The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 87, July 1983 - April, 1984

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

and often important. Indeed, in many respects it is a model festschrift.
As such, it is a fitting tribute to Vann Woodward for his immense
legacy to the study of American history, as well as evidence of the re-
markable array of talented graduate students whom, over the years,
he has influenced and encouraged.
University of Illinois at Chicago MICHAEL PERMAN
Essays on American Antebellum Politics, 184o-1860. Introduction by
Thomas Pressly. Edited by Stephen Maizlish and John J. Kushma.
(College Station, Tex.: Texas A8cM University Press, 1982. Pp.
229. Introduction, tables. $19.50.)
As noted by Thomas Pressly in his introduction, any interpretive
framework for late antebellum politics must confront a basic di-
lemma: "how to understand the 184os and the 185os as distinct his-
torical periods in their own right and on their own terms, while recog-
nizing their relationship to the secession crisis and the outbreak of
war which followed" (p. 3). The five original essays in this volume,
taken either separately or as a collective whole, fail to resolve this
dilemma. Consequently, despite their many strengths, the essays fall
short of offering a new synthesis of the linkages between political cul-
ture and the sectional breakdown of i86o-1861.
Although unified by their broad agreement on the centrality of
party politics in shaping and reflecting American experience and on
the importance of ethno-cultural conflicts in channeling partisan al-
legiances, the essays nonetheless diverge sharply in their scope and
interpretive thrust. The three most specifically focused essays-Mi-
chael F. Holt's on Whiggery's search for an issue from 1844 to 1848,
Stephen Maizlish's on the rise of the Know-Nothing movement in the
North, and Joel H. Silbey's on southern and Democratic fears over the
perceived "cultural imperialism" of the Republicans-are finely
crafted pieces of work, but they cannot be combined into a coherent
whole. Holt persuasively argues that the Whigs were a more vital and
resilient party in 1848 than historians have generally recognized;
Maizlish shows in the case of Ohio how northern fears over popery
and the Slave Power flowed together into a powerful motivational
impulse for defection to Know-Nothingism as a way station to Re-
publicanism; and Silbey skillfully depicts Democratic ideology, es-
pecially in the South, as a belief system that fused "conflicts over
slavery extension and conflicts originating in the coming of the immi-


Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 87, July 1983 - April, 1984. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed July 12, 2014.