Break It Up

Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America's Imperfect Union


By Richard Kreitner

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From journalist and historian Richard Kreitner, a "powerful revisionist account"of the most persistent idea in American history: these supposedly United States should be broken up (Eric Foner).

The novel and fiery thesis of Break It Up is simple: The United States has never lived up to its name—and never will. The disunionist impulse may have found its greatest expression in the Civil War, but as Break It Up shows, the seduction of secession wasn’t limited to the South or the nineteenth century. It was there at our founding and has never gone away.
With a scholar’s command and a journalist’s curiosity, Richard Kreitner takes readers on a revolutionary journey through American history, revealing the power and persistence of disunion movements in every era and region. Each New England town after Plymouth was a secession from another; the thirteen colonies viewed their Union as a means to the end of securing independence, not an end in itself; George Washington feared separatism west of the Alleghenies; Aaron Burr schemed to set up a new empire; John Quincy Adams brought a Massachusetts town’s petition for dissolving the United States to the floor of Congress; and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison denounced the Constitution as a pro-slavery pact with the devil.
From the “cold civil war” that pits partisans against one another to the modern secession movements in California and Texas, the divisions that threaten to tear America apart today have centuries-old roots in the earliest days of our Republic. Richly researched and persuasively argued, Break It Up will help readers make fresh sense of our fractured age.



The Disunited States

Were you looking to be held together by the lawyers?

Or by an agreement on a paper? Or by arms?

—Nay—nor the world, nor any living thing, will so cohere.


THE COUNTRY WAS DIVIDED. It had been an explosive election, the culmination of decades of fighting over questions that went to the very heart of the nation’s character. The president-elect was at odds with a majority of voters. Citizens had sorted themselves into camps, sects even, swearing the other side’s position was unconscionable. Mainstream politicians spoke darkly about a coming conflict, and those on the margins called for revolution. Others wagered the country had seen worse and unity would surely prevail.

The historian Henry Adams called that time “the great secession winter.” Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln had won the November 1860 election with less than 40 percent of the popular vote—and without the support of a single slave state. Terrified of the future, alienated from a country they no longer recognized, unwilling to remain loyal to a government that served interests opposed to their own, several Southern states plotted their departure. Fed up with trying to hold together a union that no longer made sense, many Northerners were content to send them on their way.

The onset of war, with the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor on April 12, 1861, changed everything. In his memoir Specimen Days, Walt Whitman wrote of his joy at the “volcanic upheaval of the nation” that followed. He thought it “the grandest and most encouraging spectacle” in the history of “political progress and democracy.”

Before its end, that spectacle brought death to some seven hundred thousand Americans, scores of whom Whitman, as a nurse in army hospitals, comforted in their final hours. But the ever-expansive poet grasped the bigger picture: the rupture revealed the American soul. “It was not for what came to the surface merely,” he recalled, “but what it indicated below, which was of eternal importance.” Underneath was “a primal hard pan of national Union will.” Contrary to prediction, the American people thought their country worth saving after all. The man who had written, back in his blacker-bearded days, that “the United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem” now saw that only after the Union had been sundered did Americans finally realize how much it had meant to them all along. That this disunion could foster a deeper love for the Union was, to Whitman, “the best lesson of the century, or of America, and it is a mighty privilege to have been a part of it.”

The 2016 presidential election set off a volcanic upheaval unlike any since the one Whitman welcomed in 1861. The next day, many Americans walked around as if in a daze, their faces the portrait of a divided nation: shock tinged here and there, depending on where one lived, by exaltation or dismay. Across the heartland, Donald Trump’s supporters, those he called “the forgotten men and women of this country,” swelled with pride and satisfaction, while in New York City, a cold, dreary rain seemed to embody the East Coast’s despond. In her concession speech, Hillary Clinton acknowledged that the election revealed a country “more deeply divided than we thought.” Classic political understatement, the comment suggested little awareness that downplaying those divisions for years had made them worse. The volcano’s sudden eruption was more destructive because so many had convinced themselves it was extinct—it was only dormant.

Meanwhile, something strange seemed to be happening on the other side of the continent. A secessionist group called Yes California rallied on the steps of the state capitol in Sacramento, exchanging American flags for California ones. The leaders of the state legislature released a joint statement saying they had woken up that morning “feeling like strangers in a foreign land.” A Silicon Valley investor announced his intention to fund “a legitimate campaign for California to become its own nation”; #Calexit began trending on Twitter.

