Professor Donald Describes himself as an "unabashed American nationalist" and a conservative, meaning that this brief classroom oriented volume shares the view point of the vast majority of historians of the United States at least up to the '60s. Still, it is innovative in its traditionalism, so to speak, and deftly incorporates the scholarly work of the last quarter of a century to which it is a useful guide.
Donald's thesis is that the central problem of the young republic was to reconcile the expressed drives of the nation as a whole with the rights of sectional minorities entrenched behind local governments, "even when those same local governments [i.e., the slave states] were vigorously trampling on the rights of minorities within their own borders." The balancing feat was possible because the Constitution and political parties provided the mechanism for implementing widely shared beliefs (in America's unique mission, as an instance) that overrode differences. But this equilibrium was shattered in the 1850s by the linkage of slavery's future with expansion. The irreconcilable debate on whether the "institution) should grow or die ended in war when neither North nor South could yield. Yet during the war itself the "two nations" followed similar patterns in solving their problems, and even seemingly "radical" Redconstruction followed a middle course between a bloodbath by the North or guerrilla resistance by the South. Out of Reconstruction's limited political surgery came a new set of economic and social compromises (in which minorities had little voice) which mainstream Americans united upon emotionally. By 1890 there was a new sectional national balance-tilted more towards the center, but still a balance. Due to space limitations, Donald appears to avoid rather that refute alternative interpretations, but his is all in all a provocative compression, primarily useful to those already endowed with some background. (Little, Brown, $12.50)