Linking the Local and the National in the Politics of Sectional Conflict 

AHA Session 150
Friday, January 6, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Plaza Ballroom D (Sheraton Denver Downtown, Plaza Building Concourse Level)
Amy S. Greenberg, Penn State University
Corey Brooks, York College of Pennsylvania
Joanne B. Freeman, Yale University
Ariel Ron, Southern Methodist University
Rachel Shelden, University of Oklahoma

Session Abstract

In the decades leading up to the American Civil War, Washington politicians repeatedly struggled, and then eventually failed, to paper over welling sectional discord with recurrent, inherently unsatisfying rapprochements, bargains, and concessions.  To understand how the American public’s shifting political priorities and views on slavery reshaped the policy universe in which antebellum politicians operated, we must think carefully about the interaction between local political concerns and national leaders who often could set the terms of public debate, but also had to react to constituent sentiment in their states, districts, and local communities.  A wide range of recent scholarship on the politics of sectional conflict offers a ripe opportunity for reexamining linkages between the national and the local in this critical period of American political history.  This round table will interrogate connections between local activism and national politics in the climate of mounting sectional conflict.  Each panelist will reflect generally on connections between local activism and national political change while also offering more specific comments that call our attention to underappreciated facets of the politics of sectional conflict.   Corey Brooks will begin with a discussion of how antislavery third-party activists who confronted Whig and Democratic power in Washington sought to influence congressional debate as a strategy for mobilizing political support at home, while simultaneously attempting to manipulate local contests to accelerate national conflict over the Slave Power.  Next, Joanne Freeman will highlight how, in the 1850s, members of Congress increasingly deployed threats of violence, and sometimes even came to blows with sectional adversaries, as they responded to, and also heightened, the demands of restive constituents. Using the agricultural reform movement as a case study and identifying parallels to the abolitionist movement, Ariel Ron will present a new analytical framework of “network federalism” to explain how social movements unconstrained by hierarchical federalized structures mobilized the public sphere in ways that effectively integrated local considerations and national goals. Rachel Shelden will draw us away from political historians’ traditional focus on legislative and presidential politics to illuminate the local-national nexus in the politics of the federal judiciary.  Shelden will elucidate how antebellum Supreme Court justices riding circuit navigated the challenge of balancing national, regional, and local responsibilities as they adjudicated cases alongside district judges and rendered decisions with national implications. Amy Greenberg will serve as chair and bring to bear her expertise on the social, cultural, and political history of antebellum America. Collectively, the panelists on this round table will address a range of issues that are deeply salient for scholars and students of both the Civil War era and the American political process more broadly.
See more of: AHA Sessions