Elizabeth R. Varon
Perhaps no other American leader has experienced so precipitous a fall from grace as Andrew Johnson, seventeenth president of the United States (1865–1869). During the Civil War, Johnson was the preeminent symbol of Southern Unionism—and thus, the ideal running mate for Abraham Lincoln in the 1864 election, on the Union Party ticket. Four years later, as president, he was widely viewed as a traitor to his political allies and even to the Union, and barely escaped impeachment. In modern scholarship, the image persists of Johnson as politically inept, and willfully self-destructive—driven by visceral emotions, particularly by implacable racism, and lacking in Lincoln’s skill for reading and molding public opinion. But such an image fails to capture fully the scope of his political influence. As President, Johnson staked claims that shaped the course of Reconstruction—that emancipation signified nothing but freedom; that the immediate aftermath of the Civil War was a golden moment of reconciliation, which Radicals squandered by pushing for black suffrage; that the Congressional program of Reconstruction inaugurated a period of so-called “black rule,” during which former Confederates were victimized and disfranchised. Such propaganda was designed to deem the Republican experiment in black citizenship a failure before it even began. Johnson’s term offers an example as striking as any in U.S. history of the power of presidents to set the terms of political debates—and of the power of their words to do lasting harm.
Long regarded as a violent outburst significant mainly for California history, the 1871 Los Angeles anti-Chinese massacre raises themes central to America’s Civil War Reconstruction era between 1865 and 1877, namely, the resort to threats and violence to preserve traditionally conceived social and political authority and power. Although the Los Angeles events occurred far from the American South, the Los Angeles anti-Chinese massacre paralleled the anti-black violence that rose in the South during Reconstruction. Although the immediate causes of the violence in the post–Civil War South and California were far different, they shared one key characteristic: they employed racial disciplining to preserve traditional social orders that old elites saw as threatened by changing times and circumstances.
Thomas J. Sugrue
Racism in the United States has long been a national problem, not a regional phenomenon. The long and well-documented history of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and racial violence in the South overshadows the persistent reality of racial discrimination, systemic segregation, and entrenched inequality north of the Mason-Dixon line. From the mid-19th century forward, African Americans and their allies mounted a series of challenges to racially separate schools, segregated public accommodations, racially divided workplaces, endemic housing segregation, and discriminatory policing. The northern civil rights movement expanded dramatically in the aftermath of the Great Migration of blacks northward and the intensification of segregation in northern hotels, restaurants, and theaters, workplaces, housing markets, and schools in the early 20th century. During the Great Depression and World War II, emboldened civil rights organizations engaged in protest, litigation, and lobbying efforts to undermine persistent racial discrimination and segregation. Their efforts resulted in legal and legislative victories against racially separate and unequal institutions, particularly workplaces and stores. But segregated housing and schools remained more impervious to change. By the 1960s, many black activists in the North grew frustrated with the pace of change, even as they succeeded in increasing black representation in elected office, in higher education, and in certain sectors of the economy. In the late 20th century, civil rights activists launched efforts to fight the ongoing problem of police brutality and the rise of the prison-industrial complex. And they pushed, mostly through the courts, for the protection of the fragile gains of the civil rights era. The black freedom struggle in the North remained incomplete in the face of ongoing segregation, persistent racism, and ongoing racial inequality in employment, education, income, and wealth.
In May 1861, three enslaved men who were determined not to be separated from their families ran to Fort Monroe, Virginia. Their flight led to the phenomenon of Civil War contraband camps. Contraband camps were refugee camps to which between four hundred thousand and five hundred thousand enslaved men, women, and children in the Union-occupied portions of the Confederacy fled to escape their owners by getting themselves to the Union Army. Army personnel had not envisioned overseeing a massive network of refugee camps. Responding to the interplay between the actions of the former slaves who fled to the camps, Republican legislation and policy, military orders, and real conditions on the ground, the army improvised. In the contraband camps, former slaves endured overcrowding, food and clothing shortages, poor sanitary conditions, and constant danger. They also gained the protection of the Union Army and access to the power of the US government as new, though unsteady, allies in the pursuit of their key interests, including education, employment, and the reconstitution of family, kin, and social life. The camps brought together actors who had previously had little to no contact with each other, exposed everyone involved to massive structural forces that were much larger than the human ability to control them, and led to unexpected outcomes. They produced a refugee crisis on US soil, affected the course and outcome of the Civil War, influenced the progress of wartime emancipation, and altered the relationship between the individual and the national government. Contraband camps were simultaneously humanitarian crises and incubators for a new relationship between African Americans and the US government.
