Category Archives: Blog

The World Has Lost Another Giant: Michael Morrison, 1948-2017

Michael A. Morrison passed away on Sunday, May 14, 2017, at his residence in Lafayette, Indiana. A professor at Purdue University for twenty-five years, Mike was a cherished colleague, scholar, teacher, and friend.

After serving in the United States Air Force as a Sergeant during the Vietnam War era, Mike attended college in his home state of Michigan before taking up graduate study at the University of Michigan under J. Mills Thornton. It was there that he met his future wife, historian Nancy Gabin, whom he married in 1984.

From 1991 to 2016, Mike served as a professor in the Department of History at Purdue University. To say that he was a beloved teacher is beyond an understatement. Students were partial to his U.S. history survey, often warning others about the prospects of sitting in the front row. Doing so made one likely to be bumped into or jostled as he launched into one of his meandering walks in the midst of explaining the sectional crisis or some other crucial period. If they enjoyed the survey and his Jacksonian America class, they lined up in droves to take his signature course–Society, Culture, and Rock & Roll. Generations of Boilermakers who had never heard of Bob Dylan or knew anything about British punk instantly became cooler and hipper–not to mention steeped in the rich social, political, and cultural context of the mid-twentieth century. In addition to his regular teaching load, he nearly always had at least one–if not more–history honors student or freshman scholar each semester. Mike’s classroom accolades were not confined to his students. He rightfully earned nearly every teaching award possible. He was the recipient of the College of Liberal Arts Teaching Excellence Award and Purdue University’s Charles B. Murphy Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award–the highest honor for teaching at the university. In 1998, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching named him Indiana Professor of the Year. In 2003, Mike was inducted into Purdue’s Book of Great Teachers. The list goes on and on–but you get the picture. Students adored him, and more importantly, came to appreciate the larger world around them.

If Mike often taught about rock and roll or punk rock, his peers in the field knew him for his specialization in 19th century U. S. political history. In 1997, he published Slavery and the American West: The Eclipse of Manifest Destiny and the Coming of the Civil War (University of North Carolina Press). The debate over slavery in the territories, he argued, proved the central catalyst for the war. Tracing the origins of the sectional fissure from the annexation of Texas through the secession winter of 1860-61, he deftly demonstrated the ways in which politicians throughout the nation continued to harken back to the Revolution for legitimacy. Sectionalism did not flourish because of a clash of cultures, he insisted in an argument that has become a mainstay of the historiography, but rather North and South disagreed about slavery.

While Mike had one foot in the Civil War era, the other was solidly situated in the Early Republic. In 1989, he became an assistant editor of the Journal of the Early Republic before joining John L. Larson as a co-editor in 1994. For a decade, the two steered the course of field’s top journal, bringing their expertise to bear on a generation of scholars. In recognition of his contributions and stature in the field, last year Mike was named president-elect of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR). No doubt he will be deeply missed at this year’s conference in July.

Ever the teacher, Mike’s reach extended well beyond the banks of the Wabash River. He regularly served as a faculty member in summer leadership programs, and along with John Larson, directed an NEH summer seminar for university and college professors on the Early Republic at the Library Company on several occasions. He edited numerous collections on the Early Republic and contributed pieces on the Mexican War and Manifest Destiny to projects such as Virginia Tech’s Essential Civil War Curriculum project.

Although I was familiar with his work as a graduate student, I first met Mike more than eleven years ago during my AHA interview for Purdue. I remember well walking into that hotel suite in Philadelphia where I was greeted by Mike, his wife Nancy Gabin, and Robert May. It was obvious this was going to be a congenial committee, but Mike instantly set the tone: serious and professional with just enough levity to make even an AHA interview enjoyable. As we began, he offered me a bottle of water. Surely it was my nerves that made me quip something about how at the University of Richmond their bottled water was labeled “Spider Water,” but Mike ran with it, suggesting that they dared not attempt such labels at Purdue, as it would have to be called “Purdue Pee.” The ever-gracious Nancy smiled and rolled her eyes just a bit at her colleague/husband, reassuring me that I would find Mike’s humor a staple in the department. And I did. We all did.

When my husband and I arrived in Indiana later that year, Mike and Nancy proved to be the welcoming colleagues that the interview had suggested. I often stopped by his office my first few years, where he shared musings on the field or teaching, providing me with copies of his syllabi and suggestions on assignments. When I once asked about his success in teaching the U.S. survey, he quipped that it was “attributable to volume and animation.” As the Director of Undergraduate Studies (for more years than I’m sure he cared to remember), he fielded more than his share of questions from me. More often, he imparted stories about his kids, both Natty and Katie of whom he was incredibly proud, as well as his four-legged children. Both Nancy and Mike lavished love on the cats, and they graciously agreed to open their home to one of the kittens my mother had found in our barn back in Virginia. We brought the tiny gray tabby back to Indiana, and Mike quickly became devoted to Dill – short for Dylan. Not so awfully long ago, I received an email from Mike recounting some of Dill’s antics in his usual droll manner.

Perhaps it’s Mike’s emails that I, and likely many of my colleagues, will miss most. He was wont to send YouTube videos on topics such as cannibalism at Jamestown as well as long diatribes on the insanity that can be academia. But he always ended his missives with his initials. “MAM.” He was a generous and compassionate soul. MAM is already deeply missed.

Caroline Janney

Caroline E. Janney is professor of history at Purdue University. She is the author of Burying the Dead but Not the Past: Ladies’ Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause (2008) and Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation (2013) as well as co-editor with Gary W. Gallagher of Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign (2015). She serves as a co-editor of the University of North Carolina Press’s Civil War America Series and is the past president of the Society of Civil War Historians.

Remembering Tony Kaye

The world is quieter now that Tony Kaye is no longer part of it. Anthony E. Kaye passed away May 14 after a brave struggle against cancer. Among Tony’s many scholarly accomplishments was his role in the founding of the Journal of the Civil War Era, for which he served as Associate Editor and which he helped shape through his curiosity, passion, and integrity. Given Tony’s many contributions to the journal, we think it fitting to begin to offer remembrances of him here. This is not a formal obituary but an invitation for others among his many, many friends and admirers to share their own memories of him, in the comments here or on the Facebook page, or via email to us. In lieu of flowers, his family has asked friends to consider donating to the National Humanities Center or the UNC Cancer Center.

With his broad mind, broad shoulders, and booming voice, Tony was a substantial presence in the field and in almost every room—literal and intellectual—he inhabited. After working in journalism—a field he loved both to follow and to critique—Tony turned to history, studying at Columbia University’s fabled department with Barbara J. Fields and Eric Foner, among others. Afterwards, he worked at the equally fabled Freedmen and Southern Society Project at the University of Maryland, where he helped edit Series 3, Volume 2, Land and Labor, 1866-1867, of Freedom: A Documentary Series. From there he joined the Pennsylvania State University’s History Department.

