Tag Archives: Eric Foner

What State’s Rights Did the South Want to Protect?

(September 19, 2019) Any participant at an online Civil War forum who suggests that the initial seven cotton states seceded to protect states rights will promptly be challenged to name a single right that they wanted to protect other than slavery. The question is a sure sign that the person asking it has limited her readings to the books of Columbia University’s Eric Foner and his acolytes. In reality, however, Southerners wanted to protect a number of states rights beyond slavery,  particularly when “rights” and “responsibilities” are recognized as opposite sides of the same coin.

One example is public works spending, then known as internal improvements. The South long argued that they were the responsibility of the individual states whereas the North argued that the vague “general welfare” clause in Article 1, Section 8 of the U. S. Constitution allowed federal taxes to fund them. When the two regions were part a single country, the North generally got its way. Once the cotton states seceded, however, the Confederate constitution specifically prohibited the central government from financing such projects. The states, however, could do so, as Georgia did with the Western & Atlantic Railroad connecting Atlanta to Chattanooga. Even today the line is owned by the state and leased to CSX Transportation.

In a second example the Confederate constitution outlawed subsidies for private industries. Although the states might individually subsidize such companies, the central government could not. That provision also was prompted by the North’s ability to get such subsidies over Southern objections under the “general welfare” clause of the U. S. constitution.

A third example of deference to state sovereignty was a safeguard against a too-powerful central government in a constitutional provision stipulating that amendments could only originate with the states—not the Confederate Congress. Any three states could form a convention to propose new amendments.

A fourth check on federal government power was the ability of each state to impeach any Confederate official operating exclusively within that state. It required a two thirds vote in both houses of that state’s legislature. The provision was designed to avoid bureaucratic creep, which could lead to a tyrannical federal government in the form of a deep-state of career administrators.

Although not directly tied to state’s rights, Southerners felt that the taxes authorized by Article 1, Section 8 of the U. S. constitution were not intended to be regionally discriminatory. Unfortunately, the actual language merely specified that federal taxes must be “uniform throughout the United States.”

Southerners realized that a tax could be “uniform” but still regionally discriminatory. During the Civil War, and for three years thereafter, the federal government put a tax on cotton. Although uniform to all producers, all the growers were Southerners. Similarly, years after the war the federal government put a tax on cottonseed oil because it was a major ingredient in margin, which was a cheaper alternative to butter produced in the North. There was no similar federal tax on Northern farm products.

Antebellum Southerners discovered how “uniform” taxes could be regionally discriminatory when they analyzed the economic impact of protective tariffs.

First, protective tariffs did not raise much revenue. They were specifically designed to protect Northern domestic manufactures against foreign competition. This pragmatically forced all Americans to buy from the Northern manufactures. On the eve of the Civil War, for example, Southerners bought about $300 million in Northern goods, much of which they might have purchased at lower prices if imports of the same items were not burdened with tariffs. In contrast, the actual tariffs for the entire country at that time were only $60 million.

Second, protective tariffs were injurious to Southern farm exports, especially  to the crucial European market. That’s because European buyers needed to generate exchange credits to pay for such commodities as cotton, which they normally accomplished by selling their manufactured goods into the American market. Unfortunately, high protective tariffs shrank the demand for imports by artificially diverting it to domestic manufactures. Consequently, Europe would buy less cotton due to their shortage of exchange credits. Additionally, American tariffs motivated them to seek alternate cotton sources such as Brazil, Egypt, and India. Consequently, the Confederate constitution outlawed protective tariffs.

In sum, the Confederate constitutional provisions noted above show that her founders had big concerns about the powers of a central government. They also show that state’s rights were one way Southerners intended to limit such powers.

To learn more about commerce between the North and South during the Civil War consider the book below:

Trading With the Enemy by Philip Leigh

“Southerner” as a Racist Word

(June 3, 2019) About 30 – 40 years ago academic historians of the Civil War and Reconstruction started teaching that the word “Southerner” should be qualified. One should not, for example, argue that Southerners seceded to perpetuate slavery because that goal applied to white Southerners. Notwithstanding, that white Southerners obviously controlled the region’s politics, the professors increasingly insisted that the word be used with the qualifying adjectives: “white” or “black.” As I recently learned, this overly pedantic rule eventually became de rigueur among today’s cultural elites.

Specifically, members at one online forum condemned me for selectively using Southerner as a synonym for white Southerner. Accused of immodestly presuming that “Southerners” might refer to white Southerners without the qualifying adjective I explained that my critics were likely guilty of a similar presumption.

