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Idealism and materialism in antebellum southern political history : a review essay

Kousser, J. Morgan (1981) Idealism and materialism in antebellum southern political history : a review essay. Humanities Working Paper, 60. California Institute of Technology , Pasadena, CA.

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Although the mainstream "new political historians" have largely ignored the South, historians of the antebellum South have produced some of the most interesting recent works in political history. These scholars fall into two groups: one finds a white consensus, emphasizes ideology, and concentrates on evidence from "literary" sources; the other discovers evidence of conflict, stresses the material basis of political alignments, and combines quantitative with traditional evidence. In a brief review of books by Channing and Johnson, I point out that by concentrating on the immediate pre-war years, the authors cannot answer even the questions they themselves pose. Cooper's 1978 ideological interpretation finesses the question of the connection between opinions on slavery and Unionism and fails to explain why the southerners' responses to the crises of 1850 and 1860 were so different. The central work of the last two decades, Thornton's, presents the bold and complex thesis that the South was born libertarian and avoids many of the problems of the other works reviewed. His treatment of politics-as largely symbolic-expressive, rather than rational instrumental, and his lack of statistical sophistication, however, invite criticism. The most valuable facet of these works for American political history generally is that they restore politicians, policy, and political thought -- topics often shunted aside by the social history approach of the past generation -- to the study of politics.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Working Paper)
Additional Information:Paper presented at Organization of American Historians Convention, April 2, 1981
Group:Humanities Working Papers
Series Name:Humanities Working Paper
Issue or Number:60
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20090813-112339124
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Official Citation:Kousser, J. Morgan. Idealism and materialism in antebellum southern political history: a review essay. Pasadena, CA: California Institute of Technology, 1981. Humanities Working Paper, No. 60.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:15010
Deposited By: Lindsay Cleary
Deposited On:17 Aug 2009 17:02
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 00:54

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