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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 71

[ 54 ] February 19, 2017 |

This is the grave of Edward Everett.

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Born in 1794 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, Everett quickly rose into the ranks of the Boston elite. He was admitted to Harvard at the age of 13 and graduated as valedictorian at 17. He became a Unitarian minister and had his own church by 1813. He became known for his florid speeches, which some loved and some hated. He only lasted a year though before taking a job as a professor Greek literature at Harvard, a job which included a 2-year stint traveling around Europe. Unfortunately, professor jobs don’t come with such perks today. He spent a lot of that time in Germany, becoming one of the first Americans to want to transform American education on German lines, a trend that would continue until World War I made Germans the greatest enemies to civilization in known human history about three seconds after they were the heroes of men like Theodore Roosevelt. Anyway, Everett returned to the U.S. in 1819 and taught at Harvard. He also went on a lot of public speaking tours. He became close friends with Daniel Webster and they shared similar class and political interests.

In 1824, Everett moved into politics. He was elected to Congress as a National Republican associated with John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay. Harvard fired him when they found out he was elected to Congress. He served in Congress until 1835, where he was involved in the formation of the Whig Party and worked on foreign affairs. He had the typical political beliefs of a man like this–supportive of the national bank and high tariffs, opposed to Indian removal. However, in 1826, he gave a three-hour speech that digressed into justifying slavery. Many would never forgive him.

Still, in 1835, he was elected to be governor of Massachusetts. There he founded the state board of education, worked on expanding railroads and other industry, and played an active role in settling the boundary dispute between Maine and New Brunswick. However, he lost reelection in 1838 due to a combination of the Liberty Party drawing third party votes away from the Whigs and throwing the election to the Democrats (gee, I wonder if third party advocates learned from this?) and new temperance bill angering the public. Everett was named Ambassador to Britain after William Henry Harrison won the presidency in 1840. He stayed in the job until Polk took the Oval Office in 1845.

Everett then briefly became president of Harvard, hated it, and jumped at the chance to take over as Secretary of State after Daniel Webster’s death in 1852. It was only the last months of the Fillmore administration, but it was still a feather in his cap. He then was elected to the Senate in 1853. When he missed a critical vote on the Kansas-Nebraska Act, antislavery forces in Massachusetts were disgusted and Everett resigned in 1854.

Everett spent the rest of his life traveling around the country, giving his long-winded speeches. He was named the vice-presidential candidate of Constitutional Union candidate John Bell in 1860, but he basically didn’t care and didn’t do anything to campaign. Remaining a conservative Whig, he was deeply involved in the attempt to create the Crittenden Compromise, which Lincoln completely rejected.

Of course, what Everett is really known for his going on like Texas in the ceremony to commemorate the Gettysburg battlefield. In a 2-hour speech, he made all sorts of comparisons to ancient history and called for reconciliation. Then Abraham Lincoln walked up and blew him off the stage in 2 minutes. Everett himself was not bitter about this, knowing the greatness of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and he served as an elector for Lincoln in 1864. Everett died in 1865 after catching a cold giving yet another speech, not resting, and then testifying for 3 hours in a lawsuit about his property.

Everett has been portrayed in movies and TV more than you would think. He was played by Gordon Hart in a 1939 short called Lincoln in the White House. José Ferrer portrayed him in the 1991 TV movie about the Gettysburg Address titled The Perfect Tribute. David Francis played him in a 1999 TV movie about P.T. Barnum. In Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies, a 2012 work of transcendent art, he was played by David Alexander. And Ed Asner was the voice of Everett in a new documentary on the Gettysburg Address that appeared last year.

Edward Everett is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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This Day in Labor History: November 7, 1861

[ 19 ] November 7, 2016 |

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On November 7, 1861, the U.S. Army occupied the South Carolina sea islands. Suddenly having to deal with the existence of thousands of slaves with no masters, the military engaged in what became known as the Port Royal Experiment. This precursor to Reconstruction is an important moment in American history, one that proved to skeptical whites that blacks would work without slavery and one that demonstrated the very real limits even for abolitionists in thinking about the post-slavery future in the South.

It’s a little hard to imagine the debates about black work in 1861. The idea that African-Americans were inherently lesser than whites was so ingrained, it was a real and open question in the North whether black people would work without white supervision. In part, this is what the Port Royal Experiment was about. What would black people do on the cotton farms without their masters? Moreover, the North really needed the cotton. It’s own textile factories had suddenly lost their raw supplies when the Civil War began and the U.S. had lost one of its leading export products to Britain, which Lincoln desperately hoped to keep out of the war. So a series of factors came together in South Carolina to create the need to figure out what a post-slave economy might look like.

