Month: December 2011

WRAC 130 Syllabus: Fall 2004

WRAC 130: American Radical Thought

Section 7: Mondays & Wednesdays 3:00pm to 4:50pm

Room: Akers-134



David Fiore Office Hours: Monday & Wednesday 5pm to 7pm

Office Number—-Bessey 301


Course Description:


During the three decades leading up to the Civil War, a wide variety of dissenters—armed only with a set of very old concepts, refashioned into an array of startlingly new critiques—laid siege to American society as it was then constituted. Radicals are no less a part of their culture than those whom they oppose, and one of our tasks will be to keep our fingers on the pulse of ideology which contributed the bassline to all of these raucous debates. However, it will be just as important for us to consider the process through which these dedicated hearts purified the tired blood of tradition into a vital fluid that, at least for a brief period, carried hitherto unprecedented amounts of oxygen to the “American mind”.


This course is, first and foremost, an introduction to the theory and practice of academic writing, and our main objective will be to work our way into the scholarly conversation centered upon this volatile period. The ways in which twentieth century historians and artists have perceived the mid-nineteenth century can be read as prophesies for the twenty-first. Your job as a student is to assess the validity of the claims they make, and to make claims of your own. I want you to think of the final research paper—in which you will stir a number of diverse interpretations into a concoction that quenches your thirst for a “usable past”—as an “icebreaker” of sorts.




Coursepack (on 2 hour reserve in library)


Ralph Waldo Emerson, Complete Writings


Aileen Kraditor, Means and Ends in American Abolitionism: Garrison and his Critics on Strategy and Tactics, 1834-1850


Stanley Elkins, Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life.


Ronald Walters, The Antislavery Appeal.


Henry David Thoreau, On Civil Disobedience.


Margaret Fuller, Woman in the Nineteenth Century.


Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom.


Albert J. Von Frank, The Trials of Anthony Burns: Freedom and Slavery in Emerson’s Boston.


Plagiarism Disclaimer:


If I discover that you have used another person’s material without citing it, I will give you a zero for the assignment. No explanations will be accepted.




(I will hand out more specific instructions regarding each of these assignments in class as the semester progresses.)


1. Religion & Radicalism in America, your initial sense of their relationship—500 words. (5% of grade)

2. “Moralizing” Politics—1500 words (20% of grade)

3. Brook Farm web site review—750 words (12.5% of grade)

4. Film Critique: discuss one of our films as an interpretive text—750 words (12.5%of grade)

5. Short Historiographical Research paper—2500 words (40% of grade)

6. Class Participation (10% of grade)— If you participate in all 5 of the peer editing sessions in good faith, you will earn a perfect score for participation. You will receive one point for each first draft you bring in on the appointed day, and one point for each peer review sheet you complete.


Due Dates:


I will not accept any papers after the specified due dates. There is no penalty for not submitting a first draft (other than the loss of 1 participation point). However, if you don’t submit one, you will deprive yourself of the benefits of my comments.



Attendance Policy:


I will be taking attendance. You have a right to miss 3 classes—any additional absences will result in the loss of 0.25 per absence off of your final grade. (i.e.: a student who earns a 3.5, but misses 5 classes, will receive a 3.0).



Course Schedule:


Aug 30th: What’s distinctive about American radical thought (as opposed to “radicalism in America”)? Is there any warrant for asking such a question?

The Hartz thesis, the “Consensus School” and a lead-in to Bercovitch.


Sept 1st: Discuss Bercovitch—“Emerson, Individualism, and Liberal Dissent” and “The Problem of Ideology in a Time of Dissensus” {coursepack}


Sept 6th: Labor Day


Sept 8th : Discuss “From Edwards to Emerson”, “The Significance of Roger Williams for the American Tradition” (Perry Miller); “Anne Hutchinson, Sectarian Mysticism, and the Puritan Order” (Marilyn J. Westerkamp) {coursepack all}

Assignment #1 due [first draft]

Peer Editing session


Sept 13th: Discuss “Self-Reliance”, “Circles“, Politics” and “New England Reformers” (Emerson)

I will return your drafts of Assignment #1, with comments. We will discuss whichever concerns you might have regarding the incorporation of sources (thematically & mechanically).


