A review of William Lowndes Yancey and the Coming of the Civil War. by Eric H. Walther. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2006.
William Lowndes Yancey was described as the Patrick Henry of the Confederacy. Eric Walther’s biography of follows the evolution of a staunch unionist to the orator of secession. Yancey was the son of a Navy war hero. The death of Yancey’s father, and the remarriage of his cantankerous mother to a New England preacher had a profound impact on young William. The young Yancey grew to hate his father-in-law and the New England society that spawned him, a hatred that spurred Yancey’s politics for the rest of his life. Yancey was educated in New England, but moved back to the South, and gradually shifted from being a staunch nationalist to become the pre-eminent orator of secession.
By the late 1840s, Yancey came to believe that the interests of the South lay outside of the Union, and he agitated for secession from that point. He tried, unsuccessfully, to split the Democratic party in 1848, succeeded in splitting the party in 1860 and then the Union in 1861. Having succeeded in bringing about the division of the Union, he served the Confederacy as an ambassador in England, and then in the Confederate Senate. He died in 1863, having lived long enough to see his Confederacy in deep trouble after the twin disasters of Gettysburg and Vicksburg.
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