The story of how elitism trumped sectional divisions in Philadelphia's leisure class
Placing class rather than race or gender at the center of this comparative study of North and South, Daniel Kilbride exposes the close connections that united privileged southerners and Philadelphians in the years leading to the Civil War. He finds that the bonds between these similarly educated and socialized groups were so durable that they resisted sectional warfare. Examining sociability, education, intellectual collaboration, leisure, travel, and political culture, he concludes that this would-be aristocracy remained a cohesive network until—and even after—the onslaught of hostilities.
In An American Aristocracy, Kilbride traces the travels of southern planters throughout the North during the decades prior to 1860, noting that they were drawn particularly to Philadelphia because of its proximity to the South and a perception of the city as being untainted by the larger radicalism of the North. In addition Philadelphia possessed tangible attractions for southerners: well-regarded schools, prestigious intellectual societies, historical landmarks, and fashionable shopping districts. In the city's parlors, ballrooms, and classrooms, privileged Americans from the North and South forged themselves into a republican aristocracy that ignored the Mason-Dixon line.
The story Kilbride uncovers is one of the upper echelon's declining influence. He recounts how southern families and their friends and relations in the North fought against the forces of middle-class respectability and sectional animosity that threatened the stability of their world. Their ability to promote sectional peace weakened steadily during the first half of the nineteenth century as the middle class successfully wrested cultural authority from their social "betters." Kilbride suggests that this humiliating loss of power bound northern and southern gentry ever closer. Yet an inability to shape public policy left them helpless to stem the tide of sectional strife that eventually infiltrated their carefully insulated existence.
Daniel Kilbride received his Ph.D. from the University of Florida. He teaches U.S. history at John Carroll University near Cleveland, Ohio.
"Focusing on Carolina planter families like the Izards and Manigaults and their relations with upper-crust Philadelphians, Daniel Kilbride shows how conservative women and men bridged sectional lines, using reactionary politics, exclusive education, and polite social rituals to forge a distinct aristocratic identity. Urbane planters and their city associates constituted a leisure class that gathered in the drawing rooms, public spaces, and scientific societies of Philadelphia. In these aristocratic circles, nationalism and elitism trumped sectional divisions until the Civil War. An American Aristocracy vividly recreates the opulent but precarious world of Philadelphia's cosmopolitan elite."—Cynthia A. Kierner, author of Scandal at Bizarre: Rumor and Reputation in Jefferson's America
"An American Aristocracy traces the ties of class, kinship, and culture which bound together groups of southern planters and Philadelphia elites in the antebellum years. Although we've known of these links, no one before Kilbride has so carefully and thoughtfully explored their meaning—especially in the light of regional identity and growing sectional tensions. This is a well-conceived, well-researched, and sharply written study which will add new layers to our understanding of the role of class and place in this era."—Steven M. Stowe, author of Intimacy and Power in the Old South: Ritual in the Lives of the Planters
"An American Aristocracy is a significant contribution to urban history and regional history. In his meticulous, thoughtful study, Daniel Kilbride demonstrates that many factors combined to form cultural identity in antebellum America. Historians of the North and the South will benefit equally from this important book."—Joan Cashin, author of A Family Venture: Men and Women on the Southern Frontier