In the weeks to come, the press covered these separatist stirrings as harmless hiccups. That the same had often been said during Trump’s ascent to power—he would never win a single caucus or primary, columnists assured us (and themselves); he certainly wouldn’t claim the Republican nomination; he had no chance in the general election—offered little comfort. By Trump’s inauguration, pollsters reported that one in three Californians supported seeking independence. Even if that number was inflamed by the heat of a divisive campaign, the election and its chaotic aftermath made it impossible to avoid the conclusion that something was rotten in the United States. At the end of 2016, Time magazine named Trump its Person of the Year and gave his title as PRESIDENT OF THE DIVIDED STATES OF AMERICA.

Trump was right when he said, in his first presidential press conference, “I didn’t come along and divide this country. This country was seriously divided before I got here.” We live in different nations, many said before 2016, and even more have said it since. Now another looming election suggests our nation’s descent into perpetual crisis and intractable discord, perhaps even violence, will likely only worsen. For years, mounting evidence has shown that the bonds of our Union are slowly coming undone, from the geographical polarization of the electorate (only 25 out of 435 seats in the House of Representatives were considered up for grabs in 2016) to the percentage of people who say they support their own state’s secession (one-quarter, according to a 2014 poll). For much of the country, and certainly for its leading purveyors of establishment opinion, this fact has come as a shock. It shouldn’t have.

Disunion—the possibility that it all might go to pieces—is a hidden thread through our entire history, from the colonial era to the early republic and the Civil War and beyond, through the fabled American Century and up to our own volatile moment. The chronicle of our imperfect union is an epic, untold story of strange origins, accidental creation, and almost two and a half centuries of faltering attempts to hold it together. This book charts for the first time the history of the Union by looking at the ever-present forces that have conspired to divide it. Taking one clear and crucial step outside the confines of how we usually think about our country offers a fuller understanding of both our contentious past and our uncertain future. The Civil War was not an exception to the rest of American history. Diverse, divisible, divided, “these United States,” as Whitman and his contemporaries called them, have never really been united. They have always been riven by race and religion, cleaved by class and culture, sundered by section, and fragmented by geography. Our most powerful myth—that the fusion was completed, that the many ever melded into one—is just that: a myth.

Our refusal to recognize this, like patients who insist, against all evidence, that they are not ill, has been a major cause of our political dysfunction and social strife. Secession is the only kind of revolution we Americans have ever known and the only kind we’re ever likely to see. The past few years have seen the idea of disunion attain a prominence unseen since the Civil War. With partisan divisions hardening and every branch of government mired in crisis, it’s easy to see the appeal. If the massive hodgepodge of a country known as the United States no longer functions as a going concern, maybe it’s time to break it up.

While many see secession as a sin peculiar to the South, there are few regions of the country that have not threatened to leave, few groups that have not thought disunion might be a good idea, few eras that have been entirely free from Union-threatening strife. Northerners and Southerners, slaveholders and abolitionists; imperialists and isolationists; nationalists black, white, indigenous, Chicano; Alaskans and Hawaiians, Texans and Californians, Appalachians and Cascadians; spies and secret agents; Mormons and missionaries; hippies, anarchists, feminists, environmentalists, novelists, poets, screenwriters, racists, reverends, soldiers, even presidents—all have questioned the Union’s legitimacy, doubted its persistence, plotted its dissolution, or imagined its fall.

Seeing the Union through the eyes of those who seek and have sought to divide it allows us to understand the United States as the tentative proposition it always was and still is, as an experiment that might fail at any time. Paradoxically, disunion has been one of our only truly national ideas. The founding of our country was especially disorderly and vitriolic, even less thought through than the genesis of the similarly beleaguered European Union. The creation of the United States was a means to an end, not an end in itself. There has never been anything inevitable about its survival. Dissension, acrimony, and crisis have been the rule in American politics, consensus and unity the exception, one more often wished for than actually seen. “By an unfortunate necessity which has grown with its growth,” Henry Adams wrote in his essay on the secession winter, “the country contained in itself, at its foundation, the seeds of its future troubles.”

By tracing the idea of disunion across four centuries, we can perceive the deeper movements of American history. Connecting periods too often treated as distinct and unrelated makes the past less strange, the present less baffling, and the shape of things to come, perhaps, less obscure.

