West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire

May. 5, 2021

Kevin Waite, assistant professor of history at Durham University, discusses his new book West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire, with Alice Baumgartner, assistant professor of history at USC, and Andrés Reséndez, professor of history at UC Davis.

Beginning in the 1840s, Southern slaveholders launched a series of campaigns to extend their political power across the American West. They passed slave codes in New Mexico and Utah, sponsored separatist movements in Southern California and Arizona, orchestrated a territorial purchase from Mexico, monopolized patronage networks to empower proslavery allies, and killed antislavery rivals. California, despite its constitutional prohibition on slavery, was the linchpin of their western program. Until the eve of the Civil War, white Southerners controlled the political fortunes of California, with a powerful base of support in Los Angeles. During the war years, large parts of the Far Southwest remained in the thrall of slaveholders. Even after the collapse of slavery, California continued to mimic many of the white supremacist strategies of the South. 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.

Kevin Waite's West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire is available in the Huntington Store.

The program is presented by the Huntington–USC Institute on California and the West.

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