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The 'Young America' movement: nationalism and the natural law tradition in Jacksonian political thought, 1844-61

Power Smith, Mark; (2018) The 'Young America' movement: nationalism and the natural law tradition in Jacksonian political thought, 1844-61. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

My PhD thesis explores a nationalist movement from the Northern United States known as ‘Young America’; a group of Jacksonian politicians and writers associated with a publication based in New York City called the Democratic Review. I argue that their political ideology was defined by a new – more cosmopolitan – conception of American nationalism; one based on the idea that ‘popular sovereignty’ at the local level was a ‘natural law,’ or universal right, which would thrive in the absence of government intervention, whether by federal authority in the United States, or the imperial powers of Europe. This central belief shaped four aspects of the ‘Young Americans’ worldview. Firstly, they assigned the federal government a very limited domestic role, promoting states’ rights and free trade. Secondly, they advanced an interventionist foreign policy to defend universal rights beyond American borders. Thirdly, they championed intellectuals as the supreme arbiters of a ‘natural order’ discernible only through reason. Finally, ‘Young Americans’ believed that the ‘natural laws,’ which formed the bedrock of a democratic society, degraded the black race whilst they uplifted the white. However, this view did not translate into a purely pro or anti-slavery stance. Rather, ‘Young Americans’ made a white supremacist case for popular sovereignty and free labor, which called for the extermination or deportation of blacks to tropical regions. Although the movement was ultimately divided between the Democratic and Republican parties, their advocacy of Jacksonian nationalism continued to shape their conflicting views on the sectional crisis. Thus, my thesis highlights the continuing importance of Jacksonian ideology during a decade usually defined in terms of ‘sectional’ tensions over slavery. In the process, it shows that concepts like ‘natural law’ and social progress had wider - and more unexpected - meanings for antebellum Americans than historians have appreciated so far.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The 'Young America' movement: nationalism and the natural law tradition in Jacksonian political thought, 1844-61
Event: University College London
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of History
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10053617
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