September 24, 2018

Tarleton historian explores northerners with southern loyalties in new book

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STEPHENVILLE — A new book by Tarleton State University historian Dr. Michael Todd Landis examines how, with South and North increasingly divided in the decade leading to the Civil War, northern pro-slavery Democrats tried to hold the nation, and their party, together.

In Northern Men with Southern Loyalties, Landis focuses on President James Buchanan, Senator and presidential candidate Stephen Douglas, and leading northern Democratic politicians, and how they produced compromise legislation in support of the South while attempting to maintain the votes of their antislavery constituencies. Ultimately, these men authored the policies that led to the Democratic Party’s fragmentation and the nation’s disunion.

An assistant professor of history at Tarleton, Landis has conducted original research to provide “an expose of the inner machinations of the Slave Power conspiracy: how proslavery Northern Democrats in deference to the party’s Southern grandees, used machine politics, bribery, patronage, fear-mongering and intimidation to try to purge the party of antislavery voices,” wrote University of Virginia historian Elizabeth R. Varon. “Landis’s argument that doughface politicians willfully defied the wishes of their constituents is provocative and insightful.”

The book is published by Cornell University Press.

“I was drawn to the topic because of the huge gap in scholarship on the causes of the Civil War,” said Landis. “My book corrects the errors and completes the story of those causes. It is the first scholarly work to explore Northern pro-slavery sentiment in the 1850s.”

As a United States history scholar, Landis focuses on the intersection of politics and slavery in the 19th century. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from Boston University, and his Ph.D. from The George Washington University.

“Throughout the 1850s, slave-owning Southerners, though a small minority in the country, were able to push through Congress a variety of bills that spread slavery into previously free territories and forced Northerners to participate in the kidnapping of free blacks,” Landis noted. “The overwhelming majority of Northerners were outraged by such pro-slavery aggressiveness, as well as the fact that a small minority dominated the federal government. They joined the new anti-slavery Republican Party in droves.”

The book explores the motives and the machinations of the northern Democratic leaders. “Recall that two Northern Democrats—Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire and James Buchanan of Pennsylvania—made it all the way to the presidency, despite the fact that their policies were enormously unpopular with the majority of Americans,” Landis said. “How did that happen? These are the questions my book answers.”

In addition to his book, Landis has published several essays and book reviews, and authored an article on United States Sen. William Pitt Fessenden (R-Maine) and the early Republican Party, which was published in the journal American Nineteenth Century History.

His next project will examine Georgia political culture in the antebellum and Civil War eras, shedding light on that state’s troubled role in the Confederate experiment.

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