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Government and Business Partnership
even though they reduced their output. Brokerage houses worked until midnight and earned unheard-of commissions. Railroads carried immense quantities of freight and passengers, increasing their business to the point that railroad stocks doubled and tripled in value. The price of Erie Railroad stock rose from $17 to $126 a share during the war.
Railroads also were a leading beneficiary of government largesse. With the South absent from Congress, the northern, rather than southern, route of the transcontinental railroad quickly prevailed. In 1862 and 1864 Congress chartered two corporations, the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad, and assisted them financially in connecting Omaha, Nebraska, with Sacramento, California. For each mile of track laid, the railroads received a loan of from $16,000 to $48,000 in government bonds plus 20 square miles of land along a free 400-foot-wide right of way. Overall, the two corporations gained approximately 20 million acres of land and nearly $60 million in loans.
Other businessmen benefited handsomely from the Morrill Land Grant Act (1862). To promote public education in agriculture, engineering, and military science, Congress granted each state 30,000 acres of federal land for each of its congressional districts. The states could sell the land, as long as they used the income for the purposes Congress had intended. The law eventually fostered sixty-nine colleges and universities, but one of its immediate effects was to enrich a few prominent speculators. Hard-pressed to meet wartime expenses, some states sold their land cheaply to wealthy entrepreneurs. At the same time, the Homestead Act of 1862 offered cheap, and sometimes free, land to people who would settle the West and improve their property.
Wartime Northern Economy and Society
Before the war, there was no national banking, taxation, or currency. Banks operating under state charters issued no fewer than seven thousand different kinds of notes, which were difficult to distinguish from forgeries. During the war, Congress and the Treasury Department established a national banking system empowered to issue national bank notes. At the close of the war in 1865, Congress forced most state banks to join the national system by means of a prohibitive tax. This process created sounder currency, but also inflexibility in the money supply and an eastern-oriented financial structure that, later in the century, pushed farmers in need of credit and cash to revolt.
In response to the war, the Republicans created an activist federal government. They converted the sale of war bonds into a crusade, affirming that the country could absorb any level of debt or expense for the cause of union. Indeed, with agricultural legislation, the land grant colleges, higher tariffs, and railroad subsidies, the federal government entered the economy forever. Moreover, Republican economic policies bonded people to the nation as never before. As freeing the slaves became a fundamental war aim, this economic nationalism would loom important as a buttress for a controversial cause.
The powers of the federal government and the president grew steadily during the crisis. Abraham Lincoln, like Jefferson Davis, found
an's^n^Df0^^ tnat war reciiurea' active presidential « -j ■ ■ ■ leadership. At the beginning of the Presidential a- T ■ i i . j
_ conflict, Lincoln launched a maior
shipbuilding program without waiting for Congress to assemble. The lawmakers later approved his decision, and Lincoln continued to act in advance of Congress when he deemed such action necessary. In one striking exercise of executive power, Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus for everyone living between Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. There was scant legal justification for this act, but the president's motive was practical: to ensure the loyalty of Maryland, which surrounded the capital on three sides. Later in the war, with congressional approval, Lincoln repeatedly suspended habeas corpus and invoked martial law, mainly in the border states but elsewhere as well. Between fifteen and twenty thousand U.S. citizens were arrested on suspicion of disloyal acts. These measures have led some to claim that Lincoln achieved "dictatorial" powers as a wartime president.
On occasion Lincoln used his wartime authority to bolster his own political fortunes. He and his gener
The Union Cause
als proved adept at furloughing soldiers so they could vote in close elections; those whom Lincoln fur-loughed, of course, usually voted Republican. He also came to the aid of other officeholders in his party. When the Republican governor of Indiana, who was battling Democrats in his legislature who sought a negotiated end to the war, ran short of funds, Lincoln had the War Department supply $250,000. This procedure lacked constitutional sanction, but it advanced the Union cause.
In thousands of self-governing towns and communities, northern citizens felt a personal connection to representative government. Secession *"* threatened to destroy their system, and northerners rallied to its defense. Secular and church leaders supported the cause, and even ministers who preferred to separate politics and pulpit denounced "the iniquity of causeless rebellion." In the first two years of the war, northern morale remained remarkably high for a cause that today may seem abstract—the Union—but at the time meant the preservation of a social and political order that people cherished.
