Money Hungry

     Economic tensions began to ignite the flames that burst into the Civil War as early as 1816. In the aftermath of the War of 1812 Great Britain was left with a large stockpile of manufactured goods. Since such a large number of these items were on hand, Britain was able to lower its prices of them. This action would prove to be very detrimental to the United States. As a developing industrial power, the young nation could not even attempt to compete with Great Britain’s prices. America did not have stores of manufactured goods that it could sell at reduced rates. Though people in the United States may have relied on these products for daily living, there was no reason for them to pay the exorbitant prices of the American manufactures. Thus, they would revert to importing these items from Britain. Anticipating this blow to industrialization, James Madison and Henry Clay devised the American System. Among other statutes, it called for a high protective tariff on all goods imported from Britain. Such a tariff would make it more expensive for Americans to purchase British goods and would subsequently compel them to pay U.S. prices. While Northerners hailed the Tariff of 1816 as a success, Southerners began to devise plans for secession. Southerners, entrenched in a slave-centered economy, were frustrated with the proposed legislation that would only benefit Northern manufacturers and began to feel that a union with such a people would only serve to topple their existing way of life. Northerners were angry with the Southern planters’ resistance to change and met their calls for secession with stalwart force.  

     In Louis Hacker’s “Revolutionary America,” he writes, “The Civil War was nothing less than a conflict between two different systems of economic production” (Stampp, 102). This interpretation of the war is grounded in several relevant developments occurring in the period. While the North transformed into an industrial society, the South remained a region composed of slaves and ruled by the planter elite.

     In the years leading up to the war, and during the war itself, the North became a hotbed of industrial activity. One sector of the Northern states that especially benefitted from the growth of manufacturing was agriculture. In the 1850s and 1860s, inventors were perfecting labor-saving materials and factories were turning such tools out at impressive rates. Farmers were using plows, corn planters, two horse cultivators, mowers and reapers, and steam driven threshing machines to cultivate their lands with alacrity and ease. New machinery, in conjunction with improved production techniques, benefitted not only farmers but also other inhabitants of the Northern states.

New machinery, such as this corn planter from 1855, fuelled Northern industrialization.

     The canal built at Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan played a significant role in the industrialization of the United States. This waterway granted Northerners access to the unlimited supply of iron-ore from the Lake Superior ranges. Miners could transport the iron-ore to other parts of the nation at low costs. One city in high demand of Lake Superior’s resources was Pittsburgh. In the mid-nineteenth century, Pittsburgh began to specialize in ironworks and started to produce necessary components of warships and locomotives.

     The South, on the other hand, continued to believe that “Cotton was King.” In fact, cotton production reached its peak as late as 1860 with planters producing a total of 5,198,077 bales that year (Catton, 404). Southern pride rested on this ability to produce enormous quantities of cotton. This process required the utilization of slave labor – another pillar upon which Southern pride rested. For the Confederates, cotton production and slave labor not only formed the basis of an economic structure, but also formed the backbone of the Southern way of life. Thomas Jefferson illustrated this point perfectly when he said, “Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God” (McPherson, 98). He expressed the view shared by most Southerners when comparing their way of life to that of the North. They felt that the Southern plantation society imbued them with a sense of refinement that was nonexistent in the North.

     Living in the nation with such a mindset, the Southerners refused to embrace industrialization and prided themselves on their absence from this trend. This however, was a foolish mistake on the part of the Southern aristocrats. Since the South did not have the means of production, planters were forced to rely on the Northerners and the British for most of their needs. Nearly all of the ships used to transport cotton that returned with manufactured goods were built and owned by either Northern or British companies. In addition, on their return trips from Europe, these ships usually docked in Northern ports on account of the greater volume of trade that existed there. Though they saw themselves as superior to the Northern traders, Southerners would not have been able to prosper without the help of Northern industry.

     Southerners tended to see the situation in a different man

The Confederacy overproduced cotton to such an extent that it was used to reinforce the soldiers' fortifications at Yorktown, V.A.

ner. In an editorial published in the Vicksburg Daily Whig in 1860 one Southerner wrote, “By mere supineness, the people of the south have permitted the Yankees to monopolize the carrying trade, with its immense profits” (Stampp, 88). Though the Southerners may have felt that the Northern traders took advantage of them, the reality was that the Northerners assisted them in every way possible. It seems as though it was the Southerners who took advantage of the Northerners. They relied on the North for all of their manufacturing needs but refused to grant them any political concessions that were related to monetary issues. Southerners’ ignorance of their economic situation and reluctance to change only grew stronger with the Panic of 1857.

