I think it will be instructive to sketch out his theory of Civil War history.
Goldfield, our author, suggests that the Civil War was caused by religious zealotry in the North. The religious zealots could not stand slavery. Their religiousness made them willing to go to great lengths to perfect their society – this meant ending slavery by force, if necessary.
I’ve covered this before – abolitionism is obviously the cause of the war though it’s currently fashionable to blame “slavery” while ignoring the fact that every other slave-holding country ended slavery without resorting to the mass slaughter of its own citizenry and that slavery had existed in the US for a very long time without requiring mass slaughter.
One point for Goldfield for correctly understanding the causes of the war.
Goldfield’s story gets absurd when he discusses the end of the war. He believes that after 4 years of war that killed the modern equivalent of 10 million people, Northerners gave up their religious extremism, went home, and started the industrial revolution. (Harriet Beecher Stowe became a Episcopalian, he said – which is a lovely anecdote).
That’s mainstream history for you. They prosecuted the war to an incredibly bloody and destructive end in the name of their religion and then decided to drop their religion. How can anyone who has ever met any real-life people believe this?
Instead, what happened was that the Northerners continued to try to perfect the conquered South. The results were devastating and continued for years. Read the intro to this book for the best short description that I’ve found. Only after many more years of failure and destruction – and how could they not fail at making model citizens out of people who were just removed from slavery? – did the Northerners give up. Ignoring the tragedy of reconstruction is fashionable, but inexcusable.
Later Goldfield goes on to suggest that Southerners adopted the Northern religious extremism, as conquered societies often adopt the views of their conquerors. This explains the backwardness of Southerners today, you see. Unfortunately, Goldfield does not consider the much more likely explanation of events. Violently religious people don’t simply stop believing. However, religions may transform over time. The new form of that same old religion is the reason why Goldfield can’t discuss reconstruction and feels comfortable mocking Southerners.