Abstract: The fisheries of the north Atlantic were important components of antebellum American politics and diplomacy that witnessed a debate over competing visions of American nationhood. This article examines the ways in which the image of the New England cod fisherman was deployed in the political rhetoric of antebellum America. While regularly celebrated across the union as a patriotic figure on the frontline of national defense, the humble fisherman became part of sectional rhetoric as fissures along East-West and North-South axes threatened to destabilize a nation still seeking to define itself. Upending notions that the North-South divide was inevitable, or even predictable, this example shows that well into the 1850s the political life of the American fisherman was debated along East-West lines. It was only in the mid-1850s that the issue fell victim to the rancor of the ongoing contention of slave and free, demonstrating just how complete the fracture of the Second Party System was. This underappreciated element of sectional politics in antebellum America is only evident when viewed through the optic of the maritime world. During these years the United States was a maritime nation whose most important lifeline to the outside world were those individuals who served aboard ships. While historians have used international and global perspectives to good effect in analyzing the Civil War, this article demonstrates how the decades preceding that conflict can likewise benefit from a wider lens. The fisheries issues illustrates the benefits of looking east to the Atlantic, not solely west to the territories, in exploring this most fractious period of the nineteenth century.
Journal of the Early Republic – University of Pennsylvania Press
Published: Sep 9, 2016
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