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Surrounded by a ring of fire, the scorpion stings itself to death. The image, widespread among antislavery leaders before the Civil War, captures their long-standing strategy for peaceful abolition: they would surround the slave states with a cordon of freedom. They planned to use federal power wherever they could to establish freedom: the western territories, the District Surrounded by a ring of fire, the scorpion stings itself to death. The image, widespread among antislavery leaders before the Civil War, captures their long-standing strategy for peaceful abolition: they would surround the slave states with a cordon of freedom. They planned to use federal power wherever they could to establish freedom: the western territories, the District of Columbia, the high seas. By constricting slavery they would induce a crisis: slaves would escape in ever-greater numbers, the southern economy would falter, and finally the southern states would abolish the institution themselves. For their part the southern states fully understood this antislavery strategy. They cited it repeatedly as they adopted secession ordinances in response to Lincoln's election. The scorpion's sting is the centerpiece of this fresh, incisive exploration of slavery and the Civil War: Was there a peaceful route to abolition? Was Lincoln late to emancipation? What role did race play in the politics of slavery? With stunning insight James Oakes moves us ever closer to a new understanding of the most momentous events in our history.


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Surrounded by a ring of fire, the scorpion stings itself to death. The image, widespread among antislavery leaders before the Civil War, captures their long-standing strategy for peaceful abolition: they would surround the slave states with a cordon of freedom. They planned to use federal power wherever they could to establish freedom: the western territories, the District Surrounded by a ring of fire, the scorpion stings itself to death. The image, widespread among antislavery leaders before the Civil War, captures their long-standing strategy for peaceful abolition: they would surround the slave states with a cordon of freedom. They planned to use federal power wherever they could to establish freedom: the western territories, the District of Columbia, the high seas. By constricting slavery they would induce a crisis: slaves would escape in ever-greater numbers, the southern economy would falter, and finally the southern states would abolish the institution themselves. For their part the southern states fully understood this antislavery strategy. They cited it repeatedly as they adopted secession ordinances in response to Lincoln's election. The scorpion's sting is the centerpiece of this fresh, incisive exploration of slavery and the Civil War: Was there a peaceful route to abolition? Was Lincoln late to emancipation? What role did race play in the politics of slavery? With stunning insight James Oakes moves us ever closer to a new understanding of the most momentous events in our history.

30 review for The Scorpion's Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jay Perkins

