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Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War
     

Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War

4.5 2
by Charles B. Dew
 

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In late 1860 and early 1861, state-appointed commissioners traveled the length and breadth of the slave South carrying a fervent message in pursuit of a clear goal: to persuade the political leadership and the citizenry of the uncommitted slave states to join in the effort to destroy the Union and forge a new Southern nation.

Directly refuting the

Overview

In late 1860 and early 1861, state-appointed commissioners traveled the length and breadth of the slave South carrying a fervent message in pursuit of a clear goal: to persuade the political leadership and the citizenry of the uncommitted slave states to join in the effort to destroy the Union and forge a new Southern nation.

Directly refuting the neo-Confederate contention that slavery was neither the reason for secession nor the catalyst for the resulting onset of hostilities in 1861, Charles B. Dew finds in the commissioners' brutally candid rhetoric a stark white supremacist ideology that proves the contrary. The commissioners included in their speeches a constitutional justification for secession, to be sure, and they pointed to a number of political "outrages" committed by the North in the decades prior to Lincoln's election. But the core of their argument—the reason the right of secession had to be invoked and invoked immediately—did not turn on matters of constitutional interpretation or political principle. Over and over again, the commissioners returned to the same point: that Lincoln's election signaled an unequivocal commitment on the part of the North to destroy slavery and that emancipation would plunge the South into a racial nightmare.

Dew's discovery and study of the highly illuminating public letters and speeches of these apostles of disunion—often relatively obscure men sent out to convert the unconverted to the secessionist cause--have led him to suggest that the arguments the commissioners presented provide us with the best evidence we have of the motives behind the secession of the lower South in 1860–61.

Addressing topics still hotly debated among historians and the public at large more than a century after the Civil War, Dew challenges many current perceptions of the causes of the conflict. He offers a compelling and clearly substantiated argument that slavery and race were absolutely critical factors in the outbreak of war—indeed, that they were at the heart of our great national crisis.

Editorial Reviews

Booknews
As tensions between the northern and the southern United States rose in late 1860 and early 1861, five of the southern states appointed commissioners to other slave states in order to encourage secession. Dew (social sciences, Williams College) explores the arguments of these men to their peers as a window into the real motivations of the secession of the South. He debunks persistent arguments, first advanced by the former vice president of the Confederacy, that the Civil War was fought over "great principles" of states rights versus federal centralism. Instead he finds that these men had white supremacy and slavery at the very dark heart of their arguments and their motivations. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The New York Times Book Review
This incisive history should dispel the pernicious notion that the Confederacy fought the Civil War to advance the constitutional principle of states' rights and only coincidentally to preserve slavery.

The New York Review of Books
Dew has produced an eye-opening study....So much for states' rights as the engine of secession.

— James McPherson

The New York Review of Books - James McPherson
Dew has produced an eye-opening study....So much for states' rights as the engine of secession.

Mark E. Neely
Charles B. Dew offers a penetrating and incisive evaluation of secessionist ideology, with a clear eye to the priority of race over issues of constitutional rights. The principal source on which the book is built certainly appears neglected to me, and the source is worthy of exploitation: we have an opportunity here to see what Southerners said to each other and not what they said primarily to the North or to the world.

Mark E. Neely Jr.
Charles B. Dew offers a penetrating and incisive evaluation of secessionist ideology, with a clear eye to the priority of race over issues of constitutional rights. The principal source on which the book is built certainly appears neglected to me, and the source is worthy of exploitation: we have an opportunity here to see what Southerners said to each other and not what they said primarily to the North or to the world.

Dwight T. Pitcaithley
With stunning clarity, Apostles of Disunion reminds us that race and slavery were at the center of the march toward secession. This small but powerful book should be required reading for all students of the Civil War.

James Oliver Horton
Drawing on the records of secession commissioners, Charles B. Dew has provided a stunning analysis of the South’s decision to leave the United States, which brought on the Civil War. This is an important study, meticulously researched and convincingly argued. Especially now, when heated debates about the display of the Confederate flag and the historical meaning of Civil War reenactment strain the social fabric of the nation, this book is a must-read.

