Far from a monolithic block of diehard slave states, the antebellum South was, in William Freehling's words, "a world so lushly various as to be a storyteller's dream." It was a world where Deep South cotton planters clashed with South Carolina rice growers, as Northern egalitarianism infiltrated border states already bitterly divided on key issues. It was the world of Jefferson Davis, John C. Calhoun, Andrew Jackson, and Thomas Jefferson, and also of Gullah Jack, Nat Turner, and Frederick Douglass.
Now, in the first volume of his long awaited, monumental study of the South's road to disunion, historian William Freehling offers a sweeping political and social history of the antebellum South from 1776 to 1854. All the dramatic events leading to secession are here: the Missouri Compromise, the Nullification Controversy, the Gag Rule, the Annexation of Texas, the Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Vivid accounts of each crisis reveal the surprising extent to which slavery influenced national politics before 1850 and provide important reinterpretations of American republicanism, Jeffersonian states' rights, Jacksonian democracy, and the causes of the American Civil War.
Freehling's brilliant historical insights illustrate a work of rich social observation. In the cities of the Antebellum South, in the big house of a typical plantation, we feel anew the tensions between the slaveowner and his family, poor whites and planters, the Old and New Souths, and most powerfully between slave and master. Freehling has evoked the Old South in all its color, cruelty, and diversity. It is a memorable portrait, certain to be a key analysis of this crucial era in American history.
"This is an excellent book; the best that we have for the early period of the sectional conflict. I will put it on my reading list for my Civil War and Reconstruction course. Students in U.S. introductory courses could benefit from this book."--William C. Harris, North Carolina State Univ.
"Many of the details, to be sure, are fresh, and so are some of the shifts in emphases."--Carl N. Degler, The Journal of American History
"Freehling has struck as powerful blow for history as narrative art in this remarkable recounting of the southern secession movement up to 1854."--George M. Fredrickson, Stanford University.
"The major work of scholarship by the author of Prelude to the Civil War....Will interest readers with its brilliant evocation of the antebellum South."--Publisher's Weekly
"A complex, challenging reassessment of southern motives and movements from the birth of the American nation to the Kansas-Nebraska Act...Dense and idiosyncratic...an important contribution to the ongoing scholarly reconstruction of southern history..." --Kirkus Reviews
"No work about the road to disunion now rivals it in comprehensiveness and strength of argument....A brilliant synthesis of what we now know about most of the stops on the road to secession, put forth with fresh emphases and force, a triumph of historical research and art."--Washington Times
"Perceptive, argumentative, revisionist, and bound to be controversial in and out of academe....Impressive."--The State
"Informative in its details of each of the major political crises it treats, and...fascinating in its depiction of the differences between the more southern and the more northern sections of the South. Moreover, it provides a valuable, if provocative, contribution to the study of slavery and the events by which a minority of a Southern minority eventually brought about the political coup that shattered the Union."--New York Times Book Review
"A panoramic view of the antebellum South....[Freehling] puts the Civil War in a new perspective and, in what promises to be the first volume of an epic of the South, he makes an important contribution to the understanding of the united as well as the divided country."--Richmond Times-Dispatch
"Freehling has dug out of the archives a wealth of information about the road to disunion."--Boston Globe
"[Freehling] offers a highly original interpretation of the road to Civil War that may not inspire universal assent but will command the attention of anyone interested in this pivotal era."--Newsday
"This is a rich, vivid work of history. While scupulously careful enough about describing events to satisfy rigorous professional standards, SUNY (Buffalo) Professor Freehling has a sure eye for telling detail and anecdote. the book is fascinating and thoroughly readable, though it is not simple in theme or language. It is, always, clear and concrete. The great virtue of the book, historically, is that it recreates a more varied South that history often
recollects, a land of zealous slavers and ardent democrats, with classes and sections deeply divided....The index is organized well for student research work."--KLIATT, Young Adult Paperback Book Guide
"Freehling's study is important, deserving of wide and careful scrutiny. The scholarship is impeccable, the analysis insightful. His dedication to the narrative literary form, "sadly maligned among professional historians," is laudatory, and his demonstration of the importance of political history to what is sometimes termed "the 'new' social history" is right on the mark. Perhaps most of all, he has restored the slavery issue to its rightful place in Civil War
causation."--Civil War History
"Remarkably well written."--James A. Hakken, Jackson Community College