An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State In the Civil War (SUNY Press, 2014) documents the pivotal role New York State played in our nation’s bloodiest and most enduring conflict. As the wealthiest and most populous state in the Union, the Empire State led all others in supplying men, money, and material to the causes of unity and freedom. New York’s experience provides significant insight into the reasons why the war was fought and the meaning that the Civil War holds today.
A companion to the award-winning exhibition of the same name, displayed at the New York State Museum from September 2012 to March 2014, An Irrepressible Conflict includes reproductions of objects from the collections of the New York State Museum, Library, and Archives, as well as more than twenty-five different institutions across the state.
Among the many significant objects are a Lincoln life mask from 1860 from the New-York Historical Society; the earliest photograph of Frederick Douglass (a rare 8″ x 10″ daguerreotype image, courtesy of the Onondaga Historical Association); the only known portrait of Dred Scott, also from New-York Historical Society; and a bronze medal given to the defenders of Fort Sumter by the City of New York from the museum’s own collection.
The title is inspired by an 1858 quote from then US Senator William H. Seward, who also served as governor of New York (1839–42) and Secretary of State (1861–69). Seward disagreed with those who believed that the prospect of war between the North and South was the work of “fanatical agitators.” He understood that the roots of conflict went far deeper, writing, “It is an irrepressible conflict, between opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become either entirely a slave-holding nation or entirely a free-labor nation.”
The book is authored by New York State Historian and Chief Curator of the New York State Museum Robert Weible, Museum Senior Historian Jennifer A. Lemak, and Associate Museum Exhibition Planner Aaron Noble is Lemak is the author of Southern Life, Northern City: The History of Albany’s Rapp Road Community, also published by SUNY Press.
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