Year of Publication

2013

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. David Hamilton

Abstract

Without northern doughface Democrats, and northern states like Indiana, the South could not have held dominance in American politics during the sectional crisis. Anchoring the extreme end of the doughface North was Indiana’s slaveholding senator Jesse Bright (his holdings were in Kentucky). Yet, he was no flailing radical pushed to the margins of northern politics. Bright was the chief party boss who by the mid to late 1850s controlled the state of Indiana. He was one of the most influential leaders getting James Buchanan into the presidency. He did this, in part, because Indiana was a conservative state that disliked anti-slavery agitators. Still, most Hoosiers were not partisans in favor of slavery.

Bright was able to lead Indiana politics during the 1850s because he had become a powerful political boss. American politics in the 1840s and 1850s was built around state level organizations. With elections going through constant and irregular cycles, hopeful candidates needed a strong organization capable of providing money, press literature and mobilization of voters. They needed someone with grit, savvy and energy to organize various groups, and no one was more successful at this in Indiana than Bright. Bright did this, in part, by understanding the baser motives of men, and more importantly, could satisfy these wants with graft, bribery, patronage and other inducements. If that was not enough to motivation, he used fear, bullying and good old fashioned steam rolling tactics to bludgeon his enemies into submission. Bright’s extreme doughface attitudes did not make him popular, but his organizing skills made him a powerful leader. He helped prop the slave-power in American politics through the 1850s, but his efforts also alienated a wide swath of northerners, especially in Indiana.

By 1860, a northern Republican Party took control of American politics, as northerners came to reject the slave-masters and the slave-power. This dissertation argues that Bright played a pivotal role in propping the slave-power. But ultimately Bright’s political downfall was part of a larger rejection of southern politics.

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