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Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina 1816-1836 Hardcover – June, 1995

ISBN-13: 978-0844668697 ISBN-10: 0844668699

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Hardcover, June, 1995
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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Peter Smith Pub Inc (June 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0844668699
  • ISBN-13: 978-0844668697
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,939,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"The definitive study of the nullification crisis in South Carolina."--The Free Lance-Star

"Well done....Fine companion to Freehling's other work. Chapters are well organized; summaries are excellent."--Richard Owens, Lewis University

"Combines incisive analysis with great narrative power....An important event....Highly readable and absorbing."--Book Week

"An excellent piece of research and writing."--Library Journal

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

About the Author:
William W. Freehling is the Thomas B. Lockwood Professor of American History at the State University of New York, Buffalo. He is also the author of the The Road to Disunion, the first volume of which was published by Oxford in 1990.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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It's always painful to be forced to admit that you were wrong!
Giordano Bruno
Freehling's accounts of the complex internal politics of South Carolina are presented in seamless and consistently interesting fashion.
R. Albin
Put simply, if anyone is interested in American history and knows the author this book is a must have.
Barrie W. Bracken

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By T. Graczewski VINE VOICE on August 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
With the possible exception of David M. Potter's classic "The Impending Crisis," William Freehling's "Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816-1836" is perhaps the best book written on antebellum America in the past 50 years. Originally published in 1965 and a recipient of the prestigious Bancroft Prize, Freehling's work is a beautifully written and persuasively argued case that the conventional wisdom about the nullification crisis of 1832 is grossly oversimplified and, in the end, fundamentally incorrect.

Two points are central to Freehling's thesis: 1) growing anxiety over slavery and the nascent abolitionist movement - especially acute in the low country - was as important a factor in driving the aggressive states rights posture taken during the nullification crisis as was reaction to the tariff; and 2) South Carolinians themselves were as much to blame for their economic woes during the 1820s and 1830s as the "Tariff of Abominations."

Freehling notes that you can often tell a lot about a society by disproportionate reactions to perceived threats. In this case, the South Carolinian response to the first faint rumblings of abolitionist agitation was far in excess to the actual threat posed in the 1820s and early 30s, according to the author.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By M. Nesbit on May 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
If you become interested in the American Civil War you will find yourself going back further and further into our history seeking the roots of this conflict. If you don't choose to return to the Constitutional debates and compromises Freehling's book is one of the best places to begin your attempts to understand just what happened.
This book is an engrossing history of the revolt of South Carolina against the tariffs and trade rules imposed by the general government in Washington D.C. It has a fabulous cast of characters beginning with John C. Calhoun and running down through the South Carolina planters and politicians who ultimately did so much to break up the Union. Andrew Jackson, as president, puts an end to what almost became an armed revolt and could have caused gunfire to errupt in Charleston Bay decades before the showdown came at Fort Sumter.
I loved this book, as I did Mr. Freehling's "Road to Disunion", and only regret that the second volume of that work never did appear as promised.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 28, 2004
Format: Paperback
For the Civil War and Age of Jackson aficionado, this is an excellent book to read. One will not be able to fly through the 360 pages, but it is very enjoyable and full of great information about the Ante Bellum south as well as the country's political landscape in that era. We know little today about how close South Carolina came to seceding from the Union. The Nullification Crisis, while a mind-numbing subject in high school and college, is brought to life here in a way that is easy to understand and follow. Freehling did an excellent job of researching and explaining the many dynamics involved in the South Carolina society in determining who was for or against nullification, secession, preserving the union and protecting slavery and why. The interplay was fascinating and, though I couldn't recite it back to you, I obtained a lot of knowledge I had never been exposed to before.
With Ronald Reagan's passing, discussions turned again to our "best" or "great" presidents. Andrew Jackson's name is frequently included among our Top Ten by most historians, yet very few of us could say why he deserves to be so highly regarded. In books like this, we can see why. He is not what I would consider to be a likable man and definitely comes across as somewhat tyrannical (not just in this book), but one has to admit after reading this book that he handled the Nullification Crisis and its aftermath very deftly with a clear vision and objective: that allegiance to the Union comes first and preservation of the Union is paramount. He laid the groundwork for Lincoln's management of the Civil War, some 25-30 years later.
The book is well-annotated and, though more than 35 years old is still relevant in its ideas and also in the sources it directs us to for further reading.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Giordano Bruno on May 18, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
According to William Freehling -- and the evidence he amasses is extraordinarily convincing -- it really was "all about slavery"! The Civil War, that is, so if you, dear reader, have stubbornly asserted otherwise through the course of your benighted life, you'd better shun this book. It's always painful to be forced to admit that you were wrong!

Freehling's title - Prelude to Civil War - is apt and intentionally challenging. The 'Nullification' controversy of the late 1820s and 1830s ostensibly focused on tariffs. Drawing from the speeches and writings of the advocates of Nullification, however, Freehling finds explicit and ample evidence that: 1) the most ardent advocates of the "right' of a state to nullify a federal law were consciously and cleverly using the tariff conflict as a 'dress rehearsal' for resistance to any federal interference with slavery; 2) while raging against the tariff, the most radical 'nullifiers' were already advoacting and preparing for secession decades before the election of Lincoln; 3) among the more moderate nullifiers, nullification was taken to be a means of 'preserving' the Union by severely curtailing the role of the Federal government; 4) the exposition of a 'States' Rights' interpretation of the Constitution always amounted essentially to a strategic defense of the institution of slavery. In other words, the State's Right South Carolinians valued above all was the right to perpetuate the state's primordial Wrong, to maintain their unique planters' oligarchy based on slavery, essentially their Right to a culture of arrogant indolence, lording it over the rest of ill-bred humanity.
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