     Whereas Southerners escaped unscathed from the Panic of 1857 and the depression that followed, Northerners suffered rough economic setbacks. In the South, the prices of corn and tobacco fell only for a short period of time before returning to their pre-depression levels. In the North, people who had saved money withdrew it from the banks and people who had not saved money defaulted on their loans. People with jobs lost them and people without jobs lived in even worse conditions. The North was hit harder than the South not because of its inability to manage its finances properly but, on the contrary, because it was overly involved with its finances. Since the Northerners welcomed trade and industrialization they had more at stake when the financial markets began to rumble.      

     Walking with their heads held high after the financial crisis, Southern leaders refused to welcome any legislation that might enable the North to recover from the depression. Northern Republicans advocated for a higher tariff on British Imports. A higher tariff would reinvigorate American industry and provide jobs to the numerous people suffering from unemployment. The South sternly opposed such a tariff. They had no desire to pay higher prices for goods in order to help Northerners. They were also not in favor of the Homestead Act, the Pacific Railroad Act, and the Land Grant College Act. All of these acts were designed to generate revenue, provide employment, and increase the living standards of Americans. Southerners viewed these potential bills as economic burdens and unnecessary wants. Since the South would not directly benefit from any of these acts, it refused to throw its support behind them.

     The South did not want the North to benefit at its expense. The North felt the same way about the South. A writer for the Boston Herald warned in 1860, “Should the South succeed in carrying out her designs, she will immediately form commercial alliances with European countries who will readily acquiesce in any arrangement which will help English manufacturing at the expense of New England” (Stampp, 91). For the North, the prospect of disunion meant the potential failure of industrialization. The prospect of returning to hardships similar to those wrought by the depression of 1857-58 frightened many Northerners. Like the Southerners, they felt that they had worked hard to ensure the triumph of their economic system and they did not want to watch it crumble to the ground. In Philip Shaw Paludan’s “Industrial Workers and the Costs of War” he describes the industrial workers’ concerns about the impending doom. He also notes that more industrial laborers fought in the Civil War than any other group of people (besides professional soldiers). Similar to the Southerners, the Northerners viewed manufacturing and trade not only as the base of their economic system but also as their way of life.

Planters living in homes similar to this one believed that they were far more superior than the Northern Manufacturers.

     The impetus of the war stems from a variety of economic influences. These influences continued to have a major impact on the war throughout the entire struggle. From beginning to end, these economic factors molded and shaped every aspect of the Civil War.

    Contrary to Northern fears, the Civil War did not bring about the demise of industrialization. Instead, it provided a boost of energy to manufacturing that allowed it to flourish. The war called for the new machines and production techniques that manufacturers were implementing in factories throughout the North. As the war transformed from rumor to reality, the North found itself able to produce everything it needed for the conflict. For example, one result of the war was an increase in rail traffic. This additional congestion served as the impetus for the construction of a larger railroad network. Rails, locomotives, and cars were necessary in order to begin work on this new venture and the Union was able to furnish these materials. In addition to the iron workers, Midwestern farmers were able to meet rising demand. Though they lost the Southern market with the onset of the war, they gained a tremendous amount of business from the North. They provided the grain, meat, leather, and wool that people could not live without.

     The South’s reluctance to assimilate into an industrial society brought about the failure of its economy by the end of the war. However, this is not to say that Southerners did not try to engage in an industrial revolution of their own. In fact, the conflict forced them to try their luck at industrialization. Since the North was producing all of its goods for itself, the South knew that if it wanted to survive the fighting it would have to make an attempt to do the same.

     The South quickly discovered that it was incorrect in thinking “Cotton was King.” In hopes to attain recognition from Britain and France, the Confederacy withheld cotton from Europe. Instead of forcing the British and the French into submission, they succeeded in pushing them farther away and creating greater economic problems for themselves. Europe was able to survive without Southern cotton because it was able to rely on shipments of wool from the Union. By the time the Confederates realized the folly of their ways, the Union naval blockade was in effect. With no other options remaining, Southern farmers shifted their efforts to food production. Soon after, the Confederates established salt malls, powder mills, textile mills, processing plants, armories, arsenals, shipyards, and iron works. Though no match for Yankee manufacturers, Confederate manufacturers put forth a valiant effort. The Tredegar Iron Works, for example, in Richmond, V.A., was well known for its production capabilities. The South did not prove to be completely inept in the realm of manufacturing. It did, however, prove to be incompetent at managing the resources that manufacturing brought forth.      

The Tredegar Iron Works, strategically located on the James River, was essential to the Confederate industrialization.

