Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Foreword

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pp. vii-x

The Marcus Cunliffe Centre for the Study of the American South was founded in 2007 to facilitate cutting-edge research and dialogue on the history of the Southern United States. Based at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England, the centre honors Marcus Cunliffe, Professor of American Studies at the University of Sussex from 1965 to 1980. Professor Cunliffe authored more than a dozen books that ranged across the disciplines of history, literature, and politics and did much to create and advance the interdisciplinary approach to understanding America’s attachments across the Atlantic. Whether he wrote of the institutional presidency or of George Washington’s human and monumental record, of wage work and chattel slavery, of...

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Introduction: The Secession Crisis as a Study in Conflict Resolution

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pp. 11-19

For five months during the winter of 1860–61, the fate of the United States hung in the balance. Abraham Lincoln’s election as president on November 6 precipitated a full-blown secession crisis. By the beginning of February, seven slave states of the Deep South had passed formal ordinances severing their connections with the American republic, founded at Philadelphia less than three-quarters of a century previously. Angry and frustrated, excited and fearful, ordinary Americans watched as a series of portentous events unfolded before them. None of them could know for certain that civil war was imminent, but many suspected the worst. Some on both sides of the...

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Rush to Disaster: Secession and the Slaves’ Revenge

William L. Barney

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pp. 20-43

This essay explores the critical question of why the secessionists plunged the South into disaster in the winter of 1860–61 by insisting on breaking up the Union, a course of action that conservatives across the South, including many large planters, decried as a rash act that would provoke a civil war and destroy, and very quickly at that, the institution of slavery the secessionists professed to be defending.1 Any answer to this question must begin with the presence of millions of enslaved African Americans in the South, a presence that had a profound impact on the thinking and perceptions of Southern whites. More specifically, this essay argues that every...

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“Save in Defense of My Native State”: A New Look at Robert E. Lee’s Decision to Join the Confederacy

Elizabeth R. Varon

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pp. 44-67

“Save in defense of my native State, I never desire again to draw my sword.” Robert E. Lee made this pledge repeatedly during the secession crisis, and it holds the key to understanding his decision to cast his lot with the fledgling Confederacy. Lee first articulated the vow in January 1861 in private letters to his children, siblings, and cousins, explaining to them why he resisted the Deep South’s siren song of disunion. But as hopes for compromise faded, the “save in defense” formula took on new meanings for Lee and came to encapsulate why he felt he must join the Confederate cause. And so Lee repeated his vow, with some variation, in his April 20 letter to Winfield Scott tendering his resignation from the United States Army—and he invoked it...

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The Shadow of the Past: Collective Memory and the Coming of the American Civil War

Robert J. Cook

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pp. 68-95

The shadow of the past fell heavily on Americans before the Civil War. Notwithstanding their reputation for pragmatism, present-mindedness, and forward-thinking, they worried frequently about their relationship to yesteryear. In the fraught early decades of the nineteenth century, fears abounded that the first post- independence generation might not be up to the task of preserving the legacy of republican government bestowed by the Founding Fathers. Even the country’s solid (if far-from-stellar) military performance in the War of 1812 failed to dispel gnawing doubts about the sustainability of the founders’ nation-building achievements. Against a rising tide of intersectional tension over slavery and slavery expansion, some...

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Conclusion: Conflicted Minds and Civil War Causation

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pp. 96-100

The essays in this book demonstrate that the secession crisis of 1860–61 is best understood not as a single “irrepressible conflict” (to borrow the infamous phrase used by Senator William Seward in 1858) but rather as an outgrowth of multiple conflicts within the sections themselves and, indeed, within individual human actors on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. The internal conflicts that led up to the secession of the cotton states were generated primarily by the existence of slavery. White Southerners who inhabited a republican polity marked by its fierce commitment to vigilance in defense of liberty were keenly aware that freedom was a precious attribute....

Notes

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pp. 101-114

Guide to Further Reading

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pp. 115-122

Index

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pp. 123-129