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Book Review

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Reviews in History


University of London, Institute of Historical Research

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Historians have been fighting about the causes and effects of the Civil War since they were using quill pens, and they figure to keep doing so until long after the laptop computer on which this is written has become an antique. Now Adam I. P. Smith, a scholar of mid-19th-century America and especially its political culture, has joined the battle to argue that one of the dominant impulses and attitudes associated with the years leading up and including the American Civil War was conservatism. As the conflicting interpretations of the era suggest, that may be the case, but the reforms and reformers before the war and the important ways in which the war changed the United States make the argument seem debatable on its face. Nonetheless, his argument that a conservative polity enacted significant reform reflects the contradictions of Americans and their history. Although he clearly reflects the influence of earlier generations of scholars (who he mercifully engages with more in the footnotes than in the text), Smith also offers a smart and different interpretation of the era that gives those who study the period, and American history more broadly, a great deal to think and argue about.


American Politics | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | United States History

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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