Though Southerners were successful in implementing industrialization in their lands, they had neither the means nor the resources to maintain it throughout the war. The Confederates added no additional tracks to their railroad during the conflict. When a part of the track became damaged, Southerners simply took a piece of track from another area of the railroad and replaced the ruined area with it. The South could not keep up with the Federals’ attacks on both their ironworks and their railroads. They had no other option but to take iron from other areas of the track. This practice, however, proved detrimental to the soldiers who were starving and naked on the battlefields because the railroad was unable to deliver supplies to them. In November 1861, Jefferson Davis proposed completion of the rail system between Danville, V.A. and Greensboro, N.C. A 40 mile gap existed between these two cities and Davis felt that it would be essential to close the breach. It wasn’t until May 1864 that this project was completed.

     The Confederacy also lacked a sound currency. Credit resources were limited and an efficient system of taxation was nonexistent. Southerners had resisted taxes since the revolution and were not about to accept them now. When the Davis administration imposed a 10% “tax in kind” on farm produce, Southerners began to disapprove of the president and, as a result, lost confidence in their government. To finance the war, the South had $500,000 on loan from Alabama, $100,000,000 from a domestic lender, and $389, 267 in bullion (in addition to the tax in kind) (Catton, 413). Since they had such a scarcity of funds to pay for the fighting, Southerners became increasingly reliant upon printing press-money. This money, however, was not backed by gold and led to rampant inflation. In 1864, a lady’s bonnet cost $250, a cup of coffee cost $5, and hotels collected payment from their customers in the morning in order to keep up with the inflation (Catton, 408-9). Bakers produced bread in three sizes in order to ensure that people could purchase even a scant amount. The situation in the South was dire, but it could do nothing to ameliorate its monetary policy.

     The Union not only surpassed the Confederacy in manufacturing, but it also surpassed the Confederacy in its ability to manage the resources and funds generated by such industrialization. The Northerners’ organizational skill, combined with their willingness to contribute to the common good, ensured the success of their fiscal policies. The North was also fortunate to have more resources at its disposal (such as the canal at Sault Sainte Marie) than the South. Northern resources manifested themselves not only in the form of materials but also in the form of people. During the war more than 800,000 Europeans immigrated to the United States and bolstered the industrial labor force (Catton, 395). In his Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction, James McPherson asserts, “The South failed to establish a substantial urban middle class and skilled-labor population to generate a diversified economy producing a wide variety of goods and services” (Stampp, 105). The North certainly did not fall prey to such a failure. The influx of immigrants into Northern cities allowed the urban middle class and skilled-labor population to flourish.

     The North capitalized on the increased cash flows generated by industry. Almost immediately after the South seceded from the Union, Northerners imposed a higher tariff on British imports. In 1862, the North passed the Homestead Act which granted 160 acres of land to any person over 21 years of age (or who could claim that he was the head of a family) for a small fee. The Pacific Railway Act of 1862 called for the construction of the first transcontinental railroad. The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 offered federal support to state agricultural colleges. Though excise taxes already existed on liquor, tobacco, and other items, the Union decided to implement more taxes to finance the war effort. The government levied taxes on manufacturers, professionals, railroads, banks, and insurance companies. An income tax also existed in the North. Tax revenue poured in $300 million to the Federal treasury (Catton, 396). The National Banking Act of 1863 established a national currency. The Union put all of these measures into practice because it knew that without a solid financial base the burdens of war would crush it.

     Northern foresight extended far beyond the implementation of revenue-generating acts and taxes. Though the nation was flourishing by 1862, President Lincoln feared that it would buckle under the overwhelming costs of warfare. Industry was booming, but the Union was not in a perfect financial situation. During the first year of the war, Secretary of the Treasury Samuel Chase had no choice but to borrow money at a 7.3% interest rate. It was also in this first year of combat that the government suspended specie payments, thus devaluing the currency. Instead of simply implementing policy and expecting the economy to mend itself, Lincoln was proactive in his approach to fiscal matters. The government sought out the services of Jay Cooke, a successful Philadelphia banker, to assist it with its financial planning. Cooke helped Chase sell $500 million worth of federal bonds to the Northerners (Catton, 413). He continued to serve as an invaluable asset to the Union throughout the Civil War.

Jay Cooke served assisted the Union in its financial planning throughout the Civil War.

     Through the help of such outlets as Jay Cooke and the monetary laws, the Union was able to support itself throughout the war. The North extended and repaired its railroad at a rapid rate. The railroad was vital to the Union not only because it allowed for the efficient transport of goods, but also because it allowed generals to maneuver troops between the eastern and western fronts at ease. With the funds pouring into the treasury, the North was also able to bolster its navy. In 1862, for example, it paid John Ericsson $275,000 to construct a new ship (McPherson, 375). The Union was also able to supply 40% of the wheat and flour used in Great Britain (Catton, 395). The shrewd economic practices of the North enabled it to provide for itself throughout the Civil War.

