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The Road to Disunion. Volume II,…
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The Road to Disunion. Volume II, Secessionists Triumphant, 1854-1861 (2007)

by William W. Freehling

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William Freehling’s “The road to disunion: Secessionists triumphant 1854-1861” is volume II of his examination southern secessionist politics. Today’s “common sense” leads us to believe that the south was unified behind one set of beliefs, Freehling’s well researched work shows just how fractured the south was on everything from slavery to economics and the proper form of government. I like to think I know something about American history, I did have a general knowledge of the events covered in the first volume but not the in depth knowledge Freehling provided. Except for the Kansas-Nebraska Act most of the information in this volume was new to me.

The Slave Power had more threats than the “Underground Railroad” and slave insurrections. In fact, after a brief panic, the lack of action by slaves after Brown’s raid reassured many that they had nothing to fear except an individual slave being misled by abolitionists to commit murder inside their “family”. The deep south’s concern about the Underground Railroad was that it discouraged slaveholders in the boarder states and could, would, eventually lead those states down the road to emancipation. As the deep south saw it, their biggest threats came not from the north but from other southerners. Southern preachers who preached that slaves had to be treated as fellow Christians, who had to be allowed to read the Word of God ,and could not have their families broken up simply to pay off the master’s debt. This was seen by slave-masters as a direct threat to their absolute authority. Prosperous northern farmers, looking for cheap land, purchased southern land not suited for use by large slave-holding plantations. This influx of Yankee opinions, opinions with enough wealth vote even in the restrictive south, highlighted another Slave Power fear. Non-slave-holding southern whites. The high price of slaves barred most southern whites from ever becoming a slaveholder. Northern style capitalism and other ideas threatened the loyalty of non-slave holding whites to the will of “their betters”.

Almost half of the book covers the year leading to war, from the Democratic Convention in Charleston to the bombardment of Fort Sumter on to Wheeling’s secession from Virginia. The depth of Freeling’s research is best shown here. I would say that the last half reads like a novel except that, while the detail is there, the poetry is not. In the seven years between publication of volume I and II Freehling’s writing style improved noticeably, he now makes his points instead of badgering them as in volume I. Freeling’s writing has improved but it is still the writing of an academic. The change in his writing style is impressive, it allowed me to read this book in half the time I spent with the first.

In spite of the fact that Freelhing recaps the events from the first book I have to recommend reading both volumes. The detail missing in the recaps is worth the extra effort. I recommend this book for anyone interested in learning about the causes of the US Civil War, often in the participants own, occasionally surprising, words. ( )
  TLCrawford | Mar 7, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0195058151, Hardcover)

Here is history in the grand manner, a powerful narrative peopled with dozens of memorable portraits, telling this important story with skill and relish. Freehling highlights all the key moments on the road to war, including the violence in Bleeding Kansas, Preston Brooks's beating of Charles Sumner in the Senate chambers, the Dred Scott Decision, John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, and much more. As Freehling shows, the election of Abraham Lincoln sparked a political crisis, but at first most Southerners took a cautious approach, willing to wait and see what Lincoln would do--especially, whether he would take any antagonistic measures against the South. But at this moment, the extreme fringe in the South took charge, first in South Carolina and Mississippi, but then throughout the lower South, sounding the drum roll for secession. Indeed, The Road to Disunion is the first book to fully document how this decided minority of Southern hotspurs took hold of the secessionist issue and, aided by a series of fortuitous events, drove the South out of the Union. Freehling provides compelling profiles of the leaders of this movement--many of them members of the South Carolina elite. Throughout the narrative, he evokes a world of fascinating characters and places as he captures the drama of one of America's most important--and least understood--stories. The long-awaited sequel to the award-winning Secessionists at Bay, which was hailed as "the most important history of the Old South ever published," this volume concludes a major contribution to our understanding of the Civil War. A compelling, vivid portrait of the final years of the antebellum South, The Road to Disunion will stand as an important history of its subject.

"This sure-to-be-lasting work--studded with pen portraits and consistently astute in its appraisal of the subtle cultural and geographic variations in the region--adds crucial layers to scholarship on the origins of America's bloodiest conflict."
--The Atlantic Monthly

"Splendid, painstaking account...and so a work of history reaches into the past to illuminate the present. It is light we need, and we owe Freehling a debt for shedding it."
--Washington Post

"A masterful, dramatic, breathtakingly detailed narrative."
--The Baltimore Sun

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:24:36 -0400)

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