Sept 15th: Discuss “Commencement of the Liberator” (Garrison); “Public Opinion”(Phillips); “Talk About Political Party” (Child); “Speech to a Committee of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, February 21, 1838” (Grimke) and “The Patrician as Agitator” (Hofstadter) {coursepack all}


Sept 20th: Discuss “Slavery and the Intellectual” (Elkins, 140- 222)

Assignment #1 due [final draft]


Sept 22nd: Discuss Means and Ends in American Abolitionism: Garrison and his Critics on Strategy and Tactics, 1834-1850 (Kraditor)


Sept 27th: Discuss Means and Ends in American Abolitionism: Garrison and his Critics on Strategy and Tactics, 1834-1850 (Kraditor)



Sept 29th: Discuss The Antislavery Appeal, “Forms” and “Content” (Walters, 1-87)


Oct 4th: “The United States Constitution” (Garrison), United States Constitution {}; The Federalist no. 10 (Madison) {}

Assignment #2 due [first draft]

Peer Editing session

We will address the difficulties you encountered in writing historiography.



Oct 6th: Movie screening—Amistad (1998)


Oct 11th: Discuss “The Declaration of Independence” {} and David Walker’s Appeal {coursepack}

I will return your drafts of Assignment #2, with comments.


Oct 13th: “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” and My Bondage and My Freedom (Douglass); Frederick Douglass and the American Jeremiad


Oct 18th: My Bondage and My Freedom (Douglass)

Assignment #2 due [final draft]


Oct 20th: Woman in the Nineteenth Century (Fuller)


Oct 25th: Woman in the Nineteenth Century (Fuller)


Nov 1st: Web site review (assignment #3) due [first draft]

Peer Editing session

We’ll discuss the site in class.


Nov 3rd: Movie screening—Little Women (1994)


Nov 8th: “On Civil Disobedience” (Thoreau)

I will return your drafts of Assignment #3, with comments.

Final Research Paper Idea Generating Session.


Nov 10th: Read “A Plea For Captain John Brown” (Thoreau) and “John Brown” (Emerson)

Movie screening—Santa Fe Trail (1940)


***Meet with me (I’ll take appointments on Nov 10th) during the week of the 15th to clear a topic for your research papers***

Nov 15th: Discuss “The American Scholar”, “History”, and “Experience“ (Emerson)


Nov 17th: “Life without Principle” and “Slavery in Massachusetts” (Thoreau); “An Address on the Emancipation of the Negroes in the British West Indies” and “The Fugitive Slave Law” (Emerson)

Assignment #3 due [final draft]


Nov 22nd: Assignment #4 due [first draft]

Peer Review Session

Discuss Research Progress in Groups


Nov 24th: Discuss The Trials of Anthony Burns: Freedom and Slavery in Emerson’s Boston (Von Frank); “Anthony Burns: The New Crime Against Humanity” (Parker) {coursepack}


Nov 29th: Assignment #5 due [first draft]

Full class Peer Review Session

I will return your drafts of Assignment #4, with comments.


Dec 1st: Discuss The Trials of Anthony Burns: Freedom and Slavery in Emerson’s Boston (Von Frank)




Dec 6th: Discuss The Trials of Anthony Burns: Freedom and Slavery in Emerson’s Boston (Von Frank)

Assignment #4 due [final draft]

I will return your drafts of Assignment #5, with comments.


Dec 8th: Full class forum for discussion of paper revisions.


Dec 15th : hand in final draft of assignment #5; Course evaluations


From The Exception To Misrule: Sectionalism and Synecdochic Strife in America

From The Exception To Misrule:

Sectionalism and Synecdochic Strife in America

The specter of sectionalism has loomed over the historiography of Civil War causation since the firing upon Fort Sumter, but it is only recently that scholars have begun to problematize the phenomenon’s relationship to its binary opposite: nationalism. This leads to a very important series of questions: what is nationalism? Can devotion to “the Union” be equated with patriotic attachment to “the nation”? Did such a thing as “American nationalism” exist prior to the Civil War? If not, then why have so many historians written in willful ignorance of this fact, and why have so many others been blind to the implications of the sectional nature of the imperative toward a “more perfect union”?

There has been a major break in the historiography since the publication of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities in 1983. The idea that all nationalisms are constructed has helped to refocus scholarly attention upon a “Union” that, for too long, was assumed (with a wide variety of consequences) to be as “self-evident” an entity as the “truths” proclaimed by the Declaration of Independence. Some of the most fruitful lines of inquiry rooted in this Andersonian paradigm shift have centered upon the emergence of an “official nationalism” in America. If the drive to bring a “new (centralized) nation” to birth can be understood as the aspiration of a part (or a struggle between several “parts”) to stand for the whole, then the important questions become: who imagines this community? Who “dreams up” this “American Dream”? Perhaps most importantly, who decides where the boundary between dream and nightmare lies? At what point in its course does “the main current of American thought” become a “backwater” (and backwards–not to mention “backwoods”); an “exception”, just as likely to be dismissed as it is to be dealt with, during the day-to-day business of governance?

