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From journalist and historian Richard Kreitner, a "powerful revisionist account"of the most persistent idea in American history: these supposedly United States should be broken up (Eric Foner). The novel and fiery thesis of Break It Up is simple: The United States has never lived up to its name--and never will. The disunionist impulse may have found its greatest expression in the Civil War, but as Break It Up shows, the seduction of secession wasn't limited to the South or the nineteenth century. It was there at our founding and has never gone away. With a scholar's command and a journalist's curiosity, Richard Kreitner takes readers on a revolutionary journey through American history, revealing the power and persistence of disunion movements in every era and region. Each New England town after Plymouth was a secession from another; the thirteen colonies viewed their Union as a means to the end of securing independence, not an end in itself; George Washington feared separatism west of the Alleghenies; Aaron Burr schemed to set up a new empire; John Quincy Adams brought a Massachusetts town's petition for dissolving the United States to the floor of Congress; and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison denounced the Constitution as a pro-slavery pact with the devil. From the "cold civil war" that pits partisans against one another to the modern secession movements in California and Texas, the divisions that threaten to tear America apart today have centuries-old roots in the earliest days of our Republic. Richly researched and persuasively argued, Break It Up will help readers make fresh sense of our fractured age.
- ISBN-13: 9780316510608
- ISBN-10: 0316510602
- Publisher: Little Brown and Company
- Publish Date: August 2020
- Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.65 pounds
- Page Count: 496
Break It Up
The dream of independence, not union, inspired the early European settlers of what is now the United States to leave their old world for a new one. The colonies were founded for different reasons, had different economies and pursued distinctively different interests. Race, religion, class, regional resentment and culture have always divided us. Our most powerful myth, that the many melded into one, has never been true. In his engaging and enlightening Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union, journalist and historian Richard Kreitner explores this hidden thread of disunion in a fresh, well-documented and persuasive way, focusing on four distinct eras during which some sought to break away from the larger Union.
Consider the following narrative: The American Revolution was a spontaneous response to colonists’ realization that they could not separately fight the British Empire and win. The creation of the U.S. was a means to an end, not an end in itself. The drafting and ratification of the Constitution were done in secret in the midst of secessionist movements in the West and insurrection in the East. The Founding Fathers were careful to protect their own interests, including their interest in owning enslaved people.
The first popular disunion movement in our history developed in the North when the Federalists, out of power during the Jefferson presidency, discussed leaving. The War of 1812 led to the Hartford Convention and more secession talk. There was also Aaron Burr’s scheme to form a new Western empire.
For years, Southerners cared more about continuing slavery than Northerners did about stopping it, until the abolitionist movement changed politics. Northern resentment boiled over after years of Southern intimidation. In this way, the Civil War could be seen as a Northern resistance movement after years of compromises with the South to try and hold the Union together.
There is so much more in this provocative and often surprising book, including the ways that secessionist movements have continued into the present. Kreitner challenges readers to rethink what the Union means to us and how we can help it live up to its highest ideals. Reading Break It Up is an excellent place to start.