Dreams of a More Perfect Union (Paperback)Rogan Kersh (author)
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In a brilliantly conceived and elegantly written book, Rogan Kersh investigates the idea of national union in the United States. For much of the period between the colonial era and the late nineteenth century, he shows, "union" was the principal rhetorical means by which Americans expressed shared ideals and a common identity without invoking strong nationalism or centralized governance. Through his exploration of how Americans once succeeded in uniting a diverse and fragmented citizenry, Kersh revives a long-forgotten source of U.S. national identity.
Why and how did Americans perceive themselves as one people from the early history of the republic? How did African Americans and others at the margins of U.S. civic culture apply this concept of union? Why did the term disappear from vernacular after the 1880s? In his search for answers, Kersh employs a wide range of methods, including political-theory analysis of writings by James Madison, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln and empirical analysis drawing on his own extensive database of American newspapers. The author's findings are persuasive-and often surprising. One intriguing development, for instance, was a strong resurgence of union feelings among Southerners-including prominent former secessionists-after the Civil War.
With its fascinating and novel approach, Dreams of a More Perfect Union offers valuable insights about American political history, especially the rise of nationalism and federalism. Equally important, the author's close retracing of the religious, institutional, and other themes coloring the development of unionist thought unveils new knowledge about the origination and transmittal of ideas in a polity.
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Number of pages: 376
Weight: 539 g
Dimensions: 235 x 156 x 20 mm
"Dreams of a More Perfect Union is something truly remarkable-a nuanced, subtle examination of the idea of union in American thought. Rogan Kersh... begins by noting a puzzling fact. Although union was a powerful concept in the minds and hearts of a wide variety of Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, by the dawn of the twentieth century, it had all but faded away.... It is difficult to do justice to the complex story that Kersh tells.... In its rigor of analysis, depth of research, and clarity of exposition, it is the definitive study of its subject. Moreover, it deserves respectful attention as a methodological benchmark for all future studies of concepts in the history of American political thought."* Journal of American History *
"Incredibly, scant attention has been paid to the concept of union itself as an adhesive force for building a national community divided by geography, section, economy, and race. Rogan Kersh seeks to fill this gap in scholarship and provide a means of reconciling the competing republican and liberal interpretations with his excellent Dreams of a More Perfect Union.... While it was published before the attacks of September 11, it has a particular immediate relevance.... At a time when some American leaders are encouraging strong government and robust national patriotism as a means of self-definition, perhaps a reading of this work and a contemplation of their nineteenth-century forebears would point to a less abrasive form of self-expression."* Australian Journal of Politics and History *
"Rogan Kersh provides an insightful history of the concept of 'union' in American political and popular discourse.... As Kersh amply demonstrates, the scholarly oversight of union has been unfortunate. Understanding the concept of union is essential to understanding American politics from before the American Revolution until well after Reconstruction.... Kersh provides a fascinating and useful political and intellectual history of the concept of union in the United States, and his account will be of great interest to students of American political thought and nineteenth-century American politics."* American Historical Review *
"Kersh boldly asserts that union was as important a concept as republicanism or democracy in shaping the political consciousness of the United States until well after the Civil War.... He outlines an original and sophisticated interpretation examining the way in which the concept of union united a diverse people who feared to consider themselves a 'nation' under a centralized government."* Choice *
"No other concept-Americanism, nationalism, the state-can capture both the sentiments and purposes that union did. Union was, of course, a facade that hid self-interest... but it was also a way to express both national identity and diversity in a systematic fashion. It is far to early to speculate whether expressions such as 'United We Stand' will bring back union talk let alone if desirable forms will emerge. In any case, Rogan Kersh's Dreams of a More Perfect Union would be an excellent guide in any such effort."* Utopian Studies *
"For two centuries, Americans have pursued the idea of forming the 'more perfect union' that our Constitution proposes. Rogan Kersh's inquiry into the changing forms this pursuit has taken is the closest thing we now have to a more perfect intellectual and political history of this central concept of American nationhood."-- Jack Rakove, Stanford University
"In this extraordinary book, Rogan Kersh discovers a lost theme running through American history and he manages to do so with elegance, wit, and polish. This book is big: Dreams of a More Perfect Union will vault Kersh into the elite ranks of the politics and history crowd."-- James Morone, Brown University