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BOOK REVIEWS The Confederate Republic: A Revolution against Politics. By George C. Rabie. (Chapel Hill and London: University ofNorth Carolina Press, 1994. Pp. x, 416. $34-95·) George C. Rable's latest book confirms his reputation as a scholar ofdepth, versatility , and literary aplomb. Rabie likes to latch on to a vital yet previously unappreciated or unrecognized element of a larger historical puzzle and explain its importance to the whole. His first book, But There Was No Peace: The Role of Violence in the Politics of Reconstruction (Univ. of Georgia Press, 1984), stressed ways in which white Southerners used violence to oust the Republican party from power. Everyone knows that the postwar South was a violent place, but Rabie saw a pattern and method in much of the madness. What began as random violence, he said, inspired by racial fear and with no particular political motivation, became, after 1 868, a calculated method to win elections in several key states, most notably Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. As Southerners in those states came to see Reconstruction as a revolutionary act, they adopted counterrevolutionary responses. In 1989, Rabie abandoned political for social history in CiVi/ Wars: Women and the Crisis ofSouthern Nationalism (Univ. of Illinois Press, 1989). A more sophisticated and complex work than But There Was No Peace, Rable's second book examined the impact of the Civil War on the roles and status of Southern white women and the interrelationships of gender, class, race, and regional identity. Southern women, he reminded us, waged two conflicts in 1861-65. First they battled the Yankees; but they also fought against poverty and dislocation on the home front. He concluded that while many Confederate women suffered as a result of the war, and while many women wavered in their support of the Confederacy, they seldom abandoned the "racial, class, and sexual dogmas of their society" (x). In both ofthese books, Rabie chose revolution as an underlying theme. In the Confederate Republic he returns to political revolution, although this time his arena is the wartime South. In this finely balanced exploration of Confederate "political culture," Rabie contends that Confederate politics may only be understood by appreciating the intense animosity the Confederate people felt for political parties. Notjust parties, but the whole corrupt political philosophy that had polluted America before the war, the conventions, the campaigns, the oratory , the patronage, and, most importantly, the "degrading and dangerous influence ofpartisanship" (4). Thus a large part ofthe Confederate revolution, as BOOK REVIEWS77 conservative and reactionary as it may have been in some ways, was also a bold stroke against the old political system. While sometimes allowing the concept of political "culture" to get in his way, Rabie deftly reviews the beliefs, attitudes, and values that constituted that culture. Drawing on speeches, editorials, sermons, pamphlets, textbooks, and private writings, he clearly delineates a growing contest between Confederate nationalists and libertarians. The former group, led by Jefferson Davis, stressed the need for national unity and some degree of centralized governmental control . The latter, represented by Joseph E. Brown, offered—indeed, insisted on— an alternative political culture that emphasized individual and communal liberty. Both camps, as well as moderates like Vebulon Vance, claimed, in Rable's words, "to be the true defenders of a genuine Southern republicanism as well as a nascent Confederate nationalism" (2). Of course, everyone pulled together in 1861. Even the vote on secession reflected a withering of old party labels and loyalties. Whirl was king. What kept the South together, what permitted secession and the enthusiastic establishment ofthe new government, was the essentially "organic unity ofSouthern society," defined here, as Rabie similarly defined it in Civil Wars, by its loyalty to slavery and the "delicately balanced relations between classes, families, and communities found in a slave society" (54). Yet political rivalries surfaced early on over the issue of sovereignty and, by extension, the nature of Southern republicanism . When the Confederacy's founding fathers left open the question of who held ultimate political power, the states orthe central government, all sorts of divisiveness and skullduggery followed. Nationalists and libertarians interpreted the question of power and thus the solutions to these problems differently. That, in itself...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 76-78
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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