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  • The Civil War and the Transformation of American Citizenship ed. by Paul Quigley
  • Stephen Powell (bio)
The Civil War and the Transformation of American Citizenship. Edited by Paul Quigley. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2018. Pp. vii, 246. $47.50 cloth)

The arguments offered by the contributors to Paul Quigley's new edited volume, The Civil War and the Transformation of American Citizenship, attest to the veracity of the work's title; notions of American citizenship changed drastically during the Civil War era. While undergraduate lectures often explain the expansion of citizenship in the Fourteenth Amendment as providing meaning for the sacrifices of the Civil War, Quigley's volume offers nuance in place of [End Page 402] simplicity. Rather than defining citizenship as a binary status that one either does or does not hold, the contributors explore citizenship as a complicated web of rights, prerogatives, and expectations in which individuals struggled both against each other and against the federal state to achieve their goals (p. 6).

Quigley provides a framework for the volume in his introduction, commenting that, "for everyone, citizenship provided a capacious, flexible language with which to advance their own priorities" (p. 2). Rather than defining a calcified status, Americans manipulated the language of citizenship for individual advantages while simultaneously working to prevent others from incorporation within the broadening scope of "citizen." Although the federal government could establish laws and write amendments, Laura Edwards reminds us in the afterward to the volume that the Civil War caused profound changes in the relationship between individuals and the government, transforming, indeed, the very "stuff" of citizenship (p. 217). While individuals' daily lives during the Civil War era were shaped by how they defined citizenship, this definition proved contingent and malleable.

The contributors to Quigley's volume highlight how the exigencies of wartime and reconstructing a nation in its aftermath forced radical changes in American conceptions of citizenship. With the exception of Earl Maltz's study on how questions regarding Native Americans and Chinese citizenship shaped postwar civil rights policies, the essays largely de-emphasize the halls of power in Washington D.C. Instead, they examine how Americans privileged race, gender, and status—particularly that of wartime loyalty—to demand the prerogatives of a nebulous national citizenship.

Rather than viewing the government as an omnipotent arbiter of power, the authors identify federal authority as merely one actor in the struggle over citizenship. Elizabeth Regosin's case study of freedwoman Huldah Gordon and her frustrating efforts to gain a widow's pension from the government depicts how individuals conceptualized their newfound status as citizens to make previously impossible demands on the government even before that government [End Page 403] was prepared to recognize them as such (pp. 39–40). In a similar discussion of renegotiated boundaries, Caitlin Verboon's essay on formerly enslaved men of Charleston, South Carolina, serving in fire companies after the Civil War explains how freedmen used their status as community guardians to assert their autonomous masculinity to white inhabitants of Charleston (p. 167). Other studies in the volume, including that by Tamika Nunley, build on the vast scholarship on postwar African American experiences to explore how formerly enslaved peoples sought to realize the perceived tangible benefits of American citizenship.

Certain essays, like that by Jonathan Berkey on loyalty oaths in wartime Winchester, Virginia, offer new perspectives on traditional questions on citizenship. Still other contributors hold an expansive view on the various groups in the Civil War era who made claims for citizenship. Particularly intriguing are the studies of those Americans who renounced their national citizenship in 1861 only to be faced four years later with the dilemma of either re-forging or permanently relinquishing their bonds of citizenship. David Williard's novel approach to Redemption casts the Reconstruction-era movement towards white governance in the former Confederate states as the culmination of ex-Confederates' attempts to redefine the marker of fitness for political rule through "work value" rather than race or wartime loyalty. Redeemers, Williard argues, "began with the premise that the deserving would control the state and worked backward from that envisioned result to determine who should constitute the electorate" (p. 194). They accepted...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2161-0355
Print ISSN
0023-0243
Pages
pp. 402-406
Launched on MUSE
2019-09-07
Open Access
No
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