David S. Reynolds, a Distinguished Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, is the author or editor of sixteen books, including Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural ­Biography, Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson, and John Brown, Abolitionist. His book Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times will be published in September. (April 2020)


I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do…

A postcard of Brigham Young and twenty-one of his wives, 1903

Polygamy: An Early American History

by Sarah M.S. Pearsall
The Mormon leader Brigham Young had more than fifty wives. Many of them lived in adjacent homes, the Beehive House and the Lion House, in Salt Lake City, which Young founded in 1847 as the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Polygamy, which the Mormons …

The Popery Panic

‘Mother Abbess Strangling the Infant’; lithograph from the anti-Catholic pamphlet Popery!: As It Was and as It Is, 1845

Escaped Nuns: True Womanhood and the Campaign Against Convents in Antebellum America

by Cassandra L. Yacovazzi

Elizabeth Seton: American Saint

by Catherine O’Donnell
In the early 1830s, the Hôtel-Dieu nunnery in Montreal was reportedly the site of illicit sex and mass murder. Lecherous priests from a nearby seminary snuck in through a secret tunnel and forced themselves on nuns. Scores of babies were born, baptized, strangled, and cast into a cellar. Lime was …

Fine Specimens

Walt Whitman and his rebel soldier friend Pete Doyle, Washington, D.C., 1865

The Afterlives of Specimens: Science, Mourning, and Whitman’s Civil War

by Lindsay Tuggle

Drum-Taps: The Complete 1865 Edition

by Walt Whitman, edited by Lawrence Kramer
Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century had no sure prospect of resting in peace after death. If their bodies weren’t embalmed for public viewing or dug up for medical dissection, their bones were liable to be displayed in a museum. In some cases, their skin was used as book covers by bibliophiles and surgeons with a taste for human-hide binding. The preservation, exhumation, and exhibition of human remains become, in the hands of the literary critic Lindsay Tuggle, an illuminating basis for a provocative reassessment of America’s foremost poet, Walt Whitman.

The Slave Owners’ Foreign Policy

A slave family, Savannah, Georgia, early 1860s

This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy

by Matthew Karp
The US Civil War was once commonly interpreted as a conflict between a progressive North, industrially strong and committed to a powerful central government, and a backward South that clung to states’ rights and agrarianism in its effort to preserve slavery. In this reading, proposed most influentially by the late …

Our Ruinous Betrayal of Indians and Black Americans

‘Battle of the Thames—Death of Tecumseh’; engraving by William Wellstood after a painting by Alonzo Chappel, 1882

Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation

by Nicholas Guyatt
A nineteenth-century mural in the Illinois state capitol building is remarkably progressive about race. It depicts the Virginian Edward Coles in 1819, bound for Illinois on a flatboat on the Ohio River, liberating the seventeen slaves he had brought with him. Not hinted at by the mural is the disquieting …

The Commander of Civil War History

James M. McPherson giving a tour of Shiloh National Military Park, Tennessee, 2008

Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief

by James M. McPherson

The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters

by James M. McPherson
By early April 1865, the Confederacy was in free fall. William Tecumseh Sherman had cut a swath of destruction through Georgia and the Carolinas. On April 2, Ulysses S. Grant broke Robert E. Lee’s line at Petersburg, Virginia. The next day Grant took Richmond, the Confederate capital. Abraham Lincoln arrived …