Political Culture and Secession in Mississippi: Masculinity, Honor, and the Antiparty Tradition, 1830-1860 / Edition 1

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Overview

This groundbreaking study of the politics of secession combines traditional political history with current work in anthropology and gender and ritual studies. Christopher J. Olsen has drawn on local election returns, rural newspapers, manuscripts, and numerous county records to sketch a new picture of the intricate and colorful world of local politics. In particular, he demonstrates how the move toward secession in Mississippi was deeply influenced by the demands of masculinity within the state's antiparty political culture.

Face-to-face relationships and personal reputations, organized around neighborhood networks of friends and extended kin, were at the heart of antebellum Mississippi politics. The intimate, public nature of this tradition allowed voters to assess each candidate's individual status and fitness for public leadership. Key virtues were independence and physical courage, as well as reliability and loyalty to the community, and the political culture offered numerous chances to demonstrate all of these (sometimes contradictory) qualities. Like dueling and other male rituals, voting and running for office helped set the boundaries of class and power. They also helped mediate the conflicts between nineteenth-century American egalitarianism, democracy, and geographic mobility, and the South's exaggerated patriarchal hierarchy, sustained by honor and slavery.

The political system, however, functioned effectively only as long as it remained a personal exercise between individuals, divorced from the anonymity of institutional parties. This antiparty tradition eliminated the distinction between men as individuals and as public representatives, which caused them to assess and interpret all political events and rhetoric in a personal manner. The election of 1860 and success of the Republicans' antisouthern, free soil program, therefore, presented an "insulting" challenge to personal, family, and community honor. As Olsen shows in detail, the sectional controversy engaged men where they measured themselves, in public, with and against their peers, and linked their understanding of masculinity with formal politics, through which the voters actually brought about secession. Political Culture and Secession in Mississippi provides a rich new perspective on the events leading up to the Civil War and will prove an invaluable tool for understanding the central crisis in American politics.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Olsen establishes his case through meticulous combing of voter records. Olsen achieves a much finer level of analysis than often seen with voting returns. The statistical material is nicely balanced with literary and anecdotal evidence, ensuring that the stories of real people are never obscured. Those interested in the mechanics of the second party system or the coming of secession with find it an important book."—The Journal of Southern History

"Olsen crafts the most thoroughly situated linkage of honor and secession yet to appear in print...the best case study to date of the cultural context that stifled sectional moderation and put the nation on the high road to civil war."—Journal of the Early Republic

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195160970
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/28/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 0.10 (w) x 0.10 (h) x 0.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher J. Olsen is Assistant Professor of History at Indiana State University.

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Table of Contents

1. A Savage Place: The Mississippi Frontier, Masculinity, and Political Culture in the 1830s
2. Early Autumn: An Episode from Mississippi's Political Culture: The Secession Crisis of 1849-51
3. Mortal Stakes: The Politics of Antipartyism
4. Small Vices: Voters, Elections, and the Myth of Party Domination
5. Playmates: Voting and Governing in the Neighborhood
6. Ceremony: The Ritual Power of Politics
7. Chance: Know Nothings and the Political Culture
8. Valediction: The Political Culture of Secession
Appendix
Notes

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