Contributor Post Created with Sketch. A New Book to Be Read and Treasured

 

Twenty-five years ago, I published a massive tome, 1,200 pages in length, titled Republics Ancient and Modern: Classical Republicanism and the American Revolution. It sold out within 13 months. It was picked up by the History Book Club, then reprinted in 1994 in three paperback volumes; and it is still in print and was recently released on Kindle.

One of the arguments that I advanced in that work was that the chief cause of the American Revolution was regime difference. Put simply, after 1688, England went one direction, and America went another. On our side of the Atlantic, the government was in practice organized in accord with the principles advanced by the Radical Whigs. On the other side of the Atlantic, the government was organized on the basis of an agreement gradually worked out in the wake of the Glorious Revolution between the Tories who had sought James II’s ouster and those of the Whigs who were willing to settle for de facto parliamentary dominion.

For a long time, this did not much matter, and there was a tacit agreement between those dominant in Parliament and the Americans to let sleeping dogs lie. We ran our own affairs; they ran theirs; and we cooperated amicably in a great variety of ways. But, in the wake of the French and Indian War, a generation took power in Great Britain that was intent on reining in the American colonies. In consequence, it became painfully evident that the two parties entertained different notions of the dictates of justice and that we could neither understand nor sympathize with one another’s outlook. We Americans could not accept the absolute supremacy of king-in-parliament, and our cousins across the Atlantic could not accept our claim that the autonomy we had long been allowed was a matter of right and not mere legislative grace. The upshot was bloodshed and a bitter, angry divorce.

In passing, in that work, I also suggested that our own Civil War could be explained in similar terms. In one part of the country, slavery was gradually abolished. In another part, it became hegemonic. What had been in embryo a single political regime based on the principles laid out by a reluctant slaveowner in the Declaration of Independence became two separate political regimes organized on opposed principles. In the interim between 1776 and 1860, the Union was held together by a series of compromises. But, in time, the opposition of the two sides produced a division within the Baptist and Methodist churches, the Whig party, and finally the Democratic party fatal to their unity — and it was no longer possible to find common ground.

At the time that I published Republics Ancient and Modern, I entertained the possibility of writing another massive tome on the origins of the Civil War. But I was drawn into the composition of other volumes focused on the English revolution, early modern political thought, and ancient Greece, and I can now report that someone else has done the job I once contemplated and that he has done a better job than I would have been apt to do.

I have in mind Forrest A. Nabors’ new book From Oligarchy to Republicanism: The Great Task of Reconstruction, which is slated for release on December 26 but is, in fact, being shipped now.

Do not be fooled by the title. The book starts with Reconstruction, but it does not end there. It moves back to examine the Old South, its character, and the reason for secession; and it seeks also to explain the failure of Reconstruction.

Forrest begins with the Reconstruction Congress, studying in detail the deliberations that gave rise to Reconstruction. Then, he asks whether Congress’ analysis of the pre-Civil War South was accurate, and he turns to the evidence. And, finally, he examines the fate of Reconstruction.

I will not give away the plot. I will only say this. In my lifetime, scholars have tended to focus their attention on slavery, on the masters, and on their slaves — and Eugene D. Genovese, who was the godfather of my eldest child, was the ablest of those who did so. Next to no one has paid close attention to the non-slaveholding whites of the South. It is Forrest’s argument that they are the key to the puzzle. I wish Gene were alive to read Forrest’s book. He would be enthralled. It is the only work on the South that I have read in the last half-century that is better than the best of his volumes.

If you want to understand the origins of the Civil War, why the North won, the outcome’s consequences for this country, and race relations over the last 150 years, this book is the place to start. It is a masterpiece, and it is going to have an immense impact.

Two-thirds of all of the books sold in this country every year are sold at this time of year. If you have a loved one who enjoys reading histories, this is the book to send as a gift. Trust me. I just ordered a copy for my father-in-law.

There are 11 comments.

  1. Al French Moderator

    John J. Miller interviewed Nabors on last week’s The Bookmonger podcast. Made me want to read the book.

    • #1
    • December 4, 2017, at 8:29 AM PST
    • 1 like
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Argh! Another book for the ever-growing list.

    • #2
    • December 4, 2017, at 8:29 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  3. Profile Photo Member

    This sounds wonderful, and if you haven’t read Republics: Ancient and Modern, you really should!

    • #3
    • December 4, 2017, at 8:49 AM PST
    • Like
  4. Matty Van Member

    “Scholars have tended to focus their attention on slavery – on the masters and on their slaves… Next to no one has paid attention to the non-slaveholding whites of the South.”

    I’ve argued at least once and probably several times here on Ricochet that the American Civil War was a replay of the English Civil War. I.e. the ACW was a culture war gone hot between the same two groups that fought the ECW.

