Connie Chastain review of SALW

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slavery lincoln civil war

Connie Chastain – A unique look at slavery in relation to the war of 1861. Reviewed in the United States on May 16, 2022.

What can be said about Abraham Lincoln, American slavery, and the war waged to end it that hasn’t already been said? The war is one of the most written about subjects in history. But Spencer Gantt’s slim volume — less than 200 pages — packs a double wallop; the sheer volume of well-indexed information and the depths of emotional content that is difficult for most Americans to conceptualize. 

In the six generations since the War Between the States, the war and its effects on the Southern people have been downplayed, and both Lincoln and the USA have been sugar-coated. Mr. Gantt’s view of slavery starts from the universal — slavery worldwide to the specific incarnation of slavery in North America, broken down by regions and states; and chronologically, from ancient times to the 20th century with the American Civil War as the focus. People who think American slavery was the harshest ever practiced will get an unpleasant and disturbing surprise at the treatment of slaves in other times and places. 

This approach is a thread in Mr. Gantt’s tapestry that pulls it all together and we see the whole canvas as it is not often seen. The thread extends beyond the battlefield and well beyond Appomattox and demonstrates what Lincoln’s government thought about Southerners — and how it treated them. The world has heard repeatedly that the Southern states seceded to preserve the right of white people to own black people. It has been heard that Confederates committed treason by seceding from the union and fighting to tear the USA apart. People are also told that Lincoln was a great patriot and leader whose sole concern was the preservation of the union, and other than that, some historians don’t examine his motivations very closely. The man with the moniker “The Great Emancipator” put quite a number of things before and above freedom for slaves. 

Mr. Gantt’s broad approach demonstrates what parts of the USA’s history are overplayed, and what is downplayed, giving Americans and the world a lop-sided and contorted view of history. The author’s book helps to correct some of the contortions; hopefully, it will stir readers to continue unpacking the hackneyed history too many generations have unquestioningly accepted.

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