Book Review: Madness Rules the Hour: Charleston, 1860 and the Mania for War


by Paul Starobin

New York: Perseus Public Affairs, 2017. 296. Pp. xii, 290. $27.00. ISBN: 1610396227

South Carolina Rushing Blindly into Disaster

In this interesting work, journalist and editor Starobin looks at the whys and hows that helped rush South Carolina joyfully into secession in the aftermath of the election of 1860. He argues that there had developed a veritable “mania” for rejection of the Federal government, as well as a hatred for the “Black Republican” President-elect Lincoln and the “cowardly Yankees” of the North.

Starobin looks at the roots of these beliefs, which were ultimately found in South Carolina’s addiction to slavery. He demonstrates how news and opinion in the state – and ultimate in other Deep South states – were manipulated by ideologues pressing their agenda, and how Charleston’s blinkered majority crushed dissent and pushed secession through when, in fact, there was no actually threat to slavery or to the Southern way of life. Starobin concludes with a grim look at the devastation the war brought on Charleston.

As in many works, there are a few petty things wrong – minor errors, grammatical glitches, typos – which better editing might have fixed. Nevertheless, the point of the book, how determined ideologues brought about secession against the interests of the people – even the people of Charleston – is essential to an understanding of why the Civil War took place.

This is an important read about the Civil War, and not without contemporary relevance.


Note: Madness Rules the Hour is also available in e- and audio-editions.


Reviewer: John Stanchak   

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