    Great book describing the anti slavery policies of the republican party prior to the Civil War. Clears up a lot of confusion about slavery's place in the conflict between North and South. Before war was inevitable, republicans wanted to surround the southern states with a "cordon of freedom" The image they most often used was of a scorpion being surrounded by fire. The scorpion would sting himself to avoid dying by the flames. To hasten this end, republicans promoted anti-slavery policies that w Great book describing the anti slavery policies of the republican party prior to the Civil War. Clears up a lot of confusion about slavery's place in the conflict between North and South. Before war was inevitable, republicans wanted to surround the southern states with a "cordon of freedom" The image they most often used was of a scorpion being surrounded by fire. The scorpion would sting himself to avoid dying by the flames. To hasten this end, republicans promoted anti-slavery policies that would undermine slavery (like banning the institution from the territories and undermining the fugitive slave law, just to name a couple). Eventually, with no room to expand, and their slaves fleeing to free soil, southerners would have to destroy the institution themselves to be saved from economic and domestic ruin. It was extremely important that southerners end slavery themselves because most Americans believed, including many abolitionists, that the Constitution protected slavery where it existed. Republicans and democrats, north and south, agreed that the federal government could not abolish slavery in the southern states. It could only be abolished by state law. However, republicans sought to do everything permitted by the Constitution to build this ring of fire/freedom. What instead happened was secession and civil war. The south was very aware of the republicans policies and believed separating was the best way to protect their "property". Eventually, the republicans had to consider a different antislavery method allowed by the constitution: military abolition. Short and concise book. Along with "Freedom National", James Oakes presents the clearest presentation of Republican politics in the Civil War era.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    The Scorpion’s Sting is a concise and careful analysis of the Republican strategy to end slavery. Oakes moves readers beyond the traditional argument that the Civil War was a product of Southern Democrat’s desire for slavery to expand into the West. Instead, he argues, anti-slavery Republicans and abolitionists sought to suffocate slave states and force them to abolish slavery on their own by pairing personal liberty laws that challenged the reach of slaveholders in northern states with legislat The Scorpion’s Sting is a concise and careful analysis of the Republican strategy to end slavery. Oakes moves readers beyond the traditional argument that the Civil War was a product of Southern Democrat’s desire for slavery to expand into the West. Instead, he argues, anti-slavery Republicans and abolitionists sought to suffocate slave states and force them to abolish slavery on their own by pairing personal liberty laws that challenged the reach of slaveholders in northern states with legislation that blocked the expansion of slavery into new territories. Military emancipation was seen as both unlikely and unwelcome. Perhaps the most interesting chapter comes at the end when Oakes analyzes different instances of military emancipation in the United States leading up to the Civil War. The Scorpion's Sting is highly recommended for anyone looking to deepen their understanding of the Civil War.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    Twenty-five years after the end of the American Civil War, small groups of Southerners arose to rewrite its story. Led--but in no way started--by organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the United Confederate Veterans, the movement's goal was simple: scrutinize school textbooks and demand a more sympathetic view of the South, its attitudes toward slavery, and its reasons for fighting the Civil War. This was an almost direct extension of the pro-slavery propaganda promulgat Twenty-five years after the end of the American Civil War, small groups of Southerners arose to rewrite its story. Led--but in no way started--by organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the United Confederate Veterans, the movement's goal was simple: scrutinize school textbooks and demand a more sympathetic view of the South, its attitudes toward slavery, and its reasons for fighting the Civil War. This was an almost direct extension of the pro-slavery propaganda promulgated by elected Southern officials during the war, who had depicted Union soldiers as elements of an unwarranted full-scale invasion and the emancipation of their slaves as the theft of lawfully-protected and God-given property. Unlike this propaganda, however, the crusade to indoctrinate children through revisionism was done to justify and expunge the sins that had led to war in the first place, and to make sure that false information was passed down as fact in the generations to come. As recounted by historian James McPherson, some of the most overt examples of revisionism from the post-war South could be found in textbooks and the recommendations of grassroots committees. There was Susan Pendleton Lee, whose history of the United States included a justification of not only slavery--after all, she said, "hundreds of thousands of African savages had been Christianized under its influence"--but the Ku Klux Klan, which she claimed to be necessary "for protection against...outrages committed by misguided negroes.” There was also Mildred R. Rutherford, whose criteria for the instant rejection of a textbook, according to McPherson, included any book asserting that "the South fought to hold her slaves," that "speaks of the slaveholders of the South as cruel and unjust to his slaves," or that "glorifies Abraham Lincoln and vilifies Jefferson Davis." (Even more ridiculous, the recommended corrections for these alleged errors included an attempt to depict the Southern slave-owners as victims: "Southern men were anxious for the slaves to be free. They were studying earnestly the problem of freedom, when Northern fanatical Abolitionists took matters into their own hands.")