West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire

Univ. of North Carolina. Apr. 2021. 384p. ISBN 9781469663197. $29.95. HIST
Historian Waite clearly demonstrates that the ambition of a slave-based American society extended to the Pacific Ocean, far beyond the states that eventually seceded. According to this carefully structured and well-argued book, decades leading up to the Civil War witnessed efforts to expand slavery to territories from Texas west to California, into regions very different from the South. California, with its economic promise and coveted access to Asian markets for Southern cotton, proved a tempting goal. Democratic politicians and businessmen in that state were friendly to slavery. In Washington, efforts to secure territory for a southern route of a transcontinental railroad were part of a broader plan to advance interests of slaveholders that included overland mail and travel routes through territories of the Southwest to the Pacific. Democratic Party control in Washington during the 1850s raised hopes of broadening slaveholding into regions very different from the South. Waite provides vivid detail in this readable narrative, as well as abundant documentation of primary and secondary sources and helpful maps and illustrations.
VERDICT Readers interested in the South and Confederacy will benefit from this fine work that broadens our understanding of this important era of American history.
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