Declarations of Dependence

The Long Reconstruction of Popular Politics in the South, 1861-1908

By Gregory P. Downs

360 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 12 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1539-4
    Published: February 2014
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7776-0
    Published: February 2011
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8376-6
    Published: February 2011

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Awards & distinctions

A 2011 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

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 Dependence 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.

About the Author

Gregory P. Downs is assistant professor of history at the City College of New York. He is author of Spit Baths, a Flannery O'Connor Award-winning collection of short stories.
For more information about Gregory P. Downs, visit the Author Page.


“An important new way of conceiving of how power worked in the late nineteenth century. . . . The best kind of book.”--H-Net Reviews

"A novel perspective on the interaction between citizens and their state government."--Journal of American History

“Any serious student of U.S. history during the half-century following the outbreak of the Civil War would be well advised to read this well-written study based on original sources in North Carolina’s extensive state archives.”--The Historian

“A useful corrective for certain assumptions about both the historical and contemporary character of American political culture.”--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Thought-provoking. . . . [an] ambitious, deeply-researched study.”--Journal of Southern History