Cover image for Roots of secession : slavery and politics in antebellum Virginia
Roots of secession : slavery and politics in antebellum Virginia
Link, William A.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xvii, 387 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm.
A slave society : Virginia in the 1850s -- Boastful and belligerent champions of southern institutions : slavery and politics, 1851-1854 -- A uniform spirit of lawlessness : the problem of runaways -- A spirit of license in the guise of liberty : the survival of opposition, 1854-1856 -- The darkest and most perilous hours of our national existence : the deepening sectional crisis, 1856-1859 -- A black demon of fanaticism : Harpers Ferry and the election of 1860 -- To light the torch of servile insurrection : the secession crisis.
Reading Level:
1690 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E445.V8 L56 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Offering a provocative new look at the politics of secession in antebellum Virginia, William Link places African Americans at the center of events and argues that their acts of defiance and rebellion had powerful political repercussions throughout the turbulent period leading up to the Civil War.

An upper South state with nearly half a million slaves--more than any other state in the nation--and some 50,000 free blacks, Virginia witnessed a uniquely volatile convergence of slave resistance and electoral politics in the 1850s. While masters struggled with slaves, disunionists sought to join a regionwide effort to secede and moderates sought to protect slavery but remain in the Union. Arguing for a definition of political action that extends beyond the electoral sphere, Link shows that the coming of the Civil War was directly connected to Virginia's system of slavery, as the tension between defiant slaves and anxious slaveholders energized Virginia politics and spurred on the impending sectional crisis.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

In recent years the favorite theme of white southerners who revere the cause of the Confederacy is that the South fought the war of 1861-1865 not so much to preserve slavery, but to defend states rights. That line of argument is nonsense, say most historians. This book demonstrates conclusively that Virginia seceded because, after a decade of bitter and growing agitation over slavery, it no longer felt safe in the Union. Link (Univ. of North Carolina at Greensboro) confines his narrative to the 1850s. He describes well the ways in which the issue of slavery first permeated the debates in the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1850-1851 and later dominated the politics of that decade. He correctly gives much emphasis to John Brown's raid of 1859, to the presidential campaign of 1860, and to Abraham Lincoln's call for troops in April 1861. Two of his most interesting chapters describe Virginia in the 1850s and the growing defiance and lawlessness of slaves. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. J. Z. Rabun emeritus, Emory University

Table of Contents

Illustrations and Maps
To Make Ourselves Slaves, That You May Defend Yours
Slavery and Constitutional Reform
1 A Slave Society: Virginia in the 1850s
2 Boastful and Belligerent Champions of Southern Institutions: Slavery and Politics, 1851-1854
3 A Uniform Spirit of Lawlessness: The Problem of Runaways
4 A Spirit of License in the Guise of Liberty: The Survival of Opposition, 1854-1856
5 The Darkest and Most Perilous Hours of Our National Existence: The Deepening Sectional Crisis, 1856-1859
6 A Black Demon of Fanaticism: Harpers Ferry and the Election ofp. 1860
7 To Light the Torch of Servile Insurrection: The Secession Crisis Epilogue. The Rending of Virginia