they write. (vi)

Later authors are less certain that such objectives should, or can, be pursued. They argue for methodology rather than motive. “We believe that history embraces the whole of a people's activity: economic and social, literary and spiritual, as well as political and military,” say Morison and Commanger. (v-vi) “We do not think that the past should be studied from a single viewpoint or that it can be explained by one theory to the exclusion of all other theories,” write Carman, Syrett and Wishy (though they undercut their argument in the next sentence: “But, while rejecting any over-all thesis, we have not failed to take a stand on controversial issues,” (vii)). “[O]ur history provides an object lesson in how the past affects the present, or rather, how a series of pasts have changed a series of presents in an unending pattern of development,” Garraty writes. (xv) Nevins and Commager, and Graff, skip the subject altogether.

Decisiveness about the nature of history, and at least some of the objectives of textbooks, returns with the two most recent authors. Both present as conclusive the idea that history is a perpetually contested concept. “[H]istorians do recognize that even the most compelling facts are subject to many different interpretations and that the process of understanding the past is a forever continuing–and forever contested–process,” Brinkley writes. (9) “Rather than a fixed collection of facts, or a group of interpretations that cannot be challenged, our understanding of history is constantly changing. There is nothing unusual in the fact that each generation rewrites history to meet its own needs…” Foner writes. (xxii). Brinkley does not discuss the broader purpose of history textbooks but Foner, in a phrase reminiscent of Muzzey, writes, “Especially in a political democracy like the United States, whose government is designed to rest on the consent of informed citizens, knowledge of the past is essential…” (xxi).


The pedagogy of the books reflects the influence of technology, the development of a specialized market for textbooks, and the idea that history is a debate best understood through consideration of a variety of views.

The earliest volumes in this survey look very much like other books published at the same time and appear to have sold for comparable sums. Recent textbooks, by contrast, are enormous constructions that burst with colorful pictures, maps, illustrations, and special reference sections, and are much larger, heavier and more expensive than most history books. The most recent textbook, by Foner, for example, weighs 6.0 pounds and sells for $99.40 at the time of writing, according to Amazon.com. His non-textbook survey on the same theme, The Story of American Freedom, weights 1.1 pounds and sells for $11.53. Brinkley’s textbook, the only other volume still in print, sells for $108.44 and weighs 5.4 pounds, Amazon.com reports.

Chart 1 shows that the average number of words used to describe U.S. history has not changed significantly in the past 94 years, and indeed appears to be regressing, as it were, toward the mean. The number of words was calculated by choosing 10 pages from each textbook at random and counting the number of full lines of text on those pages to determine the average number of lines of text per page. In books that appeared to have a wide variability in the amount of text per page a second sample of 10 pages was taken from pages 100-109 and the two results averaged. The number of words in the first 10 lines on the first page of the random sample was then counted to determine the average number of words in each line. The number of pages of narrative text in each book (exclusive, for example, of the Table of Contents, Appendixes, and Index) was determined by examination. The number of narrative pages was then multiplied by the average number of text lines per page and the average number of words per line to produce an approximate total number of words in each textbook. Supporting data for each chart, including the pages selected at random, the raw text line counts per page, and other results, are included in Table 1. Chart 2 shows that the total number of pages in the texts also has fluctuated around a stable average.

What has changed is the size of the pages and the amount of non-text material included in the books. This is shown in Chart 3, which reveals a steady rise in page size and total page area in the books, and Chart 4, which shows a continuing reduction in the number of words per square centimeter over the past three decades. Page size and total page area in each book was determined by measuring the page size to determine the number of square centimeters and multiplying that total by the number of pages, including non-narrative pages, in the book. Total words were divided by total square centimeters to calculate the words per square centimeter in each book.

The market, as discussed in the case of the two texts in print, has supported the development of a specialized market for textbooks, including those written for U.S. history. This process appears to have accelerated in recent years. “Textbook prices are increasing at more than four times the inflation rate for all finished goods, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Producer Price Index. The wholesale prices charged by textbook publishers have jumped 62 percent since 1994, while prices charged for all finished goods increased only 14 percent. Similarly, the prices charged by publishers for general books increased just 19 percent during the same time period,” the Higher Education Project of the State Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) organization reported in a critical February 2005 report titled Ripoff 101. The Association of American Publishers attacked the report for “flawed methodology, selective use of data and lack of acknowledgment of recent research data that offer a different point of view,” according to Publisher’s Weekly, but does not appear to contest the existence of a specialized textbook market. .

