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This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy

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When the United States emerged as a world power in the years before the Civil War, the men who presided over the nation s triumphant territorial and economic expansion were largely southern slaveholders. As presidents, cabinet officers, and diplomats, slaveholding leaders controlled the main levers of foreign policy inside an increasingly powerful American state. "This Vas When the United States emerged as a world power in the years before the Civil War, the men who presided over the nation s triumphant territorial and economic expansion were largely southern slaveholders. As presidents, cabinet officers, and diplomats, slaveholding leaders controlled the main levers of foreign policy inside an increasingly powerful American state. "This Vast Southern Empire "explores the international vision and strategic operations of these southerners at the commanding heights of American politics. For proslavery leaders like John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis, the nineteenth-century world was torn between two hostile forces: a rising movement against bondage, and an Atlantic plantation system that was larger and more productive than ever before. In this great struggle, southern statesmen saw the United States as slavery s most powerful champion. Overcoming traditional qualms about a strong central government, slaveholding leaders harnessed the power of the state to defend slavery abroad. During the antebellum years, they worked energetically to modernize the U.S. military, while steering American diplomacy to protect slavery in Brazil, Cuba, and the Republic of Texas. As Matthew Karp demonstrates, these leaders were nationalists, not separatists. Their vast southern empire was not an independent South but the entire United States, and only the election of Abraham Lincoln broke their grip on national power. Fortified by years at the helm of U.S. foreign affairs, slaveholding elites formed their own Confederacy not only as a desperate effort to preserve their property but as a confident bid to shape the future of the Atlantic world."


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When the United States emerged as a world power in the years before the Civil War, the men who presided over the nation s triumphant territorial and economic expansion were largely southern slaveholders. As presidents, cabinet officers, and diplomats, slaveholding leaders controlled the main levers of foreign policy inside an increasingly powerful American state. "This Vas When the United States emerged as a world power in the years before the Civil War, the men who presided over the nation s triumphant territorial and economic expansion were largely southern slaveholders. As presidents, cabinet officers, and diplomats, slaveholding leaders controlled the main levers of foreign policy inside an increasingly powerful American state. "This Vast Southern Empire "explores the international vision and strategic operations of these southerners at the commanding heights of American politics. For proslavery leaders like John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis, the nineteenth-century world was torn between two hostile forces: a rising movement against bondage, and an Atlantic plantation system that was larger and more productive than ever before. In this great struggle, southern statesmen saw the United States as slavery s most powerful champion. Overcoming traditional qualms about a strong central government, slaveholding leaders harnessed the power of the state to defend slavery abroad. During the antebellum years, they worked energetically to modernize the U.S. military, while steering American diplomacy to protect slavery in Brazil, Cuba, and the Republic of Texas. As Matthew Karp demonstrates, these leaders were nationalists, not separatists. Their vast southern empire was not an independent South but the entire United States, and only the election of Abraham Lincoln broke their grip on national power. Fortified by years at the helm of U.S. foreign affairs, slaveholding elites formed their own Confederacy not only as a desperate effort to preserve their property but as a confident bid to shape the future of the Atlantic world."

