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John Pendleton Kennedy

Early American Novelist, Whig Statesman, and Ardent Nationalist

Southern Biography

360 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations

ebook available

Biography | Southern History

  Hardcover / 9780807162941 / July 2016
John Pendleton Kennedy (1795–1870) achieved a multidimensional career as a successful novelist, historian, and politician. He published widely and represented his district in the Maryland legislature before being elected to Congress several times and serving as secretary of the navy during the Fillmore administration. He devoted much of his life to the American Whig party and campaigned zealously for Henry Clay during his multiple runs for president. His friends in literary circles included Charles Dickens, Washington Irving and Edgar Allan Poe. 
According to biographer Andrew Black, scholars from various fields have never completely captured this broadly talented antebellum figure, with literary critics ignoring Kennedy’s political work, historians overlooking his literary achievements, and neither exploring their close interrelationship. In fact, Black argues, literature and politics were inseparable for Kennedy, as his literary productions were infused with the principles and beliefs that coalesced into the Whig party in the 1830s and led to its victory over Jacksonian Democrats the following decade. Black’s comprehensive biography amends this fractured scholarship, employing Kennedy’s published work and other writing to investigate the culture of the Whig party itself.
Using Kennedy’s best-known novel, the enigmatic Swallow Barn, or, A Sojourn in the Old Dominion (1832), Black illustrates how the author grappled unsuccessfully with race and slavery. The novel’s unstable narrative and dissonant content reflect the fatal indecisiveness both of its author and his party in dealing with these volatile issues. Black further argues that it was precisely this failure that caused the political collapse of the Whigs and paved the way for the Civil War.
1. The Early Years
2. Entering Public Life
3. The Whig in Swallow Barn
4. Tippecanoe and Horse-Shoe Too
5. Return to Swallow Barn
6. The Quarter Revisited

Andrew R. Black has a PhD in history from Boston University.

Praise for John Pendleton Kennedy

“Incisive and beautifully written, Andrew Black's biography of John Pendleton Kennedy is a fascinating exploration of the impact of Kennedy’s Whig principles and of contemporary events on his literary output. A very good book indeed.”—Michael F. Holt, author of The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War

John Pendleton Kennedy is a comprehensive, readable narrative that interweaves Kennedy’s importance as an influential political leader with his successful career as a writer of fiction whose works blended history, satire, and romance. In what will be recognized as a major accomplishment, Andrew Black uses the lens both of Kennedy’s novels and his political writings, his wide-ranging letters, and his speeches, to present to us the monumental sweep of American history in the pre-Civil War decades. Through an approach that is both detailed and holistic, Andrew Black gives us the story of the breakdown of a nation, embodied in the life of a complex man of letters whom any student or lover of American history needs to know much better.”—Lucinda MacKethan, author of The Dream of Arcady: Place and Time in Southern Literature

“John Pendleton Kennedy’s career as author and politician spanned an eventful half-century, from the aftermath of the War of 1812 to the late 1860s. His life and writings track the rise and fall of the Whig Party and the endurance of its ideas, especially the tension between reform impulses and social conservatism. A Border State Whig from Baltimore, Kennedy occupied a distinctive vantage point on issues of economics, race, and union, and his writings spanned the genres from novels to biography to political pamphlets. Through archival scholarship, sensitive analysis of Kennedy’s wide-ranging publications, and strong grounding in nineteenth-century political history, Andrew R. Black has provided the essential biography of a man whose politics and pen were inseparable.”—Scott E. Casper, author of Constructing American Lives: Biography and Culture in Nineteenth-Century America

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