The American Civil War as a Conservative Revolution

The inaugural lecture of Professor Adam Smith

In the 1860s, the United States underwent a violent revolution. Four and half million enslaved people were freed, three quarters of a million people died, billions of dollars’ worth of property was expropriated, and the constitutional order remade. Yet in this lecture, Adam Smith argues that we can only understand these radical changes within the context of a politics that prioritised preservation of existing institutions and venerated the Republic’s founding moment, that embraced the future while being anchored in the past. The American Civil War provides a case study in how and why radical means can be harnessed for conservative ends.

Adam Smith is the Edward Orsborn Professor of US Politics and Political History, and the Director of the Rothermere American Institute, at the University of Oxford. He is also a fellow of University College.

Professor Smith is an expert on the American Civil War, and his research explores the relationship between ideas and political behaviour in the US. He was awarded the Jefferson Davis Prize by the American Civil War Museum for his book The Stormy Present: Conservatism and the Problem of Slavery in Northern Politics, 1846-1865.