Mark Neely's The Union Divided is an important book on a badly neglected topic. In a series of vigorously argued chapters, Neely challenges the long-accepted view that the North's two party system played a vital role in sustaining the Union war effort by moderating public opinion and checking political extremism. Instead, he demonstrates how the partisan press, by seriously distorting events and badly misinterpreting the military situation, overtly stimulated the extremism of the period. This is a bold and provocative book that reveals how fragile the American democratic system really was when confronted with the strains of civil war.
Like most of Mark Neely's work, The Union Divided is marvelously contrarian and thought-provoking. It makes an important contribution to our understanding of Civil War politics and the political history of the United States in the nineteenth century. Especially in Civil War studies, there are too many books that fill in the paradigm. This does the opposite; clearly written, logically argued, it is a terrific work.
How did the Constitution shape the Union's conduct in the Civil War, and how did electoral competition (and shifting public sentiment) in the northern states affect the rhetorical strategies and military calculations of both Union and Confederate leaders? Pulitzer Prize-winning Penn State historian Neely (The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties), asserting that the political history of the war years has been "sadly neglected" by scholars, addresses these questions and others in this engaging volume. Challenging the generally accepted view that the two-party system was "an unalloyed advantage the North held over the South," Neely clearly and deftly demonstrates that the system and all that came with it the waste associated with party patronage and the diatribes of the partisan press, for example did little to help the Union's cause and much to delay victory. He shows how election-year cycles affected Lincoln's military planning: maneuvering to avoid large numbers of casualties before crucial public votes, he did not always deploy his armies to best advantage. Neely also explores the way in which the concept of a "loyal opposition" was essentially abandoned during the war years, with Republicans routinely branding their Democratic opponents as (at best) unwitting Confederate fifth-columnists and (at worst) outright traitors. Though his book is designed to be "tentative and suggestive" in other words, to replace the accepted wisdom with thoughtful queries and to provoke debate Neely provides a bold and informed reappraisal of Northern party and factional discord and its impact on the conduct and outcome of the Civil War. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Historians of the American Civil War have long argued that the two-party political system functioning in the North during the war provided it with a powerful, if not decisive, advantage over the South, where such a system, serving to moderate opposition and direct it through acceptable channels, was absent. In the present work, Neely, McCabe-Greer Professor of the Civil War at Pennsylvania State University and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties, questions this long-held assumption and argues that the system often stirred up rather than controlled conflict. This thought-provoking volume is structured chronologically, tracing the functioning of the system throughout the war and examining topics from the war-time elections to the political functions of newspapers of the day. Utilizing many primary sources, he also provides excellent historiographical context for the topic. Concise, well reasoned, and well written, it will excite much discussion and future scholarship and is recommended for all academic and public libraries. Theresa McDevitt, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.