Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War by Marc Egnal, Hill and Wang '09, $30, 416 pages, ISBN #080909536X. Index, source notes, no bibliography, b&w images (largely maps) sprinkled through text.
In the wake of the American presidential election of 1856, the nascent Republican Party came to realize that in a pluralistic nation, it couldn't win with a one-issue candidate, particularly if that issue were slavery. By the eve of the 1860 nominating convention, New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley presciently observed, an "Anti-Slavery man per se cannot be elected; but a Tariff, River-and-harbor, Pacific Railroad, Free-Homestead man, may succeed although he is Anti-Slavery."
Abe Lincoln was such a man, and his victory taught the Party and Lincoln a valuable lesson, one that would help in the prosecution of the Civil War. It is the importance of such non-slavery, economic growth issues that is the subject of Marc Egnal's enlightening new book.
Viewed from the perspective of either slavery or the economy, Egnal makes clear that the Civil War was not as simple as North vs. South. He analyzes the history and culture of the Deep South, Northern South, Border states, and the North, each of which reacted differently to the challenges the war posed. The greatest breach, of course, came between the North and the Deep South -- hence the title Clash of Extremes.
Egnal limns the origins of the war and the war itself against a backdrop of unprecedented economic change, driven largely by industrialization (largely in the North) and a revolution in transportation, with the advent of the Erie Canal and, soon thereafter, railroads. So while the North and South worked well in trade and production before 1850, the rise of a Great Lakes economy after 1850 severed that tie, leaving the North to work primarily along east-west lines.
Egnal's book is designed for those who wish to broaden their understanding of the origins, execution, and implications of the Civil War. Egnal teaches history at York University and has authored several books, largely on American historical issues.