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Shifting Grounds: Nationalism and the American South, 1848-1865

Shifting Grounds: Nationalism and the American South, 1848-1865

by Paul Quigley

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Between 1848 and 1865 white southerners felt the grounds of nationhood shift beneath their feet. The conflict over slavery that led to the Civil War forced them to confront the difficult problems of nationalism. What made a nation a nation? Could an individual or a group change nationality at will? What were the rights and responsibilities of national citizenship?


Between 1848 and 1865 white southerners felt the grounds of nationhood shift beneath their feet. The conflict over slavery that led to the Civil War forced them to confront the difficult problems of nationalism. What made a nation a nation? Could an individual or a group change nationality at will? What were the rights and responsibilities of national citizenship? Why should nations exist at all?

As they contemplated these questions, white southerners drew on their long experience as Americans and their knowledge of nationalism in the wider world. This was true of not just the radical secessionists who shattered the Union in 1861, but also of the moderate majority who struggled to balance their southern and American loyalties. As they pondered the changing significance of the Fourth of July, as they fused ideals of masculinity and femininity with national identity, they revealed the shifting meanings of nationalism and citizenship. Southerners also looked across the Atlantic, comparing southern separatism with movements in Hungary and Ireland, and applying the European model of romantic nationalism first to the United States and later to the Confederacy.

In the turmoil of war, the Confederacy's national government imposed new, stringent obligations of citizenship, while the shared experience of suffering united many Confederates in a sacred national community of sacrifice. For Unionists, die-hard Confederates, and the large majority torn between the two, nationalism became an increasingly pressing problem. In Shifting Grounds Paul Quigley brilliantly reinterprets southern conceptions of allegiance, identity, and citizenship within the contexts of antebellum American national identity and the transatlantic "Age of Nationalism," shedding new light on the ideas and motivations behind America's greatest conflict.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[O]utstanding... [O]ne of the most textured accounts of Southern nationalism to date. ... This book will be profitably read by scholars of the American South and the Civil War era as well as anyone interested in the nature of modern nationalism." —The Historian

"Paul Quigley's well-researched work enriches historians' understanding of Southern nationalism in the Civil War era... Within Quigley's chronologically and topically organized study, the author places white Southerners' understanding of nationhood in a transatlantic context... Quigley has surely written an astute study...[and his] work is a valuable addition to the scholarly literature on Confederate and Atlantic World nationalism, the Civil War era, and the South." —The North Carolina Historical Review

"By examining the social, political, and cultural peripheries of southern nationalism, Paul Quigley offers new insight to the transnational shaping of southern identity... Quigley's analysis of southern nationalism demonstrates that it was very much an active and fluid process that took years to form, solidify, and grow... [Quigley's] study give greater understanding to the complex interactions between ideas, sentiments, and nations that fostered an evolving, Confederate national identity." —Southern Historian

"With this book, Paul Quigley makes an impressive contribution to the study of Civil War nationalism. This excellent study deserves a wide readership and belongs on syllabi for courses on the South, the Civil War, and nationalism." —Frank Towers, Journal of Southern History

"Paul Quigley provides the clearest and most insightful study of southern nationalism to date . In observing both the paths taken and those avoided, Quigley reveals the dynamism inherent in nationalism." —Aaron Sheehan-Dean, American Historical Review

"Paul Quiqley examines an old issue—the nature of the southern nationalism—through a new and somewhat improved wide-angle lens...Shifting Grounds strikingly recaptures the emotional and visceral side of topics that have too often been treated in a highly abstract fashion." —George C. Rable, , The Journal of American History

"Paul Quigley engages the topic of Confederate nationalism within a spacious analytical context that begins in the 1840s and extends across the Atlantic. This important and original book sheds considerable light on the process by which white southerners forged a sense of Confederate identity." —Gary W. Gallagher, author of The Confederate War

"This masterful book makes sense of how the South's ambition for nationhood in the 1860s resonated with the shared resentments and common dreams already embedded in its history and culture. Hundreds of books dwell on how this long, cruel war was fought; Paul Quigley helps us understand why it was fought." —Don H. Doyle, University of South Carolina

"From the opening pages of this carefully crafted and judiciously nuanced study, when a Rebel soldier cites Edmund Burke in his letters home, we are given brilliant insights into the hearts, but especially the minds of the Old South. Quigley's deft talent for clarity and context affords readers vivid appreciation of the pull of nationhood in nineteenth century America, which led to the rise and fall of the Confederate project. Shifting Grounds shines a bright light on ideology's role in social change and takes to task those who fail to take seriously those key political moments when ideas rearrange events in dramatic and dangerous ways. The implications for what Quigley calls 'the intractable problems of nationalism' reverberate today." —Catherine Clinton, Queen's University Belfast

"Finally! We at last have a book that anchors Confederate nationalism in the viscera, in the hearts and minds of the people who believed they were fighting for it. In Shifting Grounds, Quigley takes us to the very heart of what the Confederacy thought it was." —Stephen Berry, author of All That Makes a Man: Love and Ambition in the Civil War South

"A thorough, original, and revealing study that situates southern nationalism in an intellectual environment shaped by the shifting currents of nineteenth-century world thought." —Andre M. Fleche, Civil War History

"A valuable study of nationalism in the South as a concept, an emotion, and a problem. The book is both theoretical and practical, balanced and insightful. Quigley's study asks new questions. Rather than debate about the strength or weakness of Confederate nationalism, he looks at how it was expressed, shaped, and affected by events." —Paul Escott, Civil War Book Review

"Quigley explores how white southerners of the Civil War era understood and made sense of their own conflicted loyalties to state, region, and nation." —Matthew C. Hulbert, Journal of the Civil War Era

"A deft interpretive synthesis of the rich historiography on southern nationalism, punctuated by keen insights derived from Quigley's extensive research in manuscript sources. He seeks to integrate the study of the Confederacy—its origins, development, and demise—into modern scholarship on nineteenth-century European nationalism." —Elizabeth R. Varon, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Paul Quigley is James I. Robertson, Jr. Associate Professor of Civil War Studies and Director of Virginia Center for Civil War Studies, Virginia Tech University.

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