Liberty, Virtue, and Progress: Northerners and Their War

for the Union


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 "Hess offers an effective examination of the character of the North's cause in the American Civil War." -- Louis S. Gerteis, author of Civil War St. Louis


"Earl Hess provides a succinct, thought-provoking analysis of the largely neglected question of why so many Northern citizens supported the Union, and eventually emancipation, despite the Civil War’s carnage." -- Civil War


"What is's excellent unearthing and often subtle organizing of a range of social expression into an interesting and useful perspective." -- Joel H. Silbey, author of A Respectable Minority


What motivated the North to fight America’s most tragic war? Liberty, Virtue, and Progress argues persuasively that ideology and culture are major motivations for a society to engage in a war large enough to demand the support of a majority of its citizens.


Earl Hess has constructed the first comprehensive study of its kind to deal with Northern soldiers and civilians, with intellectual and social elites and with the masses. Drawing on published and unpublished sources including letters, diaries, and memoirs, he asserts that Northerners used ideology as a tool to retain their faith in their ideas. Northern values--self-government, democracy, individualism, egalitarianism, and self-control--were at the basis of American society. These values, shared by citizens both in and out of uniform, were instrumental in promoting a consensus and provided a commonly understood language that served to explain the Southern rebellion and why it was important for Unionists to crush it.


Hess contends that, contrary to commonly held interpretations of war as disruptive of prewar ideals--that war produces disillusionment, cynicism, and bitterness--the Northerners’ determination resulted in little change in ideology throughout even the worst of the war. He also suggests that the real change in ideology occurred after the war, due to changes in the economy and society.


Published By: 

Fordham University Press

2546 Belmont Ave.

University Box L

Bronx, NY 10458-5172


Full List of Books by Dr. Earl J. Hess

Author Bio