Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
This project analyses the meaning of the term “conservative” in political discourse during the Civil War Era. Far from an ideology, the term “conservative” denoted a measured approach to change that moderated political discussion on the emotional topic of slavery. Utilized by all major parties of the day, conservatives strove to provide moderate, sane solutions to an increasingly imbalanced world as the nation lumbered toward war. Specifically focusing on a unique form of conservatism, this project examines political conservatism in the states along the Ohio and Missouri Rivers or the Civil War Era West. The West was a diverse place where white colonizers from the American South, the Northeast, and various immigrant groups from Europe comingled in one location. In order to avoid conflict at home and on the national level, many in the West attempted to consolidate a western consensus that celebrated a shared white western identity, decried governmental interference with slavery, promoted compromise as a moral good, and claimed that slavery was a negotiable part of life. As I argue in this work, conservatism based on the western consensus was a major force in the politics of the era influencing major figures like Stephen A. Douglas and John J. Crittenden. Slowly over time, this form of conservatism lost ground to competing claims of the mantle for true conservatism as free soil and proslavery conservatives battled for the future of the West.
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