CRF Blog

Interview of the Day: Matthew Karp

by Bill Hayes

In Booked for Dissent, contributing editor Timothy Shenk interviews historian Matthew Karp, author of This Vast Southern Empire.

Timothy Shenk: When Americans talked about a “vast Southern empire” before the Civil War, what did they have in mind?

Matthew Karp: The short answer is that they weren’t talking about an independent Southern republic, but the entire United States.

It’s easy to find sectionalism in Southern politics before the Civil War, but the most powerful antebellum Southerners — from Andrew Jackson to Jefferson Davis — were nationalists, not separatists. What John C. Calhoun really wanted, as Richard Hofstadter wrote long ago, was not for Southerners to leave the Union but to dominate it, which they more or less did in the thirty years before the Civil War.

Southerners imagined — and worked to build — an American republic whose foundation was slavery. In their minds, this was a powerful state, continental in scope and hemispheric in influence, which put the preservation of slaveholding property at the center of U.S. politics and U.S. foreign policy. That’s what they meant by “this vast Southern empire,” and that’s the focus of the book. [more]