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

By Walther, Eric H. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, July 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

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


Walther, Eric H., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War. By CHARLES B. DEW. A Nation Divided: New Studies in Civil War History. JAMES 1. ROBERTSON, JR., Editor. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 2001. xii, 126 pp. $22.95.

CHARLES B. DEW'S thesis is as succinct and unambiguous as the barrel of the artillery piece that points between the reader's eyes from the cover of his book: secession of the southern states hinged fundamentally upon perpetuating African American slavery and white supremacy. Although his is hardly a new argument, Dew refers to conspicuous events of recent years-efforts in Virginia to instate a "Confederate History Month," the controversy over the Confederate flag flying over the state capitol of South Carolina, and neo-Confederate web sites, to name a few-to show that much of the public has a distinctly contrary view to the scholarly consensus on the centrality of slavery to the formation of the Confederacy. Dew even cites a question asked of prospective new American citizens by the Immigration and Naturalization Service: "The Civil War was fought over what important issue?" He explains that our federal government accepts "Slavery or states' rights" as a answer (p. 4). Professor Dew seeks to correct these impressions.

Toward this end, Dew focuses logically on a heretofore glossed-over group of proto-Confederates, the commissioners of slave states sent by their respective governments to other slave states during the secession winter, men charged with spreading the message and clarifying the cause of disunion and a Southern Republic. The author correctly notes that these commissioners' letters and speeches constituted among the first corpus of pro-secession argument from the South that had absolutely no need to hold back out of deference to outside [northern] sensibilities (p. 21).

This book represents a bit of a personal odyssey for Dew. He reveals himself as a son of the South, descended of Confederate families, and raised proud of the Confederate battle flag, Robert E. Lee, and the gallantry of southern soldiers in their stoic defense of states' rights-whatever those unnamed rights might have been. The author claims that only after completing graduate school did he stumble across a letter written by a secession commissioner, Stephen F. …

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