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The Cacophony of Politics

Northern Democrats and the American Civil War
J. Matthew Gallman

BUY Cloth · 416 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813946566 · $35.00 · Nov 2021
BUY Ebook · 416 pp. · ISBN 9780813946573 · $35.00 · Nov 2021

The Cacophony of Politics charts the trajectory of the Democratic Party as the party of opposition in the North during the Civil War. A comprehensive overview, this book reveals the myriad complications and contingencies of political life in the Northern states and explains the objectives of the nearly half of eligible Northern voters who cast a ballot against Abraham Lincoln in 1864.

The party’s famous slogan "The Union as it was, the Constitution as it is" was meant to have broad appeal and promote solidarity among Northern Democrats by invoking their core ideological commitments to nationalism, law and order, tradition, and strict construction. But, as J. Matthew Gallman shows, the slogan was a poor reflection of the volatile, fluid, messy, and improvisational reality of political life for men and women, across the public and private spheres. Democrats experienced the war as a cascading series of dilemmas, for which their slogan did not always offer guidance or resolution. Offering a definitive account of the Democratic Party in the North, The Cacophony of Politics shows the limits of ideology and the ways the Civil War—and the nature of nineteenth-century political culture—confounded the Democrats’ self-image and exacerbated their divisions, especially over the central issue of slavery.

A Nation Divided: Studies in the Civil War Era


A career spent studying American life in the Civil War era has given Dr. Gallman a kaleidoscopic and yet comprehensive perspective on one of the key questions of the nineteenth century: Why did certain northerners oppose Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party as they fought to save the United States and end the institution of slavery? In this important book, Gallman examines the shifting meanings of principle, location, timing, racism, and politics to suggest that what motivated Democrats was not a straightforward political ideology so much as a complicated cacophony of contingencies.

Heather Cox Richardson, Boston College · To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party

Matt Gallman’s insightful, deeply researched, and soundly analyzed book instantly becomes the standard study of opposition politics during the Civil War. The subject has long cried out for reinterpretation, and Gallman has risen to the occasion by filling a gaping void in the literature. He not only explores the limits of dissent in a divided America, but the boundaries of party loyalty, a subject of relevance and urgency in our own time as well as Lincoln’s.

Harold Holzer, Hunter College · Lincoln and the Power of the Press

The Cacophony of Politics is an invigorating dive into the hearts and minds of a wide range of Northern Democrats during the Civil War and brings a compelling new perspective to a familiar topic. By sampling the thoughts and actions of Democratic partisans across the country, J. Matthew Gallman highlights the delicate balancing act required of the formerly dominant party that struggled to define itself as the loyal opposition while contending with treasonous elements within its ranks. A great read!

Joan Waugh, UCLA, president of the Society of Civil War Historians and author of U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth

Most Civil War Northern Democrats wanted to defeat secession, by force if necessary. Yet they feared that the Lincoln administration would destroy the republic in order to save it. In this rich and engaging study, Matthew Gallman reveals the motives and internal conflicts of these anti-Lincoln Northerners and explains why understanding them is so important for a full picture of the war.

Adam I. P. Smith, University of Oxford · The Stormy Present: Conservatism and the Problem of Slavery in Northern Politics, 1846-1865

About the Author(s): 

J. Matthew Gallman is Professor of History at the University of Florida and author of the award-winning Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front, among other works.

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