yet edited notes. Use with caution! There are errors
here! You may find useful some of these links: Andersonville, Sherman's
through South Carolina, The Civil
War Homepage and The Civil
I. Introduction: The Last, Best
Hope of Mankind?
Just about everyone is proud of their country of origin. We are
proud to be Irish, Norwegians, Swedes, or Chinese—proud even to be
French or Canadian! It’s not surprising that Americans, too,
would be proud of their country, proud of their heritage. The old
textbooks, the ones your parents and grandparents grew up with,
emphasized the greatness of America—and rightly so. America has
had much to be proud of, right from her beginnings.
To the first white settlers, America was (Almost literally) a promised
land. The settlers of Massachusetts Bay Colony, for instance,
talked of their efforts here as creating a “City on a Hill,” an example
to the rest of the world. And America became just that—although,
perhaps, not in quite the way the Puritans and Pilgrims had intended.
America was a “City on the Hill,” in economic terms, from her
beginnings, a land of unprecedented opportunity. Here was an
enormously rich country, capable of supporting many millions with all
sorts of chances waiting for one with the determination to make the
most of the opportunities available. In most places around the
world and in world history, the average person had little opportunity
for advancement. But here, hard work had a great chance of paying
off—work hard enough, and, with a little bit of luck, one would have
prosperity beyond anything one could hope for elsewhere.
But America was a “City on a Hill” in a more important sense. You
all know the opening words of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “Four score
and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new
nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all
men are created equal.”
A new nation, says Lincoln, but what he meant was a new kind of
nation. What was so different about this new nation?
Now notice that Lincoln trances the new nation, not to the
constitution, but back to 1776—to the Declaration of
Independence. And it’s the principles here that Lincoln says mark
the newness of America as a nation “Conceived in liberty, dedicated to
the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Big deal? Yes, it is a big deal. In most human societies, there
is little liberty. Most people have few choices, carrying out
roles assigned to them from birth, submitting to the demands and
commands of their leaders. Most civilizations are hierarchical,
with clear distinctions among the more privileged and less privileged
classes. And there’s good reason for this: a highly ordered,
highly structured society tends to work well at least in terms of
providing basics: food, shelter, clothing, defense.
True, there had been considerable freedom in a few successful societies
before the advent of America. There had been democracies among
the Greek city states. Rome maintained a republican government
for close to 500 years, and there had been republics among the Italian
city states of the Renaissance. So the American experiment with
freedom wasn’t totally without precedent. But even the “free”
societies of the past were not so free as America, and the American
commitment to equality—well, that was almost without precedent.
So why is it that free societies are relatively rare in history?
Basic reason is the natural human tendency to rely on force to get our
way. Sooner or later, people are going to quarrel. They
will quarrel over religion, economics, who is to rule, boundaries,
honors—you name it. Will we settle the disputes peacefully?
Perhaps for a time…but once we can’t—well, that’s what brings a free
society come crashing down. Factions within the Greek democracies
quarreled among themselves—and left Greece open to the conquest of
Philip and Alexander. Factions in the Roman Republic quarreled
among themselves—and one strong man took over. The Italian
Republics—well, that’s a complicated story—but Machiavelli and others
*wanted* one strong man to take over, preferring the security of a
despot to freedom and self rule.
So—could America be different? Here’s the trick: could Americans
be persuaded to abandon force in their dealing with one another and
abide by majority rule? Could they be trusted to rely on the use
of reason to convince those who disagreed with them and wait for
another election if things didn’t go their way? Well, that’s what
the founders hoped would happen.
But then came the issues that couldn’t be resolved by majority vote,
that couldn’t be resolved by reason—all the issues that led to the
outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.
Going to war is a desperate remedy in a democracy. The “cure” of
whatever you are trying to fix well inevitably come dangerously close
to destroying the principles of republican government—and Lincoln knew
“Now we are involved in a great civil war, testing whether that nation
or any nation so conceived can long endure.”
The Civil War came close to destroying the framework of government set
up by our founding fathers. Even in 1877, America had not fully
recovered from the Civil War, and the continuation of republican
government, something we take for granted, was probably not as certain
as it seems to us in retrospect.
The 1865-1877 period we call “Reconstruction.” It’s a good name
for all sorts of reasons, and, of course, a major theme of this period
is the rebuilding of the union. But all sorts of other things are
going on as well, and we will touch on those developments in other
Reconstruction is not an easy job at all. It’s one thing to
defeat an enemy and impose your will on them. It’s quite another
thing to bring that enemy back into a functioning democratic society.
II. Problems created by the war
One of the chief difficulties to be overcome was the intense
North/South animosity aggravated by the war. There had been
long-growing sectional tensions already in the country, but the war
made things far worse. Lincoln hope for a settlement “with malice
toward none, and with charity for all.” But how would such a
thing be possible? The war had cost $30 billion. Six
hundred thousand were dead (10x more than Vietnam, 100x more than in
current war on terror!).
