Category: Muster

States’ Rights and Antislavery Activism

States’ Rights and Antislavery Activism

Michael E. Woods, associate professor of history at Marshall University, has joined our team of Muster correspondents. He is the author of two books and several articles about politics in the antebellum period. Here he offers his first Field Dispatch. Let us know what you think in the comments!

The “states’ rights!” refrain is echoing in American politics, often coming from unexpected directions. California has crafted an independent climate change policy. Dozens of states have challenged the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Prospective “sanctuary states” from New York to Nevada might limit their collaboration with federal immigration authorities. There is ample evidence supporting columnist Charles Lane’s remark that, in 2017, “liberals are learning to love states’ rights.”[1]

Is this trend significant? Definitely, although its full influence will not be known until confrontations between state and federal authorities unfold. Is it surprising, ironic, or unprecedented? No. Americans across the political spectrum have leveraged state power against federal might. States’ rights appeals, as battle cries or as blueprints for political action, are neither distinctively Southern nor intrinsically reactionary. Secessionists in the nineteenth century and segregationists in the twentieth claimed ownership states’ rights in the name of white supremacy. But other historical cases are starkly different – and quite pertinent. Take the foundational texts of many states’ rights doctrines, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison’s Kentucky (1799) and Virginia (1798) Resolutions. They assert that a state government may interpose to protect the civil rights of its citizens against unconstitutional federal usurpation.[2] They were also written in response to federal efforts to suppress journalistic dissent and expedite the deportation of foreigners. States’ rights have been wielded both to attack and to defend the values of liberty and equality that the United States, at its best, has championed.

Among the most important, but commonly forgotten, advocates of states’ rights were the antislavery activists who launched the Republican Party in the 1850s. As I explored more thoroughly in a recent Journal of the Civil War Era article, early Republicans used states’ rights to win voter support and to challenge proslavery federal policies.[3] For Northerners who feared that federal officeholders served an insidious southern “slave power,” states’ rights offered a desperately needed basis for resistance.

Slavery’s foes deployed states’ rights with skill, most notably against the Fugitive Slave Act. Passed as part of the Compromise of 1850, the Act was one of the nineteenth century’s boldest expansions of federal power. Designed to put teeth into the Constitution’s ambiguous provision that fugitives “be delivered up” to their masters,[4] the Fugitive Slave Act made the recovery of runaway slaves a federal priority. Federal officers were bound to help capture accused fugitives. Bystanders could be compelled to assist. Failing to cooperate, or aiding a fugitive, could be punished with fines or imprisonment. And when an alleged fugitive was hauled before a federal commissioner tasked with executing the Act, he or she had no right to legal counsel, a jury trial, or an opportunity to testify. Commissioners who ruled in favor of masters received a ten dollar fee; those who released accused fugitives earned only five dollars.[5]

Political cartoon illustrating a woman being taken into custody
“Practical Illustration of the Fugitive Slave Law,” 1851. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Northern critics denounced the Act for violating civil liberties and states’ rights. They followed Jefferson and Madison’s example by linking individual freedom to the right, and duty, of a state to protect them. Antislavery Northerners, including many future Republicans, regularly joined Salmon P. Chase in denying that the federal government had authority to recover fugitive slaves. They assigned this power to the states alone.[6] Gideon Welles, who would serve with Chase in Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, blasted the Fugitive Slave Act as an “invasion of the states” every bit as malicious as the Alien and Sedition Acts.[7]

The oratorical onslaught against the Fugitive Slave Act persisted long after 1850. Individual cases, including the recapture of Anthony Burns in 1854, coupled with efforts to strengthen the law, kept the issue alive. When Southern senators backed an 1855 bill to exempt officers from state prosecution for acts committed while enforcing federal laws, Salmon Chase led the counterattack. He knew the bill’s intent was to embolden federal slave catchers, and he condemned it as “a bill for the overthrow of State rights” which would “establish a great central, consolidated, Federal Government,” and as a step “towards despotism.” He wondered how southerners who “profess State-Rights doctrines” could stomach it.[8]

Salmon P. Chase, c. 1855-1865. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

These rhetorical appeals helped Republicans deflect criticism. Their proslavery foes, casting themselves as defenders of liberty, denounced the young Republican Party as a cabal of budding tyrants. South Carolina’s James Chesnut accused Republicans of plotting to “prostrate the States, consolidate the Government,” and impose “a mighty and odious despotism.”[9] By pledging loyalty to states’ rights, Republicans claimed space in the mainstream of American political history and theory. Henry Wilson affirmed that his party and Jefferson’s shared more than just a name: “the Republican party of 1856, like the Republican party of 1800, is the party of State rights.”[10]

In the long run, these appeals could win votes for Republican candidates. But fugitive slaves, free blacks, and their white allies lived in the short run, under the threat of federal prosecution. To offer pragmatic resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act at the grassroots level, Republicans again relied on states’ rights.

Many Republicans turned to state legislation to defang the hated Act. Republicans spearheaded the movement for “personal liberty laws” in the mid-1850s. In the first half of the nineteenth century, some Northern states had already passed similar legislation, but after the Fugitive Slave Act and several dramatic fugitive cases, Republicans demanded more vigorous action.[11] These state measures worked on two levels. Most offered legal protections to accused runaways. Michigan’s law, for example, guaranteed defendants’ recourse to the writ of habeas corpus and the right to a jury trial. The law also required prosecuting attorneys to defend accused fugitives; required testimony from two witnesses to prove fugitive status; and made it a criminal offense to arrest free persons with intent to enslave them.[12] Other laws, like Massachusetts’s exceptionally powerful 1855 law, also sought to divorce the state from the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act. State officers could not issue arrest warrants under that Act, and Massachusetts attorneys could not represent self-proclaimed masters in court.[13] As the Republican Party’s strength waxed in the 1850s, nine Northern states passed new or reinvigorated personal liberty laws. Many Republicans believed that the Fugitive Slave Act was not merely odious, but unconstitutional. State legislatures could impede its enforcement but it was state courts which attempted to nullify the law altogether.

Nowhere were the links between states’ rights and Republicans’ antislavery politics clearer than in Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s showdown with the “slave power” began when antislavery activists helped fugitive Joshua Glover reach freedom in 1854.[14] Among them was Sherman Booth, an antislavery newspaper editor and future Republican, who was convicted in a federal court for violating the Fugitive Slave Act. In what one scholar deemed “the most extreme declaration of state judicial power north or south of the Mason-Dixon Line,” Wisconsin’s state supreme court overturned Booth’s conviction, holding that the Fugitive Slave Act was unconstitutional because states reserved the power to handle fugitive cases.[15] In 1859, the U.S. Supreme Court responded by defending the Act’s constitutionality and asserting its supremacy over state courts. Undaunted, Wisconsin’s state legislature wove the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions into a defiant resolution of protest, insisting that because the states had created the federal government, they alone were competent to define its powers. Republicans cast all sixty of the votes for this states’ rights manifesto.[16]

Byron Paine, n.d. In Henry E. Legler, Wisconsin History: The Story of the State (Milwaukee: The Sentinel Company, 1898), 229.

