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A Political Nation

A Political Nation: New Directions in Mid-Nineteenth-Century American Political History

Gary W. Gallagher
Rachel A. Shelden
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    A Political Nation
    Book Description:

    This impressive collection joins the recent outpouring of exciting new work on American politics and political actors in the mid-nineteenth century. For several generations, much of the scholarship on the political history of the period from 1840 to 1877 has carried a theme of failure; after all, politicians in the antebellum years failed to prevent war, and those of the Civil War and Reconstruction failed to take advantage of opportunities to remake the nation. Moving beyond these older debates, the essays in this volume ask new questions about mid-nineteenth-century American politics and politicians.

    InA Political Nation,the contributors address the dynamics of political parties and factions, illuminate the presence of consensus and conflict in American political life, and analyze elections, voters, and issues. In addition to examining the structures of the United States Congress, state and local governments, and other political organizations, this collection emphasizes political leaders-those who made policy, ran for office, influenced elections, and helped to shape American life from the early years of the Second Party System to the turbulent period of Reconstruction.

    The book moves chronologically, beginning with an antebellum focus on how political actors behaved within their cultural surroundings. The authors then use the critical role of language, rhetoric, and ideology in mid-nineteenth-century political culture as a lens through which to reevaluate the secession crisis. The collection closes with an examination of cultural and institutional influences on politicians in the Civil War and Reconstruction years. Stressing the role of federalism in understanding American political behavior,A Political Nationunderscores the vitality of scholarship on mid-nineteenth-century American politics.

    Contributors:Erik B. Alexander, University of Tennessee, Knoxville · Jean Harvey Baker, Goucher College · William J. Cooper, Louisiana State University · Daniel W. Crofts, The College of New Jersey · William W. Freehling, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities · Gary W. Gallagher, University of Virginia · Sean Nalty, University of Virginia · Mark E. Neely Jr., Pennsylvania State University · Rachel A. Shelden, Georgia College and State University · Brooks D. Simpson, Arizona State University · J. Mills Thornton, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3283-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)
    Gary W. Gallagher and Rachel A. Shelden

    This is a book about traditional American political history in the mid-nineteenth century. It is a book about elections, voters, and issues. It is about political parties and factions. It is about consensus and conflict in American political life. It is about the structures of the United States Congress, state and local governments, and other political organizations. But most importantly, this is a book about politicalleaders—the people who made policy, ran for office, influenced elections, and helped to shape American life from the early years of the Second Party System to the turbulent period of Reconstruction.

    The study...

  5. I Political Culture in Antebellum America

    • Not So Strange Bedfellows: Northern and Southern Whigs and the Texas Annexation Controversy, 1844–1845
      (pp. 11-35)
      Rachel A. Shelden

      American politicians were not primarily motivated by sectional concerns in the early 1840s. Local and state bias, regionalism, party loyalty, class, and a wide variety of other concerns were as influential, if not more important, to the political actors in Washington. In no case is this variety of interests more salient than in the debate over Texas annexation in 1844 and early 1845. Focusing primarily on the Whig Party, this essay demonstrates that sectionalism was only one of many concerns during the “annexation crisis” of the 1840s. Furthermore, although the issue of annexation produced some sectional friction, the Whig Party...

    • Apotheosis of a Ruffian: The Murder of Bill Pool and American Political Culture
      (pp. 36-63)
      Mark E. Neely Jr.

      In the early hours of a Sunday morning in February 1855, in a saloon on Broadway in New York City, an ex-policeman named Lewis Baker shot and mortally wounded a saloonkeeper named William Pool. Originally reported in the press as a Saturday night brawl among “pugilists,” by the time of Pool’s death—days later from a bullet in his remarkably sturdy heart—the event had somehow become the centerpiece of a vast public demonstration of political support for the cause of Know-Nothingism. The death of William Pool, perhaps because it occurred in the winter of an odd-numbered year and not...

    • Public Women and Partisan Politics, 1840–1860
      (pp. 64-82)
      Jean Harvey Baker

      In the late 1960s and early 1970s a talented group of scholars turned their attention to nineteenth-century American political history. Instead of the traditional focus on presidents, state leaders, and administrative programs, these historians offered such strikingly fresh approaches to our political past that their work soon became known as the New Political History. Influenced by the emergence of an equally novel form of social history that concentrated on previously overlooked Americans, political historians ran the numbers on electoral turnouts and falloffs. Individual voters and their party preferences became the objects of their research. These young historians began employing statistical...

