Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

At the Precipice: Americans North and South during the Secession Crisis

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

At the Precipice: Americans North and South during the Secession Crisis

Article excerpt

At the Precipice: Americans North and South during the Secession Crisis. By Shearer Davis Bowman. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010. Pp. 379. Introduction, notes, further reading, acknowledgments, index. $30.00.)

A number of very skilled historians, including Allan Nevins in the 1950s, David Potter in the 1970s, and James McPherson in the 1980s, have chronicled the secession crisis, extending from Lincoln's election to the presidency in November 1860 to the outbreak of the American Civil War the following April. What the late Shearer Davis Bowman of the University of Kentucky has attempted is to provide differing perspectives on the crisis from persons North and South, famous and obscure, who lived through this perilous period. As one might expect, there is a good deal of political history between these covers, including treatments of the careers of Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, and the somewhat less well known John Bell, John C. Breckinridge, Howell Cobb, and Stephen Douglas. Bowman uses primary documents to introduce such overlooked persons as Horace Kent, a Virginia merchant, and Henry Waller, a Kentucky-born Whig lawyer who moved to Chicago where he strongly supported Stephen Douglas for U.S. Senate in 1858 and the presidency two years later. Waller braved a hostile crowd in January 1861, backing the failed Crittenden Compromise. Bowman uses the diary of Keziah Goodwyn Hopkins of South Carolina, a pietistic plantation mistress who prayed against abolitionists and for sectional peace. For another prospective, he narrates the career of Sojourner Truth, the New York-born ex-slave who campaigned in the late antebellum period against slavery and for women's rights. Bowman uses other diaries and speeches of men both North and South who either welcomed the coming sectional division or worked earnestly to prevent a calamitous civil conflict.

This is really ambitious work, deeply researched with special attention given to historiography published over the last two decades. Moreover, the book is augmented by illustrations and political cartoons of the era. For an undergraduate seeking differing perspectives from around the nation on the coming of the Civil War, this book can be most useful. Bowman is quite knowledgeable about economy, race, gender, and how the concept of honor or degradation affected the nation during the secession crisis. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.