by Eric Foner ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 1, 1980
Although CCNY historian Foner's most recent book is on Tom Paine, his earlier professional reputation was made with Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, about the pre-Civil War Republicans, and the Civil War remains his primary historical focus. This collection of essays spans the years 1965 to 1980, and, in contrast to much current social history, Foner does not shy away from tackling big questions. The first essay, for example, reassesses the causes of the War; to Foner, it did not originate in an iron law of development in which the industrializing north had to put down the antiquated south, but in a struggle by different types of social systems to preserve their ways of life--the Union being no less conservative than the Confederacy. Both sides lost, in Foner's view, because the War ushered in a new phase of industrial capitalism which destroyed both of the established ways. Foner constantly returns to what he regards as a critical aspect of the northern self-consciousness; namely, the belief that freedom meant the autonomous individual self-sufficient on the land. In an essay on abolitionism and the labor movement, he notes that the abolitionist idea of freedom was importantly different, concentrating on the simple absence of slavery--the free individual, period. Foner's emphasis on the various forms of freedom that made up the republican ideology leads him to link up the anti-slavery movement with the simultaneous creation of a free labor market, a market strenuously opposed after the War by those who, like the Knights of Labor, clung to the older notion of self-sufficiency. The nuanced attention to ideology and its transformations pays off in restoring the ambiguities of real history while providing a path through them. Together with the essays of Kenneth Stampp (The Imperiled Union, p. 500), Foner's collection provides a handy entrÃ‰e into some of the best ""old style"" narrative political history of the period.
Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1980
Page Count: -
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1980
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