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Lincoln and the Union Governors

Lincoln and the Union Governors

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William C. Harris


Hardcover (Other formats: E-book)
184 pages, 5 x 8, 9 illustrations

Concise Lincoln Library


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About the Book

Over the course of the Civil War, fifty-nine men served as governors of the twenty-five Union states.  Although these state executives were occasionally obstructionist and often disagreed amongst themselves, their overall cooperation and counsel bolstered the policies put forth by Abraham Lincoln and proved essential to the Union’s ultimate victory. In this revealing volume, award-winning historian William C. Harris explores the complex relationship between Lincoln and the governors of the Union states, illuminating the contributions of these often-overlooked state leaders to the preservation of the nation.

Lincoln recognized that in securing the governors’ cooperation in the war he had to tread carefully and, as much as possible, respect their constitutional authority under the federal system of government.  Contributing to the success of the partnership, Harris shows, was the fact that almost all of the governors were members of Lincoln’s Republican or Union Party, and most had earlier associated with his Whig party.  Despite their support for the war, however, the governors reflected different regional interests, and Lincoln understood and attempted to accommodate these differences in order to maintain a unified war effort.     

Harris examines the activities of the governors, who often worked ahead of Lincoln in rallying citizens for the war, organizing state regiments for the Union army, and providing aid and encouragement to the troops in the field. The governors kept Lincoln informed about political conditions in their states and lobbied Lincoln and the War Department to take more vigorous measures to suppress the rebellion. Harris explores the governors’ concerns about many issues, including the divisions within their states over the war and Lincoln’s most controversial policies, especially emancipation and military conscription. He also provides the first modern account of the 1862 conference of governors in Altoona, Pennsylvania, which provided important backing for Lincoln’s war leadership.

By emphasizing the difficult tasks that both the governors and President Lincoln faced in dealing with the major issues of the Civil War, Harris provides fresh insight into the role this dynamic partnership played in preserving the nation’s democratic and constitutional institutions and ending the greatest blight on the republic—chattel slavery.


William C. Harris, a professor emeritus of history at North Carolina State University, is the author or editor of eleven books, including With Charity for All: Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union and Lincoln’s Rise to the Presidency. His most recent book, Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union, won the prestigious Lincoln Prize in 2012.


“As partners with the Lincoln administration, Northern governors played a vital role in the prosecution of the war for the Union and freedom. William C. Harris offers a fresh interpretation of this alliance, which was sometimes fraught with tensions and recriminations but proved in the end to function in a war-winning fashion.”—James McPherson

“There are many fine studies of Lincoln and his generals but lamentably few accounts of Lincoln and the Union governors, who played as important a role as did those generals in the Northern war effort. With this book, the first on the subject in more than sixty years, Harris adds to his impressive list of important works on Lincoln. It is a most welcome addition to the Concise Lincoln Library.”—Michael Burlingame, author of Abraham Lincoln: A Life

 “Harris is an accomplished and acclaimed historian whose prize-winning books offer absorbing, original, and readable reinterpretations of both Lincoln scholarship and Civil War history. This book represents this generation’s most thorough, important, and persuasive analysis of Lincoln’s political and personal relationship with the governors of the loyal states during the Civil War. Mining a host of little-consulted historical documents, Harris has produced a fascinating and often suspenseful narrative account of Lincoln’s efforts to keep the Border States in the Union, encourage the northern governors to support the war effort, and overcome regional rivalries and political conflicts as he eloquently guided the nation toward the twin goals of reunion and emancipation. Lincoln and the Union Governors is a masterful retelling of the crucial partnership between Lincoln and the governors that will enthrall readers, fill significant gaps in our understanding of the Civil War, and find a place on any history enthusiast’s bookshelf.”—Kenneth J. Winkle, author of Abraham and Mary Lincoln and Lincoln’s Citadel: The Civil War in Washington, DC