A chronological review of the textbooks details the changes discussed above.

Muzzey presents approximately 515,000 words on about 417,000 square centimeters of paper in two volumes. Explanatory footnotes provide additional details in a manner still typical of non-textbook history books. There are no illustrations, but 18 black and white maps are included in the first volume, plus one two-page color spread; and 15 maps are offered in the second volume. A bibliography that includes suggested research topics appears at the end of each volume.
The Beards offer about 300,000 words on a much smaller 166,000 square centimeters of paper. The book features several new stylistic elements characteristic of contemporary textbooks: text broken into sub-sections with bold headings; no footnotes; chapters that end with a pedagogical aids, in this case a list of references, study questions, suggested research topics, and relevant historical fiction; and Appendixes, which here feature the Constitution, state population tables, and a table of the Presidents. There are 27 maps including, as in Muzzey, one two-page color spread, dozens of line drawings, and 17 full-page black and white photographic plates.

Hofstadter, Miller and Aaron provide the longest text to date: about 593,000 words on around 572,000 square centimeters. The major structural change is a vast expansion of chapter bibliographies. “Among the most popular features have been the lists of readings following each chapter and the many maps and illustrations,” the authors write. (v) A table of Vice-Presidents is added to the Appendix package.

Shenton interrupts the trend toward greater complexity. His two-volume treatise, just 285,000 words on 189,000 square centimeters, the most concise effort since the Beards, does introduce the first flow-chart (an explanation of the evolution of political parties) but does not include bibliographic information, study questions, or the Constitution.
Morison and Commanger return to the trend of bigger books. Their two-volume effort offers 699,000 words on around 619,000 square centimeters, the longest work so far. Chapter bibliographies are expanded even further compared to the Hofstadter work, further supplemented by a general bibliography. Tables that list Justices of the Supreme Court, Speakers of the House, and Cabinet members are introduced to the Appendix collection.

Nevins and Commanger veer back to Shenton’s concise approach in their “Short History:” 204,000 words on 175,000 square centimeters. The text is supplemented by a dozen maps, 32 black and white photographic plates, and a 16 page bibliography. There is no Appendix.

The trend toward greater structural complexity and a larger number of illustrations of various types returns for good, however, with Carman, Syrett and Wishy, who tell their story in 665,000 words on about 347,000 square centimeters. The book has over 100 pictures and dozens of maps and charts, and introduces the first graphs.

Graff provides about 319,000 words on 316,000 square centimeters. His book is alive with colors, maps and illustrations. Every chapter ends with review questions and section called The Workshop with more extensive review materials and study questions and occasional short bibliographies. His Appendix contains the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and, for the first time, some tables about U.S. geography. The Index, in a final first, includes a key to pronunciation.

The number of color illustrations takes another step forward with Garraty. His 462,000 words on 449,000 centimeters are supported by hundreds of pictures, including several two-page spreads. Maps include color highlights for the first time. Detailed captions appear. Art, although corralled in special “portfolios” outside the main narrative, is shown for the first time as a kind of historical document in its own right, rather than an illustration of history.

In Brinkley’s 552,000 word 610,000 square centimeter work, color pictures have infiltrated almost every area of the book, including the Table of Contents. All maps are printed in full color. Charts number in the dozens. Internet references appear in the chapter bibliographies. The Appendixes continues to expand: signatories are added to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and tables of economic statistics appear.

Foner’s text, finally, provides the fullest example to date of variety. The book offers about 390,000 words, seventh of the 11 works by length, but has a record page area of around 704,000 square centimeters. A new note From the Publisher highlights a host of new or expanded pedagogical features including chapter outlines, focus questions, Voices of Freedom boxes, suggested readings, and chapter reviews. The book is supported by supplements that include a web site, a two-volume study guide, a companion reader with 137 primary-source documents, an Instructors Manual and Test Bank, a media library CD-ROM, and transparencies of all maps. (xxix-xxx)

Three Stories

Some effects of the philosophical and structural changes discussed above are illustrated by three stories from the textbooks: Anne Hutchinson, slaves life in the South, and Marbury v. Madison.

Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams
The earliest text does not mention Hutchinson; the older works, present her as an adjunct to Williams of indeterminate gender; the more recent books recognize her as a woman but are generally dismissive of her abilities; Brinkley and Foner offer the most complete and flattering descriptions.

Muzzey, as noted, does not mention Hutchinson. He gives Willaims a single sentence. (17)

The Beards present Hutchinson as an adjunct to Williams, then banish her. “Very early in the development of Massachusetts, two citizens, Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, began to criticize its management. Williams believed that every person had a right to worship God as he pleased … Mrs. Hutchinson, besides holding similar views, also objected to certain religious doctrines of the Puritans. Alarmed by the teachings of these agitators, the rulers of Massachusetts banished them both,” the pair write. (29) A picture shows a statue of Hutchinson holding a book and looking skyward. (30)

Hofstadter, Miller and Aaron give Hutchinson a more significant role, but downplay her intelligence and do not recognize her gender. “Her theologizing … threatened the foundations of the state, and in 1638 the magistrates ordered her to be expelled from the colony. Early in the following year she was excommunicated for heresy. She left Massachusetts for Rhode Island with her husband and children…” they write. (50)

Shenton places Hutchinson well behind Williams. The latter, he writes, was “…the greatest of those dissenters who advocated religious liberty.” (39). He does credit Hutchinson as a leader and a significant threat to Winthrop. She and her supporters, Shenton writes, were able to secure the election of John Vane as Governor in 1636. “For the next year orthodox leadership fought grimly to regain control of the colony,” he continues. After Winthrop was re-elected in 1637, however, Hutchinson, as with the other histories, is abruptly dismissed. She “was summarily ordered to leave Massachusetts, and she fled,” he writes. (41)

Morison and Commager follow Shenton’s description of Hutchinson as secondary to Williams. He was, they write, “[T]he most interesting as well as the most modern of the Puitains.” (65) Hutchinson warrants just one sentence, and then only as an adjunct to Williams: “Anne Hutchinson of Boston, who set up as a personal prophetess, and Master Roger Williams, who differed with Bay authorities on many matters, were banished …” they write. (65)

Nevins and Commager recognize Hutchinson’s gender for the first time. “Anne Hutchinson, originally of Salem, and the first woman to take a prominent part in religious and political matters, preached doctrines akin to what later, in Emerson's day, was called transcendentalism,” they write. After that beginning, however, the story follows its familiar summary conclusion. Their complete account continues: “It was the duty of every individual, she said, to follow the promptings of an inner supernatural voice; and it was the presence of the Holy Ghost within, and not any amount of good works or sanctification, which really saved an individual. Living for a time in the Rhode Island country, she finally perished in an Indian massacre in New York.” (27)
Carman, Syrett and Wishy repeat, by do not develop, the account of Nevins and Commager. “Being an extremely gifted woman, she was able to defend her ideas with a wealth of learning.… Her opinions were too dangerous to be permitted circulation by the oligarchy, and in 1638 she was forced to leave Massachusetts …” they write. (91)

Graff gives Hutchinson about the same amount of space as Williams. He too recognizes her gender, but downplays any political role. “She was the kind of person welcomed in a community that suffers loneliness and boredom. She gossiped, comforted the sick, and enjoyed thinking and talking about the meaning of the ministers’ sermons,” he writes. (92) “She quickly attracted a following because she had a reputation as a midwife and because of the force and charm of her manner.” (92). Her trial is not discussed. “Her banishment was postponed over winter because she was expecting a baby,” he concludes. (93)

Garraty presents Hutchinson as an adjunct to the previously unknown Mr. Hutchinson and is dismissive of her intellect. “Anne Hutchinson, wife of a prominent Boston settler, also got into trouble with the dominant clique in Massachusetts. Mrs. Hutchinson, a headstrong, rather opinionated woman, presumed to discuss and sometimes disagree with the sermons of her minister. … [Her] loose and intellectually imprecise interpretation of ‘salvation by grace’ attracted many followers but clashed with the official theology.” (22) “She too was banished,” he concludes. (22)

