Slavery and the American West: The Eclipse of Manifest Destiny and the Coming of the Civil War

By Shade, William G. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Autumn 1997 | Go to article overview

Slavery and the American West: The Eclipse of Manifest Destiny and the Coming of the Civil War


Shade, William G., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Slavery and the American West: The Eclipse of Manifest Destiny and the Coming of the Civil War. By MICHAEL A. MORRISON. Chapel Hill and London: University of Not Cera Press, 1997. m 396 pp. $49.95.

THIS is an ambitious book that aims through the study of the debate over slavery in the territories to put forth a general interpretation of the origin of the Civil War. "The war was not produced by the clash of different political cultures," Michael A. Morrison believes. "Northerners and southerners shared a common-not disparate-revolutionary ideology and acted in ways that were intelligible to their constituencies and each other" (p. 9).

As Morrison indicates in his introduction, the book has three themes. One is that the political culture of Jacksonian society, which emphasized the republican values of equality and liberty, continued to dominate political discourse up until the Civil War. The second theme of Slavery and the American West is that the territorial issue-the debate over slavery in the territories, rather than the simple existence of the institution of slavery-tore apart the second party system and sectionalized society. "As the nation addressed slavery's relevance to American society, it spoke to the present and the future. In short were the institutions of the West, and for that matter future acquisitions, to resemble those of the North or South?" (p. 6).

As the political elite addressed this question from the common perspective of Jacksonian political culture, the revolutionary political heritage became increasingly sectionalized and affected the political realignment of the 1850s. Thus, the book's third theme is "to explore fully the manner in which this commonly shared heritage was modified" (p. 7)-and in which the war came.

In order to accomplish his goals, Morrison follows a very traditional strategy. He presents a narrative of the most critical moments in the debate over slavery in the territories from the annexation of Texas through discussion of the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott case, and the Lecompton constitution for Kansas, through secession, which was immediately preceded by a federal slave code.

The author presents to the modern reader the various participants' arguments in the way that he believes they actually understood them. …

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