The case reverberated through Wisconsin politics. When Republican Orasmus Cole ran for a seat on the famed state supreme court, he adopted “State Rights, State Sovereignty, and the personal liberty of all our citizens” as his slogan. This melding of civil liberties, state rights, and antislavery fervor forged a winning campaign. During the next contest for a seat on the court, Republicans boldly nominated Byron Paine, who had represented Sherman Booth. With supporters urging voters to endorse “STATE RIGHTS AND BYRON PAINE,” Paine triumphed.[17]

Given popular memory of the Civil War era, it seems ironic that antislavery Northerners were, as Paul Finkelman has argued, “the most important proponents of states’ rights in the antebellum period.”[18] But their reliance on states’ rights was predictable. With slavery’s supporters dominating all three branches of the federal government, and with proslavery politicians insisting that Republicans aspired to authoritarianism, antebellum Republicans readily used states’ rights to rally northern support, deflect southern criticism, and resist proslavery policies. They would have embraced the eulogy later given to Salmon Chase, whom one admirer described as a “States Rights man always in the interest of liberty.”[19]


[1] Charles Lane, “Liberals Are Learning to Love States’ Rights,” Washington Post, March 15, 2017, accessed September 12, 2017,

[2] “Kentucky Resolution – Alien and Sedition Acts,” The Avalon Project, accessed September 12, 2017,; “Virginia Resolution – Alien and Sedition Acts,” The Avalon Project, accessed September 12, 2017,

[3] Michael E. Woods, “‘Tell Us Something about State Rights’: Northern Republicans, States’ Rights, and the Coming of the Civil War,” Journal of the Civil War Era 7, no. 2 (June 2017): 242-268.

[4] U.S. Const. art. IV, sec. 2.

[5] Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Slaveholding Republic: A History of the United States Government’s Relations to Slavery, completed and edited by Ward M. McAffee (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 231-232; Thomas D. Morris, Free Men All: The Personal Liberty Laws of the North, 1780-1861 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), 145-146; Kristen Epps, “Habeas Corpus, the Fugitive Slave Law, and Executive Authority,” Muster Blog, accessed September 12, 2017, For the text of the Act, see “Fugitive Slave Act 1850,” The Avalon Project, accessed September 7, 2017,

[6] Cong. Globe, 31st Cong., 1st Sess., appendix, 1587 (August 19, 1850).

[7] [Gideon Welles] to My Dear Sir, October 15, 1851, Gideon Welles Papers, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Connecticut.

[8] Cong. Globe, 33rd Cong., 2d Sess., appendix, 212 (February 23, 1855).

[9] Cong. Globe, 36th Cong., 1st Sess. 1617 (April 9, 1860).

[10] Cong. Globe, 34th Cong., 3d Sess., appendix, 65 (December 19, 1856).

[11] Morris, Free Men All, chapters 3, 7.

[12] William McDaid, “Kinsley S. Bingham and the Republican Ideology of Antislavery, 1847-1855,” Michigan Historical Review 16, no. 2 (Fall 1990): 71.

[13] Morris, Free Men All, 168-173.

[14] H. Robert Baker, The Rescue of Joshua Glover: A Fugitive Slave, the Constitution, and the Coming of the Civil War (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2006).

[15] Jeffrey Schmitt, “Rethinking Ableman v. Booth and States’ Rights in Wisconsin,” Virginia Law Review 93, no. 5 (September 2007): 1315-1316.

[16] Michael J. McManus, “‘Freedom and Liberty First, and the Union Afterwards’: State Rights and the Wisconsin Republican Party, 1854-1861,” in Union & Emancipation: Essays on Politics and Race in the Civil War Era, eds. David W. Blight and Brooks D. Simpson (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1997), 50-51.

[17] McManus, 42-43, 51.

[18] Paul Finkelman, “States’ Rights, Southern Hypocrisy, and the Crisis of the Union,” in Union & States’ Rights: A History and Interpretation of Interposition, Nullification, and Secession 150 Years After Sumter, ed. Neil H. Cogan (Akron, OH: University of Akron Press, 2014), 68.

[19] “Salmon P. Chase,” American Law Record 15 (1886-87): 307.

Michael E. Woods

Michael E. Woods is Assistant Professor of History at Marshall University. He is the author of Bleeding Kansas: Slavery, Sectionalism, and Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas Border (Routledge, 2016) and Emotional and Sectional Conflict in the Antebellum United States (Cambridge University Press, 2014), which received the 2015 James A. Rawley Award from the Southern Historical Association. He is currently at work on a book entitled Arguing until Doomsday: Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and the Struggle for American Democracy.

Public Iconography, Museum Education, and Reconstruction Era History

Public Iconography, Museum Education, and Reconstruction Era History

Today, correspondent Nick Sacco shares his first Field Dispatch. Nick is a public historian working for the National Park Service as a Park Guide at the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis, Missouri. He holds a master’s degree in history with a concentration in public history from IUPUI. The views expressed in this essay and future essays are solely the author’s and do not reflect the views of the National Park Service.

In a recent essay about public monuments, statues, and other iconography dedicated to the American Civil War, historian Sarah Handley-Cousins argues that such icons generally sanitize the war’s causes, context, and consequences with a large dose of artistic romanticism. For many Americans, “we love the Civil War so much that when we are presented with the truth of what those monuments mean, we refuse to accept that what we love was actually a violent struggle in which the [humanity] of Black Americans was at the center.”[1] Rather than fostering a deeper understanding of the conflict, many monuments dedicated to people and events on both sides instead portray a war shorn of meaning beyond honoring military service in a time of war. Meanwhile questions over slavery, citizenship, westward expansion, and the very meaning of the concept of “Union” often go unasked within such spaces.

I find myself in strong agreement with such sentiments, which is why I am skeptical of calls to erect more public monuments dedicated to the Reconstruction era as a way of improving popular understandings of a greatly misunderstood period in American history. For example, political scientist Richard Valelly argues that creating monuments to “the heroes of Reconstruction” can possibly establish a “new politics of historical memory” within America’s commemorative landscape.[2] Valelly’s assertion, however, ignores numerous public memorials to Reconstruction that already exist and have failed to accomplish this goal. Additionally, his thesis hinges on the definition of who constitutes a “hero” of Reconstruction. The existing public memorials throughout the U.S. often celebrate “heroes,” but they celebrate the ones who actively worked to end Reconstruction through deadly, racialized mass violence against Black Americans.

The 1950 historical marker to the Colfax Massacre. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The most extreme examples of such commemorative markers are in Louisiana. To commemorate the Colfax Massacre of 1873 in which more than one hundred African Americans were killed, the state erected a statue in 1950 that openly celebrated “the end of carpetbag misrule in the South.” In this telling the victims were actually the oppressors, and the oppressors were heroes restoring the “natural” social order of society. A nearby obelisk previously erected in 1921 honors three white mobsters who died “fighting for White Supremacy” that day.[3]

The Battle of Liberty Place monument in 1932. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Similarly, up until a few months ago a different monument to another white supremacist group in Louisiana—the White League—stood in New Orleans until Mayor Mitch Landrieu ordered its removal. Here, too, the 1874 Battle of Liberty Place is commemorated as a space where “usurpers” who had attempted to establish biracial governance and political equality in Louisiana were guilty of disrupting the social order. The White League simply aimed to return the state’s white prewar political elites to power through extralegal means. When federal troops were ordered out of the state after the 1876 presidential election, the federal government, according to the monument’s text, “recognized white supremacy in the south and gave us our state.”[4] More than once in my own work as a public historian I have interacted with a visitor who was adamant that all public monuments in America should stay up, but are then shocked when they learn that a monument had been erected to celebrate the attempted overthrow of a democratically elected state government.

