Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



The “Dismal Science of Union” combines environmental and intellectual history to explain the causes of the Civil War by documenting white Southerners’ vision for land use and national development. This project begins in the Early Republic and proceeds to characterize the ways white Southerners in the antebellum period used political economy to defend slavery and their unique second nature vision for man, society, and resources. The political economy adopted by the slaveholding class ideologically captured them in their pursuit of vindication. Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo’s economic theories, according to the proslavery elite, provided a scientific – indeed, environmentally sustainable – framework which seemingly validated their perspectives on slavery, progress, and national development. However, their dedication to these theories placed them in an ideological trap of their own creation. While it fostered in them a sense of confidence in their own developmental vision, it also heightened their anxiety as they saw Malthusian-Ricardian specters around every corner. The pro-slavery environmentalism of the South’s antebellum leaders gave their regional plans great coherence but brought them into fundamental conflict with a North devoted to an entirely different developmental model. This conflict undergirded the sectional debates over slavery and expansion, and it ultimately gave the South dismal answers about their future in the Union. To better understand the proslavery South’s vision under these constraints, it is therefore necessary to critically assess the ecological language they used with respect to political economy.



Committee Chair

Aaron Sheehan-Dean

Available for download on Monday, January 06, 2031