Walther, Eric H. 1960- (Eric Harry Walther)
Walther, Eric H. 1960- (Eric Harry Walther)
Born September 23, 1960, in Los Angeles, CA; son of Ralph and Harriett Walther; married Helen Warwick (a librarian), May 31, 1987. Education: California State University, Fullerton, B.A., 1982; Louisiana State University, M.A., Ph.D., 1988. Hobbies and other interests: Baseball, playing with dog.
Home—Houston, TX. Office—Department of History, University of Houston, 531 Agnes Arnold Hall, Houston, TX 77204. E-mail—[email protected]
Rice University, Houston, TX, editorial assistant for The Papers of Jefferson Davis, 1988-89; Texas A & M University, College Station, lecturer in history, 1989-91; University of Houston, Houston, TX, lecturer in history, 1991—. Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, editorial advisor, 1989-92.
Southern Historical Association.
Andrew W. Mellon fellow, Virginia Historical Society, 1989.
The Fire-eaters, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1992.
The Shattering of the Union: America in the 1850s, Scholarly Resources (Wilmington, DE), 2004.
Writer, editor, and educator Eric H. Walther was born September 23, 1960, in Los Angeles, California. He earned his undergraduate degree at California State University at Fullerton, then continued his education at Louisiana State University, earning a master's degree and his doctorate. From there he went on to serve on the faculty of several universities, including Texas A & M University and the University of Houston, where he taught history. He has also worked in an editorial capacity for several publications, including The Papers of Jefferson Davis, at Rice University, for which he was an editorial assistant, and Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, where he is an editorial advisor. His primary area of research and academic interest is the American Civil War, and he has written several books on the subject, including The Fire-eaters, The Shattering of the Union: America in the 1850s, and William Lowndes Yancey and the Coming of the Civil War.
In The Fire-eaters, Walther takes a look at the intellectual side of the Old South, an area that has received very little scholarly attention over the years. Over the course of the book, he addresses the efforts of nine major radicals, all of whom were part of the movement for secession prior to the start of the American Civil War. According Walther, in order to be labeled a true fire-eater, an individual had to be actively seeking secession and to hold that opinion over the course of several years. Through this determination, he effectively eliminates from the book those last-minute converts who became vocal proponents of secession only moments before South Carolina actually took steps to withdraw from the Union. He does acknowledge that secession might have proven impossible without these individuals, given the numbers required in a vote to separate from the nation, but claims that this necessity does not necessarily mean that they had the long-term commitment to the cause of a true fire-eater. Other than that, Walther is broad in his definition of the term, including both Whigs and Democrats, those who inherited their wealth and those who strove to earn it on their own. Each of the men featured in his book offered a specific skill that helped to push the secession effort forward. Lacy K. Ford, Jr., writing for Reviews in American History, commented that "even though he does not fully develop the point, Walther's fire-eaters, as radical conservatives, were not only more elitist and less egalitarian than the Old South as a whole, but they were also its leading reformers, preaching secession as the last best hope for the restoration of republican virtue."
The Shattering of the Union is part of the "American Crisis" series and addresses the debate over slavery that served as one of the major catalysts for the American Civil War. Walther discusses the fact that, while slavery is uniformly agreed upon as a major cause for the war, many historians continue to look deeper in search of a more precise reason for the conflict. He notes that the idea of secession had come up previously on numerous occasions, almost since the nation's inception, but that for some reason, the period leading up to the Civil War was one of increased tensions and a much greater focus on the possibility of seceding from the Union. As a result, the roles of secession as its own entity as opposed to as a reaction to a specific event, as well as economic issues that plagued the nation and divided its industry, are also vital components in the decision to go to war. Issues of territorial divisions also played a role, given the emphasis placed on whether new territories would control slaves or be forced to enter the Union as slave-free states. Michael A. Morrison, in a review for the Journal of Southern History, commented that "Walther carefully and gracefully demonstrates how abolitionists and proslavery advocates energized sectional phalanxes through novels, purported sociological tracts, magazine articles, and speeches."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Journal of Southern History, February 1, 2006, Michael A. Morrison, review of The Shattering of the Union: America in the 1850s, p. 183.
Reviews in American History, December 1, 1993, Lacy K. Ford, Jr., review of The Fire-eaters, p. 591.