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Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War Paperback – 1996

4.2 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this insightful treatment of the Civil War (addressing the causes, the war itself and Reconstruction), Hummel's text argues against the thesis that armed confrontation was inevitable. "As an excuse for civil war," he says, "maintaining the States territorial integrity is bankrupt and reprehensible. Slavery's elimination is the only morally worthy justification." But slavery, he suggests, was on its way out in any case. Not only was it a political liability, but the institution's many-faceted costs (social cost, enforcement, uprisings, mistreatment) outweighed any profits. If, after decades of unsuccessful compromise, the North had recognized the South's revolutionary right to self-determination and had let the Gulf states secede, slavery would have succumbed in the border states. Hummel goes on to argue, as have many others before, that after a devastating war and the disappointment of Reconstruction, a federal government that once interfered only a little in the affairs of individual states "had been transformed into an overbearing bureaucracy that intruded into daily life with taxes, drafts, surveillance, subsidies and regulations." Hummel, a professor of history and economics at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, quotes David H. Donald, saying, "Before the Civil War, many politicians and writers referred to the United States in the plural"--i.e., the United States are, a grammatical agreement no longer used after 1865. With its insightful analysis (not to mention the extensive bibliographical essays that elaborate each chapter), Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men will supply both the academic and Civil War buff with an added perspective on the causes and consequences of the Civil War.

Copyright 1996 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Hummel (history and economics, Golden Gate Univ.) presents some uncomfortable truths for both sides of the Civil War. For the South, Hummel builds a case that the war was indeed about slavery. For the North, he shows that a war to preserve the union was morally bankrupt and that freeing the slaves was the only justifiable reason for fighting. Yet Hummel demonstrates that even a war for such a noble cause was probably unnecessary, since slavery was politically doomed in an independent South. Hummel also illustrates some of the cost of the war, such as Lincoln's suppression of political opposition, the closing of dissenting newspapers, and the creation of big government under Republicans Lincoln, Johnson, and Grant. Here, Hummel steps on some toes. A worthwhile purchase for public and academic libraries.?Robert A. Curtis, Taylor Memorial P.L., Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 421 pages
  • Publisher: Open Court; 1st edition (1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812693124
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812693126
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #985,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Jeff Hummel, Associate Professor of Economics and History at Golden Gate University, in his new book Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men puts forth the unique new Libertarian hypothesis that, while the slaves were freed as a result of the Civil War, free men were enslaved to bigger government. Evidence which Hummel cites in support of this hypothesis include:(a) the war was fought to preserve the Union, with the fate of slavery being secondary; (b) the Emancipation Proclamation was not issued until two years into the war and even then left the slaves in bondage in the border states (where Lincoln could do something about) while "freeing" them in the Confederacy (where they were beyond Lincoln's reach); and (c) the Civil War accustomed the American people to bigger government, including increased taxation, intervention in the economy, social reform, and suppression of dissent, among other things. Hummel is among the few historians who draw a distinction between the causes of secession and the causes of the Civil War, thus separating the questions "Why did the South want to leave the Union?" and "Why didn't the North let them go?" While Hummel is no Lincoln hagiographer, laying at his doorstep the responsibility for the Civil War (due to his refusal to let the South go), neither is he any fawning apologist for the absolutism of Jefferson Davis. As a Libertarian, Hummel sees no inconsistency in his pro-secession views and his anti-slavery views; indeed, both are part of the revolutionary right of self-determination. Further, he believes that secession would have destabilized slavery by allowing the North to repeal its fugitive slave laws and thus legally making the North a haven for escaped slaves. Hummel is a man who is not afraid to let his opinions be known.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Hummel's main focus in this book covers a broad range of topics, but at the same time it's not intended to be a broad, all-inclusive picture of the civil war period. The book tends to concern itself with the motivations and ideologies of the major actors of the war, and Hummel devotes much of his effort to second-guessing those actors. In particular, Hummel heaps criticism on Lincoln for massive conscription (which provoked massive riots, such as the one in New York in July 1863); politically motivated jailings and other repressions; suspending habeus corpus; the debasement of the currency and the resulting great inflation; disregard or contempt for enemy civilians suffering from the war; and huge increases in taxes and national indebtedness. This is not, however, the anti-Lincoln, pro-Confederate screed that some "neo-confederates" are searching for: each of these malfeasances of Lincoln's are also found to take place in the South, and often to a much worse degree. Hummel also does not accept the old canard that the South seceded primarily for reasons other than the preservation of slavery, although he does take the unionists to task for pursuing aims other than emancipation.
As a Libertarian, Hummel sees the end of slavery as the only worthy goal to be accomplished by the war - simply "preserving the union" is not an adequate reason for bloodshed and killing. Hummel also appears to be unwilling to accept an "ends-justify-the-means" view of the damage that was done to American liberty in the course of prosecuting the war. One of the recurring things I found in this book was a "what-if" contemplation of ways in which slavery could have been ended without the bloodiest war in American history.
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Format: Hardcover
Given the extensive (and very helpful) bibliographic notes, Hummel's text is all too thin. In that space, though, he makes some well-supported arguments about the negative impact of the War Between the States on American liberty, even as slavery was abolished. Unlike some other revisionist works on the period, he makes no attempt to sugarcoat the Confederacy, but delves into civil liberties violations and the growth of the centralized state in that country, too.
Hummel's criticism of Lincoln for overstepping legitimate presidential powers, and his support of secession as a principle separate from the context of slavery seems to draw violently emotional reactions from people who want to view the war as a black-and-white war of good against evil. I take that as evidence of the high quality of Hummel's research and writing.
Overall, this is an excellent work, and I'd very much like to see more from Hummel along these lines.
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Format: Paperback
These days many of us wonder how it happened that the great ideals of the American Revolution, liberty and self-reliance, were overthrown and replaced by today's gigantic and ravenous welfare-warfare state. It is easy to blame Roosevelt and the New Deal, but many of his monstrous impositions only continued and expanded institutions that arose in the Progressive era earlier in the century. Hummel argues that we must look back farther, to the Civil War, as the beginning of the end of our Revolutionary experiment.

"The Civil War represents the simultaneous culmination and repudiation of the American Revolution," says Hummel. By ending slavery, it settled once and for all the great contradiction that had bedeviled the Republic from its beginning and whose resolution had been forestalled by several shaky Compromises prior to 1860. But while freeing the slaves, the War set the stage for the gradual enslavement of us all. The War legitimized the intrusion of the central government into virtually every aspect of our lives which is so evident today.

Slavery would have ended almost as quickly and at much lower costs in lives, treasure, and liberties, had the South been allowed to go peacefully, says Hummel. This is not because slavery was uneconomical -- it wasn't -- but because enforcement costs would have overwhelmed what Hummel calls the "peculiar institution." With secession, runaways would no longer have been captured and returned to the South. It would have been impossible for the Confederacy to effectively guard its long border. This would have virtually ended slavery in the border states of the South and eventually in the entire Confederacy.

Though Hummel's radical libertarian views will put off many

historians, they cannot ignore his careful scholarship and especially his extensive bibliographic essays. This is a seminal book that deserves careful study and follow-up.
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