The Center for Civil War Research at the University of Mississippi is pleased to announce that Ariel Ron has been awarded the 2021 Wiley Silver Prize for Best First Book in Civil War History for Grassroots Leviathan: Northern Agricultural Reform in the Slaveholding Republic (Johns Hopkins University Press). Dr. Ron is Glenn M. Linden Assistant Professor of the U.S. Civil War Era at Southern Methodist University.
The prize committee praised Dr. Ron’s book as follows:
“Ariel Ron’s engagingly written Grassroots Leviathan is an agricultural, political, economic, and intellectual history that is also informed by soil science, chemistry, education, and legal studies. Covering a region he defines as the “Greater Northeast” from the Early Republic to the Civil War, Ron presents a broad analytical study offering an original and creative contribution by reminding us that the North, like the South, was also profoundly rural and that this fact shaped the coming of the Civil War. Ron deploys a social history approach, examining agricultural organizations, writings, and fairs. He describes the ensuing massive reform movement as one that shaped the emergence of the Republican Party, grew the northern economy, and contributed to sectionalism. While recent books have examined the agrarian underpinnings of the Republican Party, little attention has been paid to the connections between grassroots agricultural activism and state building. Ron rectifies this by tracing the movement to the emergence of the USDA and the land-grant university system, critical pathways of thought for political, economic, and environmental historians alike. His skillful command of diverse sources depicts a northern rural majority realizing that as individuals, they did not stand a chance of influencing policy or politics; collectively, they could wield an usually strong influence in promoting a powerful and explicit program for agricultural education and reform, culminating in the passage of vital pieces of legislation that secured their vision and validated their collective efforts. Finally, Grassroots Leviathan depicts farmers as agents of state development in this period, complicating our understanding of northern free labor by looking beyond wage earners to include a much larger demographic—farmers—within this transformative ideology and political economy.”