At the Precipice: Americans North and South During the Secession Crisis

 by Shearer Davis Bowman, University of North Carolina Press

“We rely on the Bible as authority for the establishment of slavery among men,” Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi wrote in 1849, “and on the Constitution for its recognition throughout the United States.” That single sentence, according to the late Shearer Davis Bowman, “seems a condensation of the basic ideological differences between proslavery southerners and antislavery northerners.”

But as anyone who reads At the Precipice will discover, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Bowman’s book is a tough but rewarding read that provides a detailed account of what a wide spectrum of individuals—some famous and others virtually unknown—believed was happening to their beloved republic in the final years before the war.

Bowman mined a cornucopia of accounts on the secessionist movement, both primary and secondary sources, and scrupulously synthesized their content. From his analysis, he molded a “coherent and accessible interpretation of Americans north and south during the secession crisis.”

The respective sides, Bowman points out, clearly had very different interpretations of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. They eventually came to blows over what each believed was the best way to preserve their interests, rights and honor.


Originally published in the February 2011 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here