* This kind of revisionism, now referred to as "neoconfederate," has remained strong in the 150 years since the war ended, and in many cases the lies have remained exactly the same: that the North was the aggressor and the South was simply exercising "state's rights," which was guaranteed by the Constitution; that secession was about taxes instead of slavery, and that the South was embracing the same civil disobedience of the Founding Fathers when they broke away from England; that slavery was already a waning institution, one that should have been "allowed" to die a natural, free-market death; and that Lincoln could have bought Southern slaves their freedom with federal money, sparing the nation the great costs of the Civil War. It is these last two ideas--that the Civil War could have been prevented with proactive measures--that historian James Oakes hopes to debunk with his own short study of the subject, which traces the political and social discourse leading up to the Civil War. In 180 pages, Oakes demonstrates just how immovable the two opposing sides were when it came to slavery, with abolitionists arguing for full emancipation and the pro-slavery factions basing their arguments on a misreading of the Constitution, passages cherry-picked from the Bible, and bigoted ideas about the inferiority of other races. (Oakes makes sure to points out that many Northerners held these same despicable views on racial superiority, though these attitudes were much more widespread in the slave states.) Believing that a compromise could have been reached to avert the war, even after so many previous compromises had only exacerbated the issue, is foolish; after all, if you believe that your ideas are ethically and Constitutionally correct, why would your side bargain them away? Oakes further discusses the long history of emancipation through military intervention--that is to say, during war--as a viable military and humanitarian strategy and not the "theft of property," thereby disproving the idea that slaves were anything other than subjugated human beings. Even during the Revolutionary War, before our nation's misguided belief in slavery was enshrined into law, military leaders on both sides understood the importance of slaves to achieving decisive victories, and promises of freedom were extended in order to gain loyalty and manpower in the fight over colonial control. (In the end, slaves who fought for the British were taken back to England by the thousands, where they could live in a society that had already abolished the practice.) Because the Confederacy was so devoted to the idea that slaves were property, they did not follow suit and offer freedom in exchange for military service, even though, as Oakes points out, a quarter-million conscripted slaves could easily have changed the dynamic of the war for the South; and counting as only six percent of the overall slave population, their freedom after the war would have had a negligible effect on the South. (This is an admittedly perverse way to think about history, but it's also factually sound and demonstrates once again the severity of the Confederacy's racism. What's more, a thought experiment, especially when supported with statistics and used only to highlight an important point, is still far more acceptable than revisionism.) Oakes' book is in no way a comprehensive refutation of Civil War revisionism, and at times his research suffers from a narrowness that takes the speeches and writings of a few and applies them broadly across both sides. This is a worrisome, albeit editorially sound, practice only because it mirrors the very same strategy of neoconfederates when they take the words of a half-dozen minor historical figures and conflate them to give the appearance of a majority viewpoint. That's not to say Oakes should have quoted or cited as many politicians as possible, and the people he does cite are some of the most important from that era--Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, Thaddeus Stephens, and so on. But this book--based, Oakes states at the end, on a series of lectures he delivered--could and should have been much longer. A cursory look online reveals that Civil War revisionism has not been given the due scrutiny it deserves, at least not in book form. (Even the McPherson text I quoted before is derived from an essay about the Civil War rather than a fully realized book all its own.) Neoconfederate writings and viewpoints have not lessened with the passage of time, and they will not lessen in the years to come; someone needs to debunk as much of the mythologized South as possible, and Oakes comes awfully close. Where history is concerned, however, close is not good enough. *All of the information on post-war revisionism and textbook committees comes from the work of James McPherson, a portion of which can be read at the blog of Kevin Levin. The information I have presented herein is either quoted directly from McPherson's work or are summaries and paraphrases presented by Levin. This review was originally published at There Will Be Books Galore.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Steve Smits

