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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in the
Mississippi Valley Historical Review
Vol. 19 No. 3 (Dec. 1932), pp430‑432

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p430 [Review]

Southern Editorials on Secession. Edited by Dwight Lowell Dumond. (New York: The Century Company, 1931. xxxiii + 529pp)

The Secession Movement. By Dwight Lowell Dumond. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1931. x + 294pp. Appendix and bibliography. $2.50.)

In the writing of American history not overmuch attention has been paid to the point of the South — other than that of the politicians — in the years preceding the sixties, in the period immediately before the secession of the gulf states, and in the months between then and the fall of Fort Sumter. Most that has been written has been based actually, if not consciously, on the war-propaganda notion that secession was either the result of a long, secret, and devilish conspiracy which finally, in the action of the southern states, reached its consummation; or else that it was the effect of sheer passion and madness, equally inspired of the devil. Today, fortunately, historians are coming to a more scientific and more scholarly view, and in these two volumes of Mr. Dumond is to be found the result of the newer approach to the American Civil War.

The two volumes form a singularly interesting combination, presenting as they do valuable source material in the raw and the author's interpretation of it, as well as of the mass of other sources he has employed. They make a very distinct contribution to the historical literature of the period.

p431 Southern Editorials on Secession is the first of the volumes published by the American Historical Association through the Albert J. Beveridge Fund. It consists of one hundred and eighty-three editorials, winnowed finally from nearly two thousand selected from the files of seventy-two newspapers. They begin in January, 1860 and run to May 9, 1861, and are quoted from such representative organs of southern opinion as the Richmond Examiner, Enquirer, and Whig; the New Orleans Bee, Picayune, True Delta, and Crescent; the Charleston Mercury; the Louisville Courier, and Journal; the Nashville Banner, and Patriot; the Missouri Republican; the Raleigh Standard; the Augusta Chronicle; and the Lexington (Kentucky) Statesman. More than one hundred and fifty of the number come from these and the rest are from less than a dozen other papers. In the distribution by states Maryland, Florida, Texas, and Arkansas, have none; Mississippi has 1; Missouri, 4; Alabama, 5; North Carolina, 8; Georgia, 11; South Carolina, 16; Tennessee, 19; Kentucky, 25; Virginia, 28; and Louisiana, 66. While undoubtedly they express fairly well southern sentiment, the value of the book and its effect would be stronger if the selections had not been so closely concentrated. Surely the proportion allotted to each state for example, does not make for the most accurate presentation of a cross section of southern opinion. Nevertheless, the book does make available for the student and general reader a striking collection of valuable material, interpreted and lightened by an excellent introduction. Also, if there is anyone left who needs to have the conspiracy myth destroyed, a reading of these documents will effectually put an end to it.

The Secession Movement, 1860-1861 is a study of secession from the opening of 1860. Extended introductory chapters deal with the conflicting political principles in 1860 and with the plans of southern coöperation. Four chapters — almost a third of the book — are devoted to the Democratic conventions at Charleston, Baltimore, and Richmond, and to the Constitutional Union convention. The remainder of the volume is given to the secession of South Carolina, Georgia, and the gulf states, ending, unfortunately it would seem to the reviewer, with the inauguration of Lincoln.

The most striking conclusions reached by the author are that the Douglas Democrats were chiefly responsible for the division of the party at Charleston and for the failure of two wings to come together at Baltimore; and that upon the Republicans in Congress and the leaders outside must rest the responsibility for failure of all the attempts at compromise.

The study is an excellently documented narrative and while the author's conclusions are mainly implied rather than stated, there is manifest p432in it, fairly clearly, strong sympathy with the point of view of the South in the period treated. That does not lessen its value, for after the making of books without end devoted to the other point of view, it is just as well to have this side ably presented.

J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton

University of North Carolina

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