Thursday, November 2, 2017

Booknotes: A Union Indivisible

New Arrival:
A Union Indivisible: Secession and the Politics of Slavery in the Border South
by Michael D. Robinson (UNC Press, 2017).

Given the strength and number of good additions to the Border State literature (or maybe there aren't as many as it seems), I don't think the region's political machinations over slavery and secession have really been "overlooked" to the degree suggested below in the book description of Michael Robinson's A Union Indivisible:
Many accounts of the secession crisis overlook the sharp political conflict that took place in the Border South states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri. Michael D. Robinson expands the scope of this crisis to show how the fate of the Border South, and with it the Union, desperately hung in the balance during the fateful months surrounding the clash at Fort Sumter. During this period, Border South politicians revealed the region's deep commitment to slavery, disputed whether or not to leave the Union, and schemed to win enough support to carry the day. Although these border states contained fewer enslaved people than the eleven states that seceded, white border Southerners chose to remain in the Union because they felt the decision best protected their peculiar institution.
The above doesn't hint at any real points of departure with the rest of the literature, but there's no reason to believe the author won't add his own brand of nuance or emphasis to established interpretation(s). The underpinnings of the political triumph of conservative pro-Union factions in the various Border States does appear to be a major focus of the study. In it, Robinson "reveals anew how the choice for union was fraught with anguish and uncertainty, dividing families and producing years of bitter internecine violence. Letters, diaries, newspapers, and quantitative evidence illuminate how, in the absence of a compromise settlement, proslavery Unionists managed to defeat secession in the Border South."

The book roughly spans the time period from John Brown's Raid through December 1861. Chapters cover the political fallout from Brown's failed insurrection, the election of 1860, Conditional Unionism in the region, the failure of national compromise proposals, attempts at Border State neutrality, and the final conclusive defeat of Border State secessionism during the second half of 1861.

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