History & Politics

Disunion Among Ourselves:

How North-South Compromise Saved the American Revolution

Disunion Among Ourselves tells the story of the American Revolution through the lens of the founding fathers’ relentless struggles to avert disunion and domestic 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 was 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 ever signed in history. How did they do it? They succeeded in these seemingly impossible tasks because they were uniquely self-searching, aware of the complexities of human psychology, cognizant of their prejudices, and willing to extend a hand to their political opponents, in part because they understood the consequences if they did not. They led with a platform of fierce debate followed by compromise. They possessed emotional intelligence and wisdom, and they were dedicated above all else to the rule of law. 

 

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 untold story of how the founding fathers navigated the deep fractiousness and dissensions of their times to forge a Union. This history of early American division and compromise has inevitable resonances with our present era of political hyper-polarization. The book 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 liberal democracy. 

© 2019 Eli Merritt