When the United States emerged as a world power in the years before the Civil War, the men who presided over the nation's triumphant territorial and economic expansion were largely southern slaveholders. As presidents, cabinet officers, and diplomats, slaveholding leaders controlled the main levers of foreign policy inside an increasingly powerful American state.Read more...
When the United States emerged as a world power in the years before the Civil War, the men who presided over the nation's triumphant territorial and economic expansion were largely southern slaveholders. As presidents, cabinet officers, and diplomats, slaveholding leaders controlled the main levers of foreign policy inside an increasingly powerful American state. This Vast Southern Empire explores the international vision and strategic operations of these southerners at the commanding heights of American politics.
For proslavery leaders like John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis, the nineteenth-century world was torn between two hostile forces: a rising movement against bondage, and an Atlantic plantation system that was larger and more productive than ever before. In this great struggle, southern statesmen saw the United States as slavery's most powerful champion. Overcoming traditional qualms about a strong central government, slaveholding leaders harnessed the power of the state to defend slavery abroad. During the antebellum years, they worked energetically to modernize the U.S. military, while steering American diplomacy to protect slavery in Brazil, Cuba, and the Republic of Texas.
As Matthew Karp demonstrates, these leaders were nationalists, not separatists. Their "vast southern empire" was not an independent South but the entire United States, and only the election of Abraham Lincoln broke their grip on national power. Fortified by years at the helm of U.S. foreign affairs, slaveholding elites formed their own Confederacy--not only as a desperate effort to preserve their property but as a confident bid to shape the future of the Atlantic world.
- ISBN-13: 9780674737259
- ISBN-10: 0674737253
- Publisher: Harvard University Press
- Publish Date: August 2016
- Page Count: 368
- Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.65 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-07-25
- Reviewer: Staff
In this adept and detailed scholarly work, Karp, assistant professor of history at Princeton, examines the international politics of slavery in the antebellum era alongside the outlook and influence of proslavery Southern statesmen. Karp reveals how, in the decades leading up to the Civil War, Southern slaveholders disproportionately controlled the levers of federal power, particularly in the realm of foreign affairs. They closely followed the international balance between slavery and freedom with “feverish attention” and “ideological confidence and worldly sophistication,” rather than isolated, reactionary defensiveness. Faced with a rising domestic movement against slavery and what was deemed Britain’s “imperial abolitionism,” these proslavery statesmen largely abandoned traditional conservative qualms against federal power, using their influence to forge the American state into “the chief hemispheric champion of slavery” while defending and preserving black servitude domestically and in such diverse places as Brazil, Cuba, and Texas. Karp further argues that this aggressive approach was a major factor in the Mexican-American War, the secession of the South, and the Civil War, as these leading policy makers were unwilling to relinquish their chance at constructing “the global order they envisioned—based on racial hierarchy, coerced labor, and aggressive state power.” Karp’s thorough and polished study will be eagerly welcomed by scholars, if not a wider public. (Sept.)