- The Civil War and the Transformation of American Citizenship ed. by Paul Quigley
The topic of citizenship has long been a significant question for historians of the mid-nineteenth century. This edited volume about citizenship during the Civil War era, which grew out of a conference held in Blacksburg, Virginia, in 2015, builds on this previous scholarship, including the work of Laura F. Edwards, Stephen Kantrowitz, and Christian G. Samito, while also making important new interventions. The volume highlights the significance of this era's changing meanings of citizenship, focusing on the multiple ways that ordinary people experienced and shaped their own citizenship during the Civil War. It examines negotiations over citizenship from a variety of perspectives, from black male firefighters, to white southern prisoners, to black women in postwar Washington, D.C., courts. In doing so, the book draws new connections between how this process worked on both the Confederate and Union sides and among varying groups, showing similarities and differences in how people reshaped citizenship even while working for contrasting ends.
A key argument of the volume is that the era of the U.S. Civil War was a particularly significant time for ordinary people to reshape their relations to local, state, regional, and federal authorities and to redefine concepts of citizenship. As Paul Quigley, the volume's editor, explains, "Just as governments used war to expand central power, so too did individuals use war to advance new claims on government—to renegotiate the framework of citizenship" (p. 6). He adds that this redefinition took place over multiple aspects of citizenship: "its boundaries, its membership, its constellation of rights and obligations, the way one acquired or lost it, its cultural meanings, and its economic implications" (p. 10).
The volume begins with a piece by Quigley introducing the book's themes and discussing the changing ways scholars have viewed ideas of citizenship. The book's essays are then grouped into three sections: the first section explores race and citizenship, the second section examines loyalty oath disputes, and the third section discusses the different visions of citizenship put forth after 1865. The articles are written by both emerging and established scholars and include a mix of national and state-level examinations as well as microhistories. While some articles consider the experiences and perspectives of African Americans and those on the Union side, other essays investigate white southerners' own [End Page 463] remaking of citizenship, including lesser-known aspects such as the experiences of former Confederates in Brazil after the Civil War.
The volume's major contribution lies in adding further nuance, depth, and richness to understandings of ordinary people's negotiations of citizenship during the Civil War. A number of articles in the volume highlight the different ways citizenship looked on the ground to people during this period, and in doing so they work to broaden conventional understandings of citizenship. For example, Elizabeth Regosin notes that for a formerly enslaved woman named Huldah Gordon, citizenship during the Civil War's aftermath "resulted from her various interactions with agencies and agents of the Federal government" and was a citizenship that was "lived in specific moments, defined by one's interactions and encounters, tangible, measurable, variable" (pp. 24, 40). Similarly, Angela M. Zombek shows that Federal officials and Confederate prisoners of war could use and view the Confederate loyalty oath (and the negotiations over citizenship that went along with it) as "an olive branch," "a political tool," a "war measure," or a "remedy for alleviating overcrowded prisons" (p. 115).
In the same vein, the volume highlights how reshaping citizenship took place as part of the ordinary fabric of people's lives during the war and its aftermath. Caitlin Verboon, for instance, argues that for black volunteer fire companies in Columbia, South Carolina, fighting fires was just as important a part of citizenship as voting or serving on juries. The book demonstrates, too, the concrete effects of negotiations over...