Book details

The Great Abolitionist

Charles Sumner and the Fight for a More Perfect Union

Author: Stephen Puleo

The Great Abolitionist

The Great Abolitionist


About This Book

The groundbreaking biography of a forgotten civil rights hero.

In the tempestuous mid-19th century, as slavery consumed Congressional debate and America careened toward...

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Book Details

The groundbreaking biography of a forgotten civil rights hero.

In the tempestuous mid-19th century, as slavery consumed Congressional debate and America careened toward civil war and split apart–when the very future of the nation hung in the balance–Charles Sumner’s voice rang strongest, bravest, and most unwavering. Where others preached compromise and moderation, he denounced slavery’s evils to all who would listen and demanded that it be wiped out of existence. More than any other person of his era, he blazed the trail on the country’s long, uneven, and ongoing journey toward realizing its full promise to become a more perfect union.

Before and during the Civil War, at great personal sacrifice, Sumner was the conscience of the North and the most influential politician fighting for abolition. Throughout Reconstruction, no one championed the rights of emancipated people more than he did. Through the force of his words and his will, he moved America toward the twin goals of abolitionism and equal rights, which he fought for literally until the day he died. He laid the cornerstone arguments that civil rights advocates would build upon over the next century as the country strove to achieve equality among the races.

The Great Abolitionist
is the first major biography of Charles Sumner to be published in over 50 years. Acclaimed historian Stephen Puleo relates the story of one of the most influential political figures in American history with evocative and accessible prose, transporting readers back to an era when our leaders exhibited true courage and authenticity in the face of unprecedented challenges.

Imprint Publisher

St. Martin's Press



In The News

"Puleo’s vast knowledge of 19th-century Boston and its diffident attitude toward slavery and integration—due in no small part to textile merchants and financiers who relied on Southern cotton for their prosperity—adds tremendous value to his account of Sumner’s transformation from depressed and sullen Harvard-educated lawyer to uncompromising and unrelenting civil rights champion, orator, and senator...Required reading for anyone with even a slight interest in Civil War–era U.S. history. A wonderfully written book about a true American freedom fighter."
Kirkus (starred)

"Charles Sumner was a principled man of unshakable conviction, who fought the good, noble, and heroic fight against slavery, and he deserves to be remembered as a great statesman and one of the foremost champions of civil rights. He also deserves a compelling and wonderfully-written biography, which is what Stephen Puleo has provided."
—Eric Jay Dolin, author of Left for Dead and Black Flags, Blue Waters

“Stephen Puleo's masterful account of Charles Sumner, a prickly, conflicted paradox of an American giant, is told with verve and gusto. It's a vibrant, important story whose echoes still reverberate in our current day. A wonderful read.”
—Dennis Lehane, author of Small Mercies

“A superb new biography. In prose that is perceptive and propulsive, in scenes that are powerful and dramatic, Puleo brings Sumner vividly to life. Once more, he delivers a book that will captivate the general reader and reward the serious historian, too.”
—William Martin, New York Times bestselling author of The Lincoln Letter and December '41

“Charles Sumner, a lifelong crusader for human rights, has not been the subject of a comprehensive biography for more than fifty years. Stephen Puleo fills that gap with this deeply researched and dramatic retelling of Sumner's courageous life and work.”
—James M. O'Toole, University Historian and Clough Professor of History Emeritus, Boston College

“Nearly two centuries on, Charles Sumner’s name still drops loudly in Boston, yet few appreciate the enormity of his impact. Stephen Puleo’s The Great Abolitionist is at once a revelation and an appeal to our better angels to heed the lessons Sumner’s example can teach us.”
—William J. Kole, veteran journalist and author of The Big 100: The New World of Super-Aging

“Puleo’s rich biographical history is a perfectly timed reminder that to survive, our union needs figures with the courage to stand for core ideals which cannot be compromised.”
—Christopher C. Gorham, author of The Confidante: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Helped Win WWII and Shape Modern America

“When it comes to impeccable research—the kind that surprises and never rehashes—no one does it better than Stephen Puleo. The Great Abolitionist is a literary and historical triumph and is sure to be on many year-end ‘best’ lists in 2024.”
Gregg Olsen, New York Times and Amazon Charts bestselling author of The Amish Wife and If You Tell

About the Creators

The Great Abolitionist

The Great Abolitionist