The Fragile Fabric of Union: Cotton, Federal Politics, and the Global Origins of the Civil War

The Fragile Fabric of Union: Cotton, Federal Politics, and the Global Origins of the Civil War

by Brian D. Schoen
     
 

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In this fresh study Brian Schoen views the Deep South and its cotton industry from a global perspective, revisiting old assumptions and providing new insights into the region, the political history of the United States, and the causes of the Civil War.

Schoen takes a unique and broad approach. Rather than seeing the Deep South and its planters as isolated from

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Overview

In this fresh study Brian Schoen views the Deep South and its cotton industry from a global perspective, revisiting old assumptions and providing new insights into the region, the political history of the United States, and the causes of the Civil War.

Schoen takes a unique and broad approach. Rather than seeing the Deep South and its planters as isolated from larger intellectual, economic, and political developments, he places the region firmly within them. In doing so, he demonstrates that the region's prominence within the modern world-and not its opposition to it-indelibly shaped Southern history.

The place of "King Cotton" in the sectional thinking and budding nationalism of the Lower South seems obvious enough, but Schoen reexamines the ever-shifting landscape of international trade from the 1780s through the eve of the Civil War. He argues that the Southern cotton trade was essential to the European economy, seemingly worth any price for Europeans to protect and maintain, and something to defend aggressively in the halls of Congress. This powerful association gave the Deep South the confidence to ultimately secede from the Union.

By integrating the history of the region with global events, Schoen reveals how white farmers, planters, and merchants created a "Cotton South," preserved its profitability for many years, and ensured its dominance in the international raw cotton markets. The story he tells reveals the opportunities and costs of cotton production for the Lower South and the United States.

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of Social History
Schoen effectively links ideology, institutions, and econometrics... [and] skillfully places the nineteenth-century South and U.S. on the global stage.

— Todd W. Wahlstrom

Civil War Book Review
Schoen has written an immensely important history of southern political economy, one that is destined to be prominent in future studies of the Old South.

— James L. Huston

Choice

Schoen's chronological approach in five chapter develops his arguments and does a masterful job of keeping the focus on cotton, its politics, its exploitation of slaves, and ultimately the self-delusions of the cotton states vis-à-vis the world... An excellent book on all counts. Highly recommended.

North Carolina Historical Review
A sophisticated, nuanced analysis of elite political-economic rhetoric in the antebellum South.

— Lawrence A. Peskin

Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
In sure-footed fashion, Brian Schoen guides the reader through overlooked issues in the oft-told account of southern secession.

— Frank J. Byrne

Historical Journal of Massachusetts
Students of the causes of the Civil War should read The Fragile Fabric of Union. It is well written and extensively documented... The author brings the issues to life by illustrating how economic self interested colored the views of the South to the point that it was willing to sunder the Union and go to war.

— Stephen Donnelly

Journal of Economic History
I found myself reading this book in light of current events. Schoen does a good job pointing out that legislative victors may rue their triumph, while losers may inadvertently reap benefits from loathed legislation... The book is clearly written.

— David G. Surdam

American Historical Review
Impressive... Adds an intriguing new dimension to ongoing debates about the nature of southern economic development, what motivated southern states to secede, why they seceded when they did, and ultimately what caused the Civil War.

— Beth English

Journal of Interdisciplinary History
In this provocative book, he forces historians who have not done so already to discount 'Lost Cause' lore and pay greater attention to southerners who thought they could use their monopoly in raw cotton as leverage to advance the interests of their region in the larger world.

— Glenn C. Altschuler

Journal of American History
An important contribution to the reinterpretation of plantation slavery and the origins of the U.S. Civil War... A lucidly written, richly researched, and convincing analysis of the global forces that shaped the politics of the southern slaveholders.

— Charles Post

Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
There is much to admire in Brian Schoen's ambitious new book... A remarkable scholarly debut that represents one of the most important studies of 'why the South fought' to be released in over a generation.

— Scott P. Marler

Technology and Culture
Schoen's readable prose deserves a wide audience. His explanations of tariffs and other economic issues are clear, and he has admirable command of a wide range of political and economic subjects (both domestically and in foreign relations). This book will be a welcome addition to the bookshelf of any scholar of the antebellum era.

— Aaron W. Marrs

Civil War News
Schoen challenges previous studies and underscores the impact of external global economics as a primary cause of the Civil War. This contention is likely to stir controversy and healthy debate.

— Michael Russert

Southern Historian
Schoen's Fragile Fabric commendably sheds renewed light on the conflict's origins at the local, sectional, and transatlantic level.

— Marc-William Palen

The Historian
Specialists will welcome Schoen's deeply researched, well-crafter, and sophisticated book.

