A Higher Law than the Constitution;' The Republican Party and United States Nationalism

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 2:30 PM
Dartmouth Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Adam W. Dean , University of Virginia
"'A Higher Law than the Constitution;' The Republican Party and United States Nationalism."

European historians have investigated the rise of nationalist political parties in Italy, the German states, and France during the mid-1800s.  Yet few scholars consider America's Republican Party, launched in 1856, as a nationalist party.  This paper argues otherwise.  The Republicans articulated a distinctly northern version of United States nationalism that incorporated free state notions of civilization, union, and land use.   The Republicans developed these ideas during the debate over slavery’s expansion.  Anti-slavery northerners believed slavery was a threat to civilization because the institution limited opportunities for land ownership, denied access to education, and encouraged allegedly barbaric habits.   Slavery also threatened the perpetual union many Americans cherished.  Republicans worried that the institution's extension would prevent the addition of new territory to the United States and allow aristocrats to mock American democracy.  Finally, northerners believed that slave plantations exhausted the soil, creating an insatiable thirst for new land to exploit.  Together, these three ideas defined the free states as a different entity from the slave South, creating a regional nationalism that proved ascendant during the Civil War.

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