Friday, February 23, 2018

“The Most Complete Political Machine Ever Known”

I don't know much about the Union Leagues. I've encountered scattered mention of them over the years in a variety of different books, mostly in the context of their active role in opposing the "Copperhead" movement on the home front and for being a particularly powerful force in the 1864 election. Last year, the discussion of the electoral effect of another well-organized grassroots pro-Republican organization (the "Wide Awakes") caught my attention in Michael Holt's excellent study The Election of 1860: A Campaign Fraught with Consequences. That led me to think of the Union Leagues of the following national election cycle and perhaps the connections between the two groups. Just as I was wondering if a standard study of the Union Leagues existed, I came across notice of Paul Taylor's upcoming The Most Complete Political Machine Ever Known: The North's Union Leagues in the American Civil War (2018).

Set for a July release from Kent State University Press, the book "examines the Union League movement. Often portrayed as a mere footnote to the Civil War, the Union League's influence on the Northern home front was far more important and consequential than previously considered. The Union League and its various offshoots spread rapidly across the North, and in this first comprehensive examination of the leagues, Taylor discusses what made them so effective, including their recruitment strategies, their use of ostracism as a way of stifling dissent, and their distribution of political propaganda in quantities unlike anything previously imagined. By the end of 1863, readers learn, it seemed as if every hamlet from Maine to California had formed its own league chapter, collectively overwhelming their Democratic foe in the 1864 presidential election."

It sounds like an important study. I think it is in good hands with Paul Taylor, too, as he's already demonstrated the ability to craft fine Civil War books on diverse topics (winning numerous book awards along the way).


  1. Hi Drew - Thank you for the kind words and I certainly hope your expectations will be met. In the course of my research, I concluded that the partisan political rancor so prevalent today was equaled every bit by the mud-slinging from back then. Moreover, there are more than a few interesting parallels between then and now. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same!

  2. Drew - this looks like a nice addition to the growing literature on political aspects of the northern home front. And I agree regarding Paul's track record - "Old Slow Town" was a solid study of Civil War Detroit, for example.


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