Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Survey: Reconstruction/Long Civil War


Two thoughts on the Civil War and Reconstruction.  One, when precisely did the war end?  While Lee's surrender in 1865 provides a convenient stopping point, many refused to stop fighting.  Take, for example, John Wilkes Booth, who Michael Kaufman argues killed Lincoln to send the Union government into disarray and restore southern independence (American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies (New York: Random House, 2004), or ex-Confederates who mounted an insurgent, terrorist war lasting through 1877, if not beyond (see, e.g. LeeAnna Keith, The Colfax Massacre: The Untold Story of Black Power, White Terror, and the Death of Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); Scott Nelson, Iron Confederacies: Southern Railways, Klan Violence, & Reconstruction (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1999).  Taking a long view of the war helps explain the Supreme Court's retreat from civil rights in the 1870s, a stock segment of any legal history survey, even as it helps to explain other things as well ... like torts.  In Missouri, ex-confederates mounted a violent campaign against railroads that lasted through the 1880s, led in part by colorful figures like Jesse James.  According to David Thelen, this campaign stemmed from a larger struggle between agrarian values and industrial development that animated southern opposition to northern rule (David Thelen, Paths of Resistance: Tradition and Dignity in Industrializing Missouri (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986)).  Anti-railroad sentiment helps to explain why the state of Missouri enacted one of the first laws placing responsibility on railroad corporations for fires caused by trains, a law mentioned in Hall, Finkelman, and Ely under the "The Active State and the Mixed Economy, 1812-1860." 
Front Cover

Others continued to fight the Civil War as well ... like socialists.  As Michael McGerr shows in Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), German immigrant veterans of the Union army came to view the Civil War in class terms.  Again and again, socialists in cities like St. Louis and Chicago identified their plight with the plight of black slaves in the South, invoking the war as part of a much larger, unfinished struggle between capital and labor.  In 1877, this war erupted in massive strikes across the nation (encouraging the federal government to pull soldiers out of the South to put down labor in the North), and  in 1886 anarchists accused of setting a bomb in Chicago's Haymarket Square identified their plight openly with that of southern slaves.  Non-plussed, the Illinois legislature enacted one of the first Criminal Syndicalism laws in 1887, a measure that would be used "to suppress labor organization and political radicalism through World War I" (HFE, p. 374).

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