The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict (Civil War America)

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Americans became familiar with the ideas of the French socialist Pierre Proudhon during the s. Proudhon was among the first radical thinkers to contemplate the total abolition of private property, arguing that accumulated wealth could only serve to oppress others. The revolutions of also brought progressive thinkers to the United States directly. During the s, thousands of immigrants from Ireland, the German states, and other corners of Europe arrived in the country. Many had revolutionary backgrounds.

The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict

In the United States they hoped to achieve the values of social democracy that had been thwarted in Europe. Wilhelm Weitling , for example, an associate of Marx and Engels and an early contributor to the Communist League, settled in the United States in the late s. In his new home he played a key role in establishing a German trade union movement. Another Communist associate of Marx and Engels, Joseph Weydemeyer , who served in the Prussian army and published revolutionary journals during the s, fled to the United States after the failure of the revolutions.

When the Civil War broke out, Weydemeyer joined the Union army and eventually became a colonel. Thousands of other Germans joined him in the Union ranks, many of them led to the field by such forty-eighters as Franz Sigel, Carl Schurz, and Friedrich Hecker. These radicals joined an already well-established progressive community, especially in the cities of the Eastern seaboard.

During the antebellum era, an assertive and self-conscious native-born working class had developed in New York and elsewhere. Though only a small minority of Northern workers were socialists, a growing number became convinced that the best way for the state to engineer social equality was through the distribution of public lands.

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They called for the government to offer small farms in the West to working-class Americans so that they might escape the cities and carve out an independent, self-sufficient existence on the prairie. The doctrines of socialism and communism proved almost as disturbing as abolitionism. Certainly the thought that governments might acquire the power to better the lot of workers led them to fear that lawmakers might also take action on behalf of slaves. Northern reformers who questioned the legitimacy of large landholdings also proved disturbing. Planters were well aware that their estates came closer than any other institution in America to resembling the latifundia of Europe, which revolutionaries had been attempting to destroy for more than half a century.

The development of Southern nationalism sprang in part from the desire to forestall the influence of radical ideas on American society. Educated Southerners read widely in the years before the Civil War. They were quite familiar with the ideas presented in the most popular journals published in Europe and the Northern states, and they took to print themselves to refute the ideas they found most threatening.

Irish nationalist John Mitchell earned Southern applause by linking his support for Irish self-determination to a defense of slavery and Southern self-government. German forty-eighters like Carl Schurz, however, claimed that slavery spawned landholding aristocrats similar to the ones revolutionaries tried to overthrow in Europe. These divisions continued as European Americans took sides during the Civil War. Fleche uses St. Louis, in the divided border state of Missouri, as an example to show how their differing interpretations of the legacy of informed their sectional allegiances.

The two groups came to blows during the Camp Jackson Affair, when four Union regiments, three of which were commanded by Germans, clashed with belligerent civilians in the streets of a heavily Irish neighborhood, leaving several citizens and soldiers dead. German and Irish Americans countrywide chose sides along similar lines. They sided with the Union on the basis that only a strong, united America could aid Ireland against monarchial England. For example, although he contends that Irish in St. As the war progressed many wrote desperate letters begging their men to come home. These letters were no doubt a primary cause for high Confederate desertion rates late in the war.

Despite such intense war weariness, most white Southerners remained devoted to the cause. Through four brutal years of war white men continued to fight and white women continued to run farms and plantations. In fact, mounting casualty lists added to their determination, forcing them to find some meaning behind the destruction and increasing their hatred of Yankee armies. Not until April , when the surrender of Robert E.

The United States Civil War in an Atlantic Context

Lee's seemingly invincible Army of Northern Virginia broke the spirit of the Confederacy, did the underlying will to fight cease. Although the nation's rate of economic growth slowed during the war, largely owing to the expense of maintaining a military totaling 2. Directing this boom were activist Republican policies. The Republican Congress instituted such dramatic reforms as a national banking system, income and excise taxes, and the granting of millions of acres of public lands for the support of railroads, colleges, and western emigrants.

Although their aim was to fuel the economy and advance the public good, the unforeseen consequences of these policies were the concentration of economic power in the hands of northeastern bankers, the strengthening of industrialists at the expense of laborers, and the laying of a general groundwork for the massive economic consolidation of the Gilded Age. Although farmers, the majority of the Northern population, flourished during the war, not all segments of the population thrived.

