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WAS IT A "POOR MAN'S FIGHT"? Eugene C. Murdock The most controversial feature of the Enrollment Act of March 3, 1863 —Section Thirteen—permitted commutation payments of $300 by anyone wishing to avoid military service if drafted. Commutation was defended on two grounds: ( 1) it kept die price of substitutes down, since no one would pay more dian $300 for a substitute if he could "commute" for that amount; and (2) it raised a reservoir of funds, which might be used for federal bounties. Commutation was also denounced on two grounds: (1) it raised money, but not troops; and (2) it favored die rich and penalized die poor. Since $300 might be equivalent to a workingman 's annual wage in those days, it would be almost impossible for him to commute, whereas a rich man could commute widiout feeling a financial loss. For this reason the protest that it was "a rich man's war, but a poor man's fight," became widespread with reference to die commutation clause. So loud did diis cry become that die clause was finally repealed in July, 1864. Until now no study has ever sought to learn if there really was a positive correlation of wealth with commutation, as well as with other aspects of conscription, such as substitution and die draft. But a preliminary examination of the situation in New York state suggests that no such relationship existed. In odier words, diere was just as much paying of commutation money to avoid die draft in poor districts as there was in wealthy districts. Before analyzing die evidence, let us set forth a few guidelines used in making diis inquiry.1 1 This present article is but a small part of a much broader examination of New York's Civil War bounty system. This larger study will be particularly concerned with the human, as well as the statistical, factors of bounties, bounty-jumpers, and bounty-brokers. It will be based chiefly upon the Official Records, Provost Marshal General James B. Fry's Final Report, national and state government documents, and contemporary newspapers. The present article is prepared from statistics found in U.S. Census Office, Population of the United States in 1860, Compiled from the Original Returns of the Eighth Census (Washington, 1864), pp. 322-347; Final Report of the Provost Marshal General to the Secretary of War ( House Exec. Doc. No. 1, pt. 2, 39 Cong., 1 sess.), IV, pt. 1, 165-213; Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of New York State (Syracuse, 1860). Since the tables have been especially prepared for tin's study from all of these sources, no attempt has been made to provide particular citations. 241 242 civil war histoby First, in determining the wealth of a provost-marshal district2 I have taken die total personal and real property valuation for each county in each district as of 1858, added these figures together, and then divided by die 1860 population of the district. This has given me a "per capita valuation" for each district, which provides a yardstick for determining rich, poor, and intermediate districts. Admittedly, diere are other means of determining wealth in a district, and this method may not be die most accurate. But all things considered, it does give us a rough approximation of a district's wealth and seems adequate enough to allow some comparisons on the questions of commutation, substitution, and the draft. NEW YORK STATE PROVOST-MARSHAL DISTRICTS 1863-1865 Secondly, the two Brooklyn districts (numbers 2 and 3 on the map), and the six New York City districts (numbers 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9) have no per capita valuation because the property valuations of the individual wards of the two cities are not readily available. Furthermore, so many abnormal factors operated in New York and Brooklyn that a normal 2 For the purposes of the draft, each state was divided into districts, coincidental with congressional districts, but labeled provost-marshal districts. Each district had an enrollment board, headed by a provost marshal operating directly under Provost Marshal General Fry. All the drafting was administered through these district offices. New York contained thirty-one such districts. a poor man's fight...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 241-245
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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