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472 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 12 illus., notes, bibl., index

Littlefield History of the Civil War Era

ISBN  978-0-8078-7159-1
Published: September 2010

Large Print
ISBN  978-0-8078-6607-8
Published: February 2010


The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859

By Elizabeth R. Varon

In the decades of the early republic, Americans debating the fate of slavery often invoked the specter of disunion to frighten their opponents. As Elizabeth Varon shows, "disunion" connoted the dissolution of the republic--the failure of the founders' effort to establish a stable and lasting representative government. For many Americans in both the North and the South, disunion was a nightmare, a cataclysm that would plunge the nation into the kind of fear and misery that seemed to pervade the rest of the world. For many others, however, disunion was seen as the main instrument by which they could achieve their partisan and sectional goals. Varon blends political history with intellectual, cultural, and gender history to examine the ongoing debates over disunion that long preceded the secession crisis of 1860-61.

About the Author

Elizabeth R. Varon is professor of history at the University of Virginia.


"Varon fulfills her goal of distinguishing disunion from secession and exploring the multifaceted meanings of the term. . . . She eminently succeeds in showing how disunion evolved from a 'prophecy' that no one wanted fulfilled to the fire-eaters' 'program.'"
--American Historical Review

"A compelling argument about the political significance of language. . . Speaks to specialists and remains approachable for undergraduates, scholars in other fields, and general readers."

"A cogently reasoned intellectual history of a frequently misunderstood historical term. . . . Varon successfully weaves together political debates, contemporary journalism, literary fiction and nonfiction, sermons from pulpits of the nation's leading churches and other sources of popular culture."
--Civil War Times

"Varon's success in setting her analysis of disunion rhetoric against a comprehensive historiographical backdrop is exceptional. Meticulously researched and beautifully assembled, Disunion will become a standard text for students and scholars interested in this tumultuous chapter in American history."
--North & South

"[A] very important book. . . . Well-written and carefully documented and will be imminently useful to undergraduate and graduate classrooms alike."
--The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

"Installs [the premise of disunion] by weaving the country's beginnings with the immediate, and profound, philosophical differences that existed between the agrarian, slaveholding South and the industrialized North."
--The Anniston Star

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