Brinkley provides a comprehensive revision. He marks her gender for the first time in 33 years, and elevates her above Williams. “An even greater challenge to the established order in Massachusetts Bay [than Williams] emerged in the person of Anne Hutchinson, an intelligent and charismatic woman from a substantial Boston family,” he writes. (55-56) “Hutchinson also created alarm by affronting prevailing assumptions about the proper role of women in Puritan society. She was not a retiring, deferential wife and mother, but a powerful religious figure in her own right,” he writes. (56) He describes her political power: “Hutchinson's followers were numerous and influential enough to prevent Winthrop's re-election as governor in 1636, but the next year he returned to office and put her on trial for heresy.” (56) He notes her skill as an advocate: “Hutchinson embarrassed her accusers by displaying a remarkable knowledge of theology; but because she continued to defy clerical authority … she was convicted of sedition and banished …” (56) A picture shows Hutchinson preaching with arms upraised to two women, who listen with equanimity, and nine men, several of whom appear distraught. (56)

Foner gives Hutchison her own sub-heading, although no picture. He agrees with Brinkley that her gender is important: “More threatening to the Puritan establishment both because of her gender and because she attracted a large and influential following was Anne Hutchinson.” (70-1). He describes her skill as an advocate: “A combative and articulate woman, Hutchinson more than held her own during her trial.” (71). Roger Williams is presented as separate, but with an approximately equal amount of text, under his own sub-heading.

Slave Life in the South
The presentation of slave life in the South and the Peculiar Institution is comparable to the treatment of Hutchinson in that it becomes progressively more detailed. It is unlike the first story, however, in that arguments presented by earlier historians–that life might not have been all bad for slaves, and that slave owners were also harmed by the practice–are largely eliminated in more recent accounts.

Muzzey does not directly address slave life. In his discussion of the slave trade he describes Africans as objects: “The unoffending African served as the medium of exchange … packed into the stifling holds of wooden vessels … with all the horrors of the ‘middle passage.’” (Vol. 1: 311) Later, he presents arguments that slavery was a blessing for the slaves as politically expedient: “[T]he attack of the abolitionists on slavery as a moral evil developed pari pasu a defense of the institution as a useful social arrangement and a positive material and moral blessing for the negro.” (Vol. 1: 391).

The closest the Beards get to a discussion of slave life is a description of the poor conditions of former slaves at the end of the Civil War: “On the day of emancipation they stood free but empty-handed, the owners of no tools or property, generally the masters of no trade and wholly inexperienced in the arts of self-help that the whites as a rule possessed. They had never been accustomed to looking out for themselves.…They did not understand wages, ownership, renting, contracts, mortgages, leases, bills or accounts.” (434-5). The passage is illustrated by In Gayer Hours by Thomas Eakens, which shows a barefoot boy dancing while another plays a banjo and a third observes.

Mistreatment of slaves appears in Hofstadter. “The custom of flogging recalcitrant Negroes was widespread. Some planters set their dogs on runaway slaves, and hundreds of authentic records testify to the brutal punishment of Negroes who struck white men or who committed misdemeanors.” (Vol. 1: 513). Slaves agency also appears for the first time: “Many tried to buy their freedom, and a few succeeded. Failing this, they often ran away …. Others feigned sickness, mutilated themselves, simply loafed, and sometimes openly rebelled to escape forced servitude.” (Vol. 1: 513-4). However, Hofstadter concludes, the indignities of the system cut both ways: “The kindliest slaveholder, either as a buyer or a seller, was sometimes forced to break up Negro families. In short, the slaveholder was frequently victimized by the system.” (Vol. 1: 514)

Shenton discusses slave revolts and runaways, but does not the describe the more subtle forms of slave resistance catalogued by Hofstadter. He maintains that most slave owners took reasonably good care of their property, even to the extent of hiring poor whites to do some especially demanding jobs: “Slave conditions varied. On the larger plantations adequate, though rude, provision was made for them. Self-interest dictated such action …. Rather than risk the lives of their slaves, owners often hired white workers, usually Irish immigrants, to do the dangerous work of draining swamps and loading heavy bales of cotton on riverboats.” (Vol. 1: 309) There were, however, abuses: “Mere misdemeanors were punished by flogging; capital crimes led almost invariably to lynch law, with roasting at the stake a frequent punishment.” (Vol. 1: 310) He concludes: “Slavery degraded not only the slave but also the master.” (Vol. 1: 310)

