Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

The Enemy Within: Fears of Corruption in the Civil War North

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

The Enemy Within: Fears of Corruption in the Civil War North

Article excerpt

The Enemy Within: Fears of Corruption in the Civil War North. By Michael Thomas Smith. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011. Pp. viii, 229, notes, bibliography, index. Cloth, $35.00.)

Michael Thomas Smith's lively and engaging book makes a compelling case that during the Civil War, Northerners held deep concerns about the corruption and efficiency of a rapidly expanding wartime state. The Enemy Within thus provides an interesting spin on the impact of the growth of federal bureaucracy during the war years. According to Smith, for Northerners, these "[r]ational concerns about government honesty and efficiency had a way of spiraling into irrational suspicions of corrupt cabals and conspiracies" (p. 4). Therefore, Northerners were not only concerned with whether or not public officials and Union generals were honest, but Northern reactions to public scandals during the war years also reflected anxieties over the perceived moral decline of American society and culture. Ultimately, these fears were "also a reaction to the inevitable wartime expansion of the federal government's budget and bureaucracy" (p. 13).

Based on a close reading of Northern newspapers and journals, popular literature, as well as some private correspondence, The Enemy Within proceeds thematically, organized into three separate sections-six chapters total-with each chapter focusing on a separate episode of public corruption. Fhrt One consists of a chapter on Northern fears of the "Shoddy Aristocracy"-a largely mythical group of war profiteers who used their positions of power to take advantage of wartime conditions. Rart Two focuses on the much-maligned Benjamin F. Butler and John C. Frémont, arguing that both generals "were suspected of the corrupt misuse of power and undermining the essential moral basis of the republic" (p. 37). Part Three includes a chapter on an 1864 scandal in the Treasury Department, and separate chapters on abuses of power in military recruiting as well as federal regulation of the cotton trade, all of which "excited popular concerns that at times boiled over into vastly overblown hysteria about the moral health and future of U.S. society" (p. 95).

The Enemy Within makes two arguments about the Civil War and the nature of Civil War era political culture. …

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