05 Sep 2009

Sample Essay: The Civil War

By the Civil War, race had turn out to be a crucial means of organizing American life. The grand indispensable of identifying and controlling black slaves was joined in the early 1800 by struggles over who may claim whiteness in the new republic. At the same time as more than a few current scholars have detailed, racial identities turn out to be a national fascination in the two generations after the American Revolution, apparent in everything from party politics to blackface minstrelsy to a progressively rising suspicion in relation to future “amalgamation.” Mainly ethnic discourses within the United States prior to 1865 extended Enlightenment themes of systematic difference by means of skin color to classify civilization. A racialized citizenry secured its environmental frontiers against the claims of red Indians and brown Mexicans, despite the fact that in 1857 the Supreme Court established interior boundaries by disqualifying all African Americans from nationalized residency. By the 1840s, the notion that “race is everything” had turn out to be a favored slogan among racialists in Great Britain. During the same period, this phrase appropriately summed up lived experience within America’s white republic.

A distinguished exemption to crucial race by color was a sequence of formulations in the early on 1860s on the subject of a theoretical “Southern” race, whose quasi-biological stares was observable not in any physiognomic reality however in the temperament consciousness created in the growing tensions flanked by antagonistic sections. The theme of instinctive ethnic tensions flanked by white Americans from North and South develops into part of the sectional discourse in the consequences of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry and sustained in the works of a small group of Southern ideologues all the way through the 1860 presidential election. A sequence of articles in the two mainly significant Southern journals diagnosed an intrinsic conflict between a distinct Saxon race in New England and the Norman descendants of Cavaliers in the South. Disparate patterns of colonial settlement, these ethnic theorists maintained, had frustrated attempts to set up a shared American nationhood, making whiteness less significant than a more basic aggression that still coursed through the blood of American citizens. After the formation of a Southern Confederacy, such notions became more extensive, at the same time as the characters of the English Civil War, refracted through the Norman Conquest, became ever more noticeable in Confederate popular poetry, press, and authorized statement. Despite the fact that never the sole, or even the most important aspect of Confederate principle, this focus on an “ethnological” struggle for Southern freedom from the North was hardly the sideshow that one might suppose.

This eccentric occurrence in the history of the Confederate South has every so often attracted academic attention, in particular from those concerned in detailing the culmination of antebellum Southern nationalism. Most recently, James McPherson has revisited the topic in Is Blood Thicker than Water. Crises of Nationalism in the Modern World. Prepared for a Canadian audience, McPherson’s slim book compares the Confederate South’s unlikely foray into “ethnic nationalism” with Quebec separatism, which also bases its “quiet revolution” on more readily accepted notions of shared French “blood.” McPherson admits that, compared to the francophone basis of Quebecois solidarity, the notion of a distinct “Southern” race seems “little short of ludicrous” and had “scarcely any foundation in fact.” He shrewdly reminds us, however, that national myths do not have to be true to be powerful. As Ernest Renan famously explained, in a phrase McPherson invokes, part of nationhood involves getting your history wrong. Extending this insight, McPherson marshals the strongest case ever made that the theme of ethnic difference from the North, however preposterous it might have been, lay at the foundation of Confederate self-understanding.

The importance that McPherson accords the Confederacy’s “racial independence” provides a greeting prospect to position this event within a significant chronological circumstance. The unbelievable representation of mythic Cavaliers has time and again been puzzled all the way through, fretted over, or, more on a regular basis, laughed away; infrequently has it received the sort of contemplation given to in the same way overgenerous aspects of the white South’s proslavery argument. Fundamental questions regarding how the Norman Conquest and the English Civil War could clarify the American conflict of the 1860s remain for the most part unasked. There is little understandable sense about the individuals who first proposed it, the circumstances under which the new prominence on racial difference flourished, and the relationship of such claims to larger goals of Confederate nationalism. Concern for the context of these ideas and, by extension, consideration of their larger historical significance, is virtually absent from the literature. Likewise, no attempt has been made to see either the considerable limits of this project or the objections to a Cavalier pedigree made by Southerners themselves. There has been, as a consequence, no effort to understand how and why the theme waned after 1863.

Analysis of this ethnic development can in cooperation augment accepting of its implication and divulge how Confederates in due course recast the matter throughout the second half of the Civil War. An individuality claimed from an imaginary prehistoric past became far less popular and practical once the Confederacy generated its own history of combined action to maintain a common reason. This is not shocking. However when confederate ideologies invoked chronological prototypes late in the war, they were as probable to draw from the tradition of Puritanism as from a Cavalier past. At the same time as ideologues more and more sought to make insurgence dependable with a resistance of ability, they introduced to the world an uncharacteristic compound. If the idea of a “Cavalier” race of “Southrons” proposed early in the war looks unusual, the ideal Confederate hero that followed–the Round headed Cavalier–would be stranger still.

James McPherson, similar to William Taylor in addition to others who preceded him, has argued that Southern recognition through Cavaliers developed from slaveholders’ rising partiality for idealistic novels. Mark Twain was one of the initial to present such a clarification, ironically suggesting that the South’s self-delusive war for secession could be accredited to the astonishing consequence of overindulging in Sir Walter Scott. As of the 1820s through the 1850s, twain suggested, Southern masters imbibed medieval fantasies with as much fervor as Don Quixote had immersed himself in an inventive world of graciousness. In his study of Southern chauvinism, historian Rollin Osterweis pushed Twain’s assumption further, signifying that “Southrons” who modified Scott’s mythic world to the slave states registered an elementary change in sectional self-conception. The plunge into desire seemed to approach at the cost of a twisted sense of authenticity for Southerners, no less than for Quixote. The Confederate South fared far worse, however, if only because Federal artillery proved far more deadly than the windmills of Renaissance Spain in a work of fiction.