The most recent scholarship on nationalism and the Civil War hearkens back, in many ways, to the work of Charles and Mary Beard, whose schematic “economic interpretation of American history” is the quintessence of what is commonly referred to as “vulgar Marxism”, but is no less important a cornerstone of the historiography for that. The Beardian interpretation stresses that:

at bottom the so-called Civil War, was a social war, ending in the unquestioned establishment of a new power in the government, making vast changes in the course of industrial development, and in the constitution inherited from the Fathers.

This view is in stark opposition to popular traditions which held that the war had been a “national tragedy”, an expiatory orgy brought down upon the Union by the sin of slavery. According to Beard, it had been nothing of the sort. Instead, it was the final round of a struggle between “Hamiltonian” money interests and “Jeffersonian” agrarians that had been operative since the time of the Constitutional Convention. It was, in short, a power grab by a small segment of the population (industrial capitalists, whose proxies–the duped and “falsely conscious” northern proletariat–did their fighting and dying for them), which resulted in the conflation of their particular worldview with the “nation’s”.

In a Beardian framework, the emergence of this new American “synthesis”, while perhaps deplorable in itself, is nevertheless seen as the inevitable result of an “irrepressible conflict” between the proponents of antagonistic modes of production; and, as “Progressive historians”, the Beards naturally supposed that it was merely a necessary step on the road to a far more desirable (i.e. socialist) synthesis. The industrialization of the South would also “radicalize” it, by fostering the growth of the “revolutionary class” (the proletariat) in that region, and this, in turn, would create the necessary preconditions for a nationwide upheaval.

The only thing more “irrepressible” than Beard’s conflict is the ebb and tide of historiographical fashion, and, naturally, in the 1930s and 1940s, a “revisionist” school arose to challenge the fundamental assumptions of “economic determinism”. This group of historians, led by Avery O. Craven and James G. Randall, maintained that, to use Randall’s famous terminology, the war had been the wholly unnecessary result of a “blundering generation’s” mismanagement of the sectional extremists. In effect, they rescued the traditional understanding of the war as a tragedy, but attributed its cause to a punishment for “stupidity”, rather than the sin of slavery. The sin qua non of the “revisionist interpretation” is that the furor over “the peculiar institution” could have been addressed without bloodshed, if more “responsible” men had held the reins of political power, during the crucial decade of the 1850s. An unavoidable corollary of this argument is that the immediate abolition of slavery was a “compromisable” position. Indeed, Randall likened Radical Republicans to Jacobins, and considered their adherence to a platform of social reorganization in the South inexcusable. In the interests of “fairness”, the revisionist argument generally included a parallel indictment of “fire-eaters”, who played a similarly wild-eyed role in provoking the Confederacy to take precipitate action in the days after Lincoln’s election, but no amount of rhetoric can conceal the fact that they placed most of the blame for the conflict upon Northern “visionaries”.

Stanley Elkins, a somewhat later historian who falls squarely into this camp, is notable for developing an actual theory in order to account for America’s collective descent into “madness and extremity” during the antebellum period. Refusing to accept a merely anecdotal explanation for the war (i.e. the particular men who came to power during the 1850s simply lacked the ability to govern that their “forefathers” had possessed), Elkins attributed the collapse to a structural defect in American society:

We have elsewhere noted that the democratization of all of the major institutions once familiar to American life had a to a profound degree worked to undermine those same institutions, and that in a larger sense such institutional breakdown was the very condition, or price, of national success. But, in at least one area, the price of democracy was very high. For a fatal process was at work, and that process was nothing less than the very democratization of the controversy over slavery. The tragic flaw of an otherwise of an otherwise singularly favored society was the absence of mechanisms for checking such a development–the absence of mechanisms which might prevent a range of alternatives in sentiment and idea to be crystallized and maintained and which might prevent the development of a lowest common denominator of feeling in each section, widely enough shared as to provide a democratic ground for war.

Once again, the theme of “tragedy” is invoked, this time as a consequence of a sort of congenital anti-institutionalism in American thought. Elkins’ betes noires, the Transcendentalists (whom he refers to interchangeably with the abolitionists, despite the considerable differences between the two groups), represent the problem of the “irresponsible American intellectual” in its most distilled form, and it is fascinating that the author traces a putatively “national” vice to the vicinity of Concord, Massachusetts–arguably one of the least typical spots on the map of the United States, during the antebellum period. We will have cause to return to this problem later on.

The Elkins thesis inspired a revisionary charge in its own right, led by Aileen Kraditor, whose book, Means and Ends in American Abolitionism, argues that the extreme form of anti-institutionalism that Elkins deplores in the Transcendentalists and Abolitionists was specifically rooted in New England culture, and was very far from the norm, even there. Perhaps more important, at least in the context of their own debate, if not for the purposes of this essay, is Kraditor’s defiant contention that

the significant point is not that American society was relatively “devoid of structure”, as Elkins correctly states, but that slavery was part of what structure it had, such an integral part that a movement to destroy it was not a reform movement but a radical one; it judged the institution of slavery not by the moral criteria of the society within which slavery had a legitimate place, but by a higher law which rejected those very criteria.

