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The Failure of Our Fathers, Ott

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An in-depth study of non-elite white families in Alabama—from the state’s creation through the end of the Civil War The Failure of Our Fathers: Family, Gender, and Power in Confederate Alabama examines the evolving position of non-elite white families in Alabama during one of the most pivotal epochs in the state’s history. Drawing on a wide range of personal and public documents reflecting the state’s varied regions and economies, Victoria E. Ott uses gender and family as a lens to examine the yeomanry and poor whites, a constituency that she collectively defines as “common whites,” who identified with the Confederate cause. Ott provides a nuanced examination of how these Alabamians fit within the antebellum era’s paternalistic social order, eventually identifying with and supporting the Confederate mission to leave the Union and create an independent, slaveholding state. But as the reality of the war slowly set in and the Confederacy began to fray, the increasing dangers families faced led Alabama’s common white men and women to find new avenues to power as a distinct socioeconomic class. Ott argues that family provided the conceptual framework necessary to understand why common whites supported a war to protect slavery despite having little or no investment in the institution. Going to war meant protecting their families from outsiders who threatened to turn their worlds upside down. Despite class differences, common whites envisioned the Confederacy as a larger family and the state as paternal figures who promised to protect its loyal dependents throughout the conflict. Yet, as the war ravaged many Alabama communities, devotion to the Confederacy seemed less a priority as families faced continued separations, threats of death, and the potential for starvation. The construct of a familial structure that once created a sense of loyalty to the Confederacy now gave them cause to question its leadership. Ott shows how these domestic values rooted in highly gendered concepts ultimately redefined Alabama’s social structure and increased class distinctions after the war.
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