The Road to Disunion: Secessionists Triumphant, 1854-1861

The Road to Disunion: Secessionists Triumphant, 1854-1861

The Road to Disunion: Secessionists Triumphant, 1854-1861

The Road to Disunion: Secessionists Triumphant, 1854-1861


It is one of the great questions of American history--why did the Southern states bolt from the Union and help precipitate the Civil War? Now, acclaimed historian Freehling offers a new answer, in the final volume of his monumental history "The Road to Disunion."


In this second and concluding volume of my southern Road to Disunion, Northerners sometimes step front and center, to illuminate provokers, targets, and effects of southern defenders' rage. But by usually focusing on aggressively defensive Southerners, I seek to resurrect their pre–Civil War political saga, one of America's most important and mysterious epics.

The importance lies in the illumination of colliding democratic and despotic governing systems. The Old South combined dictatorship over blacks with republicanism for whites, supposedly cleanly severed by an All-Mighty Color Line. But to preserve dictatorial dominion over blacks, the slaveholding minority sometimes trenched on majoritarian government for whites, in the nation as well as in their section.

These preventative strikes leached much of the mystery from Yankees' antisouthern responses. Northerners called the militant slavocracy the Slave Power, meaning that those with autocratic power over blacks also deployed undemocratic power over whites. Most Yankees hardly embraced blacks or abolitionists. Yet racist Northerners would fight the Slave Power to the death to preserve their white men's majoritarian rights. More mysterious is why Southerners risked a potentially suicidal rebellion against Northerners who disclaimed any intention of forcing abolition on southern states.

My explanation emphasizes that problems inside southern culture nurtured both fury at any outside criticism and determination to prevent antislavery democratic discourse from seeping anywhere near despots' doors. The internal travail and its external consequences become clearest in widest perspective. Thus my first volume of Road, published a decade and a half ago, traced the democratic-despotic section's political traumas from the American Revolution through the 1854 passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This sequel moves from that law's bloody Kansas aftermath to the Civil War's first blood. As the war nears, my narrative slows, to detail the spectacles that started with John Brown's raid and ended with Fort Sumter's surrender. My . . .

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