The Stormy Present: Conservatism and the Problem of Slavery in Northern Politics, 1848-1865
University of North Carolina Press, 2017
WINNER OF THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR MUSEUM’S JEFFERSON DAVIS BOOK PRIZE 2018
FINALIST FOR THE GILDER LEHRMAN LINCOLN PRIZE 2018
In this engaging and nuanced political history of Northern communities in the Civil War era, Adam I.P. Smith offers a new interpretation of the familiar story of the path to war and ultimate victory. Smith looks beyond the political divisions between abolitionist Republicans and Copperhead Democrats to consider the everyday conservativism that characterized the majority of Northern voters. A sense of ongoing crisis in these Northern states created anxiety and instability, which manifested in a range of social and political tensions in individual communities.
In the face of such realities, Smith argues that a conservative impulse was more than just a historical or nostalgic tendency; it was fundamental to charting a path to the future. At stake for Northerners was their conception of the Union as the vanguard in a global struggle between democracy and despotism, and their ability to navigate their freedoms through the stormy waters of modernity. As a result, the language of conservatism was peculiarly, and revealingly, prominent and telling in Northern politics during these years. The story this book tells is of conservative people coming, in the end, to accept radical change.
“This brilliant, timely, and original book is a ‘must-read’ for specialists and scholars of nineteenth-century U.S. History and American politics. Among his many contributions, Smith finds the sensible middle ground between conflicting interpretations of whether the Civil War was a war for abolition or for Union.” -Elizabeth R. Varon, University of Virginia
“The Stormy Present accomplishes the rare and therefore vital task of presenting a narrative of the late antebellum sectional crisis that shows how sectionalist radicals drove events but conservatives and conservatism were also a force to be reckoned with. Smith’s is a precise, rich exploration of what conservatism meant to a wide range of Northerners that those subjects themselves would recognize, painting a nuanced portrait of both change and continuity in this era.” -Matthew Mason, Brigham Young University
The President who ‘freed’ the slaves and held the Union together in the face of the slaveholding South’s bid to create a separate Confederacy. The teller of ribald stories, and the author of the most sublime speeches in the English language. A clever, complex, secretive man who rose from frontier obscurity to become the central figure at the moment when the United States of America came close to disintegration. Was Lincoln the ‘Great Emancipator’, whose wartime leadership helped free four million enslaved people? Or was he a nationalist who jumped late on the antislavery bandwagon? Was his intransigence the cause of much bloodshed? Or was he a pragmatist whose leadership minimised the destruction of the war? This concise biography situates Lincoln in his time and place. A very human figure who, after his assassination by a leading Shakespearean actor, was turned into an icon.
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The American Civil War was by far the bloodiest conflict in American history. Arising out of a political crisis over the expansion of slavery, the war set the stage for the emergence of the modern American nation-state. This new interpretation of one of the most mythologized events in modern history combines narrative with analysis and an up-to-date assessment of the state of Civil War scholarship.
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No Party Now: Politics in the Civil War North
Oxford University Press (2007)
During the Civil War, Northerners fought each other in elections with almost as much zeal as they fought Southern rebels on the battlefield. Yet politicians and voters alike claimed that partisanship was dangerous in a time of national crisis.
In No Party Now, Adam I. P. Smith challenges the prevailing view that political processes in the North somehow helped the Union be more stable and effective in the war. Instead, Smith argues, early efforts to suspend party politics collapsed in the face of divisions over slavery and the purpose of the war. At the same time, new contexts for political mobilization, such as the army and the avowedly non-partisan Union Leagues, undermined conventional partisan practices. The administration’s supporters soon used the power of anti-party discourse to their advantage by connecting their own antislavery arguments to a powerful nationalist ideology. By the time of the 1864 election they sought to de-legitimize partisan opposition with slogans like “No Party Now But All For Our Country!”
No Party Now offers a reinterpretation of Northern wartime politics that challenges the “party period paradigm” in American political history and reveals the many ways in which the unique circumstances of war altered the political calculations and behavior of politicians and voters alike. As Smith shows, beneath the superficial unity lay profound differences about the implications of the war for the kind of nation that the United States was to become.
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