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A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War

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By the time John Brown hung from the gallows for his crimes at Harper’s Ferry, Northern abolitionists had made him a "holy martyr" in their campaign against Southern slave owners. This Northern hatred for Southerners long predated their objections to slavery. They were convinced that New England, whose spokesmen had begun the American Revolution, should have been the leade By the time John Brown hung from the gallows for his crimes at Harper’s Ferry, Northern abolitionists had made him a "holy martyr" in their campaign against Southern slave owners. This Northern hatred for Southerners long predated their objections to slavery. They were convinced that New England, whose spokesmen had begun the American Revolution, should have been the leader of the new nation. Instead, they had been displaced by Southern "slavocrats" like Thomas Jefferson. This malevolent envy exacerbated the South’s greatest fear: a race war. Jefferson’s cry, "We are truly to be pitied," summed up their dread. For decades, extremists in both regions flung insults and threats, creating intractable enmities. By 1861, only a civil war that would kill a million men could save the Union.


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By the time John Brown hung from the gallows for his crimes at Harper’s Ferry, Northern abolitionists had made him a "holy martyr" in their campaign against Southern slave owners. This Northern hatred for Southerners long predated their objections to slavery. They were convinced that New England, whose spokesmen had begun the American Revolution, should have been the leade By the time John Brown hung from the gallows for his crimes at Harper’s Ferry, Northern abolitionists had made him a "holy martyr" in their campaign against Southern slave owners. This Northern hatred for Southerners long predated their objections to slavery. They were convinced that New England, whose spokesmen had begun the American Revolution, should have been the leader of the new nation. Instead, they had been displaced by Southern "slavocrats" like Thomas Jefferson. This malevolent envy exacerbated the South’s greatest fear: a race war. Jefferson’s cry, "We are truly to be pitied," summed up their dread. For decades, extremists in both regions flung insults and threats, creating intractable enmities. By 1861, only a civil war that would kill a million men could save the Union.

30 review for A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War

  1. 4 out of 5

    Geoff Sebesta

    It's rare for me to write a review of a book before it's quite finished, but unless the last word on the last page is "Psyche!" I have a hard time seeing how the author will turn my opinion around. This is a bad, bad, pernicious, mean, evil, and stupid book. I knew that when I picked it up and read it anyway because there were bad, evil, stupid people around during the Civil War too and I wanted to understand how they understood things. Boy did I! This book can be divided into three parts: 1. How Ab It's rare for me to write a review of a book before it's quite finished, but unless the last word on the last page is "Psyche!" I have a hard time seeing how the author will turn my opinion around. This is a bad, bad, pernicious, mean, evil, and stupid book. I knew that when I picked it up and read it anyway because there were bad, evil, stupid people around during the Civil War too and I wanted to understand how they understood things. Boy did I! This book can be divided into three parts: 1. How Abolitionists Caused The War By Being Mean 2. You Know, Slavery Had Some Good Points 3. Well I Don't See What Everybody's So Upset About. Between his gleeful takedown of William Lloyd Garrison's mother (you nailed her, sir! Much more thoroughly than you went after, say, Preston Brooks) and his explanation of all the myriad ways in which Thomas Jefferson honestly meant to free slaves but somehow didn't quite get around to it, one detects the hand of...a jerk. The man who wrote this book must be a total jerk. I can think of no other explanation. He navigates history by the light of a few brilliant burning white guys, and anybody who got in their way was a waste, and if minorities are so great how come he never heard of them? I know people like this in real life, and I don't enjoy talking to them about history or much of anything else. It's fun looking for historical errors, but easy. I did find good trivia in this, the calming white paternal voice of madness. This shouldn't be the first book you read, or even the tenth. But this is a representative voice, and it deserves to be heard. However, I still think the author is sort of a jerk.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jay Schutt

    A strong 4 stars bordering on 5, this book is a must read for any Civil War enthusiast. It should be the first book read prior to the start of the battles of the Civil War. It covers the curse of slavery in America from the colonial era up to just after the start of the hostilities of the war and is mainly about the attempts made to abolish or limit the spread of slavery. Very well-written and well-researched. A great job was done by the author to inform the reader of this historical era.

  3. 4 out of 5

    David Eppenstein

    We all know the old saying about the fate of those that fail to learn their history. This informative and thought provoking book is a testament to the historical ignorance of our present Congressional leadership. The author clearly and thoughtfully takes us through the 19th century history of the slavery controversy and how the inflamed and unreasonable passions of a few resulted in the sufferings of hundreds of thousands and the destruction of a whole society. Reading this book one cannot help We all know the old saying about the fate of those that fail to learn their history. This informative and thought provoking book is a testament to the historical ignorance of our present Congressional leadership. The author clearly and thoughtfully takes us through the 19th century history of the slavery controversy and how the inflamed and unreasonable passions of a few resulted in the sufferings of hundreds of thousands and the destruction of a whole society. Reading this book one cannot help but see the parallels between what this country went through 150+ years ago and what we are experiencing today. Inspite of our great technological advances over that period of time we seemed to have neither learned nor evolved very much and the people we send to Congress clearly demonstrates this. Mr. Fleming ends his illuminating book with a sad "what if". What if Lincoln had lived and what if there was a cure for diseases of the public mind? What if and if so where would be today as a people? Something to think about. Isn't that the goal of a good author?

  4. 5 out of 5

    Susan Paxton

    There's a lot of good information here, and a lot of it will be new to most readers. But Fleming's attempt to suggest that both sides were equally responsible for the Civil War and that the abolitionists were just (gasp!) mean to the South is beyond ridiculous. There's a lot of good information here, and a lot of it will be new to most readers. But Fleming's attempt to suggest that both sides were equally responsible for the Civil War and that the abolitionists were just (gasp!) mean to the South is beyond ridiculous.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Steven Appelget

    If you're a middle-aged white guy from, say, Tennessee or Kentucky, and you want to excuse your ancestors' participation in treason and rebellion, this is the book for you! If you're a middle-aged white guy from, say, Tennessee or Kentucky, and you want to excuse your ancestors' participation in treason and rebellion, this is the book for you!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kaiya