30 review for This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Taw

    Once I started reading this book, I couldn't get it out of my head; it imbues my thinking about politics, current and past, and about people, more generally. And not in a good way. Karp does a phenomenal job of writing objectively about something monstrous. Hannah Arendt's term, "the banality of evil," just set itself on loop in the back of my mind and it continues to run back there. Karp writes about slaveholders' subordination of US domestic and foreign policy to the defense of slavery through Once I started reading this book, I couldn't get it out of my head; it imbues my thinking about politics, current and past, and about people, more generally. And not in a good way. Karp does a phenomenal job of writing objectively about something monstrous. Hannah Arendt's term, "the banality of evil," just set itself on loop in the back of my mind and it continues to run back there. Karp writes about slaveholders' subordination of US domestic and foreign policy to the defense of slavery through perfectly routine capture of governmental institutions, departments, and agencies, the entire process made possible by the deference and social and political acceptance of rich white men, regardless of the odiousness of their cruel business. Even those who were critical of - or even abhorred - slavery, interacted with the slaveholders within social norms; they might have decried, criticized, even mocked, but always within the scope of accepted interactions. The book made me grateful for the Civil War and the destruction - if incomplete - of this normalization of the obscene. I fear, though, that the same kind of passive response to subversion of US institutions to the interests of a rich elite is happening again, to a lesser, but dangerous degree today, accompanied by the same kinds of othering, fear-mongering, distraction techniques, and reliance on social niceties to dampen the response to unacceptable behaviors. The book offers fair warning that there is no natural limit on many people's ability to justify the ugliest behavior towards others, cruelties rooted in self-interest and rationalized and defended with aggressive righteousness; society itself must recognize, challenge, and reject such behaviors.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    Onto my to-be-read shelf after my friend Professor Taw reviewed and rated it highly. It is, of course, of increasing salience as the failure of America to atone for its original constitutional sin has become ever more apparent in the age of social media and pervasive self-surveillance. Things are, according to statistics, getting better — but they remain appallingly and inexcusably bad. Understanding how they got that way and what societal structures are firmly yet invisibly in place to replicate Onto my to-be-read shelf after my friend Professor Taw reviewed and rated it highly. It is, of course, of increasing salience as the failure of America to atone for its original constitutional sin has become ever more apparent in the age of social media and pervasive self-surveillance. Things are, according to statistics, getting better — but they remain appallingly and inexcusably bad. Understanding how they got that way and what societal structures are firmly yet invisibly in place to replicate our societal conditions is a necessary step, albeit an insufficient one. Some tidbits from the interwebs: Black Perspectives asks of the author, ‘What are your principle findings, and what do you hope your readers learn?’: https://www.aaihs.org/this-vast-south... An easy-to-read synopsis at the New York Journal of Books: https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book... The Wall Street Journal’s thorough “Dixie’s Foreign Policy”: https://www.wsj.com/articles/dixies-f.... (Behind the WSJ paywall, but it might be accessible if you Google this search and then click through. Do it in “private browsing mode” if it doesn’t work the first time.) The New York Review of Books’ “The Slave Owners’ Foreign Policy” looks equally thorough, but it is also behind a paywall which none of my libraries can get me through (and the via-Google trick doesn’t work): http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/... A brief commendation at Foreign Affairs from another author covering nineteenth-century U.S. history: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/review... Thoroughly reviewed at Reviews in History: http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/revi... Glowingly reviewed in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History — the most informative, if you can get access: https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/... (academic paywall, some public libraries may provide it via Academic OneFile or Academic Search Complete. Check whether your library provides access to e-journals.) Cited in The Atlantic’s “John Kelly and States’ Rights Revisionism”: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jake

    "Southerners are fiery, voluptuous, indolent, unsteady, independent and jealous zealous of their own liberties while northerners are cool, sober, laborious, persevering, independent, jealous of their own liberties, chicaning, superstitious, and hypocritical in their religion." ~ Thomas Jefferson I'm from the South. I grew up around people who thought it was important for me to "know my history" and extolled that I was simply "ignorant of our history". I might call this the Donald Livingston ethic "Southerners are fiery, voluptuous, indolent, unsteady, independent and jealous zealous of their own liberties while northerners are cool, sober, laborious, persevering, independent, jealous of their own liberties, chicaning, superstitious, and hypocritical in their religion." ~ Thomas Jefferson I'm from the South. I grew up around people who thought it was important for me to "know my history" and extolled that I was simply "ignorant of our history". I might call this the Donald Livingston ethic for a virtuous and blame free south. These people remind me a lot of the academics Karp talks about in this book. They live in a world where men do horrible things and they act as though they're absolved of any moral judgment. Despite the fact that I could see on their face that they were hypocritical in their position, I felt it was important to read Calhoun for myself. I've read a Disquisition on Government twice and what most conservatives will tell you is that disagreeing with him means you've already made your mind up about him. If Karp's book does anything it puts in stark contrast this position and any reasonable person. Calhoun was a small, pathetic man who spent his career arguing around in circles in defense of empire building and only saw success because he was filling an intellectual vacuum. That intellectual vacuum existed because southerners knew slavery was wrong, but it was too profitable to give up and they needed an academic and intellectual defense for their injustice they committed. There are many others Karp talks about outside of Calhoun, many of which are obscure now but were big names then. One narrative he tracks extensively is these slaveholders obsession with Cuba which bled into the next century after the defeat of the south and its obsession, which turned to a tradition at that point, almost lead to nuclear war. Nobody can say I'm simply ignorant of my history. I know my history and it fucking sucks. There is little to be proud of from this history and if we ignore it or humor those who find pride in it going forward then we're doomed to repeat it. "Institutions are the humanly devised constraints that structure political, economic, and social interaction. They consist of both informal constraints (sanctions, taboos, customs, traditions, and codes of conduct), and formal rules (constitutions, laws, property rights). Throughout history, institutions have been devised by human beings to create order and reduce uncertainty in exchange." ~ Doug North Slavery was an institution, a profitable one that you would have likely defended if you lived in the antebellum South and you must ask yourself as someone who says that slavery is wrong today: What institutions do I defend today that in the future will be looked down upon like slavery.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Eric Burke