Specifically when traveling to Europe or Asia they doubtlessly refer to themselves as “Americans” notwithstanding that the Western Hemisphere includes about twenty American countries. Nonetheless, nearly everyone knows that by tradition “American” is informally understood to mean a citizen of the USA. I similarly argued that “Southerner” was commonly understood to mean a white Southerner, also by tradition.

Well, you would have thought they caught me leading a lynch mob to Al Sharpton’s office. Despite rules against personal attacks, one high-profile forum member flatly labeled me a racist.

Consequently, I decided to identify a single book by a prominent Civil War historian whose reputation made him immune to charges of racism. My purpose was to learn whether his writings sometimes interpreted “Southerner” to mean “white Southerner.” I selected Battle Cry of Freedom by Pulitzer Prize winning James McPherson. As the selected excerpts below document McPherson undeniably sometimes used “Southerner” to mean “white Southerner.”

Southerners bristled at these attacks on their social system. (p. 56)​

Southerners challenged the constitutionality of the Wilmont Proviso. (p. 57)​

On all issues but one, ante-bellum Southerners stood for states rights and a weak federal government. (p. 78)​

Southerners were “unquestionably the most prosperous people on the earth, realizing ten to twenty percent on their capital with every prospect of doing well for a long time to come,” boasted James Hammond. (p. 100)

Southerners also fought for abstractions—state sovereignty—the right of secession—the constitution as they saw it. (p. 309-10)​

Many Southerners believed they were fighting to defend home, hearth, wives and sisters. (p. 310)​

Although Southerners later bridled at the official northern name of the conflict, “The War of Rebellion. . .” (p. 310)​

Southerners boasted that slavery “was a tower of strength to the Confederacy. . .” (p. 354)​

McPherson also occasionally used the term “Northerner” in reference to “white Northerners.”

For reasons of their own most northerners initially agreed that the war had nothing to do with slavery. (p. 311)​

​Recognizing that racism or constitutionalism would prevent many northerners from accepting emancipation . . . (p. 354)​

Prentiss . . .  had formed a hard knot of resistance along a country lane that northern soldiers called the sunken road . . . (p. 410) [Since no black soldiers were in the Union army at this battle, “northern soldiers” can only refer to “white northern soldiers.”]

Unfortunately, ad hominem smears of those objecting to the one-sided interpretations of Civil War and Reconstruction history as taught at most colleges and universities during the last thirty years is all too common. They should be understood for exactly what they are: Deliberate censorship attempts. It is always those in power who censor, which they do for a single reason: to retain power.

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Causes of the Civil War

(July 18, 2018) In a PBS interview seven years ago historian and Harvard University president Drew Gilpin Faust identified slavery as the cause of the Civil War. “Historians are pretty united on the cause of the Civil War being slavery,” she said and elaborated by adding, . . . “when the various states announced their plans for secession, they uniformly said that the main motivating factor was to defend slavery.”

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But she commits two errors. First, only five of the first seven states to secede cited slavery in their secession ordinances and declarations of causes. Additionally, the four upper-South states of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas remained Union-loyal until President Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to coerce the seven Gulf states back into the Union—a compulsion that the upper-South states considered to be unconstitutional. Once they joined, however, they doubled the Confederacy’s white population and her territory east of the Mississippi River. Second, but foremost, Faust falsely equates the reasons the Northern states chose to fight a war with the reasons Southern states seceded.

She fails to consider that Northerners could have let the cotton states leave in peace, thereby avoiding a Civil War altogether. The original seven-state Confederacy was so weak that many believed her component states might end up humbly asking to be readmitted to the Federal Union. According to historian David Potter: “No one was much impressed with the Gulf Coast Confederacy. No one was convinced that it would be economically or politically viable.”[1]

Moreover, many Northern leaders were prepared to “Let the erring sisters go in peace.” Among them was abolitionist Horace Greeley, then editor of The New York Tribune, which was America’s largest newspaper. Greeley wrote, “We have repeatedly said . . . that if the slave states choose to form an independent nation, they have the right to do so.” President James Buchanan added that many Republicans shared Greeley’s opinion when he wrote: “Leading Republicans everywhere scornfully exclaimed ‘Let them go;’ ‘We can do better without them;’ ‘Let the Union slide,’ and other language of the same import.” Ohio lawyer and future Republican President Rutherford Hayes was satisfied to let the free states remain alone as his January 4, 1861 diary entry reveals: “The [twenty] free states alone . . . will make a glorious nation . . . scarcely inferior in real power to the thirty-three states we had on the first of November.”[2] Similarly, President Lincoln’s future War Secretary, Edwin Stanton, said, “Oh, I would let the South go; they will be clamoring to get back in three years.”

