Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 592: Confederate States of America: Government and Politics

Instructor: Dave Shuster

The Confederate States of America (CSA) government survived for just over four years. Born, not unlike the national confederation, in the heat of conflict, ripples from its accelerated and violent plunge into American history's turbulent pool cascade into our contemporary time…and, likely into our future.

Debates over union or disunion, nullification, states rights vs. national authority and federalism's character began early in our constitutional history, shaped inevitably by the equally contentious, but more fundamental, elephant-in-the-room…slavery. Slavery was, in historian Joseph Ellis's words, one of our founders' two great failures, the other being their inability to reach an equitable and lasting Indian affairs arrangement. They "kicked the can," in modern parlance, to their descendents; with equally disastrous results.

Course participants will seek the complex and diverse roots of southern secession and trace the forces directing its government structure, function, processes and personalities. They will attempt to delve into its soul.

With slavery at its root, discussions about the causes and inevitability of the south's final break with the union must consider complex mingling of its advocates differing motives, commitment and perspectives on national government vs. state governments' constitutionally legitimate accountability, authority, structure and functions, as well as the balancing of often conflicting economic, cultural and citizen interests. Some observers contend that, under the CSA's short and war-driven tenure, its leaders never did (nor could) resolve these issues and find their true character.

Historian Eric H. Walther observes that, "As the nineteenth century progressed, a small but vocal group of southerners emerged who identified northerners as the source attack on the nation's liberty, as declared in 1776. They finally came to agree that, consistent with the Declaration of Independence, they had the right, duty and sacred obligation to secede from what Robert Barnwell Rhett called the northern 'Frankenstein…monster…which they cannot quell.'"

These were Americans holding fast to the 18th century compact theory of union, growing in antagonistic contrast with northern, generally 19th century Jacksonian nationalist theory of union. Seventy years and two generations separated them from (but joined them with) the federalist/antifederalist debates. Again, we see the great divisions of the 1790's regarding conflicting arguments about the meaning of the American Revolution as exemplified in differing perceptions of the 1776 confederation-minded revolutionaries vs. the 1787 nationalists (most eloquently expressed in George Washington's Farewell Address, with respect to citizens' obligation to remain unified).

The Confederacy remains very much alive in the hearts and minds of its adherents. Building on this vitality, students, reading from a common base of assigned texts, will specialize in relevant, self-selected areas of CSA history and jointly draw conclusions pertaining to the long-term impact and contemporary meaning of its existence.

Required Texts

  • Kenneth M. Stampp, ed., The Causes of the Civil War, (New York, Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, 1991) ISBN: o-671-75155-7
  • William C. Davis, Look Away!: A History of the Confederate States of America, (New York, The Free Press, Simon & Schuster, 2002) ISBN: 13-978-0-7432-3499-3
  • Eric H.Walther, The Fire-Eaters, (Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 1992) ISBN: 0-8071-1775-7

Additional Supplemental Materials

  • Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone:The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998) ISBN: 0-674-00211-3
  • Virginius Dabney, Virginia, The New Dominion: A History From 1607 to the Present,(Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia, 1971) ISBN: 0-8139-1015-3
  • William C. Davis, An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government, (New York, Harcourt, Inc., 2001) ISBN: 0-15-600748-7
  • Robin L. Einhorn, American Taxation American Slavery, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006) ISBN: 0-226-19487-6
  • Chris E. Fonvielle, Jr., The Wilmington Campaign: Last Rays of Departing Hope, (Mechanicsburg, PA, STACKPOLE books, 2001).
  • William W. Freehling, The Road To Disunion, Vol. II: Secessionists Triumphant, 185401861, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007) ISBN: 978-0-19-505815-4 (See also Volume I: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854)
  • Hendrick, Burton Jesse, Statesmen of the Lost Cause: Jefferson Davis and His Cabinet, Boston, Little Brown, 1939.
  • Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia, (New York: History Book Club, 2005) ISBN: 0-965-72700-9
  • George C. Rable, The Confederate Republic: A Revolution Against Politics, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994) ISBN: 978-0-8078-5818-9
  • Kenneth M. Stampp, AmericaIn 1857: A Nation on the Brink, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990) ISBN: 0-19-507481-5
  • Ronald C. White Jr., Lincoln's Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002) ISBN: 0-7432-1299-1
  • Others TBD


  • Richardson, Ralph, "The Choice of Jefferson Davis as Confederate President," Journal of Mississippi History, XVH (July, 1955), pp. 161-76.
  • Shofner, Jerrell H. and William Warren Rogers, "Montgomery to Richmond: The Confederacy Selects A Capital." Civil War History, X (June, 1964), pp. 155-66.
  • The Confederate Constitution, Web.
  • Alabama Historical Quarterly
  • Journal of Southern History
  • Publications of the Southern History Association
  • Confederate Veteran
  • American Historical Association

Attendance and Participation

Attendance and participation comprise critical and gradable course components. Students absent (including accumulated lateness and early leaving time) more than 20% of the course (three of sixteen class sessions) are subject to a failing grade. Absent students remain accountable for preparation and prompt delivery of all assignments.

Cheating and Plagiarism

Students are accountable for reading and acting in accordance with UNCW's policy regarding these matters. Students will enthusiastically give mutual due credit to peers as well as to authors.

Course Requirements

Students are expected to have read and internalized, and be prepared to discuss, designated readings. Civility, open-mindedness and mutual respect, during vigorous discussions, are gradable course elements.

Specifically, each student will:

  • Regularly:
    • Attend class
      • (Note: This is an on-line course. Attendance means, for "asynchronous" work, that students will maintain continuous and regular communication with the instructor and will deliver all documents and assignments as specified during the course. Attendance means, for "synchronous" work, that students will promptly attend all joint meetings (on-line or face-to-face), will actively participate in and contribute to discussions, and will stay until the session is adjourned by the Instructor)
    • Communicate effectively (during and between course sessions) with fellow students and the instructor
  • Interactively, knowledgably and civilly discuss relevant topics
  • Accept proactive (vice passive) responsibility and accountability for delivering allocated assignments (periodic written and oral reports) within strict and demanding deadlines
  • Participate in topic exercises
  • Assist peers, e.g., share discovered resources, information and insights
  • Visibly demonstrate willing obedience to the spirit, as well as the letter, of these requirements


Scale/Grade Point System

A = 95-100, A- = 90-94, B+ = 87-89, B = 84-86, B- = 80-83, C+ = 77-79, C = 70-76, C- = 65-69, F = 64 or below
Course Grade Distribution


Weight (%)

1. Module Reports


2.Final Paper


3.Communication and Discussion




*Substantial grade penalties will attach to late deliveries, including non-acceptance (Grade = 0) beyond specified durations. But, take heart…everyone's grade = 100 at course initiation.

Last Update:August 14 , 2009