By January 1862, the military was working with the black population to grow cotton for the army instead of for the slaveholders. General Thomas Sherman sent a request to the north for teachers to come and work with the slaves. The official beginning of the Port Royal Experiment was that April, when Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase appointed Boston attorney Edward Pierce to organize a relief effort and training program for the slaves that would include hospitals and schools and programs to allow the slaves to buy land and farm for themselves. By May, 53 missionaries and educators were on their way to South Carolina. The ex-slaves were employed in growing cotton for the wage of $1 for every 400 pounds they harvested. Edward Philbrick led the labor plan. He ended the slave system of gang labor, gave workers garden plots for themselves, and provided a variety of incentives for the workers. Ultimately, men like Philbrick wanted to implement the free labor ideology at the heart of the Republican Party in the South and teach it to the ex-slaves. As the government took over more plantations during the war, it began to implement Philbrick’s plan through its confiscated lands.

In 1863, President Lincoln built on this program by allowing for the limited confiscation of Confederate plantations and the division of the land among the slaves. Limited to 40,000 acres of abandoned plantations, most of the impact took place in the sea islands. The land was sold for $1.25 an acre. Although most African-Americans could not afford anything near this price, local freed slaves bought about 2000 acres of land with the money they could scrape together. Northern whites could also buy the land and did so, creating new plantations for themselves worked by paid laborers. The freed slaves also founded their first free town in South Carolina, Mitchelville, on Hilton Head Island. By 1865, it had 1500 residents. Largely these residents wanted to live away from white people, whether from the North or the South. They wanted freedom, autonomy, and independence to make their own decisions about life and work.

The government’s role in redistributing the land and taking care of the ex-slaves was, like much in the Civil War, deeply contradictory and filled with bureaucratic chaos. The soldiers under Sherman and the civilians sent down by Chase clashed constantly. The soldiers routinely beat and raped the slaves, stealing their food and their land. All of this outraged the missionaries and of course the freed slaves, but little was done, despite the official complaints. Congress never clarified what exactly should happen in the sea islands. Chase’s military men cared about getting the cotton in any way possible while his civilians wanted to teach citizenship to the ex-slaves. No cohesive plan ever developed and thus the success of the experiment was compromised from the beginning. The cotton did come, but not to the extent that it had before the war, in no small part because a lot of the ex-slaves did not want to grow cotton. A boll weevil epidemic also took a major toll on the crop. Philbrick himself believed the experiment a failure because the ex-slaves did not do precisely as he wanted them to do. He ended up selling off the plantation he had bought to the residents in small plots.

The Port Royal Experiment was tremendously successful in one way–it demonstrated to skeptical northerners that black people would work for themselves. Again, I recognize that this seems obviously self-evident but that was not the case in the early 1860s. Unfortunately by 1865, support for the redistribution of Confederate land to the ex-slaves had become very low throughout the North. Even among most Republicans and abolitionists, the sanctity of private property would be more important than economic redistribution. The suffrage became the key for abolitionists to lock in black rights, despite the fact that the first thing the ex-slaves wanted was access to land.

As for the land already redistributed in 1863, Andrew Johnson ordered it given back to the original white landowners in 1865, even after William Tecumseh Sherman had extended it through Field Order No. 15. The Port Royal Experiment came to a sad end. But not all of the land was claimed by the ex-owners and black landowning remained significant in the area well into the 20th century.

In the late 1930s, Sam Mitchell, one of the last remaining living people who lived through this told a Federal Writers Project interviewer, “I think slavery is just a murdering of the people. I think freedom been a great gift. I like my master and I guess he was as good to his slave as he could be, but I rather be free.”

The most complete historical discussion of the Port Royal Experiment is Willie Lee Rose, Rehearsal for Reconstruction, which I recommend.

This is the 198th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Treason in Defense of Abolitionism?

[ 131 ] November 1, 2016 |

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Richard Kreitner brings up the odd 1857 abolitionist convention in Worcester threatening secession as an avenue to asking tough questions of modern voters about the rhetoric of extremism running through American society. I hesitate to suggest this story has too much value for us today. First, the headline vastly overstates it. Even in 1857, hard core abolitionists like Garrison and Phillips were basically freaks that most people in the North still eschewed. William Lloyd Garrison had no political power to help move Massachusetts toward secession from the Slave Power. Second, it’s pushing the historical analogy envelope really far to create meaningful connections between this and Bernie or Bust rhetoric.

