‘The Inextinguishable Struggle Between North and South,’ American Sectionalism in the British Mind, 1832-1863

by O'Connor, Peter

Institution: Northumbria University
Department: Faculty of Arts, Design and Social Sciences
Year: 2014
Keywords: V100 History by period; V200 History by area; V300 History by topic
Record ID: 1395534
Full text PDF: http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/21423/


Working within the field of nineteenth century transatlantic history this thesis takes as its starting point British attempts to engage with the American Civil War. It emphasizes the historiographical oversights within the current scholarship on this topic which have tended to downplay the significance of antebellum British commentators in constructing an image of the United States for their readers which was highly regionalized, and which have failed to recognize the antebellum heritage of the tropes deployed during the Civil War to describe the Union and Confederacy. Drawing on the accounts of over fifty British pre-war commentators and supplemented by the political press, monthly magazines and personal correspondence, in addition to significant amounts of Civil War propaganda this thesis contends that the understanding of the British literate classes of the conflict was part of a continuum. It equally emphasizes that by measuring the reception of texts among the literate public it is possible to ascertain the levels of British understanding of different aspects of the American nation and its sections in this period. It aims to demonstrate that any attempt to understand the conflict in a British context must adequately reflect the long-standing image of the United States as being characterized by discrete regions with particular social, cultural, economic and political identities. At the same time, it makes clear that pre-war discussions of the United States as a nation did not preclude the use of sectional identities; in fact the tropes of the pre-war United States themselves came to be highly sectionalized during the conflict. This thesis, therefore, places the American Civil War in both a transatlantic framework and emphasizes the extensive chronological span of British engagements with American sectionalism in order to explain the occasionally counter-intuitive and often confusing attitude of the British towards the conflict.