    There is so much to say about this festering turd of a book that I don't even know where to start. If you think abolitionists were PROBABLY the villain in the story of American slavery and the lead up to the Civil War, then this book is for you. If you feel a lot of pity for the predicament of 19th century slave owners, or can't believe how misunderstood Washington and Jefferson's intentions have become since the dawn of the Civil Rights era, this book is also definitely for you. If you'd like, There is so much to say about this festering turd of a book that I don't even know where to start. If you think abolitionists were PROBABLY the villain in the story of American slavery and the lead up to the Civil War, then this book is for you. If you feel a lot of pity for the predicament of 19th century slave owners, or can't believe how misunderstood Washington and Jefferson's intentions have become since the dawn of the Civil Rights era, this book is also definitely for you. If you'd like, for once, to read about opposition to slavery without having to hear about the struggles of slaves, buy this book! And if, like any rational person, you've always hated William Lloyd Garrison and just need some fresh ideas to help launch your steampunk supervillain comic series "The False Liberator and His Gospel of Hate," this is definitely your jam.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    This is offered as a revisionist history of the causes of the American Civil War. It is such insofar as its author treats the war as contingent, not inevitable, seeing the perspectives of important populations, both North and South, as being fundamentally mistaken. To simplify, Fleming faults the intransigence of many of the Northern abolitionists and their failure to appreciate the fears of the bulk of the Southern population. The South's fear, mistaken as it turned out, was of servile war, an a This is offered as a revisionist history of the causes of the American Civil War. It is such insofar as its author treats the war as contingent, not inevitable, seeing the perspectives of important populations, both North and South, as being fundamentally mistaken. To simplify, Fleming faults the intransigence of many of the Northern abolitionists and their failure to appreciate the fears of the bulk of the Southern population. The South's fear, mistaken as it turned out, was of servile war, an anxiety fuelled by events such as the Nat Turner rebellion and John Brown's seizure of the armory at Harper's Ferry. Fleming's approach therefore is to emphasize the moderates on both sides who sought a peaceful end to slavery. The ever-evolving Abraham Lincoln, on the one hand, and Robert E. Lee, on the other, are representative of such meliorating factors. Personally, I have a knee-jerk reaction to slave or, indeed, any anti-egalitarian systems, most of my readings of the causes of the war having been sympathetic to the abolitionists. Thus this book read, to me, as apologetic. And, certainly, there are aspects of it which I question. For instance, contrary to most analysts, author Fleming claims the South was economically richer, far richer, than the North. Here I'm suspicious that he factors in the ostensible 'value' of the slave population, a suspect calculation indeed. Additionally, he posits an argument against Free Staters such as Lincoln which I had been previously unaware of. That was that some Southerners believed that the threat of servile rebellion, and the difficulties of eventual emancipation, were only heightened by restricting slavery to the South wherein black populations were rising at a faster rate than white populations. He documents the argument, so I'll buy that, but such gradualistic arguments pale, ethically speaking, against any perpetuation of such an inhumane institution as slavery and I am suspicious of the real motives of those who make them. However, the fear of a servile war (the term goes back to Roman history) held by many southerners, few of whom had slaves, is well taken as are his demonstrations of how such fears were manipulated by elites. So, what would Fleming propose? He is never so definite, but seems to favor recompensed emancipation such as, apparently, the British had managed previously. How that would have played out, economically speaking, is not addressed. So, too, Reconstruction, its abandonment and the substitution of tenancy and segregation for slavery are not addressed. I'd recommend this book to persons already familiar with Civil War literature. Before reading revisionist histories it's good to know the standard views being challenged.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bruce Crawford

    The best thing about this book was posing the question: "Why were so many other countries able to find a peaceful resolution to slavery?" Downhill from there quickly. Ugh. The best thing about this book was posing the question: "Why were so many other countries able to find a peaceful resolution to slavery?" Downhill from there quickly. Ugh.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Park

    Like most major historical events, the causes of war are complex. It is easy to criticize Fleming if you believe the view that the cause of the American Civil War was simply "slavery." Moving beyond fourth-grade history books, Fleming cites example after example of how extremist rhetoric in both the North and the South drove each other toward violence and no-compromise political positioning. Fleming is consistently critical of extremism in all its forms. (I doubt he will get many favorable revie Like most major historical events, the causes of war are complex. It is easy to criticize Fleming if you believe the view that the cause of the American Civil War was simply "slavery." Moving beyond fourth-grade history books, Fleming cites example after example of how extremist rhetoric in both the North and the South drove each other toward violence and no-compromise political positioning. Fleming is consistently critical of extremism in all its forms. (I doubt he will get many favorable reviews from political partisans on either side of the left-right false dichotomy.) There is so much more background here than I expected: the Haitian Revolution, New England's boycott of the War of 1812, Charles Darwin, Napoleon, LaFayette, the secession threats in both the North and South, nullification threats in the South, actual nullification of the Fugitive Slave Act in the North, hymns, etc. Fleming showed this world to be rich and full. This book was thought provoking and proved to me that the causes of the war are entirely complex and demand honest re-examination. That alone should give the book high marks. On top of that, this book is entertaining. It has a fine narrative flow that sets up the intertwining paths of ideas and events that led up to the war. Fleming consistently reminds us of the various major ideas and fears of the people of both the North and South that prevented a peaceful compromise. He puts life to the historical figures and adds complexity that readers should see more often. Flemming asks a question at the beginning of the book that deserves an answer: Why did the United States go to war to end slavery when the other countries of that era were able to find peaceful ends to such a horrible practice? I think he gives an insightful answer. Minor Notes I was frustrated many times by how highly Fleming seemed to regard some of the major historical figures of that era. Take George Washington for example. In his will, he wanted to free his slaves upon his wife's death. Flemming characterizes this as an act of astounding benevolence. Maybe I don't understand the mindset of that era enough. To me, Washington basically said, "Slavery is horrible. I will stop the using slaves just as soon as my wife and I are done using them." I don't see his will as an amazing stance on principles--why wait until death to free your slaves?--but maybe Washington was ahead of his time. I also found the hindsight speculation pretty silly (in general, not in particulars). It doesn't make sense to me to play What If. In an early passage, the author actually admonishes historians for saying, "What if this had happened?" or "It would have been this other way if such-and-such had changed." I suppose he couldn't resist the temptation, though, as he pined for an America where one of the myriad compromise plans would have been accepted and the bloodbath avoided. One Last Thought The thing about being an extremist is that everyone else looks like an extremist to you. If I am an anarchist, people proposing any government program look like horrible puppet-masters and tramplers of liberty. If I am wholly convinced of the beneficent state, I see any resistors to even the most minute program or policy look like paranoid ignoramuses who live in fear of "Big Gubmint." Fleming's wholehearted portrayal of the extremists (North and South) as the bad guys is troubling. He pins his hopes on people in the middle to mesh together peaceable compromises. But even those people (like Lincoln or JQA) could be viewed as extremist devotees to the Union, with that loyalty blinding them to the need for their fellow men to be free. As I said above, this book sparks many thoughts and the need for re-examination of the causes of war. For that: 4 stars.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Derek Weese