His 2007 book, Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South (UNC Press, 2007) was a Finalist for the 2008 Frederick Douglass Prize given by the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, and recast arguments about resistance and community in the slave South. By paying careful attention to the material conditions of slave plantations in the Natchez region, as well as the way ex-slaves talked about their lives in reports and claims submitted after the Civil War, Tony argued that slaves had developed distinctive conceptual geographies rooted in their own relatively constrained worlds. These geographies helped construct the way that slaves saw themselves, their fellow slaves, and their place in the world. Rather than an abstract slave community, Tony sketched powerful but geographically specific slave communities that could serve both to generate common feeling among slaves in particular neighborhoods and to exclude slaves who were strangers. From these parochial views, slaves constructed a rich and meaningful imaginative politics during slavery that in turn shaped their entry into formal politics after the war. It was (with Stephanie Camp’s Closer to Freedom) a part of the spatial turn in slavery, and (with Dylan Penningroth’s Claims of Kinfolk) of the rethinking of slave communities, and (with Steven Hahn’s Nation Under Our Feet) of the reconceptualization of slave politics.

As a graduate student, I read Tony’s book with wonder at the depth of his research and the careful nature of his claims. And, like every graduate student who has lived, I read it with some critique. In my first book, Declarations of Dependence, I drew heavily upon Tony’s view of the imaginative impact of a personalistic, geographically constrained politics and also nudged against his assumption that this view was distinctive to slaves but argued instead that similar imaginative modes shaped black and white Southern visions of politics.

Our friendship—like many of his friendships–was born in argument. We originally met when he asked me shortly after the journal’s founding to submit something (a request I declined!). And at conference bars I enjoyed watching him hold forth on the follies of historians, especially in his riffs on the “Comment and a Question” club. But we became friends when he read my footnotes. Meaningful disagreements fascinated him, not so much for the potential of resolution but for the potential of exploration.

More than any person I have ever known, Tony loved to connect historiography to broader theories of politics. He was fascinated by the New York Intellectuals and by the Old Left—I never remembered seeing him more joyful than when he discussed the Left with Andrew Zimmerman—and could talk for hours about the ways that older theories of social change and the state crept into the historiography, establishing the commonsensical (but not always carefully thought out) associations that shape much of our work. How did the anti-statism of the New Left inspire histories that frequently (but not always coherently) invoked the state at moments of decline or collapse? For Tony thinking our way out of our historiographical impasses required thinking our way through their genealogies, not to get right with any abstract standard—he was too open-minded for that—or even to pay homage, but to understand why we repeated ourselves so often, why our books followed a set of unconscious forms. Because I have published fiction, he wanted me to write about narrative forms, Hayden White, and Reconstruction historiography, and I promised to do so but I never did.

The great lucky break of my intellectual life was a gift of Tony’s love of argument. One day he called and asked me to set up a conference on Reconstruction at the Penn State Richards Civil War Era Center, a conference that aimed to open up historiographic debate in a field that at once burgeoned with good work and also felt tied to frameworks from Eric Foner’s monumental Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, a book he feared was becoming more admired than engaged with. He thought it would be a good idea if I shared the duties with someone who could keep me intellectually honest. He had someone in mind, and I knew whom he was thinking about before he answered: our mutual friend Kate Masur. And so with his sometimes-gentle, sometimes-pointed prodding, Kate and I put together a conference that became our co-edited book The World the Civil War Made, a book that was a product of and tribute to his faith that historiographic inquiry mattered, that we demonstrate our interest in grand works like Foner’s not by paying homage but by paying attention. And Tony, with his eye for people, brought me and Kate together with Bill Blair, who has become a dear friend and mentor and patron to both of us.

The last night of the conference, exhausted and triumphant behind the Nittany Lion Inn, we shared his bourbon after last call, talking about historiography and novelists, about Edward P. Jones and Madison Smartt Bell, and about the way that history and fiction developed in tension and in tandem, acting upon similar, often unacknowledged cultural impulses but denying their common origins, forms, and influences. The next morning, Melissa asked him what he was doing at the conference, and he replied, “Having conversations I could not have anywhere else in the world.” After that, my memories of Tony blur: the two of us sneaking away from the SCWH in Baltimore to go to dinner alone in a restaurant that he announced “would be ruinously expensive,” talking novels and film again in his living room on a different visit to Penn State, chatting about Methodism on the ski lift at Banff in summer 2015. There was always too much talking, and there was never enough time for talking.

In the late spring of 2016, he told me about his condition. We talked and emailed about Cuba, his beloved daughters and his beloved Melissa, California, North Carolina, and about the elephant in the room.

And we talked a great deal about his book. After publishing Joining Places, Tony published a crucial Journal of Southern History essay about Second Slavery, a set of ideas developed by Dale Tomich and Michael Zeuske and others that connected 19th century slavery in Cuba and Brazil to a shifting Atlantic economy and that differentiated it from prior slaveries in terms of capital investment, labor organization, technological development, and financial flows. They understood U.S. slavery as a part of this transformed world, but Tony tied the pieces together in a way no one else had. Since then several U.S. historians of slavery and capitalism have followed these connections, and Tony might well have written a book that contributed to that developing field.

But he had his eyes set on Nat Turner. For years, as he toiled through archives and plotted places on maps, I understood Tony’s Nat Turner project as an extension of Joining Places, as a study of the way that the material and imaginative constructions of neighborhood in Virginia (enslaved and white) shaped Turner’s uprising. Unless I misremember, Tony thought so, too.

In the last year, however, I had the privilege to see chapters and notes from Tony’s manuscript that showed me his mind in motion. He had arrived at an extraordinarily different, and difficult, view of the history, and he had become inflamed with its possibilities. Tony, a secular Jew, had become obsessed with Turner’s Methodism. Turner, seeing himself a prophet, had behaved under a prophetic logic that History ill prepared us to understand but that had shaped the world we study. Instead of looking for secular explanations, Tony wondered what it would mean to place Turner among the prophets, to read other prophets’ lives into the gaps in Turner’s self-narration. In the process Tony read deeply in Methodist practices, theological debates, Biblical accounts of warfare, and the lives of the prophets.

In the process Tony sketched a different Turner, a fearful man as much as a firebrand, a man who tested God, a man who saw his revolt less as an ideological revolution than as a battle, a man who hoped to see a promise of his future and lived with the awareness that he would never see such a promise. A man who doubted and who yet acted. It is, I believe, a new portrait of Turner. And perhaps even a new way of writing historical causation, or of avoiding certain errors in writing historical causation.

Last fall, as his prospects faded, Tony asked if I would take on the work of guiding his raw chapters and notes to completion. Since then, we met in New York and in North Carolina and talked about his hopes for the book and for History. Many people have offered to help, and I plan to take you all up on those offers in the years to come. I consider it an honor to be part of a work of true imagination and depth.