    The South's secession from the union has always puzzled me; how was this drastic action not contrary to the interests of the eleven slaveholding states? The incoming Republican administration had vowed not to allow expansion of slavery in territories and newly forming states, but Lincoln and others explicitly averred that his administration had no intention of interfering with slavery where it existed. Lincoln believed that the Constitution gave no sanction for such action. If southernors wanted The South's secession from the union has always puzzled me; how was this drastic action not contrary to the interests of the eleven slaveholding states? The incoming Republican administration had vowed not to allow expansion of slavery in territories and newly forming states, but Lincoln and others explicitly averred that his administration had no intention of interfering with slavery where it existed. Lincoln believed that the Constitution gave no sanction for such action. If southernors wanted slavery's expansion across the country, leaving the union would completely foreclose this. Further, Lincoln went to far as to state that the federal government was obligated to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act in the northern states, forcibly returning escaped slaves to bondage. In the longer term, why did the South not see that presidents with particular platforms will eventually be replaced by others who may hold opposite views. Granted, the abolitionists and anti-slavery activists were irksome to the slaveholders, but that was nothing new in 1860-61; the South had tolerated such perceived insults for decades. By far, the most significant downside for the South in seceding from the union was the threat of severing economic ties with the North. The agrarian nature of the South's economy was inextricably intertwined with the North's financial and manufacturing resources. "The Scorpian's Sting", a collection of essays by James Oakes, clarifies how antislavery sentiments, both practical and philosophical, led to the destruction of slavery. The scorpian's sting referred to a metataphor in wide use that if encircled by a ring of fire, a scorpian will ultimately sting itself to death. Its meaning was not lost on Southern leaders. They well understood that if slavery was cordoned within its existing boundaries it could not survive, and they saw a new national political regime detemined to fence in slavery. Many thought that, even if not in the United States, slavery could expand southward to Cuba, the Caribeean, and Latin America. Much was made in the South of the inviolability of property rights, widely held a Constitutional guarantee. Slaveholders maintained that slaves were property like any other form of property. Thus, a man could do with his human property what he could do with any fungible property, including removing it to anywhere in the country. Countering this, a powerful strain of thought among anti-slavery thinkers stemmed from a conception of an overarching higher natural law, that the most sacred and fundamental right of property was the property inherent in oneself. Depriving one of the right to his or her inherent property was inimical to this natural law. The Constitution did not specify "property"; it did not explicitly address slavery as a category of guaranteed property. That the South was aware of this potential threat to human property is evidenced by the inclusion of guaranteed slavery in the Confederate's constitution. Neither side saw civil war as the inevitable result of secession, but thoughtful men must have surmised that a war once unleashed could result in dramatic and sweeping consequences. One such possible consequence was military confiscation of property under the laws of war. Taking property that impinged on the enemy's capacity to conduct war was entirely acceptable as a practical military measure. The application of this principle logically adhered to slaves whose services deprived to their owners certainly hindered the South's war effort. One must remember that the Emancipation Proclamation was justified on the military necessity for emancipating slaves in states in rebellion. Slaves in union states or regions controlled by the union were not emancipated as military necessity did not obtain. The key question about confiscated property was what was the obligation of the holders of confiscated property to return it after the conflict ceased? Contentious as it may have been, there was precedent from the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 that slaves under the control of a combatant need not be returned to their owners. Beyond the realm of international law, it was on moral grounds unquestionably inconceivable to reenslave confiscated persons at the war's conclusion. There was a distinction, more in mid-19th century minds than in modern thinking, between emancipation and equality. If enslaving humans is immoral does their emancipation convey equality? If so, what sort of equality? The Declaration of Independence stated that all men held natural rights to life, liberty and property. Lincoln and the Republicans felt that slavery deprived blacks of the right to the products of their own labors, but does restoring this right necessarily confer political equality? Do free blacks become citizens? What does freedom mean for social equality? It is clear that Lincoln's views on racial equality were far distant from today's views. Not only did he persist in the prospect of colonization of blacks until quite late, he consistently posited a circumscribed view of the extent of political and civic rights that ensued from emancipation. A more expansive conception of the fruits of equality emerged from the radical Reconstructionist wing of the Republican party, but whether Lincoln would have moved this far cannot be known.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    I picked this book up because I rather foolishly thought it might look at the movements against slavery - both the Northern anti-abolitionist movements, and the activities and actions of slaves themselves, the latter of which was decisive in defeating slavery, and yet, somehow, never seems to warrant serious consideration. Rather, this is a tightly written analysis of the writings of major Republicans and Democrats - mostly Lincoln - in the lead up to the war. Cause heaven knows, the world needs I picked this book up because I rather foolishly thought it might look at the movements against slavery - both the Northern anti-abolitionist movements, and the activities and actions of slaves themselves, the latter of which was decisive in defeating slavery, and yet, somehow, never seems to warrant serious consideration. Rather, this is a tightly written analysis of the writings of major Republicans and Democrats - mostly Lincoln - in the lead up to the war. Cause heaven knows, the world needs another look at that. The author is seeking to argue that the Republicans believed slavery could be dispensed with by making it untenable, without ever having to centrally abolish it; and then; in a final chapter the length of the rest of the book, argues that wartime emancipation was well-recognised as a legitimate war time tactic. I can only assume that this book was written to refute a Confederate view that the war was all about states rights, and that emancipating a man's slaves was downright unfair tactically. I shudder to think such an argument is needed, but that doesn't mean it isn't. Having said that, I just end up finding this approach, like most civil war scholarship, so dismissive it is offensive. The reason that emancipating slaves is an *effective* war time tactic is that it provides a scant increase in hope to slaves. African-American slaves who fought back, who ran, who joined the Union Armies in staggering numbers, who sabotaged and destroyed equipment, are not just a white man's tactic. They were men and women who fought for and won an end to enslavement. So why is it so hard to find their stories?