The book was published in 1967, at the height of the Civil Rights era, and the unspoken disagreement between Kraditor and Elkins goes beyond antislavery to an attack upon the “blundering generation”/”irresponsibility” school’s shocking failure to prioritize racial justice in their dirgelike treatments of a “needless conflagration”.

The most fascinating thing about the Elkins-Kraditor debate is that they are so close to agreement on the “facts” of abolitionism. When Kraditor notes that

to the nonresistants [largely coextensive–but not synonymous–with the Garrisonian wing of abolitionism] slavery was a symptom of a basic flaw in pervading the entire society…the abolition of slavery would be only one step toward the fundamental regeneration of American society, which would require a profound ideological reorientation and ultimately abolish the government.

she is only repeating, in substance, what Elkins had written, albeit in a more approving tone. To the extent that there is anything more than a difference in temperament between them, their disagreement centers upon the question of Garrison’s representativity as a symbol of American abolitionism. Elkins wants to maintain that all abolitionists were, at heart, Garrisonians (and Emersonians), a fact which Kraditor, for whom the real tragedy of the nineteenth century is not the Civil War, but Reconstruction, fervently denies:

the antipolitical abolitionists [Christian Anarchists of the Garrisonian persuasion] predicted that if antislavery sentiment became popular without being accompanied by real progress on the race question, the reflection of that sentiment in Congressional action would create a frightful danger to the nation. Abolition of slavery could conceivably be forced eventually by a white North aroused to protect its own interests, but that very abolition would make the achievement of the abolitionists’ other goals more difficult. It could be argued that that is precisely what happened.

On the other hand, Elkins is clearly closer to the truth of the public’s perception (particularly in the South) of abolitionism at the time of the crisis. Kraditor’s demonstration that Garrison spoke only for a small faction of movement and had virtually no followers outside of New England matters little when weighed against the manifest truth of his significance, as a symbol, to Southern politicians who felt compelled to withdraw from the Union upon the accession to power of the “Black Republican party”. Ignoring the official platform of this Northern coalition (which was anything but radical), “fire-eaters” did see the new party as the political incarnation of “Garrisonism” (or, perhaps, “Sumnerism”, which came to much the same thing, from a white supremacist perspective).

Most influential Southerners assumed that the Republican party was the ultimate vehicle for the realization of New England’s (not “the North’s”) “sectional aims”. Whether this is borne out by the record is a question that will preoccupy us in the final stages of this paper, but what concerns us, at this juncture, is the very notion of “sectional consciousness” itself. Most scholars have agreed that New England constituted a “distinct society”–an exception–within the context of the early Republic; but what this difference consisted of, and, more importantly, what the region’s “interests” might have been, has been hotly contested. At the same time, New England sectionalism has tended to be treated in a subtly different manner from the Southern variant–the classic example of this is Hans Kohn’s contention that, of the “founding sections”, only the South developed a sense “national identity”–and this seems to be more a consequence of the distortions of hindsight than anything else.

It is perhaps not surprising then that the most aggressively political demonstration of New England exceptionalism since the Puritan settlement itself, the Hartford Convention, has attracted very little scholarly attention. Shaw Livermore Jr. deals tangentially with the event, as one of the major causes for the demise (or, rather, the retreat) of the Federalist Party, claiming that

although relative moderates controlled the convention, the circumstances, together with the long list of demands that touched the fundamental nature of the union, convinced many that the delegates were threatening secession. Such a threat made during war was easily equated with treason.

The remainder of the book gives a fascinating account of the spectacle of a party called “Federalist” whose subsequent chances of winning any election outside of New England quickly converged upon nil.

James M. Banner’s To The Hartford Convention remains the only “full-length” study of this event, and its treatment of the crisis as something of a “tempest in a teapot” (in effect, he reduces it to a failed electioneering ploy, fomented by a cabal of Massachusetts politicians, which never constituted any threat to the union) may explain why there has been no follow-up, in the thirty-four years since its publication. Banner’s admirable reconstruction of the event from the inside may have done more harm than good, from an historiographical perspective. His exclusive focus upon the instigators of the convention–men such as Harrison Gray Otis, who were almost certainly not serious secessionists–has somehow blinded historians to the fact that, again, as in the case of Kraditor’s subjects, the public’s perception of these “conspirators” (and their representativity of New England attitudes) was quite different from the facts that Banner presents the reader with. After all, as Livermore demonstrates, “Hartford” did kill a national party organization, and no politician that made an appearance there (most notably Daniel Webster) was ever permitted to forget this fact, come election time. It would seem that a great opportunity has been passed up, by scholars of the antebellum period, to examine the Convention’s role in helping to prepare the ground for Southern paranoia concerning “Yankee” moral aggression and its relationship to the Union and the Constitution–it should not be overlooked that one of the major items on the Hartford docket was the immediate abolition, not of slavery, but of the “three-fifths” clause.