    Outstanding addition to our understanding of the antebellum political ideology of the slaveholding elite. Most vitally, Karp illustrates that slaveholders embraced thoroughgoing nationalist rhetoric and federal policies not only when concerned over the security of their slave property, but also with an eye toward perpetuating the "modern" teleological trajectory of western civilization as they understood it with the military and diplomatic power of the young republic. The construction and securi Outstanding addition to our understanding of the antebellum political ideology of the slaveholding elite. Most vitally, Karp illustrates that slaveholders embraced thoroughgoing nationalist rhetoric and federal policies not only when concerned over the security of their slave property, but also with an eye toward perpetuating the "modern" teleological trajectory of western civilization as they understood it with the military and diplomatic power of the young republic. The construction and security of a hemispheric slaveholding empire served as a central motivation for southern elites who were far more interested in maintaining human slavery as a global institution than in territorial expansion of American slavery as an end itself. Karp's work throws its weight into the "was the Old South 'modern'" debate in new and interesting ways. Finally, the book is beautifully written with well crafted and finely polished prose. Five stars!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jacob

    Another book I would give 3.5 stars, but I'll bump it to four because the prose is clear and readable. Karp's argument is essentially that the early nineteenth-century presidents, their military leaders, and their diplomats viewed American foreign policy in that time period as fundamentally about preserving slavery in the U.S., expanding American slavery abroad wherever possible, and forging alliances with other slave powers in the western hemisphere. In the minds of these southern elites, the e Another book I would give 3.5 stars, but I'll bump it to four because the prose is clear and readable. Karp's argument is essentially that the early nineteenth-century presidents, their military leaders, and their diplomats viewed American foreign policy in that time period as fundamentally about preserving slavery in the U.S., expanding American slavery abroad wherever possible, and forging alliances with other slave powers in the western hemisphere. In the minds of these southern elites, the enemy was Great Britain and its (in their eyes) hypocritical stance against American-style slavery, which they believed was a form of PR to distract from colonial-agricultural ambitions in the East. Karp acknowledges most of this was paranoia and little else, but on perhaps a few too many occasions in this book seems to believe it himself. Still, given the attention paid to abolitionists' Slave Power conspiracy, "This Vast Southern Empire" is maybe most useful as a study of a comparable psychological state existing in the South--albeit one that had some small but noticeable impact on how American power was wielded abroad.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David Chen

    Very fascinating. Written in a rather academic format, so it's somewhat of a slog to get through. However, it really does make a very succinct point about how the antebellum South contemporaneously perceived of themselves. Rather than the modern stereotype of the South being a backwards region clinging desperately to their 'peculiar institution', or even the deplorable 'lost cause' mythos deployed by the defeated Confederates after the war, this books shows that the antebellum South was not only Very fascinating. Written in a rather academic format, so it's somewhat of a slog to get through. However, it really does make a very succinct point about how the antebellum South contemporaneously perceived of themselves. Rather than the modern stereotype of the South being a backwards region clinging desperately to their 'peculiar institution', or even the deplorable 'lost cause' mythos deployed by the defeated Confederates after the war, this books shows that the antebellum South was not only self-assured about their traditions, but were in complete control of the full power of the American state. In fact, were it not for the near-revolutionary election of Abraham Lincoln and his anti-slavery Republican Party to the levers of state power, the book makes a persuasive argument that the institution of slavery may not have been extinguished for a very long time, if ever. I highly recommend it, though one should reserve time for it as it does require a little bit of commitment.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Tripp

