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AfriGeneas Books~Authors~Reviews Forum

Apostles of Disunion...

Published by (January, 2002)

Charles B. Dew. _Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession
Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War_. A Nation Divided:
New Studies in Civil War History. Charlottesville and London:
University Press of Virginia, 2001. x + 124 pp. $22.95 (cloth),
ISBN 0-8139-2036-1.

Reviewed for H-South by Christopher Olsen
, Department of History, Indiana State

Secession, Slavery, and Racism: Confederates vs. Neo-Confederates

This slender volume examines the work of secession commissioners
sent from the deep South to other slave states in the winter of
1860-1861. The men were charged with defending secession and urging
fellow southerners to follow them out of the Union. Charles B. Dew
properly notes that historians trying to uncover the emotions and
motives behind disunion have rarely examined the words of these
commissioners. The men themselves are commonly ignored by
historians entirely or dismissed as minor figures. Dew has speeches
or letters from forty-one of the fifty-two men who served as
commissioners. They were all slaveowning politicians, with varying
experience and partisan affiliations; most were natives of the
states to which they were appointed. This is not a complete study
of the men or all of their work, but it is an important contribution
to the literature on secession and a good introduction to the story
of these neglected figures.

Dew evidently intends the book for both academics and a more general
readership. The text is barely eighty pages, followed by an appendix
and only a minimum of notes, which should make it appealing for
classroom use. The prose is clear, jargon-free, and includes enough
of the narrative of secession that even beginning students will be
able to follow the book. But the material is complex enough, and the
representative documents well chosen, so that it should also
stimulate discussion among advanced readers.

For the book's primary audience--non-academics and beginning
students--the author's intent clearly is to disabuse them of the
(incredibly) still popular notion that secession was not about
preserving slavery and racial subordination (and the southern
culture based on them), but rather to assert some sort of abstract
commitment to states' rights. Academic historians, of course, have
long-since concluded that states' rights was the means, not a
primary motive, for secession and war. Dew's principal target is
the somewhat shadowy "Neo-Confederate" movement, including the
League of the South and the patrons of "Neo-Confederate web sites,
bumper stickers, and T-shirts" (p. 10). He notes correctly that
secessionists themselves "talked much more openly about slavery than
present-day-neo-Confederates seem willing to do" (p. 10). The
book's first chapter makes clear the relevance of his discussion to
recent controversies over the Confederate flag in a number of states
and Virginia's Confederate history month, among others. The author
writes with some obvious passion. A native southerner he recalls
"my boyhood dreaming about Confederate glory," and confesses that he
is "still hit with a profound sadness when I read over the material
on which this study is based" (p. 2).

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Apostles of Disunion...

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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