Break It Up is divided into four parts, each of which explores a different era and reflects different ways of thinking about the Union. The battle over the meaning of America has always been a battle of metaphors, and the choice of imagery can be revealing. Part 1, “A Vast, Unwieldy Machine,” describes the haphazard process of unification during the colonial and revolutionary periods. The leaders of the American Revolution, many of them dabblers in Enlightenment-era science, thought of their attempt at confederation as an experiment: Could one solution be mixed from disparate elements? Could the “intricate and complicated… Machine of the Confederate Colonies,” as John Adams put it, be made to function?

For almost a century and a half, the formation of a union had been not merely unlikely but unthinkable. The first colonial revolution was fought not to create a federation, but to destroy one. After hearing about the overthrow of King James II in 1688, the people of Boston rebelled against the Crown-backed Dominion of New England, a union of several colonies. Bostonians took to the streets to demand a return to local rule. The main obstacle to joining the American provinces together was their reluctance to have anything to do with one another.

Desperate to maintain local autonomy, skittish about their little-known provincial neighbors, colonists resisted all attempts to create a union and finally agreed to join only under duress to avoid an even less appealing consolidation under British imperial rule. Many Americans feared that after seceding from Britain, they would take up muskets and axes against one another. And, in some places, they did.

Only a few years after the first American constitution went into effect, the country nearly collapsed into sectional conflict and populist revolt. An almost certain second revolution was averted at the last moment by the desperate crafting of a new charter that was more protective of the prerogatives of the rich and less responsive to the wealth-spreading inclinations of the aggrieved masses—the “grazing multitude,” as George Washington called them. The secret drafting and ratification of this Constitution amid secessionist movements in the West and insurrections in the East was a concerted drive for a “more perfect Union” by the 1 percent of that day, who most perfectly protected themselves and their own interests, including their ownership of slaves. This “peace pact,” as David C. Hendrickson calls it, prevented an all-out civil war. But it came at a cost. All these years later, Americans regret the protections afforded slavery by the Constitution, but that remorse comes to us perhaps a little too easily. To honestly reckon with the founding compromises is, necessarily, to question the value the framers put on concord, on the Union, and to wonder if in our own times, blessed as they are, we may be paying more than the enterprise is worth.

When the new government took control, the country was no more united than it had ever been. Even many of the new nation’s leaders harbored profound doubts about its prospects. Part 2, “Irreconcilable Differences,” traces the thread of disunion through those often skipped-over years between the Revolution and the Civil War. America’s rapid expansion in this formative era of the republic created tensions that couldn’t be contained by the prevailing constitutional arrangement. Many critics anticipated that the Union would end in divorce. As in many flawed marriages, the only thing keeping Americans together was the fear of coming apart.

The first decades under the new government saw separatist movements arise in every part of the country. Hostile sections and competing parties played a dangerous “game of round-about,” Virginia’s John Randolph observed, in which those who questioned the Union’s worth when they were out of power enforced national unity—with the threat of violence, if necessary—once they retook it.

More than doubling the size of the United States, the Louisiana Purchase made it that much harder to hold the Union together. The stresses of empire would eventually break the country apart. In the short term it proved destabilizing as well. A New England cabal, fearful of losing power in a fast-growing union, conspired to secede and maybe even rejoin Britain. They placed their hopes in Aaron Burr, Jefferson’s frustrated, ambitious vice president, supporting his candidacy for governor of New York on the assumption that he would bring the state into their “northern confederacy.” That prompted Alexander Hamilton to denounce Burr as a threat to the Union and led to their infamous 1804 duel. Banished from polite society, Burr assembled a posse of ragtag frontiersmen and schemed to break the West off from the United States and form an independent empire. On the other side of the Appalachians, Burr found many who—like Jefferson himself—didn’t think the Union’s spread across the entire continent was a foregone conclusion.

Burr failed in his breakaway attempt, as did the New Englanders, whose subsequent threats to secede during the War of 1812 doomed the Federalist Party to oblivion. But the idea of separation lived on. To an aged Thomas Jefferson, the clash over slavery’s Western spread sounded like a “fire bell in the night,” an early warning of a coming conflagration. In a test run for secession, South Carolina tried to nullify a federal law within its borders. The God-fearing abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison denounced the Constitution as a pact with the devil. On the floor of Congress, former president John Quincy Adams dared to introduce a petition that a brave group of Yankee shoemakers had drawn up demanding the dissolution of the United States. They refused to live in a union that protected slavery, and Southerners refused to live in one that didn’t.