To be sure, some work has been done in recent years to revise the historical record. The state of Florida erected a marker in 1989 to African American Congressman Josiah T. Walls in Gainsville; Alabama erected a marker in 2011 in Montgomery listing all African Americans who served in the state legislature during Reconstruction; Georgia erected a marker in 2009 celebrating the life of John Wesley Moore, an African American farmer in Madison who became an independently successful landowner. In Memphis the National Park Service and the NAACP teamed up to erect a marker on the 150th anniversary of the 1866 Memphis massacre, honoring the victims of that deadly event.[5]

While alterations to America’s commemorative efforts for Reconstruction are necessary, that work alone will do little to change the situation. The work of teaching audiences about the era must start in the classroom and the museum. Former President Barack Obama’s establishment of Reconstruction Era National Monument in Beaufort County, South Carolina, was a major victory in this regard, becoming the first National Park Service site to make Reconstruction a centerpiece of interpretation. NPS officials and academic historians promoted this effort for a number of years (including some at the Journal of the Civil War Era), but it was started and sustained through a grassroots effort by the local community in Beaufort, particularly its African American population.[6]

Five generations on Smith’s Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

At Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, the staff has embarked on two important initiatives to interpret and increase awareness of the Reconstruction era. Since the beginning of the year we have hosted several interactive workshops for history teachers in the St. Louis area. These workshops include an immersive visit through the park’s facilities, a collection of more than fifty primary source documents from the Reconstruction era (including speeches, letters, and political cartoons) that are distributed to the teachers, and time to brainstorm ideas for designing classroom activities in a collaborative setting.

The teaching of Reconstruction in middle and high school settings is generally unbalanced. Some teachers do not have time in their curriculum to teach it, while others admit that their knowledge is limited and that they are heavily reliant on textbooks—some of which are badly outdated—to teach the material. One teacher stated that his high school spent two weeks reenacting the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. These workshops, however, work to provide documentation, context, guiding questions, and techniques for interpreting Reconstruction. Specifically, the park aims to interpret Reconstruction as a period that was in some ways “a forerunner of the modern civil rights movement,” in the words of historian Eric Foner.[7]

The other initiative consists of utilizing the park’s museum exhibits on Reconstruction and facilitated dialogue techniques to foster conversations with students about universal concepts like freedom, liberty, and justice. One dialogue we use—”The Many Meanings of Justice”—aims to educate students about the power and ambiguity of the concept of “justice” in American society. We discuss the effort to restore the Union after the Civil War and how Americans had competing versions of what would be fair and just moving forward. Would the country’s political system return to the way it was before the war except without slavery, or would other changes occur? Who in society would be considered an American citizen? Who could run for office and vote? How do societies promote political and social equality? What civil rights issues are students concerned with today?

Academic historians have produced an impressive array of scholarship on the Reconstruction era in recent years, but the work of interpreting and commemorating this period must be complimented with the stories we tell to millions of American students and museum-goers every day. Disseminating this scholarship and providing resources for teachers and students is a centerpiece of my work as a public historian, and I relish every opportunity I get to advance this important goal.


[1] Sarah Handley-Cousins, “Falling Out of Love with the Civil War,” Nursing Clio, August 21, 2017, accessed September 3, 2017,

[2] Richard Valelly, “How About Erecting Monuments to the Heroes of Reconstruction?” The American Prospect, August 23, 2017, accessed September 2, 2017,

[3] Matt LaRoche, “Tributes to Terror: The Mis-Monumentation of the Colfax Massacre,” The Gettysburg Compiler, March 27, 2015, accessed September 2, 2017,

[4] Rebecca Solnit, “The Monument Wars,” Harper’s Magazine, January 2017, accessed September 3, 2017,

[5] “Josiah T. Walls,” The Historical Marker Database, accessed September 1, 2017,; “Black Members of the Alabama Legislature Who Served During the Reconstruction Period of 1868=1879,” The Historical Marker Database, accessed September 1, 2017,; “Reconstruction Property Rights,” The Historical Marker Database, accessed September 1, 2017,; Christopher Blank, “Do the Words ‘Race Riot’ Belong on a Historic Marker in Memphis?” NPR, May 2, 2016, accessed August 30, 2017,

[6] Jennifer Whitmer Taylor and Page Putnam Miller, “The Attempt to Designate Beaufort, South Carolina, The National Park Service’s First Reconstruction Unit” Journal of the Civil War Era 7, no. 1 (March 2017): 39-66; Kritika Agarwal, “Monumental Effort: Historians and the Creation of the National Monument to Reconstruction,” AHA Today, January 24, 2017, accessed September 4, 2017,

[7] David M. Prior, et al., “Reconstruction in Public History and Memory at the Sesquicentennial: A Roundtable Discussion,” Journal of the Civil War Era, May 2016, accessed September 2, 2017, This forum first appeared appeared in the March 2016 issue of the journal.

Nick Sacco

Nick Sacco is a public historian working for the National Park Service as a Park Guide at the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis, Missouri. He recently had a journal article about the Grand Army of the Republic published in the Indiana Magazine of History entitled "The Grand Army of the Republic, the Indianapolis 500, and the Struggle for Memorial Day in Indiana, 1868-1923" (December 2015). Nick also runs a personal blog about history, "Exploring the Past," at

New Editor Joins the JCWE Team

New Editor Joins the JCWE Team

Photo by Wendy Madar.

The Journal of the Civil War Era is delighted to announce the appointment of Stacey Smith as Associate Editor. Dr. Smith is Associate Professor of History at Oregon State University and author of Freedom’s Frontier: California and the Struggle over Unfree Labor, Emancipation, and Reconstruction (University of North Carolina Press, 2013), which won the David Montgomery Prize for the best book in Labor and Working-Class History, awarded by the Organization of American Historians and the Labor and Working-Class History Association (LAWCHA). Stacey is working with Associate Editor, Gregory Downs, to recruit in-depth historiographic review essays.

Stacey is assuming Kate Masur’s position. Dr. Masur was recruited as an Associate Editor, joining Anthony Kaye, when the journal was just getting off the ground. Kate worked alongside Greg to recruit many superb review essays for the journal. Our review essays are critically important, as they bring scholars in disparate fields in conversation with one another and point readers to new directions in the field. Review essays remain one of the most popular features of the journal, are regularly assigned in classes, and enjoy a long shelf life. The success of this feature is a testament to the great work that Kate did for the journal, for which we are deeply grateful.

Please help us welcome Stacey to our JCWE team.

Empty Pedestals and Absent Pedestals: Civil War Memory and Monuments to the American Revolution

Empty Pedestals and Absent Pedestals: Civil War Memory and Monuments to the American Revolution

Today we share the first of our new Field Dispatches, an examination of Civil War memory by Niels Eichhorn, an assistant professor of history at Middle Georgia State University. Dr. Eichhorn specializes in the history of U.S. foreign relations in the nineteenth century, and his work has appeared in Civil War History and American Nineteenth Century History.

On June 17, 2015, when white supremacist Dylan Roof walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and massacred nine parishioners, he set in motion a renewed debate about the nature of monuments honoring the Confederate States of America. Opinions have ranged widely on the subject. While some unreconstructed Southerners continue to insist that these monuments are about heritage, historians have disagreed about the advisability of their removal. A recent conversation saw James Broomall, Director of the John Tyler Moore Center for Civil War Study in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, suggest that monuments have meaning beyond the Confederate representative at their top, while Megan Kate Nelson offered the dramatic suggestion to take jackhammers to the monuments and leave the rubble as reminders of what once was.[1] In the course of the recent monuments debate in New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu made an interesting comparison. Half joking he said, “It would be like putting King George where the Washington Memorial is or Robert E. Lee where Lincoln is.”[2] I want to use this comment as a linchpin for two interrelated conversations that so far are absent from the removal debate: 1) the historical precedent of monument removal, and 2) the connections between the memory of the American Revolution and the Civil War.

John C. McRae, “Pulling Down the Statue of George III,” 1859, American Antiquarian Society. Courtesy of

Reading newspaper articles on the subject of removal, especially in their anonymous comment sections, one gets the feeling that for some white Southerners the removal of these monuments represents the end of the history. However, we should remember that statues have never been safe in the United States. On July 9, 1776, just after the people of New York City heard about the Declaration of Independence, they determined figuratively and literally to break their relationship with the British crown. They tore down King George III’s statue. A memorial to Prime Minister William Pitt also fell victim.[3] In Charleston, a sculpture to William Pitt, erected at the corner of Broad and Meeting Street in 1770, was removed by the city in 1794 for having caused “traffic accidents.” The statue remained at the Charleston Orphan House until 1881, before being moved to a park behind City Hall.[4] Some residents in the newly minted United States fought the symbols of the British Empire. It is an interesting juxtaposition to think about the removal of symbols of British power and the removal of symbols of Confederate power. Maybe Mitch Landrieu should have asked, why there are no statues to George III in the United States?

