Book Review

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Book Review

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Elizabeth R. Varon has written an ambitious book that seeks to reimagine the causes of the Civil War. She does this by focusing on one idea—that of disunion. Varon argues that the word disunion was a catalyst of sectionalism. In her words, “disunion rhetoric shaped and limited Americans' political and moral imagination, ultimately discouraging a politics of compromise and lending an aura of inexorability to the cataclysmic confrontation of North and South” (p. 2). Varon is careful to limit her argument. Disunion talk did not cause the Civil War, she acknowledges—slavery did. But that word, and the multiple meanings and images that it assumed (Varon sets out the five categories of prophecy, threat, accusation, process, and program), did facilitate and characterize the political conflict over slavery.


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