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The Enemy Within

Fears of Corruption in the Civil War North

Michael Thomas. Smith

Publication Year: 2011

Fears of corruption--connected to massive growth of government, immigrants and urban poverty, aristocratic ambition, and modernization itself--in the Civil War north challenge the popular narrative according to which the Civil War represented the triumph of Northern-style modernity and freedom over Southern-style premodernity and slavery.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

Having worked on this book for the better part of a decade, I am delighted to at last be able to acknowledge the many people whose assistance and support have been vital to its production. A number of faculty members at Penn State provided important guidance during my time as a graduate student there. My advisor, Mark E. Neely Jr., in addition to...

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pp. 1-12

During the first year of the Civil War, Republican U.S. senator John P. Hale announced on the floor of Congress that “the liberties of this country are in greater danger today from corruptions, and from the profligacy practiced in the various departments of the Government, than they are from the enemy in the open field.” Despite the grave military threat...

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Part One: Fears and Fantasies

Intense fears of corruption in the Civil War North tell us much about the nature of the nation’s nineteenth-century political culture, and ultimately suggest that the war represented less of a dramatic break with prewar attitudes than is commonly thought. The political principles of republicanism in which nineteenth-century Americans had been educated...

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1. “A Carnival of Abundance and Pleasure”: The Curse of the “Shoddy Aristocracy"

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pp. 15-36

Northerners of both political parties between 1861 and 1865 feared that the emergence of a class of loathsome war profiteers foreshadowed the direst consequences for both the war effort and the future health of their society and government. These “shoddy aristocrats” inspired hatred and contempt far out of proportion to their numbers and influence. This...

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Part Two: Power-Hungry Generals

Union Generals Benjamin F. Butler and John C. Frémont excited considerable controversy during the war, to say the least. Recent scholarship has primarily focused on the question of whether these “political generals” were competent, and has generally answered this question with a resounding “No.” Civil War Northerners, however, lacking our modern...

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2. The Beast Unleashed: Benjamin Butler, Corruption, and Masculinity

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pp. 39-66

Union General Benjamin F. Butler remains one of the most controversial and widely reviled figures of the U.S. Civil War. The flamboyant Massachusetts lawyer’s political connections and shameless self-promotion had helped him attain a senior position in the state militia during the 1850s, and upon the outbreak of war in 1861 he was assigned...

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3. “Profligacy & Corruption”: The Frémont Scandal

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pp. 67-94

When Union General Henry W. Halleck took command in Missouri in November 1861, his superior, then General-in-Chief George B. McClellan, informed him that he had his work cut out for him. Halleck’s assignment would not simply be to oppose the Confederate forces still at large in the state. “Old Brains” also had to accomplish “the far more difficult...

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Part Three: Traitors and Trollops

Wartime strains and stresses interacted with lingering public fears and antipathies to create a number of (often greatly overblown) wartime scandals. The Treasury Department, groaning under the weight of financing the nation’s unprecedentedly costly war effort, turned to a number of novel methods, including printing a national currency and employing...

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4. “A House of Orgies and Bacchanals”: The 1864 Treasury Department Scandal

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pp. 97-126

One of the most provocative corruption scandals to rock the Civil War North hit the press just as the critical 1864 campaigns in Virginia and Georgia opened, and played out in the shadow of those bloody and pivotal encounters. The 1864 presidential race was also beginning to heat up, with President Lincoln’s reelection and the Union cause both evidently...

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5. “A Burning Shame”: Bounty Jumpers and Recruitment Fraud

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pp. 127-153

Not all of the scandals that rocked the Civil War North were as overblown as the hunt for alleged prostitutes in the Treasury Department. Public fears about various forms of recruitment fraud were solidly grounded in reality. The Northern wartime enlistment system was riddled with corruption and inefficiency. The innovative federal conscription...

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6. “All Cotton Became Tainted with Treason”: The Cotton Trade and Corruption in the Occupied South

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pp. 154-174

One final scandal, which culminated in the Civil War’s closing months, demonstrated that Northerners had not given up their intense fear of corruption in all its insidious guises. This scandal centered on the cotton trade in the occupied South. Americans during the Civil War era suspected “King Cotton” of possessing vast persuasive, and potentially...

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pp. 175-178

Civil War Northerners were beset by myriad enemies—within and without, both real and imagined. The definition of corruption in the 1860s remained broad and old-fashioned, with concepts like “luxury” and “extravagance” still easily conflated with “corruption.” In the minds of Civil War Northerners, these republican bogeymen remained difficult to...


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pp. 179-204


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pp. 205-223


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pp. 225-229

A Nation Divided: Studies in the Civil War Era

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p. 230

E-ISBN-13: 9780813931371
E-ISBN-10: 0813931371
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813931272
Print-ISBN-10: 0813931274

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 5 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 757486943
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Enemy Within

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Government, Resistance to -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Social aspects
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Economic aspects.
  • Political culture -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Political corruption -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Corruption -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Public contracts -- Corrupt practices -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1861-1865.
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