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At the Precipice

Americans North and South during the Secession Crisis

Shearer Davis Bowman

Publication Year: 2010

The third volume in the Littlefield series, this manuscript by Dave Bowman follows (chronologically) Liz Varon's Disunion!, which dealt with the long process of separation of the two regions and its roots in the Constitutional and Federal periods. Bowman's study takes readers into the secession crisis itself, examining the thoughts and actions of key individuals including Lincoln, Buchanan, Davis, Tyler, Van Buren and others. In focusing on major figures from the period and their interactions, Bowman sets his work apart from those that view the crisis through the lenses of major forces, events, and developments. This approach provides especially keen insight into what Americans North and South on the eve of the Civil War believed and thought about themselves and the political, social, and cultural worlds in which they lived, and how their assumptions and thoughts informed their actions and decisions.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: Littlefield History of the Civil War Era

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pp. 1-1


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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-x

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1 Introduction and Overview

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pp. 1-37

When did the secession crisis that precipitated the Civil War begin? More broadly, when began the longer era of antebellum sectional conflict that culminated in the secession crisis and then Civil War? Some historians see the beginning...

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2 Slaveholders and Slaves, State’s Rights and Revolution

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pp. 38-76

As of 1860, the future Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, owned well over a hundred African American slaves in Warren County, Mississippi. One historian has described Mississippi as “the most southern of southern states—a prototype where is mixed all the peculiar forces...

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3 Honor and Degradation: Section, Race, and Gender

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pp. 77-111

In 1860, Charles Colcock Jones Jr., age twenty- eight, became the youngest man ever elected mayor of Savannah, Georgia, a victory his father termed “a high honor.” Charles Sr. used the word “honor” according to its funda-fundamental...

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4 The Second Party System and Its Legacy: The Careers of John Bell, John C. Breckinridge, Howell Cobb, Stephen A. Douglas, John Tyler, and Martin Van Buren

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pp. 112-159

The era of the second American party system, which extended from the mid- 1820s into the mid- 1850s, warrants extended discussion in any analysis of the late antebellum years and the secession crisis. The leaders of the Republican...

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5 Jefferson Davis, Horace L. Kent, and the Old South

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pp. 160-194

Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, like most political leaders in the Lower or Cotton South, began the secession winter of 1860–61 as a hesitant disunionist but came to endorse the decision to quit the Union as regrettable but necessary. He hoped that the U.S...

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6 Abraham Lincoln, Henry Waller, and the Free- Labor North

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pp. 195-243

When Abraham Lincoln began to appear to be a serious contender for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination, the editor of the Chicago Tribune, Joseph Medill, sent reporter Jon Locke Scripps to the Illinois state capital, Springfield, to gather information...

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7 Keziah Goodwyn Hopkins Brevard and Sojourner Truth: Faith, Race, and Gender

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pp. 244-260

Private diaries, at least those not subsequently edited by the diarist with a view to publication, are more likely to offer genuinely candid expressions of the author’s feelings and judgments at the moment than are letters and speeches composed by politicians...

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8 President Buchanan, the Crittenden Compromise, President Lincoln, and Fort Sumter

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pp. 261-288

Age sixty-six at his election in 1856, James Buchanan was, in the words of Jean H. Baker, “almost as old as the United States, a point of pride throughout his life.” Few presidents in American history have drawn on such long and varied experience in Washington...


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pp. 289-338

Guide to Further Reading

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pp. 339-356


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pp. 357-358


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pp. 359-379

E-ISBN-13: 9781469606248
E-ISBN-10: 1469606240
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807833926
Print-ISBN-10: 0807833924

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 12 illus., 4 maps
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Littlefield History of the Civil War Era
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OCLC Number: 676696379
MUSE Marc Record: Download for At the Precipice

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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1849-1861.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Causes.
  • Secession -- United States -- History
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