Visualizing the Union in 1861

Slate’s history blog, the Vault, has come through again with another incredible primary source from our Civil War. You may remember a couple of weeks ago I shared a Civil War board game. For those Americans who had trouble comprehending the relationship between the federal government and the states, along with the overarching importance of the Constitution, Cincinnati lawyer N. Mendal Shafer created the infographic below in 1861. Notice that all of the states are included. The diagram was clearly intended not only as a primer for schoolchildren, but also as an argument for the preservation of the Union. Continue reading “Visualizing the Union in 1861”

Reconstruction As a Search For Security

Had a chance earlier today to read the introduction to Mark Summers’s new book on Reconstruction, which is part of UNC Press’s Littlefield Series. The following passage caught my attention:

In the end, the search for security helped justice go far beyond what most observers in 1865 expected. Freedom was just the first installment in a broadening of rights. The Constitution’s basis would endow the nation with a broad authority to break the patterns that slavery and prejudice had set on American society. It may have opened the way to a second American revolution. But it is important to recognize that most white Americans had not been looking for a revolution, and a near majority of them probably would have been content with a modified restoration. If we make the mistake of defining Reconstruction’s exclusive end as remaking the South on the basis of equal rights and democracy in a truer sense of the word than its inhabitants had ever known, then we can’t help calling Reconstruction at best a failure–though that failure seemed less clear, unambiguous, and complete in 1877 than retrospect. But if we see Reconstruction’s purpose as making sure that the main goals of the war would be fulfilled, of a Union held together forever, of a North and South able to work together, of slavery extirpated, and sectional rivalries confined, of a permanent banishment of the fear of vaunting appeals to state sovereignty, backed by armed force, then Reconstruction looks like what in that respect it was, a lasting and unappreciated success. (p. 4)

I’ve always struggled with understanding Reconstruction through the narrow lens of race and civil rights. The rub for me has always been in measuring Reconstruction’s success with the varying degrees of racial discrimination present in many Northern states. Certainly our popular memory of Reconstruction revolves around our tendency to view the period in light of Jim Crow and the necessity of a Civil Rights Movement. Summers’s understanding of the period looks promising. I am looking forward to digging in further.

Finally, is it any surprise that such a focus for a book on Reconstruction found a place in a series edited by Gary Gallagher given his insistence that the preservation of the Union be acknowledged as the most important achievement of the war?

A Visit With Governor Andrew

John AndrewToday I took advantage of a day off from work and beautiful weather to drive down the coast to the Hingham Cemetery to visit the final resting place of Governor John A. Andrew. The headstone is very simple, but a few years after his death a group of admirers commissioned a beautiful statue sculpted in Cararra marble in Florence, Italy. I am still very much in the early stages of my Andrew project. I made it through the first volume of Henry G. Pearson’s 1904 biography along with a number of other secondary sources. With three days off next week I hope to finally sink my teeth into the Andrew Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Any biography project is an enormous undertaking, but one of the things that helps to make it more manageable is the fact that Andrew died relatively early in 1867. The timing helps to frame this as a Civil War biography. No reason to wade into the complexity of Gilded Age America and no worrying about how the politics of the period might have shaped Andrew’s views on emancipation and black civil rights, which defined his time on Beacon Hill. Continue reading “A Visit With Governor Andrew”

Playing Civil War in 1862

Here is an interesting little find from Slate’s history blog. In 1862 the Philadelphia publishing company Charlton and Althrop released this board game to promote patriotism and Union throughout the North. You advance on the board by landing on spaces that support the Union cause and lose ground by landing on spaces that threaten it. Some of them are quite humorous, but consider the execution of an identified Union soldier as an example of the latter. Serious stuff.

Secession Game