However, the American Revolution can offer more than just insight into the removal of statues. Where Civil War memory has provided many new insights into reunions, monuments, and battlefield preservation in recent years, the memory of our other defining national conflict has received very little attention. Considering its importance for the country’s history, the American Revolution has scarcely any literature devoted to its memory. It is in this absence where Civil War memory and the American Revolution should interact. In the 1960s, segregationist leaders in Georgia perceived of Cherokee removal as a safe subject to talk about and commemorate, since the Cherokee were no longer present,[5] so too did many people in the country find the American Revolution a safe and unifying topic to commemorate in the aftermath of bloody sectional strife. After all, during the Revolution, North and South had stood united.

Victory Monument at Yorktown, Virginia. Courtesy of the author.

There were initial thoughts about commemorating the American Revolution, but lack of money and Congressional interest prevented the erection of monuments. After the Civil War, in the word of Guilford Courthouse historian Thomas E. Baker, “Patriotism and nationalism were on the ascendant in this period and widespread public support developed for the establishment of memorials to George Washington, the Revolutionary War generation and the principles for which they fought; principles that were the common heritage of both North and South.”[6] It was at the very end of Reconstruction that Congress allocated money to the erection of monuments at Yorktown, Bennington, Saratoga, Newburgh, Cowpens, Monmouth, Groton, and Oriskany. However, Kings Mountain and Guilford Courthouse had to wait until the next decade. The Congressional effort built on a public campaign that had started in the 1850s to collect private money for monuments.

Just like with early Civil War era battlefields, groups only purchased a small piece of land on a Revolutionary battlefield to place their marker. The battlefields themselves often were not preserved for another century. For the 1880 centennial celebration at Kings Mountain, a committee organized, purchased the land where most of the fighting took place, and erected a twenty-nine foot high obelisk.[7] Similarly, although debates over its construction began in 1781, Yorktown finally received its Victory Monument in 1881.

There is one monument in particular that speaks to the use of the Revolution as a commemoration of healing. Dedicated in 1903 at Guildford Courthouse, No North, No South, marks an attempt to look beyond sectional difficulties. On its eastern face is written, “No North/Washington” and on the western face is engraved “No South/Greene.” The choice is deliberate. George Washington was a Southerner who fought largely in the Northern states during the Revolutionary War, whereas the commander of the U.S. forces at Guildford, Nathaniel Greene was from the North. Thus, if these men had no sectional issues, why should people in 1903?

The two faces of the No North, No South monument at Guilford Courthouse. Courtesy of the author.

What does this say about the Civil War? Most importantly, there are two stories of memory that Civil War historians should put into conversation–the American Revolution and the Civil War. It was no coincidence that during and after Reconstruction, monuments to the American Revolution appeared beyond the centennial celebrations. Even more, the dedication and removal of monuments are intricate moments of collective memory. The removal of the William Pitt or George III statues served to the community as a whole a similar purpose as today the removal of Confederate monuments: the symbolic ending of an era of oppression, real or perceived. Reality, as we all know and understand, is that neither the removal of George III in 1776 in New York nor the removal of Robert E. Lee in 2017 in New Orleans fundamentally alter (in the short term) the problems that have caused their removal. However, long term, they can help create a new collective memory. And in the case of the American Revolution that collective memory during Reconstruction may have helped with the healing process, incomplete perhaps, but it still could have offered a commemoration beyond sectional differences.


[1] “Empty Pedestals: What should be done with Civic Monuments to the Confederacy and Its Leaders?” History Net, accessed July 23, 2017,

[2] Jonathan Capehart, “Fighting the Removal of Confederate Monuments is the Real ‘Lost Cause,’” Washington Post, April 27, 2017, accessed July 23, 2017,

[3] Karen A. Franck, “As Prop and Symbol: Engaging with Works of Art in Public Space,” in Uses of Art in Public Space, ed. Julia Lossau and Quentin Stevens (New York: Routledge, 2015), 195.

[4] Carl R. Lounsbury, From Statehouse to Courthouse: An Architectural History of South Carolina’s Colonial Capitol and Charleston County Courthouse (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001), 45.

[5] Andrew Denson, Monuments to Absence: Cherokee Removal and the Contest Over Southern Memory (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

[6] Thomas E. Baker, Redeemed from Oblivion: An Administrative History of Guilford Courthouse National Military Park (National Parks Service, March 1995), 2.

[7] Gregory De Van Massey, An Administrative History of Kings Mountain National Military Park (National Parks Service, 1965), 11.

Niels Eichhorn

Niels Eichhorn is an assistant professor of history at Middle Georgia State University. He holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of Arkansas. His first book, Separatism and the Language of Slavery: A Study of 1830 and 1848 Political Refugees and the American Civil War, is under contract with LSU Press. He has published articles on Civil War diplomacy in Civil War History and American Nineteenth Century History.

Introducing a New Feature, Field Dispatches!

Introducing a New Feature, Field Dispatches!

Beginning this month, Muster is launching an exciting new feature called Field Dispatches. We have recruited a team of talented correspondents—each with a different historical focus and perspective—who will write posts that provide fresh insight into the Civil War era. In each dispatch, correspondents will share thoughts on research, teaching, current events, pop culture, and other topics to build on the excellent discussions we already enjoy in The Journal of the Civil War Era and on the blog.

Our correspondents are: Martha S. Jones, James Marten, Maria Angela Diaz, Michael E. Woods, Hilary N. Green, Christopher Hayashida-Knight, Niels Eichhorn, and Nick Sacco. To find out more about each author, please visit our Correspondents page.

Muster will continue to publish our regular content, including author interviews, announcements about new issues, and posts that are submitted to us for consideration. We hope that readers will find in these dispatches new ways to engage in conversation, and more reasons to explore the pages of JCWE!

By the Standard of Andrew Johnson’s Impeachment, Trump’s Would Be a No-Brainer

By the Standard of Andrew Johnson’s Impeachment, Trump’s Would Be a No-Brainer

A President came to office under a cloud, to help govern a badly divided nation. But he squabbled with his own party, which controlled both houses in Congress, and abused the pardon power in ways that emboldened white supremacists and vigilante terrorists operating outside the law. To avoid accountability for his actions, he dismissed a critical figure in the executive branch, and this proved to be the final move that led Congress to impeach him.

That may sound like a description of the near future, but it is actually the story of Andrew Johnson, the first President in American history to face impeachment. There are crucial differences, though, in the scenarios of 1868 and 2017. For all of his numerous faults, Johnson inherited a nation in the midst of a constitutional crisis. Donald Trump, on the other hand, seems intent on fomenting his own.

Trump’s actions are hastening the prospects of impeachment because they pose the same two questions that Johnson’s did: who can the President fire, and who can he pardon? Trump lurched toward potential impeachment charges in May, when he fired James Comey, the FBI Director investigating the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia. Since then, Trump has left open the possibility of firing Robert Mueller, the special counsel continuing this investigation in the wake of Comey’s firing. Pundits have been spending considerable time weighing the legality of such a move and its likelihood of sparking impeachment.[1]

Trump’s potential use of the pardon has also been implicated in calls for his impeachment. In July, Trump asked his attorneys about his pardon powers, concluding that “the U.S. President has the complete power to pardon.” He exercised that power on August 25, pardoning the unrepentant Joe Arpaio, the convicted Arizona sheriff notorious for racial profiling and violating the civil rights of jailed citizens. Trump announced the unusual move by tweet under the cover of a hurricane, having failed to conduct the Department of Justice review typical of Presidential pardons.

