Saturday, August 31, 2019

Just Finished Reading - In the Cause of Liberty

I sincerely enjoy reading collections of essays. Getting a range of perspectives around a central theme is helpful in forming ones own interpretation about certain subjects in the Civil War era.

In the Cause of Liberty: How the Civil War Redefined American Ideals by co-editors William J. Cooper, Jr. and John M. McCardell, Jr., delivers nine essays by some of the field's top scholars, including: James McPherson, George Rable, Fitzhugh Bundage, and David Blight. These essays, all but one presented originally at a conference hosted by what is now the American Civil War Museum Richmond, Virginia, in 2007, examine how the Civil War served as the primary crucible of change for the United States. The essays mark that change and the people the war affected the most, white Northerners, white Southerners, and African Americans.

As the introduction explains, "the essays fall into five different categories:" The first, McPherson's article, looks broadly at the impact of the war. The nest two essays examine critical antebellum questions. The following three offer considerations on issues central to the Union, Confederacy, and African Americans during the war years. And the final three, which includes those by Bundage and Blight are memory studies. Co-editor John M. McCardell, Jr. provides some brief "concluding thoughts" to finish out the book.

While I found all of the essays beneficial, some stood out in my opinion. Sean Wilentz's essay, "Why Did Southerners Secede?" makes it clear that it was Lincoln's election and the Republican Party's emphasis on the non-extension of slavery that threatened Southerners stronghold on the federal government and resulted in the secession dominoes tumbling. George Rable's "Rebels and Patriots in the Confederate 'Revolution,'" provides and intriguing look into the attempt to create an independent Southern nation. Blight's "Traced by Blood" memory study looks at the legacy of the Civil War and emancipation on African Americans and how the Lost Cause and Reconciliationist interpretations of the Civil War overshadowed the emancipation story for over a century after the war's conclusion. However, as Blight suggests, researching and telling long lost stories of black contributions helps to correct some of the wrongs of the past and gives us hope for a truly more full understanding of our nation's defining moment.

In the Cause of Liberty is a book that every Civil War student should have in their library, and it should be pulled off the shelf and read every so often as a reminder of those central issues that caused the war, how the war was experienced, and why we remember the war the way we do. I highly recommend it!

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