The separatist impulse passed from one part of the Union to another until a critical mass of white Southerners finally took the leap. Part 3 of this book, “The Earthquake Comes,” explores the proliferation of disunionism in the run-up to the Civil War. Americans on both sides of the country’s starkest sectional and political divide came to think of the looming collapse of the Union in terms of a ground-shifting catastrophe that could strike at any time. Though a crack-up may have been certain, that the South would take the first step was never assured. The Southern secession movement, in fact, stayed quiet in the 1850s, as leading slave-state representatives did not puzzle over how they could leave the Union but how they could expand it, solidify their control, and ensure it continued to protect their system of racial oppression and mass bondage. Only when a rising Northern majority deposed them by electing Lincoln did the slaveholders turn against the Union and set out to destroy it.

When the Civil War finally began—the “volcanic upheaval” heralded by Whitman—it was because Americans in both the North and the South decided the fundamental differences between them could no longer be ignored. The nominally united country now had a fiercely contested international border running straight across it. One thing was clear: the separation solved nothing. Both the Union and the Confederacy faced the same kinds of internal secessionist movements that had bedeviled the United States since its creation, showing that the fundamental division, the “irrepressible conflict,” as New York senator William Seward put it in a notorious 1858 speech, was not just between North and South, freedom and slavery; it reflected something even deeper. The truly “irrepressible” conflict was between union and disunion, those forces bringing Americans together and those tearing them apart.

If the war was an unspeakably messy divorce, the reunion that followed was tepid, unsteady, incomplete. The fourth and final part of this book, “Return of the Repressed,” shows how the United States failed to resolve the conflicts that led to and emerged from the breakdown. The pressures of holding together a vast and increasingly varied country required banishing from national consciousness any recognition of competing demands and incompatible interests. In an individual, repression of such conflicts can lead to what Sigmund Freud described as a “civil war” in the patient’s mind. After the American Civil War, the conflict was again buried in the nether reaches of the American mind. It’s not an uncommon response to trauma for either persons or peoples. But it’s also, usually, ineffective. Like anything willfully banished from consciousness, national dissolution seems to be something Americans both desire and fear. When conflicts are silenced rather than addressed, they have a tendency to return.

Reconstruction, the “second founding,” ended as the first one had, in a counterrevolution by the rich and powerful, the subjugation of the aspirations of the many to the profit-seeking interests of the few. The fraudulence of the reunion benefited some people (the wealthy and white) at the expense of others (people of color and the poor), and the national prioritization of unity above all else continues to this day. The sanctification of compromise continues to blind us to the costs of union and who has been asked, often at gunpoint, to foot that bill.

After the Civil War, the idea of breaking up the Union never attained the prominence it once had, but it did occasionally reappear in strange, revealing, and often unmanageable ways, as when Mexican revolutionaries tried to take back the Southwest and when black nationalists sought to build a republic on the land their ancestors had been forced to till. The “Civil War of the 1960s,” as scholars have called the tumultuous decade, balkanized the country into squabbling subgroups. E Pluribus Unum, that once-sacred promise, began to ring hollow, as if the many had never become one—and never would. The end of the Cold War led to infinitely renewable culture wars that powerful economic interests used to drive Americans into the hostile camps we now inhabit.

Over the past twenty years, secessionist movements have cropped up across the country. It is no longer inconceivable that a state might schedule a vote on separation before this decade is out. As the Brexit referendum showed, such plebiscites can have surprising and disruptive results.

Contradictions too long ignored and doubts too long repressed continue to haunt American politics and culture, undermining the legitimacy of our institutions and attracting meddlesome foreign rivals who, as in the early republic, want nothing more than to see the Union break apart. Russia’s strategy of sowing discord in American politics has proven a wild success. Yet today’s disunion is not a recent development but the return of what for most of our history was the norm: a perpetual war for the soul of America, an ever-present battle over the past and for the future—usually metaphorical but constantly threatening to turn into fact.

Thanks to countless academics, journalists, activists, politicians, and citizens, Americans have in recent years begun having difficult, long-avoided conversations about racism and sexism in this country. This is important and necessary work. But it does not fully address the profundity of our predicament or the depth of our divisions. While pundits and politicians have spent decades bemoaning partisanship and polarization, they seldom pause to consider that today’s fractures and fault lines are the result of Americans’ refusal to come to terms with lingering doubts about whether the United States should continue to exist—at least in the form we have known. The dewy-eyed version of the country’s history—its hallowed revolution against tyranny, its slow but steady march toward democracy, its glorious American Century—fails to explain the moment we find ourselves in today. Despite the bipartisan nostalgia for a golden age of national unity, it never existed. Only after we acknowledge the long history of America’s built-in divisions, their causes and consequences, will we be able to plot a path out of the slough in which we find ourselves. Only then will we begin to understand what we can expect in the years to come and what we should do.

