The military history of the Civil War is well known. The political history of the era, and especially of the South, is less documented, a gap that William Davis's Look Away! admirably addresses.
Although the rhetoric of secession was democratic, invoking the ideals of the American Revolution and its classical forebears, Southern politics was directed by members of a small, self-serving aristocracy. And though the Confederate government advanced what then and now might be thought to be radical proposals (for one, that the postal service had to be self-supporting within two years of its founding), it was intolerant of dissent; the South's leaders, Davis writes, even barred a constitutional provision "recognizing the right of a state to secede." The natural result, Davis shows, was widespread resistance, including the development of a peace movement and of political groups loyal to the old Union. At the end of the war, Davis writes, "Confederate democracy had gone and would not be seen again--but the oligarchies had survived." Davis's study affords a new view on the Civil War, and it makes a fine addition to the overflowing library devoted to that crisis. --Gregory McNamee
From Library Journal
The director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech, Davis (Lincoln's Men) here offers a sweeping nonmilitary perspective of the Confederacy, examining the political turmoil that led to its creation and the social and economic devastation left after its defeat. Civilian life, civil law and justice, internal dissent, the opposition to Richmond's dictates, and the uneasy relationships between old-line Whigs and Democrats in the Rebel state legislatures and governors' mansions constitute the bulk of the work. With reference to the South's planter class and political base, the author concludes: "They had begun in 1861 as a movement dedicated to the professed belief that sovereignty lay with the states. For four years that democracy went through strains and wrenches testing its ability to resist centralization through one compromise of its ideology after another." Herein lies the kernel of Davis's penetrating analysis of the values and differences among the various factions of the Confederacy. This important contribution to Confederate historiography is recommended for all Civil War collections and major libraries. John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Cleveland
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