Wartime inflation outran industrial wages, provoking labor unrest. The Lincoln administration's use of federal troops against strikers and its restriction of critics' civil liberties aroused opposition among workers. When, in the spring of , the government announced a new conscription policy that allowed exemptions for those who could provide a substitute or pay a three-hundred-dollar commutation fee, resistance broke out in cities across the North.

For four days in July, the worst riot in U.

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Much of the violence there consisted of Irish laborers' attacking free blacks, blaming them, in the wake of the government's new emancipation policy, for the war. Most Northerners went to war not to attack slavery but to preserve the Union, which had come to symbolize individual liberty, self-government, and law and order. But as the contest wore on more and more Northerners became convinced that victory would require striking at the heart of Southern society, abolishing slavery and remodeling the South in the Northern image. The institution of slavery began to disintegrate as soon as Southern men left farms and plantations for the army, leaving behind them a strange new society composed of white women and slaves.


From the beginning the slaves viewed the conflict as a divinely directed war for their deliverance, and they acted on this idea by escaping by the thousands to Union encampments whenever Northern armies came near. In addition to undermining the slave system, these refugees forced the Northern people to consider the moral aspects of slavery and convinced increasing numbers of Northerners that the slaves should be freed. Lincoln himself came to this conclusion by the summer of Following the Union victory at Antietam in September, he announced his intention, as commander-in-chief, to abolish slavery and to utilize African Americans as soldiers.

On January 1, , Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Civil War became a war to end slavery as well as to save the Union. Many Northerners opposed this radical move, but the dragging on of the war convinced more and more people of the need for it.

Moreover, the distinguished service of almost thousand black troops—most of them former slaves, and all facing segregation, inferior pay, and other forms of discrimination—convinced many whites of the utility of arming African Americans and created a climate of sympathy for blacks, which had a great influence on the course of postwar Reconstruction.

Two Wars and the Long Twentieth Century | The New Yorker

The Civil War was a watershed event in American history. It resolved constitutional ambiguities concerning federal supremacy and the legal right of secession, and, by the end of the nineteenth century, resulted in a truly unified nation. Perhaps more important, it freed over three million slaves and wrote into the Constitution full citizenship rights for African Americans.

White Southerners did not adapt easily to the new racial order.

  • American Civil War.
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  • Two Wars and the Long Twentieth Century.

As soon as possible they turned to blatant racist appeals and terrorist campaigns to reverse black political and social advances. By the s the Jim Crow system was replacing the institutionalized race control lost with slavery. This system would dictate race relations into the s. In the meantime the economic and social devastation of the South was terrific, and the region would remain an economic backwater for decades. In the North the wartime economy initiated the massive economic consolidation that occurred during the last decades of the nineteenth century, setting the stage for the modern American economy.

Moreover, by bringing to fruition the most radical of the antebellum reform movements—abolitionism—and by subjecting a generation of young men to military discipline, the war marked the climax of the idealistic reform impulse. Thenceforth, a more conservative intellectual climate prevailed, which emphasized organization and professionalism.

The Southern myth of the Lost Cause arose quickly, positing that the North won not because of superior skill or courage but through sheer force of numbers and industrial might, thus bringing no dishonor to Southerners, who had been doomed to fail despite the most valiant resistance. This myth recalled for Southerners the Old South for which they had fought as a land of idyllic plantations and contented slaves. These images have been propagated by such influential films as Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind and are popular today among legions of Civil War buffs and reenactors.

Meanwhile the North created its own romanticized mythology, portraying the war as a moral crusade to erase the stain of slavery. This image of the war has been maintained through Carl Sandburg's monumental popular biography of Lincoln ; as well as later novels such as The Killer Angels Michael Shaara, and films such as Gettysburg Abraham Lincoln. Alexander Gardner, photographer. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Alexander Hay Ritchie, engraver. Robert E. Matthew B. Brady, photographer. Timothy O'Sullivan, photographer. National Archives and Records Administration.

History: The American Civil War 1861 - 1865 The Complete Documentary

Fort Sumter.