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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in
The American Historical Review
Vol. 37 No. 4 (Jul. 1932), pp772‑773

The text is in the public domain.

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 p772  [Review]

Southern Editorials on Secession. Edited by Dwight Lowell Dumond, Ph. D., Assistant Professor of History, University of Michigan. [Publications of the American Historical Association.] (New York: Century Company. 1931. Pp. xxxiii, 529. $4.00.)

The Secession Movement, 1860‑1861. By Dwight Lowell Dumond. (New York: Macmillan Company. 1931. Pp. vi, 294. $2.50.)

These two books afford a good opportunity to increase one's knowledge in regard to the outbreak of the Civil War.

Southern Editorials on Secession is a most appropriate initial volume for the Beveridge Fund Publications. It would certainly have delighted Senator Beveridge. From it the reader can gain a vivid impression of the ideas and emotions which filled the minds and hearts of Southerners during the momentous days immediately before the Civil War began. It consists of 183 editorials taken from the newspapers of the slave states in the period between January 6, 1860, and May 9, 1861. A little more than a third of them appeared before the election of 1860 and relate in one way or another to that event. The remainder cover many phases of the highly complex and rapidly changing situation which the election of Lincoln precipitated. In general the editorial work has been admirably done. The editor is entitled to strong commendation for giving all of the articles in full. Many recent document books have suffered from too much editorial elision. The difficult task of selection has been well handled. Every section of the South and almost every important phase of opinion finds some expression, yet to the reviewer it seems that New Orleans is overrepresented. The newspapers of that city were decidedly above the general level, but they did not wield an  p773 influence wide enough to warrant allotting them sixty-six out of 183 places. It is also regrettable that no selections were made from weekly newspapers located in the small towns. Such papers exerted a potent influence in the South of 1860‑1861.

Will the reading of these editorials produce to-day anything in the way of a uniform impression about the South of 1860‑1861? It would perhaps be hazardous to reply in the affirmative. But it seems safe to believe that if any such impression is produced it will be one of surprise at the diversity of opinion prevailing in the South on the eve of the Civil War. The South was a unit in believing that the election of Lincoln portended an invasion of Southern rights and that there must be firm resistance. But there was remarkable diversity of opinion as to the manner in which those rights should be defended. The editorials here reproduced exhibit this diversity in striking fashion. They do not serve so well to show how and why diversity gave place to unity during the course of the crisis. It would take another and larger group to show that aspect.

The Secession Movement, 1860‑1861 is a short monograph upon a big subject. It deals both with the election of 1860 and the crisis which followed that event. It does not attempt a narrative of what happened, but is concerned mainly with analysis and explanation in regard to certain matters of capital importance for the period. A great deal of attention is given to the Charleston and Baltimore conventions and to activities of the commissioners sent by the seceding states to the other Southern states which had not yet seceded. The most distinctive and most valuable feature of the book, in the opinion of the reviewer, is to be found in its delineation of the positions assumed at various times by important Southern groups. The passage on pages 121‑132, dealing with the coöperationists, is a striking example. It puts into small compass the essence of a large amount of material not easily mastered.

It is probably quite impossible and perhaps not really desirable that a book of this description should abstain entirely from expressing the personal sympathies of the author. To the reviewer it seems manifest that he has pronounced sympathy with the standpoint of the Breckinridge Democrats and that it has colored his interpretation to a considerable degree. His point of view appears to be that, as the South was determined to defend its institutions against the danger which would come with the election of Lincoln, the logical and proper course was that taken by the Breckinridge Democrats. The authors also exhibits a decided antipathy to Douglas. The book suffers considerably from the focusing of attention almost entirely upon the South.

Frank Maloy Anderson.

Dartmouth College.

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