My research and writing focuses on the Republicans of the Civil War era and how they ultimately reconciled a sincere commitment to two incompatible goals -- destroying the power of slaveholders while preserving the antebellum Constitutional structure of the Union. An adequate solution to the specific issues of ending slavery and protecting black civil rights required a much broader reconceptualization of the American political system as a whole. But, crucially, most Republicans did not see it that way at the time. They believed they could save the Union, and destroy slavery, without permanently transforming or abrogating the rights of local self-government that all Americans – Republicans, Democrats and abolitionists alike – had considered sacrosanct before the war. Only gradually, as they responded to one emergency after another, did they develop the ideas and institutions with which the nation emerged from its greatest crisis.
This summer, I have written drafts of the early chapters of my dissertation, which is based on archival research at the Library of Congress, the University of Rochester and the University of Wisconsin. In these chapters I focus on the conservative strains of thought within the antebellum Republican party and attempt to explain why many leaders who were dismayed by the social and economic changes undermining their political system nevertheless supported a war that transformed everything they were determined to preserve.
As many dissertation writers have discovered before me, the work of uncovering significant archival material is a breeze next to the challenge of organizing it into a clear, concise argument. I am very grateful to the Social Sciences division for the funds that have allowed me to concentrate exclusively on this formidable task, free from other professional obligations.