Book review: The Causes of the Civil War

The Causes of the Civil WarThe Causes of the Civil War by Kenneth Milton Stampp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a collection of abridgements of source documents and later periodical and magazine articles, all concerning the, duh, causes of the Civil War. Stampp seemed to be focused primarily on the most provocative writings from both “sides,” antebellum and postbellum. Thus there’s scarcely a mention of, say, Stephen Douglas, but we are blessed (ahem) with a screamingly funny discussion of the Southerner as an emerging being, the “Tropic Nordic,” alas whose full flowering was never reached, cut down by the War.

There is virtually nothing in this text to suggest that any sort of compromise was possible, and that as time went on more and more people on both sides of the divide lost any interest they might have otherwise had in reaching such a compromise anyway. To read this book and no others is to take the War coming as inevitable as the sun rising or the tide changing. And perhaps it was

To keep strictly to the text, I would say that on balance the “pro-” [Southern, Confederate, etc.] contingent comes off the worst, both in their attempts at reasoning through positions and reconciling them to something approaching rational thought, but that that was a race “won” by the South by the narrowest of margins. In fact, the invective employed by both sides against the other rather startled me…and I cannot escape thinking that though these sources are interesting, they do not represent the full spectrum of political thought, either North or South.

Though of particular interest is how the text catches Alexander H. Stephens with his hand firmly in the cookie jar. Naughty Alex made his “cornerstone” speech shortly after secession, but then turned around and wrote a book defending secession almost completely from a “State’s Rights” perspective. Another round of chuckles, and another notch in the belt of Southern hypocrisy. If any Northerners are guilty of a similar set of sins they are not mentioned here.

As noted, we get “provocative” sources, but said sources do echo a curious diversity of opinion by themselves. There is writing from doctrinaire Marxists, pro-Confederate historians who are actually willing to discuss — in serious terms — a “plantation ideal,” whereby a peaceful localism ruled the day, and all was, well, at least pretty good if not precisely a Utopia.

Certainly an interesting reading, and to take the term doubtless to the point of cliche, for the umpty-umpth time in a short review again resort to the term “provocative.”

Testing, testing, 1-2-3 – Extraneous hoo-haas added 2:55 PM 12/31/2012

Just trying to see if I can get a review to post to my blog. Yes, it is a blog, but, no, it is not my “main” blog. Which may or may not be the reason my last 3,479 attempts have all failed. Or perhaps I’m doing something so painfully and obviously wrong that only a knucklehead such as myself could have missed [fill in the blank] as the reason for my failures. Ah, well. Helps pass the time and all that.

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