  6. II The Politics of the Secession Crisis

    • The Southern Opposition and the Crisis of the Union
      (pp. 85-111)
      Daniel W. Crofts

      The last stand of the Upper South’s Whig Party often has been overlooked. In 1859, five years after the national party disappeared, Whigs in the Upper South organized an “Opposition Party”—opposed, that is, to the Democratic Party. Most members of the so-called Southern Opposition were eager to damp down North-South acrimony. They looked askance at Southern Rights Democrats, who fanned Southern insecurities and attempted to capitalize on them. A possible counterweight to forces that soon would wreck the Union, the Southern Opposition came close to changing the partisan balance in the Upper South.¹

      A small group of ex-Whigs from...

    • Reviving State Rights
      (pp. 112-125)
      William W. Freehling

      Before his tragically premature death, the historian William E. Gienapp joined Michael F. Holt in disputing a current conventional wisdom about the causes of the Civil War. Both historians denied that contention overblackslaverysufficesto explain why the war came.¹Blackandsufficesdefine the crucial issue, in their work and in this essay. I agree that without black slavery there would probably have been no American Civil War (and certainly not in 1861) and that without Northern moral outrage at black slavery, there would probably have been no Republican Party (and certainly not in the party’s victorious...

    • Where Was Henry Clay? President-Elect Abraham Lincoln and the Crisis of the Union, 1860–1861
      (pp. 126-140)
      William J. Cooper

      Abraham Lincoln occupies a secure place in the pantheon of great U.S. presidents. Even among that select group, in the view of many, professional historians as well as the general public, he is primus inter pares—the savior of the Union and the great emancipator. Recently, numerous Lincoln students seem to be in a contest to extol his greatness. I have no intention of challenging the overwhelming consensus, for I, too, agree that he ranks in the very top tier of our presidents and that he has no equal as a war leader. This widespread agreement focuses, however, on the...

  7. III Parties and Federalism in the Era of the Civil War and Reconstruction

    • “Come Weal, Come Woe, I Am with the Anti-Slavery Party”: Federalism and the Formation of the Pennsylvania Union Party, 1860–1864
      (pp. 143-166)
      Sean Nalty

      In early June 1864, a strange assemblage of Republicans, Democrats who endorsed President Lincoln and the war, and border-state Southerners gathered in Baltimore to formally nominate the incumbent for a second term. Just four years before, Republicans had denounced Southern Democrats as part of a “slave oligarchy,” but here were Northern Democrats and loyal slaveholding politicians pledging their support to the same candidate who had earlier won on an expressly anti-Democratic, anti-Southern platform. Why did Republicans and even some non-Republicans embrace the new party? For many at the convention, the war had convinced them that old party questions paled in...

    • Alabama’s Presidential Reconstruction Legislature
      (pp. 167-187)
      J. Mills Thornton

      The South’s Presidential Reconstruction state legislatures have not had a good press. Suspicious Radical Republicans at the time thought them dominated by the former slavocracy and secessionists. The Black Codes enacted by a number of them seemed to Radicals—and not without good reason—to represent an effort to re-create slavery in another form. Modern scholars, beginning with W. E. B. Du Bois, have echoed these charges and have joined the Radicals in regarding the legislatures’ membership and actions as proof of the fecklessness and racism of President Andrew Johnson’s postwar policies. Yet few of these scholars have subjected the...

    • The Fate of Northern Democrats after the Civil War: Another Look at the Presidential Election of 1868
      (pp. 188-213)
      Erik B. Alexander

      ”Never before, in the history of the country have I been willing to see policy in any contingency, have any sort of dominion over principle,” wrote Samuel M. Johnson, a Democrat from New York, to fellow Democrat Horatio Seymour in April 1868. “I think it possible,” Johnson continued, “that in the coming canvass, we shall be called upon to consider not whether we shall sacrifice a principle, but whether we ought to select a candidate exclusively on the ground of his known qualifications. We may find it necessary, in other words, to take matters as we find them, and select...

    • Consider the Alternatives: Reassessing Republican Reconstruction
      (pp. 214-230)
      Brooks D. Simpson

      Scholars have long debated whether Reconstruction succeeded or failed, why it turned out as it did, and who or what was responsible for the outcome. Many have focused their efforts on exploring and assessing Republican policy makers and their handiwork—a major concern ever since historians began reevaluating Reconstruction in earnest in the wave of revisionist scholarship that appeared in the 1960s. Praise of Republicans’ motives in many of these works soon gave way to more critical assessments of their performance and more skeptical treatments of their motives. Indeed, as Michael Perman once suggested, “There seemed to be so many...

  8. Works by Michael F. Holt
    (pp. 231-232)
  9. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 233-234)
  10. Index
    (pp. 235-254)