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The Scorpion's Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War

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By James Oakes

The image of a scorpion surrounded by a ring of fire, stinging itself to death, was widespread among antislavery leaders before the Civil War. It captures their long-standing strategy for peaceful abolition: they would surround the slave states with a cordon of freedom, constricting slavery and inducing the social crisis in which the peculiar institution would die. The image opens a fresh perspective on antislavery and the coming of the Civil War, brilliantly explored here by one of our greatest historians of the period.