From the Publisher

Winner of the 2001 Fletcher Pratt Prize from the Civil War Round Table of New York

"This incisive history should dispel the pernicious notion that the Confederacy fought the Civil War to advance the constitutional principle of states' rights and only coincidentally to preserve slavery."—Allen D. Boyer, New York Times Book Review

"Dew has produced an eye-opening study.... So much for states' rights as the engine of secession."—James M. McPherson, New York Review of Books

"This is an important study, meticulously researched and convincingly argued."—James Oliver Horton, author of The Landmarks of African American History

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780813921884
Publisher:
University of Virginia Press
Publication date:
03/18/2002
Series:
A Nation Divided: Studies in the Civil War Era
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
144
Sales rank:
407,750
File size:
220 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

"Charles B. Dew offers a penetrating and incisive evaluation of secessionist ideology, with a clear eye to the priority of race over issues of constitutional rights. The principal source on which the book is built certainly appears neglected to me, and the source is worthy of exploitation: we have an opportunity here to see what Southerners said to each other and not what they said primarily to the North or to the world." -- Mark E. Neely, Jr., author of The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties and Southern Rights: Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism

Mark E. Neely
Charles B. Dew offers a penetrating and incisive evaluation of secessionist ideology, with a clear eye to the priority of race over issues of constitutional rights. The principal source on which the book is built certainly appears neglected to me, and the source is worthy of exploitation: we have an opportunity here to see what Southerners said to each other and not what they said primarily to the North or to the world.

Meet the Author

Charles B. Dew is Ephraim Williams Professor of American History at Williams College and the author of The Making of a Racist: A Southerner Reflects on Family, History, and the Slave Trade (Virginia) and Bond of Iron: Master and Slave at Buffalo Forge, selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

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Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
davedavenport More than 1 year ago
Preserving their economy, social culture, and way of life was a foremost priority for the southern states. The Southern secession commissioners emphasized the importance of leaving the Union or the result would be the degradation of the South. The Mississippi Declaration of Secession claimed that, "Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union, if we should consent longer to remain in it" (Dew 13). The declaration further went on to say, "We must either submit to degradation and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union" (Dew 13). Dew shows that such degradation was not the result of loss of states' rights, so to speak, but loss of their status above slaves. The southern leaders saw slaves as people half civilized that they brought over from a primitive foreign land and enriched their lives by caring for them in a master and slave relationship. Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, "described slavery itself as an institution which 'a superior race' had used to transform 'brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers" (Dew 15). The general feeling of the south was, aside from crippling the southern economy, freeing slaves and making them equal to white men would destroy the social fabric of the southern states. The South perceived this as a movement by the northern states as seeking political power over the south. Arguments for the cause of secession differ from ante-bellum to post-bellum. Before the War Between the States, as in the secession commissioners' speeches, racial order was a core issue. However, after the war, the confederate leaders were silent on the issue of slavery and claimed that they seceded to preserve the states' rights against Northern tyranny. Differing views promotes confusion as to what really caused the civil war. As mentioned, Davis was open about how slavery was justified, but at his inaugural address his first speech as president was "a classic articulation of the Southern position that resistance to Northern tyranny and a defense of states' rights were the sole reasons for secession" (Dew 13). Apostles of Disunion clears confusion by revealing the true reason of secession through those commissioners carrying the message prior to the actual act of leaving the Union. Apostles of Disunion is a compilation of Dew's research on the causes of the Civil War and the important question of why the South seceded. Dew uses his research on the commissioners responsible for spreading the word of secession among the slave states, to convey that the South seceded under states rights as the means for broaching the real reason of racial order. Dew's Apostles of Disunion is very articulate and well researched in conveying the mindsets actions of southern political leaders pushing for secession. Altogether very interesting with strong support for his thesis and themes, Dew was sometimes confusing when he vacillated regarding the real issue of secession and was elusive at first at explaining clearly the issue it proposed to address.
Anonymous 4 months ago