    I had decided to take the Summer off and, since I am in college studying history, take a break from reading history over the Summer. Well, that didn't last. I wanted to read something historical. But... I have been forced to read many academic works since I've been in University. Some were really good, some were ok, a few were just plain silly, one was an obvious neo-Communist manifesto, one had to have been written while high or something drug related, while the majority were just terribly writt I had decided to take the Summer off and, since I am in college studying history, take a break from reading history over the Summer. Well, that didn't last. I wanted to read something historical. But... I have been forced to read many academic works since I've been in University. Some were really good, some were ok, a few were just plain silly, one was an obvious neo-Communist manifesto, one had to have been written while high or something drug related, while the majority were just terribly written. I have developed a love-hate relationship with academia since I've been in College. I love academia because it keeps alive the tradition of forcing younger people (myself included) to think about what they believe. (I'll leave political bias out of this...) However, I also hate academia because the way that it thinks. Academia, since the end of the Second World War, has been downplaying the role of individual actions to impact history and even the role of 'History' in human affairs in favor of sociology. Leaving political biases out of this, it is understandable as the then current academic elite were teaching history as only about men of power and nothing else. However, in changing the way history is thought about, academia threw out history with the bath water. 'History' itself is rarely taught in anything beyond 100 level courses, at least as far as I can tell, and the current academic elite have become the same old, ossified dinosaurs who refuse to sanction any other thought besides their own as the ones they replaced back after WWII. Why is this important for this review? I am a military historian. I study battles, campaigns, operations, strategy, the politics behind and during war, the lives and lessons of the great commanders and the individual stories of those who served on the front lines as well as those at home who kept the industry going, tilled the land and who wept when their husbands, sons, brothers and in some cases sisters and wives failed to return. I will admit, social history doesn't peak my interest, not in the slightest; Though I understand it's importance. As a military historian one of my five favorite avenues of study is my own nations Civil War, the American Civil War. It endlessly fascinates me. But one thing has always bothered me about the way that academia has taught the history of the Civil War. Besides the glaringly obvious bias against the military history of the war in academia (I have developed a theory that the reason academics, on a whole, shun military history is because it showcases, in great detail, how individual actions can impact global events, which rather goes against many tenants of sociology) I have been frustrated by the bald simplicity with which the history of America's greatest event is presented. In academic, University settings at least, settings the history of the Civil War is seemingly dumbed down by the smartest minds in the liberal arts. The war is presented as a fait accompli, a necessary event that HAD to happen to present a favorable moral outcome on the issue of slavery. All Northerners were saints (that actually is beginning to change) and all Southerner's were terrorists worthy of Bin Laden (still some holdouts there but that, also, is changing). This is infuriatingly simple minded. Because of this I had sworn off any academic book, forevermore, dealing with the American Civil War. I had sworn to read only the popular military historians (the ones who actually sell books) as not only are they better written as a whole, but they are also largely free of the glaring political biases that show up throughout a large number of more academic works. Thomas J. Fleming, while I am not sure I could call him an academic as I don't really know, was, at least, an established name that I had heard of. I instantly hesitated when I saw his book at my local bookstore...but yet I felt compelled. I am glad I did. Fleming's book details the entire issue of slavery and emancipation in the buildup of sectional political tensions that would eventually explode into the Civil War. For those who hated this book, you read it wrong. Fleming is NOT giving the South a free pass. Far from it. He shows the slave institution for what it is, but so much has been written about it as of late that there was no need to dwell so completely on the misery of the slaves themselves. Fleming's work was aimed at showing how this issue became a disease within the collective mind of the American body politic. Fleming does not let the South off Scott free, no he does not. What he does is show the issue of slavery, coalescing into an eventual three sided debate that will tear the country to shreds, literally. Abolitionism started early on in the Republic's history going back to before the Revolution with the Quakers. It morphed into a sectional biased engine of propaganda by the time of the Civil War. Fleming makes a good point here; the abolitionists were fighting for a worthy cause, but they were fighting in the wrong manner. He points out, quite well in fact, that rather than forcing the slave owners to think about the moral wrongs of slavery and to consider a better way to generate regional wealth, they instead demonized an entire section of the nation. It is this argument of Fleming's, one I mostly though not entirely agree with, that causes the most controversy. And I think it is controversial precisely because it causes people who read this part of the book to think, and thinking is something that, sadly, much of the academic history of the American Civil War doesn't allow one to do. The second part of the argument focuses on the slave owners. The revolt of the slaves in Haiti against their French masters ended so brutally that it created a Southern disease of the mind with the fear of a race war. The South was convinced, coerced by slave owners themselves, that if abolition took hold and the salves were emancipated then the South would face a race war. Nat Turner's rebellion didn't help this mind set any. Again, Fleming does not condone Southern actions, but it does seem that many people thought he did. Simply false. He does, however, counter the current argument that the war was a necessity. It clearly was not. The South was actually the wealthier of the two sections of the nation precisely due to slave labor, and the Southern politicians, as convinced of their own racial superiority as they were combined with dreading an American Haiti, were forcibly against any sort of compromise that would upset their 'peculiar institution'. Fleming points out, I think quite clearly, that the South indeed does need to shoulder much of the blame for the start of the War. As does the North. Bring in the third part of the argument which, sadly, is not as developed as it could have been: northern racism. In the North the citizenry was experiencing an industrial boon and all the wealth and convenience that comes with such an event. They were also the place where the newest ideas and ideals of the age were being showcased. A traveling European scientist (forgot the name, sorry) shows up in the book. He staged a series of seminars all over the North showcasing how the different races were, scientifically, separated in terms of ability both physically and mentally. In other words this was pseudo-science that, unintentionally, fed into white northern racism. The Wilmot Proviso created the Free Soil movement which really meant Free Soil for Free White Men, and this movement drove the immigration of poor white northerners westwards. Though many joined abolitionist societies, few were willing to condone a complete intermingling of the African American peoples into regular society, most wanted to re-colonise them back to Africa. And during the war itself, most soldiers on the frontlines were not exactly keen on abolitionism or emancipation, if many did realize the economic necessity of ending slavery to help destroy the South's ability to wage war. The final piece of Fleming's argument is that the war didn't need to happen. To me that should be a no brainer. No war ever NEEDS to happen. And yet the Civil War has been presented for so long as a moral crusade (a myth just as dangerous as the South's Lost Cause myth to be sure)that this line of thinking is seen as alien and even hostile to the truth. But it is the truth itself. Fleming points out that the United States was the only nation to fight a war, a war that he points out easily killed a MILLION young men (the accepted statistics are low balled), in order to end slavery. The British didn't have to. The French, despite Haiti, got rid of slavery in a peaceful manner. As did the Latin American states. Why not the US? It was because of the over-politicizing of this issue, the issue of slavery, that Fleming argues drove the nation to a needless and wasteful war. The scars of which are still present today. And that's the final reason he wrote the book. The current scars. The United States is, sadly, again mired in political strife and controversy. The modern age of extreme polarization cannot be healthy for the nation, and Fleming wanted to show how a single issue could tear apart an entire great country if it wasn't handled right. Fleming's book will be misunderstood by many on both sides of the argument. In today's polarized environment this should be expected. But for the few gallant souls who can actually replace their party line blinders they can actually be made to think because of this book. I hope many academics read this book. They are academics in the field of history for a reason: they are passionate about history. Sure they need to learn to write as well as Fleming does, but that's not why I want them to read this book. I want them to marry their initial passion for history with the realization that what they say has impact in some circles. They should learn that simplicity, even if it is well intentioned, is harmful when dealing with the seminal event of American history. I think debate is great, I hope academia can come to agree.

