The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990

Book Reviews

pretation seeks to identify an antebellum southern white culture dis-
tinctive from that of the North, and to explain its distinctiveness by ref-
erence to a Celtic heritage peculiarly strong in the South.
The book begins with a lengthy prologue by McDonald on the Celts
in Britain. Then, in the first two chapters, McWhiney shows the domi-
nance of Celts in southern settlement-as opposed to that of the
North-and identifies several broad similarities between British Celts
and white southerners, notably an aversion to work and a devotion to
leisure. In subsequent chapters, on topics ranging from herding to mo-
rality to violence, McWhiney draws heavily on travelers' accounts to an-
ecdotally describe similar elements in white southern and Celtic British
ways of life.
The discussions vary in quality and persuasiveness. The chapter on
herding is probably the best, the most firmly grounded and infor-
mative. Much of the book, however, lacks the complexity found in por-
traits of the Old South drawn by other recent historians, often making
McWhiney's view of southern life seem, by comparison, a caricature (an
impression reinforced, unfortunately, by many of the illustrations
chosen for the book). This problem is exacerbated by his great reliance
on travelers' accounts. These accounts are filled with biases and stereo-
types, as McWhiney acknowledges, but he does not adequately control
for the difficulties such biases create when he uses the accounts as evi-
dence. Additionally, McWhiney is frequently unclear about who his
"crackers" were. Usually, he focuses exclusively on those plain-folk and
poor whites to whom the term "cracker" has traditionally referred, but
he sometimes appears to include all white southerners in his "cracker
Certainly, Old World backgrounds were important in the formation
of antebellum southern cultures, as recent studies of Afro-Americans
and elite white southerners have made plain. McWhiney is to be com-
mended for reminding us that the same point must be made about
"cracker" communities, too. To understand the significance of that
point, however, we will have to look more systematically and with more
depth at southern plain-folk-and at the processes of retention, adapta-
tion, and innovation that helped to form their culture-than McWhiney
has done here.
University of California at Irvine DICKSON D. BRUCE, JR.
The Papers of Jefferson Davis, 1856-186o, Volume 6. Edited by Lynda
Lasswell Crist and Mary Seaton Dix. Introduction by Robert W.
Johannsen. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.


Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed July 12, 2014.