Carl Lawrence Paulus’s The Slaveholding Crisis examines how, due to the fear of insurrection by the enslaved, southerners created their own version of American exceptionalism—one that placed the perpetuation of slavery at its forefront. Feeling a loss of power in the years before the Civil War, the planter elite no longer saw the Union, as a whole, fulfilling that vision of exceptionalism. As a result, Paulus contends, slaveholders and nonslaveholding southerners believed that the white South could anticipate racial conflict and brutal warfare. This narrative postulated that limiting slavery’s expansion within the Union was a riskier proposition than fighting a war of secession. In the end, Paulus argues, by insisting that the new party in control of the federal government promoted this very insurrection, the planter elite gained enough popular support to create the Confederate States of America. In doing so, they established a thoroughly proslavery, modern state with the military capability to quell massive resistance by the enslaved, expand its territorial borders, and war against the forces of the Atlantic antislavery movement.
When Congressman James Tallmadge of New York proposed barring slavery from the new state of Missouri, he sparked the most candid discussion of slavery ever held in Congress. The southern response quenched the surge of nationalism and confidence following the War of 1812 and inaugurated a new politics of racism and reaction. The South's rigidity on slavery made it an alluring electoral target for master political strategist Martin Van Buren, who emerged as the key architect of a new Democratic Party explicitly designed to mobilize southern unity and neutralize antislavery sentiment. Forbes's analysis reveals a surprising national consensus against slavery a generation before the Civil War, which was fractured by the controversy over Missouri.