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How the South Won the Civil War

Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America

Heather Cox Richardson

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Oxford University Press
01 May 2020
Named one of The Washington Post's 50 Notable Works of NonfictionWhile the North prevailed in the Civil War, ending slavery and giving the country a new birth of freedom, Heather Cox Richardson argues in this provocative work that democracy's blood-soaked victory was ephemeral. The system that had sustained the defeated South moved westward and there established a foothold. It was a natural fit. Settlers from the East had for decades been pushing into the West, where the seizure of Mexican lands at the end of the Mexican-American War and treatment of Native Americans cemented racial hierarchies. The South and West equally depended on extractive industries-cotton in the former and mining, cattle, and oil in the latter-giving rise a new birth of white male oligarchy, despite the guarantees provided by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and the economic opportunities afforded by expansion. To reveal why this happened, How the South Won the Civil War traces the story of the American paradox, the competing claims of equality and subordination woven into the nation's fabric and identity. At the nation's founding, it was the Eastern yeoman farmer who galvanized and symbolized the American Revolution. After the Civil War, that mantle was assumed by the Western cowboy, singlehandedly defending his land against barbarians and savages as well as from a rapacious government. New states entered the Union in the late nineteenth century and western and southern leaders found yet more common ground. As resources and people streamed into the West during the New Deal and World War II, the region's influence grew. Movement Conservatives, led by westerners Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan, claimed to embody cowboy individualism and worked with Dixiecrats to embrace the ideology of the Confederacy.

Richardson's searing book seizes upon the soul of the country and its ongoing struggle to provide equal opportunity to all. Debunking the myth that the Civil War released the nation from the grip of oligarchy, expunging the sins of the Founding, it reveals how and why the Old South not only survived in the West, but thrived.
By:  
Imprint:   Oxford University Press
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 237mm,  Width: 163mm,  Spine: 28mm
Weight:   492g
ISBN:   9780190900908
ISBN 10:   0190900903
Pages:   256
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Heather Cox Richardson is Professor of History at Boston College. Her previous works include West from Appomattox and To Make Men Free.

Reviews for How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America

A timely and vivid account of America's enduring struggle between democratic ideals and oligarchical demands -- from a stellar historian. The themes are broad and the implications mighty, but this isn't history from on high. Richardson uses a human lens to tell her tale, revealing the passions and power-plays that have sustained this battle for dominance. The end result is something rare and invaluable: a skilled work of history, deeply grounded in the past, that speaks loudly, clearly, and crucially to the present. -- Joanne Freeman, Yale University, author of The Field Of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War A thought-provoking study of the centuries-spanning battle between oligarchy and equality in America. --Kirkus


  • Winner of Winner, Robert M. Utley Prize, Western History Association Named one of The Washington Post's 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction.

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