Sunday, July 8, 2018

Booknotes: "The Most Complete Political Machine Ever Known"

New Arrival:
The Most Complete Political Machine Ever Known: The North's Union Leagues in the American Civil War by Paul Taylor (Kent St Univ Press, 2018).

Paul Taylor's The Most Complete Political Machine Ever Known is the first full-length study of the Union Leagues. The book discusses at length the heavy influence that grassroots organization had on checking political inroads made by Peace Democrats on the northern home front beginning in late 1862. At the same time, the leagues labored indefatigably to garner support for Republican candidates and the war effort against the Confederacy in general. 

From the description: "Across the North, ardent pro-Lincoln men realized their country needed a patriotic stimulus, as well as an organized means of countering what they viewed as their Copperhead adversaries treasonous pronouncements and subversion. These men formed what became known as Union Leagues: semisecretive societies whose members had to possess unconditional loyalty to the Lincoln administration and unwavering support for all of its efforts to suppress the rebellion."

According to Taylor, "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."

I am currently in the process of putting together a Q&A with the author so look for the interview to appear here on the site soon.


  1. My (limited) reading suggested that Lincoln and his team used the Union Leagues as an effective tool to wrestle power from the (radical dominated) republican state committees in particular to blunt the influence of Andrews. I assume but would be interested in knowing more about the role of the Leagues in assembling the National Union Party convention that among other things ditched Hamlin for Johnson as VP on the Lincoln ticket.

    1. The introduction mentions close ties with the administration, but finding out how that cooperation manifested itself will have to await a reading of the text.


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