For all the gore of the Civil War, Walt Whitman was grateful to have lived to see it. It was a time, he wrote, “when human eyes appear’d at least just as likely to see the last breath of the Union as to see it continue.” The same may be true of the eyes reading this book. A reckoning is coming. It will be a grand spectacle to behold, as Whitman put it, “not for what came to the surface merely, but what it indicated below, which was of eternal importance.” Beneath the surface of the anxious and agitated American soul, he discovered a deep reservoir of “national Union will.” Is that what we will find too? Does living in such an incomprehensibly massive country make each of us more or less significant, our lives more or less meaningful, our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness more or less secure?

Far from being unpatriotic, asking this question is a prerequisite for serious discussion about what we Americans want the future to hold for ourselves and this perennially divided union. Americans must choose between joining together to build a truly inclusive, unified country—a multiracial democracy, politically and economically—or going our separate ways. We can’t put it off much longer. We must finally finish the work of Reconstruction or give up on the Union entirely.

In 1839, former president John Quincy Adams delivered a speech before the New-York Historical Society to mark the fiftieth anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration. At seventy-one, Adams was the last living link to the founding generation. But now he had a sober message for the American people: “If the day should ever come, (may Heaven avert it,) when the affections of the people of these states shall be alienated from each other; when the fraternal spirit shall give away to cold indifference, or collisions of interest shall fester into hatred,” Adams said, “… far better will it be for the people of the disunited states, to part in friendship from each other, than to be held together by constraint.”



Tradition holds that the American colonists came together in 1776 to overthrow a detested king and form one nation, indivisible, intended to last for all time. They did nothing of the kind. The Revolution was a civil war, and it created a country perennially prone to a sequel. The fragile Union, a mere means to an end, almost immediately collapsed. This was shocking but not quite surprising. Americans knew that whatever union they, a woefully divided people, managed to form would forever be at risk of breaking down and splitting up. For a century and a half, the colonies had acted as if they were independent nations with little more in common than the wish to remain apart.


Join, or Die

Everybody cries, a Union is absolutely necessary; but when they come to the Manner and Form of the Union, their weak Noddles are presently distracted.


WHEN THE MAYFLOWER SET SAIL in July 1620, the sixty-five passengers on board called themselves not Pilgrims but Separatists. They wanted to break off from the Church of England and form their own independent congregations. That was illegal, so they left. Their favorite passage in Scripture came from 2 Corinthians 6:17, the verse in which the apostle Paul urges Christians not to mingle with idolaters: “Come out from among them, and be ye separate.”

True to their name, the Separatists displayed their fractious tendencies even while their ship crossed the Atlantic. One organizer of the Mayflower’s passage described the voyagers as “un-united among ourselves.”

From the beginning, would-be Americans were defined by the struggle between union and disunion, the drive to join and the desire to part. Federation offered security from external enemies, easier trade, and a way to manage internal disputes. Separation offered that most enduring of all American longings—freedom from being told what to do.

American communal life from the beginning was marked by fracture and fragmentation. Soon after their boats dropped anchor, the new arrivals began splintering into ever-smaller sects and settlements. Dissidents fell into the habit of leaving existing towns and striking off to start their own. The American colonies were an archipelago of disjointed settlements connected only by narrow Indian paths and a loose affiliation with the British Empire. Disunion was the natural state of things in America, to be defended and preserved rather than avoided or overcome. After all, it had been the dream of independence, not union, that convinced the early settlers to leave their old world behind for what they desperately tried to convince themselves was a new one.

