The “Apocalyptic Success” of the Civil War

I found the most compelling aspect of the final chapter of “Inhuman Bondage” to be the vocabulary Davis used to describe the rationale behind both the Union’s and the Confederate’s wartime decisions. Davis successfully indicated the dangerous rhetoric used during the Civil War while simultaneously eliciting modern comparisons. For example, on page 302 Davis states, “Northerners repeatedly heard the argument that the war offered a transcendent opportunity for purification…” Furthermore, he quotes a Northerner named Josephine Shaw Lowell saying that “this war will purify the country” (302). Although we as readers can be confident that Davis is obviously not a proponent of slavery, this highlighting of dangerous, somewhat propaganda-reminiscent vocabulary used especially by the North may suggest that Davis is attempting to give a fuller picture of the logic of the Civil War rather than just political differences or pro-slavery versus anti-slavery. Davis clearly prefers to view the Civil War from an international perspective (perhaps to be less biased). As Matt said in his post, “the issue of “who” initiated conflict is also of some concern”–this preference is evidenced in that Davis questions all involved in the war, from Lincoln to confederate soldiers. He asks, “Why was it that a democratic nation that prided itself on rational moderation, peace, common sense, expediency, and compromise became the scene of the world’s first “modern” war, pursued by the North until its armies achieved unconditional victory, totally crushing the South?” (300). Again, we as readers have no reason to question that Davis didn’t support abolition, but it is clear that he is only sympathetic to the logical decision, and not the unnecessary psychological and physical destruction that occurred–no matter which side initiated it.

“The War of Northern Aggression” – Victimizing the Challengers

Today’s class discussion sparked several interesting dialogues, which I think warrant further debate. Hopefully the blog will help spur continued discourse.

First and foremost I’d like to address the issue of “renaming” the Civil War. As a northerner, I have never encountered, or even considered the need for, alternative names for the Civil War. Thus, as it would appear, the need to rename the conflict stems largely from lingering southern anxieties about what motivated secession. While many affirm that the Civil War was primarily an economic conflict, the dissent concerning slavery and blatant, unfettered racism is undeniable.

There seems to be a stigma in the South to retain a sense of pride for one’s ancestors and heritage. While such sentiments are honorable and often warranted, it is surprising that we continually whitewash history, rather than accepting past mistakes. I understand that this opinion is controversial – I intend it to be – but history cannot be represented accurately until we detach ourselves from previous biases that, by and large, were wholly misinformed.

That being said, many argued in class that southerners should not be reprimanded for protecting their economic livelihood. In fact, Evan observed in his recent blog post that southerners could not come to terms with the end of the war because of emancipation’s economic impact. While there is some validity to such thought, I would argue that southern industrialization was inevitable. In fact, one could even make the case (and many have) that the idea of “holding onto southern tradition” was unsustainable and would have floundered regardless of the war.

Finally, the issue of “who” initiated conflict is also of some concern. While there is certainly fault to be had on both sides, the act of determining blame is largely unnecessary if we are to accurately represent history. Lincoln stimulated conflict by supporting troops, while southerners fired the first shots – such discourse is arbitrary save for establishing a concrete timeline. That being said, the question of whether or not secession is unconstitutional is of some interest. Because there is no method for seceding from the Union – as intended by the Founders – any extrapolation or deviation from established processes is unconstitutional. Although this idea goes against my belief that the Constitution is a living, changing document, such a radical break clearly exemplifies unconstitutionality.

As evidenced by class discussion, the repercussions of the Civil War  are still felt today. Not unexpectedly, the most violent conflict  in the U.S. still fuels passions – and will continue to for generations.

The Lost Meaning

In Davis’ coverage of the Civil War and its aftermath, the shift away from acknowledging slavery as the causation of the war struck me the most.  At the outset, the war undoubtably resulted from the South reacting to preserve its lucrative institution.  In the years following, southerners abandoned this and focused on the alleged peaceful, harmonious antebellum South.   Davis’ claim that, “slavery was ‘in no wise the cause of the conflict, but only an incident'” (Davis 304), revealed the ridiculous reversal of Southerners following the war.  Sadly, racism allowed for this rhetoric to persist, and Americans “struggled to preserve the revolutionary or ’emancipationist’ meaning of the Civil War” (305).