To his critics, Trump’s actions not only embolden the white supremacists and nativists who view Arpaio as a hero, but they also reinforce an impression of Trump’s weak commitment to the rule of law. If the President is willing to pardon Arpaio out of affinity with his contempt for legal process, they say, why would Trump hesitate to pardon members of his inner circle, his family, or himself?[2] Does the President understand and respect the limits of his office? In short, the argument runs, Trump’s potential abuse of the pardon power for corrupt purposes portends a true constitutional crisis. Trump may have the legal power to pardon indiscriminately, but, say some legal scholars, he may still be impeached for abusing it.[3]

Andrew Johnson’s impeachment raised these issues as well. In the months after becoming President in April 1865, Johnson issued a proclamation granting widespread amnesty to those who had taken up arms against the Union. Though he initially excluded Confederate leaders and large slaveholders, he pardoned thousands upon request, including Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens, respectively the President and Vice President of the late Confederacy. By permitting Confederate leaders back into office but denying the franchise to African Americans, Johnson aided the defeated planter class, which used violence and law to reduce freedpeople to an exploited agricultural proletariat.

Johnson also ran afoul of his fellow Republicans in Congress by firing a leading figure in the executive branch. Edwin M. Stanton, the pro-Congress Secretary of War, believed Johnson acted too leniently toward former Confederates. Republican legislators, mistrusting the President, had passed the Tenure of Office Act precisely to compel Johnson to heed the “advice and consent” Congress. Johnson defied it. He sought to replace Stanton with General Ulysses S. Grant, who he offered to pardon should Congress take exception (Grant refused). The move launched the impeachment effort, which ended when the Senate failed to convict Johnson in May 1868.

Thomas Nast, “Andy’s Trip,” Harper’s Weekly, October 27, 1866, 680-81.

President Johnson’s abrasive personality added vastly to his woes. “The truth is, he is a slave to his passions and resentments,” wrote Ohio Senator John Sherman.[4] Stubborn, self-righteous, and defiant, Johnson offered little grist for his eulogizers’ mills. One conceded that he was “too often swayed by fierce passion and prejudice. . . . His great mistake was that he believed Andrew Johnson to be infallible, and opposition embittered and rendered him obstinate and vindictive.”[5] Even the sympathetic Woodrow Wilson, who was a prominent history professor before becoming President, conceded that Johnson “stopped neither to understand nor to persuade other men, but struck forward with crude, uncompromising force for his object, attempting mastery without wisdom or moderation.”[6]

Yet while Johnson is justly deemed one of the worst Presidents in U.S. history, he did face a formidable challenge. He took up the White House by tragic happenstance rather than design — the first to succeed an assassinated predecessor. And he faced the nearly insurmountable charge of quickly reconstructing a nation torn apart by a horrendous war. There was no playbook for such a moment, for the Framers of the Constitution had never planned for it, and this put him constantly at odds with his legislature. “It is time it was settled who is master of the question of reconstruction of the rebel States, the President or Congress,” asked one confused Congressman in 1867.[7] Alas, the Constitution had no answer. Deprived of that referee, Congress and President became inimical forces, struggling tooth-and-nail for control of policy.

The magnanimous Abraham Lincoln had been unable to avoid quarrels with Congress, so it was unlikely the self-pitying Johnson would. “Who has suffered more than I?” he asked a Cleveland crowd, and then proceeded to label the Republicans who had “traduced and assaulted” him a “common gang of cormorants and bloodsuckers.”[8] The conflict between White House and Capitol Hill over control of Reconstruction dramatically magnified his character weaknesses and increased his likelihood of impeachment.

At the same time, the shaky constitutional foundations of his impeachment have always given Johnson’s defenders a potent source of lasting criticism. Republicans in Congress “determined to remove him by means of trumped-up charges, as disgraceful in origin as in substance,” wrote one.[9] Another praised Johnson for contesting the Radical Republicans’ plan to “Africanize the South” by enfranchising freedpeople.[10] Thomas Dixon’s racist novel The Clansman (1905) summarized the popular conservative view: “the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson would mark either the lowest tide-mud of degradation to which the Republic could sink, or its end.”[11]

The current President’s words echo Johnson’s with eerie precision. If Donald Trump is impeached, though, he will not have Andrew Johnson’s excuse. In 1868, two forces—the President’s volatile personality and a constitutional crisis over Reconstruction—combined to create the possibility of impeachment. Trump, however, inherited no constitutional crisis from his predecessor. Instead, his critics charge that he is fomenting his own—by challenging the legitimacy of the electoral process, by impeding legitimate investigations into his own malfeasance, and by undermining public accountability for his administration.

In 2017, only matters of character—an incapacity to admit wrong, consistently tell the truth, respect the mechanisms of constitutionalism, or maintain the high standards of the office—seems likely to doom the present administration. Should it be necessary to thus remove the current President, we can at least feel assured that history has seen something like this before. As fierce as our political divides may be, we are blessedly far from the discord of Reconstruction. We can feel confident that as rare and difficult as impeachment is, it may indeed still serve its intended function, as a remedy of last resort to secure the nation against an unfit executive.


[1] Laura Jarrett, “Can Trump Stop Mueller?” CNN Politics, accessed August 31, 2017,; Conor Friedersdorf, “The Case for Impeaching Trump If He Fires Robert Mueller,” The Atlantic, accessed August 31, 2017,

[2] Philip Bump, “If He’ll Pardon Arpaio, Why Wouldn’t Trump Pardon Those Who Ignore Robert Mueller?” Washington Post, accessed August 31, 2017,

[3] Frank Bowman, “Trump’s Pardon of Joe Arpaio Is an Impeachable Offense,” Slate, accessed August 31, 2017,

[4] John Sherman’s Recollections of Forty Years in the House, Senate, and Cabinet, vol. 1 (Chicago: Werner Co., 1895), 423.

[5] “Death Notice,” Portland (Maine) Daily Press (August 2, 1875), 1.

[6] Woodrow Wilson, A History of the American People, vol. 5 (New York: Harper and Bros., 1903), 1.

[7] “Speech of Hon. E.C. Ingersoll of Illinois,” February 7, 1867, Congressional Globe, 39 Cong., 2d Sess. (House), Appendix, 90.

[8] “Andrew Johnson, Cleveland Speech, September 3, 1866,” in Great Issues in American History, vol. 1, ed. Richard Hofstadter, Clarence Lester Ver Steeg, and Beatrice K. Hofstadter (New York: Vintage, 1958), 28-29.

[9] “Andrew Johnson and Impeachment,” Little Rock Arkansas Gazette (June 27, 1885), 4.

[10] Robert W. Winston, Andrew Johnson, Plebeian and Patriot (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1928), 386.

[11] Thomas Dixon Jr., The Clansman, an Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (New York: Doubleday, Page and Co., 1905), 165.

Patrick Rael

Patrick Rael is Professor of History at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. He is the author of Black Identity and Black Protest in the Antebellum North (North Carolina, 2002), which earned Honorable Mention for the Frederick Douglass Prize from the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. He is also the editor of African-American Activism before the Civil War: The Freedom Struggle in the Antebellum North (Routledge, 2008), and co-editor of Pamphlets of Protest: An Anthology of Early African-American Protest Literature (Routledge, 2001). His most recent book, Eighty-Eight Years: The Long Death of Slavery in the United States, 1777-1865 (University of Georgia Press, 2015), explores the Atlantic history of slavery to understand the exceptionally long period of time it took to end chattel bondage in America.

