Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816-1836

Paperback | April 30, 1999

byWilliam W. Freehling

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When William Freehling's Prelude to Civil War first appeared in 1965 it was immediately hailed as a brilliant and incisive study of the origins of the Civil War. Book Week called it "fresh, exciting, and convincing," while The Virginia Quarterly Review praised it as, quite simply, "history atits best." It was equally well-received by historical societies, garnering the Allan Nevins History Prize as well as a Bancroft Prize, the most prestigious history award of all. Now once again available, Prelude to Civil War is still the definitive work on the subject, and one of the most importantin ante-bellum studies. It tells the story of the Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, describing how from 1816 to 1836 aristocratic planters of the Palmetto State tumbled from a contented and prosperous life of elegant balls and fine Madeira wines to a world rife with economic distress, guilt over slavery,and apprehension of slave rebellion. It shows in compelling detail how this reversal of fortune led the political leaders of South Carolina down the path to ever more radical states rights doctrines: in 1832 they were seeking to nullify federal law by refusing to obey it; four years later some ofthem were considering secession. As the story unfolds, we meet a colorful and skillfully drawn cast of characters, among them John C. Calhoun, who hoped nullifcation would save both his highest priority, slavery, and his next priority, union; President Andrew Jackson, who threatened to hang Calhoun and lead federal troopsinto South Carolina; Denmark Vesey, who organized and nearly brought off a slave conspiracy; and Martin Van Buren, the "Little Magician," who plotted craftily to replace Calhoun in Jackson's esteem. These and other important figures come to life in these pages, and help to tell a tale--often intheir own words--central to an understanding of the war which eventually engulfed the United States. Demonstrating how a profound sensitivity to the still-shadowy slavery issue--not serious economic problems alone--led to the Nullification Controversy, Freehling revises many theories previously held by historians. He describes how fear of abolitionists and their lobbying power in Congressprompted South Carolina's leaders to ban virtually any public discussion of the South's "peculiar institution," and shows that while the Civil War had many beginnings, none was more significant than this single, passionate controversy. Written in a lively and eminently readable style, Prelude to Civil War is must reading for anyone trying to discover the roots of the conflict that soon would tear the Union apart.

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When William Freehling's Prelude to Civil War first appeared in 1965 it was immediately hailed as a brilliant and incisive study of the origins of the Civil War. Book Week called it "fresh, exciting, and convincing," while The Virginia Quarterly Review praised it as, quite simply, "history atits best." It was equally well-received by...

About the Author: William W. Freehling is the Thomas B. Lockwood Professor of American History at the State University of New York, Buffalo. He is also the author of the The Road to Disunion, the first volume of which was published by Oxford in 1990.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:416 pages, 7.99 × 5.31 × 0.87 inPublished:April 30, 1999Publisher:Oxford University Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195076818

ISBN - 13:9780195076813

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"[Freehling's] special talent seems to be the capacity to etch characters richly, precisely, and briefly. By this means a very complicated story is made clear and interesting."--The Virginia Quarterly Review