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"A few good books on the role of slavery " Topic

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1,283 hits since 31 Jul 2011
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Thomas Nissvik31 Jul 2011 4:20 a.m. PST

A friend of mine who is interested in history but not a war buff asked me for a good, modern book on the role of slavery in the ACW.
He read a newspaper article saying that the South wanted free trade to be able to sell their cotton to the UK while the North wanted to restrict trade to build their own industry.
He then read one saying slavery was the prime reason for the war.
He now wants to create his own opinion from good sources. He does not want your opinion, because that will only lead to a flame war, shaming us all. He wants your suggestions for books to help him form his own opinion.
Let's see if we can keep this civil and impress an outsider with the knowledge that can be found in the wargaming community.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP31 Jul 2011 4:28 a.m. PST

I assume you mean the role of slavery in bringing about the war rather than the role of slaves during the war itself.

The best books I've seen are the two volumes by William W. Freehling: "The Road to Disunion: Secessionists at Bay" and "The Road to Disunion: Secessionists Triumphant". These are detailed scholarly works on the factors leading up to secession and war.

Here's a link to Amazon:


The Gray Ghost Inactive Member31 Jul 2011 4:30 a.m. PST

The Cause Lost: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy
A Government of Our Own: The Making of the Confederacy
Look Away! A History of the Confederate States of America
all by William C Davis

Personal logo Flashman14 Supporting Member of TMP31 Jul 2011 4:47 a.m. PST

Context about slavery in the US and the world throughout history is detailed in a couple excellent chapters in this book:

Black Rednecks, White Liberals – by Thomas Sowell:

sharps54 Inactive Member31 Jul 2011 6:03 a.m. PST

Apostles of Disunion by Charles B. Dew is a short (124 pages) but excellent read. If you want to know why the South did what they did go to the source…

Stafford, VA

74EFS Intel Inactive Member31 Jul 2011 6:08 a.m. PST

Jason literally just beat me to it. I've got every book already mentioned and dozens more, and "Apostles of Disunion" by Charles Dew is my favorite. You'll never look at arguments put forward by 'Lost Cause' proponents the same way after reading it.

Pan Marek Supporting Member of TMP31 Jul 2011 7:19 a.m. PST

Thomas Sowell is ,perhaps, a good addition to this list. But be very careful with his conclusions. I suspect that in his works, he goes in with his very particular viewpoint, then seeks to support it. He does so well, but its not the same thing as research driving the conclusions. Rather, vice versa.

BrianW31 Jul 2011 7:46 a.m. PST

Another one to consider is "The Fire-Eaters" by Eric H. Walther, if you want to look at the source of the secession movement. NB: I was one of his Teaching Assistants at Univ. of Houston so I may be a bit biased. He will give an excellent overview of how the secession movement varied from region to region within the country, while all the time having an overriding theme.

EDIT: He has a newer (well, 2004) one out called, "The Shattering of the Union: America in the 1850's" but I haven't read it.

Repiqueone31 Jul 2011 10:15 a.m. PST

I would suggest "the Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History " edited by Gary W. Gallagher and Alan T. Nolan. A collection of essays by historians both North and South that demonstrates the role of Slavery in causing the war, and the aftermath of bad history disguising and ignoring that cause and its consequences.

James M. McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom" particularly note chapters 3-5.

I concur with Mr. Marek's assessment of the Sowell work, which is, in essence, a polemic, with dubious history as well as conclusions.

Ryan T31 Jul 2011 11:16 a.m. PST

A recent book that examines slavery and secession within an economic context is Marc Egnal, Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War, 2009. A number of reviews can be found at:


A second book to consider is Raimondo Luraghi, The Rise and Fall of the Plantation South, 1978. Two reviews can be found at:

PDF link


Ryan Toews

SgtPain Inactive Member31 Jul 2011 2:52 p.m. PST

Almost all of the books I have read on the subject have already been mention above. My only comment for someone just getting into the subject, I would recommend they read ether f "Apostles of Disunion" or "The Cause Lost: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy" first.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP31 Jul 2011 3:27 p.m. PST

If you want to know the reasons why the South went to war, read their declarations of indedpendence where they state them. They weren't shy in declaring why they seceded.


Or Read
Alexander H. Stephens' inaugural address
Savannah, Georgia March 21, 1861

Which was celebrated as "The Cornerstone Speech"


Or Jefferson Davis' inauguration Speech in Richmond on February 22, 1861.


NoLongerAMember Inactive Member01 Aug 2011 4:00 a.m. PST

Is there a similar (similar as in giving their reasons for seceding, not that they seceded for the same reasons) declaration available for Virginia? ALso is was an official statement for Maryland not seceding?

sharps54 Inactive Member01 Aug 2011 4:38 a.m. PST

A quick web search found this site that has the text for all the ordinances of secession

Stafford, VA

Personal logo elsyrsyn Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2011 5:50 a.m. PST

I've never understood how anyone could doubt the reasons – as McLaddie points out, the seceding states left very little room for doubt at the time. All the revisionist crap since then amounts essentially to saying "Yeah, that may be what they put in the declaration, but they didn't really mean that." Nonsense.

At any rate – for shorter and lighter reading, there have been some excellent articles on the subject of late in the Smithsonian magazine.


mosby65 Inactive Member01 Aug 2011 6:37 a.m. PST

I agree with sharps54 and 74EFS Intel. Charles Dew's book utterly demolishes the major argument of secession apologists; slavery was not the main reason for seceding.

As the more articulate apologists put it, the South seceded because the federal government had been hijacked by anti—Southern fanatics bent on economically and politically subjugating the Southern states depriving them of their constitutional rights as sovereign states in a voluntary association with the other states. I suppose it could be argued that the issue of slavery is implied somewhere in this statement. But it is so faint that it almost recedes into nothingness; which I think is its point.

Charles Dew's book concentrates on the transcripts of the speeches and writings of the southern states' secession commissioners themselves. These men boldly and unequivocally put not only the preservation of slavery, but its protected spread into hitherto non-slavery territories and states, as the paramount reasons for secession. Most of us now agree that these reasons, no matter how sincerely held, were not worthy of such otherwise admirable men. But at least they were honest and open about their beliefs. That, I'm afraid, cannot be said for the "Slavery? Never heard of it." crowd that followed them.

Pan Marek Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2011 6:40 a.m. PST

Indeed. It appears that certain folks, once they lost, have been running from the judgement of history ever since.

Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2011 6:42 a.m. PST

A follow-up on sharps54's comment and link. While the Ordinances of Secession are well worth the read. Some of them – Mississippi's in particular (my state, so a little better knowledge here) – tend to "gloss over" the reasoning behind the ordinance. McLaddie's links are better as they give some of the underlying reasoning. If one is able, and I know Thomas' friend may not be, one should attempt to read the debates carried out in the secession conventions and articles published in the local newspapers to get a more complete understanding of the thought processes. The local Southern states' archives should have all that information; I know ours does as I work there.


Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2011 6:43 a.m. PST

Oh, P.S. Very well expositated answers to Thomas' question about sources for his friend. I thank my fellow TMPers.


John Michael Priest07 Aug 2011 4:34 p.m. PST

I highly recommend The Myths and Realities of Slavery – White Mane Publishing. The author used the census records of 1860 to verify muost of his conclusions.

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