West of Slavery

The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire

By Kevin Waite

392 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 9 halftones, 7 maps, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6319-7
    Published: April 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6318-0
    Published: April 2021
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-6320-3
    Published: April 2021

David J. Weber Series in the New Borderlands History

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When American slaveholders looked west in the mid-nineteenth century, they saw an empire unfolding before them. They pursued that vision through diplomacy, migration, and armed conquest. By the late 1850s, slaveholders and their allies had transformed the southwestern quarter of the nation – California, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Utah – into a political client of the plantation states. Across this vast swath of the map, white southerners defended the institution of African American chattel slavery as well as systems of Native American bondage. This surprising history uncovers the Old South in unexpected places, far beyond the region’s cotton fields and sugar plantations.

Slaveholders' western ambitions culminated in a coast-to-coast crisis of the Union. By 1861, the rebellion in the South inspired a series of separatist movements in the Far West. Even after the collapse of the Confederacy, the threads connecting South and West held, undermining the radical promise of Reconstruction. Kevin Waite brings to light what contemporaries recognized but historians have described only in part: The struggle over slavery played out on a transcontinental stage.

Published with support provided by the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas

About the Author

Kevin Waite is assistant professor of history at Durham University.
For more information about Kevin Waite, visit the Author Page.


"Waite provides vivid detail in this readable narrative, as well as abundant documentation of primary and secondary sources and helpful maps and illustrations. . . . Readers interested in the South and Confederacy will benefit from this fine work that broadens our understanding of this important era of American history."--Library Journal

"Waite’s statement that 'slaveholders lusted after a transpacific dominion' is vividly supported by this book. . . . Kevin Waite is not only a determined scholar. He is also a wonderful writer."--Boom California

"Waite demonstrates that, from Thomas Jefferson on, the South had big plans for the West. . . . [This] enlightening book provides details of the Southern strategy to 'own' the West."--Crosscut

"A significant achievement of scholarship. . . . As the scholarship on the Civil War in the West continues to develop, West of Slavery should long stand as a critical intervention in the literature."--Civil War Monitor

“With a sure hand and an excellent pen, Kevin Waite examines how chattel slavery in the South intersected with multiple forms of labor coercion in the West to create a system of bondage spanning from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Understanding the interactions and dynamics between these different types of enslavement is essential, and Waite has shown us the way.”—Andrés Reséndez, University of California, Davis

"This is an innovative book that beautifully illustrates what more scholars are coming to recognize: that slaveholders did not cling to the past and resist change. Rather, they championed vast projects for technological and commercial expansion that placed them among the most imaginative and visionary capitalists of the period."--Stacey L. Smith, Oregon State University