MC's Astor contributes to book about Civil Rights Act of 1866

Astor contributes to book about Civil Rights Act of 1866

July 3, 2018

Dr. Aaron Astor, associate professor of history at Maryville College, wrote a chapter in the recently published book, The Greatest and the Grandest Act: The Civil Rights Act of 1866 from Reconstruction to Today (Southern Illinois University Press, 2018).

In the book, edited by Christian G. Samito, 10 expert historians and legal scholars, including Astor, examine the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The first federal civil rights statute in American history, the act declared that all persons born in the United States were citizens without regard to race, color or previous condition of slavery.

“Essays examine the history and legal ramifications of the act and highlight competing impulses within it, including the often-neglected Section 9, which allows the president to use the nation’s military in its enforcement; an investigation of how the Thirteenth Amendment operated to overturn the Dred Scott case; and New England’s role in the passage of the act,” the book description reads. “The act is analyzed as it operated in several states such as Kentucky, Missouri and South Carolina during Reconstruction. There is also a consideration of the act and its interpretation by the Supreme Court in its first decades. Other essays include a discussion of the act in terms of contract rights and in the context of the post–World War II civil rights era, as well as an analysis of the act’s backward-looking and forward-looking nature.”

Astor wrote Chapter 5, titled “The Civil Rights Act of 1866 in Kentucky and Missouri.” The chapter is based on research he conducted for his book, Rebels on the Border: Civil War, Emancipation and the Reconstruction of Kentucky and Missouri, 1860-1872 (LSU Press, 2012), which examines the transformation of grassroots black and white politics in the Border South.

Astor’s chapter explores several areas, including conservative unionism and emancipation in Kentucky and Missouri; racial violence and black testimony; Kentucky’s conservative unionists, including Garrett Davis, the Bourbon Countian who became a U.S. senator and a chief opponent of the Civil Rights Act in 1866; Blyew vs. United States, a case in 1868 that served as a vehicle for Kentucky’s ruling conservative Democrats to challenge the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1866; Missouri’s support for the act; and the limitations of the Civil Rights Act in the Border States.

Astor is also the author of The Civil War Along Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau (The History Press, 2015). He has written numerous articles, conference papers and book chapters on the Civil War era, focusing especially on the Upper and Border South. He also has written several articles for the award-winning New York Times “Disunion” series, addressing such topics as guerrilla warfare, battles and campaigns in the Western Theater, popular politics, emancipation and race, and regional identity in the Appalachian South. He is currently working on a book project that explores the 1860 Presidential election as a grassroots phenomenon from the perspective of four distinct American communities.

Astor joined the Maryville College faculty in 2007, after earning master’s and doctoral degrees in American History from Northwestern University. In the classroom, he covers a wide range of topics in American history from the Revolution to the present. He contributes to several Civil War preservation and public education organizations in Tennessee and regularly speaks about the Civil War and regional identity in the Upper South. He is a member of the American Historical Association, the Southern Historical Association and the Society of Civil War Historians, where he serves on the membership committee.


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2018 semester is 1,146.