- The World the Civil War Made ed. by Gregory P. Downs and Kate Masur
Most Confederates put down their arms in 1865, but in some ways the war continued, and not merely in the guise of reactionary night riders. In The World the Civil War Made, editors Gregory P. Downs and Kate Masur argue that the mainstream narrative of the Reconstruction era—ahistorically hammered by generations of historians into a concise 1863-to-1877 window—does not always provide a workable context for understanding every corner of the vast country. Their stated goal is not simply to provide a fresh understanding of the decades after 1865 by juxtaposing distinctly regional stories and historiographical approaches. They wish to recast what they call “the period formerly known as Reconstruction” by examining how four years of violence and enhanced federal power transformed the nation (3). In some cases, these essays succeed marvelously. Ultimately, however, if this volume is effective in recasting the period, it does so by omission, in that it ignores democratization struggles in the northern states.
The thick volume consists of twelve chapters. Four turn their focus to labor issues in the West, or to Indian policy. One is international and comparative. Four others chronicle various aspects of life in the South, although of these, only the two crafted by Kidada E. Williams and Crystal N. Feimster feature more traditional examinations of white vigilantism and sexual violence. The editors specifically invited contributors to wrestle with what they dub the “Stockade State,” defined here as a series of outposts that were locally strong but limited in scope, and insightful essays by Laura F. Edwards and Amy Dru Stanley survey questions of postwar governance and the revolution in human rights. An afterward by Steven Hahn eschews the customary summary in favor of a thoughtful counterfactual exercise in how the country might have fared had the Civil War not come.
The essays that shift their gaze to the West are especially fresh. Stacey L. Smith unearths the largely forgotten story of the 1867 Anti-Peonage Act and the question of Indian slavery in the lands west of Confederate Texas. As early as January 1863, territorial legislators in New Mexico complained to Congress that the ban on slavery in federal territories would create hardships for farmers and ranchers who owned Navajo war captives. Adopting the rationalizations that southern politicians had employed for decades in response to abolitionists, the assemblymen insisted that liberating the Navajos from the care of their benevolent masters would place them “in a far worse condition than they are now” (50). Republicans in Washington, of course, only thought to overturn Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), but their [End Page 472] actions confronted a centuries-old Spanish labor system based on border raiding and the purchase of Indian slaves captured in the Great Plains. Despite the fact that the same Border South politicians who condemned the Thirteenth Amendment denounced federal action against so-called debt servitude in the West, Andrew Johnson regarded the Anti-Peonage Act to be one of the few Republican bills he could support. The same liberal Republicans who backed that legislation, however, also endorsed statutes to exclude Chinese workers. Even within the West, Smith observes, inconsistent national policies revealed “the contours and limits of federal power, and the illiberal world that persisted after the Civil War remade the nation” (71).
Somewhat in comparison, Barbara Krauthamer chronicles the saga of the roughly seven thousand slaves owned by Native American masters in Oklahoma. Because the Emancipation Proclamation did not pertain to Indian Territory, together with the fact that for most of the war the majority of Cherokee slaveholders were allied with the Confederacy, the American victory in 1865 did not immediately free this group of African Americans. Not until Washington renegotiated treaties in 1866 with the Cherokee, Creek, and Choctaw did tribal leaders grudgingly agree to emancipation. Even then they inflicted the sort of violence on their former slaves typically identified with southern Klansmen. Because the 1866 treaties...