     The war was not simply a competition designed to see which side would collapse before the other. On the contrary, it was an active struggle between two nations seeking to attain victory. Both the North and the South manipulated their economies in order to be able to support the soldiers on active duty. They disagreed over economic policies while they were together and formed their own financial structures while they were apart. It is essential to note that economic matters fuelled combat as well. The Union and the Confederacy sought to bring about one another’s demise by focusing their attacks on each other’s economic foundations.

     Southerners sought to weaken the North’s economy from the start of the conflict. Southern traders owed between $200 – 400 million in debt to the North. Instead of repaying the North at the beginning of the conflict and making a clean break with it, Confederates decided to repudiate all of their debts (Stampp, 100). They knew they needed to strike the North in its heart if they wanted to achieve success.  

     Both the North and the South made repeated attempts to cripple each other’s means of transportation. As Union soldiers marched through Confederate territory, they bent rails in order to render Southern trains useless. When they realized that Confederates were able to easily reshape the rails and return them to use, the Federals started to twist the rails in such a manner that made them irreparable. Northern soldiers knew that the South had neither the means nor the resources to rebuild ruined tracks. They were well aware that they would benefit from the South’s economic misfortune. The Confederacy employed the same strategy as the Union but did not receive similar results. The North was able to reconstruct and repair its railroads almost as quickly as the South destroyed them.

General Sherman ordered his troops to wreak havoc on the Confederacy's rail system as they marched through Southern lands. Here is a section of railroad running through Georgia.

     In addition to attacking the railroad, Northern soldiers laid siege to the South’s sea routes. Beginning in 1861, the Union imposed a naval blockade on the Confederacy. According to naval historian Bern Anderson, “The Union army’s major victories did not occur until the South was suffering from shortages imposed by the Union blockade” (Surdam, 3). The North knew that it needed to gain an economic victory in order to attain a total victory. Thus, Federals sought to disrupt Confederate trade. As with the railroad, the Union knew that a domino effect would occur if they interrupted Southern trade. This is exactly what happened soon after the North enacted the blockade. It raised transportation costs, forced Southerners to import goods through less convenient ports, increased the prices of necessary goods, and led to shortages. These problems spiraled into larger, less manageable ones. Shortages in pork and beef forced the
Confederacy to horde such food and to search for alternative sources of meat. The blockade also forced Southerners to rely on their inept railroad network. Should problems arise with the railroad, however, the South had no way to remedy them.

     The South’s difficulty in repairing its rail system was heightened by the Federals’ attacks on Southern factories. Before they fled from the armory in Harpers Ferry, W.V., Federal authorities set the building ablaze. The armory contained the only machines in the South for manufacturing rifles. Though some were saved and moved to Richmond (the new industrial center of the South), this act dealt a striking blow to the Confederacy’s war efforts. Northerners were not unique for acting in such a manner. At the start of the war, secessionists seized military supplies in Federal arsenals throughout the South. By attacking each other at the cores of their economic constructs, the Northerners and the Southerners were able to procure sizable victories.    

     Whenever a situation is centered on economics, corruption follows in close pursuit. It is evident that finances served as a driving force for the Civil War. It is not evident, however, that many of these finances were manipulated just as much by profiteers as they were by prideful Federals and Confederates.

     Corruption ran rampant in Northern manufacturing and retarded the Union’s war efforts. Instead of using genuine wool to produce such items as blankets, uniforms, and shoes, many textile manufacturers made use of a cheaper material called “shoddy.” Composed of recycled wool, this inadequate material wore to shreds after only a few weeks of use. Other textile manufacturers crafted shoes composed of cardboard. Such schemes existed in the realms of arms production and horse selling as well. In one case, a contractor sold outdated carbines to the government for $22 each. In actuality, these carbines were probably worth $2 each (Catton, 403). In another case, someone sold 485 horses to the Union for $58,200. These horses were spavined and disease-ridden (Catton, 403). The North was not only fighting a war centered on economics with the confederacy but also with the bandits in its own backyard.

This is the modern day equivalent of the shoddy that Northern manufacturers used in place of wool.