  11. 4 out of 5

    CoachJim

    The enormity of the Civil War’s tragedy grows even larger when we realize that the United States is the only country in the world that fought such a horrific war to end slavery. Other nations with large slave populations, such as Great Britain, which had 850,00 slaves in its West Indies islands, Cuba, which had almost 1,000,000, and Brazil, which had at least 3,000,000, ended the deplorable institution with relatively little bloodshed. Even Czarist Russia, with its millions of semi-slaves known The enormity of the Civil War’s tragedy grows even larger when we realize that the United States is the only country in the world that fought such a horrific war to end slavery. Other nations with large slave populations, such as Great Britain, which had 850,00 slaves in its West Indies islands, Cuba, which had almost 1,000,000, and Brazil, which had at least 3,000,000, ended the deplorable institution with relatively little bloodshed. Even Czarist Russia, with its millions of semi-slaves known as serfs, freed them without a war. Why were the Americans, with a government designed to respond to the voice – or voices – of the people, compelled to resort to such awful carnage. (Page x) “A disease of the public mind” is a phrase used frequently by the author in this book. It can be summarized by the fact that the primary disease of the North was the abolitionist’s fury, and the primary disease of the South was the fear of a race war. In the South Jefferson had publicly condemned the institution of slavery. However, the slave rebellion in Haiti, and the black population vastly outnumbering the white population in several areas, became Thomas Jefferson’s Nightmare. How would these emancipated slaves co-exist given the horrible abuses they had endured for so long. Later following the Nat Turner rebellion this became an even greater worry as Southerners began patrolling roads at night to prevent any attempts at blacks to organize. The Northern abolitionists were viewed by the South as encouraging these revolts. This was aggravated by the John Brown attempt at Harpers Ferry. There is an interesting chapter on the wealth of the South. Slavery was very profitable to the slave-owners. But there were many cases where the slaves themselves made this profitable. Many slaves became skilled craftsmen at many different jobs. The author states that slavery was evolving. That business enterprise was seeping into the system. (Page 210) Although many slave-owners did not like slavery they were puzzled as how to eliminate it. Especially in light of the slave revolts in Haiti and the Nat Turner revolt Southerners did not believe that free blacks and whites could live peacefully together. But this was not only a Southern view. In the North blacks did not enjoy most of the rights of whites and they lived in segregated communities. In the North abolitionists were against slavery but not for the black slaves. Northerners did not want the blacks to come North and compete for the jobs. As the new territories became viable some had the idea that new territories could diffuse the slave population and thus eliminate the source of Thomas Jefferson’s Nightmare. That if the black population no longer vastly out numbered the white population a race war could be avoided. The North saw these new territories as land for their population with a motto of “Free Soil for Free Men”, but they only meant White men. The South viewed any restrictions on slavery in the new territories as a crack in their defense of the institution of slavery. If the government could rule that slavery was not to be allowed in the West, could they also decide slavery could no longer be allowed in the South. The epilogue of the book is a summary of the end of the Civil War and the greatness of President Lincoln. The abolitionists at this time revealed their true selves with their hatred and vindictiveness. Whereas Grant had allowed the Confederate soldiers to keep their horses and provided them with food, the abolitionists in Congress wanted to prosecute Lee, Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders and hang them. Lincoln wanted to restore the Union and incorporate blacks into full citizenship. It is heartbreaking – but also somehow inspiring – to imagine what this extraordinary man might have accomplished if he had lived. Remembering this Lincoln may persuade the Americans of the twenty-first century to achieve the central message of his legacy – and the reason for writing this book – genuine brotherhood between North and South, and between blacks and whites. An understanding of the diseases of the public mind that caused the war’s cataclysm of blood and fury is now possible, thanks to the work of generations of historians. The truth, as Lincoln once remarked, is often “the daughter of time.” (Page 313) I would like to thank my GR friend David Eppenstein for recommending this book. It is a valuable addition to any reading of this period. You may see David’s review Here.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    The basic premise of this book is "Yeah, sure. Slavery was bad an all. But if the North, and especially the ABOLITIONISTS hadn't been such dicks about one group of people OWNING another group of people being morally reprehensible, there wouldn't have been a Civil War in America. Also, fuck John Brown. That guy was an asshole. He's also somehow solely responsible for the Civil War. America was totally on a path to not have a Civil War, and then that nutjob raided Harpers Ferry and BOOM! Civil War The basic premise of this book is "Yeah, sure. Slavery was bad an all. But if the North, and especially the ABOLITIONISTS hadn't been such dicks about one group of people OWNING another group of people being morally reprehensible, there wouldn't have been a Civil War in America. Also, fuck John Brown. That guy was an asshole. He's also somehow solely responsible for the Civil War. America was totally on a path to not have a Civil War, and then that nutjob raided Harpers Ferry and BOOM! Civil War." This book completely dismisses how awful being OWNED BY ANOTHER PERSON was, is, and ever shall be. It cherry picks certain abolitionists who were clearly off their goddamn rockers and paints the entire movement with the broad strokes of their garbage rhetoric. It even claims that by the 1850s, slavery was "liberalizing," and that "sensible" slave owners were giving their "talented and above-average slaves" more freedoms to earn money on the side, which of course, the slave owners would take a cut of. The author goes on to proffer the question: Had we just let slavery go on and "run its course," perhaps slaves would've slowly been emancipated over the course of the next unspecified amount of time. A perfect anecdote to explain the nature of the narrative of this book. To the point made above about "progressive slave owners" allowing their slaves to do other things besides horrendous manual labor, the author tells an anecdote about the "real life" Uncle Tom, who showed above-average intelligence and skill. So, his slave owner, who may have been his father (not addressed: was the sex that created real-life Uncle Tom consensual? Could it have been given the dynamic of OWNER of PERSON and PERSON OWNED?) promoting the slave to overseer and eventually allowing him to work on the side to make enough money to earn his freedom. This book tries to lay the blame of the Civil War at the feet of militant abolitionists (claiming that the vilification of the South for being slave owners was a "disease of the public mind") and at the feet of the South's fear of a race war (the South's disease of the public mind.") The author mostly ignores the troubling aspects of one person owning another, as well as the economics of the entire thing, like how slave labor is a lot cheaper than paid labor. He claims that the North arguing from the moral high ground of not owning other people who are in fact people was unacceptable and only made things worse, despite the fact that, indeed, a person who does not own another person less morally reprehensible than a person who does own another person. Was the North perfect? No. Many northern abolitionists didn't want free black people living in their neighborhood either. And their solution, sending them to Liberia, was stupid. But to lay the Civil War at the feet of the abolitionists and one bipolar man is absurd. If you have a table with one short leg, this book would be more useful to stabilize said table than it would be to read for the purposes of enriching your mind or understanding American history.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Raymond

