No Party Now: Politics in the Civil War North

No Party Now: Politics in the Civil War North

No Party Now: Politics in the Civil War North

No Party Now: Politics in the Civil War North


During the Civil War, Northerners fought each other in elections with almost as much zeal as they fought Southern rebels on the battlefield. Yet politicians and voters alike claimed that partisanship was dangerous in a time of national crisis.

InNo Party Now, Adam I. P. Smith challenges the prevailing view that political processes in the North somehow helped the Union be more stable and effective in the war. Instead, Smith argues, early efforts to suspend party politics collapsed in the face of divisions over slavery and the purpose of the war. At the same time, new contexts for political mobilization, such as the army and the avowedly non-partisan Union Leagues, undermined conventional partisan practices. The administration's supporters soon used the power of anti-party discourse to their advantage by connecting their own antislavery arguments to a powerful nationalist ideology. By the time of the 1864 election they sought to de-legitimize partisan opposition with slogans like "No Party Now But All For Our Country!"

No Party Nowoffers a reinterpretation of Northern wartime politics that challenges the "party period paradigm" in American political history and reveals the many ways in which the unique circumstances of war altered the political calculations and behavior of politicians and voters alike. As Smith shows, beneath the superficial unity lay profound differences about the implications of the war for the kind of nation that the United States was to become.


I began the research for this book with a relatively simple question in mind: how did the Civil War affect politics in the North? I knew that there were contested elections throughout the war and that, according to most historians, party politics was a stabilizing influence. Historians agreed that by channeling antiwar dissent into the familiar framework of party competition, elections aided the Union war effort. This rather counter- intuitive thesis intrigued me. I wanted to know more about how elections were conducted under the pressure of war and what they might reveal about the northern wartime experience. Did this unique crisis change the way in which politicians appealed for votes, did it alter the substance and structure of party competition, or the meaning of popular political engagement?

Unlike their southern counterparts, most northerners on the home front experienced the Civil War at arms' length: through newspaper reports, letters from loved ones in the field, and the “vacant chair” at the family table. On the surface at least, life somehow continued: the harvests were gathered, the factories and workshops were busy, and the school- rooms were full. So too, with the regularity of the seasons, elections car- ried on as well. Yet, I came to the conclusion that the continuity in the wartime political experience of northerners was more apparent than real. in some parts of the Union, especially but not exclusively in the Border States, a military presence of some kind added an entirely novel element to politics. Everywhere the language of politics was altered, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. Even where the outward form of political activity was unchanged, the exceptional context altered its meanings. As Abraham Lincoln observed, “the dogmas of the quiet past” proved “inadequate to the stormy present.”

The story of how northerners managed to fight a civil war while also engaging in fierce electoral combat on the home front has been oddly neglected by historians. the lack of attention to this issue is all the more surprising given the central role that the political process played in the re- imagining of the American nation in wartime. I argue in this book that only by appreciating the tension created by “normal” partisan conflict amid a yearning for consensus can we understand the way in which the critical . . .

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