  6. 5 out of 5

    Naomi

    This book is takes an excellent microscopic look at how the abolition/antislavery movement that attempted but failed to lead to the Civil War and the environment that led to this failure. It is only 170 some odd pages, but INCREDIBLY well researched. I would recommend this book for students of the Civil War, who have at least a basic knowledge of the cultural and political environment of the United States before wading into this book. The author goes deeper into some critical occurrences that ma This book is takes an excellent microscopic look at how the abolition/antislavery movement that attempted but failed to lead to the Civil War and the environment that led to this failure. It is only 170 some odd pages, but INCREDIBLY well researched. I would recommend this book for students of the Civil War, who have at least a basic knowledge of the cultural and political environment of the United States before wading into this book. The author goes deeper into some critical occurrences that made the war inevitable.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Allie Rocheleau

    I picture him sitting in an academic library finding references to the scorpion and then including them all, regardless of relevance or repetition.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Murphy

    The Scorpion's Sting: Antislavery and the Coming Civil War by James Oakes is enlightening from its first few pages. Oakes aims to re-contextualize our understanding of Southern Secession and Northern Abolitionist efforts. Some of the enterprise is tedious, especially in Chapter 4, but the enterprise itself is worth celebrating. Perhaps the most startling revelation had to do with the fundamental breach between the North and the South was not preventing slavery's expansion west, but rather on prev The Scorpion's Sting: Antislavery and the Coming Civil War by James Oakes is enlightening from its first few pages. Oakes aims to re-contextualize our understanding of Southern Secession and Northern Abolitionist efforts. Some of the enterprise is tedious, especially in Chapter 4, but the enterprise itself is worth celebrating. Perhaps the most startling revelation had to do with the fundamental breach between the North and the South was not preventing slavery's expansion west, but rather on preventing slavery from having access to federal properties in DC and Southern States on government and military facilities. The idea that congress could actually force a southern state to give up slavery was wholly alien to the conscious of the people, and thus was not even thought of. The aim was instead to corner slavery so that those who practiced it would become like a scorpion surrounded by fire, and sting itself into oblivion. Numerous primary sources are cited to support this, and the book came recommended by Foreign Affairs, so I'm inclined to trust the scholarship. Chapter 4, which takes up about a third of the entire book, is in dire need of some trimming. However, I can tell why Oaks kept it at such a monolithic length. The ideas, once properly abstracted, are rather profound. The use of war to emancipate slaves was a well known and accepted practice, even among the South. An early treaty with Great Britain regarding the slaves who defected to the British army showed this to be abundantly clear, as did the controversy it sparked when the British refused to return slaves that remained in America after the war ended and the British emancipated them. The British were willing to leave behind those that defected after the peace treaty was signed, but not those that came to them during a time of war. To them, once they were emancipated, they were free regardless of whether or not they were still in the American landmass. The southerners accepted that those who were emancipated and left America could leave, as this was the right of natural conduct in war, as property could be disposed of however a belligerent wished, but if the property remained on the land in good shape, and the peace treaty said the British would return seized property in their possession in the holdings of the US, then the British had to return the freed men. The Federalists and the Democratic Republicans have a rather fierce fight over this. It was never about whether or not the British could free slaves in a time of war, only that the terms of the peace treaty compelled them to return those slaves that remained in the US when peace was signed. Another case study to support this had to do with the Seminole Indians in Florida and the Freed Slaves who allied with them. War could legitimate and emancipate the freed slaves, who could then under terms of a peace treaty be left free - even if their masters wanted them back. That war was a legitimate and accepted tool to free slaves was important for the US, as Lincoln cited both the Seminole and the British examples to justify his own emancipation actions later. This, and a few other bits of information changed my understanding of the time leading up to the Civil War. When it comes to the book itself, ultimately the narrow focus and the narrative style proves its undoing. The book is short, a collection of essays focusing on macro-topics. Some of it is needlessly tedious. The narrative flows are self-contained, and you don't quite feel like you're learning about Antislavery in general, but rather the sub-set being discussed in this section of that chapter. Plenty of room for expansion exists, and the book itself feels like a very incomplete window into what it aspires to present. I recommend the book, but I advise you to bear that it is more flawed than it might first appear. 89/100 / B+

  9. 5 out of 5

    Erik

    Fascinating look at a common metaphor of the abolition period about how slavery might have self-destructed, but didn't, along with some history of the method that really did end slavery, military emancipation. Before the Civil War, few in the North imagined that it would take a shooting war to end slavery. Instead, even most abolitionists imagined that, if the federal government enforced a "cordon of freedom" encircling the slave states, that eventually those states would feel an economic squeeze Fascinating look at a common metaphor of the abolition period about how slavery might have self-destructed, but didn't, along with some history of the method that really did end slavery, military emancipation. Before the Civil War, few in the North imagined that it would take a shooting war to end slavery. Instead, even most abolitionists imagined that, if the federal government enforced a "cordon of freedom" encircling the slave states, that eventually those states would feel an economic squeeze so damaging to their profits in slavery that the southern states themselves would abolish the peculiar institution. Once contained, it was thought the scorpion of slavery would sting itself to death. It might take 5 years or 50 years for this gradual, voluntary abolition to occur, depending on who you asked. But if the federal government could keep slavery out of the territories, out of new states and off the high seas all while handicapping slave catchers in northern states via exceptions to the strict 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, then eventually, like a scorpion surrounded by a ring of fire, slavery would sting itself to death. This ring of fire/scorpion self-stinging death was apparently a widely used image at the time, understood by friends and foes of slavery alike across the North and the South. Almost nobody in any part of the U.S. thought that the federal government could or should try to override the sovereignty of states to abolish slavery from the top. But everybody knew that slavery's opponents -- Abolitionists, Free Soilers and northerners who just hated arrogant Georgia planters -- hoped that, by containing the spread of slavery, they could eventually cause the institution to kill itself. Imagine all the ways this strategy could be applied today. For example, could climate change activists create a ring of fire of clean energy around the fossil fuel industry that would cut off financing to dirty energy, turn drilling and mining companies into social pariahs and cause oil and coal companies to self-destruct? The second part of this book offers a history of legal arguments over whether belligerent powers were justified freeing slaves during and after wartime, whether it was the British in the American Revolution and War of 1812 or the Americans in the Seminole War of the 1830s. Of course, that's all a set up for the Union army freeing slaves in the Civil War. It's a fascinating story about how enslaved people morphed from property to human status through the intermediate stage of "contraband." I would've appreciated more discussion of the different Union generals who freed large numbers of enslaved people under the pretense of confiscating enemy property, especially whether lawyer-turned-general Benjamin Butler deserves the credit he's often given for coming up with the "contraband" designation to justify military emancipation.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Oliver

