Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Charles E. Royster


This dissertation examines how concepts of honor, and its adjunct, republicanism, influenced both the perceptions and actions of southerners during the Mexican-American War of 1846--1848 and the period immediately thereafter. It is meant to illustrate the important, and heretofore overlooked, role that notions of honor played both for those southerners who participated in the war and those who stayed at home. The dissertation is thematic rather than chronologic in organization and consists of three chapters. The first chapter examines the attitudes of southerners of both genders towards the Mexican War. It contends that they united in defining the conflict through the lens of honor. Southern concepts of honor impelled the white men of the South to volunteer and the women of the section to support them. The second chapter addresses the manner in which the politics of honor directed southern political responses to the Mexican War. It argues that President James K. Polk's war message of May 11, 1846, which presented the war as an honorable endeavor, played a crucial role in defining the direction that the political debate over the question of the war would take in the region. Following the lead of the President, southern Democrats' explanation and defense of the war was shaped by the language of honor and shame. In turn, the powerful cultural symbolism of offended honor muted the dissent of southern Whigs and Calhounites. The final chapter examines southerners' perceptions of General Zachary Taylor, the quintessential hero of the Mexican War. It contends that Taylor, because of his military exploits and republican character, became, for a short time, the South's most honored man. It argues that many Southerners came to view Taylor as a perfect republican statesman, a man above party, a second George Washington. As such, they expected President Taylor to reconcile the interests of all parts of the Union through disinterested, just, and wise leadership. It concludes that Taylor's failure to achieve national harmony shook southerners' faith in the model of "national" republican leadership that he represented.