The Republic In Crisis, Analyzes The Political Climate In The Years Leading Up To The Civil War, Offering For Students And General Readers A Clear, Chronological Account Of The Sectional Conflict And The Beginning Of The Civil War Emerging From The Tumultuous Political Events Of The S And S, The Civil War Was Caused By The Maturing Of The North And South S Separate, Distinctive Forms Of Social Organization And Their Resulting Ideologies John Ashworth Emphasizes Factors Often Overlooked In Explanations Of The War, Including The Resistance Of Slaves In The South And The Growth Of Wage Labor In The North Ashworth Acquaints Readers With Modern Writings On The Period, Providing A New Interpretation Of The American Civil War S Causes Original thinking, a lot of relevance for today This period saw the collapse of the then existing party structure, which I knew nothing about, and emergence of something new. This was a clearly written account of the reasons the antebellum North and South had opposing world views, and why a free labor system could no longer exist along side a slave labor system It describes how slave labor was a drag on the economy of the nation as a whole, leaving the southern white population at a severe disadvantage where most of the benefits went to a small number of slave holders.It explains how the slaveholders, fearing the growing power of an anti slavery North, believed they had to secede to protect their way of life, which was built on the backs of slaves who wanted their freedom. A concise and well written account of the coming of the Civil War Ashworth places slavery at the center of the story and argues that the slaves themselves were significant actors in history their resistance actual and anticipated to being slaves drove many of the actions of slaveholders Many Northerners didn t care so much about the slaves, but those actions, taken by slaveholders because of the fear of resistance from slaves, ultimately impinged on the liberties of Northerners, and that was athe beginning of the end for tolerance of the continued existance of slavery in the United States A superb book for anyone interested in this period of U.S history. In Republic in Crisis 1848 1861 historian John Ashworth traces the political, social and economic antecedents to the American Civil War Further, he advances the thesis that slave resistance itself was a principal, but largely overlooked, factor that pushed the nation into war Ashworth s work makes the case that there was no single event or condition that resulted in war, but rather, that irreconcilable ideologies concerning the implications of slavery that developed and evolved over a period of decades finally reached a point where they simply had to be settled He begins the story at a time when the nation s interests were broadly represented to two competing political parties the Whigs and the Democrats The Democrats were the inheritors of the Anti Federalist traditions of Thomas Jefferson and, later, Andrew Jackson whose overriding ethos was one of strong local control and limited federal government In counterpoint to this set of beliefs were the Whigs, whose beliefs stemmed from the conviction that the Federal government did, indeed, have a role to play in steering the country on a path to prosperity The principal historical manifestations of this ethos was found in controversy surrounding things like federally funded internal improvements e.g the Erie Canal , a Federal bank and the imposition of region favoring tariffs While Democratic constituents were largely centered in the South and Whigs in the North, the debate over strong federal control vs state s rights models was not necessarily bound by sectional affiliation, resulting in non inconsequential numbers of Southern Whigs and Northern Democrats From this starting point, Ashworth recounts how controversies surrounding the institution of slavery served to form new ideological constituencies that, in the decade preceding the Civil War, converted intra sectional units of political consensus Whigs v Democrats into polarized sectional political parties Republicans v Democrats At issue was the desire of southerners, whose entire economy was inextricably linked to slavery, to see slavery expand into new territories in the west If not allowed to expand, southerners feared that black slave populations would grow to the point that it would sooner or later become economically unviable to keep slaves as slaves, resulting ultimately in mass slave manumissions that would undermine the southern political and economic status quo As counterpoint, Northerners rejected the notion of expanding slavery on political, economic and moral grounds The Northern view emerged that over the history of the nation, slaveholding aristocrats had managed to wring huge concessions from the remainder of the nation in order to maintain their right to keep and work slaves From a political standpoint, Northerners came to resent the obligations placed upon them by concessions made to this aristocratic, undemocratic Slave Power the 3 5 compromise, or the requirement that Northerners, regardless of objections of conscience, return escaped slaves, etc As slavery was economically unviable in the North, the section turned instead to industrialization and reliance on wage labor provided by native and burgeoning immigrant populations As wage labor and slavery were incompatible with each other, the expansion of slavery into the West threatened northern ambitions for expanded industrialization beyond New