And it wasn’t just the costs and casualties that led to
bitterness. Many soldiers on both sides ended up in prison camps,
poorly fed and poorly cared for in other ways. The North had held
220,000 southern prisoners, 26,000 of whom had died in captivity.
The South had held 127,000 prisoners, 22,500 of whom had died in
captivity. The most notorious of the Southern camps was
Of 49,000 union soldiers, 13,000 died of starvation or disease caused
by malnutrition. The camp was liberated in May 1865, and what the
liberators found shocked them. Pictures of emaciated prisoners
were immediately published in Harper’s Weekly, and produced a
response—well, something like Holocaust pictures. The Commander
of the Camp, Henry Wirz was put on trial, condemned, and hung while
Union soldiers chanted “remember Andersonville.” The hanging
didn’t break his neck, so Wirz took a couple of minutes to strangle to
death, as the soldiers called out “remember Andersonville.”
Groups like the G.A.R. made sure that Andersonville and other southern
atrocities would be remembered for a good long time…and particularly at
But, of course, the South had plenty of grievances to be remembered as
And then there’s William T. Sherman’s famous “march to the sea.”
Convinced that the only way to make the South give up was massive
force, Sherman and his men cut a path through Georgia, marching from
Atlanta to Savannah leaving a 60 mile wide path of devastation.
He then turned North into the Carolinas wreaking even greater
“We have come a strip 60 miles wide on our trip here, and although
there may be a few houses left, there are mighty few fences and from
what I saw of it, I do not think it would be a good place to start a
farm or a factory.”
We have Sherman’s explicit orders to his men:
IV. The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To
this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient
foraging party, under the command of one or more discreet officers, who
will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat
of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal, or whatever is needed by the
command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten day's
provisions for the command and three days' forage. Soldiers must not
enter the dwellings of the inhabitants, or commit any trespass, but
during a halt or a camp they may be permitted to gather turnips,
potatoes, and other vegetables, and to drive in stock of their camp. To
regular foraging parties must be instructed the gathering of provisions
and forage at any distance from the road traveled.
V. To army corps commanders alone is entrusted the power to destroy
mills, houses, cotton gins, &c., and for them this general
principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army
is unmolested no destruction of such property should be permitted; but
should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the
inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local
hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation
more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.
VI. As for horses, mules, wagons, &c., belonging to the
inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and
without limit, discriminating, however, between the rich, who are
usually hostile, and the poor or industrious, usually neutral or
friendly. Foraging parties may also take mules or horses to replace the
jaded animals of their trains, or to serve as pack mules for the
regiments or brigades. In all foraging, of whatever kind, the parties
engaged will refrain from abusive or threatening language, and may,
where the officer in command thinks proper, give written certificates
of the facts, but no receipts, and they will endeavor to leave with
each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance.
A Georgia girl’s diary had this to say about future prospects:
The most terrible part of t the war is now to come. The props
that held society up are broken. Everything is in a state of
disorganization and tumult. We have no currency, no law save the
primitive code that might makes right. We are in a transitional
state from war to subjugation, and it is far worse than was the
transition from peace to war. The suspense and anxiety in which
we live are terrible.
The entire basis of the southern agricultural economy had been
shattered, and what little the south had in terms of industry and
transportation had been destroyed. Slavery was gone: good! But
how would the plantation land be restored to productivity? Freed
blacks were eventually given 40 acres and a mule by the Freedmen's
bureau, but that’s not sufficient in many instances. Blacks and
poor whites fell into a share-cropping system that, in some ways, was
worse than slavery.
Well, what would happen, to the South and to the rest of the
nation? Could the nation be restored? And on what terms?
Lincoln favored restoring the South to the union on generous
terms. Once 10% of those in any state took a loyalty oath,
promising loyalty in the future, that state would be restored.
But the radical Republicans who dominated congress wanted more
stringent conditions. The Wade-Davis bill required a majority to
sign an oath saying they had never taken up arms against the union or
supported the confederacy in the past! Anyone who had supported
the confederacy was permanently disenfranchised.
Lincoln vetoed Wade-Davis, and, had he lived, might have brought about
a relatively amicable restoration of the South. But Lincoln’s
assassination in 1865 made for more problems.
Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, began implementation a plan very
much like Lincoln’s. But when elections were held, the southern
states elected among their representatives confederate generals, a
confederate VP, and some 58 men who had served in the confederate
congress! The radical republicans, naturally enough, refused to
admit them to congress, and, by 1867, pushed through their own
Radical reconstruction divided the south into 5 military districts
(“conquered provinces”), each governed by military generals.