Gamers Take on the Civil War

Gamers Take on the Civil War

As historians and teachers, we are often keenly aware of how movies and television influence what students think about the Civil War and about history more broadly. In recent years, historians have weighed in on the virtues and distortions of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, and Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave. Some productions have actively sought Civil War historians’ input into their depiction of the past, including Gary Ross’s Free State of Jones and PBS’s Mercy Street.[1] While academic commentary on Civil War era television and film has become commonplace, few historians have examined another venue in which students and the broader public encounter the Civil War: in video games.

Over the past thirty years, more than two dozen Civil War games have been made. With the exceptions of Sid Meier’s Gettysburg! (1997) and Antietam! (1999), most of these games have not been particularly successful. A new game, released in July 2017, looks like it will replace Meier’s work as the most popular Civil War game ever. Produced by a small Ukrainian design team, Ultimate General: Civil War has already received glowing reviews from the video game press and appears on the way to becoming a best seller. On Steam, a popular game purchase site, it had a 9/10 rating, with more than 1,500 reviews.[2]

Ultimate General: Civil War promotional image of a battlefield. Courtesy of Game Labs LLC.

Ultimate General: Civil War is, in gamer terminology, a real-time strategy (RTS) game, a popular genre that involves moving units around a map to defeat opponents and secure resources and locations. The use of “real-time” distinguishes the genre from turn-based strategy games like Civilization or (for luddites) chess. Some readers might object to the use of the term “strategy,” as UG:CW, like most RTS games, is devoted almost entirely to battlefield tactics rather than larger questions of military strategy. As is typical of the genre, UG:CW allows players to build different kinds of units (infantry, skirmishers, cavalry, artillery) and equip these units with a range of weapons. Players can choose either to fight individual battles or, in campaign mode, fight the entire war, building an army along the way.

There is much to recommend in this game. One can play more than three dozen battles, more than any of its predecessors. The maps are both fairly accurate and artfully rendered. The units behave in ways that seem accurate: they march in column and transition to line when in combat, green soldiers are more likely to panic and run than veterans, and overwhelmed soldiers flee or surrender rather than fight to the death. Compared to other RTS games, the pace is pretty slow, which reflects the actual movement of Civil War armies. Best results are obtained by building a large army, occupying fortified ground, and advancing cautiously. Patience rather than daring is rewarded. To this extent, the game provides a reasonable simulation of Civil War tactics. As an introduction to Civil War military history, students could do far worse than this game.

Ultimate General: Civil War screenshot of the 2nd Battle of Bull Run. Courtesy of Game Labs LLC.

While I found UG:CW both fun and addictive, several aspects of the game troubled me. The game largely neglects the Western Theater. Outside of Shiloh, Stones River, and Chickamauga, the entire campaign is fought in the east. There are significant military developments that the game omits, including Vicksburg and the Atlanta Campaign/March to the Sea, though these may be added in later updates. It overemphasizes the importance and differences between firearms: soldiers equipped with 1863 Springfields are noticeably superior to those with 1855 Harpers Ferry rifles. Guerrilla warfare, the home front, politics, and logistics are almost entirely absent. The most significant and disturbing omission from UG:CW is the almost complete invisibility of the African American experience. There are no black soldiers, even in battles where a significant number of African Americans fought. For instance, two brigades (seven regiments) of USCT soldiers participated in Cold Harbor, but their presence is entirely omitted from the game. Indeed, the only reference I found in the entire game to African Americans or slavery a very brief mention on the Union campaign victory screen which notes that “slavery shall cease to exist.” To a large degree, UG:CW articulates an antiquated view of the conflict, omitting politics, motivation, and race. Indeed, UG:CW can be read as a digital updating of the Civil War board games popular during the Centennial.[3]

Ultimate General: Civil War appears to have been made without input from historical consultants; none appear in the game’s credits or in the promotional material associated with the game. The video game industry as a whole has lagged behind television and film in engaging with historians, just as historians have largely neglected to critically engage with video games. As annual revenue from the gaming industry now far exceeds that of film, it may be time for historians to proffer a critical eye to games, just as we do with film and television.


[1] For a small sample of Civil War historians engaging with film and television, see Gary W. Gallagher, Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood & Popular Art Shape What We Know about the Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008); Bruce Chadwick, The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film (New York: Vintage Books, 2002); “Film Roundtable: Lincoln,” Civil War History 59, no. 3 (September 2013): 358-378.

[2] Ultimate General: Civil War can be purchased at For early reviews of the game, see and

[3] Robert J. Cook, Troubled Commemoration: The American Civil War Centennial, 1961-1965 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007), 265; Edward T. Linenthal, Sacred Ground: Americans and their Battlefields (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 98.

David Silkenat

David Silkenat is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of Driven from Home: North Carolina’s Civil War Refugee Crisis (UGA Press, 2016) and Moments of Despair: Suicide, Divorce, and Debt in Civil War Era North Carolina (UNC Press, 2011).

Tuckered Out: Let’s Correct the Record on the History of Slavery and Abolition

Tuckered Out: Let’s Correct the Record on the History of Slavery and Abolition

Screenshot from Tucker Carlson Tonight, August 15, 2017. Courtesy of Fox News.

The contemporary moment is witnessing a disgraceful outpouring of violent racism, emboldened by an erratic President who has made the White House a bully pulpit for white supremacy. As disheartening as this is, it is occasioning an extraordinary amount of history education, as scholars and commentators work feverishly to counter the myths and lies being espoused on the streets and in the halls of power.

Amidst Donald Trump’s historical malfeasance, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson offered yet another nugget of bad history lending aid and comfort to white nationalism. His August 15 commentary argued against the removal of statues honoring slaveholding Americans, suggesting that if slaveholding is to be the standard by which historical figures are to be honored, “nobody is safe.”[1]

Carlson then went on to point out that slavery is an old institution, practiced by African tribes and American Indians, as well as figures such as Plato, Mohammed, and Simon Bolivar. If slaveholding bars us from honoring historical figures, Carlson asserts, there would be few left to honor. “If we’re going to judge the past by the standards of the present, if we’re going to reduce a person’s life to the single worst thing he ever participated in, we had better be prepared for the consequences of that.” Many who signed the Declaration of Independence held slaves, Carlson notes, but “does that make what they wrote illegitimate?”[2]

Personally, I don’t care for historical hero worship and am not a fan of using public spaces to make reductionist arguments about historical figures who deserve nuanced investigation. But Carlson has it all wrong. For one, it is untrue that there’s a “movement” among “Leftists” to reduce the Founders to nothing more than “racist villains,” or have slaveholding Founders such as Jefferson “purged from public memory, forever.”[3] Aside from the obvious caricature here, it is clear that statues honoring historical figures represent a mere fraction of our public memory, which is nourished in myriad realms ranging from classrooms and museums to popular literature and feature films. We are in no danger of forgetting the Founders.

Though he fears the implication of his own concerns, Carlson is right to worry that the Founders’ slaveholding throws their words into question. What does “all men are created equal” mean in a society that has constantly and systematically denied the equality of so many?  From the time those words were penned, marginal Americans have asked this question. Indeed, from the very start of the Revolutionary crisis, African Americans raised the specter of hypocrisy, as when Massachusetts slaves petitioned the colony’s legislature in 1773: “We expect great things from men who have made such a noble stand against the designs of their fellow-men to enslave them. We cannot but wish and hope, Sir, that you will have the same grand object—we mean civil and religious liberty—in view in your next session.”[4] Questioning the country’s fidelity to its founding principles is as American as the Declaration of Independence itself, and as relevant today as in 1776. For two and a half centuries the promise of equality inherent in the Declaration has been ignored or denied. Perhaps they are empty words, platitudes useful primarily for those already secure within the civic community.

