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Lincoln and the Union Governors

William C. Harris

Publication Year: 2013

Over the course of the Civil War, fifty-nine men served as governors of the twenty-five Union states.  Although these state executives were occasionally obstructionist and often disagreed amongst themselves, their overall cooperation and counsel bolstered the policies put forth by Abraham Lincoln and proved essential to the Union’s ultimate victory. In this revealing volume, award-winning historian William C. Harris explores the complex relationship between Lincoln and the governors of the Union states, illuminating the contributions of these often-overlooked state leaders to the preservation of the nation.

Lincoln recognized that in securing the governors’ cooperation in the war he had to tread carefully and, as much as possible, respect their constitutional authority under the federal system of government.  Contributing to the success of the partnership, Harris shows, was the fact that almost all of the governors were members of Lincoln’s Republican or Union Party, and most had earlier associated with his Whig party.  Despite their support for the war, however, the governors reflected different regional interests, and Lincoln understood and attempted to accommodate these differences in order to maintain a unified war effort.     

Harris examines the activities of the governors, who often worked ahead of Lincoln in rallying citizens for the war, organizing state regiments for the Union army, and providing aid and encouragement to the troops in the field. The governors kept Lincoln informed about political conditions in their states and lobbied Lincoln and the War Department to take more vigorous measures to suppress the rebellion. Harris explores the governors’ concerns about many issues, including the divisions within their states over the war and Lincoln’s most controversial policies, especially emancipation and military conscription. He also provides the first modern account of the 1862 conference of governors in Altoona, Pennsylvania, which provided important backing for Lincoln’s war leadership.

By emphasizing the difficult tasks that both the governors and President Lincoln faced in dealing with the major issues of the Civil War, Harris provides fresh insight into the role this dynamic partnership played in preserving the nation’s democratic and constitutional institutions and ending the greatest blight on the republic—chattel slavery.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-x

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pp. 1-3

Modern historians and students of the Civil War have not given proper credit to the contribution that the Union governors made in winning the war and preserving the nation. The relationship of these state executives with Lincoln, while sometimes difficult, was essential to the Union’s success. Lincoln recognized that in dealing...

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The Secession Crisis

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pp. 4-14

During the course of the Civil War, fifty-nine men served as governors of the twenty-five Union states. These included the governors of the Northern free states; West Virginia, which was admitted to statehood in 1863; Nevada, admitted in 1864; and the slave states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, which...

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The Call to Arms

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pp. 15-37

Lincoln’s agonizing decision to sustain Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, followed by the Confederate bombardment of the fort, resulted in the formal surrender of the federal garrison on April 14. The next day, Lincoln issued a proclamation calling on the states for seventy-five thousand militiamen to suppress “combinations” ...

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The War Becomes Long

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pp. 38-58

During the fall and winter of 1861–62, the mobilization of the Union armies proceeded through the governors. The goals established by Lincoln in the summer, however, were not completely achieved. Volunteers raised by the governors and the states reached 640,000 in December 1862, while the regular army barely increased ...

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The Altoona Conference

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pp. 59-78

On September 10, 1862, Radical Republican senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan wrote to his colleague Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, “Nothing will now save us but a demand of the loyal governors, backed by a threat, that a change of policy and men shall instantly be made.”1 A few days earlier, Governor Curtin of Pennsylvania sensed the need for the governors to confer ...


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pp. G1-G6

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Governor Seymour and the Copperhead Threat

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pp. 79-110

The Democratic Party, which had been splintered earlier by the Republican-led Union coalition, reemerged phoenix-like in 1862 to rally Northern dissidents and party faithful in opposition to Lincoln’s policies and in many cases to the war itself. The Democrats prepared for the fall state and local elections in a climate of bitter...

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The Union Triumphant

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pp. 111-128

On January 19, 1864, in Harrisburg, Governor Andrew Curtin gave his second inaugural address. Speaking on a platform with the original Declaration of Independence beside him, he admonished Pennsylvanians and others in the Union states to “subordinate all things . . . for the preservation of our national life.” The...

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pp. 129-130

My study of Abraham Lincoln, extending over a period of more than twenty-five years, has been aided by many people. Colleagues and students in the North Carolina State University Department of History have been a source of inspiration and support. Lincoln aficionados ...


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pp. 131-134


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pp. 135-150

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Bibliographical Essay

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pp. 151-154

The student of the Civil War will be surprised to learn that there is no modern study of the relationship of Lincoln and the Union governors. William B. Hesseltine’s Lincoln and the War Governors (1948, 1972), though dated, has generally been accepted as the standard account of the subject. Hesseltine’s book reflected the consensus view...


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pp. 155-163

About the Author, Series Page, Flaps, Back Cover

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pp. 164-167

E-ISBN-13: 9780809332892
E-ISBN-10: 0809332892
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809332885
Print-ISBN-10: 0809332884

Page Count: 176
Illustrations: 9
Publication Year: 2013