    19th century US history (Civil War aside) is often pretty boring since it tells the same old story. This book feels quite fresh and new. Karp asserts that the foreign policy of the US in the antebellum era was heavily influenced by the slaveowner class's world view. What's more this world view was not defensive, viewing slavery in peril, but assertive, viewing slavery as a key driver in the world economy and as forward looking. This is repellent of course, but this is the sort of discussion that 19th century US history (Civil War aside) is often pretty boring since it tells the same old story. This book feels quite fresh and new. Karp asserts that the foreign policy of the US in the antebellum era was heavily influenced by the slaveowner class's world view. What's more this world view was not defensive, viewing slavery in peril, but assertive, viewing slavery as a key driver in the world economy and as forward looking. This is repellent of course, but this is the sort of discussion that shows we should always examine our understandings and be aware that the perceptions of historical figures were often quite different than our own.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lorrie

    It took me a while to get into this book, even though I read a lot of non-fiction and have some interest in the period. That said, current events (statues, statements by politicians, etc.) keep dragging us back to the time of slavery, and this book was an interesting look at the foreign policy aspect of the slave states and eventually the CSA. It shows the South as dominant in international relations, with slavery being one of the main reasons. It also shows the south as politically and economica It took me a while to get into this book, even though I read a lot of non-fiction and have some interest in the period. That said, current events (statues, statements by politicians, etc.) keep dragging us back to the time of slavery, and this book was an interesting look at the foreign policy aspect of the slave states and eventually the CSA. It shows the South as dominant in international relations, with slavery being one of the main reasons. It also shows the south as politically and economically sophisticated, rather than some kind of feudal remnant. I took a few notes of things in the book that seemed surprising or at least thought-provoking and oddly contemporary: - Politicians from the slave South were supportive of free trade and international capitalism, in fact they argued that market competition justified slavery, believing that "tropical" products like cotton could only be produced efficiently under slavery or another system of bonded labor. - Along with this, many Southerners marshaled science to prove them right not only on the supposed differences between the races, but the economics of slavery. - When Great Britain abolished slavery and adopted it as its international policy, the Southern media spent a lot of effort attacking it as hypocritical and accusing Britain of only supporting abolition to advantage its commercial interests over the US and other nations. - There was also a lot of effort to characterize slavery as beneficial to "the destitute" (presumably white, but this went unsaid) as the only way that the poor and working classes could afford clothes and food. - We already know from looking at the CSA's founders and its founding documents that they viewed slavery as essential to their formation of a state, but they also viewed it as essential to the world economy. Despite talk of "states' rights," the CSA was structured to have a strong central government and specifically a strong executive to be able to defend and project slavery outside its borders. Although it was not as engaging as some non-fiction history, and took some effort to get into it, it is well worth a read to understand the time period and see its echoes in our time. "We can be grateful that slaveholders never gained the world they craved, but we achieve nothing by failing to take the true measure of its dimensions." Truly there is nothing new under the sun...

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Canipe

    In this proactive book, Professor Matthew Karp of Princeton University substantially challenges the conventional narrative of the relationship between the American South's slave holding elite and the American Federal government between 1830 and the coming of the Civil War. Most scholars have focused on how leading southern politicians and thought leaders warily eyed the development of abolitionist sentiment in the northern and mid-western states and the notion that this sentiment and the rapidly In this proactive book, Professor Matthew Karp of Princeton University substantially challenges the conventional narrative of the relationship between the American South's slave holding elite and the American Federal government between 1830 and the coming of the Civil War. Most scholars have focused on how leading southern politicians and thought leaders warily eyed the development of abolitionist sentiment in the northern and mid-western states and the notion that this sentiment and the rapidly growing white population of the free states might translate into Federal action to limit enslavement's expansion or even possible abolition in the United States. In point of fact, these concerns did exist and still help explain much about the sectional conflict over the geographic expansion of enslavement as to United States bought, fought for, and otherwise obtained a tremendous amount of land in North America all the way to the Pacific Ocean. However, Professor Karp trains our eyes in a different direction, arguing that Southerns in leading positions in the Federal government - from Presidents to Congressmen to diplomats - had a rather different focus: directing American foreign policy, including the development of an increasingly large and sophisticated army and navy - to the service of protecting slavery in all of the Western Hemisphere's slave societies - from the perceived and actual hostility of a newly abolitionist England. Matthew Karp makes a pretty compelling argument, based on substantial primary source research. Even as the sectional conflict flared up over the annexation of Texas and burst, metaphorically, into flames over the Mexican-American War, the South's elite remained confident in its attempts to assert a strong pro-slavery cast to the exercise of robust Federal authority in terms of America's relationships with foreign countries. One might even ask whether this instance on geographic expansion helps light a fire that became the Civil War and whether that war would have come - and slavery have ended in 1865 - has that determination not been realized as the foreign and military policy of the United States based on the decades from 1830 to 1850. An excellent book and well-worth your reading if you are interested in the coming of the Civil War, the history of enslavement, American politics, or American foreign policy.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Porter Broyles