It is however worth remembering two points related to this. First, it’s remarkable just how shaky the entire existence of the nation was in the late 1850s and that the 1860-61 secession of the South was hardly the only moment where this was a serious consideration in the decade prior. Second, American political rhetoric and extremism is now more heated than it has been since the Civil War and that’s pretty scary. This is hardly the only time since then that radicalism has influenced American politics, as any student of American communism knows well. But those communists were actually pretty good Democratic Party voters in the Popular Front era, and we know that third parties never lead to anything in the United States. Never since the Civil War has the idea of even living under the regime of the other party been so distasteful on either side and certainly not since the Civil War has one party simply seen the other as inherently illegitimate to the point of creating a Constitutional crisis in order to stop opposition rule.

Not sure how we get through this. But I hope it happens with less violence than the last time.

What Do Trump Advisors Think About the Civil War?

[ 134 ] September 23, 2016 |

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OK, this is like shooting fish in a barrel. But still….

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is planning to the restrict the display of Confederate flags by “amend[ing] our policy to make clear that Confederate flags will not be displayed from any permanently fixed flagpole in a national cemetery at any time.”

As expressed in a letter written by Roger Walters, interim undersecretary for memorial affairs, “We are aware of the concerns of those who wish to see Confederate flags removed from public venues because they are perceived by many as a symbol of racial intolerance.”

Great! But this might not fit Trumpism:

But a recent vote indicated a majority of House Republicans oppose the VA’s attempt to restrict where and when the Stars and Bars can be displayed. So does Sid Miller, the Texas Agriculture Commissioner who was recently tapped to be Donald Trump’s national co-chairman of his agriculture advisory team.

In a Facebook post published Thursday, Miller suggests the Civil War was first and foremost about protecting free speech — not slavery. He also strikes a skeptical note about whether Confederates who fought against the United States behaved treasonously.

Responding to a Washington Post column supportive of the VA’s move, Miller writes that the piece “makes my blood boil” and says the Post isn’t “entitled to… attempt to read the minds of my long-dead Confederate ancestors and determine that their actions and motivations during that awful war were treasonous.”

He also denounces “politically correct bureaucrats” pushing for the Stars and Bars to be banned.

“With all that is going on around our world and the serious threats that exist to our country and our constitiional [sic] freedoms by those who carry black flags with Arabic writing upon them, I would think that those in our national government would simply leave alone the flags marking the burial grounds of our Confederate dead,” Miller writes. “Unfortunately, I fear that is just wishful thinking on my part and highlights why the outcome of the upcoming election is so very,very important.”

Boy, I wonder how we could determine the thoughts of those who committed treason to defend slavery?

A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union

In the momentous step, which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

Truly, no one can read the minds of long-dead Confederates.

And hey, the Civil War was actually about free speech! That’s why conservatives should totally secede from the nation if those big government PC liberals dare to criticize them. After all, saying mean things when Sarah Palin or Donald Trump say something dumb is the ultimate restriction of free speech! And this is just outstanding.

In the lead up to the aforementioned House vote on Confederate flags, a staffer for Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) circulated an email making a case for preserving the Confederate flag that’s similar to Miller’s. The staffer, Pete Sanborn, wrote, “You know who else supports destroying history so that they can advance their own agenda? ISIL. Don’t be like ISIL. I urge you to vote NO.” He signed the email, “Yours in freedom from the PC police.”

Don’t be like ISIL, those liberals!

Book Notes

[ 7 ] July 5, 2016 |

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As I am desperately trying to write the draft of my book on strikes, one of the things I’ve had to sacrifice is writing book reviews here. They take too long to do well. But I did want to note a few relatively recently published books I’ve read recently that could be of interest to you.

Ira Katznelson, Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time

This book got a lot of press, mostly for good reasons. Katznelson’s point that FDR had to rely on the South if he wanted to get any of his legislation passed and therefore had to compromise on all of it to preserve the racial order is highly useful, especially given the purity politics of the contemporary left that complains about incrementalism and then cites incredibly flawed and compromised New Deal legislation as counterexamples. So this is an invaluable point, richly detailed and also useful to show that many southern legislators could be quite economically progressive if the only beneficiaries were white people. But the half of the book on World War II really doesn’t add much to the story or the historical debate. And I’m really confused as to why, after a whole book on the Democratic Party needing to please the South, Katznelson does not discuss Truman’s decision to integrate the military in 1948.

Shannon Elizabeth Bell, Fighting King Coal: The Challenges to Micromobilization in Central Appalachia

Despite this book reinforcing my usual frustration with anthropological methodology (I get why people wouldn’t want their names used in a study like this. But if you are going to write “the largest coal producing county in West Virginia,” just name the damn county), this book asks a really vital question. We have lots of books on why people become activists. But isn’t the more useful question why don’t people become activists? Exploring the fight over mountaintop removal in West Virginia and the loyalty of West Virginians to coal despite what it does to their health and their land without actually providing many jobs, Bell helps answer this question. Very useful book. Highly recommended to those who take activism seriously.