And a pleasure to have heard his voice, reduced in volume but still electric with humor, alive to the possibility in each of our sentences. In my last email to him, I copied out a part of James Dickey’s “The Bee.” “Dead coaches live in the air, son   live/In the ear/Like fathers and urge and urge. They want you better/Than you are. When needed, they rise and curse you they scream/ When something must be saved.”

Though silenced, Tony’s voice lives. We look forward to hearing your memories of a man we will miss, now and always.

Greg Downs

Greg Downs is an Associate Professor of History at UC Davis and an Associate Editor of the Journal of the Civil War Era. He is the author of Declarations of Dependence: The Long Reconstruction of Popular Politics in the South, 1861-1908 (UNC Press, 2011) and After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War (Harvard, 2015) and (with Kate Masur) co-editor of The World the Civil War Made and co-author of the National Park Service National Historic Landmark Theme Study on Reconstruction.

Andrew Jackson Was Dead, But the Democrats Still Mattered to Civil War Causation

We hope this short blog series reflecting on past issues of the journal has been a useful reminder of the excellent scholarship being produced on the causes and background of the Civil War. Today we end the series with a post by Nicole Etcheson, but the conversation over these questions can (and will) continue on social media. To access past issues, please visit Project Muse. And, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter (@JCWE1) and like our Facebook page.


In remarks to the Washington Examiner, President Donald Trump compared his campaign to Andrew Jackson’s and concluded by wondering, “the Civil War, you think about it, why?”[1] The President thus linked Jackson’s Democratic party, and the Second Party System, to the Civil War.

Trump’s connection is not a new one. Nineteenth-century Northerners remembered that President Jackson had stood up to the South Carolina nullifiers and, well aware that Jackson was dead, they longed for their politicians to show similar resolution. Abraham Lincoln hung a portrait of Jackson in his White House office. Until recently, however, historians had emphasized the emergence of the Republican party rather than the collapse of the Democratic one. James L. Huston, in “The Illinois Political Realignment of 1844-1860: Revisiting the Analysis” (in the December 2011 issue) challenges received wisdom about the realignment that destroyed the Second Party System and created President Trump’s party, the Republicans, by returning historians’ attention to the Democrats.[2]

Huston focuses on Illinois, one of the politically crucial Midwestern states of the antebellum era (the Midwest was also important to Trump’s 2016 election). He reminds historians of the need for quantitative analysis. He assesses the reigning interpretations of the realignment that produced the third party system: the slavery extension issue, the importance of ethnocultural issues such as religion and temperance to party choice, and the nativity of voters—the hypothesis that Illinoians of New England ancestry voted Whig/Republican and those of Southern ancestry voted Democratic.[3]

Huston argues that ethnocultural ties and birthplace prove poor predictors of Democrats’ votes. Instead Illinois Democrats moved to the Republicans or chose not to vote based on their fear that the territories would be closed to non-slaveowning settlers. Moreover, Huston argues that historians need to widen their chronological scope, focusing not solely on the 1850s but on voting patterns from the 1840s to the Civil War’s outbreak to capture realignment’s ebb and flow.[4]

Modern commentators on the 2016 election have weighed some of these same factors, including religion and ethnicity or race. Huston reminds us that issues are crucial to political change. Realignments occur over a long period, not just one or two election cycles.

To paraphrase President Trump’s comments on health care, “Now, I have to tell you, Civil War causation is an unbelievably complex subject.”[5] But while no one evidently knew how complicated health care is, Jim Huston knows about the complications that brought on the Civil War. Revisiting his essay renews our attention to the difficulties of understanding causation and the necessity of paying attention to all the actors involved in an historic event.

[1] “Trump Quotes about Andrew Jackson and the Civil War,” New York Times, accessed May 1, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2017/05/01/us/politics/ap-us-trump-andrew-jackson-quotes.html?_r=0.

[2] James L. Huston, “The Illinois Political Realignment of 1844-1860: Revisiting the Analysis” The Journal of the Civil War Era 1, no. 4 (December 2011): 506-535.

[3] Huston, 507. For some of the major works on Civil War causation, see David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (New York: Harper, 1976); Michael F. Holt, The Political Crisis of the 1850s (New York: Wiley, 1978); William E. Gienapp, The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852-1856 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

[4] Huston, 512, 519-27.

[5] Kevin Liptak, “Trump: ‘Nobody Knew Health Care Could Be So Complicated,” Accessed February 28, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/27/politics/trump-health-care-complicated/.

Nicole Etcheson

Nicole Etcheson is the Alexander M. Bracken Professor of History at Ball State University, where she teaches courses on the sectional crisis, Civil War, and Reconstruction. Her most recent book, A Generation at War: The Civil War Era in a Northern Community (2011), won the 2012 Avery O. Craven Award from the Organization of American Historians. She can be reached at netcheson@bsu.edu.

Civil War Causation and Antiwar Sentimentalism: Why I Read, and Re-Read, Yael A. Sternhell on the New Revisionism

Earlier this week, the President of the United States made an appalling blunder: Andrew Jackson, declared President Trump, “was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War.”[1] Pundits fumed. Historians took to the Twittersphere to “fact check” the POTUS. Others denounced the President’s intellect. The venerable biographer Jon Meacham, in an interview with MSNBC, likened the President’s brain and its erratic intellectual activity to a pinball machine.[2]

Central to the excitement surrounding President Trump’s miscue is an enduring sentiment that surfaces with some frequency in conversations of Civil War causation. Why? Why nearly 800,000 killed? The short answer, of course, is slavery. Only a historically illiterate person, or the most unrepentant Lost Cause adherent, fails to recognize this. As Gary Gallagher has noted, the decades since 1960 have produced a vibrant literature that has placed African Americans and emancipation squarely at the center of Civil War scholarship. Yet despite a near consensus on the centrality of slavery to Civil War causation, some historians have lamented, and recently, that a divided America needed to fight that war. The sentiment is more established than many realize. In his meta-narrative revision to the Neoabolitionist school, David Goldfield, an Avery Craven associate in his days at the University of Maryland, declared that the Civil War remains America’s “greatest failure.” The conflict deemed irrepressible, writes Goldfield, was not inevitable after all. Other means might have ended the heinous institution.[3] William J. Cooper, a dean of Southern history, revitalizes a similar interpretation in We Have the War Upon Us.[4] How can historians make sense of these divergent historiographical traditions – orthodox Neoabolitionism and throwback Revisionism – and view them as a coherent whole?