     Profiteering also manifested itself in many Union soldiers and would-be soldiers. Some Federals sought to gain as much as possible from the war. Soldiers behind the battle lines at Bull Run bribed ambulance drivers with whiskey to take them back to Washington. Many soldiers wreaked havoc upon the towns they entered while marching through the Confederacy. They looted homes, burned public buildings, and “smashed anything they could find” (McPherson, 571). Soldiers-to-be engaged in several forms of corruption surrounding the draft. Some bribed doctors in order to obtain false affidavits while others searched for bounty hunters in order to obtain high bounties. Bounty brokers researched which states were offering the most lucrative bounties and relayed this information to bounty jumpers. These bounty jumpers made their livings by enlisting in the army in one state, deserting, and then enlisting in the army in another state. These actions supported the Confederacy more than anything else.

     Corruption was also prevalent in the South, especially within the railroad industry. Railroads charged the government less than they charged private business. However, businesses took priority when it came to actual usage of the railroads. Railroad operators wanted to earn profits and they knew that they would be better off doing so through the private sector. They were unhappy that the Confederacy chose to pay its bills in treasury notes and bonds. Aside from arriving late, these forms of payment often did not account for rising inflation. The railroads also did not enjoy the added responsibility of having to care for government items that might be damaged during transport. The government was more of a liability than an asset to the railroads. Like Northern profiteers, those operating the Confederacy’s railroads were more interested in earning money than in assisting with the war effort. They took advantage of the economic situation and added insult to injury in the South.

     Economic factors played a pivotal role in the events enveloping the Civil War. The South, steeped in its planter traditions, and the North, pushed forward by industrialization, were unable to agree on fiscal policies during their union. When the Southern states seceded they repudiated their debts and left the Northern half of the country scrambling to protect its manufacturing interests. The North succeeded in shielding its industries from the blows wrought forth by disunion. In fact, aside from corruption, the North experienced economic prosperity throughout the war. The South, on the hand, was unable to prevent the total collapse of its economy. Though it did engage in industrialization when the war started, it did not have the resources necessary to maintain a self sufficient manufacturing society. Profiteering only made matters worse for the financially inept nation. The financially proactive North emerged victorious from the Civil War while the financially passive South emerged crushed by the conflict.

Works Cited


Beard, Charles and Beard, Mary. “The Approach of the Second American Revolution .” The Causes of the Civil War. Ed. Hans L. Trefousse. NY, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1971.

Catton, Bruce. The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War . NY, NY: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., 1960. 392-416.

George, David. Northern Naval Superiority and the Economics of the American Civil War. Univ of South Carolina Pr, 2001.

Hacker, Louis . “Revolutionary America .” The Causes of the Civil War . Ed. Kenneth M. Stampp. NY, NY: Touchstone, 1986.

M., James. Battle cry of freedom: the Civil War era. Oxford University Press, USA, 1988.

McPherson , James. “Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction .” The Causes of the Civil War . Ed. Kenneth M. Stampp. NY, NY: Touchstone, 1986.

Paludan, Philip. “Industrial Workers and the Costs of War.” The Civil War Era . Ed. Lyde Cullen Sizer and Jim Cullen. Blackwell Publishing , 2005.

Simons, Algie. “Class Struggles in America.” The Causes of the Civil War . Ed. Kenneth M. Stampp. NY, NY: Touchstone,1986.

“Southern Editorials on Secession.” The Causes of the Civil War . Ed. Kenneth M. Stampp. NY, NY: Touchstone, 1986.

“The Boston Herald.” The Causes of the Civil War . Ed. Kenneth M. Stampp. NY, NY:Touchstone, 1986.

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Plan for the Commonplace Book

     The financial aspects of the Civil War are essential to understanding the aims of both the Union and the Confederacy. In Battle Cry of Freedom, McPherson describes the rampant corruption woven into the texture of the conflict. It seems as though people were more concerned with economic gain than with unity. The men who enforced the blockade complained about their tedious task. They simply yearned to intercept ships carrying expensive cargoes. Northerners accepted contrabands with open arms and installed the “liberated” blacks as farmhands. Bounty jumpers and bounty brokers turned the draft into a lucrative business. Even though trade was prohibited between the North and the South, Yankees often traded with Confederates. Most people appear to be absorbed in self-interest and distanced from the fighting. There is no specific aim of the war. Northerners call for unity and Southerners rally for separation. When Lincoln suggests emancipation as a goal of the conflict, individuals on both sides of the nation rise up in anger. White Northerners feel as though they will be forced to compete with freed slaves for work in the aftermath of the war. Southerners fear that their entire economic system will collapse without the support of slave labor. All of these concerns are centered on the management of finances. With the information presented in this commonplace book, I plan to show how the Civil War was the product of economic uneasiness amongst both Yankees and Confederates.

