THE SCORPION'S STING by James Oakes

THE SCORPION'S STING

Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Addresses Oakes (Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865, 2012, etc.) delivered for the Walter Lynwood Fleming Lectures at Louisiana State University are the basis for this book about the attempts to eliminate slavery while avoiding war in the United States.

The metaphor of the scorpion stinging itself to death when surrounded by fire was widely used, but that doesn’t bear repeating it quite so frequently. A good deal of this book is unnecessarily repetitious but still worth the read. Abolitionists felt that surrounding the slave states with a cordon of free states would destroy slavery. Since the Constitution forbade federal interference in state policies such as slavery, no one ever stated that the Civil War was fought over slavery; it was fought to prevent its expansion into the free territories. The author ably explores the history of the basic difference between the abolitionists and pro-slavers: the view that slaves are mere items of property. All sides accepted the fact of military emancipation under which freedom was promised to slaves who would change loyalties. During the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Seminole Wars and the Civil War, it was accepted that the laws of war entitled belligerents to free slaves. The question was: What was allowed by the treaty that ended each war? The Treaty of Paris of 1783 contained an article requiring the English not to carry away “Negroes or other property.” The debate revolved around the fact that the “property to be returned” after the conflict included slaves who had been granted freedom. To return slaves “still on shore” for re-enslavement was considered unacceptable, but demands for compensation were still debated years afterward.

A wordy yet interesting book that clearly shows the deep divisions that were the real causes of the Civil War.

Pub Date: May 19th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-393-23993-5
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2014




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