    Thomas Fleming continues to be my favorite popular historian (and, truth be told, one of my favorite historians period). I was first turned onto him with The New Dealer's War, and I try to read what I can of his when I can. When I saw he was taking on the Civil War, I had to request it almost immediately. I really enjoyed this because, like Fleming's other books, it takes a great point of view on an existing concept and shines a new light on it. This is less a history of the Civil War and more a Thomas Fleming continues to be my favorite popular historian (and, truth be told, one of my favorite historians period). I was first turned onto him with The New Dealer's War, and I try to read what I can of his when I can. When I saw he was taking on the Civil War, I had to request it almost immediately. I really enjoyed this because, like Fleming's other books, it takes a great point of view on an existing concept and shines a new light on it. This is less a history of the Civil War and more a long-form explanation as to how slavery was the root of the conflict. This isn't exactly a surprise to many who have studied the Civil War, to be clear, but it's one thing to simply argue that it's slavery, and another to see how the question of slavery truly infected all proceedings in America, from the beginning of our nation up until the war. It's definitely something that is diminished in the readings of the post-Revolution, pre-Civil War era. I liked the new insight into John Quincy Adams, I liked the insight into a lot of legislative dealings. I appreciate John Brown from a historical standpoint again. This is worth a quick read if you like the era or just want a slightly different history book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Fred Forbes

    Giving this a 4 star rating in recognition of the solid scholarship and easy writing style but I am a bit ambivalent about it. It indicates a "understanding of why we fought the civil war". Wasn't it primarily about slavery? Well, it turns out that 80% of the book is on that topic which tends to reaffirm my impression so nothing really earth shattering. Some interesting tidbits - New England states were the first to threaten secession, due primarily to power and political influence moving south Giving this a 4 star rating in recognition of the solid scholarship and easy writing style but I am a bit ambivalent about it. It indicates a "understanding of why we fought the civil war". Wasn't it primarily about slavery? Well, it turns out that 80% of the book is on that topic which tends to reaffirm my impression so nothing really earth shattering. Some interesting tidbits - New England states were the first to threaten secession, due primarily to power and political influence moving south to Virginia and away the "founding" states of the north. Also interesting to note that when asked, Union soldiers toward the end of the war stated their objective was not ending slavery, but preserving the union. Actually my favorite quote in light of the fact that most Confederate soldiers did not own slaves was the one, who, when asked in Georgia by a Union soldier why he was fighting answered "Because you're here!" Interesting also that even those who disliked slavery came to detest the abolitionists for their methods and agitation. Interesting information on John Brown, he who attempted to inspire slaves to rise by attacking the armory at Harper's Ferry and a "saint" to those who would abolish the "peculiar institution". Turns out the primary fear of southerners was not so much the economic loss should their slave property be freed but the fear that they would be slain in their beds due to the large number of slaves. A lot of interesting information on slave insurrections in the Caribbean which I was not aware of so if the topic of slavery in general is an interest you will probably find this book interesting and informative.

  15. 4 out of 5

    William Peynsaert

    I liked the book, as I thought it fascinating to see how an intelligent person can come up with this rather bizarre book. The three stars I bestow on this curious piece of inspired, yet flawed, scholarship, don't mean I agree with the train of thought the author presents. It's a fairly well written book, relies heavily on quotes, and presents a wide range of known and lesser known characters. The book's main thesis is that crazy, frustrated, wallowing in religious fervor, abolitionists are chief I liked the book, as I thought it fascinating to see how an intelligent person can come up with this rather bizarre book. The three stars I bestow on this curious piece of inspired, yet flawed, scholarship, don't mean I agree with the train of thought the author presents. It's a fairly well written book, relies heavily on quotes, and presents a wide range of known and lesser known characters. The book's main thesis is that crazy, frustrated, wallowing in religious fervor, abolitionists are chiefly responsible for the outbreak and the carnage of the American Civil War. He presents a rosy colored view of slavery and tries to make us believe the slave holding planter class was for the most part made up of benign masters who didn't like slavery, but sadly, didn't know how to get rid of it. He blames northern radicals for condemning slavery is such harsh terms, so that the South had no other option but to entrench and defend slavery more than they would otherwise have. His logic is flawed in many instances. Some of his arguments he seems to copy directly from some of the most vile slave owners of the era. To point to one example: he claims slave owners rarely abused their slaves sexually, since, in his opinion, there were not that many slaves of mixed blood. As if you can't sexually abuse a slave girl without impregnating her... He offers no other 'proof' than this argument to maintain that masters didn't screw around with their slaves. I give three stars because he has something sort of new to say in the vast civil war literature, even if I don't agree with half of what he claims. I do agree that southerns (slave holding AND non slave holding alike) were -as he keeps repeating- scared that emancipation of the slaves would lead to a vicious racial war. All in all he's simply too positive about slavery - at one point he goes so far as to say that slavery in a lot of cases was 'an articifial legality'. I'd like to know if there were a lot of slaves who experienced their condition as 'an artificial legality'. I also found his personal attacks on abolitionists over the top at times. I'm now reading The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South'The fall of the house of Dixie', by Bruce Levine, who will likely get 5 stars, because his arguments are much more balanced, profound and well considered. Anyone interested in the topics presented in this book, will greatly enjoy Bruce Levine's work.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay Bencick

    This book essentially claims that partisanism on the subject of slavery, and not slavery itself, was the cause of the union’s temporary dissolution. The author spends a remarkable amount of time mocking and condemning the moral indignance of the abolitionists. I would like to know how the author believes slavery would otherwise have been ended, seeing that the practice was economically and culturally inextricable from the south without bloodshed. Believing that slave holders and the planter clas This book essentially claims that partisanism on the subject of slavery, and not slavery itself, was the cause of the union’s temporary dissolution. The author spends a remarkable amount of time mocking and condemning the moral indignance of the abolitionists. I would like to know how the author believes slavery would otherwise have been ended, seeing that the practice was economically and culturally inextricable from the south without bloodshed. Believing that slave holders and the planter class would have voluntarily ended their source of wealth and prosperity is incredibly naive, especially seeing that he acknowledges all attempts at compromise before the war as failures. To be clear, I don’t completely disagree with the thesis that partisanism heightened tensions. However, historical events and figures are so deliberately cherry-picked that I can’t take this argument seriously. The author glosses over historical figures (such as the notoriously ineffective antebellum presidents) that sounds not support his argument. Nor does the author even attempt to discuss the vacuum of leadership that this centrist ineptitude created, or how these contributed to the war. And the author all but abdicates the south’s own brinksmanship by attributing their political recklessness to relatively abstract fears of a race war. While I was impressed with the first few chapters’ summary of how slavery was established in America, the book quickly devolves into a rant against abolitionism. Especially bizarre were the chapters claiming that slavery was evolving to provide slaves with greater autonomy. Is the author seriously defending any ‘merit’ of this institution? If there is any cause worth moral absolutism, it is the institution of slavery.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jay Perkins