Alison L. LaCroix
Federalism refers to the constitutional and political structure of the United States of America, according to which political power is divided among multiple levels of government: the national level of government (also referred to as the “federal” or “general” government) and that of the states. It is a multilayered system of government that reserves some powers to component entities while also establishing an overarching level of government with a specified domain of authority. The structures of federalism are set forth in the Constitution of the United States, although some related ideas and practices predated the founding period and others have developed since. The balance between federal and state power has shifted throughout U.S. history, with assertions of broad national power meeting challenges from supporters of states’ rights and state sovereignty. Federalism is a fundamental value of the American political system, and it has been a controversial political and legal question since the founding period.
Nicole Etcheson and Cortney Cantrell
During the Civil War, the entire North constituted the homefront, an area largely removed from the din and horror of combat. With a few exceptions of raids and battles such as Gettysburg, civilians in the North experienced the war indirectly. The people on the homefront mobilized for war, sent their menfolk off to fight, supplied the soldiers and the army, coped without their breadwinners, and suffered the loss or maiming of men they loved. All the while, however, the homefront was crucially important to the course of the war. The mobilization of northern resources—not just men, but the manufacture of the arms and supplies needed to fight a war—enabled the North to conduct what some have called a total war, one on which the Union expended money and manpower at unprecedented levels. Confederate strategists hoped to break the will of the northern homefront to secure southern independence. Despite the hardships endured in the North, this strategy failed.
On the homefront, women struggled to provide for their families as well as to serve soldiers and the army by sending care packages and doing war work. Family letters reveal the impact of the war on children who lost their fathers either temporarily or permanently. Communities rallied to aid soldiers’ families but were riven by dissension over issues such as conscription and emancipation. Immigrants and African Americans sought a new place in U.S. society by exploiting the opportunities the war offered to prove their worth. Service in the Union army certainly advanced the status of some groups, but was not the only means to that end. Nuns who nursed the wounded improved the reputation of the Catholic Church and northern African Americans used the increasingly emancipationist war goals to improve their legal status in the North. The Civil War altered race relations most radically, but change came to everyone on the northern homefront.
Courts and legislatures in colonial America and the early American republic developed and refined a power to compel civilians to assist peace and law enforcement officers in arresting wrongdoers, keeping the peace, and other matters of law enforcement. This power to command civilian cooperation was known as the posse comitatus or “power of the county.” Rooted in early modern English countryside law enforcement, the posse comitatus became an important police institution in 18th- and 19th-century America. The posse comitatus was typically composed of able-bodied white male civilians who were temporarily deputized to aid a sheriff or constable. But if this “power of the county” was insufficient, law enforcement officers were often authorized to call on the military to serve as the posse comitatus.
The posse comitatus proved particularly important in buttressing slavery in the American South. Slaveholders pushed for and especially benefited from laws that required citizens to assist in the recapture of local runaway slaves and fugitive slaves who crossed into states without slavery. Though slave patrols were rooted in the posse comitatus, the posse comitatus originated as a compulsory and noncompensated institution. Slaveholders in the American South later added financial incentives for those who acted in the place of a posse to recapture slaves on the run from their owners.
The widespread use of the posse comitatus in southern slave law became part of the national discussion about slavery during the early American republic as national lawmakers contemplated how to deal with the problem of fugitive slaves who fled to free states. This dialogue culminated with the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, in which the US Congress authorized officials to “summon and call to their aid the bystanders, or posse comitatus” and declared that “all good citizens are hereby commanded to aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law, whenever their services may be required.” During Reconstruction, the Radical Republican Congress used the posse comitatus to enforce laws that targeted conquered Confederates. After the end of Reconstruction in 1877, Southern states pushed Congress to create what would come to be known as the “Posse Comitatus Act,” which prohibited the use of federal military forces for law enforcement. The history of the posse comitatus in early America is thus best understood as a story about and an example of the centralization of government authority and its ramifications.
