Friday, August 8, 2014

Nonfiction RC #4

I read this book for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2014 reading challenge 2014.
And the War Came: The North and the Secession Crisis, 1860-1861 - Kenneth M. Stampp.

Some historians argue that the American Civil War didn’t start when Southern states seceded, but when the Northern states opted to use force to maintain the Union. This interesting book examines the five months between Lincoln's election and the fall of Fort Sumter.

As we would expect, Northern politicians gassed a lot about "coercion,"" aggression,"" treason,"" the right of secession," "law enforcement," and deceiving themselves and others. Ironic, since the choice, when facing secession boiled down to, 1) let them go; 2) compromise and reconstruct; and 3) fight to maintain the Union. The  role of money interests in pushing for conciliation was rather disgusting, but, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at their urging the politicians to jettison principles when millions of dollars in trade were at stake.

Stampp points out that party politics, economics (like high protective tariffs), and idealism combined to shape the North's answer to secession and ended up forcing Lincoln to coerce rather than conciliate and appease the South. Politics, as we would expect, dominated. Lincoln knew that Northern people would bolt from and break up the Republican Party if Republican politicians allowed the expansion of slavery to new territories – and ultimately to Tierra del Fuego for that matter. By December, 1860, when the Cotton States pulled out, Lincoln came to realize that southern leaders were resolute about secession, profoundly uninterested in reconciliation. Therefore, the Union would not be saved by diplomacy, but by arms. In summary of Lincoln's role Professor Stampp writes:

It would obviously be a gross distortion of history to attribute the Civil War to Lincoln's Sumter maneuver . . . the real causes . . . grew out of a generation of sectionalism.... Lincoln came to power when the secession crisis was in an advanced stage ... He . .. responded with remarkable promptness to overwhelming public pressure.

Strampp wrote this readable book early in his academic career. His book after this one was a highly regarded examination of the American system of human slavery The Peculiar Institution. His book The Era of Reconstruction is also worth reading.

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