Davis began by describing incredible elation of the freed slaves and followed that by detailing the unfortunate lack of consideration they experienced after the war.  This framework really drove home how Americans suppressed a lot of the revolutionary aspects of the war.  JANEWTON wrote, “Another reason it was deemed a good war is that the North didn’t unleash ‘full vengeance’ on the states that had seceded and kept blacks from taking over parts of the south” (http://sites.davidson.edu/his141/author/janewton/).  While the North’s forgivingness aided the peaceful reconciliation between the sections, its “willingness to give Southern whites a free hand in defining and presiding over all racial policies” (Davis 300), substantially reduced blacks’ roles in society for decades.

When Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, he made the war one against slavery and racial inequality.  Unfortunately, this meaning lost influence during the years following the war.  Racism permeated the entire country, and the majority of whites were unready to coexist with such a large population of free blacks.  Nonetheless, I found it remarkable that such strong tensions and hatred existed in this country for so long after such a revolutionary war.

After the Civil War

The end of the Civil War brought about a new type of America. Although the war was still fresh in everyone’s minds, citizens, particularly of the North, tried to look past that and rebuild their country. It is important to note that many people in the South were unhappy with the way the war ended and thus still did not full support the United States. JANEWTON notes how Davis mentions that t the country came to terms with the end of the civil war. While this may be the case in the North and in the middle states, most members of the deep South most likely felt otherwise. Imagine having your entire livelihood taken away from you, your main source of income gone. For many in the South the ending of the war and the emancipation of enslaved people was not something they could come to terms with. In my studies in previous years I learned how guerrilla warfare continued in states like Missouri and Kansas, where there were both Confederate and Union sympathizers. Most of these altercations were instigated by angry ex-Confederates so I think to say that the entire nation was at peace with the end of the war would be misguided.

I do think however that the end of the war went better than it could have. Despite some angry southerners, people seemed to to adjust well to this new slaveless nation. Additionally, and rightfully so, President Lincoln came out looking like a hero to all people of the North and formerly enslaved people. The South was also in slightly better spirits after the war because the North was somewhat merciful in their victory. As a clever way to appease some southerners, the North allowed the South to rebuild and create sort of a new identity. This worked to keep relations between the two regions peaceful. This sort of liberty and trust that the North afforded the South after the war was responsible for keeping the South content and as a result could be a reason why the South did not act against the Union again.

The Last Post

Chapter 15 of David Davis’ Inhuman Bondage was a fitting ending for the course. Beginning with colonization and continuing all the way to the end of the syllabus, the content of this course seemed to largely revolve around the economic and moral implications of slavery. In the colonial days, slavery and indentured servants were imperative to the success of early settlements, but as time progressed, the issue of human bondage became more problematic, leading to the immense differences between free northern states and southern slave states. Davis (and ROMANGONE’s blog post) describes the Civil War as a revolutionary change in American society, with the emancipation of slavery dramatically altering the entire infrastructure of the south. Davis’ remarks on the size of the slave industry also shocked me. He stated that the “slaves’ value came to an estimated $3.5 billion in 1860 dollars … about $68.4 billion in 2003 dollars” (Davis, 298) and that “as a share of today’s gross national product, the slaves’ value would come to an estimated $9.7 trillion” (Davis, 298). The abrupt elimination of this massive economic system can only be described as one word: revolutionary.

The advent of the Civil War clearly marked the beginning of a new era of America, both culturally and politically, but also marked the beginning of a new era of warfare. Davis remarks that the Civil War was the “first [time] trench warfare and ultimately the first booby traps, the first rapid-firing Gatling guns and also self-igniting shells that showered soldiers with pieces of deadly shrapnel” (Davis, 301) were used in battle. All of these inventions were far removed from the bayonet and horse warfare of previous conflicts and eventually became the signifier of future total wars. The numbers during the conflict also reflect that of a total war, with “mobilized armed forces of about 2.1 million” (Davis, 300) with 620,000 military deaths, 260,000 of which were confederate soldiers (Davis, 300). In history class in high school, I was taught that World War I was the first total war, but after evaluating the Civil War, I believe a case can be made that the Civil War was in fact the first total war due to the number of deaths and advanced methods of fighting.