Anne Sarah Rubin
Sherman’s March, more accurately known as the Georgia and Carolinas Campaigns, cut a swath across three states in 1864–1865. It was one of the most significant campaigns of the war, making Confederate civilians “howl” as farms and plantations were stripped of everything edible and all their valuables. Outbuildings, and occasionally homes, were burned, railroads were destroyed, and enslaved workers were emancipated. Long after the war ended, Sherman’s March continued to shape American’s memories as one of the most symbolically powerful aspects of the Civil War.
Sherman’s March began with the better-known March to the Sea, which started in Atlanta on November 15, 1864, and concluded in Savannah on December 22 of the same year. Sherman’s men proceeded through South Carolina and North Carolina in February, March, and April of 1865. The study of this military campaign illuminates the relationships between Sherman’s soldiers and Southern white civilians, especially women, and African Americans. Sherman’s men were often uncomfortable with their role as an army of liberation, and African Americans, in particular, found the March to be a double-edged sword.
The patterns of urban slavery in North American and pre-Civil War US cities reveal the ways in which individual men and women, as well as businesses, institutions, and governmental bodies employed slave labor and readily adapted the system of slavery to their economic needs and desires. Colonial cities east and west of the Mississippi River founded initially as military forts, trading posts, and maritime ports, relied on African and Native American slave labor from their beginnings. The importance of slave labor increased in Anglo-American East Coast urban settings in the 18th century as the number of enslaved Africans increased in these colonies, particularly in response to the growth of the tobacco, wheat, and rice industries in the southern colonies. The focus on African slavery led most Anglo-American colonies to outlaw the enslavement of Native Americans, and urban slavery on the East Coast became associated almost solely with people of African descent. In addition, these cities became central nodes in the circum-Atlantic transportation and sale of enslaved people, slave-produced goods, and provisions for slave colonies whose economies centered on plantation goods. West of the Mississippi, urban enslavement of Native Americans, Mexicans, and even a few Europeans continued through the 19th century.
As the thirteen British colonies transitioned to the United States during and after the Revolutionary War, three different directions emerged regarding the status of slavery, which would affect the status of slavery and people of African descent in cities. The gradual emancipation of enslaved people in states north of Delaware led to the creation of the so-called free states, with large numbers of free blacks moving into cities to take full advantage of freedom and the possibility of creating family and community. Although antebellum northern cities were located within areas where legalized slavery ended, these cities retained economic and political ties to southern slavery. At the same time, the radical antislavery movement developed in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. Thus, Northern cities were the site of political conflicts between pro- and antislavery forces. In the Chesapeake, as the tobacco economy declined, slave owners manumitted enslaved blacks for whom they did not have enough work, creating large groups of free blacks in cities. But these states began to participate heavily in the domestic slave trade, with important businesses located in cities. And in the Deep South, the recommitment to slavery following the Louisiana Purchase and the emergence of the cotton economy led to the creation of a string of wealthy port cities critical to the transportation of slaves and goods. These cities were situated in local economic geographies that connected rural plantations to urban settings and in national and international economies of exchange of raw and finished goods that fueled industries throughout the Atlantic world. The vast majority of enslaved people employed in the antebellum South worked on rural farms, but slave labor was a key part of the labor force in southern cities. Only after the Civil War did slavery and cities become separate in the minds of Americans, as postwar whites north and south created a mythical South in which romanticized antebellum cotton plantations became the primary symbol of American slavery, regardless of the long history of slavery that preceded their existence.
Soldiers enlisted in the Union Army from every state in the Union and the Confederacy. The initial volunteers were motivated to preserve the accomplishments of the American Revolution and save the world’s hope that democratic government could survive. They were influenced by their culture’s ideals of manhood and republican ideals of the citizen soldier. They served in regiments that retained close ties with their sending communities throughout the war.
