The Confederate Republic: A Revolution Against Politics, By George C. Rable. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994, 1-302.
In The Confederate Republic, George C. Rable gives an overview of how the Confederacy functioned politically. Before the Civil War commenced, Southerners were members of either the Whig or Democrat parties. After secession, Southerners formed the Confederate States of America. Confederates proclaimed that they created a unified nation, and they sought to do away with their former party allegiances. Rable argues that the Confederacy sought to mirror the politics of early America. The Framers of the American Constitution believed that parties were the bane of any society. The Confederates believed that their nation aligned with the Founders intentions, while the Union had become corrupt. Southerners contended that their nation expressed a true form of republicanism. Rable notes that Confederates expressed republicanism as freedom for white males and the ability to possess slaves (1-302).
In forming the Confederacy, Southerners established their own constitution. This constitution allowed Southerners to form a bicameral congress and created an executive branch. According to Rable, “The Confederacy’s founding fathers initially had few qualms about creating a powerful presidency…. The possibility of war … influenced their thinking, but antebellum political … experience … affected their decisions. [They] agreed that the president should not be a party leader but instead should stand as a patriot rallying the people…” (59). The Confederacy’s constitution also defended the institution of slavery. Confederates contended that they understood republicanism better than Northerners. For the South, republicanism meant that government did not infringe on the liberties of whites. Southerners’ version of republicanism also endorsed the enslavement of blacks by whites (1-287).
Before the war, the Southerners voted as Whigs or Democrats. With the formation of the Confederacy, parties were no longer seen as beneficial to society. According to Rable, Southerners believed that “[c]ampaigning, stump speeches, patronage, and demagoguery had seriously weakened the Union, nearly destroyed public virtue, and fatally alienated the sections” (63). Confederates looked to create a purer form of politics. Instead of allowing political parties to dominate, Southerners wanted to select candidates and to hold elections with the least amount of commotion. Because Confederates discouraged the formation of political parties, many elections only had one candidate. Southerners believed that these forms of elections would demonstrate to the Union that they had formed a unified country. Rable notes that many people did not vote, because they believed that their votes did not matter. Although there were no Whig and Democrat parties in the Confederacy, some voters chose candidates based on their former ties to partisanship (17-235).
In many ways, the Confederacy attempted to duplicate the Revolutionary War. On the Confederate seal was a depiction of George Washington. Confederates compared Davis to Washington. Davis even gave his inaugural speech on Washington’s birthday (23-252). Confederates believed that the Framers of the American Constitution were virtuous and had sought to create a moral form of government. Southerners hoped that their government and leaders would parallel that earlier period. Confederates believed that abolitionists and Abraham Lincoln brought corruption to the Union (64-252).
Southerners maintained that for a republican society to exist it must permit slavery to be present. With Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Southerners realized that their society was in grave danger. The Union’s victory brought an end to the war and to slavery. Rable’s The Confederate Republic shows how the Confederacy hoped to function. As a nation, they sought to do away with parties and vice. They believed that they could create a republican nation and still allow whites to own slaves (1-302). Unlike Joel H. Silbey, who shows that the 19th century was a period that had high voter turnout, Rable notes that unopposed elections kept Confederate voters in their homes on their farms.
Andrea Ondruch Texas Christian University
Republic: A Revolution Against Politics. By George C. Rable. (Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 416 p.
view among historians and civil war buffs alike is that the lack of a two-party
political system was a detriment to the Confederate States of America.
In his book The Confederate Republic, George Rable contends that
the fact that the Confederacy had no discernable political parties was actually
a strength of the fledgling nation. The
author believes that the “revolution against politics” reflected an ongoing
battle fought between competing political cultures.
Rable chronicles the efforts of the Confederates to create a republic and
a political society in their view that continued to follow the path that the
“Founding Fathers” of the American Revolution laid out almost a century
earlier. Well written and
interesting, Rable’s work provides a new interpretation to the notion that the
absence of a formal party system in the Confederacy hindered its efforts at war
states that the “book will explore Confederate political culture in its own
right rather than as a reflection of the problematic character of Southern
nationalism or as a possible factor in Confederate defeat.” (1)
In doing so, Rable’s emphasis is on the values, beliefs, and
assumptions that laid the foundation for a Confederate political culture. He also focuses the immediate questions and problems that
inhibited Southern leadership. A
major theme prevalent through the book is the constant tug of war between
political ideology and political practice, something that still rings true even
in today’s society. This battle
between ideology and function formed the basis, in Rable’s view, for conflict
and differences between often ambitious and individualistic political leaders.
Most of the disputes came about due to disagreement over how to create
the “purified republicanism” the Southern leaders thought was essential to a
Confederate nation. Their goal was
class, social, civic harmony devoid of corruption, demagoguery, and free of the
evils of partisanship.
his analysis chronologically and he outlines Confederate politics from the
crisis of secession to the end of the war.
The author argues that antipathy towards national parties and the
existing political system swept through the South in the years leading up to the
Civil War. This attitude, which
held sway during the war, coupled with the hope that Southerners were creating a
pristine republic based on the Founding Fathers ideology, helped the Southern
war effort. When things went well
for the Confederacy, attacks and diatribes against the government seemed to
lessen in their amount and volatility. It
looked selfish and factious. Additionally,
public perception and anti-political party ideology made political opposition to
Jefferson Davis much less effective and less dangerous and than it would have
been otherwise. (300) According to
Rable, only North Carolina remotely exhibited anything resembling a party system
but in the end this did not truly affect Confederate policies as a whole.
argues that after the war the Southern leadership class emerged with a deep
mistrust of politics and parties. This
affected their views of Reconstruction and even hindered the process of
rejoining the national Democratic party. Rable
believes that when all is said and done, “the political values that were so
central to the Confederate experience remained important in Southern po0litics
long after the Confederate republic had disappeared.” (302)
In some ways, purified republicanism still rears its head in the Southern
and lately Western states of the United States.
Although the efforts to create a new nation failed, the Confederacy’s
“revolution against politics” was on its own terms, a success and helped
develop a Southern nationalism committed to antiparty ideology.
is an analytical narrative that successfully explores the interactions among
Confederate political culture, events, and leadership.
He successfully examines the idealism and ideology that framed the
Confederacy’s path to a purified republicanism from of government.
A well-written, albeit in some places a bit too flowery in its use of
language, Rable’s work is a worthy addition to the historiography of Civil War
politics and for that matter, Southern politics in general.
Halen J. Watkins