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The Road to Disunion, Vol. 1: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854 Paperback – December 5, 1991

ISBN-13: 978-0195072594 ISBN-10: 0195072596 Edition: Reprint

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The Road to Disunion, Vol. 1: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854 + The Political Crisis of the 1850s + Half Slave and Half Free, Revised Edition: The Roots of Civil War
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (December 5, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195072596
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195072594
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #670,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This major work of scholarship by the author of Prelude to the Civil War offers an intimate look at the Old South and describes how the slavery issue led to successive collisions between "private despotism and public democracy." The book also provides a detailed account of how slavery functioned. Freehling's sweeping narrative traces national crises that led to secession: the Missiouri Compromise, the annexation of Texas, the Compromise Act of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Such figures as Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln stride vigorously through these pages. The study, which contributes importantly to our understanding of the causes of the Civil War, will interest readers with its brilliant evocation of the antebellum South. Illustrations.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Broadening the search that led to his prize-winning Prelude to Civil War (1966), Freehling seeks to track Southern disunion from independence to secession. He reaches the Kansas-Nebraska Act in this first of a promised two-part epic that focuses on the South through the filter of national mainstream politics. Freehling brings alive Southern traditions, heroes, villains, and diversity. He depicts various souths caught in an ineluctable tendency to freedom while the antithetical systems of democracy and despotism divided southerners. Akin to James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom (LJ 3/1/88) and Eric Foner's Reconstruction (LJ 4/1/88; both LJ "Best Books of 1988"), Freehling's masterful synthesis brims with wisdom and wit. It is essential for any collection on the nation, the South, or antebellum politics. Highest recommendation. --Thomas J. Davis, Univ. at Buffalo, N.Y.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 40 people found the following review helpful By on November 1, 1998
Format: Paperback
For anyone who has been interested in the impact of slavery upon America's soul, Freehling's opus is a must. Yes it is long, yes it is painfully detailed, yes at times it can border on being a polemic (particularly in Freehling's discussion of Thomas Jefferson); however, it is thorough, researched in depth, very informative and highly persuasive. My only recommendation to the author would be to use fewer adjectives and adverbs in describing "the peculiar institution"; his otherwise objective research says it all and bears up well under its own scholarship. What I learned from "Road to Disunion" is that the question of our nation's expansion during the first 80 years of the Union cannot be understood without knowledge of the national debate and the political maneuvering to extend or limit slavery's expansion during this same time period. And Freehling goes beyond the political archives which record how county and state and national assemblies voted on slavery and other tangential issues. He discusses the psychology of slavery itself - the mindset the slave owner foisted upon the slave, and the ensuing tension which resulted when slave and abolitionist did not buy into this mindset. Freehling's work was a challenge to digest (I am no scholar) but I consider myself a better informed citizen with greater appreciation of the shape of America today because of his research of America's past.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Bill Perez on October 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
With a sharp eye and witty word for the setting, William Freehling delivers a sprawling and most satisfactory account of the antebellum South's queasy lurches towards secession. Contrary to the strained obfuscation of many histories bearing on the Civil War's causes, Freehling effortlessly restores slavery, and the social, cultural and political dilemmas it spawned, to the center of the story where it belongs. The second chapter is pure genius: the disjointed, patchwork nature of the antebellum South is vividly illustrated with an imagined overland journey from New Orleans to Charleston in the 1850s. Freehling describes the frustrating alternative routes one might have wished to take, the constant and comically inconvenient switches between independent railroads with incompatible gauges and timetables, their respective stations often miles apart. With an accomplished historian's power to simultaneously portray minute details and grand themes, the author sinks us into the setting--its pace, its weather, its sights and sounds. Gripped by this elegant evocation, we are then drawn into the book's purpose: an exploration of the uneasy social dynamics of different regions in the Old South, and how they bent and twisted its resulting ideologies and politics. How these, in turn, redounded upon each other and shaped the confrontations and compromises at the national level becomes the sturdy spine of the story, and Freehling never loses his keen appreciation for the place, people and material culture of the period.

Many here have disparaged his writing style, and I understand what they are saying. For instance, try and decode the sentence that begins Chapter 21: "The first plotter Ashbel Smith inflamed Abel P. Upshur by naming was no famous London schemer.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Omer Belsky on February 7, 2007
Format: Paperback
After a long time, in which a combination of increased workload and diversified reading interests have kept me away, it is good to be back to the world of antebellum 19th century America. Meeting Thomas Jefferson, John C. Calhoun, Andrew Jackson and a dozen secondary characters feels a little like coming home. But as the saying goes, you can dip into the same river twice. William W. Freehling's antebellum South is both familiar and foreign. Freehling brings forward a provocative thesis, which throws a bright light on some elements of the period, but also blinds you to some vital aspects.

I have previously read Freehling's brilliant essay collection, The Reintegration of American History: Slavery and the Civil War. That was one of the best books about 19th century America I've ever read. Using cultural history, comparative studies, biography, and even autobiography, Freehling brought a provocative new thesis to the field of 19th century antebellum South.

According to Freehling, the South was torn between two conflicting, contradictory ideologies - Aristocratic Paternalism, the 18th century view that the enlightened rich should govern all others, black and white and female, and Jacksonian 'Herrenvolk Democracy' - the view that America is the republic of the free white male, where the color line separates the master race - the Herrenvolk - from the inferior black folk.

The idea that the clash between these two ideologies, and indeed, the fractions between the various, and very different, elements of the South, is Freehling's key argument.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Warner Todd Huston on April 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The folks here are 100% right about the author's writing style. At times one is forced to reread a sentence to catch the meaning the prose is so obtuse.

I believe Mr. Freehling was attempting to develop a catchy rhythm and a "style" but it never quite gels. At times he takes what would be an easily understood, colloquially worded sentence and inverts it so that it almost seems foreign to an English oriented audience (imagine a prose constantly using wording such as "down he sat" as opposed to "he sat down").

He also has an annoying tendency of attempting to create catch phrases that he uses over an over again even when the situations described don't quite fit with the original usage of the word he coins. The style, mannerisms, and conventions he used in writing this tome slows down the pace, seems forced and detracts from the work. Mr. Freehling would do himself better to just write the narrative in a less "stylized" manner.

However, that being said, those who have said this is a book that shouldn't be missed are also correct. The research the author put into this book is voluminous and comprehensive. He brings quite a few things home well and leads the reader to a much better understanding of just how complicated the slavery issue really was in antebellum America.

His description of the various "Souths" that developed between 1780 and 1853 is fascinating and illuminating. His treatment of the Texas annexation issue was fantastic. With such wonderful research, I cannot wait for Vol. 2, but I hope Mr. Freehling jettisons his muddled writing style before he begins the next installment.

This is a highly recommended work. But don't imagine it is light reading.
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