Book Review: Crisis Of Fear

Crisis Of Fear:  Secession In South Carolina, by Steven A. Channing

It is not an easy thing to ponder the reasons why it was that South Carolina chose to rebel against the United States without being either sympathetic to the cause of the Confederacy or being unjust towards the rebels themselves.  The author, without being sympathetic to the Southern cause, does a good job of being understanding regarding the fear that was felt by the people of South Carolina that led them to take the drastic step of seeking their independence.  For one, they did not trust Yankees, even those Yankees who were nominally a part of their same national party, viewing them as being corrupted by a growing hostility to slavery that made them real enemies of the South regardless of the temporary electoral alliances that they may come to.  Given the record of the War Democrats in seeking Union even without being as passionately antislavery as Republicans, this was not an unreasonable concern.  The belief on the part of South Carolina that the North would not fight was incorrect, much to their chagrin, but given the tenacity of their belief in the justice of their worldview, they recognized that in the face of growing electoral majorities in the House and Senate for the North did endanger their political power and were not irrational in their fear.  It is only that their rebellion provoked the disaster that they in fact feared.

This book is about 300 pages long and is divided into nine chapters in three parts.  The author begins with the first part, that shows the fear that increasingly dominated in South Carolina (and other Deep South states) in the aftermath of the Harper’s Ferry raid (1), as well as the memories and forebodings relating to South Carolina’s previous reputation as an extremist and trigger-happy state (2) as well as the way that this fear and anxiety removed the political tendency towards cooperationism among the South Carolina political class (3).  After that the author discusses the radical mind on the eve of the Democratic conventions (4), the pressure Unionists were under in trying to pull South Carolina back from rebellion (5), and the last confrontation between the two before the Civil War in the election over delegates to the conventions as well as the secession convention (6).  Finally, the author discusses the campaign for revolution that took place in late 1860 (7), the radical persuasion that took place that gave South Carolina something approaching unanimity (8), as well as the crisis of secession that took place after Lincoln’s election (9).  The book is then ended with a bibliography and index.

Fear is a terrible thing, and in reading about the prelude to the Civil War it does not appear likely that the injustice of whites will provoke a Civil War.  The author, though, is wisely pessimistic in thinking that it is unlikely that white and black people in the United States can live at peace in the face of the fear that each side has of the other.  We are seeing at present that this fear runs deep on both sides and that attempts on the part of one side to argue for the reality of their paranoid fears about white injustice prompts other fears of race war that encourage a militant policy of self-defense.  The author is shrewd enough to realize that the Civil War itself demonstrated a great deal of what was divided between South Carolina society and it was that the society was radicalized to the point where the people themselves pushed and prodded their leaders to take drastic action because of their own fear.  Rather than blaming secession on corrupt South Carolina elites, he points out that it was a grass roots driven fear of government action taken against a defensive social elite fearful of losing power and with limited means of addressing that fear.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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