Bruce Levine, The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the South

Levine doesn’t exactly break new ground here, but this is a very good overview of the Civil War era, told with a focus on Southern planters watching their world fall apart around them. Reading the schadenfreude is not only interesting and insightful, but amusing too. Pretty good book. General readers will enjoy this.

Nancy Woloch, A Class by Herself: Protective Laws for Women Workers

This is a very good overview of the complexities of sex-specific labor laws in the twentieth century. Did they protect women or do they hurt women by being paternalistic and cutting them out of jobs? Mostly, as Woloch demonstrates, they proved useful as wedges to creating broader labor law that covered both sexes. Unfortunately, people like Alice Paul and the National Labor Party saw it the other way and turned politically conservative, fighting not only sex-specific labor law, but all labor law. Woloch extends the book to the cases of the 1970s and 1980s where companies tried to exclude women workers by not allowing them to labor in hazardous jobs.

Civil War Battles, Portrayed by Cats

[ 24 ] June 1, 2016 |

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Our national need for a Civil War museum consisting of battle reproduction scenes with cat figurine soldiers has finally been fulfilled.

In September, in the shadow of the historic battlefield here, twins Rebecca and Ruth Brown opened Civil War Tails, possibly America’s most whimsical war museum.

Their collection of scale-model battle dioramas includes Fort Sumter, the Battle of the Ironclads and their masterpiece, four years in the making, Pickett’s Charge, 1,900 cat soldiers in all.

Yes, cats, an inch or smaller, each one lovingly sculpted in clay by the 32-year-old sisters, then baked in a 225-degree oven. The choice of figurine was born of necessity more than devotion, although the sisters like cats plenty. “We just don’t make clay people as well as cats,” Rebecca says.

Personally, I look forward to the cat figurine scene of Sherman’s march to the sea.

Book Review: Michael Todd Landis, Northern Men with Southern Loyalties: The Democratic Party and the Sectional Crisis

[ 63 ] May 24, 2016 |

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Michael Todd Landis has no tuck for the doughfaces, northern Democrats who worked to expand the slave power in pre-Civil War America. He blames them directly for the Civil War, sharply rejecting previous histoirans who have placed the blame for the war on abolitionists. In this book, Landis details a generation of utterly feckless, spineless, submissive northern Democratic politicians who fully served their southern masters, even though their own actions angered their constituents and decimated their party in northern states.

Landis chronicles northern Democrats from the Compromise of 1850 through the election of 1860, demonstrating how the aggressive Southern nationalists bent on turning the United States into a slave nation demanded increasing fealty from their northern allies they needed to hold power in the United States. Although the South had an unfair advantage because of the Three-Fifths Compromise, the growing northern population meant that to hold the House and win the presidency, the South had to have a successful Democratic Party in North. That became increasingly harder when to be a prominent Democrat meant to hold extremist positions and not compromise, even with other elements in the northern Democratic Party. The South had plenty of northern Democrats willing to play along, not only Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, who would serve their interests in the White House, but senators, congressmen, and those who controlled state political machines.

After the Mexican War, which deeply angered northerners, the South could not run its own politicians for the presidency and expect to win. They needed northerners to do what they said. The first was Lewis Cass of Michigan, who effectively believed in nothing except his own political fortunes and southern rights. Cass took the Democratic nomination in 1848, defeating the young and ambitious Stephen Douglas and the powerful James Buchanan. Cass’s nomination led to northern Democratic splitters nominating Martin Van Buren under the Free Soil Party, helping to doom Cass and elect the Whig Zachary Taylor to the White House. Congress was a mess because of the war’s aftermath and the House could not pick a speaker. Landis credits Stephen Douglas much more than Henry Clay of solving these problems through the Compromise of 1850, but perhaps “credit” isn’t the right word. Rather, it was Douglas promoting his own pro-Southern agenda and unquenchable ambition by forcing though the Fugitive Slave Act. Landis states “Northern Democrats were clearly responsible for the Compromise of 1850” (32) because the critical Senate votes came from people like Douglas, Cass, Indiana’s Jesse Bright, who was actually kicked out of the Senate for treason in 1862, and other northern Democrats. This law infuriated northerners but Democratic politicians went ahead with it anyway, the first of many times in the next decade they would risk their own political careers to serve the South. Moreover, northern Democrats like James Buchanan took the lead in defending the law, urging for its instant implementation and punishing free soilers like David Wilmot by targeting their districts to send the first slave catchers.

