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Date of Award


Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Document type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


First Advisor

Daniel Gordon

Second Advisor

Manisha Sinha

Third Advisor

Heather Cox Richardson

Subject Categories

African American Studies | European History | United States History


This dissertation is an attempt to portray the revolutionary character of the American Civil War through a comparative methodology utilizing the French Revolution as both point of influence and as a parallel example. Within this novel context, subtle trends in the ideological development of the Republican Party's Radical wing undertake new meaning and an alternative revolutionary heritage takes shape around an idealization of the universalism of the French and Haitian Revolutions of the 1790s. The work argues that through a diffusion of ideas and knowledge of events from the streets of Paris into the fields of Haiti and onto the shores of the American coast, a small faction of militant abolitionists latched onto the ideal of the Haitian Revolution as their own legacy.

By the late 1830s, this radical edge of the antislavery movement embarked onto two courses, both derived from and influenced by their newfound ideology. The first was towards violent direct action against slavery while the second aimed at legitimizing radical new legal theories and creating the political structure necessary to bring about their enforcement. While on the one hand John Brown and Gerrit Smith pursued militant action, on the other Alvan Stewart and Salmon P. Chase sought a political and legal redefinition of American society through the Liberty and eventually Republican parties. With the coming of war in the 1860s, these two trends, violence and radical politics, converged in the Union war effort.

In the midst of the Civil War and the early fight for Reconstruction, Radical Republicans and their allies in the Union Army displayed themselves as American Jacobins. Through a set of comparisons with French Revolutionary events and political debates, this thesis argues that the result of the ideological development between the American Revolution and the Civil War Era in the United States was the creation of a revolutionary ideology parallel to that of French Jacobinism. By the time of their fall from power, the Radical Republicans had seen their ideals both lambasted as the radical edge of politics and then transformed into the status quo, helping to prepare the nation for modernity.