Union tells the story of how the myth of our national origins, identity, and purpose was intentionally created in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A small group of individuals--historians, political leaders, and novelists--fashioned a history that attempted to erase the fundamental differences and profound tensions between the nation's regional cultures, the motive for the Confederacy's secession (protecting a slave system), and even the reasons that drove the colonies to secede from Britain. These men were creating the idea of an American nation instead of a union of disparate states, and a specific, ethnically defined "American people" instead of just a republican citizenry.
Their emerging nationalist story was immediately and powerfully contested by another set of intellectuals and firebrands who argued that the United States was instead an ethno-state, the homeland of the allegedly superior "Anglo-Saxon" race, upon whom Divine and Darwinian favor shined. Their vision helped create a new federation--the Confederacy--prompting the bloody Civil War. While defeated on the battlefield, their vision later managed to win the war of ideas in the late nineteenth century, capturing the White House in the early twentieth century, and offering the first consensus, pan-regional vision of U.S. nationhood by the close of the first World War. This narrower, more exclusive vision of America would be overthrown in mid-century, but as early twenty-first-century Americans discovered, it was never fully vanquished. Woodard tells the story of the genesis and epic confrontations between these visions of our nation's path and purpose through the lives of the key figures who created them, a cast of characters whose personal quirks and virtues, gifts and demons shaped the destiny of millions.