    I have mixed feelings about this book. There is so much about the thesis that is well worth considering. On the other hand, there are a few unconventional things that he says not backed up well with good notes leaving you to guess where his point came from. Thomas Fleming, who is primarily a historian of the American Revolution, begins well by going to the root of slavery in America and the division between north and south. Why did slavery exist? What did the Founders do about the problem? The a I have mixed feelings about this book. There is so much about the thesis that is well worth considering. On the other hand, there are a few unconventional things that he says not backed up well with good notes leaving you to guess where his point came from. Thomas Fleming, who is primarily a historian of the American Revolution, begins well by going to the root of slavery in America and the division between north and south. Why did slavery exist? What did the Founders do about the problem? The answers he gives and the background information he explains is brief, concise, and well done. His broad overview includes the Founders views on the permanency of the union, the first attempt of secession at the Hartford Convention (in the north), as well as Andrew Jackson's nullification crisis. He argues that the disease in the northern mind was hatred of the southern power channeled through abolitionism. The disease in the southern mind was what Fleming called "Thomas Jefferson's Nightmare", an overwhelming fear of a race war, like what had occurred on Saint-Domingue (today Haiti). The South would not free their slaves because the believed that former owners and former slaves could not live peaceably together. Many readers will be tempted to think Fleming is too "soft" on the South, placing most of the blame on northern abolitionism. Indeed, there are times when Fleming comes across very harsh against the abolitionists, and their failure to compromise. However, this doesn't take away from his main point: A failure of north and south to understand each other, and blind sectional hatred were what spawned this awful crisis.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Glaser

    Excellent Finished this book this morning. Highly recommend, not just because Thomas Fleming is such a good writer, but because he does such a great job of showing how the rabid voices of the ignorant abolitionists and the irrational fear of a race war in the South made the WBTS inevitable https://t.co/V2WuQnA8UK Excellent Finished this book this morning. Highly recommend, not just because Thomas Fleming is such a good writer, but because he does such a great job of showing how the rabid voices of the ignorant abolitionists and the irrational fear of a race war in the South made the WBTS inevitable https://t.co/V2WuQnA8UK

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kat

    I am a huge advocate of looking at both sides of an argument instead of only focusing on the side that the victor presents. I also feel that there needs to be more awareness of the fact that deeply entrenched racism toward blacks existed throughout the entirety of the United States, not just in the slave-holding states. However, this book presents revisionist history that ignores established facts. Fleming presents slavery as not that bad, and that many slave owners were benevolent men who respe I am a huge advocate of looking at both sides of an argument instead of only focusing on the side that the victor presents. I also feel that there needs to be more awareness of the fact that deeply entrenched racism toward blacks existed throughout the entirety of the United States, not just in the slave-holding states. However, this book presents revisionist history that ignores established facts. Fleming presents slavery as not that bad, and that many slave owners were benevolent men who respected and looked up to their most trusted slaves for guidance. As you can probably guess, he only presents slavery from the white perspective. Fleming goes on to portray the entirety of the Southern population living in constant, almost paralyzing, fear of slave uprisings. While this was a legitimate fear that existed, he presents this fear as the 'disease in the public mind' that necessitated the secession of southern states that precipitated the Civil War. That's it. That is the reason he gives for the South entering the war - they were terrified for their lives should their slaves be freed. They were terrified that whites and blacks could not co-exist, unless the former owned the latter, and that if there were more free states than slave states, insurrection was imminent. Which begs the question, why were the whites so afraid, if they were all such benevolent slave masters? As for the 'disease in the public mind' in northern states, Fleming gives us the abolitionists spewing vitriol and half-truths about their poor neighbors in the south. And by poor neighbors I of course mean the white people, not the blacks. Some of his arguments have legs to stand on, but as a whole it doesn't hold up. Were all abolitionists peaceful, non-violent Quakers? No. Did some of them turn to violence or propaganda to further their message? Yes. Were some(most) of them racists themselves? Yes. Were they the evil, mustache-twirling villains portrayed in this book? No. This book is skewed to shift most of the blame for the Civil War from the south onto the north, and it's done clumsily. The only reason that I've given it two stars instead of one is because it has inspired me to study the abolitionists more closely.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Neil Ralston

    Thomas Fleming's main argument in the book is that the Civil War resulted from two cases of "disease in the public mind." One disease was the South's insistence on maintaining and spreading slavery; the other was that many Northerners viewed the South through the eyes of extremists like John Brown and William Lloyd Garrison, men who believed they were divinely inspired to rid the country of slavery even if that meant splitting the country. Fleming doesn't back away from the ghastliness of humans Thomas Fleming's main argument in the book is that the Civil War resulted from two cases of "disease in the public mind." One disease was the South's insistence on maintaining and spreading slavery; the other was that many Northerners viewed the South through the eyes of extremists like John Brown and William Lloyd Garrison, men who believed they were divinely inspired to rid the country of slavery even if that meant splitting the country. Fleming doesn't back away from the ghastliness of humans buying and selling other humans, but he spends significant ink trying to explain how Southerners often were the victims in this whole slavery thing. Among his arguments: 1) New Englanders believed they were superior to those who lived in other parts of the country, and they despised Southerners. 2) Many Northerners accepted as truth a false narrative called "The Slave Power," a belief that slave-owners were conspiring to take over the country. 3) Although most Southerners were not slave owners, they lived in almost constant fear that the slaves who lived among them would rise up and kill them. 4) The actions of many abolitionists did more harm than good in eliminating slavery because they refused to accept any moderates' proposals to gradually put an end to the horrible practice. This was the first book about the run-up to the war that I have read in some time, and it gave me a greater understanding of why Americans took up arms against their brothers and sisters. But if Fleming intended to convince readers that both sides share blame for the war in something close to equal fashion, he has failed. As the book makes clear, Southern states fervently supported slavery even after much of the rest of the world had abandoned the immoral practice. Furthermore, Southern politicians not only insisted that slavery continue in their own states; they worked to expand the vile tradition into the new states as America stretched westward. If there were indeed two diseases of the public mind as Fleming argues, the infection in the South was the one that nearly killed America.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    While my recent readings have made me more aware of slavery's divisive role in our country even from the very beginning, Fleming's book details the events, ideologies, and characters that brought the issue to the fore and precipitated the Civil War. New to me was the actual percentage of Southerners who owned slaves--6%. And even many of them, according to Fleming, realized the demeaning nature of the practice, but were reluctant to free their slaves, for that would mean the loss of their econom While my recent readings have made me more aware of slavery's divisive role in our country even from the very beginning, Fleming's book details the events, ideologies, and characters that brought the issue to the fore and precipitated the Civil War. New to me was the actual percentage of Southerners who owned slaves--6%. And even many of them, according to Fleming, realized the demeaning nature of the practice, but were reluctant to free their slaves, for that would mean the loss of their economic success. If mindsets--the distorted realities Fleming calls the disease in the public mind--could have been changed, if both sides would have been open to civil discourse and compromise, Fleming argues, slavery might have been abolished in time. But both sides were convinced of the rightness of their position and unwilling to give. Not until both experienced the horrors of war, did the preservation of the Union become more important than whether one or the other held the "right" position. In the closing chapter, Fleming engages in some "what if" musing. What if Lincoln had not been killed at the close of the war? Would his vision of forgiveness and charity toward the South have succeeded in truly uniting the two regions? Would the nation have overcome its racist attitudes and fears of a race war? Hard to know. The kinds of changes in thinking and attitude that Lincoln embraced take time and a degree of humility that few seem to embrace. I'm left with a deep sadness and longing for a visionary, humble leader of Lincoln's stature to lead us through our continuing ideological differences.

