Nathaniel Hawthorne may have been haunted in the Scarlet Letter by “a throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments of gray,” but as Kenyon Gradert's lively book lays out, the puritans that populated the abolitionist rhetoric of Hawthorne's peers were warriors, revolutionaries, and zealots in the cause of righteousness. Indeed, Hawthorne's views remain “outliers” even if they have loomed large in the critical discourse surrounding the puritan legacy in the nineteenth century. This corrective, offered in the first endnote, lays the groundwork for the book's central achievement: to recover the version of puritan radicalism that antebellum thinkers instrumentalized in the cause of abolition. This recovery is necessary, Gradert argues, because critics today have wrongly “presumed [the puritans’] influence to be a conservative one” (10).

The critical question that Gradert's book poses is this: Given their constant invocations of the puritans, what did New England abolitionists find revelatory and imitable about...

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