Buy it in paperback here!


Gerrit Smith may have been the least-known national leader of the American 19th century. A multi-billionaire by today’s standards, he chose to live in a small, rural hamlet in Central New York state. His reach was long: he was a champion for women’s rights, temperance, and most notably, the fight to end slavery and racial discrimination. The long list of visitors to his home in tiny Peterboro, New York included Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, John Brown, Susan B. Anthony, William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth.

In this landmark biography that is destined to become a favorite of researchers and historians, Norman Dann paints a vibrant portrait of Smith based on thousands of letters, poems, and speeches Smith gave to and received from those he worked with—and against—in his lifelong crusade for freedom and equality.


“Gerrit Smith not only articulated a radically farsighted vision of democratic equality, but he went further than almost any other American in his efforts to realize that vision. Now, for the first time, we have a thorough, complete, and deeply sympathetic biography, one that will endure for the ages. Drawing on fifteen years of research and a half-century living near Smith’s village of Peterboro, Norm Dann portrays his subject with the compassion, generosity, and empathy for which Smith was known. The result is a deeply moving, stunning achievement.”

—John Stauffer, Ph.D.
Chair of the History of American Civilization
at Harvard University
Author of The Black Hearts of Men and
GIANTS: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass
and Abraham Lincoln


"It has been more than six decades since Gerrit Smith was the subject of a detailed biography based on primary sources. Norm Dann honors Smith not by brushing over the flaws and contradictions in his long career as one of America’s foremost reformers, but by showing how a passion for doing good arose out of the inner being of the man.”

—Milton C. Sernett, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of African-American Studies and History, Syracuse University
Author of Harriet Tubman: Myth, Memory and History


“Gerrit Smith has at last found the biographer he deserves in Norm Dann. In Practical Dreamer, Dann has shaped years of monumental research into a deeply thoughtful and compelling story of one of the true titans of the antislavery movement. This book is destined to become a classic of abolitionist history.”

—Fergus M. Bordewich
Author of Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad
and the War fo
r the Soul of America


“Scholars of the abolitionist movement, of African- American history, and of the history of American religions will find enduring value in this book.”

—James Brewer Stewart, Ph.D.
James Wallace Professor of History,
Emeritus, Macalester College
Author of Holy Warriors: The Abolitionists
and American Slavery