    My eyes were opened to this possibility by David Hackett Fischer, who explained in Albion’s Seed that the North was seeded by Puritans from East Angelia escaping Cavaliers to Massachusetts when Cavaliers were in power. The South was seeded by Cavaliers (and Borderers) escaping Puritans to Virginia when Puritans were in power.

    The two groups were culturally quite different, and extremely antagonistic. The fires of their cultural differences were stoked by economic differences such as free vs. slave labor (obviously also an ethical issue), free vs. protected trade, and even a largely forgotten but surprisingly important economic issue, whether a government-built transcontinental railroad would take a northern or southern route.

    With confidence from winning the Mexican-American War (a war precipitated, fought, and won by Southerners), and angry that they got nothing for it but continued economic suppression and cultural ridicule from teachy-preachy Puritans, the non-slave holding white “fire-eaters” (not slave holders) precipitated the Civil War.

    EDIT: I’d even argue that our current culture war is largely a continuation of the culture wars fought by real armies in England in the 1630s and America in the 1860s.

    Re-Edit. Finger slip! Make that 1860s.

    • #4
    • December 4, 2017, at 9:20 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  5. Hoyacon Member

    This seems rather timely in view of the recent kerfuffle over General Kelly’s remarks regarding the causes of the Civil War.

    And I’m wondering, Prof. Rahe, if you have an opinion on Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 by Eric Foner, which seems to be the choice of many as the book on Reconstruction. Foner is, to say the least, a man of the left, which likely has helped his career but which has led me to somewhat distrust his work.

    • #5
    • December 4, 2017, at 11:44 AM PST
    • 1 like
  6. Arahant Member

    Matty Van (View Comment):
    EDIT: I’d even argue that our current culture war is largely a continuation of the culture wars fought by real armies in England in the 1630s and America in the 1850s.

    Some of us are here again, I reckon.

    • #6
    • December 4, 2017, at 12:08 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  7. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe

    Hoyacon (View Comment):
    This seems rather timely in view of the recent kerfuffle over General Kelly’s remarks regarding the causes of the Civil War.

    And I’m wondering, Prof. Rahe, if you have an opinion on Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 by Eric Foner, which seems to be the choice of many as the book on Reconstruction. Foner is, to say the least, a man of the left, which likely has helped his career but which has led me to somewhat distrust his work.

    I once debated Eric at St. Johns College, Oxford. It was shortly after Republics Ancient and Modern had come out, and we went back and forth. His work on Reconstruction is pretty good. Forrest Nabors’ book puts the whole question in its proper context, however. Everyone else gives short shrift to the South’s non-slaveholding white population (the majority of the whites). He brings them on stage in a telling fashion.

    • #7
    • December 4, 2017, at 1:49 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  8. Hoyacon Member

    Paul A. Rahe (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):
    This seems rather timely in view of the recent kerfuffle over General Kelly’s remarks regarding the causes of the Civil War.

    And I’m wondering, Prof. Rahe, if you have an opinion on Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 by Eric Foner, which seems to be the choice of many as the book on Reconstruction. Foner is, to say the least, a man of the left, which likely has helped his career but which has led me to somewhat distrust his work.

    I once debated Eric at St. Johns College, Oxford. It was shortly after Republics Ancient and Modern had come out, and we went back and forth. His work on Reconstruction is pretty good. Forrest Nabors’ book puts the whole question in its proper context, however. Everyone else gives short shrift to the South’s non-slaveholding white population (the majority of the whites). He brings them on stage in a telling fashion.

    Sold!

    • #8
    • December 4, 2017, at 2:08 PM PST
    • Like
  9. The Reticulator Member

    I’ve added it, as well as your own book, to my amazon wish list. Mrs R says I should tone down my purchases until after we’ve paid the winter property taxes, and besides, there are a lot of books in my queue right now. I guess I’ll just have to read faster.

    • #9
    • December 4, 2017, at 7:24 PM PST
    • 1 like
  10. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thank you. Dr Rahe. I just preordered it on kindle for my better half to give me for Christmas. Your recommendations are always excellent.

    • #10
    • December 4, 2017, at 7:38 PM PST
    • 1 like
  11. Ray Kujawa Coolidge

    You can get this book before Christmas if you go with one of the other vendors offering a new book on Amazon. I ordered mine this way, below list for a new book and I should be getting it sometime between the 11th and the 18th. But of course, they don’t have many copies to sell as if you wait for the official release. I look forward with great interest to being demystified about the South.

    Edit: Received copy in mail on Friday 12/8 and have read through both the preface and introduction. This is going to be a great read.

    The Revolutionary War was our country’s baptism; Reconstruction was our confirmation.

    • #11
    • December 6, 2017, at 6:40 PM PST
    • Like