Recruits faced a difficult adjustment period when their units were mustered into the US Army. The test of battle taught soldiers to value some drills and discipline, but many soldiers insisted that officers respect their independence and equality. Soldiers successfully resisted many aspects of formal military discipline. Army life exposed conflicts between soldiers who sought to create moral regiments and soldiers who displayed manliness through fighting and drinking. Establishing honor before peers was an important component of soldier life. Effective soldiering involved enduring the boredom and disease of camp, the rigors of marching, and the terror of battle. To survive, soldiers formed close bonds with their comrades, mastered self-care techniques to stay healthy, applied skills learned from their civilian occupations on the battlefield, and remained connected to their families and communities. Conscription changed the character of the Union Army. Officers tightened discipline over the influx of lower-class “roughs.”
Union soldiers generally demonized their enemies as inferior barbarians. Because of their interaction with slaves in the South, Union soldiers quickly shifted their support to emancipation. Although Christianity and ideals of civilized behavior placed some restraints on Union soldiers when they encountered southerners, they supported and implemented hard war measures against the South’s population and resources, and treated guerrillas and their supporters with particular brutality. In the election of 1864, Union soldiers voted to fight until the Confederacy was defeated.
Don H. Doyle
America’s Civil War became part of a much larger international crisis as European powers, happy to see the experiment in self-government fail in America’s “Great Republic,” took advantage of the situation to reclaim former colonies in the Caribbean and establish a European monarchy in Mexico. Overseas, in addition to their formal diplomatic appeals to European governments, both sides also experimented with public diplomacy campaigns to influence public opinion. Confederate foreign policy sought to win recognition and aid from Europe by offering free trade in cotton and aligning their cause with that of the aristocratic anti-democratic governing classes of Europe. The Union, instead, appealed to liberal, republican sentiment abroad by depicting the war as a trial of democratic government and embracing emancipation of the slaves. The Union victory led to the withdrawal of European empires from the New World: Spain from Santo Domingo, France from Mexico, Russia from Alaska, and Britain from Canada, and the destruction of slavery in the United States hastened its end in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Brazil.
Francis D. Cogliano
Thomas Jefferson was a key architect of early American foreign policy. He had a clear vision of the place of the new republic in the world, which he articulated in a number of writings and state papers. The key elements to his strategic vision were geographic expansion and free trade. Throughout his long public career Jefferson sought to realize these ends, particularly during his time as US minister to France, secretary of state, vice president, and president. He believed that the United States should expand westward and that its citizens should be free to trade globally. He sought to maintain the right of the United States to trade freely during the wars arising from the French Revolution and its aftermath. This led to his greatest achievement, the Louisiana Purchase, but also to conflicts with the Barbary States and, ultimately, Great Britain. He believed that the United States should usher in a new world of republican diplomacy and that it would be in the vanguard of the global republican movement. In the literature on US foreign policy, historians have tended to identify two main schools of practice dividing practitioners into idealists and realists. Jefferson is often regarded as the founder of the idealist tradition. This somewhat misreads him. While he pursued clear idealistic ends—a world dominated by republics freely trading with each other—he did so using a variety of methods including diplomacy, war, and economic coercion.
Megan Kate Nelson
During the American Civil War, Union and Confederate commanders made the capture and destruction of enemy cities a central feature of their military campaigns. They did so for two reasons. First, most mid-19th-century cities had factories, foundries, and warehouses within their borders, churning out and storing war materiel; military officials believed that if they interrupted or incapacitated the enemy’s ability to arm or clothe themselves, the war would end. Second, it was believed that the widespread destruction of property—especially in major or capital cities—would also damage civilians’ morale, undermining their political convictions and decreasing their support for the war effort.
Both Union and Confederate armies bombarded and burned cities with these goals in mind. Sometimes they fought battles on city streets but more often, Union troops initiated long-term sieges in order to capture Confederate cities and demoralize their inhabitants. Soldiers on both sides were motivated by vengeance when they set fire to city businesses and homes; these acts were controversial, as was defensive burning—the deliberate destruction of one’s own urban center in order to keep its war materiel out of the hands of the enemy.
Urban destruction, particularly long-term sieges, took a psychological toll on (mostly southern) city residents. Many were wounded, lost property, or were forced to become refugees. Because of this, the destruction of cities during the American Civil War provoked widespread discussions about the nature of “civilized warfare” and the role that civilians played in military strategy. Both soldiers and civilians tried to make sense of the destruction of cities in writing, and also in illustrations and photographs; images in particular shaped both northern and southern memories of the war and its costs.