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This is a really good, short book that is actually a section taken out of Oakes' other book on the subject, "Freedom National." Oakes presents his arguments clearly and concisely, even if that argument is not especially convincing it does present facts and strains of thought regarding emancipation through warfare of which I was unaware. It has been awhile since I read this book for class but I believe he makes the argument that America's history (up to the Civil War) and actions during war (espe This is a really good, short book that is actually a section taken out of Oakes' other book on the subject, "Freedom National." Oakes presents his arguments clearly and concisely, even if that argument is not especially convincing it does present facts and strains of thought regarding emancipation through warfare of which I was unaware. It has been awhile since I read this book for class but I believe he makes the argument that America's history (up to the Civil War) and actions during war (especially forced emancipation by the British during the Revolution) set the stage for Lincoln's using the army to emancipate Southern slaves. In my opinion, Britain's creeping willingness for recognition played a larger role, but I think that Oakes' thesis cannot be discounted in the least. On the contrary, it is an interesting and thoughtful argument. Skip this book and read "Freedom National," which contains this book within it and is more robust. I do love the cover art for this book, which is a little hardcover, smaller than the average paperback.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Emily Agnello

    What a very informative and exciting book! Oakes does a wonderful job explaining different slavery aspects of the Civil War and issues prior. This book was very insightful on elements I had never thought of or begun to think of. The Scorpion's Sting was an easy read but with heavy information that was easy to understand. I would recommend this book to those who are looking to learn and read about the Civil War in an exciting and compelling way. What a very informative and exciting book! Oakes does a wonderful job explaining different slavery aspects of the Civil War and issues prior. This book was very insightful on elements I had never thought of or begun to think of. The Scorpion's Sting was an easy read but with heavy information that was easy to understand. I would recommend this book to those who are looking to learn and read about the Civil War in an exciting and compelling way.

  12. 4 out of 5

    G3M

    While the final few chapters were in service to the thesis, I thought they dragged on a bit. Going through the intricacies of historic treaties, while relevant and true, felt dense and frankly unnecessary - I got the picture by then. I thought the book was a bite sized gem, chock full of interesting tidbits/trivia about arguments folks were making before the civil war. I thought it could have made connections to present day a bit more clear.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Johnny

    There was a lot of good information I wasn't aware about in relation to slavery in the U.S. before the Civil War and on the question of wartime emancipation. The book definitely stayed a bit and failed to touch on a lot of key events especially those that would in some eyes disrupt the scorpion sting narrative like John Brown's intended slave revolt. But overall a good read for the real history buffs. There was a lot of good information I wasn't aware about in relation to slavery in the U.S. before the Civil War and on the question of wartime emancipation. The book definitely stayed a bit and failed to touch on a lot of key events especially those that would in some eyes disrupt the scorpion sting narrative like John Brown's intended slave revolt. But overall a good read for the real history buffs.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    A must-read for any living historian/reenactor of the American Civil War. Oakes presents a synopsis of the evolving debate over slavery in the USA between abolitionists, slave owners, and others over the several decades leading up to the outbreak of the war. Tracing the intellectual links and twists and turns of the debate from the Founding Fathers to the political elites of the two combatants.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alex Abboud

    Interesting context for the Civil War. While most books focus on the war itself, this book looks at the philosophical ideas and legal precedent that drove the union's approach. A good complement to most of the literature on the subject. Interesting context for the Civil War. While most books focus on the war itself, this book looks at the philosophical ideas and legal precedent that drove the union's approach. A good complement to most of the literature on the subject.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Peter C Lyon

    Excellent for American historians who want to go really deep into the era and the subject. I thought it was somewhat academic and top heavy, especially regarding the military precedents for emancipation, though the discourse on Hamilton was quite revealing.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Burridge

    Very interesting subject. Book is clearly written, not too long, and credible academically as far as I can tell. The long chapter on “Wartime Emancipation”, somewhat legalistic in character, was to me a little dull.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mike Ely

    Well written and thoroughly researched book about the years leading up to the Civil War. It's pretty dense in parts and a slow read but provides the story and political ideals and deals that led to secession. A really good book that is both informative and insightful. Well written and thoroughly researched book about the years leading up to the Civil War. It's pretty dense in parts and a slow read but provides the story and political ideals and deals that led to secession. A really good book that is both informative and insightful.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dkolacinski

    Much to ponder in this book, much to reflect on. What does this mean for today?

