The familiar story of the Civil War tells of a predominately agricultural South pitted against a rapidly industrializing North. However, Adam Wesley Dean argues that the Republican Party's political ideology was fundamentally agrarian. Believing that small farms owned by families for generations led to a model society, Republicans supported a northern agricultural ideal in opposition to southern plantation agriculture, which destroyed the land's productivity, required constant western expansion, and produced an elite landed gentry hostile to the Union. Dean shows how agrarian republicanism shaped the debate over slavery's expansion, spurred the creation of the Department of Agriculture and the passage of the Homestead Act, and laid the foundation for the development of the earliest nature parks.
Spanning the long nineteenth century, Dean's study analyzes the changing debate over land development as it transitioned from focusing on the creation of a virtuous and orderly citizenry to being seen primarily as a "civilizing" mission. By showing Republicans as men and women with backgrounds in small farming, Dean unveils new connections between seemingly separate historical events, linking this era's views of natural and manmade environments with interpretations of slavery and land policy.
"Adam Dean artfully and convincingly reveals the agrarian roots of not only the Republican Party, but all the major conflicts of the Civil War era. Tracing the party's political ideology to a firm belief that progress, prosperity, and civilization arose from the proper management of the nation's soil, Dean demonstrates that debates over slavery, territorial expansion, and even nature preservation rested on notions of agricultural improvement. An Agrarian Republic melds intellectual, political, and environmental history and deserves a wide readership."
– Lisa Brady, Boise State University
"In this impressive book, Adam Dean deftly combines environmental and political history to demonstrate the importance of agrarianism in the ideology of the Republican Party during the Civil War era. The book corrects the pervasive and misguided notion that the Civil War placed an industrialized North in conflict with a rural South. Dean's broad geographical and chronological sweep, though, goes beyond the war itself to show how the Republican Party's agrarianism had wide-ranging effects, from the formation of Indian policy to the creation of national parks like Yosemite."
– Andrew L. Slap, East Tennessee State University
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Adam Wesley Dean is assistant professor of history at Lynchburg College.