There are more than a few diagnostic difficulties with this supposed association flanked by ingenious account and suicidal war. Such enlightenment presupposes that a local psyche existed, that it urbanized in a comprehensible way towards impractical serf-delusion, and that an investigation of legendary preferences is the most functional way of sympathetic sectional alienation. In addition taken for granted is the continuation of a common range flanked by antebellum and war attitudes towards the distant regional past, a continuum along which ideas progressed in quantitative to a certain extent than qualitative terms. However in comparing the theorizing in relation to Cavaliers and Puritans that occurred in 1860 with the preceding invocation of these archetypes, there appears to be as much essential improvement as permanence. This is no more an indictment of the theme than pointing out, as McPherson rightly has, its lack of foundation in fact. As scholars have turned from primordialism or evolutionary theories of nationalism to recognition of the constructed nature of collective identities, they have shown that even the most powerful national myths can result from radical improvisation and transformation, especially when offered during moments of crisis. As Rogers Brubaker has pointed out, nationality is as likely to be an event as a trend, with sudden changes in circumstances clearing the way for the ascendancy of previously unrecognized ideals. Nationalists need not rely only on ideas and beliefs that have matured and developed through a long period of development. Looking at how Cavalier and Puritan themes were deployed in modest ways by antebellum writers demonstrates how the Confederate arrangement of opposing white races represented a new strand of Southern nationalism in 1860.

The disarray of all this departed under the ideological exigencies of the early on union. Nearly all ethnic publicists traced the descent of all white Southerners neatly to Cavaliers, and, before that, to Normans, while they traced the existing Yankee race with ease back all the way through Puritanism to what they considered an iniquitous, to a certain extent than a magnificent, Saxon past.

Attempts to increase on an “ethnological” foundation of American sectional conflict shared a set of assumptions worked out in utmost detail by practitioners of the “philosophy of the past,” the third significant practice in the Confederate racial development. Southern intellectuals all through the 1840s and 1850s had followed the hard work of European thinkers such as Schlegel, Hegel, and Guizot to explain the past as a recounting of providential design all the way through “world-historical” peoples. In these works, the development of civilization entailed a history of succeeding ideas associated with the values and experiences of detailed nations or groups. The most determined practitioners of this approach were not satisfied with discovering the underlying forces that had determined past events; they strove to divulge what might come next for civilization as well.

Distant and under-appreciated aspects of history seemed to a lot of intellectuals of the nineteenth century the best source for unlocking the secrets of the vision, if a number of holistic standpoint or unifying perception could be grasped and explained. This supposition suffused the writings of 1860 and 1861 in relation to the ethnic disagreement flanked by North and South. Holt Wilson made this point in noting that the clash between North and South was “severely impenetrable in its nature” and was “like the teaching of a few of the earliest philosophic schools, apprehended only by the initiate, and altogether unperceived by the disrespectful.” an additional writer put the matter even more clearly, explaining, “the casual observer of events would, in all probability, pass by unnoticed” the basic antagonism of North and South. At the same time as this fundamental difference had been latent, the events of the early 1860s proved that “difference in race, composing any people, will, without doubt, sooner or later, produce and expand a corresponding differentiation in every primary belief, opinion and yearning.” Americans, this anonymous writer accomplished, were learning what Europeans knew all too well: that “discordant ethnological elements” among peoples were “the most influential shuffle-driver which ever worked upon the net of human affairs.”

A number of, despite the fact that by no means not all, of the purveyors of the Norman and Saxon thesis claimed that stressing racial self-determination was a better way to elicit European sympathy than a plea for a system of racial slavery.¬† The war also set the South back at least a generation in industry and agriculture. Factories and farms were devastated by the invading armies. The industry system fell into chaos. Not until the 20th century did the South recover fully from the economic effects of the war. On the contrary, the North forged ahead with the building of a contemporary industrial situation. In conclusion, it must be remarked that the Civil War did not raise blacks to a position of equality with whites. Nor did the war bring about that emotional reunion that Lincoln hoped for when he spoke in his first inaugural address of “the bonds of fondness” that had in the past held the two sections together.

The Port Royal Experiment was a plan begun throughout the American Civil War in which previous slaves productively worked on the land neglected by agricultural estate owners. During 1861, the Union enlightened the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and their foremost waterfront, Port Royal. The white residents fled, leaving behind 10,000 black slaves. More than a few private Northern aid organization stepped in to facilitate the former slaves turn out to be self-determining. The result was a representation of what Reconstruction could have been. The African Americans demonstrated their ability to work the land competently and live separately of white control. They assigned themselves on a daily basis tasks for cotton growing and spent their extra time cultivating their own crops, fishing and hunting. By selling their surplus crops, the locals acquired small amounts of property. During 1865, President Andrew Johnson ended the testing, returning the land to its preceding white owners.

A constituent of a flourishing and educated Philadelphia family, Charlotte Forten Grimké went to the Sea Islands of South Carolina throughout the Civil War subsequent to the Union Army occupied the region. She was the first black teacher to take part in the Port Royal Experiment, an effort to edify slaves who were enlightened when white landowners fled the islands. She wrote about her experiences in a two-part series in the Atlantic Monthly in 1864, vibrantly describing the distinguishing culture of the Sea Islands as well as historic events such as the celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and a Fourth of July come across with Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the 54th Regiment of black Union soldiers.


WIlliam Bruce Wheeler; Susan D. Becker (2001) Discovering Americas Past, Volume 1.

WIlliam Bruce Wheeler; Susan D. Becker (2002) Discovering Americas Past, Volume 2.

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