Must Read Book

Neely, Mark, Southern Rights: Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism (1999).

My favorite among recent books is Mark Neelyís Southern Rights: Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism. Neely convincingly brings together information from a variety of sources, but most important from the records of the Confederate Secretary of War, to explode the common view of the Confederacy as more lenient on civil liberties and political dissent than Lincolnís administration. In particular Neelyís description of the work of the southern habeas corpus commissioners shows how civilian prisoners languished in southern prisons. I was also impressed by Neelyís emphasis on the ideologies of those arrested by Confederate officials -- he believes even the poor and powerless who stated their positions in political terms should be taken seriously. Neelyís section on Jefferson Davis -- showing the limits of Davisís concerns for individual liberties during the war and his conscious self positioning after the war as having always been the defender of liberty -- is masterful. Neelyís thoughtful analysis gives us an excellent historical context for thinking about the extent to which wartime conditions can allow governments to abridge the rights of their citizens and resident aliens.

Recommended by Jane Turner Censer, George Mason University

Jane Turner Censer teaches American history at George Mason University. Among her publications are North Carolina Planters and their Children, 1800-1860 (Louisiana State University Press, 1984), and essays and articles on southern women and families. Recently, she edited, with a new introduction, a feminist novel about Reconstruction, Like Unto Like, written by Sherwood Bonner and published in the Southern Classics series by the University of South Carolina Press.