When Davis talks about the “Blue and Gray veterans l[eading] the way in focusing public attention on the minute details of each battle” (Davis, 305), I am reminded of the veterans I have met and the impact warfare had on their lives, as they too are able to recite in great detail the specific details of the conflicts they were engaged in. I am also reminded of my southern friends I have met at Davidson, and how all of them seem to have a “Civil War story.” Clearly the impact of the Civil War still holds an immense presence over American culture today.

Effects of the Civil War

In Chapter 15 of Inhuman Bondage, David Davis writes about the Civil War and describes the lasting impact it had on the United States. The most interesting aspect of Davis’ writing in this chapter, was to me, how the country came to terms with the war after it was over. With the North winning, slavery was effectively finished in the U.S. and President Lincoln was heralded as a hero. Davis gives an example of an African American man kneeling to the President during an instance of slaves being freed. Lincoln responded by telling the man “don’t kneel to me”(298). This is the type of characterization of Lincoln that I have come to expect. He is often portrayed as a beacon of moral superiority and hero of sorts. Davis writing in this section is consistent with that narrative.  Another interesting aspect of the chapter was how the North was able to keep the Civil War deemed a “good war” (299) by not decimating the south after it was over. This is in part because it was necessary in keeping the country together. Robbie Mangone discusses this more in his blog post (http://sites.davidson.edu/his141/a-necessary-evil/). In addition, Davis says that another reason it was deemed a good war is that the North didn’t unleash “full vengeance” on the states that had seceded and kept blacks from taking over parts of the south. He also goes on to explain that the North allowed the south to essentially recreate their own identity after the war was over which was huge in keeping tensions between the North and South at a minimum. This is something I hadn’t ever considered before. After a war of that magnitude, it is safe to assume that the South had deep-seated feelings of resentment and hatred for the North. Northerners had to act delicately in order to restore the country to where it needed to be. It was tremendously important that they handled the situation this way and I like that Davis included this in his writing.

Another important point Davis brings up in his writing is the shrewdness of President Lincoln during the war. He describes the President as “keenly aware” (309) of how delicate the issue of slavery still was during the war. The President was sure to act carefully and made sure that his Emancipation Proclamation did not include slaves from Union states like Maryland. This turned out to be a brilliant tactical move, helping the North assure victory. I think Davis did a very nice job throughout the chapter of characterizing the President, describing his impact on the outcome of the war and explaining exactly how significant this war was on the development of the country.

A Necessary Evil

The Civil War is often seen as a terrible tragedy in American History, but Davis raises valuable points about the importance of the Civil War. It was a revolution of such great magnitude that it had never been seen before in America. The country was so divided on the issue of slavery and the states rights when it came to slavery that the only way they would reach a quick and decisive decision was through a war or crisis such as this. “Given the economic growth and vitality of Southern slavery in 1860, it is difficult to imagine any other historical scenario that would have led to full and universal slave emancipation in the nineteenth or even early twentieth century.” (Davis 299) In his post WIROBERTSON said that “The North seemed much more open to compromise” but I think in reality neither side was willing to compromise. The North was eventually just going to keep pushing and pushing for more and more. The South was scared to give anything because they didn’t want their rights infringed on. They knew that the North wasn’t going to just stop with limiting slavery. They heard the talk all around the country and saw that it was growing more and more radical with every passing decade. The sides were just too far apart to reach a solution, so it took the destruction of one side for a decision to be made. The South was strong and its economy, which was reliant on slaves, was an essential part of the American economy as a whole.

The aftermath led to controversy even though the issue of slavery had been decided once and for all. Some blamed the blacks for what had happened. (Davis 299) Others marginalized the issues and focused more on the specifics of the war. They didn’t want to focus on the overarching questions that had divided the country.

The Teapot Boils: The Inevitable Breakdown

In the final chapter, Wilentz details the final motions as the tensions that had long been building break out in civil war. As AJBEANE says, there had been many attempts to reduce the tension and prevent a civil war, but the fundamental problem was never addressed, and so, looking back, it is clear that the war was inevitable. Lincoln’s election proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, as, despite his vowed intention to not touch slavery where it already was the law, Southern Slave owners were terrified that Lincoln intended to deprive them of their “property.” With the election of Lincoln, and the secession of South Carolina, it would prove only a matter of time before most of the Southern slave-holding states would follow suit. For a time it was thought that, perhaps, the states which had seceded could be cajoled back into the union, but with the fundamental issue still looming, such attempts would prove doomed to failure, and civil war became a certainty.

