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Emotional and Sectional Conflict in the Antebellum United States

  • Date Published: March 2017
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107667518


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About the Authors
  • The sectional conflict over slavery in the United States was not only a clash between labour systems and political ideologies but also a viscerally felt part of the lives of antebellum Americans. This book contributes to the growing field of emotions history by exploring how specific emotions shaped Americans' perceptions of, and responses to, the sectional conflict in order to explain why it culminated in disunion and war. Emotions from indignation to jealousy were inextricably embedded in antebellum understandings of morality, citizenship, and political affiliation. Their arousal in the context of political debates encouraged Northerners and Southerners alike to identify with antagonistic sectional communities and to view the conflicts between them as worth fighting over. Michael E. Woods synthesizes two schools of thought on Civil War causation: the fundamentalist, which foregrounds deep-rooted economic, cultural, and political conflict, and the revisionist, which stresses contingency, individual agency, and collective passion.

    • Applies recent advances in emotions history to explain past political behaviour and group identity
    • Blends cultural and political history to reassess the coming of the American Civil War
    • Uses a wide range of published and unpublished primary sources to explore emotional influences on decision making during a crucial period of US history
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Michael E. Woods argues that emotions were critical in shaping the perceptual orientations and political action that ultimately severed antebellum America along sectional lines. Woods uncovers distinctly regional emotional regimes that structured thoughts, framed political actions, and invested local and national attachments with powerful meaning. No other scholar of this period has succeeded to the degree of Woods in showing how the act of feeling was a cultural construction, and one that had profound political consequences in forming regional identity and in leading the nation to civil war. His brilliant exploration of this subject has profound implications for how we understand Civil War America.' Peter S. Carmichael, Gettysburg College, Pennsylvania

    'Michael E. Woods analyzes the place of emotions in framing and shaping regional identities in the antebellum period in a subtle and incisive way that is nothing short of brilliant. In doing so, he mounts a powerful argument - contending that emotions played intervening, amplifying, and enabling roles rather than acting as the central independent variables responsible for the war. This book is one of the most original, sophisticated, and interpretively satisfying books on the coming of the Civil War that I have read in a long time.' Peter A. Coclanis, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

    'At the heart of Michael E. Woods's excellent new book lies the question of what unites a nation - and what dissolves one. Although antebellum politics have been well studied, Woods brings to the subject methodologies and perspectives drawn from the history of emotions, which allow him to offer a new and truly innovative interpretation. He demonstrates that differing emotional styles and norms solidified regional identities and ultimately divided the nation.' Susan J. Matt, The Journal of American History

    'Michael E. Woods is to be congratulated for this pioneering study, which brings the serious study of emotions to the history of the sectional conflict. It should set the agenda for an exciting new subfield in Civil War-era history.' Paul Quigley, The Journal of the Civil War Era

    'Reading Michael E. Woods's remarkable examination of how emotions held together and severed the Union qualifies as a sentimental education. Readers may never have reflected on how fear, indignation, hope, contentment, resentment, anger, and love turned sectional disagreement into a national divorce. Even readers who might be hard put to explain precisely how those emotions worked, or which ones were most important; let them expect surprises!' Mark Wahlgren Summers, The American Historical Review

    'Woods has written a highly original, deeply nuanced, and carefully argued emotional history of the sectional conflict. Historians of the period will recognize many of the quotations and examples cited but will find them handled with new insight. Everyone with an interest in the rise of sectionalism should read this book.' Journal of Southern History

    'Woods should be commended for the breadth and depth of his research. He is explicit about his interdisciplinary influences, drawing on work from fields including psychology, sociology, and political science. Woods also cites a variety of primary sources, including letters, diaries, agricultural journals, novels, and political speeches, all to demonstrate how people in the antebellum period felt, expressed, and prescribed emotions, both individually and collectively … Emotional and Sectional Conflict in the Antebellum United States offers a significant contribution to the burgeoning field of the history of emotions, as well as a thoughtful addition to Civil War scholarship.' Erin Austin Dwyer, Journal of the Early Republic

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    Product details

    • Date Published: March 2017
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107667518
    • length: 266 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 152 x 16 mm
    • weight: 0.41kg
    • contains: 2 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: finding the heart of the sectional conflict
    Prologue: slavery, sectionalism, and the affective theory of the Union
    Part I. Emotion and the Growth of Sectional Political Identities:
    1. Free labor, slave labor, and the political economy of happiness
    2. Managed hearts and unmanageable slaves
    3. Jealousy and the sectionalization of emotional styles
    Part II. Emotion and the Mobilization of Sectional Coalitions:
    4. Indignation and the fitful growth of mass antislavery sentiment, 1820–56
    5. Indignation and the Northern mobilization for war, 1856–61
    6. Political jealousy and Southern radicalism from nullification to secession
    7. Mourning and the mobilization of reluctant secessionists, 1860–1
    Epilogue: reconstructing the affective theory of the Union.

  • Author

    Michael E. Woods, Marshall University, West Virginia
    Michael E. Woods is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Marshall University, West Virginia. His work has been published in the Journal of American History, the Journal of Social History, and in Ann Brooks and David Lemmings's edited volume, Emotions and Social Change: Historical and Sociological Perspectives (2014). Woods has written book reviews for the Journal of American Studies, the Journal of the Civil War Era, Civil War History, the North Carolina Historical Review, and the Journal of Social History. He was a 2012–13 postdoctoral fellow in the Department of History at the University of South Carolina.

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