The Partisan Leader by Nathaniel Beverly Tucker: a review

A fascinating read. This book was originally published in 1836 and and takes place in 1849. It posits that:

  • Martin Van Buren has effectively become king of the United States, reelected like clockwork every four years.
  • The Van Buren administration is corrupt.
  • The South has seceded because of Van Buren’s policies.
  • Virginia will soon become the last–or at least latest–secession.

The story centers on the Trevor family, and how various members of the family react to these events. Douglas Trevor is perhaps the central character, though the story’s structure doesn’t really have a central plot. Instead we’ve a collection of scenes which add up to a tale; in the process, most of the characters accept the need for Virginia’s secession in order to preserve her liberties. The tale climaxes with a brother-against-brother battle in the wilderness. The ending is a bit of a surprise.

The story’s interesting on several levels. One is the prophecy aspect; the tale gets the details badly wrong but clearly understands the forces which led to the American Civil War. There’s also a Negro slave undercurrent; Tucker is clearly aware of tensions between slaves and masters, but just as clearly does not believe them important. And there’s the unsettling change of perspective; rarely, nowadays, do we find well-written and sympathetic portraits of slave-holding southerners. As i said at the beginning, a fascinating read.

A note on the Google scan is in order: Google Books has a least two scans of this book in its collection. Google’s Princeton (College of New Jersey) Library copy, based on Rudd & Carleton’s 1861 reprint, is unacceptably poor; there are scanning errors in every paragraph, some of them quite distracting. Try one of the others.

Finally, a note on the book’s title and author: This book is indexed or mentioned in various places as either “The Partisan Leader” or “A Key to the Disunion Conspiracy.” Both are the same book, though the “Key” versions include a pro-Union introduction by, I think, Duff Green. The author is variously identified as Beverly Tucker (his common name), Nathaniel Beverly Tucker (his full name), Judge Tucker (his title), and Edward William Sidney (the pseudonym on the cover). All are the same person.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

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