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Mastering America
Southern Slaveholders and the Crisis of American Nationhood

$33.99 (G)

Part of Cambridge Studies on the American South

  • Date Published: April 2009
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521541770

$ 33.99 (G)

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About the Authors
  • Mastering America recounts efforts of “proslavery nationalists” to navigate the nineteenth-century geopolitics of imperialism, federalism, and nationalism and to articulate themes of American mission in overtly proslavery terms. At the heart of this study are spokesmen of the Southern “Master Class” who crafted a vision of American destiny that put chattel slavery at its center. Looking beyond previous studies of the links between these “proslavery nationalists” and secession, the book sheds new light on the relationship between the conservative Unionism of the 1850s and the key formulations of Confederate nationalism that arose during war in the 1860s. Bonner’s innovative research charts the crucial role these men and women played in the development of American imperialism, constitutionalism, evangelicalism, and popular patriotism.

    • Applies new scholarship on geopolitics, nationalism, and the global 'emancipation process' to the greatest crisis in American history
    • Builds upon, and takes in new directions, the acclaimed work on Southern intellectual and cultural life associated with Drew Gilpin Faust, Eugene Genovese, Michael O'Brien, and others
    • Attends to international developments and covers a larger chronological span than is typical, reaching from the American founding of the 1780s through the Civil War of the 1850s
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    Reviews & endorsements

    “The American Civil War was, above all, a contest over competing nationalist claims to independence and union. In this fascinating book Robert Bonner offers the first in-depth analysis of the intellectual framework for the South’s claim to nationhood. It is an impressive display of research and interpretation that casts an entirely new light on the debates over slavery, race, region, and nation. As we approach the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, this is a book everyone with an interest in the subject will want to read.” -Don H. Doyle, University of South Carolina

    “Robert Bonner's outstanding analysis of proslavery nationalism makes a significant contribution to the dynamics and realities of the Old South's political culture. His multifaceted analysis deepens and enriches our understanding of the meaning, evolution, and the many aspects of political thought in the antebellum South. Mastering America makes a valuable addition to the history and historiography of nineteenth-century political culture, the contested terrain of nationalism, and the history of the Old South. This is intellectual history of the finest sort.” -Michael A. Morrison, Purdue University

    “Mastering America recasts scholarly understanding of slaveholders’ relationship to American nationhood. Robert Bonner demonstrates that beginning with the Revolution slaveholding Southerners engaged American expansionism, constitutionalism, republicanism, evangelicalism, and patriotism in an ambitious mission to fashion a proslavery republic. Bonner’s careful argument gains added traction through his astute use of the comparative perspective, which frames the American story with other nationalisms and other emancipations.” -James L. Roark, Emory University

    “Stellar in its telling, sedulous in its research, and compelling in its conclusions, Robert Bonner’s Mastering America captures the nuances of what it meant to champion southern nationalism in fine fashion. It is an essential work for anyone concerned with the framing and elaboration not simply of antebellum southern identity but with the formation of nationalism generally.” --Mark M. Smith, author of How Race Is Made: Slavery, Segregation, and the Senses

    “Mastering America puts the lie to old notions that northerners in nineteenth-century America were the only nationalists while southerners were the sectionalists. With deft writing, innovative arguments, and prodigious research, Robert Bonner reveals that southerners were the ones who held the keys to American nationalism all along. It was southern slave masters who led the way in shaping the country's quest for empire, in creating its self-image as God's chosen land, and in articulating its distinctive, racialized historical mission. Little wonder, then, that southern slave owners were ready and able to create a new nation when the simmering sectional conflict erupted into Civil War. This vital new work exposes in global dimensions the tangled fate of mastery and nationalism in the nineteenth century.” -Michael Vorenberg, Brown University

    "Mastering America is more litany than synthesis. That is, the book is largely an explication of the ideas with which proslavery publicists, in the aggregate, attempted to define...public understandings of what the founders had created in 1776 and 1787." -The Journal of American History, Jean B. Lee

    "In this cogent and carefully argued volume, Robert Bonner has provided the best fresh analysis of the checkered career of southern nationalism since John McCardell's The Idea of a Southern Nation appeared in 1979." -Lacy K. Ford, Civil War History

    "...a superior addition to a literature that contains fewer works of genuine quality and wisdom than the quantity on offer might lead one to expect. It is essential work any serious student of the period." -James D. Miller, The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

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    Product details

    • Date Published: April 2009
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521541770
    • length: 368 pages
    • dimensions: 227 x 151 x 24 mm
    • weight: 0.48kg
    • contains: 14 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. The Geopolitics of Mastery:
    1. Slaveholders' stake in the American empire
    2. The compound republic and the cause of the south
    Part II. The Contours of Proslavery Americanism:
    3. Republican masters and American mission
    4. Reformed masters and the gospel of nationhood
    5. Fragments of the past, histories for the future
    6. Yankees as apostates and allies in the American 1850s
    Part III. Confederate Nationhood and the Revolutions of War:
    7. The anatomy of confederate nationhood
    8. Reckoning with confederate purpose
    9. Liberty, slavery, and the burdens of confederate nationhood.

  • Author

    Robert E. Bonner, Dartmouth College, New Hampshire
    Robert Bonner earned his A.B. at Princeton University and his PhD at Yale University. He has held teaching positions at the University of Southern Maine, Michigan State University, and Amherst College, and currently teaches at Dartmouth College. He is the author of Colors and Blood: Flag Passions of the Confederate South (2002) and The Soldier's Pen: Firsthand Impressions of the American Civil War (2006), as well as articles in Journal of Southern History, Civil War History, and Reviews in American History.

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