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tv   [untitled]    April 21, 2012 6:00pm-6:30pm EDT

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creating a regime that excluded white women and slaves that together come priprised a segme the population. the kansas city public library hosted this talk. it as it bout is about 1. . 15. >> good evening, everybody. i would look to thank diane and her colleagues at umkc for inviting me here tonight to speak to this symposium. 151 years ago, last december, a group of south carolina politicians finally pulled off something they had been trying to do for years, they called a convention of what they called the people, and they voted themselves out of the union. within six weeks i'm sorry, within weeks, six more deep south states had joined them in their bid for national independence. theirs was a gamble of massive proportions and as we know it
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changed the course of history. standing on the brink of war, no one in the american south could have known what lay ahead. the scale of war, the demands of waging it, the level, level of mobilization it would require, the dominion of death it ushered in. all this was unimaginable in december 1860. still, southerners knight ws kn dangerous, reckless undertaking. now as we engage the centennial of the civil war, i think there is one question above all that we ought to ask and answer. why did they risk it? it's not enough to stop at abstract questions about the constitutionality of secession, far more pressing is the matter of why they insisted on exercising that claimed right. what was wrong with the original republic? what kind of country did secessionists want to build? i think you have to start there
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to grasp the drama of the reckoning that came after when that new southern nation was plunged into war. to me, the history of the confederacy is an epic story. a story of ambition and failure. and one of the most gripping parts of that story is the way the war tested the confederacy from within as well as from without. in terms of the practicality and justice of its own national ambitions, the confederacy was subjected to, subject to the judgment of its own people even as it attempted to survive the military test posed by the union army. but many of those people were from the vast ranks of the politically dispossessed in the civil war south, poor, white, rural women and enslaved men and women, never consulted about the wisdom of secession and war. this shows the profound poverty of the founders' vision of the people. and it pose is a whole host of challenging questions about how
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to write confederate history. so this its what i want to talk about tonight. about the violent unpredictability of what secessionists started. what they brought on themselves, and all of the other people of the southern states who were dragged into war. and also, about the absolute impossibility in telling that history of separating the military fate of the confederate states of america from developments on the home front. for if we are to begun to understand what happened in the confederacy at war, we have to grapple with how the response of women, slaves and other noncitizens fundamentally shaped and put limits on what it was politically possible for the davis administration and the confederate military to do by way of waging war. this history of the confederacy is a far bigger story, i think, than has often been appreciated. in terms of causes, dynamics,
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and consequences, it was part of a far larger struggle being waged in the western world, over the future of slavery. of democracy. and the powers of nation states. confederates were fully caught up in the turbulent currents of history that roiled the hemisphere in the age of emancipation. whatever the outcome, the political and military failure of southern slave holders bid for independence would register profoundly, not just in the region, but in the nation and the world. slave holders in cuba and brazil, as well as advocates of abolition everywhere paid close attention to -- to the result. the shored-lived confederate states of america was a signal event in the history of the western world. what secessionists set out to build was new in the history of nations, a modern, pro-slavery,
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anti-democratic state, dedicated to the proposition that all men were not created equal. southerners, acted out of confidence, no other class of slave holding people in the hemisphere attempted this. they were emboldened by what they saw as the failure of emancipation in other parts of the world, determined to avoid the fate of slave holders in haiti and jamaica and convinced the american vision of the people had been terribly betrayed. southern slave holders sought the kind of future for human slavery and republican government no longer possible they thought within the original union. although they would later sound a different note, secessionists were brazenly candid in time and place why the southern states were leaving the union and thus about the cause of secession. they made their motives plain, not just in formal declarations but in the long battle for the hearts and mind of southern people that proceeded and
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produce ed independence. secession was not just an idea or political argument. it had to be a political campaign. a hard-fought, downright dirty political campaign that went on more than a year and turned on build sing aport among the majority of voters, men, that owned no slaves. if there was a time, that slave holders were driving secession. this was it. but to the contrary, secessionists made the need to defend slavery the very centerpiece of their electoral campaign. in the imed me yacht aftermath of lincoln's election in november 1860, the first of a republican party candidate and first elected entirely by northern votes, advocates of secession moved to bring disunion before the vote of the people in various states. theirs was a political campaign, as sophisticated as many in modern history. and it used every means available not short of fraud and violence, to make the case for
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radical action. and to be sure, secessionists insisted that southerners' constitutional rights had been violated. but they also made no bones about what those rights were. indeed, popular appeals emfa siz size edemfa -- emfa si emfa sized the desire of every man. one pamphlet titled the interest in slavery of the southern nonslave holder, reminded nonslave holders of the particular value and dignity of white men's labor in slave society. no white man at the south serves the other as a body servant. cleans his boots. waits on his table or performs menial services of his household. his blood was revolt against it and necessity would never drive him to it. others tried to stir up poor white men's racial and sexual fears about slave emancipation.
