Nativism and Conciliation: Border South Unionists and the Road to Civil War.

George-Nichol, Jesse, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Varon, Elizabeth, University of Virginia

This dissertation addresses fundamental questions about conservatism, nativism, and slavery in the Border South before the Civil War. It argues that during the Kansas-Nebraska crisis, conservatives in this region came to see foreigners and foreign ideas as inextricably linked to the sectional conflict. These Border Southerners understood that the country’s immigrant population was responsible for the growing power imbalance between free and slave states; they also sensed a sinister foreign egalitarianism—imported from Europe’s failed 1848 Revolutions—behind the antislavery backlash to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This last represented an existential threat to America’s conservative political culture and its compromise tradition, at least as far as they were concerned. Believing, as they did, that these formed the basis of American exceptionalism, Border South conservatives increasingly saw the sectional conflict as a contest between foreign radicalism and native American conservatism. It was this conclusion that drove them into the American Party, in which they vigorously pursued nativist reforms in order to safeguard the Union. Even after the collapse of this party, these same ideas about American exceptionalism and the inherently foreign threat of radicalism continued to animate these old Know Nothings. Their belief that most native Americans were intrinsically conservative drove their efforts to quash sectionalism and pursue compromise through the election of 1860 and beyond. The Constitutional Union Party represented a culmination of this work, and as a result, this movement cannot be properly understood in isolation from its nativist antecedents. But throughout this period, these conservatives were hampered by the proslavery consensus that formed a constituent part of Southern conservatism—and increasingly differentiated them from their Northern counterparts.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
conservatives, conservatism, nativism, slavery, Border South, American Party, Constitutional Union Party
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