The Civil War is often credited with giving birth to the modern
American state. The demands of warfare led to the centralization of
business and industry and to an unprecedented expansion of federal
power. But the Civil War did more than that: as Melinda Lawson
shows, it brought about a change in American national identity,
redefining the relationship between the individual and the
Though much has been written about the Civil War and the making
of the political and economic American nation, this is the first
comprehensive study of the role that the war played in the shaping
of the cultural and ideological nation-state. In Patriot Fires,
Lawson explains how, when threatened by the rebellious South, the
North came together as a nation and mobilized its populace for
With no formal government office to rally citizens, the job of
defining the war in patriotic terms fell largely to private
individuals or associations, each with their own motives and
methods. Lawson explores how these "interpreters" of the war helped
instill in Americans a new understanding of loyalty to country.
Through efforts such as sanitary fairs to promote the welfare of
soldiers, the war bond drives of Jay Cooke, and the establishment
of Union Leagues, Northerners cultivated a new sense of patriotism
rooted not just in the subjective American idea, but in existing
religious, political, and cultural values. Moreover, Democrats and
Republicans, Abolitionists, and Abraham Lincoln created their own
understandings of American patriotism and national identity,
raising debates over the meaning of the American "idea" to new
Examining speeches, pamphlets, pageants, sermons, and
assemblies, Lawson shows how citizens and organizations constructed
a new kind of nationalism based on a nation of Americans rather
than a union of states--a European-styled nationalism grounded in
history and tradition and celebrating the preeminence of the
Original in its insights and innovative in its approach,
"Patriot Fires" is an impressive work of cultural and intellectual
history. As America engages in new conflicts around the globe,
Lawson shows us that issues addressed by nation builders of the
nineteenth century are relevant once again as the meaning of
patriotism continues to be explored.
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