MCLA History Professor Receives National Endowment for the Humanities Grant

NORTH ADAMS, MASS.—Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) is proud to announce that Dr. Amanda Kleintop, MCLA assistant professor of history, has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for her continuing research.

The recently announced NEH grants will provide $22.2 million for 224 humanities projects nationwide. The grant awards support the preservation of historical collections, humanities exhibitions and documentaries, scholarly research, and curriculum projects.

Dr. Kleintop will use her summer stipend grant to complete additional research in the National Archives (pending their reopening) and use that material to edit her manuscript, “The Balance of Freedom: Abolishing Property Rights in Slaves during and after the Civil War.” She will also complete an article based on this research.

Until the U.S. Civil War, stated Kleintop in her research summary, legal recognition of property rights in slaves enabled slaveholders, merchants, and investors to buy and sell slaves on credit and to mortgage human beings. The U.S. government’s decision to abolish slavery without reimbursing slave owners for the lost value of freed slaves threatened to send this system into chaos. The Balance of Freedom reveals that, after Confederate surrender, Americans reconciled the enormous emotional and political costs of a four-year war and generations of enslavement by contesting who should bear the financial burden of emancipation, estimated at about thirteen trillion dollars by today’s standards. It took exceptional circumstances in war and peace to abolish slavery and white southerners’ claims that they should be able to profit from the value of people.

Many white southerners insisted they should not be penalized for participating in a legal property system and sought compensation for and debt relief from debts for the value of humans. By expressing their claims in legal and economic frameworks, white southerners avoided making race-based moral statements about who should be held accountable for the price of emancipation and enslavement. Nevertheless, other white and black Americans demanded they absorb the financial costs of dissolving an immoral institution that tainted the entire country. They forced white southerners to shoulder the cost when the Fourteenth Amendment nullified claims for compensation in 1868 and the U.S. Supreme Court forced slave buyers to repay debts for people whom the law no longer considered property in 1871.

Realizing that acquiescing to uncompensated emancipation would help them solidify political power, white southerners erased the history of their resistance and, by 1900, convinced most Americans that they had not fought the Civil War to protect slavery. Thus, white Americans absolved white southerners and the nation of the history of enslavement and a bloody civil war.

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation.