This vast southern empire : slaveholders at the helm of American foreign policy

by Matthew Karp

Paper Book, 2016


A new portrait of the southern slaveholders who occupied the commanding heights of antebellum politics, this book explores the intimate relationship between American slavery and American power. From John C. Calhoun to Jefferson Davis, the South's leading statesmen understood the United States as the chief defender of bound labor in an Atlantic World still teetering between slavery and abolition. Overcoming traditional southern scruples about dangers of centralized authority, slaveholders harnessed the power of the United States to protect vulnerable slave regimes across the hemisphere, from Texas to Brazil.--



Call number



Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, 2016.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Shrike58
Sometimes reality is laid out clearly before you if you ask the right question. Essentially, this book starts with Britain's abolition of slavery in 1833 and the implications from the American perspective and examines how this incited a cold war in which the Southern slave-holding class refashioned
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the federal government of the United States into an instrument for defending the institution of chattel slavery on an international basis. The irony is that the military & foreign policy apparatus created by the likes of such Confederate stalwarts as Jefferson Davis, Judah Benjamin, et al, was ultimately used against the Southern slave-holding class with great efficiency. Karp's epilogue ends with a meditation on W.E.B. Du Bois' 1890 lecture on Jefferson Davis as an exemplar of contemporary culture (nothing was more modern in 1890 than empire), a reminder of how these men saw themselves as the cutting edge of progress and not some pathetic and romantic survival as "Lost Cause" ideology would leave one to believe.

As Karp would put it: "We can be grateful that the slaveholders never gained the world they craved but we gain nothing by failing to take the true measure of its dimensions."

To put it another way this was the book that made me appreciate the depth of Southern commitment to slavery as an ideology.
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LibraryThing member rivkat
Enslavers didn’t always object to federal power; in particular, they really liked the idea of a strong navy so that they could protect the other slave powers of the hemisphere. This wasn’t just a matter of wanting to annex Cuba; they particularly wanted to defend Brazil as a slave nation.
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It’s another facet of US history that was shaped by slavery.
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Harriet Tubman Prize (Finalist — Finalist — 2017)



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