What makes the lower Midwest distinctive? In his thought-provoking monograph, Matthew E. Stanley contends that the “anti-black, anti-Confederate, anti-eastern” intellectual traditions rooted in the counties of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois closest to the Ohio River shaped the politics of not just the region but also the nation (p. 9). Adding details to the arguments of his graduate adviser Christopher Phillips, Stanley describes how the people of the “first West” were agrarian champions of local rule and believers in white supremacy who opposed the Yankee-inflected culture that came to dominate the Great Lakes regions of their states. In counties settled by southerners, residents held a Jeffersonian belief in individual liberty and were agnostic on the slavery question. They championed Stephen Douglas's popular-sovereignty solution and then fervently tried to prevent the Civil War through the Crittenden Compromise (1860) and the Corwin Amendment (1861). Stanley suggests that even the Copperhead movement can be understood as an attempt at a loyal, antiwar opposition until terms such as butternut and conservative came to denote Confederate sympathies rather than an older lower North politics of moderation. Postwar Lower Middle Westerners transmuted the spatial and geocultural terminology of war opponents into cutting critiques of Radical Republican policy, calls for economic populism, radicalized public policy, and their own form of commemoration, leading the charge away from Congressional Reconstruction and toward white reunion, Stanley argues (p. 97). This is what he labels “the Loyal West”: a narrative insisting that white veterans, generals, and politicians from the region saved the country from the excesses of both Confederates and Yankees, and that they “endured rather than embraced emancipation” (p. 77, emphasis in original). Loyal West priorities shaped veterans organizations, including the Grand Army of the Republic; they fostered blue-gray reunions and, Stanley contends, they led to the emergence of sundown towns and the second Ku Klux Klan. As a native of the region, Stanley mentions that some of these reactionary attitudes linger in these counties to this day. Stanley's book is an intellectual history of a rarely recognized middle-American political culture. His work adds a crucial piece to the puzzle of mid-nineteenth-century politics in the middle of the country, alongside recent works on the efforts at compromise and reconciliation in Missouri, Kentucky, and the upper Midwest, among German Americans, “belated Confederates,” and others. Stanley rightly challenges the generalizations in earlier scholarship by Chandra Manning, David Blight, and others who did not pay enough attention to regional differences in their accounts of white Union soldiers' motivations or memories of the war. Yet, even when focusing on the southern half of three states, Stanley still must make his own generalizations as he pulls together quotations from a diffuse regional school of thought. In The Loyal West Stanley makes the case for the importance of midwestern intellectual traditions as a conservative rudder in American politics. Though his passionate arguments are, at times, clad in unnecessary jargon, his book is bold and deserves a wide reading among scholars of all American sections and regions. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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