Washington brotherhood : friendship, politics, and the coming of the Civil War

Shelden, Rachel Aliyah, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Holt, Michael, Department of History, University of Virginia
Varon, Elizabeth, Department of History, University of Virginia
Gallagher, Gary, Department of History, University of Virginia
McCurdy, Charles, Department of History, University of Virginia

Washington was an overwhelmingly sociable city in which sectional and partisan boundaries were frequently crossed. In fact, this sociability was a constitutive element of the normal political process in the capital city. In other words, the social environment influenced the way that men operated in Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Cabinet. Most importantly, Washington's cross-sectional sociability had important ramifications for sectional conflict and compromise in the 1840s and 1850s.

In the pages that follow, 1 look at the underlying political culture of the capital city as well as the ways in which lawmakers engaged in politics outside the traditional political structures of Washington, most importantly outside the Capitol building. That unofficial arena is critical to understanding Washington politics in the mid-nineteenth century. While in the capital city, politicians from different sections of the country could hardly avoid interacting in a variety of day-to-day activities, inside and outside the halls of Congress and the various departments. Such engagement occurred in places like churches, philanthropic organizations of clubs, fancy parties, state banquets, and intimate dinners, and particularly in the boardinghouses and hotels of the city. At taverns and temperance meetings, concert halls and gambling houses, federal politicians found themselves interacting with iv men who hailed from states all over the Union. Through these experiences and activities, many lawmakers got to know one another on a personal level.

Ultimately, this sociable Washington political environment had important consequences for how lawmakers handled the sectional disputes that plagued the country during the 1840s and 1850s. First, it helped to forge political deals involving slavery in the territories. Lawmakers used social spaces to recruit others to their cause, most notably during the run-up to the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854. Second, it gave Washington politicians a more nuanced view of what happened in the city itself. Finally, while working through these political battles, Washington's social environment gave federal politicians a unique view of the American Union.

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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 16:35:47.

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