FINCK: Divided Loyalties (2012)

Posted: 5/29/2013
Reviewed By: Anne Marshall

Divided Loyalties: Kentucky's Struggle for Armed Neutrality in the Civil War by James Finck. Savas Beatie, 2013. Cloth, ISBN: 1611211023. $26.95.

In this concise volume, James Finck, a professor at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, offers a reconsideration of white Kentuckians decision to remain neutral—and then ultimately join the Union—during the twelve months between November 1860 and November 1861. In the interest of explaining and contextualizing the path white Kentuckians tread during this eventful year, Finck provides an effective summation of Kentucky’s political system between 1840 and 1860. These years saw the fracturing of the state’s political parties as they squabbled over the ideological remains of the Whig tradition that had once coalesced around the politics of native son Henry Clay.

Finck offers an indepth examination of the three major congressional measures to stave off disunion: the Corwin Amendment, the Crittenden Compromise, and the Peace Convention, all of which were designed to maintain federal protection for slavery and all of which intimately involved the efforts of prominent white Kentuckians. He also effectively presents the myriad arguments put forth by both pro-secession and pro-Unionist partisans during 1861 as each side tried to sway their fellow Kentuckians

To readers who might ponder why a state in which whites were so committed to maintaining the peculiar institution would not have followed its fellow southern states into secession, Finck clearly explains that a common commitment to slavery belied major differences between Deep South and Border South states. White Kentuckians and other border southerners were most concerned about stanching the slave escapes that were fairly common due to the vast territory that bordered free states through stronger enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act. Kentuckians perceived Deep South whites as being more concerned about actually expanding slavery through measures such as reopening the African slave trade. Most white Kentuckians were opposed to such plans since it would cause their human capital to decline in financial value and sellability.

Finck contends, based upon the voting patterns exhibited during the 1860 presidential election that Kentuckians were much more supportive of southern rights than previous historians have portrayed them. He notes that presidential candidates John C. Breckinridge and John Crittenden ran on a similar platform which advocated anti-Lincoln sentiment and unconditional protection of slavery where it existed by the federal government. “With seven out of every nine Kentuckians voting for either Breckinridge or Crittenden,” argues Finck, “Kentuckians were not voting for unconditional unionism, but for a nation that guaranteed Southern rights” (xvi).

His assertions are more suggestive than conclusive and Finck might be attacking a bit of a straw man given that most white Kentuckians, as he points out later in his book, did not see strong federal protection of slavery as incompatible with Unionism until Lincoln made emancipation a Union war aim in 1862. He does, however, provide compelling evidence in the form of careful reading and analysis of county-by-county election results from multiple contests during 1860 and 1861 from which he argues that outright, unconditional Unionist sentiment was weaker in 1861 than prior historians have claimed; therein, declaring the state neutral was less an ideological position than one that Unionists embraced as a way to prevent likely secession.

Throughout Divided Loyalties, Finck continually emphasizes, as his subtitle suggests, that Kentucky’s was an armed neutrality. While the state’s political and military status was designed to deny aid to both the Confederacy and the United States, partisans appealed to both governments to arm their citizens, ostensibly to protect the state from invasion by the other entity. Pro-Southern forces controlled the state’s full-time militia force known as the State Guard, while advocates for the Union filled the ranks of a new militia raised by Unionists. What this meant was that as political tensions were running at an all-time high, the state was becoming a tinderbox infused with both northern and southern guns.

Despite its narrow focus on one year in one state Divided Loyalties presents a deep and thorough study of twelve months that were crucial to the balance of military, economic, and political power which ultimately allowed the Union to win the war. The volume features plentiful illustrations and photographs, two helpful maps, and an extremely useful appendix full of proclamations, speeches, and party platforms. This volume will be a valuable resource to anyone interested in how and why Kentucky navigated such a singular political and military course during the first year of the Civil War.
 

Anne Marshall is an Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi State University and the author of Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State.

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