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Customer Review

123 of 139 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The end point of the American Revolution and the start of modern America, April 7, 2011
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This review is from: America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation (Kindle Edition)
Civil War history used to be so simple. As grade schoolers we were taught that the war started in 1861 when the Confederates bombarded Ft. Sumter, was fought over the issue of slavery, and ended when Robert E. Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Courthouse in 1865. But it seems the Civil War has become a moving target for historians. Some say it began with John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. Others cite the violence of "Bleeding Kansas." Or maybe it was the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin and the rise of the abolitionist movement. Even the ending of the conflict has become hard to define. Did it end with Reconstruction? Did it end with the granting of Civil Rights to blacks. Are we still, in some ways, fighting the Civil War.

David Goldfield, an historian at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, plunges headlong into the fray with America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation. Be forewarned: this is not one of those dry recitations of battles and generals and numbers of casualties. Goldfield makes history come alive when he goes beyond the usual "this is what happened" version of history. By delving into the social history of the United States, he also builds a compelling case for "this is why it happened." And, in what will no doubt draw ire from traditional historians, he ponders "what might have happened." While not quite entering the territory of alternative history, Goldfield proposes that the death and destruction of the Civil War might have been avoided while the result would have been the same: the end of slavery.

Goldfield sees the ominous roots of the Civil War in the Second Great Awakening in the decades before the conflict broke out. Here, for the first time in the fledgling nation's history, evangelical religion became entwined with politics. (Anyone see a connection with another American era? Hmmmm ... like maybe the 1980s when evangelical Christians and the GOP formed an alliance under Ronald Reagan?) Northern evangelicals were concerned about the spread of immigrants, espcially the Irish and the Catholic religion they brought with them. They also encouraged the nation to push Native Americans off land they saw as America's "manifest destiny" to fill from coast to coast. This influence by evangelicals resulted (shades of modern America again!) in a political system in which the reasonable middle ground fell away, leaving only the extreme voices of the pro- and anti-slavery politicians.

America Aflame is one of those rare Civil War histories that isn't content to limit itself of discussions of slavery and states' rights or descriptions of battles and military strategy. But in reading it I felt I was given a much bigger canvass on which to view the war, it causes and the aftermath. Yet, for its scope, the book is immensely readable. Usually it would take me two weeks to wade through a book such as this. I made it through Goldfield's book in four days. I found the book so compelling that I did not want to put it down and read far longer into the night than I intended. As Goldfield tells it, the Civil War was indeed the point at which the American Revolution ended and a modern American truly began.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 9, 2011 5:32:27 AM PDT
Thanks for that review. This is exactly the type of book I've been looking for; less an enumeration of the events during the war than a broader examination of what went on during the period.

Posted on Nov 22, 2011 7:37:53 PM PST
Mark says:
"Northern evangelicals were concerned about the spread of immigrants, espcially the Irish and the Catholic religion they brought with them. They also encouraged the nation to push Native Americans off land they saw as America's 'manifest destiny' to fill from coast to coast."

Is this what Goldfield is arguing? I recently purchased the book and look forward to plowing into it. I was just wondering if this was your interpretation of what Goldfield believes ("evangelicals . . . encouraged the nation to push Native Americans off land they saw as America's 'manifest destiny'. . . .") or if this is exactly what Goldfield wrote?
When I look at some of the key promoters of western expansion and Native American removal (Andrew Jackson, Lewis Cass, James K. Polk, etc.), I don't see much influence from the evangelical sphere. Granted, the term "evangelical" can be thorny, but the symbol of Indian Removal and expansionism, King Andrew, doesn't scream "evangelical" to me. It will be interesting to read. . . .

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 23, 2011 8:45:41 AM PST
It's been several months since I read America Aflame so I'd have difficulty quoting the source directly, but I believe Goldfield claims that not only did the evangelicals (or at least the Protestants swept up in the Second Great Awakening in the late 18h century - you're right about "evangelical" being a somewhat slippery term to define) opposed immigration because it would bring in more Irish and Italians who were mostly Catholic. Likewise, they supported the removal of Native Americans who were viewed as "heathens" to make room to expand the nation for Christians. Granted, folks like Andrew Jackson were relentless in the drive to remove the Native Americans, but they would have had to have support from ordinary Americans to carry out the removal.

At least that's how I remember it being tied in after a few months. I hope you enjoy the book. I thought it was fascinating. This was the first Civil War history I've read that spent more time looking at the social history of the era rather than focusing on the military campaigns. While the military history is interesting, this book gave a more comprehensive overview of the times leading up to and following the Civil War.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 23, 2011 1:58:46 PM PST
Mark says:
W. V. Buckley,

Thanks for the comment. That's also another reason why I'm getting ready to invest in Goldfield's book, because it looks at the Civil War through a social lens.

I agree with you about the ordinary Americans helping to push Jackson to step in with the federal government to help remove the Indians. I just always like to disentangle the motivations that people historically have shown (religious, economic, social, etc.). Sometimes theists are blamed for everything and sometimes atheists are blamed for everything. I just never saw the impetus of the 2nd Great Awakening has being motivated fundamentally by a desire to move Indians. Yet, the immigration issue (Catholics) does make sense.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 9, 2012 9:11:35 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Dec 20, 2012 3:02:57 PM PST]

Posted on Jan 11, 2013 2:47:50 PM PST
anonymous says:
More revisionism, to fit with the "new yankees," lol---- the catholics and jews who run the american political scene together (you know, the ones you see on t.v.) Protestant bashing started when they opened the border in 1965 (the immigration act) and changed the nation into majority catholic in only 50 years. Meantime, the jews have gotten funding for Israel. The sort of book that makes me fear for the children of the real founders of the country. Jefferson was 100% correct about what was in store for them once other populations came.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 13, 2013 11:36:39 AM PST
Mark Beronte says:
Jenna,

You miss the point. It's not so much about bashing protestants or Catholics or Jews, it's about understanding the social impact that any dogmatic cultural construct (normally religion), can have on our ability to reason, and therefore on our ability to solve complex issues without resorting to armed conflict. We need to stop identifying ourselves with a religion and start understanding we are all just humans. No one is saved, no one has special knowledge, and there is no god to defer to. We are all in the same boat and we alone are responsible for solving our problems

Posted on Mar 16, 2013 1:52:30 PM PDT
So, it was Evangelical Christianity that ended slavery. And this makes Evangelical Christianity bad in what way, exactly? (This is Scott, Cindy's husband. I'm Jewish---but I am tired of Evangelical bashing as I like them.)

Posted on Nov 25, 2013 6:43:50 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Dec 4, 2013 5:09:23 PM PST]
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