In 1852, the Democrats hoped to nominate someone more capable than Cass, who still wanted the presidency. They didn’t get anyone more capable, but they did get someone who was more than willing to serve southern interests in New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce. Landis dismisses Pierce’s abilities entirely, noting, “His tenure in Congress was notable only for his public drunkenness and his eagerness to please the Southern leadership.” (60) Through the various machinations and infighting in the Democratic Party, Pierce rose into the nomination. During his four years, he signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, gave plentiful cabinet positions to southern radicals (including Jefferson Davis as Secretary of War), recognized the pro-slavery adventurer William Walker as the rightful president of Nicaragua, pressed for the U.S. acquisition of Cuba, and supported the Gadsden Purchase, a naked land grab from Mexico specifically in order to build a transcontinental railroad that would serve southern interests.

Amazingly, this was not good enough for the South. Because Pierce gave some major patronage positions to more moderate Democrats and tried mollify different factions of the party, and because he respected Stephen A. Douglas’ popular sovereignty position in Kansas, for the southern leadership, he was not only a disappointment but a traitor. A real leader for them would indeed invade Cuba, would do whatever it took to make Kansas a slave state.

James Buchanan harbored no such reservations about moderate northern Democrats. Hating Stephen Douglas and fully believing in the southern cause, Buchanan did whatever the South wanted. He continued to support Latin American expansionism to the extent that Nicaragua and Costa Rica, fearful of American takeover, issues the Rivas Manifesto, denouncing Buchanan’s slavery expansionist politics. Buchanan even fired a commodore for trying to catch the privateers like David Walker still operating in Central America. He also called for more land from Mexico, saying in his Second Annual Message, “Abundant cause now undoubtedly exists for a resort to hostilities against the Government.” (173)

By 1857, the core issue for southern nationalists was ensuring that Kansas was admitted at a slave state. Dred Scott killed Douglas’ popular sovereignty arguments and the South would stop at nothing. Buchanan agreed. The famously undemocratic Lecompton Constitution, which pro-slavery forces created without allowing a vote among the anti-slavery majority, became Buchanan’s one number policy goal. Many northern Democrats in the House and Senate were reluctant to vote for it because they rightfully feared for their political careers. But Buchanan pushed it through by bribery and corruption. Simply buying votes, Buchanan and his allies managed to get it through Congress, only to see Kansas voters reject it, Democrats to get swept out of office in the North in 1858 by an outraged populace, and Congressional investigations into the bribery. Southern Democrats were depressed that their northern allies lost, but saw it as a symbol that the North was the enemy, not that their own policies were bankrupt. Instead, they moved closer to secession.

At the heart of all of these actions is that Calhounism had spread throughout the Democratic Party. These people by the 1850s simply had no respect for democracy as an institution. To be a nationally prominent Democrat in 1860 was to be a follower of Calhoun’s ideology. This helped destroy the party in the North and Landis follows key states and their political machines, including Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New York, to demonstrate the slow decline of the party on the critical state level. Landis makes it clear that Lincoln did not win in 1860 because the Democratic Party divided between Douglas and Breckinridge. The North was so disgusted with the Slave Power by then that a Republican victory was almost inevitable. Landis argues that the split actually helped the anti-Lincoln forces by making Douglas and John Bell seem more moderate than they actually were. Douglas had basically been read out of the Democratic Party by 1860 because the South despised him as a traitor, so his being able to play off that allowed him to win some votes from Lincolln.

Landis also has a strong historiographical argument to make. He accuses previous historians of not only downplaying the role northern Democrats played in disunion, but also of being so enthralled by southern speechifying that they took their side. Specifically, he accuses David Potter, author of The Impending Crisis, long the standard overview of the 1850s, as being “hopelessly infatuated with Southern orators and seems bent on justifying secession and placing for the war on abolitionists.” This is as close as one can come to putting Potter as Dunning-curious. A harsh charge and I’d be curious what you all think of it, as it has been at least 15 years since I’ve read Potter and don’t quite remember the argument.

Northern Men with Southern Principles is a very good and infuriating book. If you ever had any respect for Pierce and Buchanan, you won’t anymore. These were absolutely awful leaders. It’s very much a political history and Landis doesn’t provide much of the social context in the states as to the details of the northern rejection of the Democrats in the 1850s, but that’s an exceedingly minor critique. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in these issues.

Chicago and the Civil War

[ 41 ] May 16, 2016 |

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It’s worth remembering that the Civil War transformed the entire nation, not just the South. From the tribes living in Montana to the slaves in Mississippi to Yankees in Vermont, no one in this nation was the same after 1865. That includes Chicago:

Some impacts, courtesy of Chicago History Museum and the Encyclopedia of Chicago:

• Boosted commerce: “The opening of the Union Stock Yard on Christmas Day, 1865, is symbolic of the Civil War’s impact on Chicago. The war directed the flow of vital food commodities away from Chicago’s most persistent urban rivals, which were too close to the front lines during the first two years of the war and were hurt by stoppages of trade on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.”

