Charles Dew’s Apostles of Disunion has established itself as a modern classic and an indispensable account of the Southern states’ secession from the Union. Addressing topics still hotly debated among historians and the public at large more than a century and a half after the Civil War, the book offers a compelling and clearly substantiated argument that slavery and race were at the heart of our great national crisis. The fifteen years since the original publication of Apostles of Disunion have seen an intensification of debates surrounding the Confederate flag and Civil War monuments. In a powerful new afterword to this anniversary edition, Dew situates the book in relation to these recent controversies and factors in the role of vast financial interests tied to the internal slave trade in pushing Virginia and other upper South states toward secession and war.
About the Author
Charles B. Dew is Ephraim Williams Professor of American History at Williams College and the author of The Making of a Racist: A Southerner Reflects on Family, History, and the Slave Trade (Virginia) and Bond of Iron: Master and Slave at Buffalo Forge, selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
What People are Saying About This
Charles B. Dew offers a penetrating and incisive evaluation of secessionist ideology, with a clear eye to the priority of race over issues of constitutional rights. The principal source on which the book is built certainly appears neglected to me, and the source is worthy of exploitation: we have an opportunity here to see what Southerners said to each other and not what they said primarily to the North or to the world.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Preserving their economy, social culture, and way of life was a foremost priority for the southern states. The Southern secession commissioners emphasized the importance of leaving the Union or the result would be the degradation of the South. The Mississippi Declaration of Secession claimed that, "Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union, if we should consent longer to remain in it" (Dew 13). The declaration further went on to say, "We must either submit to degradation and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union" (Dew 13). Dew shows that such degradation was not the result of loss of states' rights, so to speak, but loss of their status above slaves. The southern leaders saw slaves as people half civilized that they brought over from a primitive foreign land and enriched their lives by caring for them in a master and slave relationship. Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, "described slavery itself as an institution which 'a superior race' had used to transform 'brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers" (Dew 15). The general feeling of the south was, aside from crippling the southern economy, freeing slaves and making them equal to white men would destroy the social fabric of the southern states. The South perceived this as a movement by the northern states as seeking political power over the south. Arguments for the cause of secession differ from ante-bellum to post-bellum. Before the War Between the States, as in the secession commissioners' speeches, racial order was a core issue. However, after the war, the confederate leaders were silent on the issue of slavery and claimed that they seceded to preserve the states' rights against Northern tyranny. Differing views promotes confusion as to what really caused the civil war. As mentioned, Davis was open about how slavery was justified, but at his inaugural address his first speech as president was "a classic articulation of the Southern position that resistance to Northern tyranny and a defense of states' rights were the sole reasons for secession" (Dew 13). Apostles of Disunion clears confusion by revealing the true reason of secession through those commissioners carrying the message prior to the actual act of leaving the Union. Apostles of Disunion is a compilation of Dew's research on the causes of the Civil War and the important question of why the South seceded. Dew uses his research on the commissioners responsible for spreading the word of secession among the slave states, to convey that the South seceded under states rights as the means for broaching the real reason of racial order. Dew's Apostles of Disunion is very articulate and well researched in conveying the mindsets actions of southern political leaders pushing for secession. Altogether very interesting with strong support for his thesis and themes, Dew was sometimes confusing when he vacillated regarding the real issue of secession and was elusive at first at explaining clearly the issue it proposed to address.