But social attitudes on the northern home front evolved in directions that would have shocked the soldiers in the field. In the excitement of moneymaking, an eagerness to display one's wealth flourished in the largest cities. Harpers Monthly reported that "the suddenly enriched contractors, speculators, and stockjobbers . . . are spending money with a profusion never before witnessed in our country, at no time remarkable for its frugality... . The men button their waistcoats with diamonds . . . and the women powder their hair with gold and silver dust." The New York Herald summarized that city's atmosphere: "Not to keep a carriage, not to wear diamonds, ... is now equivalent to being a nobody. This war has entirely changed the American character... . The individual who makes the most money—no matter how—and spends the most—no matter for what—is considered the greatest man."
Yet idealism coexisted with ostentation. Many churches endorsed the Union cause as God's cause. One Methodist newspaper described the war as a contest between "equalizing, humanizing Christianity" and "disunion, war, selfishness, [and] slavery." Abolitionists campaigned to turn the war into a crusade against slavery. Free black communities and churches both black and white responded to the needs of slaves who flocked to the Union lines, sending clothing, ministers, and teachers to aid the freedpeople. Indeed,
Chapter 15 Transforming Fire: The Civil War, 1861-1865
northern blacks gave wholehearted support to the war, volunteering by the thousands at first and drilling their own militia units in spite of the initial rejection they received from the Lincoln admimstration.
Northern women, like their southern counterparts, took on new roles. Those who stayed home organized over ten thousand soldiers' mmm aid societies, rolled bandages, and raised $3 million to aid injured troops. Women were instrumental in pressing for the first trained ambulance corps in the Union armies, and they formed the backbone of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a civilian agency officially recognized by the War Department in 1861. The Sanitary Commission provided crucial nutritional and medical aid to soldiers. Although most of its officers were men, the bulk of its volunteers who ran its seven thousand auxiliaries were women. Women organized elaborate "Sanitary Fairs" all across the North to raise money and awareness for soldiers' health and hygiene.
Approximately 3,200 women also served as nurses in frontline hospitals, where they pressed for better care of the wounded. Yet women were only about one-quarter of all nurses, and they had to fight for a chance to serve at all. The professionalization of medicine
Walt Whitman, now America's most celebrated wartime poet. His Drum Taps series, part of his evolving masterpiece Leaves of Grass, left some of the most haunting and moving poetic images of both the death and new life wrought by the war. (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.)
Walt Whitman's War
since the Revolution had created a medical system dominated by men, and many male physicians did not want women's aid. Even Clara Barton, famous for her persistence in working in the worst hospitals at the front, was ousted from her post in 1863. But with Barton, women such as the stern Dorothea Dix (see page 277), well-known for her efforts to reform asylums for the insane, and an Illinois widow, Mary Ann Bick-erdyke, who served tirelessly in Sherman's army in the West, established a heroic tradition for Civil War nurses. They also advanced the professionalization of nursing as several schools of nursing were established in northern cities during or after the war.
The poet Walt Whitman left a record of his experiences as a volunteer nurse in Washington, D.C. As he dressed wounds and tried to comfort suffering and lonely men, Whitman found "the marrow of the tragedy concentrated in those Army Hospitals." But despite "indescribably horrid wounds," he also found inspiration in such suffering and a deepening faith in American democracy. Whitman celebrated the "incredible dauntless-ness" and sacrifice of the common soldier who fought for the Union. As he had written in the preface to his great work Leaves of Grass (1855), "The genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, but always most in the common people." Whitman worked this idealization of the common man into his poetry, which also explored homoerotic themes and rejected the lofty meter and rhyme of European verse to strive for a "genuineness" that would appeal to the masses.
In "The Wound Dresser," Whitman meditated unforgettably on the deaths he witnessed on both sides:
On, on I go, (open doors of time! open hospital doors!) The crush'd head I dress, (poor crazed hand tear not
the bandage away,) The neck of the cavalry-man with the bullet through
and through I examine, Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye,
yet life struggled hard, (Come sweet death! be persuaded O beautiful death!
In mercy come quickly.)