Enter the New Revisionism, which Yael A. Sternhell traces skillfully in her historiographical essay “Revisionism Reinvented? The Antiwar Turn in Civil War Scholarship” (in the June 2013 issue), which uniquely balances these historiographies.[5] In her assessment of the literature, Sternhell suggests that American military misadventures in Vietnam and the Middle East have effected a greater cynicism among academics who assess the character of the Civil War. New Revisionists, she notes, inspired by the late Michael Fellman and led by such scholars as Stephen Berry, Brian Craig Miller, and Megan Kate Nelson, fixate on the less savory dimensions of war. Practitioners dwell on dark tales of terrorism, torture, and ruin. Heroes emerge as villains. [6] But in an important contradistinction, the New Revisionism has channeled earlier Revisionists’ aversions to violence even as it has dismantled the needless war myth. Sternhell characterizes the essence of Dark Turn literature as an “emphasis on process.” New Revisionists do not question the good of emancipation. Instead, she writes, their works stress how belligerents participated in the war. In a fitting conclusion, she counsels historians to “approach the Civil War with all the uncertainty, skepticism, and realism with which we treat other wars and historical events.”[7] This is helpful advice.

I remember reading Sternhell’s essay for the first time in my favorite coffee shop near the Lake Michigan shore. It is an essay I return to frequently, for it is a model of clear and deep historical thinking. In a field that increasingly stresses specialization, “Revisionism Reinvented?” encourages readers to take long views. Historians must remember to assess the complementarity and divergence of historiographical interpretations, and to mark their fluidity and development over time. The New Revisionism shows no signs of disappearing. And in light of President Trump’s recent comments, Yael Sternhell’s thoughtful essay on the meaning and significance of the New Revisionism – which allows historians at once to count the horrific costs of the war and maintain its necessity – remains as relevant now as when it first appeared.

[1] Jonah Engel Bromwich, “Trump on the Civil War: ‘Why Could That One Not Have Been Worked Out?’” New York Times, accessed May 1, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/01/us/politics/trump-andrew-jackson-fact-check.html.

[2] “Andrew Jackson biographer fact checks Trump’s Civil War remarks,” MSNBC, accessed May 1, 2017, http://www.msnbc.com/brian-williams/watch/andrew-jackson-biographer-fact-checks-trump-s-civil-war-remarks-934252611806.

[3] See David Goldfield, America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011).

[4] See William J. Cooper, We Have the War Upon Us: The Onset of the Civil War, November 1860-April 1861 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012).

[5] Yael A. Sternhell, “Revisionism Reinvented? The Antiwar Turn in Civil War Scholarship,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 3, no. 2 (June 2013): 239-256.

[6] See Stephen Berry, ed., Weirding the War: Stories from the Civil War’s Ragged Edges (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011).

[7] Sternhell, 250, 252.

Mitchell G. Klingenberg

Mitchell G. Klingenberg is a doctoral candidate in history at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, and an instructor of history at Trinity Valley School. He is most recently the author of an article concerning Frederick Adolphus Porcher, religion, and intellectual culture in antebellum Charleston (which appeared in the South Carolina Historical Magazine), and he has published reviews in the Journal of the Civil War Era and the Catholic Historical Review. His dissertation examines nineteenth-century religion, politics, and generalship in the life of Union Major General John F. Reynolds. He can be found on Twitter @mgklingenberg.

Reinterpreting the Civil War, South by Southwest

Today we begin a brief blog series where, in light of recent public discussions regarding the Civil War, historians reflect on scholarship published in The Journal of the Civil War Era, highlighting some of the excellent research being done today. Our first entry, from Christopher Phillips, is below. If there is an article in the JCWE that you have found particularly meaningful, please let us know!


Donald J. Trump’s latest public statements about U.S. history have him suggesting that Americans have never contemplated the causes of the Civil War. More than a century of scholarship – and scholars – attest to his ignorance, but recent trends have many historians feeling somewhat ignorant about the subject they long believed they knew well.

Most histories of the Civil War era portray the war as a conflict exclusively over slavery, fought between North against South as a struggle over free labor against slave labor and local sovereignty against federal power. I believe Stacey L. Smith’s thoughtful JCWE essay in the December 2016 issue, “Beyond North and South: Putting the West in the Civil War and Reconstruction” is among the most needed assessments of the new wave of Civil War revisionism. “Written out of the Civil War and Reconstruction,” she notes, “the West stands as an isolated, even exceptional, region with a history largely disconnected from the crisis over slavery, freedom, and federal authority that tore apart the North and the South.”[1]

More than simply accede this incongruity, Professor Smith argues trenchantly that we need to reframe the debate over the coming of the war from one exclusively over slavery into one intersecting with broader regional, national, and even continental conflicts associated with expansion. The West offers a perfect interpretive proving ground. “Violent conflict in the West anticipated, paralleled, and helped determine the course of federal state-building during the Civil War era,” she concludes. “[W]estern historians, long attuned to the region’s critical role in nineteenth-century state-building, are lighting the way by making explicit the connections between southern and western resistance to federal control…[l]oosening the Civil War from its North-South moorings.”[2]

Professor Smith’s essay anticipates Steven Hahn’s excellent new synthesis, Nation Without Borders: The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil Wars, 1830-1910, which integrates the exceptionalist narrative of slavery and freedom with the decidedly unexceptional narrative of American imperialism in the long nineteenth century. Like Hahn, Smith reminds us that the same ideal of the West that inspired Americans to undertake its greatest period of national expansion also drove them to commit its greatest national tragedy in the form of a fratricidal civil war.

[1] Stacey L. Smith, “Beyond North and South: Putting the West in the Civil War and Reconstruction,” Journal of the Civil War Era 6, no. 4 (December 2016): 566-67.

[2] Ibid.

Christopher Phillips

Christopher Phillips is professor of history and department head at the University of Cincinnati. The author of seven books, his most recent, The Rivers Ran Backward: The Civil War and the Remaking of the American Middle Border, received the 2017 Tom Watson Brown Book Prize. He can be contacted at phillicr@ucmail.uc.edu.

On the Civil War’s Causes

In the seven years we’ve been in print, the Journal of the Civil War Era has published a number of essays focused on Civil War causation. I turn to a number of these when I teach the Civil War and I have actually advised others—people I’ve met on the sidelines of soccer fields, when walking the dog in my neighborhood, or chatting with a parent at back-to-school night—to take a look for themselves. Indeed, in our second issue published in June 2011, we published Frank Towers’ “Partisans, New History, and Modernization: The Historiography of the Civil War’s Causes, 1861-2011.”

In the essay, Towers identifies the origins of the debate about what caused the Civil War in the war generation of partisans—people like Alexander Stephens and Jefferson Davis, on the one side, and William Seward, among others, on the other side—men who, according to Towers, were motivated by their “obsession with the protagonists’ questions of who was to blame for dissolving the Union and why.”[1] These men were followed by generations of professionally trained historians who returned to the question of what caused the Civil War, each time with new sources and methods at their disposal and moved by a willingness to follow the evidence where it took them. Today is a great day to go back and read Towers’ essay—or to recommend it to someone else. And, perhaps you’d like to recommend something else, from the pages of JCWE or elsewhere? Our back issues are available through ProjectMuse and are part of the benefits of membership in the Society of Civil War Historians.