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where are the white nonslave holders of haiti one south carolina politician asked? conjuring up a future of racial war, rape and what he called extermination or amalgamation under the new black republican regime. such appeals were clearly designed to make it seem as if the very future of all white men, not just those who own slaves, but all free men, as they invariably put it was at stake in secession. by february, 1861, they had triumphed in seven deep south states some by slim margins and in one, georgia, probably by fraud. as printed ordnance of secession hit the streets, trumpeting independence to the world the states also offered formal justifications of their actions as jefferson had done in declaration of independence. in their declaration for example, mississippi said blunty, quote, our position is
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thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery, with a northern majority advocating negro equality, we have no choice but to submit to the loss of our property worth $4 billion dollars or secede from the union." president davis and other southern leaders would later deny it. at the time nobody tried to obscure the fact that the protection of slavery was the cause of secession. they had a right to defend property and slaves. secessionists said clearly in 1860 and 1861 against a federal government and new black republican regime pledged to apoli abolish it. in march 1861,the new vice president of the cabinet, the vice president of the confederacy, briefly a booster of the confederacy, briefly, very briefly, offered a political manifesto for the
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slave hoeders nlders new republ. he was trying to convince virginia to cast their lot. to convince them he offered a blunt assessment of the difference between the old union and the new. the original american republic he said, quote, rested upon the assumption of the equality of the races. our new government is founded on explicitly the opposite idea. its foundations are laid. cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man that slavery is his natural condition. this, our new government, its the first in the history of the world based on this great truth. when representatives of that new nation sat down in montgomery to write their constitution, pro-slavery proposals were rendered concrete. you often hear the confederate constitution is simply a copy of the american constitution. but this is -- very much not the case. they purged the document of t a
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original u.s. constitution, brazenly using the words slaves, instead of other persons in writing the 3/5 clause and fugitive slave clause and bound the congress and territorial governments to recognize and protect the institution of negro slavery and also guaranteed citizens of the right of sojourn and transit in any state or territory with their slaves and other prompt. clearly they aimed at empire, in the southwest. but the centerpiece of the confederate constitution, what up-ends any attempt to cast it simply as the a copy of the original one, was a wholly new clause which prohibited government from ever changing the law of slavery. quote, no bill of attaineder or law denying or impairing the right of negro, the right of property and negro slaves shall ever be passed. keep this in mind. they tide theed their hands bef they even got started.
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thus they moved to make slavery permanent and dispensed with agitating issues about slavery that plagued life. and founders seeds on this opportunity to limit democracy in other ways, moving to spell and fix out, sorry, moving to spell out and fix, its racial and gender basis. let there be but two classes of persons here, the white and the black, the new alabama constitution specified. keep all the white men politically equal, the superior race, let the negro be subordinate and our government will be strong and our liberties secure. the racial and gender boundaries of confederate democracy were abundantly clear. jefferson davis and other confederate leaders would cast secession as a wholly constitutional move, designed simply to restore government, to what the founding fathers had originally intended. davis would enshrine that version of the south's motives
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in his postwar memoirs and it would become a staple of the mythology of the lost cause. the goal of secession he said, was merely to protect the rights of sovereign states from quote the tremendous and sweeping usurpation of the federal government what he said in the 1880s. the existence of african servitude was in no way the cause of conflict but only an incident to it. and all too many historians have fallen for the pitch. confederates did not believe they needed to make new worlds, the historian emory thomas, famously said. they were more than content with the world they already had. this could not be more wrong. in falling for the lost cause argument, historians have lost sight of the true nature of what confed ralt erates attempted to risk of blood and treasure. confederate founders in fact set out to make something that had
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never existed before in the united states. an explicitly pro slavery country. secessionists, constitutional, constitutional and restorationist rhetoric obscured radical new ends. theirs was a country that defended slavery, rejected democracy, and scorned the declaration of independence. it rejected most of the principles americans value most highly. secession was the south's big gamble on the future of slavery. and they didn't have to do it. pro -- schaefer eye southerners could have played a wait and see game as many unionists advised. but for those mostly deep south men who orchestrated secession in the fall of 1860 and winter of 1861. the election of abraham lincoln presented aperate opportunity to bring the crisis of slavery to head.