Faust made a second error by ignoring the reasons that Northerners chose to fight and instead concentrated only on the reasons the South seceded. She could have, for example, examined resolutions passed by at least six Northern state legislatures in response to the first wave of seceding states. All six suggested that they were prepared to fight a war in order to “preserve the Union.”[3]

The elephant in the Civil War history classroom

It is impossible to conclude that the resolutions of any of the six states even hint of a Northern holy war to free Southern slaves. Moreover, the vague abstractions for wanting to preserve the Union, such as the “freedom,” “prosperity,” and “happiness” presumably enabled by the Federal Union, suggest that they may be nothing more than obfuscations designed to camouflage the true goal of aborting the economic consequences of disunion. Even historian Gary Gallagher who accepts the platitudes at face value, concedes that the average Northerner was preoccupied “then, as now, [by] economic concerns.”[4] A truncated Union separated from its Southern states would likely face two significant economic problems.

First, it could not hope to maintain a favorable balance of payments. The South accounted for about 70% of America’s exports on the eve of the Civil War. Thus, without the South’s export economy, America would become a perpetual debtor nation forever at the mercy of its stronger trading partners that would deplete her gold supply in order to settle the persistent trade imbalances.

Second, since the Confederate constitution outlawed protective tariffs, her lower tariffs would confront the remaining states of the abridged Union with two consequences. First, since ninety percent of Federal taxes came from tariffs, the government’s revenue loss would be sizable. Articles imported into the Confederacy from Europe would divert tariff revenue from the North to the South. Second, and even more importantly, a low Confederate tariff would induce Southerners to buy manufactured goods from Europe as opposed to the Northern states where prices were inflated by protective tariffs.

In January 1861 The Philadelphia Press editorialized, “It is the enforcement of the revenue laws [tariffs], not the coercion of [South Carolina] that is the question of the hour. If those laws cannot be enforced, the Union is clearly gone.” In When in the Course of Human Events author Charles Adams reasons:

If trade were to shift to the Southern ports because of a free trade zone, or extremely low duties relative to the North, then [the] great cities [of the Northeast] would go into decline and suffer economic disaster. The image painted by these editorials [from newspapers of Northeastern cities] is one of massive unemployment, the closing of factories and businesses, followed by unrest, riots, and possibly revolution. The inland cities of the North would also go into decline, like Pittsburgh, where duty-free British steel and iron products would cripple the American steel industry.

Consider the iron-producing state of Pennsylvania, which was among the most vigorous advocates of protective tariffs. As the railroad industry boomed for decades after construction started on the transcontinental railroad during the Civil War, tariffs on imported steel rails sometimes approached 100%. Thus, while Pennsylvanians proclaimed that they did not want to interfere with the Southern slavery, they undeniably wanted generous tariff protection.[5]

The false equivalency between the reasons that the South seceded and the reasons that the North chose to fight a war rather than let the seven cotton states depart peaceably is the ignored elephant in the history classroom.

*       *       *

[1] David Potter, The Impeding Crisis (New York: Harper Colophon, 1976), 505
[2] Hayes miscounted. At the end of January 1861 there were only nineteen free states.
[3] New York, Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Minnesota
[4] Gary Gallagher, The Union War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 42, 44
[5] Jack Beatty, Age of Betrayal (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2007), 67; Samuel Bostaph, Andrew Carnegie: An Economic Biography (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), 137; Ludwell Johnson, Division and Reunion (New York: Wiley, 1978), 64

Why did Southerners Fight the Civil War?

(April 4, 2018) Eric Foner acolytes and similar historians equate the reasons for secession with the reasons for the Civil War, even while admitting they cannot explain why the North declined to let the South depart in peace. Anti-Southern “experts” like an interpretation that demonizes the typical Confederate soldier for fighting to defend slavery and ennobles the ordinary Yankee for fighting to end it. In short, it endorses the Evil Twin metaphor for the War that portrays the South as America’s “evil” twin and the North is her “good” twin.

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But objective historians realize the reasons for secession and the reasons the average Rebel soldier fought are not the same. William C. “Jack” Davis, for example, writes: “The widespread Northern myth that the Confederates went to the battlefield to perpetuate slavery is just that, a myth. Their letters and diaries, in the tens of thousands, reveal again and again that they fought and died because their Southern homeland was invaded and their natural instinct was to protect home and hearth.” Only about thirty percent of Southern families owned slaves and fewer than ten percent of individuals held title to them.

While Davis supports his opinion with letters and diaries, mere common sense implies how improbable it would have been for the typical Southerner to leave his family, risk his life, endure army-life hardships, and kill others who had done him no harm simply to protect slave property owned mostly by wealthy planters. Only a deluded historian propagandist could suggest that it was a prime motivation.

