- Liberty and Union: The Civil War Era and American Constitutionalism by Timothy S. Huebner
General readers interested in a fine history of the United States immediately before, during, and immediately after the Civil War who can tolerate [End Page 483] some false advertising will appreciate Timothy S. Huebner's Liberty and Union: The Civil War Era and American Constitutionalism. The book's title promises a constitutional history. Its first two sentences declare, "This book is about the relationship between the Civil War generation and the founding generation. That is, it examines how Americans of the mid-nineteenth century understood the founders' handiwork, the Declaration of Independence of 1776, and the Constitution of 1787" (ix). The actual text is a fairly comprehensive history of the United States from 1845 to 1876, with perhaps a little more attention to constitutional issues than other general studies of this time period. Readers will enjoy and profit from a good history, though perhaps not the good history they might have expected from the title and introduction.
Liberty and Union is good history. Huebner deftly combines constitutional, legal, political, military, and social history when exploring the reasons Americans fought the Civil War, how they fought the Civil War, and the consequences of the war for the United States. He explores how events and practices ranging from the structure of land ownership in the South, to the nature of the Democratic Party, to the command structure of the Union army influenced matters as diverse as American politics, American race relations, American gender relations, and the course of American religion. Approximately 20 percent of the book is devoted to detailing the battle plans and battles of the Civil War. Equal attention is devoted to the political maneuverings in both the North and the South during the Civil War, as well as how war and the end of the war influenced the home front in all regions of the United States. Much of this material is well known, and Huebner rarely strays from conventional interpretations. Still, professors looking to introduce students to the Civil War era or general readers interested in that time period will appreciate the diversity of subject matters as well as the excellent writing. There is no better introduction to the full range of American political and constitutional development.
Huebner does more than provide a good summary for undergraduates when paying special attention to the role of religion and African American political organization in American constitutional, political, and social development during the long Civil War era. Liberty and Union details the different paths southern and northern religious life took immediately before the war and how those different paths aggravated the political and cultural divides between the sections. The book elaborates on how, at a time when the Great Awakening was inspiring many northerners to purge their society of the moral stain of slavery, southern preachers were discovering biblical passages that justified human bondage. Huebner's volume also pays far greater attention to African American politics than previous [End Page 484] tomes on the United States in this time period. Throughout the Civil War era, African Americans held numerous political conventions and produced numerous constitutional works, too many of which are known only by specialists. Huebner brings them to life, and, when discussing them, his volume does read like a constitutional history with specific attention to how African Americans of the midcentury understood the interaction between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of 1787. Huebner keeps his promise to detail how "the dominant position within the black community was to claim all that they thought they deserved as Americans, clinging to the promise of human dignity inherent in their Christian beliefs and implied in Jefferson's Declaration of Independence" (xii).
African American political and constitutional thinking aside, constitutional history is one point of emphasis in Liberty and Union. The text omits some constitutional controversies, most notably those that arose during the annexation of Texas. Huebner often briefly details a political controversy, such as the controversy...