    This is a must read book for anybody interested in the causes of the Civil War. The book explores the 70 year period leading up to Civil War and demonstrates how slavery was a focal point of the south. One of the more interesting aspects of the book were the analysis pertaining to the evolving differences in focus between the north and south. Karp shows how the North focused on industrialization and internal developments, while the South focused on foreign policy and military issues. How? By show This is a must read book for anybody interested in the causes of the Civil War. The book explores the 70 year period leading up to Civil War and demonstrates how slavery was a focal point of the south. One of the more interesting aspects of the book were the analysis pertaining to the evolving differences in focus between the north and south. Karp shows how the North focused on industrialization and internal developments, while the South focused on foreign policy and military issues. How? By showing the involvement in various cabinet level positions and Congressional committees. Almost all of the Secretary of States, Secretaries of War, Secretaries of Navy, military related committees, and foreign relations committees were dominated by southerners. The cabinet positions and congressional committees that focused on industrialization and internal development were dominated by northerners. What I was not expecting when I read the book was an analysis of slavery in Cuba and Brazil. The book goes into a significant amount of detail about slavery in those two countries, how it differed from slavery in America, and foreign relations with them.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Rohn

    This is one of those books like Cold War Civil Rights that fundamentally shifts the way you think about an entire era without actually upsetting any of your previous knowledge about it. We generally learn that the elites of the Southern plantocracy were obsessed with the preservation of slavery. This is obviously true, but what this book raises is that this effort wasn't confined to American borders in a time of hemispheric conflict over emancipation, and when American borders themselves weren't This is one of those books like Cold War Civil Rights that fundamentally shifts the way you think about an entire era without actually upsetting any of your previous knowledge about it. We generally learn that the elites of the Southern plantocracy were obsessed with the preservation of slavery. This is obviously true, but what this book raises is that this effort wasn't confined to American borders in a time of hemispheric conflict over emancipation, and when American borders themselves weren't confined to American borders either. The deep and persistent control that Southerners had over all institutions of antebellum US foreign policy, civil and military, and their use of that power to stabilize and preserve plantation systems throughout the Americas, many times at the expense of American power, is extremely interesting in connection to traditional narratives of America's rise to great power status, particularly in the period following British emancipation in 1833 as the US engaged in a generation long cold war with the UK over slave and free labor in Latin America. I can't recommend this book enough

