States of the Union: The Rise and Fall of the Political Center in the Civil War North

Furniss, Jack, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Varon, Elizabeth, Department of History, University of Virginia
Gallagher, Gary, Department of History, University of Virginia

This dissertation answers fundamental questions about how it was that the socially and politically conservative northern electorate ended slavery and vastly expanded the federal government during the American Civil War. Unlike other nations during times of war, the United States never considered suspending the democratic process and the fate of the Union hung on state elections held during every year of the conflict. Rather than progressive Republicans triumphing over reactionary Democrats, this account argues that elections hinged on a political middle-ground where parties formed centrist alliances to appeal to wavering voters. This ideological centrism is charted by analyzing the elections and tenures of northern governors in California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky, and Ohio. Instead of embracing government centralization and revolutionary measures like emancipation, northern governors asked voters to tolerate these developments as temporary military necessities. Governors expected a retrenchment of the federal government after the war and saw emancipation as the end rather than the start of changing social mores around race. By the later years of the war, Lincoln and his national party adopted many of the messages and strategies promulgated by prominent and powerful state governors. These findings illustrate the limited basis on which the northern people accepted the war’s revolutionary outcomes and help explain the federal government’s subsequent struggles to promote greater racial equality during Reconstruction and beyond.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Civil War, politics, governance, governors, states, federalism, centrism, Union Party, Republicans, Democrats
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