The Union That Shaped the Confederacy: Robert Toombs and Alexander H. Stephens

William C. Davis, Author
William C. Davis, Author University Press of Kansas $29.95 (284p) ISBN 978-0-7006-1088-4
Reviewed on: 05/14/2001
Release date: 05/01/2001
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From its beguilingly clever title to its concluding quotation from Wordsworth, this study of a Civil War friendship is captivating. Virginia Tech's Davis, author of more than 40 books about the War Between the States, charts the friendship of two leading Confederate statesmen, Robert Toombs, who was nearly made president of the Confederacy, and Alexander H. Stephens, who became its vice-president. The pair met as young lawyers, but they were as different as could be: Stephens, a frail, bookish sort, clawed his way up to the law from a humble background, while Toombs, a tall, powerful hulk of a man, was to the manor born and a touch dissolute. But the two became fast friends, rising in the ranks of Georgia politics together. Although their friendship was threatened by their disagreements about secession Stephens thought it imprudent, while Toombs did not once the South actually seceded, the two men reconciled and were among the founding fathers of the New South. Nevertheless, as the Confederacy foundered, Stephens and Toombs set themselves increasingly in opposition t0 Jefferson Davis's leadership and ""rebelled against their own revolution, not because they rejected its ends but because they could not stomach the means necessary to achieve that goal."" After the war, Stephens was arrested and Toombs fled the country, but, under the lenient rule of President Andrew Johnson, both men were allowed to return to their homes in Georgia. Significantly, as the author demonstrates, though their cause failed, their union remained intact. There are a few nits to pick with this book one wishes the author would stop referring to Stephens intermittently as ""Little Aleck."" But on the whole this is an engrossing read that will stand out in the crowded field of Civil War studies. (Apr.)
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