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As the nineteenth century began, the United States was a country in search of definition, of national character. Like other Americans, Southerners found the process of national self-definition urgent and exhilarating.
But a series of shocks—social, economic, intellectual, and, finally, political—gave an increasingly distinctive twist to the ideology of nationalism that developed in the South. By 1860, through agreeing with the North over constitutional fundamentals and sharing with other Americans similar hopes and fears, many Southerners had concluded that only in a separate Southern nation could their rights and security be preserved. This book is a study of how and why the ideology of Southern nationalism arose and spread. It attempts to explain within the framework of an evolving national character how Northern and Southern versions of American nationalism, both of which professed allegiance to the Constitution, led to civil war.