Instructor: T. Lloyd Benson
Office: 213-A Furman Hall (next to the elevator)
Office Hours:
Monday-Friday: 11:00-12:00
Tuesday through Thursday 1:30-3:00
other times by appointment

Phone 294-3492 (Office) 232-2698 (Home)
E-mail: Lloyd Benson (openmail) Benson@Furman.edu (internet)


More than five generations have passed since the end of the Civil War. For historians, however, the battle rages on. Traditionalists still contend with revisionists who fend off attacks from Modernizationists, who debate with Marxists, who challenge Agrarians, and so on. Ironically, there seems to be less consensus now in the history profession about sectional differences and the coming of the Civil War than in the first few generations after the war ended. To better understand the range of interpretations, we will closely examine the classic historical literature of the period leading up to secession. Main themes of inquiry for the seminar will include: 1) how different were the two sections, and how important were those differences to the outbreak of war? 2) what was the role of slavery in the emergence of sectional identity and sectional politics? 3) how influential were political ideologies such as republicanism in shaping the motives of participants? 4) to what extent was secession a popular movement?, and 5) how did the nation's political structure help or inhibit sectionalism?

Because the senior seminar is the capstone course for the major, expectations for performance are higher than in a standard lecture class. You are also expected to be familiar with the most outlines of mid-nineteenth century American history, and with the most important schools of historical thought, including Progressivism, consensus/anti-progressivism, New Left revisionism, republicanism, and ethnoculturalism. If any of these historical schools sound unfamiliar be sure to read the optional Grob and Billias assignment during the first week.


This seminar will meet once a week for approximately two and a half hours, at a time and place agreed upon by the group. Attendance is mandatory, and all assignments will be due at meeting time.

Because the format will be discussion-only, both participation and consideration of others will be especially important. Students who do not speak, or who monopolize discussion, will not do as well as those who strike a balance between the two skills. You will be expected to make at least one relevant and sophisticated contribution each meeting. As a rule of thumb, if you have made at least three comments in a session you should allow someone else to speak. If you have additional points to make that did not come out in discussion you may talk to the instructor or e-mail him after class.

In sessions where all participants read the same book, you will be asked to prepare a book review of approximately three to four pages with a typed list of two or three questions about the book for discussion by the group. In sessions where each person has been assigned a different book, you will be expected to prepare a book review and to give a five minute summary of your book, including its interpretive structure, the three or four most important events or themes the author discusses, and your own critical reaction to its substance and approach. Warning: out of respect to the other participants, presentations that are longer than five minutes will be cut short, abruptly if necessary, by the instructor. Therefore, you should practice your timing carefully in advance.


Reviews will be judged on three elements: 1) how effectively the book's contents are summarized, 2) how intelligently and imaginatively you react to the book, and 3) the clarity and sophistication of your writing style. The instructor will look favorably on those essays which relate the current book to ideas and themes discussed in previous books and previous sessions, and which display an effort to approach the current book from an innovative and unique angle. Reference to the main schools of history should be included in reviews as a matter of course.

Use of professional reviews from scholarly journals as a source of insights can be helpful. You are advised to read the book first and consult published reviews afterward, however, so that your own views are not affected by the review's slant. If you do use a published review, a copy of the review must be submitted, and you must also give a review of the review in your paper stating how well you think the reviewer did his or her job in analyzing the book. Note that unattributed use of published reviews will be considered plagiarism.


The final course grade will be based on the following two components:

Book review essays/book questions/Mini research papers 64 percent
Class participation and debates (attendance, discussion, improvement, etc.) 36 percent


History 75 should meet according to the following schedule, though the instructor reserves the right to make changes without advance notice. In weeks with multiple titles, you will be assigned a specific book at least one week in advance. All assignments are due at the beginning of the class meeting. Note also that failure to make proper computer backup files will not be considered a valid excuse. Do not start writing until you know how to make copies of your work!

WEEK         TOPIC                                                                       

Week 1:      Introduction                                                                
Mar. 5-8                                                                                 

Week 2:      The Contours of Sectional Distinctiveness                                   
Mar. 11-15   Read Pease and Pease, Web of Progress: Private Values and Public Styles in  
             Boston and Charleston, 1828-1843, and Edward Pessen, "How Different from    
             Each Other Were the Antebellum North and South?" American Historical        
             Review LXXXV (December 1980), 1119-1149 (on reserve).  Optional: Grob and   
             Billias, Introduction to Interpretations of American History (on reserve).  

Week 3:      Political Background                                                        
Mar. 18-22   Read William Cooper, The South and the Politics of Slavery.                 

Week 4:      The Abolitionist Impulse                                                    
Mar. 25-29   Read Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin. (supplemental readings       

Week 5:      Family, Community, and the Southern Crisis                                  
April 1-4    Read Stephanie McCurry, Masters of Small Worlds: Yeoman Households, Gender  
             Relations, & the Political Culture of the Antebellum South Carolina Low     

Week 6:      Changing Interpretations of Civil War Causation                             
April 9-12   Read Eric Foner, "The Causes of the American Civil War: Recent              
             Interpretations and New Directions," (on reserve) and excerpts from E.A.    
             Pollard, James Ford Rhodes, Arthur C. Cole, Roy F. Nichols, and Bruce       
             Levine (to be assigned).                                                    

Week 7:      The Emergence of Northern Sectional Politics                                
April 15-19  William Geinapp, The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852-1856, or Eric    
             Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican      
             Party Before the Civil War.                                                 

Week 8:      Contemporary Comparisons                                                    
April 22-26  Read Hinton R. Helper, The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It    
             or Thomas P. Kettell, Southern Wealth and Northern Profits.                 

WEEK         TOPIC                                                                       

Week 9:      The Road to Secession                                                       
Apr. 29-     Individuals will prepare and present brief reports (3 pages plus            
May 3        bibliography) on the following topics:                                      
             Personal liberty laws                                                       
             Bleeding Kansas                                                             
             Panic of 1857                                                               
             Dred Scott case                                                             
             Lecompton Constitution (before congressional submission)                    
             Congressional LeCompton debates                                             
             James Buchanan                                                              
             Lincoln-Douglas debates                                                     
             John Brown's Raid                                                           
             Disputed House speakership election                                         

Week 10:     1860: Chronology of Crisis:                                                 
May 6-10     Individuals will prepare and present a summary of a four to eight week      
             period using secondary sources and newspapers.                              

Week 11:     States, Communities, Personalities                                          
May 13-17    Steven Channing, Crisis of Fear: Secession in South Carolina                
             William L. Barney, The Secessionist Impulse: Alabama and Mississippi in     
             J. Mills Thornton, Politics and Power in a Slave Society: Alabama,          
             Freehling & Simpson, eds., Secession Debated: Georgia's Showdown in 1860    
             Walter E. Buenger, Secession and the Union in Texas                         
             Percy L. Rainwater, Mississippi: Storm Center of Secession                  
             Willie M. Caskey, The Secession and Restoration of Louisiana                
             J. William Harris, Plain Folk and Gentry in a Slave Society                 
             Ralph Wooster, The Secession Conventions of the South                       
             Eric H. Walther, The Fire-eaters                                            

Week 12:     Secession Winter                                                            
May 20-22    "Politics, Slavery, and Southern Secession," in Michael F. Holt, The        
             Political Crisis of the 1850s, pp. 219-259. (on reserve)