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Praise for The South's Forgotten Fire-Eater

About the Book
No one would have known about north Alabama's David Hubbard without this well-researched and well-rounded exploration of the man and his times. It’s a fascinating account offered by Chris McIlwain to the general reader and serious historian alike, one which describes a man of action who greatly influenced the course of events leading up to the secession of the Southern states and how events played out during and immediately after the Civil War. Hubbard was a player!
Chris McIlwain has become one of the leading historians of nineteenth-century Alabama, and this fine volume will only add luster to that reputation. Deeply researched, provocatively argued, and forcefully written, McIlwain's newest work rescues a significant Alabama fire-eater from obscurity. This book unravels a complex but important story of land speculation, banking, railroads, economic development, partisan intrigue, and sectional politics. McIlwain uses David Hubbard's life to probe the actions of Alabama politicians hurtling toward secession and war. A must-read for anyone interested in Civil War-era Alabama.
McIlwain’s study of Congressman David Hubbard illustrates the sheer weirdness of the path to secession through one fire-eater’s long and varied career. Hubbard went from being one of Andrew Jackson’s Indian fighters to a proslavery militant, and his racial animus is the one consistent thing about him. But he was also an anti-bank popular firebrand, assembling and losing a fortune as a speculator in Chickasaw land, bank investor, and railroad promoter, all the while pursuing his own ends in Alabama’s legislature. McIlwain provides a troubling look at north Alabama society through the vehicle of this devoted secessionist, a political rebel who lived by the adage, 'it is good to be shifty in a new state.'
McIlwain’s biography of David Hubbard is much more than an engaging account of an overlooked politician from antebellum Alabama; it is a bold reappraisal of the human factors driving the state’s secession movement in the late 1850s. Through strong prose backed by extensive research, the author highlights the crucial role that Hubbard played in transforming the region of northern Alabama from one that generally viewed secession with great reluctance into one that became increasingly more receptive to this radical course of action. In doing so, McIlwain rightly accords Hubbard the same level of prominence and agency in bringing about Alabama’s secession that historians have long attributed to the more famous William L. Yancey. This book is an important and original contribution to the history of Alabama during the Civil War era.
Chris McIlwain once again sets his critical eye on another Alabamian who led the state to make a series of disastrous decisions during the mid-nineteenth century. David Hubbard started his political career as a firm supporter of Andrew Jackson, but with each new national conflict—over Indian removal, the annexation of Texas, war with Mexico, the Wilmot Proviso, and others—he emerged as a more radical and uncompromising defender of a separate Southern nation. Much of his success lay in gaining the votes of the non-slaveholders by over appeals to their fears of slave rebellions and to their resentment of the wealthy. At the time, Hubbard was among those north Alabamians pushing for critical economic changes, including industrialization, which McIlwain details in a particularly significant contribution. In short, The South's Forgotten Fire-Eater is a fresh look at one road to secession—twists, turns, dust, rocks, and all.