Carlson is also wrong in posing the slaveholding of men such as Thomas Jefferson as incidental to their lives rather than as a central feature. Indeed, slavery served as a crucial element in the political philosophy of all of the Founders, who could argue against colonists’ political enslavement to Britain largely because they were so familiar with the practice at home. George Washington made the connection explicit in the midst of the revolutionary crisis, writing: “We must assert our Rights, or Submit to every Imposition that can be heap’d upon us; till custom and use, will make us as tame, & abject Slaves, as the Blacks we Rule over with such arbitrary Sway.”[5] The morality of slavery was thus not a given in the late eighteenth century, but a subject of intense debate. Jefferson himself famously worried that his fortune and his country owed to an unjustifiable moral outrage. “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just,” he wrote, departing from his customary Deism to predict that “supernatural interference” might bring about “a revolution of the wheel of fortune”—his euphemism for a massive slave revolt. He lamented that “the Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.”[6]

Carlson, like many other self-professed conservatives, lauds an American history of expanding freedom. Yet that history was bequeathed to us not by the conservatives who stood against liberty—men such as John C. Calhoun and George Fitzhugh—but the progressive activists who sacrificed life and limb to make the nation adhere to its principles. Enslaved African Americans protested their status through the limited means available to them, while nominally free ones founded a tradition of protest that propelled white abolitionists into action. Those courageous men and women were the most radical social thinkers of their day. They spearheaded the early labor movement, campaigned for women’s rights, embraced pacifism, stood against the death penalty, and experimented with utopian communities. It is hard to imagine Tucker Carlson, were he alive in 1850, giving such people the time of day. Instead, he would prefer to take credit for progressive reforms in the past while opposing them in the present.

Carlson makes a final claim that demands refutation. It is true that slavery has been a feature of a great many societies throughout history, just as it is true that the nation-states of the modern West abolished slavery through a long and arduous process—one that in the United States uniquely required a bloody civil war that cost up to a million lives. But the slavery pioneered by the emerging nation-states of Europe assumed a distinct form.

New World slavery entailed the forced migration of over twelve million souls across the Atlantic—the largest forced migration in history—in the stinking holds of ships designed for a complex trade network dedicated to the purpose of turning people into things. It consigned millions more to be born into bondage and die from disease and overwork. It erected intricate legal systems designed to uphold the right of property in man, warped Christianity and science into ideological justifications for the otherwise unthinkable, and turned slaveholding societies into racialized police states. The key ingredient here was capitalism—a form of economic, political, and social organization in its nascence in the fifteenth century. The new values of profit and property transformed widely disparate practices of human servitude into a modern state mechanism for the ongoing exploitation and degradation of an entire people and an entire continent.[7]

Thomas Nast, “Worse Than Slavery,” Harper’s Weekly, October 24, 1874. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The end of slavery owed to the evolution of capitalism, as new forms of industrial manufacturing and labor control displaced the plantation model. But true to the liberal ideals of the age, freed slaves across the Atlantic were given “nothing but freedom” (in historian Eric Foner’s memorable phrase).[8] Released into competitive economies with nothing but negative social capital and a degraded status in both custom and law, the freedpeople foundered, at which point the liberal state quickly washed its hands of their plight. They fell victim to underdevelopment and exploitation through legal means.[9] In the United States, the white settler population around them banded together to deny their rights through vigilante violence, segregation, and later lynching.[10] It took a century, and yet another progressive movement’s sacrifice of life and limb, to secure the rights promised to the freedpeople upon their emancipation. And as contemporary crises over matters from wealth inequality to police killings of African Americans to the dismantling of statues honoring the Confederate cause demonstrate, the fight is not yet over.[11]

Conservatives like Tucker Carlson may fabricate a past they can live with, but that will not change the truth. Thoughtful readers may decide for themselves the degree to which the country should pat itself on the back for such humanity.


[1] “Tucker on Fate of Slaveholders Washington, Jefferson: ‘If That’s the Standard, Nobody is Safe,’” Fox News, accessed August 18, 2017,

[2] “Tucker Carlson Attempts to Defend America’s History of Slavery by Pointing Out the Aztecs, Africans, and Mohammed Had Slaves Too,” MediaMatters, August 15, 2017,

[3] “Tucker on Fate of Slaveholders.”

[4] “Four Petitions Against Slavery (1773-1777),” History Is A Weapon, accessed August 18, 2017,

[5] “From George Washington to Bryan Fairfax, 24 August 1774,” Founders Online, accessed August 18, 2017,

[6] Thomas Jefferson, “Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII,” American Studies at the University of Virginia, accessed August 18, 2017,

[7] Robin Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492-1800 (New York: Verso, 1988); Robert William Fogel, Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery (New York: W.W. Norton, 1994); Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity: A History of American Slaves (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003); Dale Tomich, Through the Prism of Slavery: Labor, Capital, and World Economy (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004); David Brion Davis, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); Stephanie Smallwood, Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from African to American Diaspora (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007); Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013); Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman, eds., Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).

[8] Eric Foner, Nothing But Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983).

[9] Thomas C. Holt, The Problem of Freedom: Race, Labor, and Politics in Jamaica and Britain, 1832–1938 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992); Sylvia R. Frey and Betty Wood, eds., From Slavery to Emancipation in the Atlantic World (London: Frank Cass and Co., 1999); Frederick Cooper, Thomas C. Holt, and Rebecca J. Scott, eds., Beyond Slavery: Explorations of Race, Labor, and Citizenship in Postemancipation Societies (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

[10] Leon F. Litwack, Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery (New York: Knopf, 1979); Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Business, 1863–1877 (New York: Harper and Row, 1988); Leon F. Litwack, Trouble In Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow (New York: Knopf, 1998); Douglas Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (New York: Anchor, 2008).

[11] Thomas J. Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996); Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New Press, 2010).

Patrick Rael

Patrick Rael is Professor of History at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. He is the author of Black Identity and Black Protest in the Antebellum North (North Carolina, 2002), which earned Honorable Mention for the Frederick Douglass Prize from the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. He is also the editor of African-American Activism before the Civil War: The Freedom Struggle in the Antebellum North (Routledge, 2008), and co-editor of Pamphlets of Protest: An Anthology of Early African-American Protest Literature (Routledge, 2001). His most recent book, Eighty-Eight Years: The Long Death of Slavery in the United States, 1777-1865 (University of Georgia Press, 2015), explores the Atlantic history of slavery to understand the exceptionally long period of time it took to end chattel bondage in America.

Teaching with Statistics: A Case Study

Teaching with Statistics: A Case Study

My great friend Kevin Lambert at California State University, Fullerton says, “Nothing is more humanistic than numbers.” They bring order and precision to our lives, offer definitive and powerful evidence for us, and determine outcomes and decisions on the most difficult and emotionally wrenching issues.

Although the work of historians is an evidence-based profession, most historians are reticent to use evidence from social sciences and sciences, especially statistics. In our quest to better understand the human condition, we draw theories from the fields of humanities, social sciences, and sciences, yet most of our evidence comes from the humanities. Too many historians are completely intimidated by numbers and refuse to embrace them, while others understandably find quantitative studies either tedious reading or insensitive to the joys, hardships, and brutality of the past. But the truth is that numbers and statistical evidence help to enrich and accentuate more humanistic evidence. The question is not only how historians can learn to embrace quantitative evidence, but also, how can we teach this to our students?

The goal in my recent article, “A Tale of Two Armies: The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac and Their Cultures,” published in the September 2016 issue of The Journal of the Civil War Era, is to expose readers to the value of combining qualitative and quantitative evidence.[1] I have certainly utilized more conventional sources, such as personal letters, diaries, and official correspondence. More importantly, I use statistics based on a kind of random sample (technically, a stratified cluster sample) to explain how the culture of the Army of Northern Virginia played an important role in its defeat and how the culture of the Army of the Potomac lay at the heart of its success. On my university webpage I have placed simple-to-follow charts in a PDF that are based on the statistical studies from the article, and also some statistical charts from my book Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia: A Portrait of the Troops Who Served under Robert E. Lee, so that individuals may use them for instruction purposes.[2] The statistical charts not only provide interesting information about military service, but they also give background information on the soldiers who constituted these armies. Such statistics can be an engaging way to help students understand the experiences of common soldiers whose lives might otherwise remain closed to us, and to help them understand aggregate trends within each army.

