Party, State, and Nation : Kentucky and the Coming of the American Civil War
Volz, III, Harry August, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Holt, Michael, Department of History, University of Virginia
This dissertation surveys Kentucky's political history between 1848 and 1861. The overriding question it addresses is why Kentucky did not secede either following Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860, or with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. Its major conclusion is that Kentuckians felt that there was no need for revolution in 1860 and 1861, that their rights and liberties would be fully protected by the proper working of the political system, both through the checks and balances of the Constitution and through the dynamics of the party system. Indeed, the very fact that Kentucky had a vibrant two party system throughout the 1850s conditioned Kentuckians to have this faith, as well as provided them with an institutional means to oppose secession.
Of primary importance to this dissertation, therefore, is how Kentucky's party system maintained itself when other states' systems failed. It examines the reasons behind the Whigs' rise to predominance prior to 1840, their modest decline and the Democrats' modest rise in the late 1840s and early 1850s to a point where the two were practically equal. It discusses the cross currents of Nativism and persistent Whiggery which led to the American party's replacement of the Whigs as the Democrats' opposition in 1855. It shows how the Americans survived politically through 1858 and outlines their attempts later, as the Opposition party, to seek a meaningful alliance with conservative, anti-Democratic elements in the North. It delves into the reasons underlying the split in the state's Democratic party which began in 1858 but did not completely work itself out until 1860 and which culminated in the Douglas wing uniting with the Constitutional Union party in 1861 and successfully opposing secession.
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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Causes, Politics and government, 1792-1865, United States, Kentucky, Civil War, 1861-1865, History
Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.
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