Review: The Cause of the South: Selections from de Bow’s Review, 1846-1867

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The Cause of the South: Selections from de Bow's Review, 1846-1867
The Cause of the South: Selections from de Bow’s Review, 1846-1867 by Paul F. Paskoff
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book was a disappointment to me. It’s not the book’s fault at all. The “book” is neither fiction, nor non-fiction, but merely a reprinting of selected newspaper articles from a Civil War era southern periodical, based out of New Orleans. I wanted to read it because, as a modern, fairly liberal individual, I was taught two things in school: that the Civil War was fought to free the slaves, and that the good guys won. But, knowing that “history is written by the winners,” I had a nagging urge to wrap my head around the Lost Cause that claimed so many lives. I’d heard conspiratorial whispers about it “really” being fought over States’ rights, Federal overreach, Cotton taxes, etc. I’d hoped to read this book and claim some insider knowledge about a confederate southerner’s way of thinking, so the next time I was at a cocktail party and a fellow party-goer got up on their high horse to denounce the evils of antebellum southern society, I could raise a warning flag about some of the peripheral issues that could contextualize the conflict.

Sadly, that does not appear to be the case. Rich, white, southern, christian slave-owners resisted the north’s “fanatical” abolitionist views because of one thing: the unbelievably high profit margins that free labor enabled them to reap off King Cotton, and sent hundreds of thousands of poor young men to slaughter to protect their assets. I’ve established it to my satisfaction by reading these articles “straight from the horse’s mouth” and I am appalled and ashamed at some of the biblical, pseudo-medical, pseudo-scientific defenses of slavery espoused therein. When all the rest of the world busied themselves with abolishing this ancient institution of violence during the late 18th and early 19th century, the southern American states not only defended it, but sought to strengthen and expand it. It saddens me to think how many young men had to die fighting over the question of whether one human being could legally own another and treat him or her as livestock.

Having said that, I will continue reading up on the Civil War, particularly how it affected the day-to-day lives of Southern civilians near the battle lines. But I did not achieve by consuming this book what I expected: a morsel of empathy for the confederate mindset. Perhaps that, itself, is a Lost Cause.

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Victor A. Davis has always loved reading and writing short stories. He is an avid hiker and even when away from the world of laptops and wifi, keeps a pocket paperback and a handwritten journal to keep him company on trail. He is the author of two short story collections, Grains of Sand and The Gingerbread Collection. Join his Mailing List for special announcements about upcoming works.