In this highly original study, Gregory Downs argues that the most
American of wars, the Civil War, created a seemingly un-American
popular politics, rooted not in independence but in voluntary
claims of dependence. Through an examination of the pleas and
petitions of ordinary North Carolinians, Declarations of
contends that the Civil War redirected, not
destroyed, claims of dependence by exposing North Carolinians to
the expansive but unsystematic power of Union and Confederate
governments, and by loosening the legal ties that bound them to
husbands, fathers, and masters.
Faced with anarchy during the long reconstruction of government
authority, people turned fervently to the government for protection
and sustenance, pleading in fantastic, intimate ways for attention.
This personalistic, or what Downs calls patronal, politics allowed
for appeals from subordinate groups like freed blacks and poor
whites, and also bound people emotionally to newly expanding
postwar states. Downs's argument rewrites the history of the
relationship between Americans and their governments, showing the
deep roots of dependence, the complex impact of the Civil War upon
popular politics, and the powerful role of Progressivism and
segregation in submerging a politics of dependence that--in new
form--rose again in the New Deal and persists today.