There were “proto-Garrisonian” voices at the Convention, most notably Timothy Pickering’s, and these were precisely the ones that echoed forth most resoundingly upon the national stage, but political historians have instead tended to focus upon Banner’s “moderates” and their attempts to live down the embarrassment of their complicity in an enterprise which became notorious. Daniel Webster has been the most representative figure here. Scholars such as Norman D. Brown and Richard Dalzell have done an admirable job of charting the Massachusetts senator’s ascent from “Federalist conspirator” to the famed “Defender of the Constitution” of the Webster-Hayne debates. Harlow W. Sheidley’s Sectional Nationalism: Massachusetts Conservative Leaders and the Transformation of America, 1815-1836, bids fair to become the definitive treatment of this difficult period of readjustment for New England’s commercial elite. The author contends that

Webster consciously exploited the opportunity of Hayne’s “abuse” to place New England’s agenda for national development and New England’s previous near-treasonous sectionalism squarely within the frame of nationalist rhetoric. Posing as the disinterested defender of a nation threatened by dangerous southern constitutional doctrines, he was able to transfer the burden of defending a disunionist sectionalism, which had been New England’s for so many years, to the South. New England’s own defensive sectionalism was thus recast as an aggressive nationalism whose sole concern was to support and defend the Constitution and the Union, albeit in terms honored by the conservatives in the past years.

While this is undeniably true, it begs the question: what became of the content of New England sectionalism, once the region’s political leaders made their bid to cast their lots with the fate of the Union and the various compromises that were necessary to maintain it? Did the moral exceptionalism that had been such a threatening aspect of the Hartford Convention simply evaporate?

As the struggles of the sixties forced the academic establishment to perform a wholesale reevaluation of the ethics of “compromise” that had been so foundational to the Craven/Randall thesis (and even Stanley Elkins admitted, in the third edition of Slavery, that his condemnation of abolitionist anti-institutionalism had perhaps been overhasty, given that “the civil rights movement and the intransigence which it encountered ha[d] permitted [him] to empathize” more fully with these activists than he had been capable of in 1959), a new flurry of “two civilizations” studies exploded the old historiographical paradigm on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. Eugene Genovese’s work in The Political Economy of Slavery revived the Beardian notion that the South’s unique variation on the “feudal mode of production” placed the region in a state of implacable hostility vis-a-vis the capitalist North. As Genovese’s career progressed, and as he embellished his materialist portrait of the South with borrowed concepts (such as Gramsci’s theory of “hegemony”) and problematic, but psychologically complex, tools of his own invention (most notably “paternalism”), “vulgar economic determinism” flourished into a Marxist interpretation of Southern life that was at least capable of explaining why masses of non-slaveholding whites might have been willing to die in defense of the institution–and why planters could never have given it up without a fight.

Eric Foner, a contemporary of Genovese’s, and a fellow practitioner of “depth-Marxism”, delivered a similarly powerful explication of Northern ideology in Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men. Foner’s understanding of the mental world of the masses of voters who handed control of the Union to the Republican party in 1860 continues to serve as the basis for many, if not most, of the studies on this subject that have followed in its wake. At the thematic core of the book is the concept of “free labor”, which, according to Foner

involved not only an attitude toward work, but a justification of ante-bellum northern society, and it led northern Republicans to an extensive critique of southern society, which appeared both different from and inferior to their own. Republicans also believed in the existence of a conspiratorial “Slave Power” which had seized control of the federal government and was attempting to pervert the Constitution for its own purposes. Two profoundly different and antagonistic civilizations, Republicans thus believed, had developed within the nation, and were competing for control of the political system.

The concept of “free labor” ideology allows Foner to deliver a plausible (i.e. psychologically sensitive) account of how white supremacist Northerners could have become powerfully enough invested in the idea of abolition that they were willing to die for an enslaved people that most would not have flinched from classifying as second-class citizens, when they thought of Black Southerners at all.