Benjamin Franklin’s 1754 etching failed to convince the colonists to unite. “There would be a lot of dying before there was any joining,” one historian quips. (Library of Congress)

1. The Serpent in the Garden


  • Named a Best Book of 2020 by The Progressive 
  • "Provocative...Most rewarding is [Kreitner's] integration of the West into the national narrative."—Eric Herschthal, The New Republic
  • “Kreitner’s new book is an extremely readable, ambitiously wide-ranging history of all the times Americans have seriously contemplated breaking freeof the  United States.”—Slate
  • "This book reminds us of the important roles compromise and contention have played in American history…Kreitner’s incisive analysis delves into how secession, division and other forces that separate Americans have played into the nation’s history.”
     —St. Louis Dispatch
  • "Richly anecdotal, vital account"—O Magazine
  • "Kreitner challenges readers to rethink what the Union means to us and how we can help it live up to its highest ideals."—Bookpage
  • "An eye-opening chronicle of separatist movements within the U.S.... makes a strong case that the impulse to dissolve the union will always resonate."—Publishers Weekly
  • "Kreitner effectively cleans the window that stands between us and our history--or what we believed about our history...richly researched, revelatory, disturbing, and essential to those wandering in the mists of American myth."—Kirkus, starred
  • “A compelling narrative on the politics of secession in American history. Kreitner deftly explains the historical continuums and predicaments of the states. This book offers a powerful and refreshing account on disunity in America and helps us understand more about today’s political fragmentation under state and national governments." —Library Journal
  • "If you thought disunion was an invention of the slave South and is long dead and buried, think again. In Break It Up, Richard Kreitner offers a powerful revisionist account of the troubled history of the American nation, showing how secessionist movements have made their appearance at numerous times, and in numerous parts of the country. They are again proliferating today - a reflection of our polarized politics and culture and our failure to make the existing Union benefit all Americans."—Eric Foner, Columbia University,author of The Fiery Trial
  • Break It Up is a paradigm-transforming accomplishment. It finds an entire new story to tell about the sweep of American history, one that happens to be far truer to the actuality of that history than the story it replaces. I don't know if I've ever been more excited to endorse a new book.”—Rick Perlstein, author of Reaganland and Nixonland
  • "The United States have seldom been wholeheartedly united, as Richard Kreitner shows in this often surprising history of disunity, from Northern secession plans before the Civil War to plots for California's independence and a Singapore-style free New York City. The book is engaging and historically rich, and adds up to a new story of the country, one that opens questions about whether we belong together at all."—Jedediah Purdy, Columbia University and author of This Land is Our Land: The Struggle for a New Commonwealth
  • "If you think the United States only recently became fractious, fractured, and fragmented, Break It Up will shake you up. Richard Kreitner tells us a fresh, unsettling, and persistently entertaining story of disunity and secession as the great American way. From the colonial period through the Revolutionary War, familiar landmarks of founding history are seen a new light. The secessionism of the Confederacy takes on unexpected qualities, as do 20th century black separatism, the 1960's counterculture, and feminism, among other things. This book will change what you thought you knew."—William Hogeland,author of Autumn of the Black Snake
  • "As politicians and pundits lament polarization and partisanship, this fiery and fresh exploration of the idea of disunion across four centuries helps us understand how today's fractured landscape is not a new development, but a return, as Kreitner writes, to the 'ever-present battle over the past and for the future'-and for the soul of America."
    Katrina vanden Heuvel, Editorial Director and Publisher of The Nation
  • "Generations of Americans have been taught that our political system is an ideal balance that works wonderfully well. Today it's becoming increasingly difficult to believe that. In this climate, Break It Up is perfectly timed. It tells us where our national experiment went wrong - and proposes a boldly appealing alternative."—Stephen Kinzer, BostonGlobe columnist and author of Poisoner in Chief
  • "Richard Kreitner's Break It Up is an intelligent, fascinating and important look at the long history of secessionist movements in the United States. From before the Revolution and the Civil War to the rise of Trump, these such deunionist efforts have sought to break up the United States in different ways and parts. While breaking up the nation makes little sense, these lessons of these movements carry with them a kernel of wisdom. Ours is a federalist system and Americans vote not just with the ballot but with our feet. We may be better able to salve our differences and coexist as a nation of different political persuasions by shifting power from our increasingly dysfunctional federal government to states and localities."—Richard Florida,author of The Rise of the Creative Class
  • "Break It Up is at once extremely well written, deeply incisive about the prevalence of disunionist thought and movements throughout American history, and a passionate call for us today to reflect and reconsider some of our basic political commitments. Everyone interested in the past, present, and future of the United States would profit from closely reading and then discussing Richard Kreitner's truly provocative and challenging book."—Sanford Levinson, co-author of Fault Lines in the Constitution

On Sale
Aug 18, 2020
Page Count
496 pages

Richard Kreitner

About the Author

Richard Kreitner is a contributing writer to The Nation. He is the author of Booked: A Traveler’s Guide to Literary Locations Around the World.

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