C. Vann Woodward (1908–1999) was a historian of the American South. He taught at Johns Hopkins and at Yale, where he was named the Sterling Professor of History. His books include Mary Chesnut’s Civil War and The Old World’s New World.

Dangerous Liaisons

Getting at the truth of such subjects as fornication, rape, bastardy, adultery, divorce, and domestic violence is difficult enough in any case. But when they are mixed with constantly changing attitudes about race, class, freedom, slavery, servitude, and male authority and honor, especially in times of civil war, invasion, defeat, …

We Unhappy Few

For two generations and more the Old South’s upper crust—call them planters, gentry, aristocracy, cavaliers, or simply the ruling class—along with their New South heirs have been rather an embarrassment to historians of the region. Before the 1930s, historians as a rule joined with novelists, poets, and movie makers in …

Wallace Redeemed?

The meaning of the term “populist” has undergone remarkable changes during the past century, especially the latter half of it. In some ways these changes are comparable to those undergone by the term “democracy” during the previous century, except that the reputation of “democracy” changed distinctly for the better during …

The Inner Civil War

For a century and more after the Civil War American critics have worried the question of why the experience never inspired a literary classic worthy of the subject. The first to broach the problem were those to whom it must have caused the greatest embarrassment—the writers who lived through the …

Made in the U.S.A.

The story of Harry Truman’s life is full of enough improbabilities and paradoxes to put an edge on the dullest curiosity. Here was a figure of obscure rural origins from the remote reaches of Missouri, dogged by debt most years, and with no more formal education than local public schools …

The Return of LBJ

Among the presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to George Bush, Lyndon Johnson has no serious rival for the distinction of being held in lowest esteem in current public opinion. A recent Harris poll found him ranked at the bottom of nearly all categories named. These included high moral standards, in which …

Freedom & the Universities

Defending freedom under attack in universities invariably gets defenders into a variety of trouble. The attackers almost always profess devotion to free speech themselves—except when it is carried to extremes, or is used by fanatics to discredit a cause they believe to be of greater or nobler or more urgent …

In God We Trust

Garry Wills is at pains at the outset of his book to demonstrate the persistence, not to say dominance, of religiosity in contemporary American life, “a marvel of religiosity, for good or ill.” He is quite aware that this view places him at odds with opinion widely prevailing among his …

Civil Warriors

These two famous Civil War memoirs, Grant’s published in 1885, Sherman’s in 1875, are linked in many ways, including the close relations of the authors and the common subject matter of their books. It is well that they are revived and republished simultaneously in the Library of America series, for …

The Inner Civil War

In an essay on the southern imagination Allen Tate quotes an epigram from W. B. Yeats: “Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.” Out of both we make history. But in the making of many histories of the American Civil War …

The Narcissistic South

It is common knowledge that Jimmy and Billy Carter were their legal names. It may be less commonly realized how representative of their native region this folksy naming practice is. The southern delegation in Congress during the mid-1980s, for example, included an Andy, a Billy, a Cathy, a Jamie, a …

The Mississippi Horrors

The plight of southern black people in the age of Jim Crow has of late had little attention from historians and the changes since then have often been minimized. At least three reasons come to mind that help explain why this is so. One is the urgent need for changes …

The Election and the Future: A Symposium

C. Vann Woodward It was President Reagan himself who suggested that the recent presidential election might be regarded as a referendum on his own presidency. There is much to support his view. “I feel a little like I’m on the ballot myself,” he said, and he campaigned that way. The …

Slaves and Mistresses

It would be impossible to find women who knew more about plantation life under slavery from experience than those who were slaves and those who owned slaves. Yet when the subject is broached today they do not normally come to mind nor is their testimony brought to bear, but rather …

Unfinished Business

The way we think, write about, explain, and interpret Reconstruction comes in thirty-year cycles. The first cycle, beginning in the 1870s, was too much an aspect of Reconstruction itself to qualify as an interpretation of its history. Rather it was part of that history. The second cycle, starting around 1900, …

A Southern Romantic

A figure of prime importance in Civil War history, one who stood at the very center of the Confederate war effort, Judah P. Benjamin has remained, for all the five books previously written about him, a shadowy and enigmatic character draped in impenetrable mystery. There are many reasons for this, …

The Lash and the Knout

Writing about Mary Chesnut’s family in antebellum South Carolina, Edmund Wilson remarked that “comparisons with Russia seem inevitable when one is writing about the old South.”[^1] Russian serfdom and American slavery present a challenge to historical comparison that would seem all but irresistible. Yet the challenge has been around a …

Gilding Lincoln’s Lily

Much as they may deplore the fact, historians have no monopoly on the past and no franchise as its privileged interpreters to the public. It may have been different once (though Aristotle thought the claims of the poets superior), but there can no longer be any doubt about the relegation …

The New New South

Reconciling prodigious change with stubborn intransigence is a familiar problem of southern history. Solutions are rarely brought off without some sleight of hand. On the one hand “old” Souths (rarely lasting more than half a century each) continue to multiply while on the other a “new” South is forever being …