One of the many objectives of David M. Potter’s massive The Impending Crisis was the reconciliation of Foner’s exegesis of northern “political religion” with the more conservative, nationalist track followed by Webster and his supporters. In this book, the author contends that

functionally, there is a standard way for preserving two or more views which cannot coexist in the same context: they must be kept in separate contexts. And this is what the northern public learned to do, thus finding a way both to oppose slavery and to cherish a Constitution and a Union which protected it… they placed their patriotism in a context of inherited obligation to carry out solemn promises given in the Constitution as an inducement to the South to adhere to the Union. By emphasizing the sanctity of a fixed obligation, they eliminated the element of volition or of personal responsibility for slavery at the federal level, and thus were true to the value of the Union in this context.

In Potter’s view, the struggle to assimilate the new territories of Kansas and Nebraska into the Union caused the barrier between these two separate contexts to rupture. On this point he is substantially in agreement with Foner, who maintains that, as Kraditor had lamented, the quest to secure the West for free (white) labor provided the basis for the formation of a coalition against slavery that had scarcely any interest in promoting racial justice.

Hot on the heels of the posthumous publication of The Impending Crisis came an attack on its central thesis by Michael F. Holt, a political historian who rebuilt a new, improved version of the “blundering generation” theory on a foundation of voting records and the insights gleaned from the “ethnocultural” interpretation of the second party system propounded by Ronald P. Formisano. Holt’s analysis depends upon a rigorous emphasis upon the timing of the Civil War:

Ideological differences, after all, do not always produce wars… To be more concrete, there most certainly was sectional conflict between North and South over slavery-related matters, yet that conflict, or cold war, had existed at least since the Constitutional Convention of 1787… If slavery or even the slavery extension issue caused the war, for example, why not in 1820 or 1832 or 1846 or 1850 or 1854? The basic problem concerning the war, in short, has less to do with the sources of sectional conflict than with the war’s timing. The important question is not what divided the North from the South, but how the nation could contain or control that division for so long and then allow it suddenly to erupt into war.

Holt’s “blunderers” are not guilty of any lack of statesmanship or ability to compromise, but rather of a failure to hold the general public, North and South, mesmerized by the old issues (the tariff, the National Bank, “internal improvements”) that had largely kept sectional issues from predominating, even during the the Mexican War and its aftermath. According to the author, neither of the two root causes for the demise of the Second Party System–unprecedented concurrence between the parties on economic issues and the explosion of nativism in the wake of massive Catholic-European immigration–had anything to do with slavery.

Holt’s contention that “party competition” is the health of the state is deeply indebted to the scholarship of Richard Hofstadter and Richard P. McCormick; and his supposition that a “conspiracy theory” (in this case, a sectional one; a twinned pair of them, in fact: fear of “The Slave Power” and “Black Republicanism”) will always fill a political vacuum also nods in the direction of Hofstadter’s seminal exploration of “the paranoid style” in American politics. It is an inspired performance, the study denies that any kind of conscious “sectional agency” drove the politics of the 1850s, and treats the eruption of these regional passions as a kind of “return of the repressed”.

Very few of the most recent studies of the resultant conflict have accepted Holt’s central thesis, but all of them have made some tactical use of his ideas. One of the most influential of these has been Richard Bensel’s Yankee Leviathan, which details the process by which, in the author’s estimation, New England made its long deferred bid not merely to affirm its attachment to the Union, but to make its own particular value system synonymous with the nation’s. Bensell examines the Federal-North’s attempt to impose Foner’s “free labor” ideology upon the South, dwelling most profitably upon those factors which, in the final analysis, thwarted the proper implementation of the “modernization” program nationwide. The book advances the deeply ironic (and depressing) thesis that, in seizing the opportunity afforded by the “Crisis of the 1850s” to capture uncontested federal power, proponents of centralized government (and potentially of social-democratic reform) squandered a golden opportunity to annihilate the legacy of a decentralized republic by reabsorbing an economically unassimilable region (the South) back into the fold, before a new tradition of “economic planning” could take hold in any portion of the country. In effect, the nascent “Yankee Leviathan” destroyed itself by prosecuting the War too effectively and swallowing a reactionary Confederacy whole; which eventuated in a retying of the same inter-sectional knots between local elites with incompatible economic interests that had prevailed before the war, and virtually undid any progress toward a rationalization of the economy that had been made during the war and the early stages of Reconstruction.

Susan-Mary Grant takes a far more cynical view of the same events in North Over South, arguing that Northern/Yankee ideologues used the conflict as a cover for realizing their most cherished ambition: the birth of a “new nation” whose ideals would be of New English origin, and whose failures and hypocrisies could inevitably be blamed on a chastened and necessarily “backward” South. Grant deploys the deconstructionist theory of the interdependence of all signs, beginning with the proposition that the existence of a “Southern nationalism” necessarily implies its Northern counterpart, and that, moreover, the Yankee-ized federal government’s failure to effectively subjugate economic and racial reactionaries in the South served the needs of Northern state-builders perfectly. According to Grant, there was no serious attempt to “modernize” the South. In fact, victorious New Englanders consciously strove to maintain the status quo in the region, which they hoped to hold in perpetuity as a nightmarish fiefdom to which they could banish all of the monstrous social inequalities that their “American Dream” was unequipped to deal with on the plane of reality.