Within these districts, the military ran the judicial system and
presided over the electoral process as well. When would southerners be
free of military government? Well, among the conditions, each
state had to ratify what became the 14th amendment to the
constitution. Look at what the 14th Amendment does and how it
differs from the original 10 amendments to the constitution, the Bill
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Section. 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and
subject to the
jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the
State wherein they
reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the
immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State
deprive any person of
life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any
person within its
jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Section. 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several
States according to
their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each
excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election
for the choice of
electors for President and Vice President of the United States,
Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the
members of the
Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such
twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any
except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of
shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male
citizens shall bear to
the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
Section. 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress,
or elector of
President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military,
under the United
States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a
Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any
legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to
Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection
or rebellion against
the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress
may by a vote
of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
Section. 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States,
authorized by law,
including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for
services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be
questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or
pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion
against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of
any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held
illegal and void.
Section. 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate
legislation, the provisions of this article.
Note how this undermines the Bill of Rights. Instead of limiting
federal government, it expands federal government! Note that, in trying
to fix civil war problems, radicals are tampering with the constitution.
Meanwhile, how is south to be reorganized? Military governance
ensure that Blacks vote for the first time, and southern government is
now in very different hands. Opened the door to
corruption…Carpetbaggers and Scalawags. Lots of graft, e.g.,
paying $9,000 for the construction of a $500 bridge.
The southern response to corrupt, government? Well, the formed
organizations like the Ku-Klux Klan. The clan was formed, “To
protect the weak, innocent, and the defenseless from the indignities,
wrongs, and outrages of the the lawless, the violent, and the brutal;
to relieve the injured and the oppressed; to succor the suffering and
unfortunate, and especially widows and orphans of confederate
Sounds admirable enough, but the Klan opened up the doors to violence,
intimidation, and racial hatred. Vigilante type groups are very
dangerous to democracy and the rule of law!
Reconstruction violence sometimes reached the level of full-scale war,
with hundreds killed.
And while the South in particular was struggling, developments at the
national level did not bode well for the union. Lincoln’s assassination
in 1865 had given the presidency to Andrew Johnson, a southern
Democrat, but one who had opposed slavery—but he also opposed radical
reconstruction. He found himself constantly undermined by more radical
members of his cabinet (e.g. Stanton) and, naturally enough, wanted to
dismiss them. Congress liked these radicals, and passed the
‘tenure in office act” forbidding Johnson from getting rid of Stanton
and others. Johnson fired Stanton anyway, so congress impeaches
him. 9/11 charges violation of the tenure in office act.
“The president has defamed congress in speeches and brought it into
popular disrespect. “
The vote in the senate? 35 guilty, 19 not guilty. Congress
then declared a 10 day recess to try to coerce dissenters.
Trying to remove a president on such flimsy charges a terrible
precedent, and it did not bode well for democracy. Furthermore,
impeachment seemed pointless: 1868 was an election year, and all
Johnson's opponents had to do was wait 9 months and he would no longer
Now it's easy to see why Johnson's opponents hated him. See, for
instance this web sites account of the Johnson
impeachment and trial.
But it's subversive to democracy to abuse the process set up by the
constitution just because one's opponent uses his constitutional powers
in a way you don't like!
What’s more, this was an election year (1868), and all congress had to
do if they wanted someone else was simply to wait a few months until
And speaking on the 1868 election, it was clear that America needed
most from a president was competence, someone who could succeed where
others have failed. And it seemed that they had such a man: Ulysses S.
Grant—the union general who had succeeded so well where others had
Grant’s war record and status as a national hero won him the
election—but his actually presidency was not the solid success one
might have hoped. The Radical Republicans in congress imposed
military reconstruction/Carpetbagger government on the south, and
Grant, while more sympathetic to the South than one might suppose,
certainly did little to bring about speedy recovery.
But a bigger problem for Grant was his loyalty. He was—well—too
loyal. Once he was President, he found himself surrounded by
friends and relations clamoring for offices and privileges, and he just
didn’t know how to handle the growing corruption for which his
so-called friends were responsible.
Typical: Jay Gould and Jim Fisk wanted to corner the gold market,
driving prices up and making a profit. This scheme would only
work if the U.S. didn’t sell gold to make up for the shortage. To
try to make sure the government held onto its gold, Fisk and Gould gave
$25,000 to Grants brother-in-law to get him to get Grant to go along
with the scheme.
The scheme didn’t work, but it looked very bad. And other things
looked bad too. Grant had received a house and thousands of
dollars from those grateful to him for his wartime leadership.
It’s ok for a war hero to receive such gifts, but once the war hero
becomes president, such things smell of corruption. Grants four
years in office left him considerably tarnished as a candidate…and
opened things up for the Democrats in the 1872 election—if they played
the corruption issue effectively.