It’s more likely that the typical Southerner felt as Daniel Woodrell portray’s his main character’s motivation in his novel, Woe to Live On. The protagonist is a nineteen year old Bushwhacker named Jake Roedel. As the Civil War progresses his best friend becomes Daniel Holt, a slave. Like Roedel, Holt joined his white childhood friend to be with the Missouri Bushwhackers. Jake responds to a question from Holt about why the Rebels fight:

“[The Yankee] is the cut of man who if you say the sun is high, he will say, no, you are low. That is nothing in itself to war over. But then he will say, I believe my way, my life, and person have more loft to them than yours do, so be like me. . .The Rebel is not the man you want to say that to. He don’t care for it. . . The Rebel will fight you if you try to force him to your way. And it don’t matter too much what your way is, neither.”

Today’s experience among students of the Civil War suggests that Roedel’s viewpoint still applies. Most modern historians sympathize with the North and many will condemn anyone who challenges the Evil Twin metaphor. Such historians  believe that they “have more loft” and require that Southern historians be more like them. Megan Nelson, for example, urges that all Confederate monuments be destroyed and left as rubble to dishonor Southerners of the Civil War era as well as those born later who erected the monuments. Such condescensions cause Roedel’s explanation to resonate with many present-day Southerners. “We don’t care for” such haughtiness.

Roedel fought to protect his right to think for himself. He instinctively rebelled against those who proclaimed themselves as morally superior and presumed they had the right to tell him what he should think. He fought because he was a rebel.

A Christmas Gift for 2017

(December 21, 2107) Since hardcover versions of my Southern Reconstruction book will be out of stock at Amazon and Barnes & Noble Internet stores until next month, even though a second production run has been ordered, provided below is a free copy of the first chapter titled, “Introduction.” This online version does not include the footnotes, which are available in the hardcover and e-book versions. (For a review of Southern Reconstruction by Publisher’s Weekly, click here.)


Southern Reconstruction


Partly because of a focus on racial injustices underscored by about four thousand lynches between 1882 and 1951, modern histories of Southern Reconstruction suffer two limitations. First, they tend to ignore, or minimize, how developments in one section of the country impacted those of the other. Second, they focus almost exclusively on race.

Regarding the first limitation, a valid picture of Reconstruction cannot be drawn without integrating the history of the Gilded Age in the North with that of Reconstruction in the South. The experience of Amos Akerman provides an example.

Akerman was one of Republican President Ulysses Grant’s five attorneys general. He served a little over a year, from November 1870 to December 1871. Born in New Hampshire, at age twenty-one, in 1842, he moved to Georgia, where he first worked as a tutor and later became a lawyer. Despite initially opposing secession, he remained loyal to the South and served as a Confederate quartermaster during the Civil War. He also functioned as a line officer during Union Major General William T. Sherman invasion of Georgia in 1864.

Akerman was the most vigorous of Grant’s attorneys general in prosecuting the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). In order to expedite prosecutions, he expanded the powers of the then newly created federal Justice Department. About six hundred Klan members were convicted. Although most received light sentences, sixty-five were imprisoned for up to five years at a federal penitentiary in Albany, New York.

Back Cover of Southern Reconstruction Book

Grant, however, may have revealed his secondary interest in racial justice when he abruptly asked Akerman to resign in December 1871. Partly at the prompting of Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, Grant had misgivings about Akerman’s “obsession” with the Klan. Perhaps more importantly, Akerman also frustrated important Northern capitalists. He was, for example, critical of the dubious terms under which railroads often qualified for federal subsidies. He may have suspected the long-festering Crédit Mobilier scandal that was a paragon of such corruption and would soon dominate the news. In June 1871, Akerman had denied land and bond grants to the Union Pacific Railroad, which had given Crédit Mobilier lucrative contracts to build the line when the railroad was unprofitable because of the inability of a partially completed line to generate much traffic in a sparsely populated territory. Crédit Mobilier allocated shares of stock—a genteel form of bribery—to influential politicians, including both of Grant’s vice presidents as well as a future president, James Garfield, who committed perjury when he denied it. (Grant’s second vice president, Henry Wilson, returned the stock and claimed to have endured a loss on the transaction.)

Shortly before resigning, Akerman confronted the previous attorney general, Ebenezer Hoar, when the latter was representing a railroad client’s land grant claims. Akerman told Hoar that the client had not completed work required to receive the grants. Nearly simultaneously, Interior Secretary Columbus Delano complained to Grant that Akerman had annoyed railroad moguls Collis Huntington and Jay Gould with rulings unfavorable to their interests. (After Grant left office and returned from a Worldwide tour he accepted at $25,000 cash gift from Gould.) Whether at the urging of Fish, Delano, or Hoar, Grant replaced Akerman with George Williams, who later resigned under bribery accusations, as did Delano.

