Rebels in the Making: The Secession Crisis and the Birth of the Confederacy

Oxford Univ. Aug. 2020. 392p. ISBN 9780190076085. $34.95. HIST
Historian Barney (Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Civil War) brings his expertise to the subject of secession, when 11 states in the South severed their ties with the Union in 1860 over the issue of slavery. Barney reminds readers that secession was not a foregone conclusion. The election of Abraham Lincoln incited Southern elites’ fear of forced emancipation. The author describes how farmers and plantation owners were intimidated and politically outmaneuvered by a younger segment of aspiring lawyers and plantation heirs whose fortunes were tied to upholding the institution of slavery. Adding to the political and social unrest, drought ravaged the South in 1860. Secessionists predicted a rosier future in a South freed from the Union’s heavy protective industrial tariffs, and forecast wage competition for poor whites if emancipation was enacted. Barney outlines the conflicting forces at play, state-by state, and the political evolution that led to the Civil War. Ironically, claiming adherence to the Constitution, secessionists outflanked Unionists and former Whigs hoping for Republican concessions protecting slavery, with less than democratic tactics.
VERDICT Citing contemporaneous diaries and newspapers, Barney’s investigative account supplies an enlightening exposé on the lead-up to the Civil War.
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