Grant’s dialectical understanding of the conflict is, in many ways, a return to Beard, and certainly to Foner; but the elimination of a Marxist base from the interpretation takes with it the sense of material progress which, despite their acknowledgment of the costs of this advancement, had brightened the work of these earlier scholars. Her dialectic is purely rhetorical, with the North emerging as the privileged term, and maintaining this status upon the sufferance of the South’s continued embodiment of all that is wrong with America. However much one might be tempted to disagree with this argument, it is hard to ignore the fact that cultural anthropologists and intellectual historians, from Margaret Mead through Louis B. Hartz to Joyce Appleby, have fallen into exactly the snare that Grant describes–treating the South as an exception, when it might at least be closer to the truth to comprehend it as the exception that proves (national) misrule.
Works Cited and Consulted

Abzug, Robert H. Cosmos Crumbling: American Reform and the Religious Imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities : Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso, 1991.

Appleby, Joyce. Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 2000.

Auer, J. Jeffrey, ed. Antislavery and Disunion, 1858-1861: Studies in the Rhetoric of Compromise and Conflict. New York: Harper and Row, 1963.

Banner, James M. To The Hartford Convention: The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts, 1789-1815. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970.

Beard, Charles, and Mary Beard. The Rise of American Civilization. Two volumes. New York: Macmillan, 1927.

Bender, Thomas, ed. The Antislavery Debate: Capitalism and Abolitionism as a Problem in Historical Interpretation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

Bensel, Richard Franklin. Yankee Leviathan: The Origin of Central State Authority in America, 1859-1877. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990.

Blight, David W. Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 2001.

Brown, Norman D. Daniel Webster and the Politics of Availability. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1969.

Clarfield, Gerard H. Timothy Pickering and the American Republic. Pittsburgh, PA. : University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980.

Cowden, Joanna D. “Heaven Will Frown on Such a Cause As This: Six Democrats Who Opposed Lincoln’s War. New York: University Press of America, 2001.

Cox, John H. Politics, Principle, and Prejudice, 1865-1866: The Dilemma of Reconstruction America. New York: Atheneum, 1969.

Craven, Avery O. The Coming of The Civil War. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1942.

Dalzell, Robert F. Daniel Webster and the Trial of American Nationalism, 1843-1852. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1973.

DuBois, W.E. Burghardt. Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880. New York: Russell & Russell, 1935.

Elkins, Stanley M. Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional Life (Third Edition). Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1976.

Foner, Eric. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1970.

—-, ed. The New American History. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1997.

Formisano, Ronald P. The Birth of Mass Political Parties, Michigan, 1827-1861. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971.

Genovese, Eugene D. The Political Economy of Slavery: Studies in the Economy & Society of the Slave South. New York : Vintage Books, 1967.

—-, The World the Slaveholders Made: Two Essays in Interpretation. New York: Pantheon Books, 1969.

—-, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made. New York: Pantheon Books, 1974.

Grant, Susan-Mary. North Over South: Northern Nationalism and American Identity in the Antebellum Era. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000.

Hartz, Louis B. The Liberal Tradition in America: An Interpretation of American Political Thought Since the Revolution. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1991.

Hofstadter, Richard. The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1965.

—-. The Idea of A Party System: The Rise of Legitimate Opposition in the United States, 1780-1840. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.

Holt, Michael F. The Political Crisis of the 1850s. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1978.

Howe, Daniel Walker. Making the American Self: Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1997.

Kohn, Hans. American Nationalism: An Interpretive Essay. New York: Macmillan, 1957.

Kraditor, Aileen S. Means and Ends in American Abolitionism: Garrison and his Critics on Strategy and Tactics, 1834-1850. Chicago: Elephant Paperbacks, 1989.

Livermore Jr., Shaw. The Twilight of Federalism: The Disintegration of the Federalist Party, 1815-1830. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1962.

Maizlish, Stephen E. The Triumph of Sectionalism: The Transformation of Ohio Politics, 1844-1856. Kent: Kent State UP, 1983.

McCormick, Richard P. The Second America Party System: Party Formation in the Jacksonian Era. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966.

Mead, Margaret Mead. And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1942.

Nash, Howard P. Third Parties in American Politics. Washington: Public Affairs Press, 1970.