Grant biographer William McFeely concluded that after Akerman’s resignation, “the finest champion of human rights in the Grant administration went home to Cartersville, Georgia, where he practiced law privately for only eight more years. He had given up on his native North and Northerners.”

Akerman correctly reasoned that Northerners were too preoccupied with the economic progress and growing wealth of the Gilded Age to be much concerned about racial equality. Following his resignation, he wrote Georgia’s Carpetbag governor, Benjamin Conley, “Even such atrocities as Ku-Kluxery do not hold their attention . . . the Northern mind being active and full of what is called progress runs away from the past.”

Significantly, Akerman was echoing a point that was increasingly obvious to Northerners outside of Washington. Six years earlier, in 1866, the editor of the Chicago Tribune wrote US Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois:

 “You all in Washington must remember that the excitement of the great contest is dying out, and that commercial and industrial enterprises and pursuits are engaging a large share of public attention . . . people are more mindful of themselves than of any philanthropic scheme that looks to making Sambo a voter, juror and office holder.”

 The same month that Akerman resigned, the Thirty-Ninth Congress reconvened, after a ten-month recess, under a cloud of suspicion that it was controlled by the railroad industry. One newspaper correspondent famously suggested that notices be nailed to the congressional doors stating, “The business of this establishment will be done hereafter in the offices of the Pennsylvania Railroad.” In addition to being the biggest railroad, the Pennsylvania was the also country’s largest corporation.

Akerman’s story also shows how political actions targeted at the South later boomeranged to impact developments in the North. Although urged to destroy the KKK, President Grant was wary of claims that he wanted to become a dictator by using stern federal powers to supersede the legal prerogatives of the individual states. One bill under congressional consideration that might be subject to such interpretation proposed to give the president the right to use the army to enforce court decisions and suspend the writ of habeas corpus. Nonetheless, reasoning that federal interdiction in local affairs was justified when tax collections and mail transportation were endangered, Grant threw his support behind the 1871 bill, which became known as the Ku Klux Klan Act.

Twenty-three years later, Grant’s logic for using federal power to protect the mails during the KKK crisis was applied to striking laborers. During the 1894 Pullman strike, workers disrupted train movements, particularly through Chicago. In response, President Grover Cleveland authorized armed federal troops to run the mail trains. When strikers attacked one regiment, the soldiers opened fire, wounding scores of people and killing about thirty. The strike was broken. Strikers were subjected to arrest and trials without jury.

The Fourteenth Amendment is another example of legislation presumably targeted at improving the civil rights of freedmen that rebounded to obstruct consumer and progressive interests by guarding the properties of powerful capitalists. The amendment characterized ex-slaves as “persons” and deemed them to be American citizens and citizens of the state in which they resided. All states were prohibited from abridging the rights of any “person,” which leveraged the Fifth Amendment declaration that no “person” could be “deprived of . . . life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” Twenty years after adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled in two late 1880s decisions that corporations were also “persons” whose property rights were protected by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Those two decisions sharply curtailed the powers of states to regulate railroads and other corporations.

Some of the Fourteenth Amendment’s authors evidently had such motives from the beginning. When Republican Ohio Congressman John Bingham wrote the “due process” clause, he composed it “word for word” to protect property rights as well as civil rights. Later, in 1882, when former US Republican Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York represented the Southern Pacific Railroad before the Supreme Court with objections to California taxes, he argued that as an architect of the amendment, he labored to word it in a way to protect both private property rights and black civil rights against the encroachments of state legislatures.

As noted above, the second limitation of current Reconstruction narratives is the virtually exclusive focus on race. To illustrate, the standard college text and currently most influential academic book about the era is Eric Foner’s Reconstruction, which concludes:

What remains certain is that Reconstruction failed and that for blacks its failure was a disaster. . . . If racism contributed to the demise of Reconstruction, by the same token Reconstruction’s demise . . . greatly facilitated the spread of racism. . . . An enduring consequence of Reconstruction’s failure [was that] the [politically Democratic] Solid South helped . . . weaken the prospects not simply of change in racial matters but of progressive legislation in many other realms.

 Foner fails to mention any lingering consequences affecting both Southern whites and blacks, even though whites represented 60 percent of the region’s population. Nonetheless, the harmful effects of Reconstruction were more substantial, multiracial, and protracted than commonly understood. One example is Southern poverty.

