Book Review for ?Apostles of Disunion
Professor Slaght, History 17
May 7th, 2018
In the book, ?Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of
the Civil War ?, the author, Charles B. Dew creates a thorough argument of what led to the Civil
War through the use of sources such as speeches and writings of the leaders of the Southern
secession movement. In Dew’s introduction he writes, “I believe deeply that the story these
documents tell is one that all of us, northerners and southerners, black and white, need to
confront as we try to understand our past and move toward a future in which a fuller
commitment to decency and racial justice will be part of our shared experience.” Throughout the 1
book, Dew analyzes these sources and develops the argument of the most debated issue of the
Civil War, ?if slavery or states’ rights lead to the Civil War.
In Chapter 1, Dew focuses on the words that the commissioners spoke at important
conventions to show the cause of the Civil War. These speeches that are included focus solely on
slavery and the racial inequality amongst blacks and whites. He writes that ” ?explanations the
commissioners offered and the arguments the commissioners made, in short, provide us with
extraordinary insight into the secession of the lower South in 1860-1861 ?.” Even though Dew 2
does not fully analyze every speech of each commissioner, the variety of each them makes it
clear to us that racism and slavery played a huge part in leading to the Civil War.
The second chapter, titled “The First Wave” depicts the commissioners and their
individual role to “advance the cause of secession wherever he went.” Dew focuses on 3
Mississippi’s Commissioner William L. Harris. Harris stated, “‘Our fathers made this a
government for the white man, rejecting the negro, as an ignorant, inferior, barbarian race,
1 C harle s B . D ew , ?Apostle s o f D is u nio n: S outh ern S ecess io n C om mis sio ners a nd t h e C ause s o f
t h e C iv il W ar ? ( C harlo tte sv ille : U niv ers ity o f V ir g in ia P re ss, 2 001), 3 .
2 I b id ., 2 1.
3 I b id ., 2 3.
incapable of self-government, and not, therefore, entitled to be associated with the white man
upon terms of civil, political, or social equality.” Including this diction from Harris, Dew 4
implies a point that the motivation for secession is through slavery and racism.
In the third chapter, Dew addresses South Carolina, who was the first state to secede from
the Union. The two-hour convention on December 20, 1860, South Carolina became “‘an
Independent Commonwealth.'” Dew also mentions South Carolina’s commissioner, Andrew 5
Calhoun, travelling to Alabama. This leads to chapter four, in which we learn that following the
secession of South Carolina, “seven deep South states had left the Union.” Alabama created a 6
mission to spread to Kentucky, but ended in failure with Kentucky “refusing to follow the path
of secession.” Dew includes from a speech of Alabama’s Congressman, that the sinfulness of 7
slavery is in the “Northern conscience” that has corrupted the “Northern heart.” Dew is showing 8
that the North and South had different views on slavery, which is a cause attributing to the war.
Dew continues the fifth chapter in explaining the importance for the Confederacy of
gaining Virginia to secede from the Union because of it being the “birthplace of the Founding
Fathers.” Three commissioners, all with different views came to speak to Virginia. In the end 9
Virginia did not fall on the side of the Confederacy and this lead to the firing on Fort Sumter and
Lincoln’s call for troops. Dew concludes in this chapter that the three commissioners “had tried 10
to make it become — a force for disunion and an agent of the state’s secession.” 11
4 I b id ., 2 9.
5 I b id ., 3 7.
6 I b id ., 5 1.
7 I b id ., 5 5.
8 I b id ., 5 7.
9 I b id ., 5 9.
10 I b id ., 7 3.
11 I b id .
His final chapter of the book, “Conclusion: Apostles of Disunion, Apostles of Racism”
wrapped up his argument. The threats were racial equality, race war, and racial amalgamation
and disunion was argued to be the only way to save the white race. Through the use of several
speeches and letters from the secession advocates, Dew supports his argument that it was not
slavery nor states’ rights that led to the coming of the Civil War, yet they were “critical
elements” in leading to it. 12
12 I b id ., 8 1.
Dew, Charles B. ?Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the
Civil War ?. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2001.