This morning I find myself either too lazy, tired, or put off by our governmental shenanigans to post something political, instead I give you a professional book review I just wrote.
Border War: Fighting over Slavery before the Civil War. By Stanley Harrold. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1469606859. Illustrations. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xv, 312. Hardcover $32.00. Kindle $11.99.
Border War by Stanley Harrold is the most recent contribution to the ever growing stack of history that examines the root causes that led to the Civil War. Harrold, a professor of history at South Carolina State University, investigates the fractious border state skirmishes over slavery starting with conflicts from post-revolution America to the final antebellum period in 1860-1861. He makes a subtle connection using his subtitle in complete agreement with recent historians who argue that fighting over slavery was the cause of the Civil War. Harrold manages to put a new spin on the tensions leading up to the war. Many other historians such as Bruce Levine and William Freehling have argued that the southern pursuit to expand slavery into new territories and the argument over efforts to limit that expansion led to the secession movement. Harrold instead argues that the battle already existed between the states and it was not over expansion. Instead, the war was over the basic rights of man to his property and the issue of state’s rights regarding their individual sovereignty versus federal rights. The fight along the border separating slave from free territory concerning the Underground Railroad, runaway slaves, and the perceived violation of rights between the territories dictated the road to the Civil War.
Combing through newspaper reports, periodicals, personal accounts, and other communications, Harrold is able to assemble a picture of the skirmishes and hard feelings that occurred between the Border South and the North. Focusing on these border areas and inter-state maritime trade, Harrold describes slave efforts to reach the freedom that was just beyond their borders and the roving bands of slave hunters, “man-stealers”, kidnappers, and activists, both abolitionists and pro-slavery, who time and time again came to blows over slavery. He makes special note of the amount of violence and death that followed these individuals back and forth across state lines and the slippery politics of governors and legislators worried both about the state of relations with their neighbors and the perceived damage to their own Constitutional rights by those citizens.
For his analysis he comprises a North of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and occasionally New York via sea routes; the Border States encompass Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, Virginia, and South Carolina and Georgia via sea routes again. A large focus of his narrative, and where many of his examples take place, is between Ohio and Kentucky, specifically Cincinnati and Louisville, two cities in polar opposite states separated by the Ohio River. Melding these numerous accounts together he paints a picture of a land between the states where the law was confused and murky at best and at worst a lawless frontier where abuses of all sorts on both sides was the normal course of life rather than the exception. But beyond that he ties in the rest of the Border South to the fight between Kentucky and Ohio bringing the whole thing together in a neat package.
The entirety of the decades of border skirmishes, argued Harrold, convinced the South the intent of the North was to eventually end slavery through trickery and theft. The only failing on Harrold’s part is when the Civil War broke out, the Border States, save a split Virginia, stayed with the Union. If the Border States had indeed been the fore front of the fighting, they should have rebelled along with the Deep South. But this fact does not detract from the overall impact of the narrative. Historians should take note of Harrold’s scholarly effort as he delivers a final product that is both interesting and thought-provoking for the reader.