Why The Forgotten Emancipator would make a great movie

Thanks to the folks at the New Books in History, Economics, Politics, Philosophy, Anthropology, and Sociology (HEPPAS) blog for providing me with a fun prompt to write about my book.  The prompt is "If they made a movie about your book, which actor should portray the lead role?"  The following is my answer to their question.

 If they made my book into a movie, the actor who I would like to play the lead role is Jeff Bridges. Jeff Bridges is a charismatic actor who exudes passion, and, if necessary, extremism.  Plus, Bridges has the hair to play the leading character in my book, James Mitchell Ashley. 

James Ashley was a staunch anti-slavery advocate from the time he was a boy, when he witnessed slavery first hand as he worked on boats in the Ohio River.  Ashley ran away from home because he disagreed so strongly with his pro-slavery father.  Eventually, Ashley became a leader in the fight for the abolition of slavery. He represented northwest Ohio in the United States House of Representatives from 1858 to 1868.  He was one of the founders of the anti-slavery Republican Party, and a leader in Congress during the Civil War and early Reconstruction Eras.  As chair of the House Committee on the Territories, Ashley presided over the abolition of slavery in DC and the territories. Ashley introduced the first Reconstruction measure, and was the first member of Congress to propose amending the constitution to abolish slavery.  At the side of President Abraham Lincoln, Ashley led the fight for the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, in the House of Representatives.  According to noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “In every phase of the great conflict over slavery, [James Ashley] bore a conspicuous and honorable part. He was among the foremost of that brilliant galaxy of statesmen who reconstructed the union on a basis of liberty.”

Ashley was a character in Steven Spielberg’s movie, Lincoln, about Lincoln’s role in the congressional approval of the Thirteenth Amendment.  In Lincoln, Ashley was played by David Costabile as a mealy mouthed moderate, a foil to the radically impassioned Representative Thaddeus Stevens.  In real life, however, Ashley was as radical as Stevens, if not more so.  He was a single-minded opponent of slavery who seized on the Civil War as an opportunity to end it by any means possible. Ashley advocated voting rights for Blacks as early as 1856, and he supported woman’s suffrage.  Ashley also supported workers’ rights, saying he would not be a slave to a corporation. 

Ashley was known for being passionate and a bit over the top.  When he arrived in Washington in 1859, Ashley was very popular, known for his good looks, charm, and great mane of hair (in which he took great pride).  He was an influential leader during the Civil War and early Reconstruction era.  Towards the end of his time in Congress, though, Ashley was too radical for his party. Ashley led the first unsuccessful attempt to impeach President Andrew Johnson.  There were rumors that Ashley believed that Johnson was behind Lincoln’s assassination.   Ashley lost the election in 1868.  For a brief time, he served as governor of the Montana territory, where he angered former confederates by speaking out against the use of Chinese “coolie” labor to build railroads.  

As you can see, Ashley was a fascinating character whose life was full of drama.  However, Ashley is not the only reason why The Forgotten Emancipatorwould make a great movie. The book also describes the political anti-slavery movement and the nascent labor movement in the first half of the nineteenth century.  Anti-slavery constitutionalists argued that slavery was unconstitutional even before the 13thAmendment.  They formed the Liberty and Free Soil Parties and, eventually, the Republican Party. Labor leaders argued that they were subject to wage slavery and fought for better wages and a shorter working day. Leaders in both movements developed a theory of rights that influenced Ashley and other members of the Reconstruction Congress.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, The Forgotten Emancipator is about the Reconstruction Congress.  Ashley and his Reconstruction colleagues amended our Constitution to end slavery and become the rights protecting document that Americans revere today. Yet, these heroes of our history remain virtually unknown. Ashley and his colleagues deserve to be not only known, but celebrated. The Forgotten Emancipator tells their story, a victory for liberty and equality over the dark force of slavery and oppression.  Movie producers, take heed!

This blog entry was first published on HEPPAS books, heppas.blogspot.com, on October 20, 2018.