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From journalist and historian Richard Kreitner, a "powerful revisionist account"of the most persistent idea in American history: these supposedly United States should be broken up (Eric Foner).
The novel and fiery thesis of Break It Up is simple: The United States has never lived up to its name—and never will. The disunionist impulse may have found its greatest expression in the Civil War, but as Break It Up shows, the seduction of secession wasn’t limited to the South or the nineteenth century. It was there at our founding and has never gone away.
With a scholar’s command and a journalist’s curiosity, Richard Kreitner takes readers on a revolutionary journey through American history, revealing the power and persistence of disunion movements in every era and region. Each New England town after Plymouth was a secession from another; the thirteen colonies viewed their Union as a means to the end of securing independence, not an end in itself; George Washington feared separatism west of the Alleghenies; Aaron Burr schemed to set up a new empire; John Quincy Adams brought a Massachusetts town’s petition for dissolving the United States to the floor of Congress; and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison denounced the Constitution as a pro-slavery pact with the devil.
From the “cold civil war” that pits partisans against one another to the modern secession movements in California and Texas, the divisions that threaten to tear America apart today have centuries-old roots in the earliest days of our Republic. Richly researched and persuasively argued, Break It Up will help readers make fresh sense of our fractured age.
The Nation contributor Kreitner (Booked) delivers an eye-opening chronicle of separatist movements within the U.S. Contending that the antagonisms of the Trump presidency are nothing new, Kreitner traces social divisions based on regional, racial, and cultural differences from the colonial era to the present day, and writes that the refusal to recognize this long-running pull toward breaking up the union "has been a major cause of our political dysfunction and social strife." He counters the popular conception that 19th-century Southern slave owners were the nation's only true secessionists by showing how a group of New Englanders, leery of trade restrictions and the inevitable conflict with Great Britain and Native Americans brought on by westward expansion, conspired to secede from the U.S. after the Louisiana Purchase, and profiles members of contemporary secessionist movements in Texas and California. Briskly documenting centuries of conflict, Kreitner makes a strong case that the impulse to dissolve the union will always resonate in such a vast and diverse nation. How much this actually matters, given the country's long history of sticking together, is left up to the reader to decide. Still, this entertaining history provides plenty of food for thought.