|A Message from the Author
Two concerns loomed large when I first began to study history—the persistence of racial inequality a hundred years after emancipation, and the paradox of using unlimited collective violence to pursue supposedly just ends. My graduate school advisor, C. Vann Woodward, called attention to both matters in his memorable essay, “Equality: The Deferred Commitment.” As the Civil War centennial approached and the long-oppressed black people of the South took to the streets to protest the status quo, Woodward cautioned that historians ought not depict the North as “burning for equality since 1863 with a hard, gem-like flame” or celebrate “a holy war that ennobled its participants.”
Looking back from half a century later, I see clearly that my work has grappled with both issues. My dissertation, completed at Yale University in 1968, addressed the faltering commitment to equality in the postwar North, and raised for me the question of how much commitment had ever existed in the first place. But as a young teacher several years later, I became preoccupied with a topic that has been the focus of my historical energies ever since—how did the Civil War begin in the first place, and what did the participants originally hope to accomplish by resorting to arms?
Although I had been cautioned that the crisis leading to war had been studied to death and that there was nothing new to learn, I gradually made myself a specialist on the history of the Old South and the North-South sectional conflict. I wrestled for a long time with the story of what actually happened in three key Upper South states—Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee—where most white people hated secession but ended up fighting on the southern side. My first book, Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis (University of North Carolina Press, 1989), explored the social and economic foundations of politics and the role played by partisanship in making North-South disagreements more insoluble and explosive.
Fresh things that hadn’t been part of the conventional historical narrative continued to catch my attention and I have kept scribbling away. My subsequent books include the following—Old Southampton: Politics and Society in a Virginia County, 1834-1869 (University Press of Virginia, 1992); Cobb's Ordeal: The Diaries of a Virginia Farmer, 1842-1872 (University of Georgia Press, 1997); and, hot off the presses, A Secession Crisis Enigma: William Henry Hurlbert and “The Diary of a Public Man” (Louisiana State University Press, April 2010).
I also have published numerous articles, written over fifty book reviews, and contributed to six biographical anthologies, including four entries in American National Biography. My essays in two Blackwell volumes—A Companion to the American South, and A Companion to the Civil War and Reconstruction—summarize and assess scholarship in my fields of specialization. I got a classic back into print—David M. Potter, Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis (Yale University Press, 1942, 1962; reissued with new introduction by Daniel W. Crofts, Louisiana State University Press, 1995, use promotion code 04anniver for 35% discount). In April 2009, I was an invited panelist at a conference entitled “America on the Eve of the Civil War," hosted by the University of Richmond.
For over three decades, I have been fortunate to teach at The College of New Jersey. The History Department, which I chaired from 1996 to 2005, encourages Americanists to teach world history and rub shoulders with colleagues who have enviable world-historical perspective. This supportive setting emboldened me to write Upstream Odyssey: An American in China, 1895-1944 (EastBridge Books, 2008), a biography of my grandfather.
Dan is also a writer for the New York Times "Disunion" Blog. Click on the links below to read some of his work!
A Baptism of Blood?
No Better Southern Man
The Diary of a 'Susseader'
Lincoln Addresses the Nation
John Gilmer's Last Stand
The Adams Family
Virginia's Bad Old Man