- Hardcover: 262 pages
- Publisher: Stackpole Books; 1st Printing edition (June 1, 1994)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0788159119
- ISBN-13: 978-0788159114
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,677,478 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Pulling the Temple Down: The Fire-Eaters and the Destruction of the Union 1st Printing Edition
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Due to their extreme rhetoric, Southern radicals who actively sought disunion were commonly referred to as fire eaters. They were an odd collection of people who, contrary to popular belief, lived on the fringe of Southern society. According to Heidler, "they were renegades often compelled to wild tactics by an inability to attract local state constituencies". But for the 13 years prior to the start of Civil War, as the North, South and West increasingly clashed over sectional issues, the fire eaters provincial policies came to the fore.
Succession began to come to a head at the conclusion of the Mexican War in 1848. The South viewed Congress as denying them equal protection in the territories acquired from Mexico. As a result, Southern Rights conventions sprang up throughout the South and it was through these conclaves that the fire eaters' separatist ideology began to initially take hold. However, while Southerners were beginning to accept succession as an increasingly valid theory, any move toward its application caused wavering and resistance. At this time the South was decidedly pro Union. Interestingly, in these early stages, the fire eaters exhausted their credibility arguing for action nobody in the South wanted. But most people in the South did begin to feel they were being treated unfairly. National considerations would continue to drive sectional unification and resolve. The 1854 Kansas - Nebraska Act would result in the dissolution of the national Whig party. In the North Whigs would ultimately form the Republican Party, while in the South Whigs joined the Democratic Party making the South a one party section and in the process completely marginalizing Southern radicals.
Defeated within the South the radicals would turn to the Southern Commercial Conventions for a voice and platform. These commercial conventions were an odd, but not unlikely venue for the fire eaters' radicalism. The conventions concerned themselves not with politics but with economic development. A key focus was Federal government subsidized internal improvements such as a transcontinental railroad originating through the Southern states. With many radicals and Southern Rights associations touting commercial self interest as a way to insure Southern independence from Northern economic interests, the fire eaters began to establish themselves all over again and by 1856 the primary success of these commercial conventions was in nurturing a chauvinistic sectionalism. All too easily the call for economic independence reverted back to a call for political independence.
Economic independence, however, is not what the South wanted. They did not want to become an urban, manufacturing economy like the North. Rather, above all they wanted to remain Southern, holding on to their fundamental way of life, the slave based agrarianism which stretched all the way back to the American Revolution. But it was through the Southern Commercial Conventions that the fire eaters' concept of an independant South held on. According to Heidler, "while the fire eater remained outside of Southern politics, he remained main stream in Southern tradition."
Strife between the sections continued to build during the 1850s. Abolitionist extremists in the North sought to end slavery immediately while the South clung to it as their economic mainstay to the point that serious thought was given to reviving the reimporting of slaves. Compromises such as the Fugitive Slave Law and the Supreme Court Dred Scott Decision inflamed both sides. When Preston Brooks of South Carolina beat Charles Sumner of Massachusetts with his cane so badly on the floor of the Senate in 1856 that Sumner could not resume his duties for three years, tensions began to escalate to war. Popular soverignty, a territory's right to choose slave or free status, produced 200 deaths in Kansas, polarizing both sides. John Brown's 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry stoked Southern fears of slave revolt while Brown's execution gave the North a martyr to eulogize. Moderates North and South began to move to the extremes. As the election of 1860 approached, the fire eaters struck. Capitalizing on the South's increasing isolation and fears of the end to their way of life, the radicals nullified the Democratic Convention in Charleston, South Carolina and split the Party into splinter groups when it sought to reorganize itself later in Baltimore, Maryland. The complete destruction of the Democratic Party assured them of their objective, the election of Abraham Lincoln and succession.
This is likely the definitive work on the South's radicals. Sadly, they were people who could only destroy without any idea as to how to build. After reaching their peak of power at the 1860 Democratic conventions, to a man they all faded into oblivion. They were simply too radical for the newly formed Confederate government and not one of them would serve in a senior political capacity within the Confederacy.
This is quite an amazing work, meticulously researched and very well written.