A Different Outcome

The movie Confederate States of America was extremely interesting to watch. The movie started out with typical Southern music playing, and I knew I was in for an extremely biased and racist movie. That is just my perception though, because I am used to way of life we live now. If the Confederates won, we all would probably have had different thoughts regarding slavery today.

One big thing that struck me was the portrayal of Lincoln. Lincoln to us is one of the best presidents, who won the Civil War, brought the Union back together, and ended slavery. He is very well respected, and even called “Honest Abe.” In this movie, it is the opposite. Lincoln is seen as a coward, losing the war, and tries to escape to Canada through Harriet Tubman. He is disguised in blackface, and when he is caught, pretends to be a slave. He becomes a prisoner of war, and is sent to Canada for exile. This perception of him really irked me because even if he did lose, I don’t think he would have done all of this. I think Lincoln should have gotten more respect than this portrayal.

Another interesting part of this movie was that they outlawed every religion except Christianity(included Catholicism) and wanted the Jews to leave. This strictly goes against the right to have freedom of religion, and if this actually happened, would lead to less diversity today. America is prided on the fact that it welcomes all different types of people who practice different religions, and I believe there is beauty in that. I am a Christian, but I do not believe that it should be the national religion. That is almost like taking a step towards communism.

Another important difference was the aggressive nature of the military. In this movie, the C.S.A. believed strongly in manifest destiny, and wanted to expand their empire into Mexico, Cuba, and other Caribbean islands. Also, they bombed Japan first, and basically started a war. Everything was on the offensive in this movie depiction, which I don’t think is right. They also had a Cold War with Canada, and even created a wall. They partially agreed with the Nazis, and did not fight against them.

Because of all these events that occurred, I believe if the Confederates won the war, America would have never progressed. It was 1980, and woman still did not have the right to vote. Slavery was still widespread, and Canada was beating America out in many different ways. If the Union had not won, I do believe that America would not have been seen as the good guys, like we are today. We would still be a racist, slave filled society that is caught up in the past, and not progressing towards the future. As my classmate said “We see the Civil War today as the war that freed the slaves, an almost necessary evil that killed hundreds of thousands but ended the system of slavery.” The thing is, if the Confederates won, would all those deaths be worth it? Nothing really changed, and the system was back to its primitive ways.

The American Civil War Not Initially an Abolitionist War

In chapter 15 of Inhuman Bondage, Davis discusses the death and destruction the American Civil War caused, providing the reader with statistics that are very difficult to grasp. As the author of “A Bloody War” mentions, “both sides of the war lost so many men, with the number of casualties over 600,000.” Poorly maintained prisoner-of-war camps, unwarranted executions of these prisoners, and warfare-related casualties all contributed to these staggering numbers and Davis does a great job of explaining that neither side deserved more blame than the other; the Civil War was one of especial deep-seated hatred and both sides were willing to do whatever it took to win the war. Nevertheless, Davis reiterates the claims of many American historians and abolitionists by maintaining that the Civil War was a “necessary and good war.” In addition to resulting in the emancipation of four million slaves, he explains that “the war led to the nation’s first civil rights legislation and to constitutional amendments that extended to blacks full citizenship and equality before the law as well as the right to vote (for adult black males).”

However, as Davis mentions, the American Civil War was not always an “abolitionist war.” He notes that in 1862, Washington politicians and even Lincoln himself, knew that fighting this kind of war would be impossible as “any radical policy against slavery would alienate not only Unionists in the secessionist South but also supporters of the Union in the absolutely crucial slaveholding border states.” In fact, when General Fremont proclaimed the emancipation of slaves in Missouri, Lincoln overruled this order in order to protect his executive authority and more importantly, to appeal to the border states of Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, and eventually West Virginia. Lincoln explained why he believed it was necessary to maintain the support of the border states early in the war: “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we can not hold Missouri, nor, I think, Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us. We would as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of this capitol.” Although Lincoln identified slavery as the cause of the nation’s problems at this time, it is no wonder why he adopted a more conservative stance early in the war – there was no chance of the Union winning an abolitionist war.

Eventually, Lincoln became more radical and on January 1, 1863, publicly issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which successfully liberated all slaves in the states that were still in rebellion. Davis ultimately does a wonderful job at once again revealing the complexities that are rarely talked about in American history. He presents the issues Lincoln was dealing with and successfully explains the president’s hesitancy at making the Civil War an abolitionist war in the first couple years of the conflict. My only complaint with Davis’ account is the lack of clarity he exhibits when describing the turning point in Lincoln’s agenda. Davis explains that Lincoln came to the conclusion “that it was a military necessity absolutely essential to the salvation of the Union” to free the slaves on July 13, 1862, but in my opinion, he does not do it clearly enough.

