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Towards a Bourgeois Revolution? Explaining the American Civil War

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[AbstractThis paper introduces arguments from Slavery, Capitalism, and Politics in the Antebellum Republic1 to suggest that the Civil War arose ultimately because of class-conflict between on the one hand, Southern slaves and their masters and, on the other, Northern workers and their employers. It does not, however, suggest that either in the North or the South these conflicts were on the point of erupting into revolution. On the contrary, they were relatively easily containable. However, harmony within each section (North and South) could be secured only at the cost of intersectional conflict, conflict which would finally erupt into civil war. The Civil War was a ‘bourgeois revolution’ not only because it destroyed slavery, an essentially precapitalist system of production, in the United States but also because it resulted in the enthronement of Northern values, with the normalisation of wage-labour at their core., Abstract This paper introduces arguments from Slavery, Capitalism, and Politics in the Antebellum Republic 1 to suggest that the Civil War arose ultimately because of class-conflict between on the one hand, Southern slaves and their masters and, on the other, Northern workers and their employers. It does not, however, suggest that either in the North or the South these conflicts were on the point of erupting into revolution. On the contrary, they were relatively easily containable. However, harmony within each section (North and South) could be secured only at the cost of intersectional conflict, conflict which would finally erupt into civil war. The Civil War was a ‘bourgeois revolution’ not only because it destroyed slavery, an essentially precapitalist system of production, in the United States but also because it resulted in the enthronement of Northern values, with the normalisation of wage-labour at their core.]

1. Ashworth John ‘Agrarians’ and ‘Aristocrats’: Party Political Ideology in the United States, 1837–1846 1987 Cambridge Cambridge University Press
2. Ashworth John Slavery, Capitalism, and Politics in the Antebellum Republic, Volume 1: Commerce and Compromise, 1820–1850 1995 Cambridge Cambridge University Press
3. Ashworth John Slavery, Capitalism, and Politics in the Antebellum Republic, Volume 2: The Coming of the Civil War, 1850–1861 2007 Cambridge Cambridge University Press
4. Freehling William W. The Road to Disunion, Volume I: Secessionists at Bay, 1776–1854 1991 Oxford Oxford University Press
5. Freehling William W. The Road to Disunion, Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant, 1854–1861 2007 Oxford Oxford University Press
6. Fox-Genovese Elizabeth, Genovese Eugene D. The Fruits of Merchant Capital: Slavery and Bourgeois Property in the Rise and Expansion of Capitalism 1983 Oxford Oxford University Press
7. Genovese Eugene D. The Political Economy of Slavery: Studies in the Economy and Society of the Slave South 1967 First Edition New York Vintage
8. Jefferson Thomas Notes on the State of Virginia 1964 [1783] New York Harper and Row
9. Lebergott Stanley Harris Seymour"‘The Pattern of Employment Since 1800’" American Economic History 1961 New York McGraw-Hill
10. McPherson James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The American Civil War 1988 Oxford Oxford University Press
11. Novack George America’s Revolutionary Heritage 1976 New York Pathfinder
12. Post Charles"‘The American Road to Capitalism’" New Left Review 1982Vol I 133 30 51
13. Pressly Thomas J. Americans Interpret their Civil War 1962 New York Free Press
14. Stampp Kenneth M. The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South 1956 New York Vintage Books
15. Stowe Harriet Beecher The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin 1854 Boston Jewett
16. Sumner Charles The Works of Sumner 1870–83Vol Volume 2 Boston Lee and Shepard
17. Thompson Edward Palmer The Making of the English Working Class 1968 Harmondsworth Pelican
18. FN11. Ashworth 1995; Ashworth 2007.
19. FN22. On Marxist interpretations of the Civil War see, for example, Pressly 1962; Novack (ed.) 1976; Fox-Genovese and Genovese 1983; Genovese 1967; Post 1982.
20. FN33. Ashworth 1995; Ashworth 2007.
21. FN44. Strange though it may now seem, this ‘discovery’ was really only made by mainstream historians in the aftermath of World-War II. A landmark publication was Stampp 1956.
22. FN55. Lebergott 1961, pp. 290–1.
23. FN66. The classic statement of this position is Jefferson 1964, p. 157. Many other examples from later decades can be found in Ashworth 1987.
24. FN77. Ashworth 1995, pp. 21–40.
25. FN88. Ashworth 1995, pp. 80–121.
26. FN99. Ashworth 1995, pp. 157–68; Ashworth 2007, pp. 265–303.
27. FN1010. Ashworth 1995, pp. 168–74.
28. FN1111. Sumner 1870–83, p. 404.
29. FN1212. Stowe 1854, p. 257.
30. FN1313. Ashworth 1995, pp. 174–81; Ashworth 2007, p. 238.
31. FN1414. These themes are treated in most of the standard surveys of the antebellum years, but nowhere more perceptively than in the works of William W. Freehling. See, especially, Freehling 2007.
32. FN1515. Ashworth 1995, pp. 142–3, 464–6; Ashworth 2007, pp. 244–64.
33. FN1616. This understanding of class is not, of course, original; it does, however, depart from the views of distinguished Marxist scholars such as E.P. Thompson. See Thompson 1968.
34. FN1717. Ashworth 1995, pp. 125–91.
35. FN1818. Ashworth 1995, pp. 369–414.
36. FN1919. Ashworth 1995, pp. 414–92.
37. FN2020. An account of these events can be found in many works. One of the best is in McPherson 1988, pp. 3–307.
38. FN2121. Ashworth 2007, pp. 628–72.
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/content/journals/10.1163/156920611x592364
2011-01-01
2015-08-30

Affiliations: 1: University of Nottinghamjohn.ashworth@nottingham.ac.uk

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