An Interview with James Finck, author of Divided Loyalties: Kentucky’s Struggle for Armed Neutrality in the Civil War.
An in-depth study of the twelve months that decided Kentucky’s fate (November 1860 – November 1861), Divided Loyalties persuasively argues that the Commonwealth did not support neutrality out of its deep Unionist sentiment. James Finck recently discussed his upcoming book with publisher Savas Beatie LLC.
SB: Why did you decide to write Divided Loyalties on this particular topic?
JF: While I was researching another project I read a book that inspired me called Reluctant Confederates by Daniel Crofts which explains how slave states in the upper south tried to remain in the Union, but were basically forced south. While reading I kept asking myself about states like Kentucky — it was a slave state, but was able to stay loyal to the Union. I was intrigued and upon further research I found that very little had been written about Kentucky’s secession movement. The last major work on the subject was written in 1926. There are many books about Kentucky in the Civil War, but the secession struggle is just a minor part. I decided this was a book worth writing.
SB: What makes Divided Loyalties different from other books written about Kentucky in the Civil War?
JF: There are many books written about Kentucky in the Civil War; what makes Divided Loyalties different is that I focus on one year and one subject. My only concern was why a slave state with so many ties to the South would remain in the Union. As I said before, in the books that deal with Kentucky, secession is only mentioned in passing, maybe a chapter at most, and never enough detail to understand the full situation.
SB: What kind of content can readers expect to find in Divided Loyalties?
JF: Most of the book deals with the Kentucky secession movement, and how many people in Kentucky supported the South and believed that the state should secede and join the Confederacy. Kentucky was very much a divided state between those who wanted to secede and those who wanted to stay loyal.
SB: What are some features of Divided Loyalties that you think readers will really enjoy?
JF: I am hoping readers will enjoy the small details, the stories of some of the major players and how they influenced and were affected by the secession debates. Men like Governor Magoffin; Presidential nominee John C. Breckenridge; political leader of Kentucky John Crittenden; railroad magnet James Guthrie; and even a young woman named Josie Underwood who had her world turned upside down.
SB: Why would readers not from Kentucky want to read Divided Loyalties?
JF: Even though this book is about Kentucky, I believe it has a wide appeal to anyone interested in the Civil War. The book demonstrates the difficulties that states found themselves in when the war began, especially in the upper south. They had to choose between their nation and their section, it was a difficult time for everyone involved. Understanding Kentucky sheds light on the other border states, i.e., Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Arkansas, because it cannot be a foregone conclusion they would secede. If it was, why did Kentucky not follow? It would seem Kentucky had as much at stake with slavery and their southern rights as the others, yet remained loyal.
SB: Would Divided Loyalties benefit researchers who wanted to know more about the state?
JF: I believe anyone interested in Kentucky politics would greatly benefit from the book. There were three major elections held during the twelve months I covered, including the 1860 presidential election. I broke down all three elections by county giving charts and maps of voting practices in the state. As far as I know this is the only published source where all this data is collected.
SB: Are there any new ideas about the secession movement that you found?
JF: Yes, actually. I believe what I found completely reinterprets how people have always looked at Kentucky. Past historians have always just accepted that Kentucky was more loyal to the Union. What I argue is that they were much more loyal to the south than thought before, in fact, the strength of the pro-Union and pro-secession forces were equal in strength. States like Virginia called a convention to decide on secession, with the majority believing they would never secede. The voting backed this belief as pro-Union candidates dominated. In Kentucky, however, the Legislature blocked calling a convention, fearful that if a convention was called their state might leave the Union. Kentucky seemed to see a bigger threat of secession than Virginia. It was the Unionists who first came up with the idea of being neutral. If they thought it was a foregone conclusion that Kentucky would stay with the Union, then why did they support neutrality while the secessionists fought against it? It was only after the Union party won two important state elections, pushing neutrality, that the States Rights Party began calling for secession believing the Union party would carry them into the war fighting with the Union.
SB: Thank you for your time, we appreciate it.
JF: You’re welcome.
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