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We Have the War Upon Us: The Onset of the Civil War, November 1860-April 1861 (Vintage Civil War Library) Paperback – June 4, 2013

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Editorial Reviews


“The book reads like a Shakespearean tragedy played out on the national stage, where everything is converging toward a point of catastrophe, and the one thing that could avert disaster at the last minute (in this case, some kind of compromise) fails. . . . There are moral implications here, as well as historical.” —The Daily Beast

“Cooper suggests Lincoln might have forestalled the march toward secession by speaking out before his inaugural, but he refused and was as firmly opposed to compromise as the rest of his party. . . . The book gains momentum as the crisis deepens and Cooper describes the enormous pressures on Lincoln as he agonized whether to reinforce beleaguered Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.” —Seattle Times¶

“In this compelling blend of crisp narrative and shrewd analysis, William J. Cooper examines the most profound crisis of the antebellum American Union through the eyes of the contesting political camps. The result is a triumph of balanced, wise, and genuinely fresh historical writing: a book that brilliantly captures the uncertainty, the search for compromise, and the role of contingency during these fraught months.” —Richard Carwardine, author of Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power

We Have the War Upon Us is the best survey of the secession crisis published in a generation. There is no more important question than how the Union fell apart in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860. Cooper answers it with a clarity that comes only after years of research and thought. This is a book for scholars to ponder, but for all interested readers to enjoy.” —James Oakes, author of Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861—1865

“William J. Cooper’s superb new book reminds us that whatever the influence of vast political, social, and economic forces, history is ultimately the story of human beings making decisions based on flawed perceptions and imperfect knowledge. This powerful narrative will keep readers enthralled even though they know the outcome. Here moderates such as John J. Crittenden and William H. Seward share the stage with Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, radical Republicans, and southern fire-eaters. Rejecting an irrepressible conflict interpretation, Cooper shows how the partisan, ideological, and sectional interests of political leaders gradually drove the nation toward the abyss. This sobering work recaptures the anguish of the nation’s greatest crisis and surely holds lessons for our own time.” —George C. Rable, author of God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War

“Written with characteristic panache, deeply researched, and replete with shrewd judgments and welcome fresh perspectives, Cooper’s richly detailed study of the secession crisis should delight fellow scholars and general readers alike. It’s a gem of a book.” —Michael F. Holt, author of By One Vote: The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876

“Written from the perspectives of Americans who experienced the efforts to forestall disunion and war during the five months between November 1860 and April 1861 and could not know the full consequences of their actions, this book captures the drama and tensions of those perilous times. Especially noteworthy is Cooper’s treatment of William H. Seward, whose struggles to patch together a compromise form the main thread running through this important book.” —James M. McPherson, author of Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief

“A compelling and exciting narrative of the tumultuous six months between Lincoln’s election and the cannonading of Fort Sumter. . . . [Cooper] weaves this story not just through the eyes of Southern ‘fire-eaters’ and Northern Radicals, but examines the roles Northern and Southern conservatives and moderates played in the crisis as well. The result reads more like a political thriller than a historical textbook, though it excels as both. . . . A superb history of how faction and party brought about disunion and war.” —Armchair General

“Drawing on his wide knowledge of the time period, Cooper clearly enumerates the many ways the Civil War could have been avoided and how many people were clueless as to the real threat, especially Lincoln. Illuminating Civil War history from an expert in the field.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Cooper leaves no stone unturned as he explores the hard decisions and compromises leading up to the war, beginning with the way Lincoln’s election changed the face of American politics. . . . Cooper’s research is thorough and unbiased, assigning credit and blame on all sides. . . . Civil War buffs will appreciate the expert examination of the period.” —Publishers Weekly

About the Author

William J. Cooper is a Boyd Professor at Louisiana State University and a past president of the Southern Historical Association. He was born in Kingstree, South Carolina, and received his A.B. from Princeton and his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. He has been a member of the LSU faculty since 1968 and is the author of The Conservative Regime: South Carolina, 1877–1890; The South and the Politics of Slavery, 1828–1856; Liberty and Slavery: Southern Politics to 1860; Jefferson Davis, American; Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era; and coauthor of The American South: A History. He lives in Baton Rouge.

