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Slavery, Race, and Conquest in the Tropics
Lincoln, Douglas, and the Future of Latin America


  • Date Published: October 2013
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521132527


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About the Authors
  • Slavery, Race, and Conquest in the Tropics challenges the way historians interpret the causes of the American Civil War. Using Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas's famed rivalry as a prism, Robert E. May shows that when Lincoln and fellow Republicans opposed slavery in the West, they did so partly from evidence that slaveholders, with Douglas's assistance, planned to follow up successes in Kansas by bringing Cuba, Mexico, and Central America into the Union as slave states. A skeptic about “Manifest Destiny,” Lincoln opposed the war with Mexico, condemned Americans invading Latin America, and warned that Douglas's “popular sovereignty” doctrine would unleash U.S. slaveholders throughout Latin America. This book internationalizes America's showdown over slavery, shedding new light on the Lincoln-Douglas rivalry and Lincoln's Civil War scheme to resettle freed slaves in the tropics.

    • Sheds new light on the Lincoln-Douglas rivalry
    • Reinterprets the 1860 presidential campaign
    • Reinterprets US territorial expansion as southward as well as westward
    Read more


    • Finalist for the 2014 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize

    Reviews & endorsements

    “It is a truism that the issue of slavery's expansion triggered secession and the Civil War. But as Robert May shows in this important study, it was the possible expansion of slavery southward more than the prospect of slavery in Kansas or other Western territories that provoked passionate controversy. This welcome book gives due weight to pro-Cuban annexationists and Central-American filibusters in the coming of war.”
    James M. McPherson, Princeton University

    "As viewed by most nineteenth-century Americans, slavery was a Southern 'problem'; to Abraham Lincoln, it was an American problem. Now Robert May has broken past traditional interpretations and literally expanded the borders of the slavery issue to reimagine it as hemispheric - much the way the proponents of slavery hoped, and its enemies feared. This is a strong, astute, and original study - one everyone interested in the great debate of the Civil War era should read."
    Harold Holzer, Chairman, Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation

    "A thoroughly researched and wonderfully fresh account of the politics of slavery expansion that carries the issue beyond the usual territorial disputes to the entire western hemisphere. May enlarges the stage on which the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates were conducted and indeed points a wide-angle lens at the entire sectional crisis and Civil War. Focusing on Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, May demonstrates how discussion of slavery's future in the Americas and various colonization schemes were deeply interwoven in their political careers. A most valuable and original piece of work."
    George C. Rable, University of Alabama

    "In this engrossing book, Robert May offers a new perspective on the Lincoln-Douglas story. Underscoring their sharply different approaches to American expansion toward Latin America and the Caribbean, May makes a distinctive contribution to antebellum political history by adding a southern dimension to the territorial issue. He argues compellingly that divergent views about Latin America and the Caribbean were critical in the secession crisis. May also illuminates the intimate connection between Lincoln's wartime policy toward the region and his views on race. No one interested in the breakup of the Union and the resulting war can afford to miss this book."
    William Cooper, Louisiana State University

    "May has made a significant contribution to the study of slavery and expansion in the Civil War era. Using the rivalry between Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln as his interpretive lens, May argues that the heated debates over the place of slavery in the future of the US during the 1850s involved not only the North American West but the Latin American tropics as well … Required reading for students of slavery, diplomacy and politics of the Civil War era. Summing up: essential. All academic collections."
    K. M. Gannon, Choice

    "Unrealistic though these schemes may have been, May makes a strong case that the South’s tropical fantasies played an enormous and underappreciated role in causing the Civil War. … The unique contribution of this volume is to personalize the dispute over the extension of slavery in the persons of Lincoln and Douglas, placing their contrasting views within the context of the entire Western Hemisphere."
    Timothy J. Henderson, Journal of the Early Republic

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2013
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521132527
    • length: 310 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 18 mm
    • weight: 0.46kg
    • contains: 11 b/w illus. 4 maps
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. A spot for manifest destiny
    2. Antilles to Isthmus
    3. Beyond Kansas
    4. Caribbeanizing the house divided
    5. A matter of inches
    6. Freedom in the tropics.

  • Author

    Robert E. May, Purdue University, Indiana
    Robert E. May is a Professor of History at Purdue University. He is the author of Manifest Destiny's Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America (2002); John A. Quitman: Old South Crusader (1985), winner of the Mississippi Historical Society's book prize; and The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire (1973). He is editor of The Union, the Confederacy, and the Atlantic Rim (1995).

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