Newman, Richard S. The Transformation of American Abolitionism: Fighting Slavery in the Early Republic. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Nimtz, August H. Marx, Tocqueville, and Race in America: The “Absolute Democracy” or “Defiled Republic”. New York: Lexington Books, 2003.

Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (completed and edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher). New York: Harper and Row, 1976.

—-. The South and the Sectional Conflict. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1968.

Randall, James G. The Civil War and Reconstruction. Boston: D. C. Heath and Company, 1937.

Schlesinger, Arthur M. The Age of Jackson. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1945.

Sheidley, Harlow W. Sectional Nationalism: Massachusetts Conservative Leaders and the Transformation of America. Boston: Northeastern UP, 1998.

Taylor, Anne-Marie. Young Charles Sumner and the Legacy of the American Enlightenment, 1811-1851. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001.

Taylor, William R. Cavalier and Yankee: The Old South and American National Character. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1979.

Watson, Harry L. Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America. New York: Hill and Wang, 1990.

Wills, Garry. A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999.


Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities : Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. (New York : Verso, 1991)

There are many different “nationalisms” in Anderson’s book! His discussion of this particular variant relies mainly upon a discussion of its emergence as a reactionary weapon against “popular nationalism” in Tsarist Russia, but I would argue that, with some modifications to account for “local color”, particularly “official nationalism’s” greater complicity with the reactionary urges of “the common (white) people” themselves, it is just as valuable a tool for understanding developments in mid-19th century America.

see Charles Beard and Mary Beard. The Rise of American Civilization. Two volumes (New York: Macmillan, 1927), passim

Charles Beard and Mary Beard, The Rise of American Civilization. Two volumes (New York: Macmillan, 1927), 53

Avery O Craven, The Coming of The Civil War (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1942); James G. Randall, The Civil War and Reconstruction (Boston : D. C. Heath and Company, 1937)

Stanley M. Elkins, Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional Life(Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1976)

Elkins, 178

see Elkins, “The Abolitionist as Transcendentalist”, in ibid., 175-193

Aileen S. Kraditor, Means and Ends in American Abolitionism: Garrison and his Critics on Strategy and Tactics, 1834-1850. (Chicago: Elephant Paperbacks, 1989)

ibid., 20.

Kraditor, 103.

Kraditor, 32

Hans Kohn, American Nationalism: An Interpretive Essay (New York: Macmillan, 1957), 94-107

Shaw Livermore Jr., The Twilight of Federalism: The Disintegration of the Federalist Party, 1815-1830 (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1962), 11

Banner, James M. To The Hartford Convention: The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts, 1789-1815. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970). Garry Wills deal with the Convention, in some detail, in A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999), 153-162, but only to reiterate Banner’s thesis.

For a discussion of Pickering’s extremism–both moral and sectional–see Gerard H. Clarfield, Timothy Pickering and the American Republic (Pittsburgh, PA. : University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980)

Norman D. Brown, Daniel Webster and the Politics of Availability (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1969); Robert F. Dalzell, Daniel Webster and the Trial of American Nationalism, 1843-1852 (Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1973).

Sheidley, Harlow W. Sectional Nationalism: Massachusetts Conservative Leaders and the Transformation of America, 1815-1836 (Boston: Northeastern UP, 1998)

Harlow, 148-49

Elkins, 253

Eugene D. Genovese, The Political Economy of Slavery: Studies in the Economy & Society of the Slave South (New York : Vintage Books, 1967)

see Genovese, The World the Slaveholders Made: Two Essays in Interpretation (New York: Pantheon Books, 1969); Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York: Pantheon Books, 1974)

Foner, Eric. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1970)

Foner, 9-10

David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (New York: Harper and Row, 1976)

Michael F. Holt, The Political Crisis of the 1850s (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1978); Ronald P. Formisano’s book The Birth of Mass Political Parties, Michigan, 1827-1861 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971) problematized the traditional view of the Whig/Democrat binary–the classic iteration of which can be found in Arthur M. Schlesinger’s The Age of Jackson (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1945)–by emphasizing the extent to which ethnic/religious (rather than class) identity determined voting patterns in Michigan.

Holt, 2

Richard Hofstadter, The Idea of a Party System: The Rise of Legitimate Opposition in the United States, 1780-1840 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969); Richard P. McCormick, The Second America Party System: Party Formation in the Jacksonian Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966).

Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, and Other Essays (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1964).

Richard Franklin Bensell,Yankee Leviathan: The Origins of Central State Authority in America, 1859-1877 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

Grant, Susan-Mary, North Over South: Northern Nationalism and American Identity in the Antebellum Era (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000)

Margaret Mead, And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1942); Louis B. Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America: An Interpretation of American Political Thought Since the Revolution (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1991); Joyce Appleby, Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans(Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 2000)