Disunion Among Ourselves:

How North-South Compromise Saved the American Revolution

Today, in the second decade of the 21st century, many Americans have lost faith in politics and a polarized government. Disunion Among Ourselves tells the story of the deep political divisions that beset the Continental Congress during the American Revolution. So fractious were the founders’ political fights that they feared the Revolution might end in disunion and civil war.  

 

Typically, accounts of the Revolution highlight the stunning might of the British armed forces as the chief obstacle to achieving American independence. In fact, the greatest danger to the nascent Union—from the First Continental Congress in 1774 until the war’s end in 1783—was powerful regional chauvinism and government infighting that threatened to break apart the Continental Congress. If and when the states separated, most likely into Northern and Southern confederacies, armed civil conflict seemed inevitable due to vast unsettled financial disputes between the states as well as, crucially, the unresolved ownership of 300 million acres of fertile land in the trans-Appalachian West obtained from King George in the Treaty of Paris in 1783. 

 

Instead, the founding fathers forged grueling compromises that not only saved the Revolution and achieved independence, but obtained our first U.S. constitution and acquired one of the most bountiful peace treaties signed in our history. How did they do it? They succeeded in these seemingly impossible tasks because they were self-searching, aware of the complexities of human and group psychology, cognizant of their prejudices, and willing to compromise, in part because they understood the dire consequences if they did not. The founders led with a platform of fierce debate followed by compromise. Above all else, they believed in the rule of law, practicing it faithfully and ethically.   

 

Disunion Among Ourselves has inevitable resonances with our present era of political hyper-polarization. It fills a critical gap in our historical understanding of the Revolution while at the same time serving as a touchstone for contemporary politics, inspiring readers to study and emulate the values and disciplines of the founders as we search for new ways to sustain our ethical constitutional democracy. 

© 2019 Eli Merritt