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with secession, those men went all in. with war, came the reckoning. i think it's hard to exaggerate the drama of what ensued in the confederacy once the founders were free to purr soup thesueea of a slave state. not just biy the enemy arms against it but by the very people, slaves and white women, confederate founders counted out. the confederacy face aid political as well as a military testing. it could hardly have been otherwise. it had been difficult enough to convince south's white men to support secession. i don't need to tell anybody that in missouri, i am sure. in some southern, even deep south states, commitments to unionism ran so deep, it took substantial manipulation of the electoral system to produce slim majorities for independence.
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nowhere in the deep south, were ordnances of secession submit ford popular ratification. in the upper south, only war and lincoln's call for troops broke the impasse, and even then, four slave stashgts this one included chose union. but as the it turned out there were far more of the people to contend with in the making of history in the civil war than the white men who cast their votes for or against disunion. as the the founders faced the tax of biddiuilding a new natio the demand on the people escalated alarmingly. out of a total population off bout 10 million people in the confederate states, fewer than 1.5 imillion, number whift male voters ever had a say on secession. this its what the politicians meant when they talked about the consent of the governed. but if it took only a 60s of the pop liulation to create the
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confederacy it would have required all 10 million to secure its survival. the confederate's commitment to nation making, involved a wreck kong, including the massive, unfranchised women and slaves. confederates original vision of the people proved utterly inadequate to the nation building project they launched in 1861 as that chris his state attempted to surmount the structural problems it faced as a slave regime at war. excuse me. war immeasurably offed the ante in the white man's new republic. as the new government turned to citizens to support the bid for national independence it faced the necessity of build sag port among those whose consent for war had never been secured. and then began a relentless process in which government officials and military men all the way up the chain of command, scrambled to execute policies,
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designed to build a state and wage war while preserving slavery and feeding and protecting a civilian population increasingly that denied the support of their men. in mobilizing for the war, the confederacy face aid number of political challenges particular to slave regimes. chief among them the way the institution of slavery limit the the power of the federal government and compromised its sovereignty. as jefferson davis once said, slavery was a form of government for those not fit to govern themselves. excuse me. slavery was the slave state. their masters the authority to which they owed allegiance. but what that meant in practice was that, slaves had no standing in relationship to the state, owed the government no allegiance. and could be accessed by it. only as the property of their masters. that left considerable power in the hand of the masters
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themselves, establishing slave holders as a competing source of authority to the government, and limiting the number of men the government could call on for the defense of the state. in both respects, the davis government would suffer as it tried to mobilize for war. a state that couldn't claim the allegiance of a big segment of its adult male population, let's just say they faced inherent dangers, ones exacerbated by war. at one level, the problem was obvious. the confederacy had an economy in population a fraction the size of its enemy. sorry, i have been sick this week. the north had ten times the south's manufacturing capacity and the population of 10 million in the south was dwarfed by the union's 22 million. but even that understates the manpower problem, because in addition, 40% of the adult men in the confederacy were enslaved.
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and as such unavailable for military service. and it quickly became clear what such imbalances meant. the south would have to exert unprecedented and insupportable demands on its own population and build up a powerful central state government, ironically, to do what the private sector could not. the increasingly in mat a lly i coercive relationship was profoundly disorienting to people accustomed to little government interference in their lives. the new powers claimed by the federal government challenged slave holders, usual authority over their property, and posed tests of nationalism, many of them failed. but for slaves and white women, people in whom government had expressed no previous interest, who it had been content to leave to the government of husband and masters the war was more than a test of political commitments, it was a profoundly
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transformative event. for them the confederate war was a moment when time itself seemed to open up and they stepped into the making of history. by 1862, the process of desperate innovation was already well under way. and the davis administration driven to adopt the first conscription act in american history. when all was said and done, confederate armies would enlist a staggering 75 to 85% of the white military aged population. to say this tested the limit of popular support for war, is an understatement. when combined with exceptions, the government was forced to make for slave holders, including the exemption of one white man for every 20 slaves on a plantation, and the decision to allow the purchase of substitutes, conscription quickly raised cries of rich man's war, poor man's fight.
