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When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession Hardcover – 2000

4.0 out of 5 stars 110 customer reviews

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In case anyone doubted Garry Wills' argument in A Necessary Evil that the peculiar myths and distortions surrounding the nature, formation, and meaning of the U.S. regularly stir movements committed to myth rather than reality, Adams, a historian of taxation, delivers a polemic that proves it. The Civil War, Adams argues, was not about slavery or the Union; it was about tariffs! The Southern states had a right to secede. Slavery would have ended at some point, but Lincoln did not particularly threaten it. It was, Adams maintains, the "dueling tariffs" of the Union and the Confederacy that caused the war. Within his states' rights argument, Adams maintains secession's legality should have been determined by the courts, and slaveholders should have been compensated for the property they lost through emancipation. Adams relies heavily on the European press; he asserts, but does not prove, that U.S. abolitionists were a fanatical lunatic fringe. The author clearly anticipates controversy; it should not be long in coming. Mary Carroll


A very readable and insightful book. (Marshall DeRosa, Florida Atlantic University)

This is the best written, most accurate account of the causes and meaning of the American Civil War. . . . A fantastic book! (John V. Denson, Auburn University)

Highly original. . . . Mr. Adams' work, as well as contributing to the subject, makes a lovely example of the way history should be written. (Clyde N. Wilson, University of South Carolina)

The Civil War violently destroyed the decentralized federal system of the Founders and opened a way for the vast centralized empire of today. To legitimate this revolutionary change, Americans have taught that secession was unconstitutional; that the South seceded to protect slavery; and that the North invaded to emancipate slaves. Charles Adams, a northern historian, argues persuasively that these propositions are false. Adams claims that the war was about what most wars are fought over: control of territory, resources, and revenue. To many this book will be disturbing; to others it will be a breath of fresh air. The first step in healing the fractural historical memory imposed on all Americans by the Civil War is to face the hard truths that Adams brings into focus. Having read this book, I can no longer, with ease, recite the 'Gettysburg Address' or sing the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic.' (Donald Livingston, Emory University)

Adams is the world's leading scholar on the history of taxation. When in the Course of Human Events is a must read for history teachers and history buffs searching for honesty. (Charlotte Observer)

This is one of the most important books ever published on American history. (Forum News Magazine)

This is a well-rounded historical presentation of the events surrounding the Civil War. Whatever you have to do, but do read this book! Winner of the Reformed Library's 2000 Paradigm Award. (Reformed Library)

Delightful and insightful book. The author has provided a well-documented exposure of the real reasons for an unnecessary war. It is a pleasure to read. (The Rebel Rouser)

Provocative, well-argued revisionist history. (The New American)

But if we were to recommend one work—based on originality, brevity, depth, and sheer rhetorical power—it would be Charles Adams' time bomb of a book, When in the Course of Human Events. (Worldnetdaily)

Charles Adams manifests in this excellent book a rare talent—he asks intelligent historical questions. (The Mises Review)

There cannot be any better treatment of the causes of the war and the motivations for the Northern invasion than this book. Using primary documents from both foreign and domestic observers, Adams makes a powerful and convincing case. Certainly, anyone interested in truth will gain a great education from reading When in the Course of Human Events. (Madison Enterprise-Recorder)

When in the Course of Human Events offers a sustained challenge to much of the conventional wisdom about the conflict. Particularly valuable is Adams' critique of Lincoln. (The Washington Times)

For those wanting additional information on the subject I recommend the following books: "When in the Course of Human Events, the Politically Correct Guide to American History." (David Allen Tuscaloosa News)

A great read is "When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession" by Charles Adams. This is recent scholarship on an old and painful subject. It dispels many myths which I swallowed "whole cloth" in my school days, and which are deeply embedded in current "facts" about the causes, conduct and outcome of the war. (Al Coombe Southern Aviator)