• Helped banking: “The Civil War also helped spur industrialization by bringing stable banking to Chicago for the first time. The First National Bank of Chicago was founded in July 1863, and by war’s end the city boasted 13 national banks, more than any other city in America.”

• Race riot: “In 1862 the city suffered its first race riot when white teamsters tried to prevent African-Americans from using the omnibus system. The Chicago City Council voted to segregate the public schools.”

• POW camp: Chicago was home to one of the largest Union Army prisoner-of-war camps for Confederate soldiers: Camp Douglas, near 35th Street and Martin Luther King Drive. Of the 10,000-plus Confederate soldiers at the camp, 4,457 died, mostly due to poor sanitary and medical facilities. The Chicago History Museum has several artifacts from the camp, including the bell that rang out to signify the end of the Civil War.

• Death toll: There were 22,436 soldiers from Cook County, and most came from Chicago. Almost 4,000 soldiers from the city died, and there are memorials in Grant Park, Lincoln Park and some city cemeteries.

“Thousands of Confederate soldiers are buried in Lincoln Park [formerly the city cemetery] and in Oak Wood Cemetery, which has a significant monument memorializing the rebel soldiers who perished at Camp Douglas,” Lewis said.

Wait, there’s a Confederate monument in Chicago?

Anyway, this is a nice overview of the basics.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 31

[ 43 ] May 15, 2016 |

This is the grave of Ambrose Burnside

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Ambrose Burnside, Rhode Island’s gift to the Civil War and to the history of facial hair, was born in Indiana, the son of a South Carolina planter who freed his slaves and moved north. He went to West Point and graduated in 1847 and was sent to Mexico but arrived there after the cessation of hostilities in the American war of conquest of expand slavery. In 1852, he was assigned to Newport, Rhode Island. There he married and made the state his home for most of the rest of his life. He left the Army in 1853 and started his own firearm company. He became close friends with George McClellan in the 1850s when he briefly worked for the Illinois Central Railroad, where his future commander also worked. He ran for the House from Rhode Island as a Democrat in 1858 but was crushed.

When the Civil War began, Burnside raised the 1st Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry and was named a colonel. In August 1861, he was promoted to brigadier general. He had some success as a commander in eastern North Carolina. He was then moved to Virginia where he participated in the disastrous Peninsular Campaign. When George McClellan was canned after that disaster, Burnside was offered the command of the Army of the Potomac. Loyal to McClellan, he refused. After John Pope received command of the Army of Virginia and then failed miserably at the Second Battle of Manassas, Burnside once again received a command offer. Once again, he refused. At Antietam, Burnside moved so slowly, even McClellan lost patience with him. After that battle, McClellan was finally relieved for the last time and this time Burnside reluctantly accepted the offer of commander, only accepting it because he hated Joe Hooker and didn’t want to fight for him.

This was an unfortunate choice, although it’s not like Lincoln had good options in 1862. Lincoln ordered Burnside to be aggressive and move on Richmond. This led to the Battle of Fredericksburg. This was not a good day for the Union.

The Butcher of Fredericksburg offered to resign. That offer was refused. He was relieved of his command in January 1863 and replaced by Hooker. He was exiled to the Department of the Ohio, a backwater without any action. But Burnside took it upon himself to crack down on those he thought treasonous. He famously arrested the anti-war Ohio Democrat Clement Vallandigham for treason in 1863, forcing Lincoln to figure out what to do with war opponents the military arrested. Lincoln was not happy about Burnside creating a martyr for antiwar Democrats.

Burnside was brought back to Virginia under Grant’s command in 1864. There he had an idea. Let’s dig a trench under Cnfederate lines during the siege at Petersburg, blow the soldiers up, and then attack. The resultant disaster wasn’t entirely his fault because George Meade gave a last minute order not to use the black troops trained for this action (trained in fact because their lives were considered worth less than whites). Burnside then chose a regiment by chance to attack after the blast. Unfortunately, they marched straight into the crater. The Battle of the Crater was a massacre. At this point, Grant put Burnside on extended leave and his participation in the war ended.

Burnside became a very conservative Republican after the war, serving as a three-time governor of Rhode Island and then as senator until he died in 1881. Much to my amusement, during Occupy, which in Providence took place in Burnside Park, the activists draped the Burnside statue in an anarchist flag, but must have made him roll over in his grave.

Ambrose Burnside was a truly terrible general. But he is the only general to lend his name to a style of facial hair. Pretty much worth Fredericksburg and the Crater.

Ambrose Burnside is buried in Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, Rhode Island.

Civil War Final

[ 53 ] May 13, 2016 |

Take my final in History 365: The Civil War and Reconstruction

Answer 1 of the following 2 questions.

