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Slavery and the American West The Eclipse ofManifest Destiny and the Coming of the Civil War By Michael A. Morrison University of North Carolina Press, 1997 448 pp. Cloth, $59.95 Reviewed by William L. Barney, department of history, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A specialist in the social and political history of the nineteenth-century United States, Barney has taught American history at UNC-Chapel Hill since 1975. He is the author oíBattlegroundfor the Union: The Era ofthe Civil War and Reconstruction, ¡848-1877 (1990). No issue played a more direct role in the coming of the Civil War than the status of slavery in the federal territories. Territorial acquisitions more than tripled the size of the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century, and each addition of territory reopened debates over the nature of the Union and the revolutionary values of (white) liberty and equality that defined the republic and bound it together. White Americans identified expansion with a process of continued renewal in which the availability of cheap, fertile land created economic opportunities to achieve independence and protect individual freedoms. They also believed that slavery represented the utter negation of the liberty they so prized. But whites differed profoundly over their understanding of the relationship between black slavery and white liberty. For many, if not most, southern whites, slavery increasingly became a guarantor ofwhite liberty. Slavery for blacks saved whites from degrading, menial labor and promoted white equality by rendering unnecessary the class ofpoor, dependent factory laborers that was forming in the free states. Nearly all northern whites, however, believed the very opposite, arguing that the presence of slave labor stripped free white labor ofits dignity, subjected it to unfair economic competition , and forced it into dependency on the aristocratic rule of haughty planters . Once these competing social visions over how best to ensure white liberties clashed over the status of slavery in the territories, the political center began to crumble as northern and southern whites accused each other ofbetraying the republic 's revolutionary heritage. If this linkage between die disputed status of slavery in the territories and the sectionalization ofpolitics that was a necessary precondition for the outbreak of the Civil War is a familiar one, Michael Morrison's ideological focus in explaining this linkage in Slavery andtheAmerican Westis not. His painstaking unraveling ofthe Reviews 123 national debate over expanding slavery reveals with an unparalleled precision and depdi just how an "inherited revolutionary political heritage" (p. 7) itselfbecame sectionalized and contributed to the division of northern and southern whites into antagonistic, and then warring, political communities. The central theme around which Morrison organizes his narrative is "the eclipse of interparty debate between Democrats and Whigs over expansion by the regionally defined politics of the slavery extension issue" (p. 1). In showing how this process occurred, he begins by anchoring expansionist demands for land and markets in the political ethos ofJacksonian Democracy. Inheritors of the Jeffersonian ideal of an egalitarian, agrarian republic, the Democrats sought to expand freedom for independent free-holding farmers through the acquisition ofterritory. Taking their cue from PresidentJohn Tyler's campaign to annex the slave republic of Texas to the Union, and responding to anxieties of entrapment and dependency engendered by urbanization, industrialization , and the economic downturn after the panic of 1837, the Democrats rallied behind the popular slogan ofManifest Destiny in the 1840s. Under the leadership of PresidentJames K. Polk, they accepted a war with Mexico as the price for forging a continental republic. Contrary to Democratic dogma, however, expansion in the 1 840s destabilized rather than solidified national harmony. The Whigs had always opposed too rapid expansion as a threat to the ordered freedom and rationalized progress they extolled . But when the North signaled its intent in the Wilmot Proviso of 1846 to stop the spread of slavery in the territories, party divisions over expansion gave way to hostile, sectional blocs in Congress. These blocs, and the aroused sectionalized sentiments behind them, pitted two social systems against each other in a contest to control the federal government and die future ofthe nation. Each side in diis contest—the slavery restrictionists in the North and the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 123-125
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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