Antebellum Period Terms
AntebellumFrom the Latin ante bellum: ante, before + bellum, war. Referring to the period before the American Civil War.
Taking place before wartime. FYI: This word especially is used to describe the time right before the American Civil War.
BlackfaceMakeup, initially burnt cork or coal, applied to the faces and limbs of white performers, such as antebellum-era minstrel actor Thomas "Daddy" Rice, to give them an exaggeratedly black appearance—far blacker than any African American.
Makeup, initially burnt cork or coal, applied to the faces and limbs of white performers to give them an exaggeratedly black appearance—far blacker than any African-American; this became abundantly clear when African Americans themselves started performing in the 1840s and were forced to "black up" with the makeup in order to conform to the expectations of minstrelsy.
Bourgeoisie, BourgeoisThe middle class. The adjectival form is bourgeois, as in the sentence "Melville enjoyed mocking bourgeois culture in his novels."
CavalierOriginally, a Cavalier was a person who supported the absolutist Catholic, King Charles I, in his power struggles with the English Parliament during the seventeenth century (especially during the English civil war of the 1640s). Yet in antebellum America, this term gained a new cultural significance as a reference to a sort of archetypal (or stereotypical) southern gentleman. The term was associated with religiosity and conservatism, but to southern elites whose ancestors migrated from England, it also evoked chivalry and noble ancestry. The southern Cavalier was the counterpart to the northern Yankee. Where the Yankee was said to be pragmatic, hard working, and thrifty, the Cavalier was supposed to be dashing, well-mannered, and aristocratic. These stock characters were often paraded out for theater parodies or satirical cartoons, much to the enjoyment of audiences North and South.
Code DuelloAn elaborate set of 26 rules for dueling and the code of honor by which elite gentlemen were expected to conduct themselves. The code was established in England in 1777 and followed in America, primarily among elites, although with some variations from its European antecedent. The code quickly became unpopular in the northern U.S. after a few infamous contests proved fatal, most notably when Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in 1804. Thereafter the code became the object of widespread scorn and legal sanction in many northern states, but in the South it remained a part of life for the honor-obsessed culture of the plantation aristocracy. South Carolina Governor John Lyde Wilson adapted the code duello in an Americanized version that appeared in 1838. It was also practiced, if more sporadically, in the West. California Senator David Broderick actually died in an 1859 duel with David Terry, the former Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, after the two men had argued over the growing slavery controversy in America (Terry was for it, Broderick against it). Though Terry's reputation suffered from the incident, he was eventually acquitted of murder.
MinstrelsyThe extremely popular form of stage entertainment in which whites performed in blackface and caricatured black people for predominantly white audiences in the antebellum era (the genre actually lasted well into the early twentieth century). It usually involved a song-and-dance act and was first performed solo by T.D. Rice (1828); the first group performance was by the Virginia Minstrels in 1843.
Nativism, Nativist, NativistsOpposition to immigration on the grounds that an influx of foreigners will marginalize the English language, undermine American culture, destabilize American politics, and weaken the economic status of American workers.
Anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic sentiment most prevalent during the decades leading up to the Civil War, when large numbers of Irish and German immigrants poured into the U.S.
A xenophobic policy (or ideology) which stresses the interests of a country's native inhabitants over those of immigrants. Many (though not all) white Anglo-Saxon Protestants of nineteenth-century America became embodiments of this philosophy, to varying degrees. Those most concerned about foreign immigration joined nativist political parties. The most prominent of these parties was the American Party (a.k.a. the Native American Party, a.k.a. the Know Nothings), which began in 1843 and called for a 25-year residency qualification for citizenship and sought to elect only native-born Americans to political office. The Know Nothings enjoyed political victories on state and local levels, notably in Massachusetts and Delaware in 1854 (the pinnacle-year of their success). But the slavery issue eclipsed the nativists in importance and public attention, and ultimately divided their membership along sectional lines.
Opposition to immigration based on fears that an influx of foreigners will marginalize the English language, undermine American culture, destabilize American politics, and weaken the economic status of American workers.