Southern Resilience

While no side of a war wants to concede defeat, the Confederacy seemed particularly resistant to a Union victory, especially towards the end of the war. Though we have been taught of the importance of slavery to Southern livelihood, Davis in Chapter 15 of Inhuman Bondage further explores Southern dependence on slavery. He emphasizes that “few wars in human history have led to such a radical outcome as the liberation of some four million slaves” (Davis 298). He quantifies that the modern comparison of the South losing slavery would be the United States’ GNP falling by “an estimated $9.75 trillion” (298). Even the North expressed concern that Southern defeat “would spark European intervention in order to protect the crucial supply of cotton” (314). As noted in “Great Britain’s Impact on the Politics of Slavery in the United States,” the South observed the effect of slave emancipation in Jamaica, which severely diminished the country’s production of valuable crops. With this background in mind, it becomes clear why the South pragmatically fought for slavery; without it, their economy would fail.

The do-or-die mentality of Southern leaders altered the Civil War. President Lincoln recognized Southern dependence on slavery, and he even lamented that “if all early power given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution [of slavery]” (306). This observation necessitated the Union approach Southern defeat with caution. Likewise, the South exhausted all resources in attempt to emerge victorious. The Confederacy lost over 260,000 soldiers, which “represented 18 to 20 percent of the Confederate states’ white adult male population” (300). More importantly, the South significantly expanded the powers of its central government. Davis observes, “In both North and South the central governments assumed unprecedented powers, typified by the military draft, which was first inaugurated by the South” (301). The Confederacy viewed the loss of resources and change in governmental power as necessary by the Confederacy in an attempt to win the Civil War-a war that they knew would have vast ramifications on their economy and life.

Reconstruction/ memory

In Chapter 15 of Inhuman Bondage, Davis discusses the ultimate events of the civil war and what they meant, and also what the entire war itself meant for the Union, the Confederacy, and the United Sates as a whole. He talks about how “the Civil War was an apocalyptic success in the sense that it brought an end to nearly a century of struggle and broken hopes regarding the ultimate extinction of African America Slavery” (Davis 299). As well as the success, the war also represented a major conflict in America; it showed the weakness and inefficiency of the American political and economic system. It showed that the nation had to go through war and hardship, causing many deaths of soldiers and civilians on both sides, in order to come to a resolution. After the war, the US had to reconstruct its economic system due to the freeing of all the slaves and necessity for more jobs and positions to be filled.

Obviously everything wasn’t completely fixed after the war; the southern slave owners deeply feared that their former slaves would retaliate viciously. The reconstruction of The United States depended on the North establishing compatibility with the South again to make decisions as one nation, especially those decisions regarding race issues.

As Emily mentions in her blog post, this war was the most devastating war in American history, yet its hard to think it wasn’t necessary. This is quite the staggering question; was a war this devastating necessary to force an end to slavery and the conflicts between the North and the South? Especially in such a young nation, growing and changing so rapidly that it was still finding its identity. In my opinion, that is the most devastating part of the war, that such a tragic war was necessary in the continuance of a young nation.

This reading was very interesting in that it covered the aspects of each side’s reactions to the war, and how that would affect the near and distant future of the nation. I liked the way Davis represented the importance of America’s reconstruction, and how, even after the war was over, it was still very crucial that the North and South come together as one nation again.

Not so Civil War

As Emily noted in her post, The Civil war is one that everyone knows about, but not in detail. One of the things that might get overlooked about the civil war is how deadly it was on the whole. As we learned in class, many northern people died, and in the south 1/3rd of all the men were killed in war time. If the alarming numbers of the Civil War do not impact us, the qualitative side of things surely should. Davis talks about how much hate there was on both sides of the war–to the point of inhuman acts. For example he notes that there were some, “Confederate women who wore the teeth of dead Yankee soldiers.” These were the kinds of things that were going on on both sides.