Morison and Commager present wildly varied accounts of slave life. They leave conclusions up to the reader. “What did the Negro himself think of this system? Here we have inferences that are poles apart,” Morison writes. (Vol. 1: 524) He then presents both sides: “On the one hand …. The pampered domestic servant, the happy, carefree, banjo-playing ‘darkey’ …. On the other hand, Negro slavery in the South has been called the most oppressed and exploited system of labor in history.” (Vol. 1: 524) The discussion starts on a happy note: “[T]he Negro was a great success as a slave.… Between him and his Southland he acquired so strong a love that, even under freedom, it was long before any appreciable number would move to other sections or countries…” (Vol. 1: 525). Indeed, he says, “The beautiful octoroons of New Orleans, equal in their profession to the most talented courtesans of old France, were bought and sold like field hands–but at much higher prices.” (Vol. 1: 526). As to slave owners, “While the average European or North American disliked the Negro as such, the Southern slave-owner understood and loved him as a slave; Southern gentlefolk still love him ‘in his place.’ (Vol. 1: 526). Then, the other shoe falls. The text concludes, “Instances of sadistic cruelty to slaves are so numerous in the records that they cannot be dismissed as mere abolitionist propaganda.… [and] should not a system be judged by the extremes that it tolerates? May we not judge Hitler’s regime by the gas chambers…” (Vol. 1: 527)

Nevins and Commanger do not mention slave life.

Carman does not address slave life directly. He does speculate that slavery may not have been an economically advantageous system for slave owners. “The effect of slavery on the planter’s profits is a question on which few historians agree,” he writes. (Vol. 1: 591) True, slaves received no compensation for their labor, he observes, but they were a risky place to store capital. “A bolt of lightning, for example, killed twenty slaves on one plantation, and on another a poisoned well carried off a whole gang and reduced its owner to bankruptcy,” he writes. (Vol. 1: 591) He agrees that everyone suffered: “…there can be no doubt that it victimized the South as a whole.” (Vol. 1: 592). He concludes with an extensive review of arguments advanced by slave owners in favor of the Peculiar Institution–a term that makes its first appearance in the texts here, perhaps following the 1956 publication of The Peculiar Institution by Kenneth Stampp–for example, that it was practiced in ancient Greece and Rome, is described in the Bible, was thought by some to be part of a natural order, and had other claimed advantages. An illustration from Harper’s Weekly shows a preacher, presumably a slave, addressing a mixed audience. (Vol. 1: 593-4)

Graff puts the focus back on the slaves. The effect of slavery, he writes, “[W]as to make him so dependent on his master that his ambition, will, and self-respect were destroyed. Then the master often regarded him as shiftless and lazy and in need of stern control.” (355) In fact, Graff writes, “Slaves learned how to avoid work on their jobs.” (356) Kind masters are still discussed in Graff’s account, but he matches their mention with an observation about laws that barred slaves from education: “[M]any masters treated their slaves with kindness. There were the natural ties of affection that developed among people dependent on one another as slave owners and slaves were. Laws in every slave state forbade the teaching of reading and writing to bondsmen.” (356). Illustrations show slaves at work in the fields, getting rations, and enjoying “a happy time.” (355-6)

Garraty returns to the approach of Nevins and Commager and Carman: he does not directly discuss slave life. “The injustice of slavery needs no proof; that it stifled the southern economy is clear,” he writes. The closest he gets to the subject is a tangential mention in a section titled “Psychological Effects of Slavery.” The bulk of this discussion is devoted to a review of the damage done to slave owners: “Slavery warped whites almost as severely as blacks,” he says. (314) “Probably the large majority of owners respected the most fundamental personal rights of their slaves,” he adds. (315) Illustrations show a poster advertising a slave sale, a painting of the Richmond slave market by a British artist, and two drawings by an Austrian artist of slaves working on a Louisiana sugar plantation. A separate Portfolio section about Alexis de Toqueville mentions his dislike of slavery–although, Garraty adds, his “[a]ristocratic heart was warmed by southern charm.” (P3-xii)–and shows pictures of rich slave owners, working slaves, and a slave auction. (P3-xii-Ps-xiii).