1) In a 7-8 page paper, answer the following question: Are the years 1865-1877 best understood through the process of Reconstruction in the South or better understood as a period leading to dramatic transformations across the country, affecting all populations and regions?

2) In a 7-8 page paper, trace changing ideas and understandings of labor in American society from slavery through and beyond Reconstruction and place these changes in the broader context of the major events/ideas/social changes/etc that help define 19th century America.

OK, you can leave a 1 line comment instead of write 7-8 pages.

This Day in Labor History: April 9, 1865

[ 58 ] April 14, 2016 |

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This post should have gone up on April 9, but sometimes, a professor can become so convinced of a piece of trivia like a date that said professor doesn’t actually look it up and then finds out it is wrong. Speaking of a friend of course.

On April 9, 1865, the traitor Robert E. Lee surrendered his forces to U.S. general Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, effectively ending the Civil War. But while this might have ended the war, the slave labor system the Confederates committed treason to defend was already crumbling. That’s because the slaves, as W.E.B. DuBois noted in his 1935 book Black Reconstruction: An Essay Toward A History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880, had already committed a general strike by walking away from the plantations. That general strike is the subject of this post.

Slaves wanted freedom from the moment they were enslaved. Whether committing suicide on the slave ships by jumping into the ocean, engaging in open rebellions like Nat Turner or the Stono Rebellion, running away, or just dreaming of a free life, slaves always wanted freedom from the hell of their lives. They took any change to get it. During the American Revolution and the War of 1812, thousands of slaves fled to British lines because of the promise of freedom. Many thousands more would have fled if they could have reached the British.

The Civil War provided another opportunity for that long-cherished freedom. As soon as U.S. troops marched south, slaves began fleeing to their lines. This most famously became an issue for the American armies to deal with when three slaves reached Fort Monroe, Virginia, which was controlled by the U.S. and where General Benjamin Butler was in charge. When the owner came back and demanded the slaves back (by the way, the sheer temerity of Confederates to complain that the U.S. was violating the Fugitive Slave Act, as they did throughout the war, is amazing), Butler refused, classifying the slaves as contraband, although he never used the word. This received the approval of Republicans in Washington, who soon passed the Confiscation Act, which stated that if the Confederacy recognized slaves as property, that the United States had the right to confiscate that property in order to win the war.

But really, even without the Confiscation Act, slaves were going to take matters into their own hands anyway. Slaves like Robert Smalls would take enormous risks for freedom, in his case stealing a boat in the Charleston harbor while dressed as a Confederate ship captain, then picking up the families of the men with him who were at a waiting point, then fleeing north until they ran into an American ship. Smalls became famous for his bravery. Many fled to McClellan’s armies in the Peninsular Campaign in 1862. Planters quickly realized the danger and attempted to move slaves into the Confederate interior, especially western states like Texas and Arkansas. Perhaps most importantly, the slaves forced American officials and the Lincoln government to take the question of slavery seriously. Much to abolitionists’ frustration, Lincoln did not use the outbreak of war to end slavery. Union was his more important issue. But the slaves self-emancipating changed that. Faced with a fait accompli that slaves were going to flee on their own, Lincoln moved toward issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. I do think that Lincoln would have eventually done such a thing anyway, but certainly not in the fall of 1862. Slaves’ desire to flee slavery and then fight for the United States was an overwhelming argument for Lincoln and it shows how slave agency is absolutely central to our understanding of the decline of slave labor as an American institution.

Often, they completely overwhelmed northern armies that were marching in the South. That was especially true of that of William Tecumseh Sherman marching through Georgia and South Carolina. These slaves were often very poor and in terrible health. With the Confederacy going hungry by 1864 generally, slaves were getting less food than ever. But their sheer determination to win their freedom moved Sherman, who was no racial radical. These people were truly starving. Later they remembered scouring the ground to find nuts, roots, or wild greens to get something in their stomachs. Sherman marching through Georgia actually made slaves more hungry, but it also gave them the opportunity to win their freedom. Thousands of refugees were following Sherman’s armies by the time he got to Savannah in December 1864. That doesn’t mean that the officers wanted them. Some embraced the self-freed slaves, others wanted rid of them by any means necessary, but the now freed people were going to do whatever it took for obtain and keep that freedom.

Many of these slaves wanted to join the American military and seek to then fight for their own freedom and that of their loved ones. For example, John Boston fled from the plantation where he was a slavery in Maryland in 1862. He joined the military and later he was able to write to his wife, still stuck in slavery. He wrote, “My Dear Wife it is with grate joy I take to let you know Whare I am i am in Safety in the 14th Regiment of Brooklyn this Day I can Address you thank god as a free man I had a little truble in giting away But as the lord led the Children of Isrel to the land of Canon So he led me to a land Whare freedom Will rain in spite of earth and hell Dear you must make your Self content i am free from all the Slavers.”

