- The World the Civil War Made ed. by Gregory P. Downs and Kate Masur
In 1992 Daniel T. Rodgers wrote the hugely influential article “Republicanism: The Career of a Concept,” in which he argued that by 1990 the concept of republicanism in American historiography “was everywhere and organizing everything, though perceptibly thinning out, like a nova entering its red giant phase” (Journal of American History 79, no. 1 : 11–38). He insisted that republicanism had been ripped from its political roots and asked to do much and thus lost much of its power and usefulness. Greg Downs and Kate Masur make a somewhat similar argument about Reconstruction in their introduction to The World the Civil War Made. They correctly note that in the last generation historians have expanded the chronological, geographic, and topical scope of Reconstruction well beyond the traditional focus on reincorporating the South into the United States after the Civil War. Downs and Masur contend that “when historians stretch the concept of Reconstruction to cover the conquest of western lands, changing racial dynamics in the North, or the rise of industrial capitalism, the term becomes metaphorical rather than descriptive, emptied of its core meaning. It alludes to everything and nothing” (4). Trying to avoid the constraints of frameworks like Reconstruction or the West in exploring the postbellum United States, they “decided to sidestep Reconstruction as a structure and a keyword for this volume” (5).
Instead of Reconstruction, editors Downs and Masur have three organizing notions for the volume, though they promise no final answers. Two of these regard balance between continuity and change, and liberalism or illiberalism, in the postbellum United States. While many of the essays thoughtfully explore these large issues, there is little sense in the volume as a whole as to where the pendulum is in answering these questions. The work takes a much firmer stand on the nature of the postwar state. The editors coin the term “Stockade State” to describe the government after the Civil War, arguing that rather than a “Yankee Leviathan” it was “a collection of outposts—both military and civilian—powerful within narrow geographic boundaries but limited in their reach” (6). Many of the essays use the term “Stockade State,” one of many signs, among them the authors regularly referencing each other’s work, that this volume is better edited and more unified than most collections of essays. [End Page 445]
The high quality and cohesiveness of both the essays and the editing makes it interesting that the volume has difficulty transcending the concept of Reconstruction. Most of the essays address many of the traditional themes of Reconstruction and would fit easily within a collection on it. For instance, a third of the essays focus on African Americans in the South after the Civil War. Another third deal with other postwar issues in the South that fit well in the Reconstruction framework, such as Luke Harlow’s excellent analysis of how the white southerner counterrevolution against Reconstruction drew on antebellum proslavery religion. Even many of the essays on the West have a clear connection to the framework of Reconstruction, one that some of the authors themselves stress. For example, Barbara Krauthamer nicely shows how the Choctaw-Chickasaw 1866 treaty forcing emancipation of African Americans in Indian land simultaneously undermined Native American sovereignty. She argues, “We can consider the 1866 treaty and the issues it raised as illustrative of Reconstruction’s complex, contradictory and continental scope” (242). In one of the volume’s best essays, Stacey Smith expertly analyzes the federal government’s response to Mexican peonage and Chinese coolies in the West, at the same time it was grappling with new labor systems for African Americans in the postwar South. She convincingly states that “a West-South-North analysis of the postwar period yields new insights into the relationship between coercion and freedom, and contours and limits of federal authority, and the illiberal world that persisted after the Civil War remade the nation” (71). Ironically...