The nature of slave life receives a “Where Historians Disagree” discussion in Brinkley’s book. “No issue in American history has produced a richer literature or a more spirited debate than the nature of American slavery,” he writes. (384-5) He does not take a position on the debate in this section, but summarizes the historiography. In the main text of his book, however, Brinkley writes, “[I]t is clear that the vast majority of southern blacks were not content with being slaves.” (389) He maintains that, “Most masters did make some effort to preserve the health–and therefore the usefulness–of their slaves” (386), and agrees with Shenton that hired labor was sometimes used “when available, for the most unhealthy or dangerous tasks.” (386). In contrast to Morison, however, he writes that “Virtually all reacted to freedom with joy and celebration; relatively few chose to remain in the service of the whites who had owned them before the Civil War …” (389) Indeed, Brinkley describes nearly constant slave opposition to their masters through a combination of active and passive resistance. (389-91) In a first for the Columbia texts, he discusses slave life in both urban and rural contexts, and provides an extended discussion about the culture of slavery including slave language and music, religion, and family. The music section is further supplemented by a two-page history of songs by slaves. A special Timeline of Significant Events includes several slave revolts. Numerous photographs and paintings that illustrate various aspects of slavery are presented–including the same illustration of a slave preacher credited to Harper’s in Carman’s text, now in color and credited to the Bettman Archive. (394) The damaging effects of slavery on slave owners cited by earlier authors are not mentioned, except for the case of white women, who are said to have suffered from sexual relations their husbands had with female slaves. (380) Defenses of slavery advanced by earlier authors are not mentioned in the main text.

Foner provides the most complete discussion of slave life. He begins his history earlier than the others: distinct slave communities emerged in the Chesapeake, South Carolina and Georgia in the mid-1700s, he writes in an introductory chapter on Slavery, Freedom and the Struggle for Empire to 1763. (131, 118-159) He proceeds immediately to a discussion of early slave revolts, including the 1739 Stono Rebellion which he says was partially successful. (131) (Brinkley, the only other author to mention the rebellion, disagrees: “Whites quickly crushed the uprising and executed most participants,” he writes on page 96). The majority of his discussion about slave life appears in a full 35-page chapter titled The Peculiar Institution. (386-421). Here Foner expands on the themes covered by Brinkley, with the possible exception of music, and adds considerable detail about slave labor, urban slavery, sex and slaves, and slave revolts, among other subjects. There is no ambiguity about his view of slave attitudes toward their condition. “For slaves, the ‘peculiar institution’ meant a life of incessant toil, brutal punishment, and the constant fear that their families would be destroyed by sale,” he writes. (400) The proslavery arguments enumerated in earlier works reappear, but are reduced to a three paragraph sub-section. (396-7). No specific mention is made of suffering slave owners although the system’s economic limitations (391) and loneliness suffered by some plantation mistresses (396) are discussed.

Marbury v. Madison and Judicial Review
Finally, the example of Marbury v. Madison shows that the newer texts, despite their expanded size, slight some important subjects covered in detail by earlier books.

Muzzey notes that the Constitution does not explicitly provide for judicial review, but ends his analysis of Marbury there: “It was the first instance of the annulment by the Supreme Court of an act of Congress, the first assumption of the power, nowhere granted to the court by the Constitution, of declaring acts of Congress unconstitutional,” he writes. (Vol. 1: 207)

The Beards give extensive coverage to weaknesses in Marshall's opinion. “In rendering the opinion of the Court, Marshall cited no precedents. He did not build his argument on history, but rested it on the general nature of the American system,” they write. (246) Full voice is given to Jefferson's rejection of Marshall's logic: “If the idea was sound, he exclaimed, ‘then indeed is our Constitution a complete felo de se [legally, a suicide]. For, intending to establish three departments, coordinate and independent that they might check and balance one another, it has given, according to this opinion, to one of them alone the right to prescribe rules for the government of the others, and to that one, too, which is unelected by and independent of the nation. … The Constitution, on this hypothesis, is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may shape and twist into any form they please. It should always be remembered, as an axiom of eternal truth in politics, that whatever power in any government is independent, is absolute also. … A judiciary independent of a king or executive alone is a good thing; but independence of the will of the nation is a solecism, at least in a Republican government.’ But Marshall was mighty and his doctrine prevailed, though from time to time other men sharing Jefferson's views likewise opposed the exercise of this power to pass upon the measures of Congress.” (247)

