With Ballots & Bullets: Partisanship & Violence in the American Civil War

Table of Contents

Status: on teaching leave to finish manuscript 2018-2019 academic year, press TBD.

With Ballots & Bullets reveals the disquieting interaction between mass partisanship and violence in the epochal Civil War era. The book provides keen historical insights about the influence of ordinary people, but it also speaks to the nature of partisan conflict across time. It challenges history and political science scholarship in that way with evidence from America’s most costly and consequential conflict, which still echoes in politics today. In themes & methods, the book is a mix of Berinsky’s (2009) In Time of War, Faust’s (2008) This Republic of Suffering, and Costa & Kahn’s (2008) Heroes & Cowards.

The book contributes four key insights about mass partisanship in the Civil War era, utilizing vast datasets that include 6 decades of election returns, 1 million individual geo-located Union soldier records, the Census, Grand Army of the Republic posts, and a nationally representative sample of newspapers:

  1. Ordinary partisanship made voters impervious to unprecedented political-military events and unfathomable national casualties — local voting was shockingly stable during the war; voting was stable beforehand across party systems as Northern Whigs & anti-slavery voters turned into Republicans in the 1850s; voting & news were highly nationalized pre-war; & partisanship was stable in post-war votes.
  2. Ordinary partisanship & partisan news contributed to the organized killing of opposing partisans in rates of military participation in a fundamentally partisan war — partisan newspapers mobilized enlistment; Republican areas contributed more combatants per capita & had higher casualty rates among soldiers.
  3. As local casualties grew, ordinary partisanship & partisan news kept Republican places electorally loyal in wartime elections, even as local dead sapped Republican votes elsewhere. Startlingly, war deaths shaped postwar votes through 1912.
  4. Ordinary partisanship influenced post-war memorialization and veteran activism in the Grand Army of the Republic in subsequent decades as the GAR transformed soldiers back into partisan activists, closing the circle of partisanship and violence.

These powerful partisan dynamics — shaped by interactions between and among leaders and citizens — held in a new party system, with strong electoral continuities and political identities & habits carried over from the previous era and persisted after. The Civil War remade the nation and its people, and this book shows the violent, dynamic role of mass partisanship in that remaking.

Rough Chapter Drafts

Intro: An Introduction to Partisan Warfare
Ch. 1: The Power of Partisanship
Partisan Persistence

Ch. 2: Partisan Stability Across Eras
Ch. 3: Wartime Events & Electoral Consequences
Partisan Warfare

Ch. 4: The Press Goes to War
Ch. 5: Filling the Ranks
War & Death in Partisan Elections

Ch. 6: Wartime Elections in the Press
Ch. 7: “Every Drop of Blood” in Wartime Votes
Postwar Partisanship

Ch. 8: A Grand Army of Republicans
Ch. 9: Ghosts of the Civil War

Conclusions: Lessons from Partisan Warfare

Pieces of the Puzzle (awaiting revision into chapters)

Related: Legitimizing partisan violence: Evidence of political bias in state violence views from four experiments.