  22. 5 out of 5

    David Longo

    Thomas Fleming is great. I often go to Fleming for my Revolutionary Era needs---no one is better! Yet sometimes Fleming steps outside of his niche. The results are usually terrific. Such is the case with "A Disease in the Public Mind." Fleming is a fine stylist and a first rate historian. I actually think he's underrated. I see him every bit as equal to David McCollough and Stephen Ambrose, the two most renowned American historians of the last forty years. "A Disease in the Public Mind" serves a Thomas Fleming is great. I often go to Fleming for my Revolutionary Era needs---no one is better! Yet sometimes Fleming steps outside of his niche. The results are usually terrific. Such is the case with "A Disease in the Public Mind." Fleming is a fine stylist and a first rate historian. I actually think he's underrated. I see him every bit as equal to David McCollough and Stephen Ambrose, the two most renowned American historians of the last forty years. "A Disease in the Public Mind" serves as a chronology on slavery, abolitionism, sectionalism and the coming of the Civil War as a result thereof. It is somehow both concise yet done in fine detail. That's a difficult task. Yet Fleming has accomplished that before. "The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers" comes to mind in this regard. Fleming's work made me yearn for more learning, more research on the"peculiar institution" and the growing rift between North and South. That's what influential writers are able to do. Thumbs up, Thomas Fleming.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Fleming's 'new understanding of why we fought the Civil War' is essentially that the American South feared a race war once the slaves were emancipated. He cites the bloody history of Haiti and the Nat Turner rebellion in Virginia as the main events that caused the South to fear such a war and to fight so valiantly against the North. The book is essentially a history of slavery in the United States rather than a close examination of this 'new' way of looking at the Civil War. That being said, I f Fleming's 'new understanding of why we fought the Civil War' is essentially that the American South feared a race war once the slaves were emancipated. He cites the bloody history of Haiti and the Nat Turner rebellion in Virginia as the main events that caused the South to fear such a war and to fight so valiantly against the North. The book is essentially a history of slavery in the United States rather than a close examination of this 'new' way of looking at the Civil War. That being said, I found this book completely engrossing and could not help but think of the current state of race relations in the US as I read it. My take on the main theme of this book is that we only have the founding fathers to blame for the racially charged times we continue to experience in 2016. This is a mournful book indeed.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Chelinda

    Only a person with a diseased mind would portray William Lloyd Garrison as a vicious villain, abolitionists as rabid wolves, and Southern separatists as reasonable people. Originally I thought the "disease" was going to be the acceptance of the kind of slavery we had in our nation, an entire group of persons enslaved based on their skin color. A feat never thought of before in history. However, this read was not a total loss as he did supply some good historical facts and ideas that got me think Only a person with a diseased mind would portray William Lloyd Garrison as a vicious villain, abolitionists as rabid wolves, and Southern separatists as reasonable people. Originally I thought the "disease" was going to be the acceptance of the kind of slavery we had in our nation, an entire group of persons enslaved based on their skin color. A feat never thought of before in history. However, this read was not a total loss as he did supply some good historical facts and ideas that got me thinking on lines of thought that had not occurred to me before. Thus I cannot totally hate this book as complete rubbish.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I have only gotten through half of this book. He is a difficult author to read. Dull, dry, hard to remain focused on the page at times... He has some interesting points that illuminated the issues of the time for me, and the complexities of it all leading up to the civil war, but he also seems to over state his case and paradoxically ends up oversimplifying the issues. I'm not all that interested in this topic anyway, so I will put it aside for now since it feels like a chore to finish, and I do I have only gotten through half of this book. He is a difficult author to read. Dull, dry, hard to remain focused on the page at times... He has some interesting points that illuminated the issues of the time for me, and the complexities of it all leading up to the civil war, but he also seems to over state his case and paradoxically ends up oversimplifying the issues. I'm not all that interested in this topic anyway, so I will put it aside for now since it feels like a chore to finish, and I don't fully trust his scholarship.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Completely bonkers history of the antebellum build up to the Civil War. Apparently the crazed abolitionists were at fault. The authors places some blame on the Southern fear of a violent slave insurrection but that is only after a few chapters of explaining Caribbean slave insurrections in sensationalist terms and graphic detail. A book that made me angrier as I read. The authors complete lack of empathy for the enslaved was hard to comprehend. It was like watching a bad movie I had to get to th Completely bonkers history of the antebellum build up to the Civil War. Apparently the crazed abolitionists were at fault. The authors places some blame on the Southern fear of a violent slave insurrection but that is only after a few chapters of explaining Caribbean slave insurrections in sensationalist terms and graphic detail. A book that made me angrier as I read. The authors complete lack of empathy for the enslaved was hard to comprehend. It was like watching a bad movie I had to get to the end just see what insane theories were coming next.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Stimson

    Fleming's revisionist history contains some enlightening analysis of how the antebellum sections demonized each other using exaggerations and straw-men. However, his treatment of the slave issue is maddening. According to Fleming, slavery wasn't ALL bad for the slaves because some achieved career advancement or were rewarded for their ingenuity. Take a look at Baptist's The Half has Never Been Told, to get a better story of the terror and indignities suffered by the slaves. Fleming's revisionist history contains some enlightening analysis of how the antebellum sections demonized each other using exaggerations and straw-men. However, his treatment of the slave issue is maddening. According to Fleming, slavery wasn't ALL bad for the slaves because some achieved career advancement or were rewarded for their ingenuity. Take a look at Baptist's The Half has Never Been Told, to get a better story of the terror and indignities suffered by the slaves.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mark Peebler

