Friday, March 25, 2016

Booknotes: Bonds of Union

New Arrival:
Bonds of Union: Religion, Race, and Politics in a Civil War Borderland by Bridget Ford (UNC Press, 2016).

A new generation of scholarship dealing with the geographical and cultural nexus between North and South is reassessing the distinct borders of the past, like the Ohio River, and finding far more connections than barriers. It is a major theme of Christopher Phillips's soon to be released study of what he calls the Middle Border and it also figures prominently in Bridget Ford's new book, which "reveals how unexpected bonds of union forged among diverse peoples in the Ohio-Kentucky borderlands furthered emancipation through a period of spiraling chaos between 1830 and 1865." Ford moves beyond older scholarship emphasizing the political and economic ties that kept Kentucky in the Union. Instead, she "recovers the potent religious, racial, and political attachments holding the country together at one of its most likely breaking points, the Ohio River."

In doing so, she finds "(i)n their common pursuits of religious devotionalism, universal public education regardless of race, and relief from suffering during wartime, ... a surprisingly capacious and inclusive sense of political union in the Civil War era. While accounting for the era's many disintegrative forces, Ford reveals the imaginative work that went into bridging stark differences in lived experience, and she posits that work as a precondition for slavery's end and the Union's persistence."

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