  12. 4 out of 5

    William Schram

    With This Vast Southern Empire, we see the decisions of the southern United States to ensure the safety of Slavery to the Western Hemisphere. These are the events leading up to the Civil War and those events following the Civil War. Southern Slave Owners had to be quite cosmopolitan and know world events, especially those that affected Slavery in other parts of the world. For example, when Great Britain passed legislation that abolished Slavery in their lands, the Southern United States was upse With This Vast Southern Empire, we see the decisions of the southern United States to ensure the safety of Slavery to the Western Hemisphere. These are the events leading up to the Civil War and those events following the Civil War. Southern Slave Owners had to be quite cosmopolitan and know world events, especially those that affected Slavery in other parts of the world. For example, when Great Britain passed legislation that abolished Slavery in their lands, the Southern United States was upset and saw threats around every corner. This came to light when a number of slave ships had their “cargo” freed by the British Naval Forces. Southern Slave Owners had no qualms about treating their chattel slaves terribly. It is really rather sad that you could consider a person to be property, but then again, my economic success doesn’t really depend on the hard labor of a person. Honestly, I didn’t really know what to expect from this book, and I couldn’t remember why I took it out of the library. However, it turned out pretty well. I enjoyed it well enough.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    I finished up this audiobook which was sitting on my phone for a while in light of current events. And Karp is another historian who destroys the idea that the South was fighting the Civil War for states rights or really any noble cause other than wanting to keep slavery. This book focuses on how slaveowners dominated American foreign policy prior to the Civil War. America expands its navy under Tyler? Why? To prepare for an expansion of slavery America annexes Texas? Why? It's a big slave area Ame I finished up this audiobook which was sitting on my phone for a while in light of current events. And Karp is another historian who destroys the idea that the South was fighting the Civil War for states rights or really any noble cause other than wanting to keep slavery. This book focuses on how slaveowners dominated American foreign policy prior to the Civil War. America expands its navy under Tyler? Why? To prepare for an expansion of slavery America annexes Texas? Why? It's a big slave area America improves relations with Brazil? Why? It's the other big slaveowning country in the world. America wants to annex Cuba? Why? It's the best place to expand slavery to. It goes on and on. Nothing may top the letter that then Secretary of State John Calhoun wrote to his counterpart in Britain that slavery was a social good and the annexation of Texas would preserve it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    David

    This is a prime example of taking a well-worn historical moment (antebellum America), and training a new lens on it. As a result, we examine familiar names and events, from the rise of Jacksonian Democrats through the US-Mexico War, bleeding Kansas and the secession crisis, through the framework of American foreign policy. Karp's insights are excellent, his analysis and reasoning engaging and thorough. There are a few points where he sees conspiracy or design that look an awful lot like coincide This is a prime example of taking a well-worn historical moment (antebellum America), and training a new lens on it. As a result, we examine familiar names and events, from the rise of Jacksonian Democrats through the US-Mexico War, bleeding Kansas and the secession crisis, through the framework of American foreign policy. Karp's insights are excellent, his analysis and reasoning engaging and thorough. There are a few points where he sees conspiracy or design that look an awful lot like coincidence, but he generally avoids the tendency to overfit the evidence into his schema. Most surprising to me in his book was his brief, but fascinating treatment of the secession winter and early Confederate foreign policy. Having examined U.S. foreign policy so closely for the previous chapters, the significance of Confederate overtures to Spain and Brazil are manifestly clear.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Charles Vanderford

    Outstanding. An examination of American foreign policy in the hands of Southern slaveholders in the two decades preceeding the Civil War. Karp's central insight, as best as I can succinctly put it, is that the institution of slavery was not an isolated relic of the past that was fading before the tide of modernity, but was an essential feature, and indeed the bedrock of America's projection of power and prosperity in an age of expanding empires. For any student of the Civil War, this book would Outstanding. An examination of American foreign policy in the hands of Southern slaveholders in the two decades preceeding the Civil War. Karp's central insight, as best as I can succinctly put it, is that the institution of slavery was not an isolated relic of the past that was fading before the tide of modernity, but was an essential feature, and indeed the bedrock of America's projection of power and prosperity in an age of expanding empires. For any student of the Civil War, this book would be immensely helpful in understanding the wider context of America's position in the world, and especially why the southern loss of government control in the 1860 election was so devastating for the slave power.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    Antebellum history without the BS While the writing style is a bit "academic" (read: complex, occasionally hard-to-parse sentences), the information and history provided here radically changed my (let's just say it, simplistic) view of America before the "slaveholders' rebellion." In a complete evisceration of the "Lost Cause" myth, you see how the South, until Lincoln's election, was steering the ship of state, not only domestically, but with big international intentions as well. Foreign policy Antebellum history without the BS While the writing style is a bit "academic" (read: complex, occasionally hard-to-parse sentences), the information and history provided here radically changed my (let's just say it, simplistic) view of America before the "slaveholders' rebellion." In a complete evisceration of the "Lost Cause" myth, you see how the South, until Lincoln's election, was steering the ship of state, not only domestically, but with big international intentions as well. Foreign policy may not be everyone's cup of tea, but the insight this book provides are well worth it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Peacock