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lawrence Grey

    A good history lesson of events leading up to the Civil War and the end of slavery in this country and of course free from the local public library

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sadie Moore

    This book was pretty interesting and it was definitely a helpful historical resource for me.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Riley

    If a scorpion is surrounded by fire it will sting itself to death, goes the saying. This metaphor is and was used to describe the south in the early 19th century. Though we hear mainly about the abolitionists there was a long line of northerners who wanted to abolish slavery slowly and methodically by making the fugitive slave act unenforceable and making slavery impossible in the mid west and west and cuba, making it difficult in the capital and north of DC. This book tells that story from a le If a scorpion is surrounded by fire it will sting itself to death, goes the saying. This metaphor is and was used to describe the south in the early 19th century. Though we hear mainly about the abolitionists there was a long line of northerners who wanted to abolish slavery slowly and methodically by making the fugitive slave act unenforceable and making slavery impossible in the mid west and west and cuba, making it difficult in the capital and north of DC. This book tells that story from a legal perspective focusing on the subtle language of policy and politicians. It is much for fascinating than it sounds and it is short, not even 200 pages. The main argument is did the 'right of property' divinely set by God as natural supersede the constitution. Slave holders say yes and cite the many instances of slavery in history to prove it. Others including capitalists like Adam Smith said the only property man naturally has is his own labour. And of course the constitution did not recognize slaves as property. Left, possibly deliberately vague to get the states together, "does it presume freedom or slavery?" The legal framework of the Fugitive Slave Act was challenged by northerners who thought that yes they will return property but that since people cannot be property, they cannot be returned to owners. It tackles other questions of "are blacks citizens?" which was key to ensuring their freedom or enslavement. Can a state bar blacks from entering it-missouri, indiana, and others? Can the Northern army confiscate Blacks from the south and then free them during the war? Why did Blacks flee to the British army during the war of 1812? This is the most fascinating part of the book as this war is rarely mentioned by Americans possibly because of its shameful behavior. The US sued GB for reparations for its wartime confiscations. Just a note: during the 'noble' fight for independence from GB those who signed up to fight in the South Carolina militia were given a slave. Excellent read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This book approaches the Civil War with a laser focus -- illuminating only its tight path through the conflict in four narrow realms -- the prevalence among Northern abolitionists of the idea that slavery would end itself if only it could be strictly restrained to existing slave states (like "a scorpion girt by fire" -- it would sting itself to death), the conflicting interpretations of law and the Constitution arising from the starting proposition that slaves were either men OR property, the in This book approaches the Civil War with a laser focus -- illuminating only its tight path through the conflict in four narrow realms -- the prevalence among Northern abolitionists of the idea that slavery would end itself if only it could be strictly restrained to existing slave states (like "a scorpion girt by fire" -- it would sting itself to death), the conflicting interpretations of law and the Constitution arising from the starting proposition that slaves were either men OR property, the inextricability of race relations from the issue of slavery, and a history of wartime emancipation in the United States. I am sure that I would have found this book irritating had I not read it already deep in the context of my Less Stupid Civil War Reading Group. As it was, it brought some interesting context to my developing understanding of the era. But really, otherwise, the intense focus and sometimes jarring shifts in such would be very alienating. Not a good book to start with if you want to understand the Civil War. But as a supplement -- it was interesting to see the complement of Battle Cry of Freedom's portrayal of pre-war Southerners as near-panicked that slavery be able to extend its reach -- into the territories, into Central America, etc., so that it shouldn't die -- with the portrayal that Northern abolitionists had the same idea, but in reverse. The history of military emancipation was also interesting, as I had basically no idea of it as a factor in wars prior to the Civil War. Also of note was the bit on the use of postmasters to suppress free (abolitionist) speech in slave states. Interesting, if sometimes disjointed.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Edgar Raines

    In this brilliant series of essays, James Oakes answers two important questions. What in 1860 was the Republican Party's long-term strategy for dealing with slavery? Why did Southerners decide to secede given Abraham's Lincoln's pledge not to interfere with the institution in the Southern states? The answers to these two questions are interrelated. Republicans believed that if they could prevent slavery from expanding into new territories they could slowly strangle the institution. It seemed to a In this brilliant series of essays, James Oakes answers two important questions. What in 1860 was the Republican Party's long-term strategy for dealing with slavery? Why did Southerners decide to secede given Abraham's Lincoln's pledge not to interfere with the institution in the Southern states? The answers to these two questions are interrelated. Republicans believed that if they could prevent slavery from expanding into new territories they could slowly strangle the institution. It seemed to already be dying a slow death in some of the border states: Delaware, Maryland, and possibly Kentucky and Missouri. Once these became free states, the process would continue in the states to their immediate south, and so on until slavery was extinct in the United States. Secessionists agreed with this analysis. When Lincoln was elected on a platform of free soil, they headed for the exit. Republicans summed up their program, their vision of the future, by borrowing a metaphor from the abolitionists. A scorpion surrounded by a ring of fire, unable to escape, would finally in frustration and despair sting itself to death. In the Republican view, and the Secessionist view as well, slavery was the scorpion and free soil was the ring of fire.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bunbun

