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BOOK REVIEWS Louis T. Wigfall: Southern Fire-eater. By Alvy L. King. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1970. Pp. ix, 259. $10.00. ) When Douglas S. Freeman completed his monumental biography of R. E. Lee, he supposedly moped for weeks at having to leave the company of so fine a gentleman as Lee. It is doubtful that Alvy L. King shared Freeman's mood about Louis T. Wigfall. As King shows, Wigfall was not a great gentleman. The firey Texan had a large hand in wrecking two nations, the United States and die Confederate States. He was a small man, not even a grand scoundrel, and perhaps, as biographer King suggests, Wigfall was not a little paranoid. Nevertheless, Wigfall no less than Lee deserves historians' attention. Likable or not, Wigfall is important, and his biography has been long overdue. He was an archetypal fire-eater during die decade prior to die Civil War. To understand Wigfall is to gain insight into the enigmatic mind and mood of the soudiern radicals. During die Confederate period Wigfall, as senator from Texas, stood in the forefront of the Congressional opposition to the administration of Jefferson Davis. Thus Wigfall is vital for the too often neglected study of the Confederacy's political history. Such is the promise of a Wigfall biography, and Louis T. Wigfall : Southern Fire-eater generally fulfills that promise. The book is a solid piece of work and an important contribution to die literature of the period. King sketches Wigfall's colorful early life in Soudi Carolina in somewhat pale prose. However he warms to his subject when Wigfall, widi a heritage of feuds, debts, and duels, moves to Texas in 1846. King dien traces Wigfall's political career in Texas and his machinations as United States senator during the secession crisis. The best feature of King's work is his treatment of Wigfall's Confederate career. The Texas senator entered the Confederacy a friend of Jefferson Davis and the military. King follows in detail Wigfall's estrangement from Davis and die Texan 's subsequent connivings on behalf of Joseph E. Johnston and indeed anyone or anything else that promised to embarrass the Davis Adminstration . Wigfall dies a broken man on page 231 of die book. To diis point King does a fine, workmanlike job with a difficult subject. However, King concludes with an eight-page, post-mortem in which he footnotes Freud and diagnoses paranoia in Wigfall. The diagnosis may be valid but its 255 256civil war history eleventh-hour introduction smacks of hasty second tíiought—or perhaps of revenge for having to keep the company of Louis T. Wigfall. Emory Thomas University of Georgia The Slave Catchers: Enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, 1850-1860. By Stanley W. Campbell. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1970. Pp. viii, 196. $8.00.) The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 constituted a minor irritant to sectional harmony throughout most of the 1850's. Historians have generally concluded that northern hostility and interference rendered the fugitive law nugatory. Stanley W. Campbell challenges diis view. He concedes diat the law's provisions were "extremely inadequate" and that rendition of slaves in many areas of die North was unfeasible after 1854, but he argues that "the law was enforced by those charged widi responsibility for enforcement, namely, officers of the federal courts." In chapters dealing widi passage of the act, northern opinion on the measure, constitutional issues, and operation of the law during the Civil War, Campbell conveniently distills a wide variety of published documents , antislavery pamphlets, and older secondary accounts. He indicates how sentiment in die free states varied from area to area and changed over time. These discussions, however, overlook die major interpretive works of die last decade—particularly Holman Hamilton on die Compromise of 1850, Larry Gara on the "liberty line," Leon Litwack on northern racial prejudice, and Arthur Bcstor on constitutional doctrines—and provide few new insights. The novelty of the book lies in the author's argument that federal officials effectually enforced die Fugitive Slave Act. This diesis rests largely upon a distinction between die "effectiveness" of the law itself and die "effectiveness of enforcement ." When slave...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 255-256
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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