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Causes of the Civil War Books

Leonard L. Richards, The Slave Power: The Free North and Southern Domination, 1780-1860 (2000)

A well-researched, straightforward explanation of antebellum politics, particularly the northern belief in a "Slave Power" conspiracy. An excellent and important book.

Leon F. Litwack, North of Slavery; the Negro in the Free States, 1790-1860 (1961)

By demonstrating the depths of racism in the North, historian Leon Litwack suggests that it would be absurd to conclude that northerners, by and large, sympathized with the abolitionist cause and went to war to free black slaves. That simply wasn't the case. A very readable, provocative, and surprising account of pre-Civil War America.

David Potter, "The Impending Crisis: 1848-1861," ()

Potter's famous Civil War pre-history begins with the end of the Mexican-American War and the Wilmot Proviso. These developments, Potter explains, plunged the nation into years of sectional debate that erupted at various times and places, and ultimately in 1861, in secession.

Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (1970)

Historian Eric Foner explains that free labor ideology, adopted by the Republican Party in the late 1950s, judged free labor as inherently better than slave labor for the economy; only with the promise of wages would workers be motivated to produce. In this way, Republicans could vehemently oppose slavery without concerning themselves with the plight of black slaves. He argues, then, that slavery was in fact central to Civil War causation, but race was not. An important read!

Paul Finkelman, ed., Defending Slavery: Slavery Thought in the Old South, A Brief History with Documents (2003)

How did American southerners justify an institution that by the early nineteenth century had been abolished by nearly every state in the North? Read how prominent politicians, statesmen, religious leaders, planters, and legal scholars argued for the protection and expansion of slavery. You may be surprised by the many varieties of proslavery thought that existed prior to the Civil War.

Michael P. Johnson, ed., Abraham Lincoln, Slavery, and the Civil War: Selected Writings and Speeches (2001)

This primary source collection contains dozens and dozens of Abraham Lincoln's speeches and writings, including his Kansas-Nebraska speech, his debates with Stephen Douglas in the Illinois Senate race, and poignant presidential campaign speeches. This is a vital text for anyone seeking to understand the complexities of Lincoln's thoughts on slavery, secession, civil war, and emancipation.

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