— John David Smith

South Carolina Historical Magazine
The insights presented here are novel and require the engagement of all scholars of Old South politics and economic processes... Provocative, well-written.

— Andrew Prymak

Civil War Book Review - James L. Huston

Schoen has written an immensely important history of southern political economy, one that is destined to be prominent in future studies of the Old South.

North Carolina Historical Review - Lawrence A. Peskin

A sophisticated, nuanced analysis of elite political-economic rhetoric in the antebellum South.

Virginia Magazine of History and Biography - Frank J. Byrne

In sure-footed fashion, Brian Schoen guides the reader through overlooked issues in the oft-told account of southern secession.

Historical Journal of Massachusetts - Stephen Donnelly

Students of the causes of the Civil War should read The Fragile Fabric of Union. It is well written and extensively documented... The author brings the issues to life by illustrating how economic self interested colored the views of the South to the point that it was willing to sunder the Union and go to war.

Journal of Economic History - David G. Surdam

I found myself reading this book in light of current events. Schoen does a good job pointing out that legislative victors may rue their triumph, while losers may inadvertently reap benefits from loathed legislation... The book is clearly written.

American Historical Review - Beth English

Impressive... Adds an intriguing new dimension to ongoing debates about the nature of southern economic development, what motivated southern states to secede, why they seceded when they did, and ultimately what caused the Civil War.

Journal of Interdisciplinary History - Glenn C. Altschuler

In this provocative book, he forces historians who have not done so already to discount 'Lost Cause' lore and pay greater attention to southerners who thought they could use their monopoly in raw cotton as leverage to advance the interests of their region in the larger world.

Journal of American History - Charles Post

An important contribution to the reinterpretation of plantation slavery and the origins of the U.S. Civil War... A lucidly written, richly researched, and convincing analysis of the global forces that shaped the politics of the southern slaveholders.

Register of the Kentucky Historical Society - Scott P. Marler

There is much to admire in Brian Schoen's ambitious new book... A remarkable scholarly debut that represents one of the most important studies of 'why the South fought' to be released in over a generation.

Technology and Culture - Aaron W. Marrs

Schoen's readable prose deserves a wide audience. His explanations of tariffs and other economic issues are clear, and he has admirable command of a wide range of political and economic subjects (both domestically and in foreign relations). This book will be a welcome addition to the bookshelf of any scholar of the antebellum era.

H-CivWar, H-Net Reviews - Ed Rugemer

Schoen extends the transatlantic dimensions of this era; just as the politics of slavery were shaped by developments in the Caribbean and Europe, so too did the political economy of cotton stretch throughout the Atlantic world. This book should be read by all those interested in broadening their understanding of both the Atlantic world of the nineteenth century and the coming of the American Civil War.

Civil War News - Michael Russert

Schoen challenges previous studies and underscores the impact of external global economics as a primary cause of the Civil War. This contention is likely to stir controversy and healthy debate.

Southern Historian - Marc-William Palen

Schoen's Fragile Fabric commendably sheds renewed light on the conflict's origins at the local, sectional, and transatlantic level.

Journal of Social History - Todd W. Wahlstrom

Schoen effectively links ideology, institutions, and econometrics... [and] skillfully places the nineteenth-century South and U.S. on the global stage.

The Historian - John David Smith

Specialists will welcome Schoen's deeply researched, well-crafter, and sophisticated book.

South Carolina Historical Magazine - Andrew Prymak

The insights presented here are novel and require the engagement of all scholars of Old South politics and economic processes... Provocative, well-written.

IA: The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology - Lisa Gillis

Anyone interested in the growing importance of the cotton industry to the South during the ante-bellum period, and to American and global politics, will find this work of use.

Enterprise and Society - Andrew J.B. Fagal

In The Fragile Fabric of Union, Brian Schoen offers historians a compelling, highly readable, and historiographically significant account of the exact circumstances that led to Southern secession in the late 1860 and early 1861... The book deserves to be widely read, particularly in graduate seminars of the Early American Republic, the American Civil War, and American Economic History.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801893032
Publisher:
Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date:
08/11/2009
Series:
Studies in Early American Economy and Society from the Library Company of Philadelphia
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Peter A. Coclanis

In this bold new interpretation of the contours of southern political economy between the Constitution and the Civil War, Brian Schoen skillfully embeds U.S. history in its proper international context. The Fragile Fabric of Union marks the impressive debut of an exceptional young historian.

Charles Postel

This fascinating and deeply researched book challenges enduring myths about the Cotton South and the roots of the Civil War. From the vantage point of global political economy, it sheds new light on how American slaveholders aggressively pursued commercial power.

John Majewski

A complex portrayal of southern cotton planters that will revise the way many scholars interpret the political economy of slavery.

Meet the Author

Brian Schoen is an assistant professor of history at Ohio University.

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