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

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$64.00  $59.52
Harvard University Press
Publish Date
6.5 X 1.2 X 9.3 inches | 1.65 pounds

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About the Author

Matthew Karp is Assistant Professor of History at Princeton University.


Matthew Karp demonstrates vividly how Southern control of the national government in the antebellum generation resulted in a foreign policy designed to protect slavery from threats both outside and inside the United States. Full of new information and original insights, this book expands our understanding of the ways in which Southern domination of the federal government provoked increasing sectional tensions that brought on the Civil War.--James M. McPherson, author of The War That Forged a Nation

An essential and compelling account of the slaveholding elite's grip on national and foreign policy in antebellum America. Provocative, engaging, and beautifully written, this book will endure.

--Stephanie McCurry, author of Confederate Reckoning

A pathbreaking work--extremely polished, imaginatively conceptualized, shrewdly organized, engagingly written, and exhaustively researched.

--Robert E. May, author of Slavery, Race, and Conquest in the Tropics
Karp has written a comprehensive history of the Davisonians that shows how a pro-slavery foreign policy dominated the executive branch from the presidency of John Tyler (1841-45) through the Buchanan administration, which ended in 1861... Combining immense erudition with an engaging style, Karp sheds light on an important but poorly understood era in American foreign policy and provides much food for thought about the ways in which the Davisonian legacy continued to influence the United States long after slavery died.--Walter Russell Mead"Foreign Affairs" (01/01/2017)
The book is essential, if unsettling, reading.--Ibrahim Sundiata"Public Books" (03/01/2017)
Adept and detailed...Karp's thorough and polished study will be eagerly welcomed by scholars.--Publishers Weekly (07/25/2016)
At the close of the Civil War, more than Southern independence and the bones of the dead lay amid the smoking ruins of the Confederacy. Also lost was the memory of the prewar decades, when Southern politicians and pro-slavery ambitions shaped the foreign policy of the United States in order to protect slavery at home and advance its interests abroad. With This Vast Southern Empire, Matthew Karp recovers that forgotten history and presents it in fascinating and often surprising detail...Karp makes a persuasive case that we cannot grasp our country's history without taking account of slavery's dreams and ambitions.-- (12/11/2016)
Matthew Karp's illuminating book This Vast Southern Empire shows that the South was interested not only in gaining new slave territory but also in promoting slavery throughout the Western Hemisphere. Far from insular, proslavery leaders had a far-reaching awareness of the international status of human bondage, which they regarded as essential to progress and prosperity. Holding the reins of political power, slave owners largely determined American foreign policy from the 1830s through the 1850s. As Karp reveals, they were well positioned to use the resources of the federal government to push their agenda around the world...While the emancipation of the British West Indies is widely recognized as a significant event in the history of abolition, no one has described its effect on U.S. international relations as fully or persuasively as Karp does...One of Karp's contributions is to reveal ways in which the South was not isolated, either nationally or internationally. He shows that it appropriated the main structures of federal power. In this sense, through much of the era leading up to the Civil War, the South, effectively, was the United States, at least in its contacts with the rest of the world.-- (06/22/2017)
This Vast Southern Empire is a much-needed redirection of focus away from the eccentric filibusters who dominated memory of antebellum proslavery expansion toward the actual policymakers who were more directly influential in shaping the government's relations with slavery, expansion, and America's neighbors to the south. The irony inherent in their story is that these southern policymakers were the leading proponents of the military and diplomatic power that contributed to their own destruction...Ultimately, although the Civil War officially ended slavery, the key elements of the foreign policy crafted by slaveholders lived on.-- (06/01/2017)
Modern Americans have a false image of Southern slaveholders as isolated reactionaries who presided over and eventually lost a feudal kingdom. In his superb book, This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy, historian Matthew Karp argues slaveholders were worldly men. The political and economic elites of their age, slaveholders worked tirelessly to build a world in which bondage could thrive. Their chosen means was the foreign policy apparatus of the federal government.-- (01/31/2018)