Dr. Adam I.P. Smith
Edward Orsorn, Professor of U.S. Political History and the Director of the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford
Dr. Adam Smith’s specialism is the political history of the United States in the nineteenth century. In 2017, the University of North Carolina Press published his latest book, The Stormy Present: Conservatism and the Problem of Slavery in Northern Politics, 1846-1865. This book won the Jefferson Davis Prize, awarded by the American Civil War Museum, and was a finalist for the Lincoln Prize for the best book on Lincoln or the Civil War soldier, awarded by Gettysburg College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History. It offers a new view of the northern path to war, focusing on the mass of northern voters who self-defined as ‘conservatives’ and whose shifting responses to the unfolding political crises shaped events more than is usually appreciated. His principal area of research explores the relationship between ideas and political behavior. His aim in recent books and articles has been to analyze political change grounded in how ‘ordinary’ people in the nineteenth century experienced and understood their world. His first book, No Party Now (Oxford University Press, 2006), analyzed the tensions between wartime pressure for conformity and the practice of electoral politics. In 2017, the University of North Carolina Press published The Stormy Present: Conservatism and the Problem of Slavery in Northern Politics, 1846-1865, (2017).
The “Slave Power” and the Radicalization of the Center: Northern Politics and the Path to War
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
How and why did white Northerners make the political choices that led to war and the destruction of slavery—objectives that few sought but most, in the end, supported? In the 1850s, Northerners were forced to confront issues that most would rather not have had to deal with, not least the implications of the existential confrontation over the legitimacy of slavery. In this lecture, Adam Smith explores how Northern voters and politicians understood the problems they confronted. He argues that the key to understanding the Northern path to war is how choices that had once seemed extreme became seen as unavoidable, even “conservative.
The American Civil War
The American Civil War was by far the bloodiest conflict in American history. Arising out of a political crisis over the expansion of slavery, the war set the stage for the emergence of the modern American nation-state. This new interpretation of one of the most mythologized events in modern history combines narrative with analysis and an up-to-date assessment of the state of Civil War scholarship.
The Stormy Present: Conservatism and the Problem of Slavery in Northern Politics 1856-1865
Adam I. P. Smith offers a new interpretation of the familiar story of the path to war and ultimate victory. Smith looks beyond the political divisions between abolitionist Republicans and Copperhead Democrats to consider the everyday conservatism that characterized the majority of Northern voters. A sense of ongoing crisis in these Northern states created anxiety and instability, which manifested in a range of social and political tensions in individual communities.