Whitman mused for millions in the war who suffered the death of a husband, brother, father, or friend. Indeed, the scale of death in this war shocked many Americans into believing that this conflict had to be for purposes larger than themselves.
Thus northern society embraced strangely contradictory tendencies. Materialism and greed flour-
The Advent of Emancipation
ished alongside idealism, religious conviction, and self-sacrifice. While some soldiers risked their lives willingly out of a desire to preserve the Union or extend freedom, many others openly sought to avoid service. Under the law, a draftee could stay at home by providing a substitute or paying a $300 commutation fee. Many wealthy men chose these options, and in response to popular demand, clubs, cities, and states provided the money for others to escape conscription. In all, 118,000 substitutes were provided and 87,000 commutations paid before Congress ended the commutation system in 1864. Naturally, in decades to come Americans would commemorate and build monuments to soldiers' sacrifice and idealism, not to opportunism.
The Advent of Emancipation
Despite the sense of loyalty to cause that animated soldiers and civilians on both sides, the governments of the United States and the Confederacy lacked clarity about the purpose of the war. Throughout the first several months of the struggle, both Davis and Lincoln studiously avoided references to slavery. Davis realized that emphasis on the issue could increase class conflict in the South. To avoid identifying the Confederacy only with the interests of slaveholders, he articulated a broader, traditional ideology. Davis told southerners that they were fighting for constitutional liberty: northerners had betrayed the founders' legacy, and southerners had seceded to preserve it. As long as Lincoln also avoided making slavery an issue, Davis's line seemed to work.
Lincoln had his own reasons for not mentioning slavery. It was crucial at first not to antagonize the Union's border slave states, whose loyalty was tenuous. Also for many months Lincoln hoped that a pro-Union majority would assert itself in the South. It might be possible, he thought, to coax the South back into the Union and stop the fighting, short of what he later called "the result so fundamental and astounding"—emancipation. Raising the slavery issue would severely undermine both goals. Powerful political considerations also dictated Lincoln's reticence. The Republican Party was a young and unwieldy coalition. Some Republicans burned with moral outrage over slavery; others were frankly racist, dedicated to protecting free whites from the Slave Power and the competition of cheap slave labor. A forthright stand by Lincoln on the subject of slavery could split the party, gratifying some groups and alienating others. No
northern consensus on what to do about slavery existed early in the war.
The president's hesitancy ran counter to some of his personal feelings. Lincoln was a compassionate man whose humility and moral anguish during the war were evident in his speeches and writings. But as a politician, Lincoln distinguished between his own moral convictions and his official acts. His political positions were studied and complex, calculated for maximum advantage.
Many blacks furiously attacked Lincoln during the first year of the war for his refusal to convert the struggle into an "abolition war." When Lincoln countermanded General John C. Fremont's order of liberation for slaves owned by disloyal masters in Missouri in September 1861, the Anglo-African declared that the president, by his actions, "hurls back into the hell of slavery thousands ... rightfully set free." As late as July 1862, Frederick Douglass condemned Lincoln as a "miserable tool of traitors and rebels," and characterized administration policy as reconstruction of "the old union on the old and corrupting basis of compromise, by which slavery shall retain all the power that it ever had." Douglass wanted the old union destroyed and a new one created in the crucible of a war that would destroy slavery and rewrite the Constitution in the name of human equality. To his own amazement, within a year, just such a profound result began to take place.
Lincoln first broached the subject of slavery in a substantive way in March 1862, when he proposed that the states consider emancipation on their own. He asked Congress to promise aid to any state that decided to emancipate, appealing especially to border state representatives. What Lincoln proposed was gradual emancipation, with compensation for slaveholders and colonization of the freed slaves outside the United States. To a delegation of free blacks he explained that "it is better for us both ... to be separated."
Until well into 1864 Lincoln's administration promoted a wholly impractical scheme to colonize blacks in Central America or the Caribbean. Lincoln saw colonization as one option among others in dealing with the impending freedom of America's 4.2 million slaves. As yet, he was unconvinced that America had any prospect as a truly biracial society, and he desperately feared that white northerners might not support a war for black freedom. Led by Frederick Douglass, black abolitionists vehemently opposed these machinations by the Lincoln administration.
Chapter 15 Transforming Fire: The Civil War, 1861-1865
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