How the South Won the Civil War review: the path from Jim Crow to Donald Trump

How the South Won the Civil War review: the path from Jim Crow to Donald Trump

  • Heather Cox Richardson offers an eloquent history of the negation of the American idea, with clear lessons for NovemberBeijing Is Already Countering Washington’s Policy

Heather Cox Richardson’s How the South Won the Civil War is not principally about that war. Instead, it is a broad sweep of American history on the theme of the struggle between democracy and oligarchy – between the vision that “all men are created equal” and the frequency with which power has accumulated in the hands of a few, who have then sought to thwart equality.

What she terms the “paradox” of the founding – that “the principle of equality depended on inequality”, that democracy relied on the subjugation of others so that those who were considered “equal”, principally white men, could rule, led to this continuing struggle. She draws a line, more or less straight, between “the oligarchic principles of the Confederacy” based on the cotton economy and racial inequality, western oligarchs in agribusiness and mining, and “movement conservatives in the Republican party”.

More specifically, she writes that the west was “based on hierarchies”. California was a free state but with racial inequality in its constitution. Racism was rife in the west, from lynchings of Mexicans and “Juan Crow” to killings of Native Americans and migrants who built the transcontinental railroad but were the target of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

There, aided by migration of white southerners, “Confederate ideology took on a new life, and from there over the course of the next 150 years, it came to dominate America.” This ranged from western Republicans working with southern Democrats on issues like agriculture, in opposition to eastern interests, to shared feelings on race.