Empire of the People: The Ideology of Democratic Empire in the Antebellum United States


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


Political Science


This dissertation examines the central role of empire in the development of democratic thought and culture in the antebellum United States. Instead of centering the analysis exclusively on shifting and contested conceptions of constitutional democracy, it focuses on how cultural narratives intersected with constitutional discourses in providing justification for the global and continental expansion of American power. In their empire-building efforts, citizens and politicians articulated a vision of ‘democratic empire’ grounded in American national culture that reconciled liberal self-conceptions of the antebellum era with the coercive aspects of imperial rule such as global economic expansion, military conquest, and racial violence. At the center of this political ideology was an idea of democracy characterized by notions of popular sovereignty, individual liberty, and social equality that were uniquely calibrated to the dual processes of settler colonialism and global empire.