The Boundaries of American Political Culture in the Civil War Era

By Mark E. Neely Jr.

176 pp., 5.5 x 8.5, 24 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2554-6
    Published: January 2015
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-7694-7
    Published: November 2009

Steven and Janice Brose Lectures in the Civil War Era

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Did preoccupations with family and work crowd out interest in politics in the nineteenth century, as some have argued? Arguing that social historians have gone too far in concluding that Americans were not deeply engaged in public life and that political historians have gone too far in asserting that politics informed all of Americans' lives, Mark Neely seeks to gauge the importance of politics for ordinary people in the Civil War era.

Looking beyond the usual markers of political activity, Neely sifts through the political bric-a-brac of the era--lithographs and engravings of political heroes, campaign buttons, songsters filled with political lyrics, photo albums, newspapers, and political cartoons. In each of four chapters, he examines a different sphere--the home, the workplace, the gentlemen's Union League Club, and the minstrel stage--where political engagement was expressed in material culture. Neely acknowledges that there were boundaries to political life, however. But as his investigation shows, political expression permeated the public and private realms of Civil War America.

About the Author

Mark E. Neely Jr. is McCabe-Greer Professor of the History of the Civil War Era and senior historian in residence at the Pennsylvania State University. He is author or coauthor of eleven previous books, including The Union Divided: Party Conflict in the Civil War North and The Union Image: Popular Prints of the Civil War North.
For more information about Mark E. Neely Jr., visit the Author Page.


"[A] splendid little volume . . . unfailingly smart, imaginative, and thought provoking. . . . A joy to read. All those interested in the political culture of the Civil War Era will want this book on their shelves."--Journal of Southern History

"Reinvigorates the debate over the pervasiveness and character of politics. . . . An important read for political, social, and public historians alike."--The Historian

"A rich work, well researched and thought provoking, yet surprisingly modest in bulk and heft. . . . Clear and direct in argument, Neely supports his thesis well and avoids the trap of overcomplicated prose. A great piece of scholarship, it will prove interesting for both students and scholars of American history and politics."--Arkansas Review

"A ground-breaking look at how the average American thought and participated in politics in the decades around the Civil War."--The NYMAS Review

"An admirable effort to understand what exactly politics meant to the mid-nineteenth-century American electorate. It is essential reading for those interested in nineteenth-century politics, and it is a model in its innovative reading of political material culture."--The Pennsylvania Magazine of History & Biography

"A fresh and idiosyncratic view of political culture that can serve as a model for other investigations."--Civil War Book Review