Hofstadter, Miller and Aaron follow Beard’s approach. The authors describe judicial supremacy as anti-democratic. Impeachment, they maintain, is the only possible Congressional response. “Granting that the Court may declare unconstitutional an act passed by Congress and signed by the president, can it–and it alone–invalidate that law? Jefferson's cherished ‘Elective Principle’ answers, ‘No.’ The Judiciary may declare an act of the Legislature unconstitutional; but the Legislature may then impeach the judges and at the next election take its chances with the people with whom the final decision lay,” they write (309). They continue with a previously unheard suggestion: “The Executive, at his own discretion, meanwhile, may continue to execute the law as though the Court had not spoken, and until the people in the next election voted to sustain or discredit his action.” (309) Nonetheless, they present the same conclusion of inevitability as the other authors: “’[J]udiciary review’ was to become as firm a constitutional principle as though it had been written explicitly into the supreme law of the land.” (310).

Shenton not only does not elide any disagreement with Marbury, he describes Jefferson as a supporter of judicial supremacy: “Jefferson could hardly protest, since he had notified Madison at the time of the ratification of the Constitution that ‘I like the negative given to the Executive, conjointly with a third of either House; though I should have liked it better, had the judiciary been associated for that purpose, or invested separately with a similar power.’” The matter, he writes, was settled: “Nevertheless, the Supreme Court used its immense new power gingerly. (It was not until 1857, in the Dred Scott Case, that the Court again chose to invalidate federal legislation.) But the power was there, to be exploited whenever the Court saw fit.” (199)

Morison and Commager sustain Shenton’s description of Marbury as a decision based on consensus. Jefferson’s criticisms are replaced with rhetoric from Marshall’s opinion including his conclusion: “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” (387) With that, the history of the Court’s role in the federal system ends and the story turns to political consequences. “’The Federalists,’ wrote Jefferson bitterly, ‘defeated at the polls, have retired into the Judiciary, and from that barricade they hope to batter down all the bulwarks of Republicanism.’” Indeed, the authors conclude, “[E]vents in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries made it impossible to govern the United States except under Federalist principles of the Constitution,” as defined by Marshall in Marbury. (387-88).

For Nevins and Commager, the subject does not warrant more than a sentence of their 669 pages. “It is impossible to do much more than enumerate [Marshall's] principal decisions. In Marbury v. Madison (1803), he decisively established the right of the Supreme Court to review any law of Congress or of a state legislature,” they write (166) (Marbury, for the record, does not directly discuss judicial review of state laws).

Carman, Syrett and Wishy, similarly, present no arguments against Marshall’s decision and dismiss any philosophical debates as irrelevant in practice. “Constitutional historians have argued for years over whether or not the Constitution provided for judicial review of congressional acts; but, regardless of how this question is answered, the fact remains that John Marshall in Marbury v. Madison was the first Supreme Court justice to disallow a law passed by Congress,” they write. (319) Jefferson’s “thing of wax” objection is quoted in brief but, the authors write, “there was little that he or his followers could do about it.” (319-20) The history, as in Morison and Commanger, proceeds directly to a review of the practical political consequences of the decision.

Garraty returns to the summary approach of Nevins and Commanger. He limits his discussion to the comment “Marshall had studied law only briefly and had no judicial experience,” paraphrases the facts and holding of the case, and concludes that the Chief Justice had “[G]rappled a ‘further hold for future advances of power,’ and the President could do nothing to stop him.” (161) (Marshall, for the record, was admitted to the bar in Virginia in 1780, practiced law intermittently for 20 years, and was appointed to the Court as Chief Justice in January 1801).

Brinkley paraphrases the facts and holding of the case, and concludes, along Garraty’s lines, “The justices had repudiated a relatively minor power (the power to force the delivery of a commission) by asserting a vastly greater one (the power to nullify an act of Congress).” (242-43).

Foner follows Brinkley. “On the immediate issue, therefore, the administration got its way. But the cost, as Jefferson saw it, was high. The Supreme Court had assumed the right to determine whether an act of Congress violated the Constitution–a power known as ‘judicial review.’”


Stay tuned. (Coming in final version).


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