The revolution of 1861 : the legacy of the European Revolutions of 1848 and the American Civil War

Fleche, Andre Michel, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Gallagher, Gary W., Department of History, University of Virginia
Cushman, Stephen, Department of English, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines the impact of the European Revolutions of 1848 on American thought about the Civil War. Although the movements of 1848-49 universally succumbed to factionalism, class conflict, and the eventual restoration of conservative governments, I argue that even in failure they opened a transatlantic dialogue regarding liberalism, nationalism, and the future viability of republican government. Almost a century's worth of European revolutions colored the American view of the legacy of their revolution of 1776 that profoundly influenced thought about the Civil War. Confederates, despite holding slaves, placed themselves in the mainstream of nineteenth-century liberalism by arguing that European nationalist movements provided models for their own efforts to establish a new nation-state. Northern Unionists built support for the war, and later for emancipation, by comparing southern slave holders to European aristocrats who had defeated the progressive revolutionaries of 1848 and 1849. They increasingly argued that they could best defeat the southern aristocracy and preserve American nationality by confiscating large landed estates and liberating the South's peculiar form of human property.

The complicated legacy of 1848, however, could prove as problematic as it was convenient to the articulation of northern and southern nationalism. When the Federal government struck at slavery as France had done in 1848, Confederates found themselves forced to develop an ideology of "white republicanism" that opposed both the "black republicanism" of the abolitionists, and the "red republicanism" of radical European workers who had championed the socialist "right to work." Slavery, they argued, made successful nationalist revolution possible by controlling the class conflict that had doomed European efforts. The United States government, while it fought to crush a rebellion against legitimate authority, risked alienating the victorious reactionary regimes of Europe by making explicit ideological appeals to Europe's workers and liberals. Consequently, early Union diplomatic efforts concentrated on convincing heads of state that America's democratic republic could represent the principles of legitimacy and stability in international politics. In short, the fight over the future of republican government in America can also be seen as a fight over the legacy of 1848 and the meaning of revolution in the Atlantic world.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-03-14 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:35:32.

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