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Why They Fought: The Real Reason for the Civil War (Kindle Single) Kindle Edition

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Length: 26 pages

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

As students many of us were taught that the Civil War was not triggered by or fought over the central issue of slavery. However, David Von Drehle, TIME magazine’s editor-at-large, makes a compelling case that the conflict grew solely out of this issue. Von Drehle’s argument is informed by the speeches, news articles, and rhetoric leading up to the secession of southern states, which later took up arms to protect their right to own humans and to move that system of bondage west. What the North fought for was less clear--abolition on moral grounds (when the North itself was built using slave labor and had only decades before ended the practice?) or to prevent disunion, as any alternative may have proved more disastrous than a civil war. Von Drehle also tackles the question of how varying histories of the war’s cause (state’s rights, Northern imperialism) came to occupy our collective beliefs. Though deeply pragmatic, we’re a nation that takes many actions based on our moral principles, and the clear picture of history presented in this Kindle Single is a reminder of our missteps and values.  --Paul Diamond

Product Details

  • File Size: 141 KB
  • Print Length: 26 pages
  • Publisher: Time (April 8, 2011)
  • Publication Date: April 8, 2011
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003YL4KQ2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #267,413 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Donald F. St Denis on April 18, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this single. It's well written and researched, and the author mentioned a few titles that I didn't know about and would like to read.

I think this is an ambitious topic for a Kindle Single, because any attempt to briefly explain the causes for the civil war will inevitably leave a few loose ends. No fault of the author, it's just a lot to cover. Readers who are predisposed to disagree with his thesis will pounce on these dangling threads and pick away at his conclusions. Even objective readers may find themselves wondering about bits that don't seem to fit. For example, why were so many rebels willing to fight and die to preserve slavery, even though a great number owned neither plantations nor slaves? And why were so many Unionists willing to give their all to preserve union with a region that embraced slavery?

Historians have given us thoughtful, compelling answers to these kinds of questions, but it generally takes them a lot more than 26 pages to do it. Kindle Singles are described as, "Compelling ideas at their natural length." I'd agree that this topic is compelling, especially as we arrive at the 150-year anniversary of the start of military action in the civil war, but its "natural length" seems much longer.

So if you're trying to decide whether this single is for you, I'd suggest you might consider it an appetizer. If you've read a lot about the civil war, you'll enjoy this well-written synopsis of the run-up to the conflict and its aftermath. If this period of history is new to you, then you'll probably be amazed by this account and may want to follow it with other books about this turning point in US history.
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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Michael L. Roosa on April 12, 2011
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I grew up in California but have lived all over the country while serving in the military and have lived in the south now on and off for over 25 years, so I have been exposed to almost all views on the Civil War and I found a lot to agree with in this article. Though the real reasons for the Civil War haven't changed, it's nice once in a while to see them expressed in such a clear and concise way. Add that to a nice summary of how and why the real causes of the war were (and in many cases still are) glossed over makes this essay well worth reading. It's not very long of course but it still gets it's point across. As a history buff I found this ariticle well researched and very interesting.
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65 of 81 people found the following review helpful By John Williams on April 9, 2011
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The book starts with an excellent brief survey of what people said about the causes of war before and during the war itself; the second half of the book is speculation about why people like to insist now that slavery was only an incidental issue. I doubt this slim volume will persuade anyone hanging onto the "Lost Cause," but it does concisely address the question of the cause of the Civil War, and provides plenty of suggestions for further, deeper reading.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By C. Holland on May 15, 2011
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this is a fine article, concise and crisply written, grounded in excellent research. the insidious myth of the lost cause has given us as much grief as the war itself. today we face the same kind of conflict: between the comforting ideology that allows us to keep on doing what we're doing, however destructive, and the cold reality that requires us to change; so this essay is useful beyond its topic.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Brian Hartman on October 14, 2012
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I'm a big fan of McPherson, so I'm familiar with this line of argument. It's a welcome relief from revisionist history.

This isn't a scholarly book, and it's not meant to be. It's a brief survey of the topic. There are no footnotes, endnotes, or other such citations. What the author does is make a cogent argument that the Civil War was centered on the issue of slavery, and that the American education system and popular culture (although not academia) has gotten away from that basic truth.

In a longer work, the author might have addressed the multiple sources (e.g., newspapers, North and South, and the Congressional record) that back up his argument. Because this is only a brief survey, the author quotes other experts extensively.

If someone wants to get a really good look at the cause of the Civil War that is a longer version of this one, I would point them to McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom", which the author also references.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Robert Stephens on May 21, 2012
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It had become popular in recent years to insist that slavery was not the central cause of the Civil War, But that's not what the actual evidence suggests. It may be that the Confederate soliders were not fighting for slavery, but that is a red herring. The movtives of the individual soldiers is not what determines the cause of a war. The decision to go to war is made by governments, not individual soldiers. It is also true that the North didn't slight the way to end slavery, at least at first, but that is also a red herring, the question is why the South fought. There were multiple causes of the war, but slavery is at the root of all of them. Confederate leaders weren't at all shy about proclaiming that it was about slavery, the whitewash only came many decades later.
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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Ronald L. Paul on May 24, 2011
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This essay is a primer putting before us, in simple clarity, the question of the cause of this cataclysmic event and how the denial of its prime cause, slavery, negatively impacted the post Civil War evolution of emancipation. Better put, I feel, that the cause of the latter was not the denial of the cause of slavery per se, but rather, the differences of interpretation of the institution of slavery, in the North generally a moral issue, in the South generally a political states rights issue because slaves were considered property.
Further, slavery and political considerations were inseparably linked from the genesis of our country. The author correctly points out that the Founders neglected to deal with the slavery issue and therefore sowed the seeds of the future conflict. However, it is important to note that given the pervasiveness of slavery in Colonial America and the potential contentiousness and divisiveness of the issue, the Founders were forced to kick the can down the road, otherwise, there would not have been a Constitution of the United States. During Lincoln's Administration the preponderance of his public statements and actions regarding slavery were wrapped in political considerations. Although it is fairly clear that Lincoln abhorred slavery as immoral, the call for preservation of the Union, at least at the beginning of the Civil War, was certainly a more unifying theme for the North than freeing the slaves. Lincoln surely understood that unless the Union was preserved, slavery could not, at least from the perspective of the 1860s, possibly be abolished on our continent. Early in the conflict he was reluctant to publicly discuss the dissolution of slavery for fear of alienating the Border States.
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