Fort Sumter is where it became apparent that there would be, must be, war. Initially Wilentz points out that some believed that Fort Sumter could be given up to cool secessionists tempers, and perhaps aid in bringing the secessionists back into the union and preventing more states from seceding. But the political climate insured that such thoughts proved only wishful thinking as it seemed that to give up Fort Sumter without a fight would be a sign of weakness. With the union being unwilling to surrender Fort Sumter, the newly formed confederacy could not stand allowing a hostile fort to remain in such a strategic location, and thus attacked it and set off the final spark to set the civil war fully ablaze.

The Election of 1860 and a Nation in Disarray

In this section of The Rise of American Democracy, Wilentz discusses the events leading up to the election of 1860, the election itself, and the consequences of the crucial election.
One theme of this week’s readings that interested me was the South or Slaveholder’s increased confidence in secession or the threat of secession as the solution to nearly all political problems. For example, a movement in the late 1850s to reopen the slave trade attracted support from many prominent southern politicians. The politicians claimed that such an action would make slavery a much more efficient and profitable industry. However, Northern politicians and abolitionists rejected the idea of reopening the slave trade in America or satisfying the demand for a “federal slave code” in the United States. Unhappy Southern leaders like Barnwell Rhett and William Yancey began to declare that the South would secede from the Union if their desired legislation failed to be approved. In addition to issues like slave trade or the federal slave code, Southern politicians like Stephen A. Douglas were able to spread the belief that the South would secede if Abraham Lincoln won the Presidential election of 1860. Although the South did not end up leaving the Union until Lincoln was elected, the constant threat of dissolving the nation posed by the South struck fear and uneasiness in Northern politicians and citizens for years.
Another aspect of the reading that grabbed my attention was the way Wilentz portrays Lincoln’s rise to political prominence and the events of the election of 1860. At first, Wilentz depicts Lincoln as a name merely thrown into the conversation for the Republican nomination in order to defeat the “tainted” Seward and his “loyal wire-puller” Weed (Wilentz, 431). However, he builds up Lincoln’s political savvy and ability as a public speaker and ultimately portrays him as a pristine presidential candidate. Wilentz also illustrated how Lincoln’s “brilliant” political strategy to win the Republican nomination had worked almost flawlessly. Also, Wilentz introduced Lincoln to the audience as a talented underdog with an outside shot of winning the nomination, but as the election heats up Wilentz frames Lincoln into an unstoppable political force destined for the White House.
Lastly, I would like to comment on the debate of whether or not the election of Abraham Lincoln as the 16th President of the United States directly contributed to the immediate succession of the South. Although my classmate WIROBERTSON would disagree, I believe that the actions of Southern politicians (like Stephen A. Douglas) spread the fear of a Lincoln dominated White House among pro-slavery Americans and was a main cause of Southern secession. Once it became inevitable to slaveholders that Lincoln would become president, Lincoln’s political opponents worked to foster a “plot to stage a coup d’etat in November or December”, which eventually resulted in the secession of South Carolina in 1860 (Wilentz, 433).

The Inevitable Fracture

Wilentz makes a point to discuss how the institution of slavery caused a major fracture in the Union. He talks about how the “fire-eaters” led the charge of the South’s eventually succession, but it is important to note that there have been threats of succession for many decades leading up to this cataclysm.

Many attempts were made to curb the tension between the North and South. Such as the Democratic National Convention being held in Charleston instead of New York. They had hoped that this would seem like a gesture of goodwill but it had the opposite effect. The presence of the Northern politicians provoked the anger of the Southerns.The voting in this convention ended up in a standstill and forced a reschedule which managed to slightly delay the inevitable fracture. This political unrest in just choosing a candidate only exasperated the issue more.

Wilentz noted that Lincoln had high hopes that secessionists would fail because they had misinterpreted him. He hoped that the sensible people of the South would see through the extremists’ lies and remain members of the Union. Unfortunately, Lincoln’s election had the opposite effect. It turned Deep South moderates and even Unionists into Secessionists. The question soon became not whether or not to secede but when and how.

South Carolina was the first state to secede on December 20 soon followed by Mississippi, then Florida, and the rest of the southern states to Texas. There was a strong counteroffensive in the border states but that only managed to slow the process. With the South seceded the inevitable conflict was on the horizon.