There are some key themes uncovered in my research that can be used in the classroom to help students reconsider myths that no longer hold true. For instance, the statistical evidence indicates that nearly half of all soldiers in the two armies (taken from my sample of 1,400 total men) were not heads of households.[3]

Personal and Family Wealth. Available on the author’s website.

Still, soldiers in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia were on the whole wealthier than their peers, which may also challenge students’ previously held assumptions.[4] Although all economic classes were represented in the army, the clear evidence in Lee’s army was that it was not a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. Rather, it was a wealthy and disproportionately slaveholding army. Four of every nine soldiers in Lee’s army lived in a slaveholding household and three of eight owned slaves themselves, or their families (with whom they lived) did.

Slaveholding by Percent. Available on the author’s website.

Discussions of desertion in the classroom can also be augmented with hard data. Statistics suggest that wealthy soldiers were far less likely to desert than poor or middle-class troops. The hardships of war weighed heavier on the poor and middle class. While the poor were least likely to have bonds to the community and therefore were more likely to desert, middle-class soldiers had worked hard to achieve that status and had much to lose. They deserted in slightly greater percentages than the poor, which reveals their concerns over losing all they had earned. The fact that so many from the middle class abandoned the army for home also indicates that it had become socially tolerable for soldiers to desert and return home.

Desertion and Economic Class. Available on the author’s website.

An examination of occupations offers our students some great insights into the development of army culture and its influence in leading to Confederate collapse and Union triumph.[5] A majority of Confederate soldiers were farmers, and nineteen of twenty lived in rural areas. Families became the centerpiece of their lives. By contrast, the Army of the Potomac was heavily working class. Three of every five soldiers was a skilled or an unskilled worker, and another 10 percent were farm hands who owned nothing. Most lived in towns or cities, often worked in groups, and were accustomed to structure, discipline, consistency, and reliability. Three in every ten were immigrants, who had endured great hardship to enjoy the civil liberty and opportunities in the United States. Median wealth for men in Lee’s army was six and a half times greater than in the Army of the Potomac. Even though the men in the Army of the Potomac had suffered defeat after defeat, they had developed an esprit de corps. They blamed their leaders and not one another. Thus, when Ulysses S. Grant took over and they suffered staggering losses in the 1864 campaign, the troops endured it. They had lost huge numbers in defeat; at least with Grant they were winning.

In light of this new information, here are some questions that might encourage classroom discussion, when used in conjunction with either my article or the charts available online:

1. How does our perspective of the Civil War change when we take into consideration new data on the comparative wealth of the two armies?

2. What new questions might we ask about decision-making in Lee’s army with this new data on slaveholding patterns?

3. How might we use qualitative data to test these new findings on middle-class desertion?

4. What other myths about the Civil War might it be worthwhile testing with the quantitative techniques discussed here?

Traditional historical evidence and statistics feed each other. They provide fresh insights, amplify the strength of each other, and help to provide a fuller portrait of the Civil War.


[1] Joseph Glatthaar, “A Tale of Two Armies: The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac and Their Cultures,” Journal of the Civil War Era 6, no. 3 (September 2016): 315-46. An abstract is available at; the entire article is available through subscription only.

[2] My website is Click on “A Tale of Two Armies” to access the PDF. See also Joseph Glatthaar, Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia: A Portrait of the Troops Who Served under Robert E. Lee (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

[3] See both the “Personal Wealth” chart in the PDF and the “Personal and Family Wealth” chart that also appears in this blog post.

[4] See the “Economic Class, Southern States and the Army of Northern Virginia” chart on my website.

[5] See the chart titled “Desertion” on my website.

Joseph Glatthaar

Dr. Joseph T. Glatthaar is Stephenson Distinguished Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia: A Statistical Portrait of the Troops Who Served under Robert E. Lee (UNC Press, 2011) and General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse (The Free Press, 2008).

Editor’s Note: September 2017 Issue

Editor’s Note: September 2017 Issue

As we do with each issue, below you will find the editor’s note for our forthcoming September 2017 issue. You can access these articles by subscribing to the journal, or through a Project Muse subscription.

The essays in this volume should inspire us to reconsider how we measure the changes wrought by the Civil War. Two essays highlight how the postwar South remained littered with traps that ensnared freed people and poor whites in poverty and dependency. Confederate widows, too, were directed to new roles that looked a good deal like the old ones–although in their case, there were benefits to accepting them. We begin with an essay that suggests a new way to mark one critical change the war set in motion.

Mark Noll uncovers a robust criticism offered by American Catholics of Protestants, whose focus on an individual relationship with and interpretation of the scriptures tore at the social fabric and propelled the country into civil war. By contrast, Catholic approach to scripture, critics insisted, offered a “surer guide for the nation’s future,” because among other things, it was nurtured and guided by proper authority. This critique, launched in the Catholic press early in the war, put church spokesmen in a good position to exploit the chorus of postwar critics who sought to condemn Protestant fanaticism for nearly destroying the nation during the war. And, Noll suggests, this may in part account for the postwar move toward religious pluralism.

While the Catholic Church engaged in the work of critiquing the causes of the war, Confederate widows were enlisted to the work of memorialization through a new type of condolence letter that came into wide usage during the war. “Notification letters,” as Ashley Mays refers to them, were distinct in form and substance from condolence letters, for whereas the latter offered instruction about how widows should grieve, the former enlisted widows to the work of caretaking their husbands’ memories. Both forms could comfort and coerce, at the same time, opening up new questions about what Drew Faust once described as a “uniformed sorority of grief.” Did loss bring Confederate women together?

Erin Mauldin’s essay examines catastrophic ecological changes underway in the postwar South and pinpoints their human causes. Mauldin argues that to understand the New South’s economic stagnation, we must look carefully at how postwar tenancy set in motion changes to the land, such as erosion and the depletion of critical nutrients from soil. These changes exacerbated the economic dislocations suffered by poor tenant farmers and sharecroppers and fed a growing tide of indebtedness and bankruptcy.   Mauldin’s essay explores the deep irony that, in seeking to negotiate the terms of their post war labor contracts, freed people unintentionally helped to set in motion ecological changes that would threaten their economic autonomy.

Dale Kretz uncovers a similar irony in his study of USCT pension files. When applying for pensions, former slaves were asked to prove that their injury or disability—to be qualified for pensions, applicants had to prove they were disabled—did not result from their time in slavery, that upon enlistment, they were in “perfect health.” This stipulation required former slaves to assist federal agents in covering up the serious health consequences of slavery, and, as Kretz suggests, undercut simultaneous efforts to pass an ambitious slavery reparations law. As USCT veterans filled out forms and stood for health examinations, then, they unwittingly participated in what Kretz calls “national reconciliation struggles writ small.”

Lorien Foote’s review essay revisits historians’ use of the term “home front,” which is often invoked as a way to underscore the blurring of lines between combatants and noncombatants but which Foote suggests reproduces the same binary it seeks to dismantle. In its place, Foote proposes a number of alternatives, including “a people’s war,” “house hold war,” or more simply, “insurrection.” The benefits of this new vocabulary are clear when Foote takes account of a number of recent studies of slave resistance and guerilla warfare. We need not choose one from the alternative list she provides, but in trying them out, Foote suggests, we might get “a more accurate picture of the kind of war southerners confronted.”