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. In this book about the mindset of the people of the Old Republic (The American Antebellum Era), Thomas J. Fleming does a decent job of spreading the blame for disunion. The all-states-rights people won’t like it any more than the all-slavery people will, but it is filled with quotes and facts that shouldn’t be ignored. Unfortunately, some areas of the book are lacking; for instance, the two vague and cursory paragraphs devoted to the Texas Revolution in Chapter 15, which is all about Texas, lea In this book about the mindset of the people of the Old Republic (The American Antebellum Era), Thomas J. Fleming does a decent job of spreading the blame for disunion. The all-states-rights people won’t like it any more than the all-slavery people will, but it is filled with quotes and facts that shouldn’t be ignored. Unfortunately, some areas of the book are lacking; for instance, the two vague and cursory paragraphs devoted to the Texas Revolution in Chapter 15, which is all about Texas, leave much to be desired. They imply that the Texians revolted against a “one-legged dictator” in 1835, when in fact, Santa Anna lost his leg fighting the French in 1838 or two years after the Texas Revolution. From these paragraphs, one could easily infer that all of those slaughtered by Santa Anna were “wounded captives” from the Alamo, completely ignoring the 400 plus men under Colonel Fannin’s command who surrendered and were massacred on Palm Sunday at Goliad. Another area glazed over by Mr. Fleming concerns protective tariffs. The question about protective tariffs, which had been swirling around Congress for decades, is only mentioned once when writing about the crisis surrounding the 1828 “Tariff of Abominations” in Chapter 9. In this only paragraph devoted to protective tariffs, he would have us believe that these high taxes (tariffs on goods predominately manufactured in the North and used in the South) were “needed” for a system of internal improvements that everyone (implied) wanted except for the State of South Carolina. The desire for higher taxes and internal improvements became known as Henry Clay’s American System, and practically became canonized as part of the Whig Party platform, which was soundly defeated time and time again at the polls. In fact, the Whigs turned Republicans never gained power until the Democrat Party split over other issues in 1860. There never was a Whig/Republican majority until the Southern Democrats left the Union in 1861. His treatment of the Protective Tariff Question is at best superficial and misleading. I do wish the author had touched upon the differences in the Southern mindset also, for example the Virginia view of the Constitution versus that of the view by South Carolina. In other areas, Fleming does a great job introducing the reader to the Second Great Awakening, a spiritual movement, especially the mindset in New England, whereby a man or woman had to prove their conversion through good works. The impact on the abolitionists from this movement cannot be under stated. He goes on to write about the Burned Over District in Western New York (where Yankees from New England had basically invaded and overrun the locals). I am reminded how the great American writer, James Fenimore Cooper, had his own run-in with these ultra-liberal radicals when they invaded his hometown of Cooperstown, New York. In their zeal to make it to heaven, these busybody do-gooders took up various banners across Western New York and the Old Northwest (Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio), assailing Roman Catholicism, Freemasonry, and especially slavery. The author also exposes in detail the murderous exploits of John Brown and the so-called “Emigrant Aid Company” sent to Kansas with Sharps rifles to ensure the proper outcome of the “popular sovereignty” called for in the Kansas-Nebraska Act. He also shows how having escaped federal authorities in Kansas, Brown returned to New England to be supported, honored, and highly esteemed by Boston elites such as Emerson and Thoreau, who like Garrison, had publicly burned copies of the U.S. Constitution when they didn’t get their way. The slavery question is viewed from every side in quite some detail, including the brutality perpetrated upon many slaves. The congressional compromises of 1820 and 1850 along with the Nullification Crisis of 1832 are basically shown for what they were; politicians kicking the can down the street for another generation to clean up. Nothing striking comes from these events, but the revolution in Haiti and its murderous aftermath are shown to have impacted the Southern mindset very deeply. The few “Haiti” style slave revolts that were planned and thwarted terrified the South, and unfortunately came at a time when abolitionist agitation in the South was reaching its peak. While a significantly growing number of people in the South desired some form of eventual emancipation, they ran into unrealistic demands from the abolitionists for immediate emancipation. In light of the aforementioned revolts, Southerners realized that they had a tiger by the tale; not one they were especially fond to hold onto, but too deadly to let go. Fleming shows how this unfortunate timing along with the impact of the recent increase in the profitability of growing large amounts of cotton, moved the Deep South further away from eventual emancipation. In total, this is a good book that has much useful information to offer. While this book would not be bad for the beginner, it can be much better appreciated by someone who has a working knowledge of the following areas: The American Whig Party (predecessor to the Republican Party), The American System, Protective Tariffs, The Second Great Awakening, The Burned-Over District, and the biographies of the leading antebellum politicians.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ailith Twinning

    -

  30. 5 out of 5

    Charlene Mathe

    Thomas Fleming published this book in 2013--two years before Donald Trump became a candidate for the 2016 presidential election. "A disease in the public mind" is a concept he explores in depth, in relationship to the Civil War; but he identifies it in other periods, such as the Salem witch trials, prohibition, and McCarthyism. To these eras in American history, we can now add the current "Trump Derangement Syndrome." "No one has described this public frenzy better than the great New England nov Thomas Fleming published this book in 2013--two years before Donald Trump became a candidate for the 2016 presidential election. "A disease in the public mind" is a concept he explores in depth, in relationship to the Civil War; but he identifies it in other periods, such as the Salem witch trials, prohibition, and McCarthyism. To these eras in American history, we can now add the current "Trump Derangement Syndrome." "No one has described this public frenzy better than the great New England novelist, Nathaniel Hawthorne. 'That terrible delusion... should teach us, among its other morals, that the influential classes... are fully liable to all the passionate error that has ever characterized the maddest mob. Clergymen, judges, statesmen--the wisest, calmest, holiest persons of their day, stood in the inner circle roundabout the gallows, loudest to acclaim the work of blood, latest to confess themselves miserably deceived.'" (p.xii) Fleming originally came to this phrase in studying John Brown's 1859 raid at Harpers Ferry. Then President James Buchanan analyzed the cause as "an incurable disease in the public mind." p.xi "The phrase implies fixed beliefs that are fundamental to the way people participate in the world of their time ...that seizes control of thousands and even millions of minds." p.xii "Analyzing these false beliefs," Fleming wrote, "gave me additional insights into how a disease in the public mind works its dark will on the world It is backed by politicians and other prominent leaders, and often by a media apparatus--newspapers, pamphlets, books, magazine articles, and in the twentieth century, television, radio, and film--that reinforces the disease with massive repetition. At least as important are hate-filled verbal denunciations of real or supposed opponents." p.xiii Fleming uses the Civil War as a case study in the phenomena, ascribing to the South a public panic that should slaves be emancipated, they would rampage and slaughter throughout the Antebellum as they did (under totally different circumstances) in Haiti. And to the North he ascribes a moral zealotry that imprudently demanded immediate emancipation of slaves, based not merely in concern for the slaves but in a general contempt for the South. There were mediating strategies in play; but they were marginalized by the absolutist and politicized positions of the abolitionists and the secessionists that drove the nation into Civil War, and spoiled Reconstruction following the war. Indeed, the "disease in the public mind" respecting equality under the law, full civic participation, human dignity and giftedness of all races was not completely resolved by the Civil War. The genius of President Lincoln "with charity toward all," to bind up nation's wounded was frustrated by "the Resistance" movement of the South. There is great profit to revisiting the Civil War with these concepts of public hysteria, fixed judgments, and inflated virtue in mind. Those are the labels I would assign to Fleming's "disease in the public mind." I felt it was the one shortcoming in the book that the "disease" was not analyzed any further. He labels them--abolitionism and fear of race war (p.272)--but he does not drill down to the social vulnerabilities, prophylactic measures, and treatments we need to understand to conserve a healthy and civil society. One feature Fleming does not state explicitly but for me emerges from reading his history is Patience. "Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? ...Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time [to] think calmly and well upon this whole subject." (Lincoln to Secretary Seward, p.264).

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