England Resentment over these political and economic aspects of slavery evolved as views held by the majority of Northerners in the years preceding the civil war views, it s important to note, that had nothing whatsoever to do with sympathy for black slaves or in any way suggested a view that blacks were the equal of whites A relatively small, yet nonetheless vocal and influential minority existed in the North that also rejected slavery on moral grounds Slavery, it was believed by these radical abolitionists, undermined the institutions of family, hearth and home that had become a cornerstone of Northern wage labor conceptions of democracy and worse, subjugated the dictates of slave conscience the necessary prerequisite to protestant salvation to the will of an indifferently amoral slave owner The conflicts represented in these competing world views intensified as political leaders attempted to mediate their influences as the nation expanded westward The assumption of western territory as a result of Mexican War and the perceived need to quickly admit California into the Union brought the debate to the surface, and resulted in the Compromise of 1850 Although Northerners were not happy with certain aspects of the Compromise especially requirements under the Fugitive Slave Act that compelled Northern cooperation in capturing and returning slaves who had escaped to the North it nonetheless produced a brief intermezzo of relative sectional peace This was peace was shattered by the passage of the Kansas Nebraska Act, the brainchild of Stephen A Douglas, designed to promote the development of unsettled territory held as a result of the Louisiana Purchase Under the Act, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was essentially repealed and the question of slavery, previously precluded by the Missouri Compromise, became a thing to be decided upon by Kansas and Nebraska territorial settlers popular sovereignty The North decried the betrayal of the compromise that had maintained sectional peace for over 1 3 of a century and, in the territory itself, the violent and highly public controversy over slavery resulted in what amounted to a mini civil war between pro slave and anti slave settlers When the very notion that slavery was a constitutionally guaranteed right over which the federal government had no authority was confirmed by the Supreme Court s Dred Scott decision, the entire edifice of compromise that had mediated sectional tensions collapsed Whigs disappeared as an intraregional party, and were replaced by the highly sectional Republican party that stood against the economic, political and, sometimes, moral consequences of slavery When the Republicans, with their candidate, Abraham Lincoln, won the White House in the election of 1860, the South, of course, rebelled Interwoven throughout Ashworth s narrative is the notion that opposition to slavery by the slaves themselves represented a potent, if not, absolute determinative element to the entire bodies of controversy surrounding slavery Ashworth argues that slaveholders defended slavery on the grounds that it was actually good for slaves and that slaves actually preferred living in bondage Of course, the lie of this was exposed by every slave rebellion that ever occurred or every slave who ever escaped Moreover, so many of the actions of the South to preserve slavery only made sense in the context of slave resistance and slavery s general inferiority to the wage labor system that had emerged in the North Foreign immigrants, for example, settled almost exclusively in the North because they were unwelcome in the South due to threat to slavery represented by their willingness to accept low wages If Slavery was so superior, and actually the mode of existence preferred by slaves, why was it necessary to pass laws required that escaped slaves be returned Why was it necessary to ensure slavery s expansion into the West if not for the fact that slavery was bitterly resisted by the slaves themselves While Ashworth s insight is certainly compelling in a face palm oh yeahhhh huh kind of way, the only area where I would possibly question his thesis revolves around the fact that he takes for granted that wage labor is superior to slave labor In The Half Has Never Been Told author Edward Baptist makes a compelling case for exactly the opposite conclusion He argues that you can t beat free, and that a slave holder s ability to win additional productivity gains by means of torture, while monstrous, was also highly effective in a way that wage labor was not As proof of this, Baptist points to the massive productivity drop that occurred in the South once slavery was abolished and the efforts of former slaves were induced by wages rather than whippings In the final analysis, I think a reconciliation of these two competing conclusions rests in the notion of how one measures success in an economy If productivity and relative cost are the only measures, then Baptist is certainly correct However, if one views an economy holistically, measuring the benefit of diversified production and industrialization over an economy devoted to the stultifying limitations imposed by single commodity production, Ashworth s point is well taken The book added significantly to my understanding of America s racial history, and so is one that I would certainly recommend.
Is a well-known author, some of his books are a fascination for readers like in the
- 220 pages
- The Republic in Crisis, 1848-1861
- John Ashworth
- 14 March 2018 John Ashworth