[1] Frank Towers, “Partisans, New History, and Modernization: The Historiography of the Civil War’s Causes, 1861-2011,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 1, no. 2 (June 2011): 240.

Editor’s Note: June 2017 Issue

The essays in this issue seek to reopen debates on topics central to our understanding of Civil War causes and the administration of the war, namely, tariffs, states’ rights, and Confederate draft exemption. Another essay revisits an important freedom suit that stood ominously in the background as the Dred Scott case was argued. In each, the author pays careful attention to the words and actions of legislators—and litigators—as they sought to respond to local needs while navigating a national crisis. There are all sorts of surprises here.

The issue opens with Earl Hess’s Tom Watson Brown acceptance speech. Hess issues a call to action for scholars to continue to find ways to revitalize military history by refusing to limit ourselves to four years and by continuing to internationalize the field. Hess also encourages scholars to take on the smallest aspects of military history, for in them we can illuminate larger issues in the history of war—something that Hess did with great effect in his Watson Brown Prize–winning book, Civil War Infantry Tactics: Training, Combat, and Small-Unit Effectiveness.

Daniel Peart’s essay reveals the fierce politicking at work as Congress deliberated the 1846 tariff. Rather than following their party, congressmen operated on a diverse set of interests, including the demands of their constituents and their personal principles. Peart reminds us of the importance of paying attention to agency and contingency within the party system as he charts the tariff’s unlikely passage, in a Democratic Senate, after an eleventh-hour resignation of a principled Democrat. Peart shows us that the period’s interminable tariff debates need not be narcolepsy-inducing but rather can offer historians a fresh perspective on antebellum politics.

Sarah Gronningsater tells the story of the freedom suit that, had it arrived at the Taney court, had the potential of bringing slavery into states that had long ago prohibited it. The case hinged on whether a Virginia couple—Jonathan and Juliet Lemmon—retained ownership of their slaves when they arrived in New York, where they prepared to board a steamer to New Orleans. Once there, a local black activist—Louis Napoleon—launched a freedom suit on the slaves’ behalf, one that, in the wake of Dred Scott, had the potential of receiving a ruling sympathetic to slave owners demanding an absolute right of safe transit for their slave property. Revisiting the 1852 Lemmon case allows Gronningsater to explore how black laborers used the legal process in the North to force the nation to debate the legal limits of slavery.

States’ rights, Michael E. Woods tells us, was an issue that northern Republicans felt keenly. Indeed, he argues that in the 1850s Republicans rediscovered and claimed “an alternate states’ rights tradition” and refined it into a powerful antislavery weapon, criticizing federal slavery policy. Republicans, Woods insists, were the real antebellum proponents of states’ rights, adhering closely to eighteenth-century precedents intended to protect civil liberties.

John Sacher reconsiders the controversial Confederate draft exemption called the “twenty-negro” law.” Popular resentment of the law, he argues, often focused on those who abused it, and, in any case, very few men were exempted for this reason. Stressing popular demands for protection from slave rebellion, Sacher refers to the law as an “overseer law” and examines how Confederate congressmen revised it in response to criticism. Sacher argues that rather than a regressive measure that fell heavily on the shoulders of the poor, the law was shaped to respond to their needs.

William Carrigan’s review essay on lynching rounds out this issue. Carrigan surveys recent scholarship expanding our perspective on lynching to include understudied groups—such as Native Americans and Chinese, Italian, and other immigrants—and new approaches, such as global and transnational perspectives. He finds that the Civil War era was a critical turning point in the history of American lynching, a point that has been missed in the scholarship that focuses on the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Historians have much to learn by situating the study of lynching in the history of mob violence, beginning in the antebellum period.


If you don’t already subscribe to the journal, click here to join the Society of Civil War Historians, which includes a journal subscription as a member benefit. We also partner with Project Muse, so you can access the upcoming issue through a Project Muse subscription as well!

Violence After Victory: Reconstruction Scholarship at the OAH

The streets, sidewalks, and facades of New Orleans’ famous Canal Street repeatedly bore witness to terrible outbursts of violence throughout the Reconstruction Era, as ex-Confederates tried to overturn the egalitarian reforms of Reconstruction through bloodshed and intimidation. Several of the most important massacres and street battles in the history of Reconstruction happened within walking distance of the Marriott, this year’s venue for the Organization of American Historians (OAH). In fact, the Mechanics’ Institute Massacre of 1866, which Philip Sheridan famously termed “an absolute massacre by the police” of supporters of black suffrage, took place just four blocks up Canal Street from the conference.[1] In this sense, the OAH was a fitting venue for Sunday’s panel, “Democratizing Violence in the Post-Civil War South.”

The panel explored the role of violence in shaping Reconstruction and the meaning of the Confederate defeat. Two of the speakers, David Williard and Carin Peller-Semmens, employed a bottom-up perspective to gauge the impact of vigilantism on the parameters of Reconstruction, while the third, Bradley Proctor, examined the ideology behind acts of white supremacist violence. Despite the different methodologies, the panelists made a single, collective assertion that the wave of postwar violence carries significant implications for our understandings of the arc of Reconstruction, its design, and its possibilities.

Peller-Semmens makes perhaps the most recognizable claim about postwar violence: that white vigilantism constituted an important political tool through which former Confederates regained local control after the war. Her essay, “‘The Creatures Do Not Respect Their Creator’: The Unifying Power of Violent White Supremacy in Northwest Louisiana,” argues persuasively that ex-Confederates in northwestern Louisiana used violence as a tool to overthrow the Republican Party in the Red River region of the state. Peller-Semmens examines the correspondence and political origins of three massacres in the region–at Shady Grove, Colfax, and Coushatta–finding that vigilantes tortured and killed local Republicans in grisly spectacles to permanently disable the party.

Where previous narratives of violence in northwest Louisiana tend to discuss postwar violence within its immediate context, Peller-Semmens provides a more detailed and sophisticated framework by alluding to antebellum systems of power.[2] She finds that “violence supplanted mastery as the means of subjugating freedpeople” after the war, cutting across class lines and prior party affiliation as part of a popularized struggle in ways slavery never could. This widespread white vigilantism in northwest Louisiana helped institutionalize white power and citizenship at the expense of African Americans while repositioning the remembered antebellum plantation regime to align more closely with the rhetoric white solidarity than property. In short, vigilantism rendered white southern politics participatory.

