The Role of Governors in Governing

I have the pleasure of reviewing books for several entities, including Emerging Civil War. I have said here (and elsewhere) many times that the 21st Century is a direct product of the 19th. With sheltering in place (or “reenacting Vicksburg,” as I like to call it) such a part of life now, I am watching more television than I usually do. Again and again, I see the governors of various states coming on news shows or giving state briefings, explaining what they have done, plan to do or wish they had done sooner. After all, Covid-19 is a national crisis.

I am reminded of another group of governors 160 years or so ago—Horatio Seymour (NY), John Andrew (MA), William Sprague (RI), William Buckingham (CT), Richard Yates and Richard Oglesby (IL), William Dennison and David Tod (OH), and Andrew Curtin (PA) among others. These were the men who provided volunteer Union troops at the beginning of the war, who used their own war powers to retool state industries for war production, and who, in some cases, took to the field themselves to lead “their boys” in battle. They provided weapons, uniforms, food, medical supplies—anything and everything called for by President Lincoln to help the northern war effort. They did not always agree perfectly, but they did their patriotic duty to hold the Union together. All this is much like what our current governors are doing to keep their states safe during these trying times.

Where did I find out about these fellows? I reviewed a book by Stephen D. Engle titled Gathering to Save a Nation: Lincoln & the Union’s War Governors. That review can be found here:

I never thought much about governors prior to reading this excellent book. It changed my thinking completely, and because of that change, I am much more aware of how modern governors do their jobs. The current president says we are at war once again, which makes our current governors war governors. I ask you to take the time we are being given to read Engle’s book. It is especially relevant just now.

About Meg Groeling

CW Historian
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