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Financial Interests III


     It is ironic that President Lincoln states that one of the main aims of the war is, “To elevate the condition of men” (549). Although Lincoln was referring to the fate of the black men when he made this statement, it seems as though it could more properly be applied to the wealthy men of the era. It is not difficult to understand why people began to refer to the war as, “A rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight” (602).

     McPherson writes, “Issues of ideology and sentiment played a secondary role in determining British foreign policy” (553). In considering whether or not to grant recognition to the Confederacy, Prime Minister Palmerston was more interested in cotton than in emancipation. He hoped to make a profit off of the war. In July 1862, John Slidell offered Napoleon several hundred thousand bales of cotton for French diplomatic recognition. Though neither Britain nor France ever did extend recognition to the Confederacy, they did mimic the tone that resounded throughout both the Union and the Confederacy.

     The North was fighting a war for reunification while the South was fighting a war for independence. Emancipation was not welcomed as a war aim. In fact, the New York Democratic platform denounced Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. As stated by a Republican in response to the war, “The people are desirous of some change, they scarcely know what” (561). Both northern and southern soldiers wreaked havoc upon the towns they entered. They looted homes, burned public buildings, and “smashed anything they could find” (571). The soldiers did not march forward with clearly outlined objectives. Like many other Americans, they transformed the war into something that would be advantageous for them.

     Corruption is most prevalent when examined in the context of the draft. In the North, a drafted man could either pay a commutation of $300 or hire a substitute to fight for him. The same type of practices occurred in the South as well, where a substitute could cost someone over $1000. Drafted soldiers could bribe doctors to provide false physical records and they could obtain counterfeit affidavits. Political machines, often associated with corruption, began to collect money to pay the commutations of those men who could not afford it. Draft insurance agencies became a common sight. They offered $300 policies with premiums of only several dollars a month (604). Some men became “bounty hunters” while other men became “bounty brokers.” Bounty jumpers would accept a bounty for enlistment in one area, enter the army, desert, and then repeat the process in another area. Bounty brokers searched out the best bounties that men could obtain for themselves, shared this knowledge with their clients, and collected a portion of the bounties as payment.

    Corruption played a large role not only within the separate entities of the Union and the Confederacy, but also between the two regions. Since the South’s resources dwindled to almost nothing during the war, greedy Yankees traded essential products for cotton. Although such trade was illegal, northerners jumped at the chance to make a profit. They chose money over nationalism. As McPherson writes on page 625, “Cotton was the great corrupter of the Civil War.”  

    Economic developments caused problems between the Butternuts and the New Englanders. The war disrupted trade between the East and the West. People of the Butternut region were angry with the high rates and poor service provided by the northeasterners. Some Western Democrats spoke out in favor of a Northwest Confederacy that could align itself with the southern Confederacy. If economic tension had the potential to drive a wedge between the east and the west, it surely could have been the impetus for the split between the north and the south.       

     In the congressional elections in the Confederacy, in 1863, conscription, impressment, taxes, and management of finances were the main issues amongst the office seekers. I feel as though these were at the center of the Civil War as well.

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Financial Interests II

Contrabands in the north

     Throughout the first and second years of the war, officials continued to form strategies and lead troops to the front of battle without rallying around a common cause. The Republican factions grew angry as President Lincoln attempted to brush the slavery question aside. The turbulent times called for immediate action, but such haste inhibited success. In carrying out a war, the government must instill the sentiments of nationalism within the citizens. The people must be able to trust the government and feel as though they are contributing to the welfare of the nation. In the early 1860s, the United States was devoid of such sentiments. The situation was chaotic and spiraled into one of corruption.

     Instead of freeing the contrabands that had fled to the north, the men of the union utilized their services and essentially, enslaved them once again. A soldier from Maine commented, “We have Negros to do all the fatigue work, cooking and washing clothes” (497). The Militia Act of 1862 “empowered the President to enroll ‘persons of African descent’ for ‘any war service for which they may be found competent’.” The Confiscation Act of the same year seized the property of rebels and emancipated their slaves as punishment for treason. Judging by the common thread, it seems logical to conclude that these slaves were put in service in the north. There are also reports that the war department transported “carloads of contrabands” to Illinois to help bring in the harvest (507). In July 1862, congress authorized the president to take over any railroad when “judgment and public safety required it” (514). Though the president rarely exercised this power, Secretary of War Stanton manipulated the right in order to guarantee priority and fair rates to military traffic. Also, soldiers behind the battle lines at Bull Run bribed ambulance drivers with whiskey to take them back to Washington. Instead of striving for the war effort, these ambulance drivers accepted the bribes and left soldiers dying on the field. Thus, it appears as though economic gain drove the war more so than the issue of slavery.

