The Road to Disunion: Volume I: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854

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The Road to Disunion: Volume I: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854

Author: William W. Freehling
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Copyright: 1991
Pages: 656
Cover Price: $ 29.95

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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.

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Background Information

The South "ante bellum," that is "before the war," was a place of great prosperity and grandeur, along with great suffering for the slaves working in the fields. The Deep South consists of the core states of the Confederacy, which seceded first and remained loyal to the Democratic Party until 1964. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was a vigorous Congressional exponent of the inteterest of the South in the decades before the Civil War. In 1831, Nat Turner led a rebellion of slaves that killed more whites than any other slave uprising in the ante bellum South and for which Turner was executed. Frederick Douglass was a former slave who became a spokesman for abolition and eventually a wartime friend of Lincoln. The Missouri Compromise, which permitted statehood for Missouri, required that all future states be admitted in pairs, one free and one slave. The Gag Rule was a provision in the rule of the House of Representatives that in the decades for the Civil War prevented the consideration of bills opposing slavery. The Compromise of 1850 was a desperate attempt to prevent the issue of slavery from tearing the country apart, the disparate leaders came together in Congress to enact it. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was intended by Southerners to bring Kansas into the Union as a slave state, but it failed in that and instead inspired the formation of the Republican Party.