- Democracy and the American Civil War: Race and African Americans in the Nineteenth Century ed. by Kevin Adams and Leonne M. Hudson
To commemorate the tragic events that unfolded on its campus on May 4, 1970, Kent State University hosts a biennial (formerly annual) symposium on democracy. A product of the 2012 symposium, organized with the sesquicentennial celebration of the American Civil War in mind, this relatively slender [End Page 76] volume examines the intersection of race and democracy during the Civil War era. It contains essays on a variety of topics—ranging from the abolitionist movement to the Cherokee Nation to the White League of Louisiana—loosely tied together by the two aforementioned themes. Rather than advancing a unifying thesis and making a historiographic contribution, the work collectively aims simply to “remind us of the historical importance of democracy and the complexity of issues of race during the nineteenth century and beyond” (2).
The volume is composed of five relatively brief essays. Stanley Harrold leads off with his piece on the abolitionist movement. Partly a work of original research and partly a historiographic review, Harrold’s essay argues that “because of abolitionism’s relationship to the antebellum sectional struggle, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, issues of violence have most affected perceptions of it” (6). He begins by revealing the close relationship between abolitionists and violence, chronicling how abolitionists first embraced violence as a means of creating positive change before and during the war. After the war, however, they later abandoned it for peaceful means when they came to realize that they had failed to accomplish one of their main goals, black equality. Harrold then takes his readers on a historiographic tour, showing how interpretations of the abolitionists changed over time and how the backgrounds and experiences of each school of historians influenced how they portrayed their historical subjects in their writings.
John David Smith devotes his essay to an exploration of Lincoln, race, and the United States Colored Troops (USCT). He begins by painting a compelling portrait of Lincoln as a “man of his time and place” concerning racial attitudes, yet one who never wavered in his moral distaste of slavery (27). Smith then charts Lincoln’s intellectual journey, which eventually led him to embrace emancipation and the creation of the USCT. The author contends that by mid-1862 Lincoln understood the political and military value of emancipation. The Emancipation Proclamation, therefore, according to Smith, was a calculated move on the part of Lincoln to accomplish his primary goal, preserving the Union.
In her essay, Fay Yarbrough examines race and citizenship in the Cherokee Nation following the war. According to Yarbrough, 1866 was a watershed in the history of the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokees could either embrace their former black slaves as full and equal members of society along with white spouses or “uphold and strengthen older racial divisions in Cherokee society and create a hierarchy of legal citizenship” (48). Unfortunately, as Yarbrough observes, the Cherokees chose the latter, thus imbuing race with immense importance in debates concerning Cherokee citizenship.
Kevin Adams’s piece studies the relationship between democracy, race, and the role of the US Army during Reconstruction. Adams argues that, in [End Page 77] occupying the South after the war, the US Army transformed into an “army of democracy” by helping to safeguard the rights of newly freed African Americans and white Republicans (63). Emphasizing the role of the US Army as a posse comitatus, or an “institution of domestic law enforcement” during Reconstruction, the author contends that “these duties put the US Army at the forefront of the civil rights struggle after the Civil War” (4, 64). Adams concludes by asserting that the president still possesses the authority to deploy the military to protect Americans’ civil rights.
In the volume’s final essay, Mitchell Snay looks at the White League of Louisiana during the final years of Reconstruction. Uncovering agrarian and populist sentiment in the writings of White Leaguers, the...