This is the promise of freedom. This is how African-Americans self-emancipated. They simply walked away. When Confederate power faded, as it did with the arrival of American armies near plantations where male authority was waning as the war went on because of military service, they took their lives into the own hands. They effectively stopped growing cotton and rice, stopped working in the house, stopped supporting the plantation system. They followed the American army to freedom. They wanted more–primarily land, education, and eventually, the vote. Most of that would be temporary or denied or granted and then repealed in the case of Sherman’s Special Order No. 15 that gave slaves 160 acres of confiscated plantation lands between Charleston and the Florida border. The promises of emancipation would not be fully implemented. But whatever happened, slavery was dead. And it was dead in no small part because the slaves themselves decided they wouldn’t be slaves any longer.

And, not surprisingly, the now-freed slaves joyously rubbed their freedom in their masters’ faces when they could. The brilliant letter from ex-slave Jourdon Anderson to his ex-master Col. P.H. Anderson when the latter wrote to ask him to come back to work on the plantation after the war is the best way to conclude:

Dayton, Ohio,

August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson.

This is the 175th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

What Caused the Civil War?

[ 112 ] March 22, 2016 |

political cartoon

I know that we here all know that the cause of the Civil War was 1) slavery, 2) slavery, and 3) slavery. But Confederate apologists still love to try and dodge that question through promoting the secondary issues over which slavery caused tension to the forefront. Of course, all you have to do to know the Civil War was about slavery is to read almost anything written by Confederate elites between mid-1860 and April 1865. Heather Cox Richardson on Confederate VP Alexander Stephens:

Once and for all, Stephens was going to explain the difference between the United States and the Confederacy. That difference, he said, was slavery. The American Constitution had a crucial defect at its heart, he said. That defect was that it based the government on the principle that humans were inherently equal. Confederate leaders had fixed that problem. They had constructed a perfect government because they had corrected the Founding Fathers’ error. The “cornerstone” on which the Confederate government rested was racial slavery.

Stephens explained that Thomas Jefferson himself had warned that slavery would ultimately split the Union. But, he said, Jefferson had blundered. Like other statesmen of his era, the Virginia president had believed that slavery was evil, that it was “wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically.” The Founding Fathers believed that, while the nation was temporarily stuck with slavery, the institution would not last. In their minds, human equality was an eternal truth, and they assumed that this principle would eventually triumph, somehow, even if they could not themselves see how it would happen. This fundamental principle, Stephens claimed, was wrong, and their error had made them create a dangerously shaky government. It was an error the Confederacy had addressed.

Stephens explained. In contrast to the government the Founding Fathers had created, the Confederacy rested on 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. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

The Confederacy, Stephens said, was a pioneer nation, the first ever to make a government that strictly conformed to God’s racial laws. Other nations would certainly follow, for eventually all would have to acknowledge “the truths upon which our system rests.”

The United States of Abraham Lincoln’s era, he said, in contrast, continued to suffer from the errors of the past. Northerners clung to the outdated idea that “the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man.” But that foundational principle of human equality was simply wrong. God had made racial inequality an eternal truth. Trying to build a government without slavery flew in the face of “the ordinance of the Creator.”

Stephens was convinced that the United States, with its quaint ideas about human equality, was antiquated, while the Confederacy stood on the side of Providence and progress. Theirs was not a vision of an agrarian world rapidly passing away as western countries modernized, but of the future. Stephens dismissed the naysayers who warned that the “civilized world” would stand against a nation based on racial slavery. “When we stand upon the eternal principles of truth,” he said, “if we are true to ourselves and the principles for which we contend, we are obliged to, and must triumph.”

Why did the South quickly turn to not talking about slavery after 1865? Because, as Richardson points out, the political needs of Reconstruction dictated a rhetorical shift.

When the officers of the Freedmen’s Bureau—as it was dubbed—decided in favor of former slaves about 68% of the time, angry white southerners howled. This was precisely what they had gone to war to prevent, they said. The Freedmen’s Bureau was a federal bureau administered by the military, and its officers were intruding directly into their communities and siding with former slaves. If this wasn’t the overreach of tyrants intending to destroy liberty, what was? With slavery gone, former Confederates turned to the politics of the moment. They harnessed nostalgia for the fallen Confederacy to try to end the power of Republicans in Congress to dictate the terms of Reconstruction.

But in Savannah in March 1861, Alexander Stephens had told a different story. “The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution,” he said. And then he clarified: “This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.”

Good post, as it is still necessary to push these points over and over again with Mississippi announcing Confederate Heritage Month and the like. Personally, I’m ready for a vigorous month of tweeting and blogging about Treason in Defense of Slavery Month.

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