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Lecture 1: Somehow the cause


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Lecture 1

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Lecture 1: Somehow the cause

  1. 1. The US Civil War and Reconstruction Prof Rebecca Jo Plant
  2. 2. Assessing the war’s impact The war, according to Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner, "uprooted institutions that were centuries old, changed the politics of a people, transformed the social life of half the country, and wrought [change] so profoundly upon the entire national character that the influence cannot be measured short of two or three generations."
  3. 3. Why is the Civil War so critical? • Survival of the nation at stake – Significance extended beyond the US itself: Could a republic endure? • National trauma that eclipses all others – Research now conservatively estimates that 750,000 men died • Revolutionary consequences – Freeing of nearly 4 million slaves – Reckoning with the nation’s “original sin”—the glaring contradiction enshrined in the Constitution
  4. 4. New sense of nationhood • Prior to the war, Americans were intensely localistic – 80% lived in towns of 2,500 people or less – People’s identification with their towns and states often trumped their identification with the nation • Language reflected the change in sensibilities – “The United States” becomes a singular rather than a plural noun – People afterwards spoke much less about a “union,” and much more about a “nation”
  5. 5. Dramatic shift in power from S to N • War finally answered the question of which social and economic system would dominate: – A political economy based on slavery, overwhelmingly agricultural, with a very limited federal government? – Or a political economy based on free labor, with a stronger central government that fostered domestic manufacturing? • South was devastated economically – Lost 60% of its wealth/capital • Northern industry spurred – Wealth/capital increased by 50% • Transfer of political power
  6. 6. Strengthening of the federal govt • Prior to war – Federal government was a distant entity for most Americans – Post Office and Customs House • Flurry of wartime legislation changed the nature of government – Power to draft citizens into the army – To collect taxes – To issue a national currency – To put down civil unrest – To end slavery and define the citizenship rights of former slaves
  7. 7. Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address
  8. 8. Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural, March 1865 “On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war— seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.”
  9. 9. Second Inaugural, cont. “One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease.”
  10. 10. 2nd Inaugural “If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God…shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
  11. 11. Lincoln on the history of the CW • Southern states were the aggressors – They went to war to protect their “peculiar and powerful interest”—slavery • North did not attempt to eradicate slavery at the outset—merely to block its extension • No one could have predicted the bloodshed or revolutionary effects (end of slavery) • The “mighty scourge of war” is God’s punishment of both South and North – Nation as a whole was complicit in allowing slavery to persist and in being enriched by it
  12. 12. Ex-confederates’ version of history President Jefferson Davis: They fought for "the inalienable right of a people to change their government ... to withdraw from a Union into which they had, as sovereign communities, voluntarily entered." The "existence of African servitude was in no wise the cause of the conflict, but only an incident.” (Rise and Fall of Confederate Government, 1881)
  13. 13. Ex-confederates’ revision of history, cont. VP Alexander Stephens: “The conflict in principle arose from different and opposing ideas as to the nature of what is known as the General Government …. It was a strife between the principles of Federation, on the one side, and Centralism, or Consolidation, on the other side. Slavery, so called, was but the question on which these antagonistic principles ... of Federation, on the one side, and Centralism, or Consolidation, on the other ... were finally brought into ... collision with each other on the field of battle.” (A Constitutional View of the Late War between the States, 1868)
  14. 14. Stephens’ 1861 Cornerstone speech On why the Confederate constitution was superior to that of the US: “This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the ‘rock upon which the old Union would split.’ He was right.” [But TJ was wrong to ever say that “all men are created equal.”] Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition ….” (March 21, 1861)
  15. 15. How did slavery cause the war? • Institution profoundly influenced the social, economic and political structures of the South – creating a culture that was, in many ways, different from that of the North • Every point of contention between Northerners and Southerners – religious disagreements, economic disagreements, political disagreements – ultimately came back to slavery & whether or not it should be allowed to expand.
  16. 16. Slavery in late 18th cent. America • Well-established institution; about 700,000 slaves, spread across both N and S • Revolutionary ferment led to growing discomfort – Large slave-owners like Washington and Jefferson expressed hope for the institution’s eventual demise – Some southern states made it easier to free slaves • Spate of manumissions, esp. in Upper South – Formation of abolitionist societies, including in the Upper South – Some southern states banned or heavily taxed in the international slave trade – In the North: By 1804, all states except Delaware had either banned slavery or provided for its gradual extinction
  17. 17. Constitution/founders on slavery • First of a series of sectional compromises on slavery • Fugitive slave clause • 3/5ths clause – Slave counted as 3/5ths a person for representation & taxation – Allows slaveholding states greater power in the House – Makes the votes of white southerners worth more • Contributes to the idea of “Slave Power” • Allows for the banning of the international slave trade • Also in 1787, passage of Northwest Ordinance – Establishes precedent of containment; banning slavery in some areas
  18. 18. What did the founders intend? • Secessionists argued that they were preserving the founders’ legacy – Founders included Constitutional guarantees for slavery – Many owned slaves themselves – Example: South Carolina’s Ordinance of Secession • North disputed this – Founders thought slavery was a dying institution – Often spoke of its corrupting influence – Northwest Ordinance
  19. 19. Rapid expansion of slavery • Profitability • Cotton revolution – Growing European demand for cotton – Cotton gin – By 1850s, US South providing 70% of world’s cotton • By 1860, cotton accounted for 58% of US exports • Gave South a feeling of invincibility; “Cotton is King” – Led to huge westward migration • 50% of slaves in the upper South forced to move • Example: Jefferson Davis – Made many people rich, in North as well as South • Northern textile mills most directly • But cotton profits also fueling banking, insurance, shipping— all based in the North
  20. 20. Expansion of slavery
  21. 21. Cotton exports as a percentage of all US exports
  22. 22. War’s coming, course & consequences • We will focus not just on the war years (1861- 65) • 1850 to 1877 • Why start in 1850? – Somewhat arbitrary; could start much earlier – Compromise of 1850 • Why end in 1877? – Contested presidential election – Withdrawal of Union troops from the South
  23. 23. The course • Readings all on reserve: access code RP112 – Print out and create your own reader • Class time: Mix of lecture and discussion – Can always raise your hand to ask questions • Requirements – Low stakes quizzes; short paper; in-class MT; final • NO electronics