Scholarly article on topic 'The Making of an American Pluralism: Buffalo, New York, 1825-60.'

The Making of an American Pluralism: Buffalo, New York, 1825-60. Academic research paper on "Sociology"

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J. Am. Hist.
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Academic research paper on topic "The Making of an American Pluralism: Buffalo, New York, 1825-60."


The Journal of American History

September 1990

work had provided a comprehensive overview of slavery in the Lone Star State.

The author, professor of history at the University of North Texas, has already established himself as one of the leading authorities on life in antebellum Texas. This work will enhance that reputation. Randolph B. Campbell rejects the use of any theoretical model but seeks to describe the establishment and growth of slavery, the economic and legal aspects of the institution, the physical and psychological conditions of servitude, the impact of slavery on society in general, and the ways in which the Civil War affected slavery before its end in June 1865.

Readers expecting dramatic or sensational findings will be disappointed, as Campbell develops a well-balanced but cautious interpretation that falls between those of U. B. Phillips and Kenneth Stampp. He notes that the first slaves arrived in Texas with the early Spanish explorers but that the institution grew little until the Anglo-American colonization period of the 1820s. He rejects the slave conspiracy interpretation of the Texas revolution but agrees that independence from Mexico removed a major barrier to the expansion of slavery in Texas.

Slavery grew and spread geographically during the periods of the republic and early statehood as fertile soil, ideal climatic conditions, and opportunities for wealth attracted thousands of southern immigrants. By I860 nearly two hundred thousand slaves worked the plantations and farms of Texas and one of every four white families owned slaves. Slaveholders came to dominate the social, political, and economic life of the state. Although there may have been natural limits to expansion in western Texas, as Charles Ramsdell believed, those limits were not reached by the time of the Civil War. The pattern of production of cotton and sugar cane based upon slave labor flourished, slaveholders enjoyed steady profits from the institution, and the future looked bright.

Campbell makes extensive use of evidence gleaned from slave narratives, probate and district court records, plantation accounts, and manuscript census returns to describe food, clothing, shelter, work assignments, and punishments of Texas slaves that paralleled the ex-

periences of slaves elsewhere in the Old South. As was true in other states, family, religion, and music were significant elements in the slaves' struggle to overcome the psychological conditions of servitude.

This is a major contribution to our understanding of antebellum America. While it provides few surprises, the study confirms recent findings by scholars describing the peculiar institution in other states. It also should end forever a belief of some that slavery somehow was "better" or less severe in the Lone Star State. As Campbell concludes in his final chapter, "slavery in Texas did not differ in any fundamental way from the institution as it existed elsewhere in the United States."

Ralph A. Wooster

Lamar University

The Making of an American Pluralism: Buffalo, New York, 1825-60. By David A. Gerber. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989-xviii + 531 pp. $34.95.)

As the title suggests, this is a highly ambitious community study. Focusing on the development of group solidarities, David A. Gerber analyzes the interrelationships between class formation, ethnic group formation, and democratization in Buffalo during the antebellum era. By his account, notwithstanding the growth of both class and ethnic consciousness, political parties managed to integrate diverse and frequently antagonistic groups into a fundamentally stable social order by I860. As elaborated at considerable length, Gerber's thesis is both provocative and persuasive.

Buffalo rose to commercial prominence as a terminus of the Erie Canal. In the wake of the economic crisis of the late 1830s and the subsequent return of prosperity, Gerber writes, merchants and other affluent, American-born Buffalonians "forg[ed] themselves into a self-conscious bourgeois class with an ideology, lifestyle, code of conduct, and body of individual and group aspirations of its own." Members of this ascendant class shared not only "a belief in moral progress through capitalist economic development and technological innovation" but also "a deep-seated fear of the disorder and so-

Book Reviews

rial instability inevitably accompanying that development." To resolve the tension inherent in this world view, they sought to spread a gospel of self-control and to curb disruptive behavior among those below them on the social scale.

The greatest challenge to the bourgeoisie's hegemonic aspirations came from the Irish and German immigrants who arrived en masse in Buffalo after 1845. According to Gerber, most immigrants did not bring with them a mature sense of group identity yet developed one once in Buffalo. In the book's middle chapters, he painstakingly traces the emergence of ethnic consciousness first among the Irish and then, more haltingly, among the Germans. Starting from the premise that "the role of class in ethnic group formation and of ethnicity in class formation must be reciprocally conceived," he finds that ethnicity proved to be the more salient social factor at midcentury. Political contests increasingly turned on ethnocultural questions, and the mainly Whiggish bourgeoisie found itself threatened by the rapid growth of the Democrats' immigrant constituency.

Gerber credits the increasingly democratic political system with defusing social conflict even as it enhanced ethnic consciousness. Involvement in party politics provided a basis for peaceful coexistence by divergent social groups. The dramatic upsurge of nativism in the mid-18505 would seem to contradict this generalization, but Gerber emphasizes how quickly nativism receded in Buffalo. By I860, the Republican party was able to unite large numbers of native-born Americans and Germans in a victorious electoral coalition that stood against racial slavery and for social pluralism.

Gerber provides abundant, perhaps excessive, evidence to support his thesis. Yet most scholars will likely find his analytical approach more exciting than the details of Buffalo's early history. By treating class, ethnicity, and party as dynamically interacting social processes rather than as static social categories, he has made a signal contribution to the study of antebellum urban America. The Making of an American Pluralism delivers handsomely on the bold promise of its title.

Gary J. Kornblith

Oberlin College

Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism. By Marvin S. Hill. (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1989. xxiv + 288 pp. $19-95.)

Within the past two decades or so, Mormon studies have undergone a renaissance as a number of stimulating books have come off the presses of national and regional publishing houses. Quest for Refuge by Marvin S. Hill is just such a book. Focusing upon Mormon history from the 1820s through the exodus of the Saints from Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1846, Hill addresses many well-known issues but adds a different perspective to some by treating the early Mormon experience from the perspective of pluralism. The followers of Joseph Smith wanted nothing to do with the pluralistic society that they saw all around them. For the Latter-day Saints (Mormons), the maelstrom of competing faiths and social institutions that characterized Jacksoni-an America was an indication of the decaying of the United States.

In his first attempt to establish a unique, nonpluralistic society at Kirtland, Ohio, Smith was repeatedly challenged by critics regarding his political and social innovations. In Ohio the greatest threat to Mormonism came from within its own ranks. By the time the denomination had been forced to move—first to Missouri and later to Illinois— the animosity came both from disaffected church members and from hostile non-Mormons. Why did this reasonably small body of individuals repeatedly fire such severe hatred? Hill finds the answer in the Saints' recurring confrontation with pluralism. He concludes that their antipluralism was the "main cause of persecution."

Their attempt to strengthen their position through politics quickly drew the ire of those around them. When Smith attempted to turn Nauvoo into a quasi-independent city-state, opponents from Hancock and other western Illinois counties declared war. Joseph and Hyrum Smith paid the price for Mormon antipluralism with their lives. On June 27, 1844, they were lynched by an angry mob at Carthage, Illinois. Much to the dismay of its foes, Mormonism survived the murder of its founder, and most of the Saints followed Brigham %ung to the West. Their flight from American pluralism continued