Nearly a century after the war, eight of the ten states with the lowest per capita income in 1960 were former Confederate states. Even 150 years later, in 2011, Virginia was the only Southern state to rank among the top ten in per capita adjusted gross income, whereas five of the lowest ten were other Confederate states. The classic example is Mississippi, which ranked number one in 1860 per capita wealth but was dead last at fiftieth in 2011 per capita income.

Although Southern poverty and cotton culture is commonly associated with blacks, in 1940 whites made up two-thirds of the region’s farmers who either rented their lands or were sharecroppers. According to a 1938 presidential economic report, about half of Southern white farmers were sharecroppers “living under economic conditions almost identical to those of Negro sharecroppers.” Shortly after the Great Depression began, the president of General Motors (Alfred P. Sloan) voluntarily slashed his annual salary from $500,000 to $340,000. His $160,000 cut was more than all the income taxes paid by the two million residents of Mississippi that year. Widespread Southern poverty led to lower life expectancies, principally because of poor diets and unaffordable medical care. In 1930, sixty-five years after the end of the Civil War, South Carolina was the only state with as much as half of its population under the age of twenty because its residents died earlier.

Memoirist Shirley Abbot, who grew up in Arkansas during the 1930s and ’40s, wrote of the period:

The words of President Roosevelt echoed in our heads—“one third of a nation ill-clothed, ill-fed, and ill-housed,” and we certainly knew which third he meant. We knew that we were poor, backward, behind . . .

 [As for local politicians] . . . it should be said that most of the post-Reconstruction South was run in [a] more or less . . . [despotic] fashion. In little towns like Hot Springs, the rule of law had not yet outpaced the rule of poverty or the southern code. People, black and white, were mostly poor, trying to survive in an economy that was still largely rural.

Abbott’s adulthood illustrates a persistent consequence of Southern poverty. After Arkansas taxpayers funded her public education, Abbott left to become a successful editor and writer in New York and Massachusetts, where she paid taxes to educate the children of those well-endowed states. For at least a century after the Civil War, one of the South’s greatest exports included some of its most capable people.

Contrary to Foner’s claim that Southerners resisted progressive movements, outside the realm of race relations, Southern Democrats championed some of the most progressive legislation of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Former Confederate Postmaster General John Reagan was an early proponent of federal railroad regulation after he became a US congressman in 1874. After Woodrow Wilson became the first president whose boyhood was in the South following the Civil War, he successfully promoted such measures as a graduated income tax, tariff rate reductions, the Federal Reserve System, the Farm Loan Act, and the Warehouse Act. Finally, the Populist movement originated in the South instead of in the Great Plains as is customarily supposed. Most Southern Populists, however, remained in the Democratic party.

In contrast, Republicans fostered some of the most regressive policies. For forty-five years, between the 1868 election of Grant as president and the inauguration of Democrat Woodrow Wilson in 1913, the Republicans held the White House over 80 percent of the time, the Senate over 90 percent of the time, and the House of Representatives almost two-thirds of the time. During that era, 90 percent of the money collected in the domestic economy was composed of excise taxes on liquor, beer, wine, and tobacco. There was no income-sensitive tax.

As for external tax revenue—customs duties—the Republicans consistently favored high protective tariffs, which were essentially a regressive sales tax on consumers. Furthermore, tariffs were the chief federal revenue source during the forty-five-year period. They were much larger than the taxes on the domestic economy that were collected by the Internal Revenue Service as opposed to the Customs Offices where the tariffs were collected. The Republican Party refused to reduce tariffs even when the Treasury reported surpluses every year from 1866 to 1893. Some surpluses were embarrassingly large, particularly toward the end of the era.

Instead of cutting taxes by lowering tariffs, Republicans spent the surplus extravagantly to win political support among favored constituencies. A prime example was the increasingly liberal Union veterans’ pensions. Most Southerners preferred lowering the tariff over spending the excess customs duties on Union veterans pensions, which grew to an astounding 40 percent of the federal budget in 1893. Before the surplus was consumed by the growing pensions, however, one sympathetic Northern senator sponsored an education-funding bill to apportion part of the surplus to the states based upon illiteracy rates. It would have particularly aided the South, where such rates were higher, income levels lower, and the school age share of population larger, but the bill never got out of the House of Representatives.

Furthermore, Northern attitudes toward racial equality were more obstructive than is usually assumed. They even provided a precedent that led to the separate-but-equal doctrine of the 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which legitimized segregation for almost sixty years thereafter. Although the case involved a Louisiana incident, Justice Henry Brown of Michigan cited a Boston precedent upholding segregated schools. Six other justices joined him in the 7–1 decision. The lone dissenter was from Kentucky, while six of the seven justices voting with the majority were from states that were loyal to the Union during the Civil War.

