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Yankee Leviathan: The Origins of Central State Authority in America, 1859-1877 Paperback – January 25, 1991

ISBN-13: 978-0521398176 ISBN-10: 0521398177

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Yankee Leviathan: The Origins of Central State Authority in America, 1859-1877 + The Political Economy of American Industrialization, 1877-1900
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 468 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (January 25, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521398177
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521398176
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #850,303 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Bensel's work is impressive because he keeps his eye on the interrelationship of two broad issues: state formation and political economy. These issues are now at the forefront of the best new writing on the history of American politics, and Bensel's manuscript definitely marks a step forward for a discussion now associated with the writings of Skocpol, Skowronek and others...The reader comes away from the book with a deepened understanding of how political structures evolved during the Civil War era, and how this evolution was related both to class relations and broad issues of political economy." Eric Foner, Columbia University

"Bensel's perspective on the political economy of sectionalism seems inexhaustible as a source of fresh insight into the struggles of the Civil War era. In Yankee Leviathan, the irresistable conflict of the 1850s is not simply resolved in the North's favor, it is transposed into the structure and operations of new state formation." Stephen Skowronek, Yale University

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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Christopher P. Atwood on January 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
This books argues powerfully and convincingly that what happened in the US Civil War created a truly new state in America, one that owed little to old republic that preceded it. It also suggests that this sort of revolution from above is probably of broader historical significance in modern history than the more paradigmatic European revolutions (such as in France or Russia).

Richard Bensel uses a systematic methodology first to define state strengthening (i.e. how the state in a nation acquires relative freedom from the society in which it dwells), and then to characterize how it was built in the Civil War years. His main source of information is votes in the US and Confederate congresses, which he analyzes with a gimlet eye to sectional stresses and political economy. This is one case where quantitative methodology helps to make a clear, convincing and powerful argument.

It should also be noted that (contrary to the impression that the other review gives) this book is no shill for the Confederate cause either. As a political scientist with a focus on finance capital, Bensel does not view the Civil War through the lens of a noble crusade to abolish slavery. At the same time, however, he uses the same lens of political economy to look at the southern state-building as well. Ironically, the "Dixie Leviathan" was even more powerful and autonomous than the Yankee one. The small size of the southern economy and the broad popularity of the war gave the Confederate government both the need and the ability to confiscate property and trample states rights far more effectively than the Republicans did in the Union. The old slogans of Jeffersonian small government disappeared and big-government national mobilization became Dixie's order of the day.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 14, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book blew me away. All the books I'd read on American Reconstruction before this concentrated on carpetbaggers and scalawags, or on issues of equality. This one is different. Bensel looks at Reconstruction as the triumph of the Hamiltonian vision for America. Here the Republican Party, like the Russian Bolsheviks in the early 20th century, dominate the American political-economy with no significant political opposition.
With the Southern Democrats crushed in the Civil War and their opposition to Northern industrial development silenced, the Republicans are able to push forward their agenda of rapid national expansion and heavy governmental subsidies for Northern business interests. Little to nothing is spent on rebuilding the Southern infrastructure or on ensuring equality of opportunity for the freed slaves. Why wouldn't the Republicans live up to their wartime promises of providing land or other economic opportunities to African-Americans? Because if they did, then Northern factory workers would take notice and demand their fair share of Northern industry. This was intolerable to Northern business intersts. Thus, the South becomes an economic colony of the North, while the Republican Party's pro-business attitude helps turn Northern workers into virtual wage-slaves. Bensel's book is dense and difficult to read. Nevertheless, it's mind-opening rewards are worth the effort.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By David Mitchell on July 19, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Bensel is perhaps the best in the area of American Political Development. His work his thorough, accurate, and - unlike so many others - enjoyable. He gives a very clear explanation of how the Federal Government gained strength during and immediately after the Civil War.
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Brandt on November 1, 2006
Format: Paperback
OK, maybe I'm not being fair with a rating of 3. I admit you can debate that issue. As an academic work, it's worth 5 stars for those of you who are Civil War scholars. Bensel's charts, for example, are superb and unique. He is clearly a quality historian, and I intend to cite him on a number of points he made in Yankee Leviathan. So what's my problem?

As a writer he is a pure academician, which to me is synonymous with boredom. Typically, the reader often has to dig for Bensel's points. His sentences are long-winded and lead one's mind to stray, but the points are there and worth seeking if you are a scholar. Frustratingly, he will suddenly come alive and lay out his arguments in a concise, interesting format. Why could he have not done that throughout? His writing cost him one star in my eyes, and he lost a second when he failed to include a bibliography. Thank you, Dr. Bensel, but I do not wish to spend fifteen minutes paging back through your voluminous footnotes until I finally find the complete title for "Jones, Slavery in Mississippi."

This is obviously a textbook. You can tell because Bensel begins each chapter by telling us in length what he's going to discuss and then discusses it. A waste of paper. Just get to it. At the least, just tick off your major points in a half page. You can also tell it's a textbook by the exorbitant one-hundred-dollar price tag for the hard cover version. Buy it in paperback. Better yet, buy it used in paperback. A third giveaway is the huge number of footnotes and their ponderous length. The narrative may end on page 436, but the book reads significantly longer because the tiny-fonted footnotes often contain a large amount of relevant side information not covered in the narrative.

If you are a serious scholar of the Civil War, buy it. The information it contains is excellent. If only the presentation were better.
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