An insightful indictment of our political, military and religious Institutions. (Dunn County News)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 257 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield (2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0847697223
  • ISBN-13: 978-0847697229
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #780,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ethan VINE VOICE on June 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is that book.
I'm an Army veteran. My history classes were immersed in the depths of Lincoln worship. I knew the reason for the Civil War: Abolition of slavery...I would not be easily swayed.
Until I read this book.
Before my reaction, a brief note on the style: This book has excellent primary source documentation. It draws not only from Antebellum but Reconstructionist writings. Not just North, but also South. Not just U.S., but also foreign. Not just political, but military and civilian as well. This is a well-rounded historical presentation of the events surrounding the Civil War.
More on technique: The bad stuff. The only negative criticism that I have is that not all subordinate assertions are documented. The major themes are well presented and end-noted, but arguments supporting those major themes are not well established. That's it. That was the only bad thing I have to say.
Well not really. I have a lot of bad stuff to say about Lincoln's misbehavior, lack of military ethic, civilian atrocities, theft of personal property, imprisonment of the political opposition in the North, fixed elections, disallowance of Free Speech, constitutional negation (the trampling of all Amendments), invasion of a foreign country, forfeiting State's "sovereign right" to govern themselves, suspension of due legal process and ethnic cleansing.
Lincoln even tried to arrest the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for publishing an opinion that demonstrated Lincoln was in error for suspending the right to trial.
Lincoln forced the South into their situation. For what purpose?
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
The winners write the history...
It is a well known maxim that the 'the winners write the history'. This does not apply to the Adams book. He correctly identifies that the very high tarrifs where the cause of the war. He also points out various comments by Lincoln on slavery and that the issue did not appear in the North until the THRID YEAR of the war when support for it was lagging. The reviewers who panned the book are victims of the history that was written by the Northern winners. I claim the the republic defined by the founders died at Bull Run. There is evidence that the New England states considered secession twice prior to the war of Northern agression. When they did so, NO ONE argued that secession was unthinkable. The South was no military threat to the North; they simply wanted to be left alone to go their own way. It was Lincoln's obsession that the big federal government sought by the Hamilton branch of the founders had to be preserved that led to the war. The small government - in the vein of the Jefferson branch of the founders - suffered its first blow at Bull Run, and was finished off by Wilson and FDR. NOTE: A 'civil war' is one between two factions striving to control a country. This was NOT the case with the War of Northern Agression. The South wanted the right to a government of their choice guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence. FURTHER NOTE: I am an EX-yankee who has seen the light.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the book I wish The South Was Right!, considered the gospel of modern Southern nationalism, had been. That book, although it contained much useful and(for the unreconstructed Northerner)embarassing information, was repetitive, occasionally poorly-argued, and overly polemical.
Adams' book, on the other hand, is a concise lawyer's brief. He argues that the South seceded primarily for economic reasons. Adams puts a number of disinterested European third parties on the witness stand, notably Charles Dickens, to buttress his case. And he demolishes the arguments of John Stuart Mill, the "prosecution's" star witness and the man who said the whole thing was about the protection and expansion of slavery.
Although I'm not completely comfortable with Adams' argument(slavery seems to have been far more important in Southern thinking than Adams makes it out to be, and with good reason. Black people were a reality in the South but an abstraction in the North), it is difficult to disagree with it entirely. Slavery, after all, was still legal in the North and would remain so until 1865. The North ADDED a slave state during the conflict(West Virginia)and Mr. Lincoln countermanded TWO emancipation orders during the war. Thomas Jefferson was not overly terrified by the idea of secession. And Mr Lincoln himself, in 1848, admitted that any people dissatisfied with their government, had the right to form one that suits them better.
Adams portrayal of Lincoln's actions early in the war(suspension of habeas corpus, illegally calling out the militia, shutting down opposition newspapers, arresting the Maryland legislature, etc.)is devastating. Although Adams does get off track now and then, When in the Course of Human Events is highly recommended for anyone interested in history as it really was. Devotees of the cult of St. Abraham, though, may want to avoid it.
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Format: Hardcover
Too many fail to realize that the secession-crisis was far older than the slavery-debacle, going back to 1832 regarding the Nullification-crisis-- whereby President Jackson claimed that the federal government held supreme national authority over the states, even though the Founders and Framers-- particularly Madison and Jefferson-- claimed that the states were individually sovereign in being able to nullify federal law and/or secede from the union entirely.

This issue was over tarriffs on imports such as Whiskey and sugar-- not slavery, and eventually grew into the Civil War when nullification became secession.

While slavery was listed as a cause of secession by some states, this was not a protest of a federal act, so much a protest of northern states' violating Constitutional fugitive-slave agreements, by using THEIR sovereign power to nullify these laws, and refusing to comply with them by sending slaves back; some southern states seceded over this contractual breach by other states.

Secession only became war, because the federal government declared it illegal; the South did not WANT war, but would not give up their claim to sovereignty without a fight. Therefore the war was not over tariffs or slaves, but the right of secession; the union invaded to prevent that, not to free slaves or collect tariffs!

Adams is wrong, however, that "secession's legality should have been determined by the courts;" for unilateral secession could be justified only by state sovereignty-- and federal courts cannot HAVE jurisdiction over a sovereign state, only a subordinate one.

Therefore by this argument, Adams harms his own premise, since this implies that the states were subordinate, not sovereign-- and thus had NO inherent right of secession.
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