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  • Imagining a Hemispheric Greater America
  • William Blair, Guest Editor

In the summer of 2015, sixty-some scholars from at least four countries gathered in the breathtakingly beautiful town of Banff, Canada, to explore the common struggles over sovereignty that shook North America during the 1860s. Featured were the crises faced by the countries of Canada, Mexico, the United States, and the indigenous populations within them. The five articles in this special issue represent a fraction of the rich ideas offered about the struggles over which ruling and economic structures should prevail and which people should determine them. Both Mexico and the United States, of course, endured civil wars. Canadians, meanwhile—partly prompted by the disorder south of their border—in 1867 moved to create the Confederation that allowed for local autonomy under the protection of Great Britain. The outcome of these struggles affected economic, labor, and political systems around the globe.

The conference, "Remaking North American Sovereignty: Towards a Continental History of State Transformation in the Mid-Nineteenth Century," grew out of discussions between Frank Towers at the University of Calgary and me, we think, in 2013. Frank had been looking for some way to connect the Canadian and U.S. crises with broader transitions in the world. Ever since starting the journal in 2011, I had been looking to encourage a hemispheric approach to Civil War studies. We both were convinced that the U.S. Civil War, while certainly having its unique aspects, just as certainly was not exceptional. The assumption was that we were missing interconnections that existed among the nations that constituted the Western Hemisphere and perhaps could find either commonalities or unique situations that furnished new insights into the structuring of power in the nineteenth century. While the Richards Civil War Era Center supplied seed money and staff support to make such a project possible, Frank did much of the heavy lifting of organizing the conference by presiding over the program committee and bringing into the fold as cosponsors the University of Calgary, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research [End Page 507] Council of Canada, and the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech University. It seemed time to shift the usual way of conceiving the Civil War in international terms—primarily a story of the diplomatic relations between England and the United States.1

Fortunately, the field was moving in that direction, too, as witnessed by not only articles published in the Journal of the Civil War Era but also in monographs. When we launched the journal, we featured a review essay by Douglas Egerton that posited how the Atlantic World framework was applicable to the U.S. Civil War. It was an attempt to push beyond national borders and see if the approach that had enriched studies of colonial settlement and conquest could inform scholarship in the later nineteenth century. Egerton borrowed from the work of Sven Beckert to show how world cotton production shifted to India and how states developed new forms of coercion to regulate labor. Later came an essay by Patrick J. Kelly on "the American Crisis of the 1860s," in which he explicitly argued for a hemispheric approach and for examining the influences on each other of France, Mexico, and the United States. There was, as he put it, an illiberal alliance between the Confederacy and France against sister republics of Mexico and the U.S. that had consequences for how conflicts in both nations played out. Some in the United States, in fact, did not think that their war was over until the French troops and the Emperor Maximillian had been forced out of Mexico.2

As mentioned, the monograph literature has been exploring similarly expansive ground. Already cited is the pioneering work of Beckert on the changes in the world cotton markets. Don H. Doyle contributed by situating the U.S. Civil War within the larger context of a fight for validity between republican and monarchical systems of government. Disorder in the United States gave European expansionists hope for gaining a toehold in the Western Hemisphere and for gaining proof for the argument that republican/democratic societies could not hold themselves together. Recently, Doyle has expanded...


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pp. 507-511
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