Roots of Secession

Slavery and Politics in Antebellum Virginia

By William A. Link

416 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 19 illus., 16 tables, 4 maps, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5661-1
    Published: August 2005
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-6320-6
    Published: January 2004

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Offering a provocative new look at the politics of secession in antebellum Virginia, William Link places African Americans at the center of events and argues that their acts of defiance and rebellion had powerful political repercussions throughout the turbulent period leading up to the Civil War.

An upper South state with nearly half a million slaves--more than any other state in the nation--and some 50,000 free blacks, Virginia witnessed a uniquely volatile convergence of slave resistance and electoral politics in the 1850s. While masters struggled with slaves, disunionists sought to join a regionwide effort to secede and moderates sought to protect slavery but remain in the Union. Arguing for a definition of political action that extends beyond the electoral sphere, Link shows that the coming of the Civil War was directly connected to Virginia's system of slavery, as the tension between defiant slaves and anxious slaveholders energized Virginia politics and spurred on the impending sectional crisis.

About the Author

William A. Link is Richard J. Milbauer Professor of History at the University of Florida. His previous books include William Friday: Power, Purpose, and American Higher Education; A Hard Country and a Lonely Place: Schooling, Society, and Reform in Rural Virginia, 1870-1920; and The Paradox of Southern Progressivism, 1880-1930.

For more information about William A. Link, visit the Author Page.


"Link's analysis is clear and thought-provoking. . . . A compelling argument that does, indeed, place slaves at the center of political sectionalism. . . . Deepens and complicates our notion of political culture and the roots of secession. "--Civil War History

"Through extraordinary research and careful exposition, Link skillfully intertwines the regional language and political rhetoric of over seventy newspapers and many other primary sources with his historical analysis."--Journal of African American History

"This is superb historical scholarship--a work that attempts to discern important social changes and how those changes affected nearly every other issue in the era. . . . It is a must read for antebellum students. Those interested in politics, slavery, and the economy, all can benefit from it. . . . Roots of Secession shows how good history can include many factors and how the complexities of society are so often interconnected."--H-Net Reviews

"A most valuable work on antebellum Virginia. Focusing almost entirely on the period from 1850 to the state's secession in April 1861, Link has drawn on a wide variety of sources to write what will surely become the standard work on the subject."--American Historical Review

"Link does a superb job in illuminating the anxiety felt by Virginia politicians in the 1850s and adeptly shows the manner in which slavery contributed to tensions between slaveholding and nonslaveholding whites as the decade progressed. . . . Link provides a valuable and provocative contribution to the literature on slavery, politics, and secession."--Journal of American History

"Link addresses social, legal, political, economic, and cultural factors, making a persuasive case for how they interacted to contribute to Virginia's secession. . . . [He] supports his study by exemplary research in a variety of primary sources and reference to an abundance of secondary studies. His book benefits from well-crafted maps and many illustrations, including evocative photographs."--Journal of Interdisciplinary History