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

Table of Contents

Status: papers w/ results for 5 chapters complete; 2017 submission, press TBD.

With Ballots & Bullets demonstrates the pivotal role of mass partisanship in epochal Civil War politics and the war itself. It challenges history and political science scholarship with evidence from America’s most costly and consequential conflict, which still echoes in politics today. In themes & methods, it 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 makes three key contributions about mass partisanship in the Civil War, utilizing vast datasets that include 6 decades of election returns, 2 million individual Union soldier records, the Census, and a nationally representative sample of newspapers:

  1. Ordinary partisanship made citizens electorally impervious to unprecedented political-military events and the national accumulation of unfathomable casualties. 
  2. Ordinary partisanship drove participation in the organized killing of opposing partisans: enlistment, desertion, and greater likelihood of death in national service.
  3. Ordinary partisanship led Republicans to redouble their devotion to party in the face of local casualties, while casualties sapped support from others in wartime elections. Startlingly, local deaths continued to shape postwar votes through 1880 & beyond.

These powerful partisan dynamics, shaped in large part by political leaders, held despite a new party system that nonetheless carried over political identities with strong electoral continuities from the previous era. I also analyze the partisan press to identify rhetoric mobilizing partisan warfare and efforts to frame the war, its dead, and the elections. This serves to ground ecological analysis in individual party identities as well.

Pieces of the Puzzle

Related: APSA 2016: “Partisanship & prejudice in public support for state violence.”
MPSA 2017: “Killing Partisans: Violent prejudices from ordinary partisanship.”