Today Brooks Simpson is asking his readers for their understanding of why white northerners resisted secession and disunion in 1861. It’s a good question and one that is rarely discussed or taken seriously. I’ve learned a great deal from reading Russell McClintock’s Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession.
Brooks’s question is a good one, but I think we can extend it south of the Mason-Dixon Line as well. Paul Quigley does a brilliant job in his new book of analyzing how white southerners negotiated their own deep ties to union during this period, including those who remained loyal and those who came to identify closely with the Confederacy.
My question is a slightly different one. Why do we find it so difficult to appreciate the concept of union for millions of Americans (north and south) in 1861? It’s also challenging to teach it and as I contemplate my own return to the classroom in a few weeks I look forward to the opportunity to take another crack at it. In the meantime here is a lecture by Gary Gallagher in which he explores some of these questions based on his latest book, The Union War.