     In addition to pure economic gain, the issue of socioeconomic status formed the backdrop of the war. Irish Catholics, German Catholics, and the Butternuts of the Southern Midwest were aroused to great anger after Lincoln suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus. They rioted against the draft and carried banners that read, “The constitution as it is, the Union as it was, and we won’t fight to free the nigger” (493). The reason for this intense opposition was on account of their lower socioeconomic status in the nation. The wealth and income of these people sunk below the average northern median. They feared that free slaves would compete with them and make them appear even weaker in the social arena.

     In trying to break down the Confederacy, the Union sought to draw away their laborers. In other words, they wanted to attack them financially. Southerners acted in kind by burning many Union bridges. Thus, financial pluses and minuses were at the center of the fight.

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Financial Interests

     As I move along in the reading, the financial aspects of the Civil War era seem to become more prominent. Financing the war appears to have been a mess for both the Union and the Confederacy. Cotton dominated the Southern economy and industry dominated the Northern economy. Initially, in the north, state militias simply joined forces in order to create the national army. In 1861, the War Department assumed the responsibility of caring for the soldiers’ needs. The War Department, as opposed to the individual states, provided food, clothing, and supplies to the soldiers. However, as the department began to sign contracts with clothing companies and railroads, corruption arose and plagued the war efforts. Textile manufacturers, for example, used a material called “shoddy” to produce blankets, uniforms, and shoes. “Shoddy,” as the name suggests, was not a high quality material. The items composed of this recycled wool wore to shreds only after a few weeks of use. “The railroads overcharged the government; some contractors sold muskets back to the army for $20 each that they had earlier bought as surplus arms at $3.50; [and] sharp horse traders sold spavined animals to the army at outrageous prices” (324). Government officials formed contracts with companies that would further their own personal financial interests.

     Greed seems to have motivated many individuals’ support for the war. In the race to improve the navy, the Union established a naval board to review proposals submitted by shipbuilders. John Ericsson, a brilliant engineer, refused to submit any plans to the navy due to an earlier argument about payment for his services. After he was finally convinced to send his proposals over to the board, the government agreed to pay $275,000 for his ship’s construction. In 1862, this amount was considered to be quite a considerable sum of money. I feel as though the financial reward was more important to Ericsson than either honor or success. The same could be said for the Union sailors put on blockade duty.

     One sailor described the blockade service as, “Day after day, day after day, we lay inactive, roll, roll.” (378). Though the job was small, the chance of reward was relatively large. It seems as though the only reason that the sailors remained alert during their shifts was due to the possibility of “striking it rich.” Whenever the crew captured a ship, they were permitted to retain half of the rewards. Though one half of the booty went to the government, the sum could be sizeable enough to support these sailors’ lifestyles. Blockade sailors patrolled the waters of the Atlantic hoping to reel in a massive catch (378-380).

     For the North, the motivating factor of the war seems to be profiteering rather than honor, morality, or nationalism.

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Digital Commonplace Book Initial Thoughts