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Civil War Library
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (June 4, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400076234
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400076239
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #792,975 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By William Henley on January 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover
As a Civil War buff, I've read several books dealing with the period between the election of Lincoln as President in November 1860 and the start of the war in April 1861. This book is billed as another general history of that period, but it concentrates mainly on one aspect of the period; the unsuccessful attempts to forge some kind of legislative compromise which would keep the slave states (at least the ones in the upper South and on the border) from seceding and avert war. The book is well written and knowledgeable, but I have some issues with the author's interpretation of events. The book has a set of heroes, the would-be compromisers who called for the North to make concessions to the South such as allowing slavery to expand into a portion of the remaining U.S. territories. And it has a definite set of villains-- the Republicans of the time, including President-elect Abraham Lincoln, who refused to accept these compromises and, in doing so, to repudiate parts of the platform on which they won the 1860 election. Cooper describes the motivations of the Republicans in the harshest terms; ignorance, stubbornness and a narrow concern with the political fortunes of their own party rather than the nation. He barely acknowledges that there was any element of moral conviction in the Republicans' stand. Cooper (author of a sympathetic biography of Jefferson Davis and other books about the South) contrasts the fire-eating secessionists of the lower South with the more "moderate" slaveholders of the upper South and Border who wanted to try to preserve the Union.Read more ›
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mark R. Brewer on January 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is an intelligent and insightful book that teaches much about the period between Abraham Lincoln's election in November of 1860, and the start of the Civil War in April of 1861. The many characters are intriquing--some of them quite famous, such as Lincoln, William H. Seward, Stephen A. Douglas and Jefferson Davis--while others are less so, such as John J. Crittenden, James Buchanan, Howell Cobb and Charles Francis Adams. Lincoln comes across so very well--firm, strong, sure of his beliefs, and adamant that there shall be no compromise with the South. Buchanan is rather the opposite--vacillating, pensive, but perhaps not quite as weak as he is often depicted. He tried.

The many efforts at reconciliation are depicted here in detail, and show the desperate lengths to which good men, North and South, were willing to go to save their beloved Union.

There are places where the narrative bogs down in detail, such as the examination of the individual southern states and their debates about secession. Still, this is an important and highly informative book.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Paul on December 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
William J. Cooper has written a magnificently researched account of the political atmosphere that prevailed in the United States immediately after the election of Abraham Lincoln and through the first shots of the Civil War at Fort Sumter. What individual elements made up the call to arms on both sides of the Mason Dixon line? Which persons were conciliatory and which were belligerent? What contribution did the nuances of the several political parties play in the mood of the population? Was the Civil War inevitable no matter what action was taken by Lincoln?

These are just a few of the thought-provoking issues raised in Dr. Cooper's book. Like the excellent college professor that he is, he doesn't answer these questions for you but lets you draw your own conclusions with the research that he presents.

This book is very readable and I found it to be a real honest-to-goodness page turner! That is much to say for a book that I would classify as an excellently researched academic history.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Paul on October 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
William J. Cooper's well written and researched book is supberb and provides the reader a clear understanding of the events as they and the people behind them unfolded from the time of Lincoln's election until the action of Fort Sumter which brought the nation into its bloodiest war of all time.

Cooper provides a large cast of characters in this book,of which the most notable are Lincoln, Seward, and Davis.

The election of 1860 was very unusual in that there were several candidates as the result of a Democractic party that was split, a Unionist party which appealed to the border states, and the new Republican party which was elected by a pluarity of votes, but still carried slightly less than 40% of the votes cast. To make it even more divisive, all the states carried were northern states. By December of 1860, South Carolina was leaving the union, and with it came six other deep South slave states, a far different circumstance than when South Carolina tried to nullify the tariffs under the Jackson administration and no other states joined.

Even with seven states out of the union, there was a great deal of scrambling in both houses of the Congress, most notably headed by John J. Crittendon of Kentucky, to work out some type of constitutional compromise to appease the wayward states, but the Republican party members were not in a compromising frame of mind. Lincoln, at the head of the party, felt they had won the election and he and the party would stay true to their fundamental belief that slavery had to be contained where it was and not allowed to expand into new territories. Cooper carefully shows how over the months, several ideas were put forth and the Republican Party representatives in the Congress stayed together and stifled every attempt at compromise.
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