What was more intriguing, though, was Davis’ illumination of how the people who lived during the war thought about it at the time. One aspect of the War that seemed both interesting, and a little bit confusing, to me was the religiousness that people assigned  to it. Davids talks about the writings of a girl named Josephine Shaw Lowell, who looked at the war as a means of showing Americans that ‘riches, luxury and comfort are not the great end of life’. From this reasoning Josephine, and others looked at the war as a ‘direct work of God’. People, including Abe Lincoln himself, Believed that this War, despite how terrible it was, was serving as a part of the Christian God’s plan. There are to ways to look at this. One is that there were people taking a positive away from such a negative and devastating experience. The other is that religion at the time had such a stronghold on peoples lives, that even  a war (something that is violent and therefore fundamentally violates the religious doctrine of the day) that was not based in religion, can be ascribed these religious tones and assignments. In this light, people on either side of the war can believe that their cause is “God’s cause”. These are both fascinating, and frightening realizations.

A Bloody War

In the last chapter of Inhuman Bondage, Davis discusses the Civil War and the process of emancipation.  Throughout the chapter, he talks in detail about the social and political battles during the war, and the feelings and emotions of each side as the war continued.  Although I already knew that the American Civil War was the bloodiest American war to date, I did not fully realize the extent of this statement.  Davis brings up the question, “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?” (page 300).  Both sides of the war lost so many men, with the number of casualties over 600,000.  Disease contributed heavily to these numbers, as they were overcrowded and had poor sanitation.  Execution of prisoners of war was a surprising contributor to the death toll.  I did not realized that both sides killed prisoners of war, like at Fort Pillow when the Confederate government massacred all of the black Union soldiers.  Events like this show the deep-seated hatred on both sides of the war, and how either side was willing to take the next step in order to win.

Davis further discusses this idea of doing anything to win when he addresses how both sides expanded government power during the war.  Both sides installed a draft to increase their army’s numbers, and the Union also started issuing bonds, printed more money, and started taxing income.

We see the Civil War today as the war that freed the slaves, an almost necessary evil that killed hundreds of thousands but ended the system of slavery.  Davis highlights how this war devastated the country through the hundreds of thousands of deaths and the devastation of the land and plantations in the South.  Although we will never know if slavery would have or could have ended without a war, the American Civil War still stands to be the bloodiest event in American history.  The last few sentences of this chapter and book wrap up the Civil War by reminding us that the Civil War is our past, and that sometimes if takes a struggle to have greater equality and justice in the world.

The Iliad of Southerners’ Woes

Although many secessionist leaders denied it in the decades after the American Civil War, the institution of slavery was undoubtedly the cause of the conflict that left the United States divided in the 1860s. Identifying these self-justifying denials as the reason for one of the greatest falsifications in American history, Sean Wilentz attempts to set the record straight, claiming that Southern secession was directly related to slavery. By referencing the state secession conventions of 1860 and 1861, he justifies his assertion. According to Wilentz, the conventions clearly identified the attacks on slavery by the northern democracy as the fundamental issue of their secession; he mentions that even cooperationists agreed with this, quoting a moderate Alabama delegate who recognized the fight to extend slavery as “the Iliad of all our woes.” Wilentz continues, contending that “nothing could disguise the Confederacy’s overriding purpose, dear to Rhettist aristocrats and southern Master Race democrats alike: to create a republican government formally based on racial slavery.”

In addition to targeting slavery as the main cause of Southern secession, Wilentz maintains that slavery also served as “the highest good that united the secessionist cause.” He notes how “ the secessionists propagandized the interests of both slaveholders and nonslaveholders as… identical” in order to strengthen the secessionist movement and cites prominent editor James De Bow who acknowledged that although there were a great number of nonslaveholders, they directly benefitted from the institution of slavery. In addition to benefitting them economically, slavery also had the potential to benefit them socially as purchasing slaves signified upward mobility in the South. Therefore, it made sense for nonslaveholders to support the secessionists in order to protect their own interests. As the author of “The South Gaining Support” mentions, the secessionists also attempted to unify their cause by appealing to the nonslaveholders’ “white supremacist pride and fears.” Immediate emancipation would mean a shameful submission by slaveholders and nonslaveholders alike. The ultimate result was a strong sense of nationalism in the South. As Wilentz notes, “throughout the lower South, men dressed in uniforms and waving flags of various designs volunteered to fight for a nation that did not yet exist.”

Overall, Wilentz does a great job at uncovering the true cause of the American Civil War and justifying his assertion. He combats the denials of secessionist leaders by turning to the declarations of the secession conventions. Furthermore, Wilentz makes a strong argument as to how the South became so unified. Slavery was clearly the Iliad of Southerners’ Woes.