Williard likewise argues compellingly in “The Violent Creation of Confederate Veteranhood” that ex-Confederates’ acts of vigilantism in the immediate aftermath of the war indicate real changes to southern social and political hierarchies. Williard’s argument finds poignant illustration in his telling of an attack on a formerly enslaved man in Mississippi by a group of Confederate veterans. The victim, whose name was sadly omitted in the records, carried a pass from his enslaver-turned-employer to visit another plantation. Rather than respect the authority conveyed by the pass, however, the ex-Confederates declared “we don’t give a damn for that” and brutally assaulted the bearer. For Williard, widespread incidents like this indicate that the nature of citizenship itself had been altered during the war and its aftermath. White violence transformed the antebellum hierarchy predicated on the fetishization of enslavers’ property-in-persons to one based on white men’s “capacity to weild force… [as] the basis for standing within their communities.” These vigilantes acted to make sense of their Confederate service and challenge the classist version of white supremacy that characterized the region in the antebellum period.

Williard and Peller-Semmens’s more granular analyses of the role of violence in shaping the course of Reconstruction pair well with Proctor’s larger ideological framework in “The Mind of the Klan: An Intellectual History of White Supremacy during Reconstruction.” Proctor notes that though the antebellum order had been thoroughly upended by the war and emancipation, the nature of its replacement was still very much in doubt during Reconstruction. This uncertainty, for Proctor, helped inspire the Klan to pursue violence. In this sense, as with Williard and Peller-Semmens, postwar white vigilantism represents more of a response to changes brought by emancipation than an urge to maintain the prewar regime of plantation violence.

Proctor weaves examples of Klan violence into this ideological narrative to illustrate its connection to material systems of power. He finds that over half of the local officials and politicians they assaulted were white, and that Klansmen also attacked planters whose terms of employment seemed to favorable to freedpeople, representing a significant breach with the property-oriented, elite-friendly antebellum system. Proctor likewise argues that Klansmen espoused a specific vision of the post-emancipation household and regularly assailed “white or black, who seemingly challenged strict familial or sexual boundaries of race.” As a result, he observes, two thirds of the women attacked by Klansmen were single, versus only about one tenth of men.

The overarching vision of the panel indicates the richness of the “Dark Turn” in studies of the Civil War era.[3] Although violence alone falls flat as an analytical construct (as chair and commenter Greg Downs rightly noted), the renewed emphasis on violence provides an opportunity to better understand the workings of local government and its relationship to white supremacy. Indeed, one of the most significant and unfortunate achievements of Reconstruction was embedding white supremacy in state and local systems of power at the very moment when it might have finally been vanquished. Placing a greater emphasis on acts of violence also allows historians of the period to locate white northerners within the workings of white supremacy. Did they tacitly condone these acts, actively participate, or accept them as the price for Reunion? Despite the innovative work of Edward Blum, Chandra Manning, Elaine Parsons, and others in this direction, there is still much we do not know about the northern role in Reconstruction violence.[4] And if the many panels examining the legal implications of Reconstruction are any indication, the project of outlining the material and cultural limits of Radical reforms within the context of white supremacy and vigilantism will remain important for the foreseeable future.

[1] James Hogue, Uncivil War: Five New Orleans Street Battles and the Rise and Fall of Radical Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006), 44.

[2] Gilles Vandal provides by far the best survey of postwar violence in Homicides in Post-Civil War Louisiana, 1866-1884 (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2002).

[3] Brian Matthew Jordan, “The Future of Civil War History,” Emerging Civil War, June 23, 2016, https://emergingcivilwar.com/2016/06/23/the-future-of-civil-war-history-brian-matthew-jordan/.

[4] Edward Blum, Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism, 1865-1898 (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2005). Chandra Manning, What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War (New York: Knopf, 2007). Elaine Parsons, Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2015).

William Horne

William Horne is a PhD candidate at The George Washington University and editor at The Activist History Review, http://www.activisthistory.com. His research explores the relationship of race to labor, freedom, and capitalism in post-Civil War Louisiana. Mr. Horne’s dissertation, “Carceral State: Baton Rouge and its Plantation Environs Across Emancipation,” examines the ways in which white supremacy and capitalism each depended on restricting black freedom in the aftermath of slavery. He can be contacted at horne.activisthistory@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @wihorne.

Author Interview: Nancy Bercaw

To coincide with our March 2017 special issue on Reconstruction, we interviewed Nancy Bercaw, curator of the Slavery and Freedom exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture. Dr. Bercaw contributed to our roundtable discussion on how Reconstruction is represented in public history contexts. In this interview she discusses the challenges, surprises, and pitfalls she encountered while preparing these exhibits, and she also provides some timely advice for those interested in pursuing museum studies.


What were some of the challenges of telling the story of Reconstruction at the Museum of African American History and Culture? How did curators address those challenges?

Perhaps the greatest challenge we faced was how to maintain the complexity of the Reconstruction era without overwhelming the visitor. From teaching, I knew that students get lost in the twists and turns of Reconstruction and drown in legal acts and proclamations. The result is that they can’t see the forest for the trees. We addressed this by using physical space to our advantage. We set the legislative acts on a wall that literally faces another wall that explores the variety of African American expressions of freedom. Then we were careful to make sure each wall referred to the other. The ungodly violence was more difficult to convey. So we made a media piece filled with voices and images from the period to give force and movement to the period.

Do you have any sense of how visitors react to the parts of the exhibits that deal with emancipation, Reconstruction, and the rise of Jim Crow? What questions do they have? What surprises them?

Perhaps the biggest surprise for many visitors is that emancipation was the result of African American thought and action. People are used to the Lincoln story or the fact that “the nation” waged a war against slavery. They see this as inevitable. So when they see the story through the African American lens they understand that the demise of slavery was far from inevitable, far from complete, and that it took thought, action, and political ingenuity. They are also taken aback that African American men held elected office after the Civil War and that so many homes, businesses, and institutions were built in this period. Jim Crow is less of a surprise.

In light of new developments like the museum, the new Reconstruction Era National Monument, and public commemorations of the Memphis Massacre, do you think it’s increasingly possible to talk about Reconstruction in public life today?

I certainly hope so. I certainly see it referred to more on social media and in the press. That being said, we have a long way to go. I think most Americans have no idea what Reconstruction was. We hope to use social media and our website to provide a public forum for debates that are largely confined to academic discussion and social activism.

Many people have drawn connections between Reconstruction and our current moment. What do you personally think is the best, most historically honest way to make those connections and tell that story? What are the stakes when we do so, and what are the potential pitfalls?

I think the pitfalls lie in telling any story that makes history seem cyclical, inevitable, or unchanging. This shapes the way I make connections between past and present. I have really appreciated using the concept of afterlives—a sedimentary vision of history—to display past and present. We can do this in a three-dimensional medium through juxtaposition and repetition. For example, when you enter our history galleries you can see down three levels with the Edisto Island slave house on the first floor and the Jim Crow railcar and the Angola prison guard tower on the second floor. You can see the passage of time but you can also see (quite literally) the past in the present.