    "But to deal properly with American slaveholders, a dose of contemptuous fairness is required." This Vast Southern Empire is a treat, a perspective on the decades before the civil war that deals not with the internal politics of Dred Scott and Kansas-Nebraska, but with foreign policy towards Cuba and Mexico. By showing how slaveholding politics held and employed the reins of American foreign and military policy, Karp sheds fresh light on the revolutionary crisis the south faced (or perceived) upo "But to deal properly with American slaveholders, a dose of contemptuous fairness is required." This Vast Southern Empire is a treat, a perspective on the decades before the civil war that deals not with the internal politics of Dred Scott and Kansas-Nebraska, but with foreign policy towards Cuba and Mexico. By showing how slaveholding politics held and employed the reins of American foreign and military policy, Karp sheds fresh light on the revolutionary crisis the south faced (or perceived) upon Republican electoral victories.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Griffiths

    In reading much on US history I've not come across many authors making the case for the integral role that the defence of Slavery played in the early development of the United States. Karp does so here convincingly, showing how a variety of policies that were envisaged to defend the Hemispheric interests of slavery were crucial factors in the countries early history. In order to understand the history that lead to the Civil war this book makes a well argued case for the importance of US foreign In reading much on US history I've not come across many authors making the case for the integral role that the defence of Slavery played in the early development of the United States. Karp does so here convincingly, showing how a variety of policies that were envisaged to defend the Hemispheric interests of slavery were crucial factors in the countries early history. In order to understand the history that lead to the Civil war this book makes a well argued case for the importance of US foreign policy as defined by Southern politicians in the antebellum US as a vital factor.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ailith Twinning

    A very interesting take from the "A threat to slavery anywhere, is a threat to slavery everywhere." . . .I'm not sure what noun to put here actually. But that thesis is probably the core of this book, and thesis, well, it's the subtitle "Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy". The title is 'just' poetry. Great read, and my new go-to recommendation for the things it covers, especially the invasion of Mexico - that has got to be the best argument in snapshot of it I've seen.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Miguel

    Karp has written an excellent book. It's illuminating and helpful to consider the slave South as slaveowners themselves did: not a backward, archaic, doomed society, but the dynamic leading edge of white supremacy's "civilizing" mission. This book presents a horrible but necessary history. We who are interested in uprooting racism today must understand racism's history and ideological and institutional power.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Steve Nolan

    Not gonna lie, kinda tuned out at points because this is a sorta dry retelling and the 1700s and 1800s are like Sleepytime tea to me. But! Really throws a turd in the punchbowl to anyone that tries to say the South didn't know exactly what it was doing when it comes to slaves. "State's Rights" my ass.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Eric Bottorff

    This is not a topic I’m at all well-versed in, so I can’t speak to the quality of the scholarship, but this certainly makes for interesting reading and issues a strong challenge to the insular, domestic-focused picture many of us have of the antebellum South.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Merrie

    Helpful to have a better understanding of events before the Civil War, and specifically how much Southern (and later Confederate) leaders controlled US foreign policy to uphold the system of slavery.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jason Flynn

    By putting the policies of Americas slaveholders on display Karp reveals the roots of USAs racial invasion hysteria and obsession with imperial commercial control of which the war in the middle east is just the latest deadly symptom

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tyler

    Great look into how Southerners dominated American foreign policy in the decades before the civil war, and how their hawkish views on American power in the Caribbean and Latin America led to their doom after secession.

  26. 4 out of 5

    TS Allen

    Particularly valuable for its account of how foreign policy was made in the first half of the nineteenth century. One angry man writing letters to the write people shaped policy!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alexa

    Karp’s language is problematic, and I am not sure how true his thesis actually is. He researches well to prove his point, but could have found an equal number of sources to do the opposite.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Will

    Excellent work detailing the role of Slaveholders in the Antebellum Republic, at home and abroad.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    Ultimately and effectively destroys The Lost Cause. The South was powerful, agile and knowledgeable. It’s time we treat it as such.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Josh Reid

    Stunning reframing of antebellum US political history around foreign policy objectives of Southern slaveholders.

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