Sectionalism on the Rise

In chapter 23 of The Rise of American Democracy, Wilentz effectively covers the synthesis of legal cases occurring under the judicial supremacy of justices like Roger B. Taney and four other Democratic justices in the Supreme Court.  Dred Scott v. Sanford quickly became emblematic of the rising sectionalism in America along pro and anti slavery lines, which saw a geographical divide between the north and south.

This reading also touched upon the rise in judicial supremacy, exercised by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney.  Like Emily mentions in her post, I did not know how comprehensive the decision of Dred Scott v. Sanford was in synthesizing many different pieces of legislation and behind-the-scenes players including the Missouri Compromise and President Buchanan.  As Wilentz develops in his coverage the Supreme Court case, there were pervasive political and sectional undertones to the debate on the issues central to the decision facing Taney and fellow justices, mainly:

  1. Were Dred Scott and other black Americans legal citizen of Missouri and the United States, thus allowing them to bring a case to court?
  2. Was the Missouri Compromise in danger of violating the Constitution by prohibiting slavery north of the 36′ 30″ line?
  3. Did previously enslaved peoples gain freedom by living in a free state for a longer period of time?

Emma touches on the growing sectionalism at the time based upon differing opinions on superior economic practices.  Political figures like Stephen Douglas and President Buchanan further polarized the growing divide between the north and south, which as many posts have alluded to, set up for the tensions calling for war.


We Know that Already, Don’t We

In his post on ask a slave, Willie mentioned how many Americans today live under a veil of ignorance that blurs the facts of history. This is something that everyone is guilty of. In his post Willie talked about current day America’s ignorance of certain aspects of slavery. In this post, I want to explore the ignorance that surrounds immigrants in United States History. Many descendants of immigrants today would be considered white. Today, I would say that a person of Irish lineage is a white american, and thereby would benefit from what we today call white privilage. While this claim is general, it is something that I have perceived to be true. This view disregards the fact that there was a point in America’s history Irish people were othered as well. This is something that Barrett and Roediger touch upon in their essay, “Inbetween Peoples: Race, Nationality and the ‘New Immigrant’ Working Class”. Barrett and Roediger note that even between generations, there was a distinct change in how the rest of white america and the immigrants themselves viewed their status in society based on race. They note, in reference to the first generation immigrants, that “Most did not arrive with Conventional United States attitudes regarding ‘racial’ difference, let alone its significance and implications in the context of industrial America.” But as with many other new groups introduced to the “American” culture, including Native Americans, and African Americans, there was an attempt to racialize them. This is where Barrett and Roediger’s theory of inbetweeness is important. They assert that there was actually no definitive way to categorize immigrants when it came to race, this led to an intensely complex racial identity among immigrants themselves and it complicated the history of thier racialization. They were absolutely othered by already “americans” but at the same time came to hold a position in society different than that of slaves (which was different than that of Native peoples). This is the kind of thinking that is not applied when we as Americans think of our History–but it is a mode of thinking that is so necessary to understand where we have been as a country and why we are where we are today in terms of race relations.

The Untold Stories

In chapters 23 to 25 of The Rise of American Democracy, Wilentz continues to provide the somewhat unknown side of American history leading up to the Civil War.  Although I sometimes find Wilentz to be a very dense writer, I like his introductions to important events in the United States history that go unspoken in earlier history classes.

The Dred Scott v. Sanford is an important Supreme Court case that is always mentioned when learning about the Civil War, but Wilentz takes the case into detail, showing how the case inflamed party and geographical lines.  While I knew that the Dred Scott case was an important event in the lead-up to the Civil War, I did not know how it called into question the Missouri Compromise or President Buchanan’s role in the case.

Wilentz’s discussion of John Brown in chapter 24 is another event I did not realize had as large as an impact during this time before reading this chapter.  As Kurt talks about in his blog post, this event is not commonly discussed at length while study before the Civil War, although having now read this chapter, I believe that Brown’s raid is a crucial part of American history.  John Brown attempted to rally slaves to arm them to fight against slaveholders in Harper’s Ferry.  Although unsuccessful and later charged with treason, Brown realized the need for a violent resurrection in order to free the slaves.  The violence of Harper’s Ferry shocked the country, sending the South into defensive mode to protect against more abolitionist fights but empowering northern abolitionists who believed he had the right intentions but the wrong way of going about abolitionism.

Wilentz’s detailed discussion of these two events gave a deeper insight into the time period before the start of the Civil War.  I hope that Wilentz continues to write about the surrounding details of important events in United States history as he moves into the Civil War.