You moved from being a history professor to being a museum curator. What are some of the biggest differences between the two jobs? How is writing history different from producing it in a museum?

What I have found so delightful and satisfying is how the two careers really work well together. At the University of Mississippi, I was responsible for teaching survey classes that were often quite large. Lectures, therefore, were inevitable. It turns out that this is quite valuable experience for putting together a museum exhibition. For one thing, you are always concerned about your audience. How can you invite them into a topic? How can you make it useful, engaging, and relevant? How can you leave spaces for them to put together the material themselves and own it? Finally, I really enjoyed surveys because you take a large and complex topic and break it down in such a way that it remains complex, but knowable. Exhibitions work the same way. You are faced with a vast array of material and stories (such as U.S. History to 1865). Then you consider your overarching goal. After you gain clarity on that, you construct “units” (or in the case of an exhibition “sections”) that deepen and challenge that thesis. You provide tools for your audience to make sense of and test your assumptions.

What kinds of work experience did you have, prior to going to the museum, that made it possible for you to get a position as a curator? What advice would you give to graduate students in history and other people interested in making a similar transition? 

My experience is very dated in many ways. There was no pathway into the museum field in the 1980s. In college, I kind of felt my way through it and studied history, art history, and literature. I kept looking for history with a life in it. Today that would be in a studies program but they really weren’t developed much in my day. So I became a history major. When I told my advisor that I wanted to work in museums, he was disappointed with me. I am not sure he took me seriously after that. But I was pretty determined so I found my own way. When I graduated from college I lived at home, worked, and saved money and then applied for an internship at the Smithsonian. Against all odds, that turned into a temporary job where I worked on the Inventory Team, then as a museum technician, and finally as a research assistant for Gary Kulik, the Chair of History and Culture. Over those three years, I got pretty restless because I wanted to be more creative and do history. But only curators could do that. And to be a curator, I was told, you had to have a PhD. So I applied to the Department of American Civilization at Penn which had a strong program for material culture and Southern history, and remarkable scholars in African American Studies. After being credentialed in this way, I again felt the pressure to conform and became a professor rather than a curator. It turns out this was great experience. I taught at Rhodes College and at the University of Mississippi, got tenure and all that and then got restless again. I was working on a book about museums and the reconstruction of race when a job came open at the Smithsonian. I jumped at the opportunity. I think my restlessness paid off in the end. Every deviation from the straight path gave me experience I could build on later.

As far as advice to others? Make sure to study material culture and think about it seriously as a form of evidence. A PhD is helpful but not always necessary. Teaching, either formally or informally, is critical. Don’t take “no” for an answer and slough off disrespect. Jobs and job descriptions may define you and define your value, but life’s too short to let that stop you.


We really appreciate Dr. Bercaw’s willingness to chat with us. If you have questions for her, please leave them in the comments! To learn more about the future of Reconstruction studies, please check out our online forum and the rest of our March 2017 issue, available on Project Muse.

The GOP’s Civil War Over Trade Is Nothing New

According to the Financial Times, the Trump White House is fighting a civil war over trade.[1] Trump’s ultra-nationalist “America First” program does not sit well with Republican free traders. Why? Because the program contains a variety of protectionist weapons, including retaliatory tariffs against the country’s largest trading partners, dismantling NAFTA, withdrawal from the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and taking potshots at the World Trade Organization (WTO). In justifying his protectionism, Trump has harkened back to the ideas and policies of the Civil War era. “Listen to this,” Trump said last June. “The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, warned that, quote ‘the abandonment of the protective policy by American government will produce want and ruin among our people.’ He understood it much better than our current politicians, that’s why he was Abraham Lincoln, I guess.”[2] Although it ignores the myriad ways in which the global economy has changed between then and now, Trump’s drawing upon the Republican Party’s protectionist past is illustrative of the long fight between economic cosmopolitanism and economic nationalism that helped define Civil War Era party politics and foreign relations.

Trade was a divisive issue within the GOP from its founding in the 1850s. While the party’s broad adherence to the antislavery mantra “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men” at first hid this ideological conflict between economic nationalism and economic cosmopolitanism, the internal war over trade would end up reshaping and redefining the Republican Party by the early 1880s. The Republican majority, including Abraham Lincoln, was wedded to the Whig-protectionist “American System” of economic nationalism. But, overlooked until recently, the fledgling party also contained a vocal minority of free traders: a regular “who’s who” of radical northern abolitionists.[3]

This minority of Republican abolitionist free traders–most notably Joshua Leavitt, Henry Ward Beecher, Edward Atkinson, William Cullen Bryant, Charles Sumner, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William Lloyd Garrison–did not adhere to Jeffersonianism, however, which had become tied to a defense of Southern slavery. Rather, they subscribed to the mid-century, British-born free trade ideology called “Cobdenism” (aka the Manchester School), named after the Victorian British “apostle of free trade” Richard Cobden, a staunch abolitionist and leader of the mid-century international peace movement.[4] Building upon the international dimensions of David Ricardo and Adam Smith, Cobdenism entailed the belief that free trade and a non-interventionist foreign policy would lead to prosperity and peace the world over. Cobdenism was also closely associated with the Anglo-American abolitionist movement, believing “free men” and “free trade” were but two sides of the same coin.

In 1846 Cobden had led in the successful overthrow of the protectionist Corn Laws in England, ushering in nearly a century of British free trade.[5] That same year, Cobdenites on both sides of the Atlantic had further cause for celebration, when the United States also lowered its tariff (the 1846 Walker Tariff), signaling a transatlantic move toward trade liberalization that continued for another fifteen years.[6] Cobdenites claimed this shift toward freer trade had also helped avoid war with Britain over the Oregon boundary dispute. A “free trade tariff on both sides will settle the matter quickly,” William Cullen Bryant’s New York Evening Post had predicted in late January 1846, “and give us something better to do than fighting.”[7]

This 1846 cartoon from London’s humor magazine, Punch, depicts how free trade in grain would bring a peaceful settlement to the Oregon dispute, with Sir Robert Peel [left] pelting a militant President Polk [right] with “Free Corn.” Courtesy of the author.
But this brief American flirtation with freer trade came to a halt by the time Lincoln entered the White House in 1861. In that year, Republican protectionists got what they wanted. Thanks to the secession of various Southern states in late 1860 and early 1861, the Republican Party’s economic nationalist majority suddenly found itself with the congressional numbers to push through passage of the protectionist Morrill Tariff in March 1861, to the great dismay of the GOP’s Cobdenite minority—and to the great consternation of many in Free Trade England. The close timing of Southern secession and the tariff’s passage caused many in economically cosmopolitan Britain to think at first that the protective tariff’s passage had caused secession, when in fact it had been the other way around. This initial confusion gave rise to the great Civil War lie that the Morrill Tariff had sparked secession, still erroneously touted to this day by myriad neo-Confederate advocates of the Lost Cause. The tariff’s passage thus created serious problems for Anglo-American relations in the first years of the Civil War—and further alienated the Republican Party’s free trade minority.[8]

The rift between the GOP’s protectionist majority and its Cobdenite free trade minority grew even wider after 1865, with the end of the Civil War. With the slaves now freed, the antislavery cause no longer bound together Republican protectionists and free traders. On the one hand, the party’s majority of protectionists sought to establish the party as the economic nationalist defender of the American System; as a result, slogans like “America for Americans” and “Protection for the American Workingman” increasingly peppered post-war GOP parades and conventions. On the other hand, the GOP’s minority of cosmopolitan free traders sought to overthrow the party’s fast-developing, ultra-nationalist protectionist system; for them, freeing trade was a necessary prerequisite for American peace and prosperity, as well as the next step in the emancipation of mankind.

