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The State of Jones

A book by Sally Jenkins

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Well researched, interesting, and thought-provoking

  • Jul 10, 2009
  • by
In his 1927 work Liberalism (Lib Works Ludwig Von Mises PB), Ludwig von Mises wrote, "The right of self-determination in regard to the question of membership in a state thus means: whenever the inhabitants of a particular territory, whether it be a single village, a whole district, or a series of adjacent districts, make it known, by a freely conducted plebiscite, that they no longer wish to remain united to the state to which they belong at the time, but wish either to form an independent state or to attach themselves to some other state, their wishes are to be respected and complied with. This is the only feasible and effective way of preventing revolutions and civil and international wars."

That's the quotation that kept coming to mind as I was reading "The State of Jones," the well-researched and well-written look at community sovereignty, of a sort, during the War Between the States. There wasn't much opportunity for "a freely conducted plebiscite," but certainly, if it was legitimate in 1776 for the American colonies to "dissolve the political bands" that connected them to the British Empire, it was equally legitimate for some of those same states to dissolve the bands that connected them to the U.S. in 1861. From there, Misesian principles follow that this same legitimacy extends to a place like Jones County, Mississippi.

Sadly, authors Jenkins and Stauffer didn't explore the philosophical issues of secession as much as I would have liked, but I can't complain much about what they did do. They tell their story very well -- the writing is believable, the research solid, and their ability to reconstruct characters and motivations from what must not have been a mountain of evidence felt convincing, not forced or contrived. About the one real complaint I have was with their habit of putting the words of many African-American Southerners in a sort of dialect rendering I didn't imagine was considered acceptable any more: "During de war deir wus a heap o' deserters hid out. De Calvarymen would ride through a hunting 'em. We could might nigh alwas' hear 'em a coming long fo' dey got in sight..." (p. 152). Though the speech of poor whites was quoted with grammar intact, there was much less of this evident attempt to capture patterns of speech. Maybe this isn't as unusual as it seems, but I was surprised.

Apart from that, though, this book punches some holes in the idea of Southern honor standing united against the invading Yankee conscript armies. Taken alongside a principled discussion of the right and mechanics of secession -- like Mises', say -- "The State of Jones" is not only interesting history, but thought-provoking history too.

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More The State of Jones reviews
review by . August 23, 2009
The events that followed the end of the American Civil War from 1865 through roughly 1900, known as Reconstruction, mark the darkest days and events in American history, because they revealed a cold-blooded racial hatred that was deep-seated in the hearts and minds of the majority of white Americans. The history of individual families, black and white, from those years who lived through the worst of the violence, particularly in the deep south states like Mississippi, is one of terror and violence, …
review by . June 29, 2009
First off, The State of Jones is extremely well written and exhaustively researched. That alone would earn it at least 4 stars in my estimation. The Civil War category of history books tends to get over crowded with dry academic readings and revisionist polemics that aim to bolster someone's modern agenda (with themes that range from "clearing the family name" to defending racial politics). The subject and storytelling here dodges the first bullet, making for an engrossing read that truly is "difficult …
review by . June 23, 2009
This is one of the most fascinating historical accounts I have ever read, as it emphasizes some points of American history that are rarely emphasized. Furthermore, it also demonstrates how mindless patriotic fervor can be mishandled into catastrophe, something that the United States has unfortunately not been able to outgrow.    One terrible fact rarely mentioned is that if there had been an honest and binding vote of all white males of voting age in each of the states of the Confederacy, …
review by . June 16, 2009
In an era when everybody and his mother is writing yet another book praising Lincoln, The State of Jones by Harvard historian John Stauffer is a fresh and original history of the Civil War. Even if you've already read a lot about the Civil War, this book will radically change your understanding of Civil War history.    The book discusses a pro-Union insurrection deep in the heart of the Confederacy - Jones County, Mississippi. It begins with the horrors of war during the battle …
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Andrew S. Rogers ()
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Mostly, I'm a moderately prolific Amazon.com reviewer who's giving Lunch a try as another venue for my reviews.
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Amazon Best of the Month, July 2009:Make room in your understanding of the Civil War for Jones County, Mississippi, where a maverick small farmer named Newton Knight made a local legend of himself by leading a civil war of his own against the Confederate authorities. Anti-planter, anti-slavery, and anti-conscription, Knight and thousands of fellow poor whites, army deserters, and runaway slaves waged a guerrilla insurrection against the secession that at its peak could claim the lower third of Mississippi as pro-Union territory. Knight, who survived well beyond the war (and fathered more than a dozen children by two mothers who lived alongside each other, one white and one black), has long been a notorious, half-forgotten figure, and inThe State of Jonesjournalist Sally Jenkins and Harvard historian John Stauffer combine to tell his story with grace and passion. Using court transcripts, family memories, and other sources--and filling the remaining gaps with stylish evocations of crucial moments in the wider war--Jenkins and Stauffer connect Knight's unruly crusade to a South that, at its moment of crisis, was anything but solid.--Tom NissleySally Jenkins and John Stauffer on State of Jones

Newton Knight is the most famous Civil War hero you’ve never heard of, because according to Mississippi legend he betrayed not only the Confederacy but his race as well. In 1863 Knight, a poor farmer from Jones County Mississippi, deserted the Confederate Army—and began ...

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ISBN-10: 0385525931
ISBN-13: 978-0385525930
Author: Sally Jenkins
Genre: History
Publisher: Doubleday
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