Finally, Republican advocacy of African-American civil rights was diluted by a huge dose of self-interest. When the Civil War ended, the Republican Party was barely ten years old. It could be eclipsed, and possibly strangled in its cradle, if the readmittance of Southern states into the Union failed to be managed in a way that would prevent Southerners from allying with Northern Democrats to regain control of the federal government. With other things the same, the abolition of slavery would increase Southern congressional representation by fifteen members over the antebellum tally because of the obsolescence of the original constitutional provision restricting the counting of slaves to three-fifths of their number for purposes of a state’s congressional representation and electoral votes.

The historical facts reveal that Republicans were distressed about the consequences to their party if Southern states were promptly readmitted into the Union without Republican control over the method of readmission. Even before the war ended, a joint congressional resolution in December 1864 proclaimed that Arkansas and Louisiana—temporarily readmitted under a wartime Reconstruction plan by President Abraham Lincoln—were “not entitled to representation in the electoral college.” Historian Matthew Josephson concluded:

The resolution reveals how even in the winter of 1864-65 [before the war was over] the Republican Party leaders were secretly obsessed with once again becoming a minority Party. Even in the twenty-three United States, only 55% of the vote in the presidential election of 1864 had been Republican. The Democratic anti-war vote was thus a big minority. What, then, if eleven unregenerate States returned to constitutional relations with the Union? They assailed Lincoln on this ground; they would fall upon his successor, too, should his policies threaten or jeopardize the retention of power by the war party.

 If all representatives from the former Confederate states were admitted to the Thirty-Ninth Congress in December 1865, and each added member was a Democrat, the Republican majority in the Senate would have dropped from 43–9 and become 43–31. Similarly, the party’s majority in the House would have dropped from 152–40 and become 152–81. In short, the Republicans would have no longer held a veto-proof two-thirds majority in Congress.

Historians William Cooper and Thomas Terrill elaborate in their American South: A History:  “Republicans’ fears that the Democrats would regain their antebellum political dominance were not fantasies. The dominance of the Republican Party was not assured in 1865, and would not be until the 1890s. Only then were the Republicans able to control the White House and both houses of Congress consistently.”

Historian Arthur Schlesinger’s analysis of Republican motivations concluded, “The technique of ‘waving the bloody shirt’—meaning to advertise for a generation that ‘not every Democrat is a Rebel, but every Rebel is a Democrat’—enabled the Republicans to [direct Northern voter hatred toward Southerners] in order to long submerge the fact that they were becoming the party of monopoly and wealth.” Banker J. P. Morgan, who epitomized Gilded Age wealth, cogently observed, “A man always has two reasons for the things he does­—a good one and the real one.” Morgan was implying that the good reason is a false, benevolent explanation that conceals the real self-serving one.

If, for example, racial equality was the true objective of nineteenth-century Republican black suffrage advocacy, an explanation for why the party did not promote suffrage for Chinese immigrants is needed. The historical record provides no good explanation. Republican inconsistency between supporting black civil suffrage while ignoring Chinese-American suffrage likely results from the fact that Chinese exclusion attracted California voters to the Republican Party, whereas the inclusion of black voters transformed the Southern states from a Democratic voting block into a Republican one.

Beginning in 1882, the federal government responded to racist pressures from California and other Western states with laws that would help deny the vote to Chinese residents and reduce their numbers. The ’82 law was succeeded by additional measures—known collectively as the Chinese Exclusion Acts— that restricted immigration and denied citizenship to the Chinese. California used the acts, which were not repealed until 1943, to deny voting rights to Chinese people. The immigration restrictions effectively cut the number of Chinese in America from 105,000 in 1880 to 62,000 in 1920.

Nonetheless, most contemporary Reconstruction historians are too prone to accept the putative righteous explanations for Republican actions as opposed to the real ones. Conversely, they too readily apply sinister interpretations to the actions of Southern Democrats. Foner, for example, laments that the 1866 Georgia legislature appropriated $200,000 to aid “aged and infirm white persons,” including Confederate widows and orphans, while making no allowance for the dependents of deceased Union soldiers or aged and infirm blacks. He failed, however, to disclose four mitigating points.

First, although Georgia didn’t aid the survivors of fallen Union soldiers, neither did the Northern states aid the widows and orphans in their states who had husbands and fathers in the Confederate army.

