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For the Good, the True, and the Beautiful: Northern Children's Magazines and the Civil War James Marten "What has been gained by all the fighting?" young William asks Uncle Rodman in a story from Our Young Folks in the summer of 1865. Uncle Rodman lays aside his newspaper, removes his spectacles, and solemnly tells William and his sister Susie, "I am very glad to hear you express a wish to know more about the conflict that is now closing. It has been the great event ofthis century, and you ought to have a clear general idea of its origin and results." Four years ago, "it was not to be expected that you should understand what so many grown people failed to appreciate. But you are older now, and the terrible meaning of the war is clearer to us all than it was then." The subsequent dialogue explains the folly of Southern secession and the righteousness of the Northern victory. Its certainty in the right of the Union cause, its emphasis on the evils of slavery and slaveholders, and the earnest romanticism of its patriotism reflect the attitudes developed in Civil War-era children's magazines.1 While the editors and writers ofchildren's magazines did take on war-related topics, they continued to utilize formats and embrace assumptions that had shaped children's literature for decades. Stories and articles promoted the principles ofhard work, obedience, generosity, humility, and piety; provided moral guidance and examples ofthe benefits offamily cohesion and the consequences of the absence of such order; and furnished mild adventure stories, innocent entertainment , and instruction. The values thus expressed were valuable anytime, ofcourse, but were absolutely necessary at times ofcrisis—especially during a war being fought to defend exactly those noble traits. Works offiction and nonfiction alike—"the incidental work of leading British and American authors, and the major work of some incidental writers of Victorian prose and poetry," in the words of John Morton Blum—stressed character and framed the world¦J. T. Trowbridge, "The Turning of the Leaf," Our Young Folks 1 (June 1 865): 399. Civil War History, Vol. XLI, No. 1 © 1995 by The Kent State University Press 58CIVIL WAR HISTORY in moral terms. E. Douglas Branch unsympathetically characterized the tone of much of prewar children's literature when he described the story-telling scenarios of Peter Parley (Samuel G. Goodrich) in his books on history, geography , and nature: "a kindly old gentleman, marvelously well-informed, talking to an inquisitive set of little prigs." Authors of stories and novels as well as schoolbooks for children combined a faith in virtue with the confidence in the American political and economic systems; patriotism and good deeds and hard work and unselfishness together would guarantee individual success and national honor.2 Much of the content of wartime children's periodicals reflected these antebellum concerns. Yet they also moved from the antebellum reluctance to discuss politics, military affairs, and race relations in order to rally children to the Union war effort. Anne Scott MacLeod has shown that the "relentless moralizing" in children 's literature between 1 820 and 1 860 tended to focus on self-improvement— especially temperance—and pacifism; the antislavery movement, on the other hand, was controversial. "Children's fiction was seldom chosen as a vehicle for the heavy burden of the national debate over slavery" because publishers simply could not afford to alienate important segments of the book-buying public. The dozens of best-selling books by Jacob Abbott "reflected little of that era's controversy or ferment for reform." When Abbott and others featured African Americans in their stories and novels, even the most sympathetic characters were burdened by stereotypes and by the condescension and patronizing attitudes ofclearly more intelligent white characters. Surprisingly, perhaps, literature distributed by the American Sunday School Union avoided the issue of slavery. Children's magazines, according to John B. Crume, "asked no more of their . . . readers than that they behave themselves."} The same caution applied to military subjects. As The Student and Schoolmate noted in August 1862, most Northerners had "only a few years 2John Morton Blum, ed.. Yesterday's Children: An Authology Compiledfrom the Pages ofOur Young Folks...


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