11. Slavery and State Rights, Economies and Ways of Life: What Caused the Civil War?


The Civil War and Reconstruction (HIST 119)

Professor Blight begins this lecture with an attempt to answer the question “why did the South secede in 1861?” Blight offers five possible answers to this question: preservation of slavery, “the fear thesis,” southern nationalism, the “agrarian thesis,” and the “honor thesis.” After laying out the roots of secession, Blight focuses on the historical profession, suggesting some of the ways in which historians have attempted to explain the coming of the Civil War. Blight begins with James Ford Rhodes, a highly influential amateur historian in the late 19th century, and then introduces Charles and Mary Beard, whose economic interpretations of the Civil War had their heyday in the 1920s and 1930s.

00:00 – Chapter 1. Introduction: Jefferson Davis’s Defense of Secession
08:24 – Chapter 2. Fear? Southern Unity? Why Did the South Seceded
20:46 – Chapter 3. Agrarian Society? Honor? Why the South Seceded, Continued
34:19 – Chapter 4. Historiography of the Civil War, from Rhodes to Beard
48:36 – Chapter 5. Conclusion

Complete course materials are available at the Open Yale Courses website:

This course was recorded in Spring 2008.

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