    It was an easy, interesting read. While my class complained about the repetition, I was rather unfazed by it. It's a thesis after all. You're going to re-state important points of the argument, and it wasn't all that repetitive. The chapters had interesting topics that were all linked to an over-arching theme: antislavery/proslavery sentiments within the mid-1800s. I came away with a better understanding of the ideology of the era's congress (and from them, a reflection of the parties and their It was an easy, interesting read. While my class complained about the repetition, I was rather unfazed by it. It's a thesis after all. You're going to re-state important points of the argument, and it wasn't all that repetitive. The chapters had interesting topics that were all linked to an over-arching theme: antislavery/proslavery sentiments within the mid-1800s. I came away with a better understanding of the ideology of the era's congress (and from them, a reflection of the parties and their sects).

  26. 4 out of 5

    Derek Postlewaite

    A thorough look into the real causes of the Civil War. Significant takeaways: (1) the Republican Party considered freedom national or federal, and slavery sectional (states and regions). As a result, the Party's tactic--also known as the scorpion's sting--was to limit or impede slavery for the purposes of watching slavery dwindle away into the realm of nonexistence. (2) Military emancipation: there is large chapter on this subject and it even goes as far as to say that the Confederacy might have s A thorough look into the real causes of the Civil War. Significant takeaways: (1) the Republican Party considered freedom national or federal, and slavery sectional (states and regions). As a result, the Party's tactic--also known as the scorpion's sting--was to limit or impede slavery for the purposes of watching slavery dwindle away into the realm of nonexistence. (2) Military emancipation: there is large chapter on this subject and it even goes as far as to say that the Confederacy might have saved itself had it utilized the policy of freeing some slaves in return for defending Southern independence. (3) Constitutional powers: nothing in the Constitution gave Congress the power to abolish slavery in states where it already existed. This made a war explicitly for the purpose of abolishing slavery impossible, which is why the 'scorpion sting' was the best alternative.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tom Walsh

    the author tells you the tactics of the 1850-60 political America: to surround slavery with free states to suffocate the evil, like a scorpion: when surrounded by fire a scorpion will kill itself The author uses many prime sources to justify the slow movement of politicians to the overthrow of slavery. He points, and rightly so, to the passing of the Fugitive Slave Laws as the death knell of the abolitionist movement. Even Lincoln hinted he would favor the return of a slave (a legal possession) the author tells you the tactics of the 1850-60 political America: to surround slavery with free states to suffocate the evil, like a scorpion: when surrounded by fire a scorpion will kill itself The author uses many prime sources to justify the slow movement of politicians to the overthrow of slavery. He points, and rightly so, to the passing of the Fugitive Slave Laws as the death knell of the abolitionist movement. Even Lincoln hinted he would favor the return of a slave (a legal possession) to its owner. It is jaw-dropping to realize how slaves were viewed: like a supply of wood, or a valuable jewel, more than a human being. If you want to know the "Truth" behind the early-to-mid 1800s in America, this book will open the lid on reality.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Larry

    This is a tightly focused, slim book. Oakes lays out the agenda of the antislavery movement, and the manifestation of that agenda in the Republican Party, and the intellectual conflicts between abolitionists and defenders of slavery. In the beginning, the narrative seemed repetitious, but that turned out to be an asset, because Oakes goes deep into the details, and that repetition helps the reader keep track of the people and arguments.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tim Brown

    Persuasive study of how, prior to the Civil War, nearly nobody except hardcore abolitionists contemplated freeing the South's slaves by force. Rather, the plan of Lincoln and the North was to prevent additional slave territory and squeeze the slave states until they free the slaves on their own, nonviolently. Persuasive study of how, prior to the Civil War, nearly nobody except hardcore abolitionists contemplated freeing the South's slaves by force. Rather, the plan of Lincoln and the North was to prevent additional slave territory and squeeze the slave states until they free the slaves on their own, nonviolently.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    A great work of tremendous value in understanding the cause(s) of the Civil War and the absolute centrality played by slavery in that conflict. Ought to be required reading of every student in America.

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