The Presidents' War: Six American Presidents and the Civil War That Divided Them

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Lyons Press
Publish Date
5.6 X 1.0 X 8.8 inches | 1.1 pounds

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About the Author

Chris DeRose is the author of the highly acclaimed Congressman Lincoln: The Making of America's Greatest President and Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe, the Bill of Rights, and the Election that Saved a Nation. DeRose is an assistant professor of law at Arizona Summit Law School and political strategist who for the past seventeen years has served in nearly every capacity on campaigns up and down the ballot in five different states. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Visit him at or @chrisderose on Twitter.


At the time of Abraham Lincoln's election to president, five former presidents were still alive-an unprecedented and never-again achieved number. Derose provides a fresh look at the politics of the Civil War by focusing on the interactions between the eloquent and passionate Illinoisan and predecessors John Tyler, Franklin Pierce, Martin Van Buren, James Buchanan, and Millard Fillmore. He reveals the former presidents' opposition to Lincoln's presidency and many of his now-historic positions, such as the Emancipation Proclamation, and their constant fight against Lincoln's administration. Derose sets this thorough and fascinating history in a well-developed and rich foundation of the presidencies and politics leading up to Lincoln's two terms, and he concludes by pointing out the way Lincoln changed the presidency as his predecessors had feared: into a 'dynamic' and 'powerful force for principle, ' which was for Lincoln the principle of freedom for all men. . . .[T]his book is a well-written, thorough, and engaging look into a unique political situation in American history.--Publishers Weekly
"When Abraham Lincoln became president in 1861, five former presidents were still alive--a fact unique in American history. In this discerning book, Chris DeRose shows that all of them had opposed Lincoln's election, none supported his determination to resupply Fort Sumter, John Tyler became a Confederate and Franklin Pierce a Copperhead, Martin Van Buren's and James Buchanan's support for the Union war effort was lukewarm, and the three men still alive in 1864 (including Millard Fillmore) opposed the Emancipation Proclamation and Lincoln's re-election. In effect, Lincoln presided over the preservation of the Union and abolition of slavery without the support of his predecessors in the presidency." --James M. McPherson, Civil War historian, multi-volume author, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era "No American president ever came to office facing a graver crisis--or a larger group of unpredictable predecessors--than Abraham Lincoln. There have been thousands of books about Lincoln and the Civil War, but this is the first to explore these subjects through the ongoing stories of the ex-presidents who remained active, influential, and occasionally treacherous as the Union sought to save itself. Chris DeRose is to be congratulated for finding an entirely new way to revisit the Civil War." --Harold Holzer, chairman, Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation "The Presidents' War sheds new light on a forgotten aspect of America's national tragedy, chronicling a neglected but highly significant array of chief executives." --David Pietrusza, historian and award-wining author of 1920: The Year of the Six Presidents "As Abraham Lincoln struggled to save the union during his presidency, his predecessors looked on with a skeptical and sometimes critical eye. They, too, had addressed the issues of slavery, sectional stresses, and national unity. Their solutions had not stood the test of time, yet they had little empathy for their successor. In a gripping, lively narrative informed by current scholarship, Chris DeRose tells the story of how former presidents Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Milliard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan judged Lincoln and the war they had failed to prevent." --Brooks D. Simpson, Professor of History at Arizona State University and award-winning author of Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph over Adversity, 1822-1865 "If you think there is nothing new to say about the American Civil War, Chris DeRose, one of the most imaginative scholars of the period, will surprise you with this fresh look through the eyes, deeds, and words of the six American presidents living at the time shots were fired upon Fort Sumter. Exhaustively researched, elegantly written, DeRose's book offers discerning insights into the contributions and foibles of presidents you may have thought were familiar, but who in DeRose's skilled hands you discover you hardly knew. Superb history and a must-have addition to anyone's Civil War library!" --Scott Farris, author of Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race but Changed the Nation and Kennedy and Reagan: Why Their Legacies Endure