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Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War (A Nation Divided: Studies in the Civil War Era) Nation Divided: Studies in the Civil War Era Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 75 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0813921044
ISBN-10: 081392104X
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Editorial Reviews

Review

This incisive history should dispel the pernicious notion that the Confederacy fought the Civil War to advance the constitutional principle of states' rights and only coincidentally to preserve slavery.

(The New York Times Book Review)

Dew has produced an eye-opening study....So much for states' rights as the engine of secession.

(James McPherson The New York Review of Books)

Review

Charles B. Dew offers a penetrating and incisive evaluation of secessionist ideology, with a clear eye to the priority of race over issues of constitutional rights. The principal source on which the book is built certainly appears neglected to me, and the source is worthy of exploitation: we have an opportunity here to see what Southerners said to each other and not what they said primarily to the North or to the world.

(Mark E. Neely, Jr., author of The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties and Southern Rights: Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism)
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Product Details

  • Series: A Nation Divided: Studies in the Civil War Era
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: University of Virginia Press; Nation Divided: Studies in the Civil War Era edition (March 18, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081392104X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813921044
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #88,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The debate over the causes of secession is contentious even today. While one side of this debate argues the Confederate states seceded solely over the issue of states' rights, the other contends that the institution of slavery was the primary cause of the conflict. In Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War, Charles B. Dew attempts to end this debate by examining pre-Civil War political documents, letters, and speeches made by secession commissioners and Southern politicians. According to Dew, these sources clearly demonstrate that the institution of slavery was at the heart of the conflict.
Dew organizes this book chronologically and provides an extensive appendix, endnotes, and a short index. Dew begins this book by discussing several current events that demonstrate that Americans have not come to a consensus on the causes of the Civil War. For instance, on the Immigration and Naturalization Service's citizenship exam, the question, "`The Civil War was fought over what important issue?,'" can be answered by choosing either "slavery" or "states rights" (4). The debate surrounding the Confederate battle flag also reveals what Dew describes as "the deep division and profound ambivalence in contemporary American culture over the origin of the Civil War" (4). While some see this flag as a symbol of racism and oppression, others view it as a symbol of "Southern heritage" (8). Despite this contemporary debate, in the closing pages of chapter one, Dew argues that the words of the secession commissioner leave no question about the central role that slavery played in the Civil War.
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According to this book, the American Civil War was not about slavery... it was about racism, and racial hierarchy.

Rife with quotes from the public speeches and private letters of the men assigned with persuading other states to join in secession, this book is quick, short, and easy to read, if slightly repetitive.

This sort of book is harsh and to the point because it needs to be. Too widespread is the fictional belief that the Civil War was a squeaky-clean "gentlemen's" affair over "states rights" (States rights to keep slavery), oblivious to all evidence to the contrary, choosing instead to believe the post-war arse-covering writings of people like Jefferson Davis and others sugar-coating the Confederacy.

The language used in the documents (of which several are included in the book's appendix) is undeniable; virtually nowhere does the idea of "states' rights" appear. Virtually everywhere do the ideas of racial hierarchy appear; the black man at the very bottom, all white people above them. The speeches play on fears of Southerners at the time, giving the image of What Will Happen If Lincoln Is Elected/If Your State Does Not Secede; apocalyptic images of American soldiers running roughshod over Southern lands, with freed slaves raping white women of all ages, and the white man relegated to the same subhuman status the slaves themselves were in.

Straight from the secessionists themselves come visions of this, and outright THREATS that true Southerners would never allow themselves the "degredation" of racial equality, and that an end to slavery would institute a "saturnalia of blood"

Due to the heated nature of Civil War literature, the author (much like in many other books) writes in the prologue stating that he IS a Southerner, with ancestors who fought on both sides of the Civil War, and was obsessed with the Civil War as a young man.
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By JDW on October 31, 2011
Format: Paperback
I was not aware of the existence of the Secessionist Commissioners until reading this book. This provides examples of the Commissioners speeches and writing and uses them to prove that the South seceded because they wanted to preserve Slavery. The examples are enlightening and entertaining. The book with its examples does show the prevailing viewpoint in the South and illustrates the way the first States to secede attempted to persuade other States to Secede and join the Confederacy. This is a very interesting book and suitable for the general reader.
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Format: Hardcover
Dew's _Apostles of Disunion_ is one of several recent books to assert that slavery, not states' rights, was the cause of the Civil War. His train of reasoning runs as follows: According to Southern secession commissioners, the men appointed by states which had seceded to convince other slaveholding states to join them in a new confederation, the primary reason for secession was the fear that a Republican president would abolish slavery and place "the Negro" on an equal plane with White citizens. Thus, the maintenance of slavery and race-based oppression were the public reasons behind the secession movement, and secession marked the start of the Civil War.
If this were the only evidence that supported Dew's case, and if Dew's were the only book to come to this conclusion, it would be fairly thin gruel. But there is plenty of other evidence to confirm the point. Before the war, President Buchanan had rejected Kansas's petition to abolish slavery, and the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision mandated governmental support of slavery even in states which had determined to reject this "peculiar institution." Both of these decisions were clear violations of the doctrine of states' rights, yet slaveowning Southerners cheered. The problems came with the possibility that future states, given a free choice (and a Republican presidency), would not embrace slavery -- and might even endorse social and political equality for Black Americans.
_Apostles of Disunion_ is refreshingly concise, direct and accessible; the book can be read in less than an hour, but its impact is impossible to shake. Dew has found a remarkable series of documents in the letters and speeches of secession commissioners.
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