The Three Kentucky Presidents: Lincoln, Taylor, Davis, and: The Antislavery Movement in Kentucky, and: Kentucky in the Reconstruction Era (review)
- Civil War History
- The Kent State University Press
- Volume 25, Number 4, December 1979
- pp. 361-362
- View Citation
- Additional Information
book reviews361 The Three Kentucky Presidents: Lincoln, Taylor, Davis. By Holman Hamilton. (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1978. Pp. xvi, 70. $4.95.) The Antishvery Movement in Kentucky. By Lowell H. Harrison. (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1978. Pp. viii, 127. $4.95.) Kentucky in the Reconstruction Era. By Ross A. Webb. (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1979. Pp. ix, 101. $4.95.) Kaiser Wilhelm is said to have spoken of the British as the "kind of folks who will spit in your soup." Northern and Southern leaders of the Civil War era probably felt the same way about Kentuckians with their ever shifting positions on slavery, the war, and reconstruction. These three fine Bicentennial books imply this, but the thoughtful reader is soon shown that this border state faithfully mirrored the agony of a sorely divided nation both before and after the shooting. Holman Hamilton, professor emeritus of history at Kentucky, sets the stage for us in a lively account of Davis, Lincoln, and Taylor. With his usual effortless command of fact, Hamilton sets out to "dispel a number of half-truths and total misconceptions concerning the trio . . ." (p. 66). We find that Lincoln's father was not a wastrel, but a success "by pioneer standards" (p. 3); Mary Todd Lincoln was much more of a helpmate than a hindrance; the Compromise of 1850 owed more to others than to Henry Clay, and that Davis was highly regarded in the ante-bellum North, and was a better war leader than many believe. A witty account of the inter-relationships between these three Kentuckians will fascinate any reader. Lowell Harrison's well-balanced study of the Kentucky antislavery movement will further enhance the reputation of this Bluegrass historian. The author, professor of history at Western Kentucky University, sketches in the rather well known roles of Bimey, Fee, and the Clays, but particularly fascinating are the sad strange stories of two Oberlin educated slave girls forced into concubinage (p. 6), murderous Mrs. Turner (p. 10), and the bestial Lewis brothers (p. 12). The 1849 Constitutional Convention is correctly seen as a major turning point, for it gave a higher than law status to Kentucky slavery. Harrison notes that afterwards slavery's foes continued their struggle, but "their failure to form a unified group was one of their major weaknesses" (p. 61). This of course became academic after emancipation in 1863, and the author vividly portrays the wrath and frustration of Kentucky leaders who now supported the government only "on the grounds that the sooner the war was over, the sooner Kentucky could get rid of the Lincoln administration " (p. 105). "Of all the [Civil War's] changes, the most difficult for white Kentuckians to accept was the revolutionary change in the status of the black"—thus does Professor Ross Webb, of Winthrop College, set the theme of his book (p. 10). Blessed with a marked ability to pack much 362CIVIL WAR HISTORY interesting information in his phrases, Webb destroys the myth that Kentuckians revealedhidden pro-Confederate sympathies in refusing to bow to reconstruction legislation or to ratify the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Rather, Kentucky acted owing to racial prejudices, to a desire to restore the South as a trading partner, and to protect abused civil rights by "challenging the illicit actions of a usurping Congress" (p. 18) . There is a fine line here regarding freedom for black and white alike, and Webb successfully handles it, showing the issue often to have been a keen Bluegrass sense of justice rather than any pro-Confederate leanings. These books suffer from lack of indexes, but I recommend them most highly to all students, libraries, and readers with an interest in American history from the 1820's through the 1870's. Frank F. Mathias University of Dayton After Secession: Jefferson Davis and the Failure of Confederate Nationalism. By Paul D. Escott. (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State Press, 1977. Pp. xiv, 295. $17.50.) The thesis of this book maintains that Jefferson Davis endeavored "to build a spirit of Confederate nationalism," to "build unity and determination among the people . . . but he failed to elicit the kind of support he needed." Therefore...