December 2018 (vol. 8, no. 4)

December 2018 (vol. 8, no. 4)

Volume 8, Number 4
December 2018


Judith Giesberg

Editor’s Note

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Timothy J. Williams

The Reader’s South: Literature, Region, and Identity in the Civil War Era

This essay examines the reading habits of young white southern readers, a segment of the region’s educated class who frequently wrote about their reading habits in diaries. Analysis of these readers, ranging in age from early teens to early twenties, reveals that reading provided considerable continuity across periods. Young men and women socialized as readers in the antebellum years carried with them certain cultural assumptions about literature, literacy, and reading as they headed into secession and war. These assumptions included attitudes about reading for self-improvement and anxiety about appropriate genre selection as related to age, class, and gender. Heightened sectionalism, secession, and the war caused men and women on home and battlefronts to adjust antebellum modes of thought and engagement with intellectual life to wartime exigencies. Accordingly, this essay explores how southerners used their literacy, how they experienced intellectual life across eras, moving from the Market Revolution through secession, and into war. This cultural history of intellectual life should challenge historians to re-examine the era’s conventional periodization as well as its claims about southern regional exceptionalism

Keywords: readers; youth; gender; genre; intellectual life; cultural history; Market Revolution; sectionalism; secession; war; homefront; diaries

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Joshua A. Lynn

A Manly Doughface: James Buchanan and the Sectional Politics of Gender

In the presidential election of 1856, Democrats manipulated the body and sexuality of James Buchanan to present him as the embodiment of their conservative political ideology and gender norms. In contrast to his image as an unmanly Yankee bachelor and pro-southern Doughface, Democrats portrayed Buchanan as a manly conservative whose bachelorhood actually enhanced his conservatism and nationalism. Without his own family, he could embody the Democrats’ policy of popular sovereignty, which ostensibly treated southern and northern white men as equal masters of household dependents. Antislavery critics, however, attacked Buchanan as pro-southern, arguing that his bachelorhood only underscored his unmanliness and inability to stand up to the Slave Power on behalf of white northern families. Buchanan’s 1856 candidacy reveals that the politics of sectionalism and slavery in the Civil War era was also a politics of domesticity, gender, and sexuality.

Keywords: James Buchanan, gender, sexuality, conservatism, Democratic Party, politics, popular sovereignty, election of 1856, Doughface

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Joseph T. Murphy

The British Example: West Indian Emancipation, the Freedom Principle, and the Rise of Antislavery Politics in the United States, 1833–1843

This essay discusses British emancipation’s influence on antislavery political and constitutional development in the United States during the pivotal decade 1833-1843. The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 radically revised the Atlantic legal regime embodied in the law of nations. Because the U.S. Constitution had absorbed much of the law of nations, Britain’s radical alteration of that regime rippled through the American constitutional system, highlighting dormant tensions in American and contributing to the rise of diametrically opposed pro- and antislavery constitutional doctrines at the fringes of American politics. In the aftermath of 1833, antislavery forces—and not just radical abolitionists—moved to integrate the United States to Britain’s new order while respecting the “peculiar” compromises in the Constitution, reading those provisions narrowly against universal principles. Their labors produced a formidable American strain of the famous “freedom principle” that would become the backbone of antislavery politics up to and through the Civil War.

Keywords: Slavery; Antislavery; Proslavery; Abolition; Antislavery Politics; Antislavery Constitutionalism; Constitutional Politics; Supreme Court;  Jurisprudence; Diplomacy; Law of Nations; International Law; Comity; Freedom Principle; Municipal Theory; Somerset; Natural Law; Natural Rights; Federal Consensus; Denationalization; Cordon Of Freedom; Transatlantic; British Empire; West Indian Emancipation; Slave Rebellion; Fugitive Slaves

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Leslie A. Schwalm

A Body of “Truly Scientific Work”: The U.S. Sanitary Commission and the Elaboration of Race in the Civil War Era

During the Civil War, the U.S. Sanitary Commission was much more than a philanthropic soldier-relief organization.  It also engaged in what Commission President Henry Bellows called “truly scientific work,” work that Bellows felt was the Commission’s main chance at “being valued as men of mark in time to come.”   A significant portion of that scientific work consisted of a large-scale endeavor to identify and catalog anatomical and physiological evidence of racial inferiority in the bodies of African American soldiers.  Using the tools of anthropometry and social surveys, the northern white members of the Commission expressed their commitment to an increasingly intransigent racial essentialism that endured long after the wartime destruction of slavery.  

Keywords:U.S. Sanitary Commission; race; anthropometry; medicine; science; African Americans; soldiers

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Erik Mathisen

The Second Slavery, Capitalism, and Emancipation in Civil War America

The historiography of slavery in the nineteenth century has undergone a dramatic shift over the past few years. The “second slavery” as well as work on the relationship between American slavery and capitalism, have altered some of the basic paradigms which have propped up thinking about the institution in the history of the United States. This essay surveys the intellectual origins and development of both projects. It offers a critique of the assumptions which undergird this new work, while at the same time pointing up how these two projects might engage with and be challenged by the history and historiography of American emancipation. In particular, a history of coerced labor in the United States and around the world in the nineteenth century, counters the often insular way in which the story of emancipation and Reconstruction is traditionally cast.

Keywords: historiography, Reconstruction, slavery, emancipation, second slavery, capitalism

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