Calculating the Value of the Union: Slavery, Property Rights, and the Economic Origins of the Civil War / Edition 1

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While slavery is often at the heart of debates over the causes of the Civil War, historians are not agreed on precisely what aspect of slavery--with its various social, economic, political, cultural, and moral ramifications--gave rise to the sectional rift. In Calculating the Value of the Union, James Huston integrates economic, social, and political history to argue that the issue of property rights as it pertained to slavery was at the center of the Civil War.

In the early years of the nineteenth century, southern slaveholders sought a national definition of property rights that would recognize and protect their ownership of slaves. Northern interests, on the other hand, opposed any national interpretation of property rights because of the threat slavery posed to the northern free labor market, particularly if allowed to spread to western territories. This impasse sparked a process of political realignment that culminated in the creation of the Republican Party, ultimately leading to the secession crisis.

Deeply researched and carefully written, this study rebuts recent trends in antebellum historiography and persuasively argues for a fundamentally economic interpretation of the slavery issue and the coming of the Civil War.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Readers will appreciate this book's exhaustive treatment of the role that property rights played in the demise of the Second Party System and the coming of the Civil War."
American Historical Review

"For persuasively conveying the eminence of property rights in the drive toward secession and the Civil War, and for its engaging literary style, [this] book is strongly recommended."
The Historian

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807828045
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 11/17/2003
  • Series: Civil War America Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

James L. Huston is professor of history at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. His books include Securing the Fruits of Labor: The American Concept of Wealth Distribution, 1765-1900.
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Table of Contents

Pt. I The Themes of Slavery and Property Rights, 1776-1860 1
1 Slavery, Property Rights, and the American Revolution 3
2 The Origins of Slaveholder Aggressiveness 24
3 Free Labor and the Competition of Slaves 67
4 The Antislavery Debate over Property Rights 104
5 The Constitutionality of Slavery Prohibition in the Territories 119
Pt. II The Political Realignment of the 1850s 149
6 The Politics of Southern Upheaval, 1846-1853 153
7 The Northern Realignment, 1854-1860 190
Afterword 233
App. A A Theory of Political Realignment 237
App. B Graphing U.S. Politics, 1840-1860 252
App. C State and Congressional Elections Used in Figures 6.1, 7.1, and B.1-10 282
App. D Number of Cases for Regions in Average Vote in Elections Used for Figures 6.1, 7.1, and B.1-10 285
Notes 287
Sources 345
Index 387
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  • Posted September 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The heart of the matter

    What caused the Civil War? Debates on this question occur, with passion, daily on blogs and boards across the Internet. Slavery, states' rights, industrial vs. agricultural, Southern expansion or Northern morality is the cause. Each has supporters and detractors, convinced that the other side is comprised of thickheaded fools or worse. A widely held view is slavery caused the South refusal to accept Lincoln's election in 1860 and secession lead to war. A problem with this idea is why the South refused to accept the results of the 1860 election in the face of Republican statements not attempting to change the status of existing slave states.
    James L. Huston steps into the arena fully prepared to answer questions and defend his position. Without taking a moral stance, he demonstrates the South's reason for making secession the answer in the years leading to 1860. This is not one sided, the author follows the North's logical paths to a position that makes secession popular in the South. While the idea that we fight wars for high moral purposes is comforting, the truth is that self-interest, fear and political advantage are the major reasons for war. The author clearly demonstrates that the South had realistic fears of the majority depriving them of their property in slaves. These fears are understandable in light of the North's increasing anti-slavery position. The book traces the myriad logical paths the North followed to this position. The most common being the fact that slave labor reduced wages for and debased free labor's standing in the community. Hard economic and social reality is bolstered by the idea of slavery violation of the natural rights to the fruits of one's labor.
    A complex book containing many ideas makes for a slow but not a dull read. You will want to take the time to study the many charts & graphs, check the footnotes and consider the author's positions. The writing is academic in style but is not unreadable or boring. The book looks at the critical period from 1840 to Lincoln's election. The problems of westward expansion, fall of the Whigs, rise of Abolition and Secession are in a cohesive narrative bolster by charts and graphs. This makes for a challenging and thought provoking reading experience that will leave you richer for the effort.

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