Second, the federal government started paying increasingly generous Union veterans’ pensions in 1862. The former Confederate states individually paid much smaller pensions to Rebel veterans. Additionally, Southerners had to pay their share of federal taxes needed to fund the Union pensions. The annual disbursements did not peak until 1921 and trailed off only gradually for years thereafter. During the fifty years prior to 1917, the accumulated Union veterans’ pensions totaled over $5 billion, which was more than twice the amount spent by the federal and Northern state governments to fight the entire war.

Third, the 1866 federal Southern Homestead Act gave freedmen temporary preferential homesteading access to 46 million acres of Southern land. The Republican-dominated Congress, however, declined to provide blacks with preferential access to homesteads outside the South, although it was generous in providing land grants to railroads. The Northern Pacific Railroad, for example, would eventually receive so much federal acreage that it would approximate the size of the state of Missouri.

Finally, even Foner admits that the 1866 Georgia legislature reasoned that aid to blacks should at least temporarily be the responsibility of the federal government through its much better financed Freedmen’s Bureau, which chiefly targeted African-Americans. Emancipation was, after all, a national policy, which justified reliance upon national (i.e., federal) funding sources to pay for the needs of the ex-slaves.

The purpose of this book is to tell the story of Southern Reconstruction by transcending the limitations of a race-centric narrative and to more fully put the account into context with that of the rest of the country. Although racism has been a shameful characteristic and legacy of the era, there is a larger story to be told involving members of all races.


Presently Amazon and Barnes & Noble Online are out-of-stock of my latest book, Southern Reconstruction. Although my publisher has ordered a second printing, the production run will not be completed before Christmas.

Meanwhile, some physical Barnes & Noble stores do have them in stock. Go to this link, and click on the “Want it today? Check Store Availability,” which is in small print to the right of the picture cover. The link will prompt you to enter your zip code and afterward display a list of stores nearby and will also indicate which ones have Southern Reconstruction in stock. Some other independent physical stores may also have the title in stock.

Finally, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have eBook versions available.

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Mickey Mouse Harassment

(Mat 21, 2017) According to some experts copyrights last far too long because The Walt Disney Company regularly convinces the federal government to extend them in order to protect the Mickey Mouse trademark.

This is a problem for students of the Civil War Era because the works of many historians from 1923 to about 1970 are out of print and unavailable in the public domain. Moreover, historians of that period often came to different—sometimes contrary—conclusions to those of more recent authors. One example is the changing perspective on the Republican Party’s motivation for advocating black suffrage in the South after the Civil War. Earlier historians generally admit that the Party was probably as much concerned about using the voting block to retain power in Washington as it was in the intrinsic merit of racial equality. In contrast, modern historians generally minimize, or ignore, the political power factor.

Since many out-of-print books published between 1923 and 1970 remain under copyright  there is only a dwindling supply of used copies available. Some are in such short supply that the prices are painfully high. A good example is Philip S. Foner’s Business & Slavery: The New York Merchants and the Irrepressible Conflict. It was originally published in 1941 and the copyright was renewed in 1968. Since the renewal means it will not be out of copyright until 2036, the best price for a used copy at Amazon is $160.

There are two reasons that Philip Foner’s book should interest students of the Civil War.

First, he was Eric Foner’s uncle. Eric is one of the leading of present day Civil War Era historians who predominantly emphasize the centrality of slavery as the cause of the war. He often cites the protection of slavery in the “Declaration of Causes” for secession provided by five of the deep South states to make his point. Yet any declaration of secession causes fails to explain why the Northern states simply did not let the Southern states depart peaceably. If the Northern states wanted to be divorced from slavery, why not just let the South leave? Eric even admits that he does not know how to answer that question and further claims that no historian has been able to answer it.

The second reason uncle Philip’s book should interest us is its focus on the very question that his more famous nephew mostly ignores. In short, it argues that New York merchants had greater reason to be concerned about the adverse economic impact of Southern secession than with freedom for the slaves. Even after South Carolina seceded they urged Lincoln to compromise the Party plank intended to prevent the spread of slavery into the the territorial regions of the country, but Lincoln refused. In short, the chief reason the New York merchants chose to support the war was to avoid the economic consequences of Southern secession.


The original 1790 Copyright Act provided for a 14-year term which was renewable for one additional 14-year term.  When Mickey Mouse came on the scene in 1928 copyright duration was 28 years with a 28 year renewal, which would have required his copyright to expire in 1984. Thus, in 1976 Congress overhauled the copyright act providing Mickey seventy-five years of protection until 2003. As the 2003 deadline approached a new copyright act was adopted in 1998 that gives Mickey protection until 2023.

The chart above from Art Law Journal indicates a correlation between Mickey’s copyright deadlines and periodic revisions to extend the deadlines for all copyrights.

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