West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire ( The David J. Weber the New Borderlands History )

Regular price $ 29.95

by Kevin Waite

University of North Carolina Press

4/19/2021, paperback

SKU: 9781469663197


When American slaveholders looked west in the mid-nineteenth century, they saw an empire unfolding before them. They pursued that vision through diplomacy, migration, and armed conquest. By the late 1850s, slaveholders and their allies had transformed the southwestern quarter of the nation - California, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Utah - into a political client of the plantation states. Across this vast swath of the map, white southerners defended the institution of African American chattel slavery as well as systems of Native American bondage. This surprising history uncovers the Old South in unexpected places, far beyond the region's cotton fields and sugar plantations.

Slaveholders' western ambitions culminated in a coast-to-coast crisis of the Union. By 1861, the rebellion in the South inspired a series of separatist movements in the Far West. Even after the collapse of the Confederacy, the threads connecting South and West held, undermining the radical promise of Reconstruction. Kevin Waite brings to light what contemporaries recognized but historians have described only in part: The struggle over slavery played out on a transcontinental stage.


This is an innovative book that beautifully illustrates what more scholars are coming to recognize: that slaveholders did not cling to the past and resist change. Rather, they championed vast projects for technological and commercial expansion that placed them among the most imaginative and visionary capitalists of the period.--Stacey L. Smith, Oregon State University

With a sure hand and an excellent pen, Kevin Waite examines how chattel slavery in the South intersected with multiple forms of labor coercion in the West to create a system of bondage spanning from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Understanding the interactions and dynamics between these different types of enslavement is essential, and Waite has shown us the way.--Andres Resendez, University of California, Davis

About the Author:

Kevin Waite is assistant professor of history at Durham University.