Bearing a strong resemblance to Trump’s “globalist” conspiracy theories today, the Republican protectionist majority became ever more paranoid about the mounting Cobdenite free trade agitation in the United States.[9] Although never finding a smoking gun, the GOP’s top protectionist ideologues were prone to charging that there was a transatlantic free trade conspiracy afoot to undermine American infant industries by dismantling American high tariff walls and thereby allowing in a deluge of cheaper British manufactured goods. As Republican Cobdenite Joshua Leavitt observed in 1869, “no man of prominence in America can support even a partial relaxation of the rigours of Protection without bringing upon himself the stigma of being a partisan, and probably a pensioner, of ‘British Free Trade.’”[10]

The GOP’s internal ideological conflict over trade reached a breaking point in 1872, much like last year when free traders in the Republican National Committee contemplated running a third-party ticket once Trump appeared the likely nominee.[11] In 1872, however, the re-nomination of the corruption-laden protectionist Ulysses S. Grant broke the Republican elephant’s back. Disgusted, Republican Cobdenites decided enough was enough, and ran their own independent ticket. They named themselves the Liberal Republican Party, “liberal” in the Civil War era referring to liberal economic policies like free trade. The attempt ended in dismal failure, however, when protectionist editor of the New York Tribune Horace Greeley hijacked the nomination proceedings, to the dismay of the splinter party’s free trade founders.[12]

In this cartoon, Thomas Nast mocks the New York Tribune’s editorial tactic of tying Cleveland to British free trade and Southern slavery in the lead up to the 1884 elections. Courtesy of HarpWeek.

The Republican Party’s free trade independents learned hard lessons from the debacle of 1872. So when the GOP nominated another corruption-laden protectionist candidate in 1884–the “Plumed Knight” James G. Blaine of Maine–those in favor of free trade decided instead to throw their support behind the reform-minded Democratic nominee, New York Governor Grover Cleveland, who seemed amenable to lowering US tariff walls. Their party treachery earned them the moniker “Mugwumps” and helped swing some close races in the northeast for Cleveland. Their defection also allowed the GOP to become the party of protectionism through and through, an ideological position that its rank and file would maintain until the Reagan Revolution. Trump’s “anti-globalist” nostalgia for Lincoln’s economic nationalism is therefore rather apt, heralding a return to the party’s paranoid protectionist roots. If the Republican Party’s Civil War era past is any guide, Trump’s protectionism might also herald another GOP civil war over trade, and the return of the Mugwumps.

[1] “White House Civil War Breaks Out Over Trade,” Financial Times, https://www.ft.com/content/badd42ce-05b8-11e7-ace0-1ce02ef0def9 (10 March 2017).

[2] “Read Donald Trump’s Speech on Trade,” Time, http://time.com/4386335/donald-trump-trade-speech-transcript/ (28 June 2016).

[3] Marc-William Palen, The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle Over Empire and Economic Globalization, 1846-1896 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016); See also Marc-William Palen, “Free-Trade Ideology and Transatlantic Abolitionism: A Historiography” Journal of the History of Economic Thought 37, no. 2 (June 2015): 291-304.

[4] See, especially, Peter Cain, “Capitalism, War, and Internationalism in the Thought of Richard Cobden” British Journal of International Studies 5 no. 3 (October 1979): 229-247; David Nicholls, “Richard Cobden and the International Peace Congress Movement, 1848-1853” Journal of British Studies 30 no. 4 (October 1991): 351-376; Martin Ceadel, “Cobden and Peace,” in Anthony Howe and Simon Morgan, eds., Rethinking Nineteenth-Century Liberalism: Richard Cobden Bicentenary Essays (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006): 189-207.

[5] Anthony Howe, Free Trade and Liberal England, 1846-1946 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997); Frank Trentmann, Free Trade Nation: Commerce, Consumption, and Civil Society in Modern Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

[6] Scott C. James and David A. Lake, “The Second Face of Hegemony: Britain’s Repeal of the Corn Laws and the American Walker Tariff of 1846,” International Organization 43, no. 1 (January 1989): 1-29; Patrick J. McDonald, The Invisible Hand of Peace: Capitalism, The War Machine, and International Relations Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 141-155.

[7] New York Evening Post (12 January 1846).

[8] Marc-William Palen, “The Great Civil War Lie,” New York Times, https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/05/the-great-civil-war-lie/ (5 June 2013); Palen, “Debunking the Civil War Tariff Myth,” Imperial & Global Forum, https://imperialglobalexeter.com/2015/03/02/debunking-the-civil-war-tariff-myth/ (2 March 2015); Palen, “The Civil War’s Forgotten Transatlantic Tariff Debate and the Confederacy’s Free Trade Diplomacy” Journal of the Civil War Era 3, no. 1 (March 2013): 35-61.

[9] “Globalism: A Far-Right Conspiracy Theory Buoyed by Trump,” New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/15/us/politics/globalism-right-trump.html (14 November 2016).

[10] Joshua Leavitt, An Essay on the Best Way of Developing Improved Political and Commercial Relations Between Great Britain and the United States of America (London, 1869), 32-33.

[11] “Republican Party Could Split if Trump is Chosen,” BBC Radio 5, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03pwkgk (3 April 2016); “The GOP’s Nuclear Option to Stop Donald Trump: A Third-Party Candidate,” Daily Beast, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/04/01/the-gop-s-nuclear-option-to-stop-donald-trump-a-third-party-candidate.html (1 April 2016).

[12] See, for instance, Andrew L. Slap, The Doom of Reconstruction: The Liberal Republicans in the Civil War Era (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006).

Marc-William Palen

Marc-William Palen is a historian at the University of Exeter. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle over Empire and Economic Globalization, 1846-1896 (Cambridge, 2016). He is also the editor of the history blog The Imperial & Global Forum, and co-director of History & Policy’s Global Economics and History Forum (King’s College, London). He can be reached at m.palen@exeter.ac.uk. You can follow him on Twitter @MWPalen.