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but it soon became the women any fight as well. for as the the confederate government began to face the challenge posed by unionist guerrillas, draft evaders and deserters they found themselves fighting not just the men but the women as well including the wives, mothers and daughters who defied the state's authority to conscript, and undermined its capacity to wage war. as army units went out to hunt deserters, governments issued orders authorizing arrest of parties of any age and sex and federal judges urged that the combatants be handled speedily and lovely. against them, the most radical and severe treatment is required. as the the military pursued a harsh, brutal policy on the ground, accounts begin to pour in. of poor white women, intimidated, beaten, tortured for information on the
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whereabuts of their men folk, the horrifying scenes in the novel and movie "cold mountain" are just retellings of documents we all read in the archives. coupled with the growing number of arrests of women spies and members of unionist guerrilla bands, the recognition that women were capable of treason. that they could do damage, to the military and the government, led confederate officials into what some blunty called, quote, a war against the women. the old image of antigony, the idea of women outside war was as nothing then. and behind it all -- lay a wholly new estimation of women's political significant and a new view of women's standing in relation to the state. this is a cartoon of the -- the treatment that women in new orleans were handing out to butlers, occupying troops, encounters with confederate women in occupied cities. was one of the main
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confrontations. this is a very unusual development in the war. i think, a very meaningful one. after butler decided to move againsts secession women of new orleans it became general policy in the, general union policy in the occupied south, to make not only men, but women, take oaths of allegiance to the union. or be forced into exile behind confederate lines. as far as i know it is the first time. no union officials began the war, carrying, one way or another, who women were loyal to. but they soon learned that it mattered just as confederate officials did too. i love this picture because what the -- the officials in new orleans said is that a lot of elite southern women in new orleans went to the provost marshall's office convinced this must be a mistake. couldn't possibly be expecting them to take an oath off lej
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ans. they figured if they talked to the right guy, in just the right way, you know, there would be an exception made for them. he said they came becrinolined and beajewebejewelled, talking, they still had to sign the paper. it was a little bit of a rough awakening. but if the confederate government was forced to contend with women in their new capacity as traitors they face aid new arguably more daunting political challenge from the mass of white southern women in collective identity as soldiers' wives. the south was an agrarian society, whole regions of it populated by yeomen and poor white families. and indeed they could not. by 1863, with husband and sons
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in the war, and the countryside literally stripped of men, the food crisis in the confederacy reached starvation proportions. at that point it turned into a political, policy crisis, provoked by women who mobilized to insist that the government fulfill the promises it had made to them when it took their men off to war. this politics of subsistance and the class of soldiers' wives who made it was one unanticipated element of the reckoning war had wrought in the confederacy. for more than a year, poor white soldiers' wives besieged state and federal officials with warnings about the consequences of a military policy geared towards the interest, as they put it, of the big men. an increasingly, radical threatening language. they demanded not just
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individual relief like the release of a particular man from the army but justice for the confederate poor. they also began to speak in the collective voice. we soldiers' wives. we poor people. and they increasingly targeted policy demanding revision of conscription and tax laws. and all of this evidence of poor white women's new politics has been there all along. moldering in the archives, historians have missed it for generations. but nobody missed what happened next. in the spring of 1863, soldiers' wives took direct action in a wave of spectacular food riots that hit the south from mobile to richmond. mobs of women numbering from a dozen to nearly 300 and armed with navy revolvers, pistol, repeaters, bowie knives and hatchets, carried out 12 violent attack there is are rumors of more, on stores, government warehouses. army convoys, railroad depots,
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salt works and graineries. the attacks occurred in broad day light. they were all perpetrated in the space of one month. between the middle of march and middle of april, 1863. conspiracy theries abounded. this must have been the work of men. right? yankee operatives, the southern papers said. in most cases we don't know how the riots wering ors intoed. but in richmond, the biggest we do. as it turns out it wasn't the work of men, but of one mary jackson. soldier's mother, farm wife, huckster of meat at the city market. she tried to solve her problems through proper channels by apulz to the secretary of war to release her son from service. hers was just one of the thousands of angry, half-literal petitions delivered to government officials, by soldiers wives and mothers over the course of the war.
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these food riots have a deep back story. one that is not often told. and they are not as we often assume, isolated events, but i think the most dramatic manifestation of the new political realities at work in rural and urban community thousands, all over the confederate south. most women never cross the line between protest and direct action. but when mary jackson got no satisfaction she recruited 300 town and country women to a meeting at the bellvedere baptist church in richmond, got in the pulpit to rally her troops, told them to gather at entrance to capital square, to leave their children at hope, a detail i love, and to come armed. it was truly a confederate spring. of soldiers' wives discontent. these women made themselves count. the wave of food riots had a measurable impact on confederate war policy forcing revisions of conscription and tax


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