This Introduction presents a short history of nineteenth-century American literature. It discusses the profound effect of the Civil War and the formation of radically distinct cultures, the age of slavery, romanticism and the postwar period and reconstruction. It discusses the works of various writers including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, and Herman Melville among others. It explores free speech and with how the atrophying of that right plays out in society and culture. The antebellum and postbellum eras are described, including the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry of major writers who confronted or, especially after the war, evaded the problem of free speech with respect to slavery and race. It focuses on the confrontations over hereditary bondage and the place of the ex-slaves in the polity because free speech was at the center of many conflicts.
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