How the South Won the Civil War:
Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America
Heather Cox Richardson
Heather Cox Richardson is a History Professor at Boston College and teaches courses on the civil war, reconstruction, the American west and the plains Indians. She has written six books. In How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America Richardson gives us the history we should have learned in grammar school but didn't and then shows us how this history carries forward to the present. She explains how a country founded on the principles that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" could limit the self evident truths to propertied white men and build a nation founded on slavery and the belief that Blacks, Mexicans, Native Americans and women were inferior and inhuman. The Founders' principle of equality depended on inequality. The constitution guaranteed that wealthy southern slaveholders would control the government. She shows us how after the civil war the south undermined any attempts at equality and ushered in the Jim Crow era that eroded and took away the new found freedoms of the "emancipated" former slaves and reestablished the former oligarchy that dominated the Antebellum South. Richardson develops the rise of oligarchy in the west and underlines its importance in perpetuating the the domination of Black Americans, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, Chinese Americans and women. Reconstruction gave birth to the !merican cowboy myth of the self-made hardworking white man. Richardson provides a long list of laws such as the Chinese Exclusion Act that made racial discrimination part of national law. Richardson shows how the West and South joined forces to thwart any efforts to advance civil rights and the rights of women. She draws many parallels between the western industries and the extractive cotton industry of the South. The territorial years of the post war West amplified the power of a few white men. Richardson describes how the Western oligarchs - like their Southern partners - came to view average Americans as weaklings in search of a hand out. Like their Southern counterparts, the Western Oligarchs came to believe that democracy could only work if it was restricted to rich white men. She carries these themes into the modern era where the republican party consolidated its gains through race baiting, gerrymandering an restricting the right to vote. This must read book should be assigned to every high school student to read before they graduate. Every !merican should read this book to understand the country we live in.
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