Legacy of Dissent: The Civil War Roots of Populist White Nationalism in Middle America

Lecture Description

The elections of 2008 and 2012 elevated a little known Illinoisan, Barack Obama, as the nation’s first African American president. The electoral maps of these elections nearly replicate those of 1860 and 1864, presidential elections of a previous Illinoisan, Abraham Lincoln, known best for emancipating slaves and leading Congress to end slavery by constitutional amendment during the Civil War.

The most pronounced difference between these electoral maps is the modern convergence of former sectional antagonists – the South and the West – in opposition to Obama, and the addition of several middle American states to secure Donald Trump’s shocking electoral victory in 2016. Recent spates of racial violence – in Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Charlotte, Chicago, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Tulsa – have demonstrated the persistence of this pattern in American history.

White nationalism, born of racial conservatism and democratic individualism as a counterweight to federal efforts at centralization, has been a foundational pillar of this alliance between West and South since the Civil War. It first converged in the dissent movement during the war in the middle and western states, threatening to derail Lincoln’s war effort. It flowered there again during the often violent politics of Reconstruction, and later during the Populist and Civil Rights movements, and during the citizens’ militia and antigovernment organizations and their activities during the 1990s and 2000s.

This talk will address the Civil War and post-Civil War origins and ideological threads of white nationalism from regional perspectives.


Civil War and Reconstruction Populism

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