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In this eye-opening account, Eli Merritt reveals the deep political divisions that almost tore the Union apart during the American Revolution. So fractious were the founders’ political fights that they feared the War of Independence might end in disunion and civil war.
Instead of disbanding into separate regional confederacies, the founders managed to unite for the sake of liberty and self-preservation. In so doing, they succeeded in holding the young nation together. To achieve this, they forged grueling compromises, including Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Mississippi-Fisheries Compromise of 1779, and the ratification of the Articles of Confederation in 1781.
In addition to bringing new insights to the history of the American Revolution, Disunion Among Ourselves has inevitable resonances with our present era of political hyperpolarization and serves as a touchstone for contemporary politics, reminding us that the founders overcame far tougher times than our own through commitment to ethical constitutional democracy and compromise.
About the Author
Eli Merritt is on faculty at Vanderbilt University, where he researches the interface of demagogues and democracy. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, New York Times, New York Daily News, USA Today, International Herald Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Nashville Tennessean, San Francisco Medicine Magazine, The Journal of the American Medical Association, The American Journal of Legal History, and other publications.
“Disunion Among Ourselves tells an important story that has been missed or skipped over in nearly all histories of the Revolution. It has indeed, as promised, recovered ‘a whole area of the Revolution’ previously underappreciated, and for that is invaluable.”—Richard Kreitner, writer and historian, author of Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union
"Eli Merritt deftly explores a revolutionary America rife with divisions and driven by a fear of civil wars on multiple fronts. Deeply researched, wide-ranging, and insightful, Disunion Among Ourselves persuades that our national Union began from, and still depends on, fending off the many demons of disunion."—Alan Taylor, author of American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804
“Disunion Among Ourselves is an elegantly written and deeply researched book that challenges long-accepted myths about the origins of the American Union. Merritt shows that the seeds of the Civil War lay in the American Revolution and that the founding fathers had good cause to fear disunion and internecine conflict. The chance to build a new republic might have been fumbled away without superior statecraft––and indeed it nearly was. This suspenseful account supplies a timely lesson for our own hyperpartisan times––that the values of moderation, compromise, and the rule of law are prerequisite to the survival of democracy.”—Ian W. Toll, author of Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy
“Merritt’s insightful work demonstrates that the issue of sectional conflict was ‘hard wired’ into our nation. Our ‘original sin’ of slavery was inextricably bound up with the ‘original fear’ of disunion. For those interested in the original and continuing project of ‘We the People,’ Disunion Among Ourselves is a must read.”—Nicholas S. Zeppos, Chancellor Emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Law and Political Science, Vanderbilt University
“Eli Merritt takes a new look at a unique political generation––America's leaders during the Revolution, who found ways to overcome divisions as sharp as any we face today. Those leaders often stumbled, and some of the compromises they made––notably those that maintained the viability of slavery––exacted a heavy price in the long run. Yet that generation managed to win a war and give us a country of our own. Merritt helps us understand how they did it.”—Melvin Patrick Ely, William & Mary College, author of Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War
“Disunion Among Ourselves is a most timely book. With detective-like research and deft storytelling, Eli Merritt rescues important conflicts and compromises occurring in the earliest years of the nation’s history from both the shadow of later sectional crises and the glare of founding generation worship. Showing just how unlikely a unity of states was during and after the Revolution—particularly because of regional division over diplomatic challenges long neglected by historians—he displays the essential role played by our first national leaders’ character, intelligence, and discipline.”—Daniel H. Usner, Vanderbilt University, author of Native American Women and the Burdens of Southern History
“Merritt unquestionably contributes to our knowledge of the political rhetoric of the American Revolution by his study of the fear of disunion and civil war. His interpretation helps us understand the politics of the period in both its broader contours and its specifics. This is a significant achievement.”—Max Edling, King’s College, London, author of Perfecting the Union: National and State Authority in the US Constitution