The Loyal Republic: Traitors, Slaves, and the Remaking of Citizenship in Civil War America

The Loyal Republic: Traitors, Slaves, and the Remaking of Citizenship in Civil War America

The Loyal Republic: Traitors, Slaves, and the Remaking of Citizenship in Civil War America

The Loyal Republic: Traitors, Slaves, and the Remaking of Citizenship in Civil War America

Synopsis

This is the story of how Americans attempted to define what it meant to be a citizen of the United States, at a moment of fracture in the republic's history. As Erik Mathisen demonstrates, prior to the Civil War, American national citizenship amounted to little more than a vague bundle of rights. But during the conflict, citizenship was transformed. Ideas about loyalty emerged as a key to citizenship, and this change presented opportunities and profound challenges aplenty. Confederate citizens would be forced to explain away their act of treason, while African Americans would use their wartime loyalty to the Union as leverage to secure the status of citizens during Reconstruction.

In The Loyal Republic, Mathisen sheds new light on the Civil War, American emancipation, and a process in which Americans came to a new relationship with the modern state. Using the Mississippi Valley as his primary focus and charting a history that traverses both sides of the battlefield, Mathisen offers a striking new history of the Civil War and its aftermath, one that ushered in nothing less than a revolution in the meaning of citizenship in the United States.

Excerpt

Late in February 1864, almost three years into the Civil War, five planters from the Mississippi Delta county of Bolivar were forced from their homes by a detachment of Confederate militia. Handcuffed, the men were made to watch as militia set to “insulting the ladies, taking all the clothing and dry goods they could lay their hands on” and any scant currency the soldiers found tucked away for safekeeping. The scene of armed men pillaging homes was hardly new in the Delta by the middle of the war. But this was no act of undisciplined looting. The militia had arrived that morning to dispense wartime justice. All five planters had been caught trading with the enemy. The raid was their punishment.

In the wake of the raid, the planters had few options and even fewer friends. Desperate, they drafted a petition to the governor of the beleaguered state government of Mississippi, begging him for his help. They claimed that the American occupation of their county had made it impossible for them to obtain “the absolute necessaries of life from any portion of the Southern Confederacy not occupied & held by the Enemy.” Without assistance, the planters doubted that they could survive the rest of the winter, let alone plant a crop that might sustain them for the year to follow. While they underscored their devotion to the Confederate cause, the petitioners stated that to keep their families from ruin and their slaves from running away, they had been forced to trade with American merchants in nearby Memphis. Exchanging cotton for sundries was a transaction that would have been interpreted by many, if not most, as an act of treason. They argued, however, that their hands had been tied. “Necessity,” they wrote, “is said to have no law.” Publicly shamed, they sought the personal protection of Mississippi’s governor, Charles Clark, a fellow planter from the county who they . . .

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