  • The development of the railroad was essential to the Yankee Economy; farming economy linked to eastern markets by the growing railroad after 1850 (31)
  • Imported twice as many male slaves as female slaves; discouraged their slaves from forming families; while slaves in the new world experience decrease, slaves in other “new world societies” experience a net natural decrease (37)
  • Gold discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1849; people subsequently rush West; people of this age were very prosperous; gold was in such overabundance that it became less valuable than silver
  • The fugitive slave law of 1793 authorized slaveowners to cross state lines to recapture their property; this led to kidnapping and underground railroad (78-79); example: prosperous black tailor seized and carried back to SC (81); examples of Shadrach and Thomas Sims (83)
  • “Like a free California, northern aid to escaping slaves was an insult to southern honor” (79)
  • Southerners rejected the idea that America rights applied to slaves (80)
  • “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war” (90)
  • The south depended on the north; nearly all of the ships used to ship cotton that returned with manufactured goods were built and owned by either northern or British companies; in addition, on their return trips from Europe, these ships usually docked in northern ports because of the greater volume of trade there (92)
  • DeBow spoke of establishing own Southern shipping lines (93)
  • North remained better supplied than the south due to railroad in 1860 (95)
  • Lowell, Mass. Operated more spindles than all of the confederate states combined (95)
  • Southern consumers depended on the north for shoes, clothing, locomotives, steamboats, farm implements, etc. (97)
  • “Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God…” (98)
  • Trade was meant for Yankees not gentlemen of the south (99)
  • The southern currency was the slave; Charles Lamar sent ships to Africa for slaves (103)
  • Margaret Garner, in January 1856, fled from Kentucky to Ohio with her husband and four children; when captured, she slit the throat of one daughter and tried to kill the others in order to save them from slavery (121)
  • Lincoln bases many of his claims on the founding fathers; The founding fathers, said Lincoln, opposed slavery; they adopted the Declaration of Independence that pronounced all men created equal; then, in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the founding fathers banned slavery from the northwest territory (127)
  •   Native born Americans attributed many of the atrocities in society to the Irish Catholic immigrants; Some freesoilers viewed both slavery and Catholicism as similar repressive institutions (131 & 137)
  • “The admission of Kansas into the Union as a slave state is now a point of honor,” said Preston Brooks (149)
  • Brooks beat Sumner with gold-headed cane (150)
  • The fragments of the cane are seen as sacred relics; everything is framed in terms of honor (almost like southern way of life is a faith) (151)
  • Abolitionists denounced the Republican party because it wasn’t moral enough in its treatment of the slave issue (159)
  • “If Kansas is driven out of the union for being a slave state, can any slave state remain in it with honor?” asked senator James Hammond (166)
  • Almost a tit-for-tat game being played; it’s ironic that the south tries to maneuver on account of their honor, but they are just as aggressive as northerners- look to Brooks and proslavery band that seized 9 free state settlers and shooting them; John Brown responded by killing a slaveholder and liberating 11 slaves (169)
  • Did Scott have the right to sue in federal courts? The question of slave as property (171)
  • Scott’s time in free territory did not make him free
  • Dred Scott was significant because it dealt with slaves as property (177)
  • Lincoln believed, “the right of property in a slave is not distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution” (180)
  • The depression of 1857-1858: economic factors (191)
  • Southern aggressiveness grew after the panic of 1857 because the south had been hit very lightly and their economy escaped unscathed (195);
  • Hammond believed that slavery symbolized the superiority of southern society (196)
  • Slaveholders refused to tax themselves to provide for a school system; they thought they were better than everyone else (199)
  • Lincoln vs. Douglass in the north; Breckinridge vs. Bell in the south (223)
  • A New Orleans editor wrote believed that every vote for Lincoln was “a deliberate, cold-blooded insult and outrage” to southern honor (231)
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The First Paper Assignment

Daniel Stewart

February 20, 2011


Essay 1

Altering the Unalterable Human Nature

     The concept of human nature manifests itself within The Volcano Lover, A Line In The Sand, the collective works of Emerson and Thoreau, and Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. Each author addresses nature in a distinct manner. Susan Sontag seems to view human nature as a concrete state of being, one that is unchangeable either through work or through the passage of time. Randy Roberts and James Olson appear to take a similar position on the topic of nature. In their account of the Alamo, Roberts and Olson describe their characters as retaining a fixed set of qualities that propel them through life. It is likely that Frederick Douglass holds a view similar to those of Sontag, Roberts, and Olson. In his discussion about the masters, the slaves, and himself, Douglass calls attention to the idea that all people are born with an inherent value system. These beliefs are similar in all people and serve as the source of contention between the owner and the owned in Douglass’ narrative. Emerson and Thoreau draw on this principle of universality. They seem to think that every person is born with a certain set of similar beliefs. However, Emerson and Thoreau consider these values to be changeable and, in fact, argue that there is a certain manner in which people should exercise their human nature. Sontag, Douglass, Roberts, and Olson provide portraits of human nature that leave no room for adjustment whereas Emerson and Thoreau describe human nature as an ideal rather than a characteristic.

      In Emerson’s Nature and Thoreau’s Walden, both authors warn against the materialism and ambition inherent in human nature. They fear the commodification of nature and advocate that people lead simple lives in pursuit of self improvement. Bettering one’s self comes from a harmony between an external appreciation of nature and an internal appreciation of knowledge.

     Amongst other “representative men,” Emerson draws upon the differences between Napoleon and Goethe in order to describe his idealized version of human nature. He characterizes Napoleon as a cunning man driven by materialistic cravings and sensual impulses. Napoleon, in other words, allows his abject human nature to take control of his life. According to Emerson, “It was the nature of things, the eternal law of man and of the world which baulked and ruined him (“Napoleon; Man of the World” from Representative Men 1850).” Emerson believes that Napoleon’s life is a means to an end. Goethe, on the other hand, is engaged in the endless pursuit of the knowledge found in nature. “[He] drew his strength from nature… He lived in a small town, in a petty state, in a defeated state… He is not a debtor to his position (“Goethe; or, the Writer” from Representative Men 1850)…” Goethe, as opposed to Napoleon, has modest aims and is content with them.

     Thoreau employs himself in order to describe his notions of human nature. Living in society for his entire life, Thoreau decides that he will move to a rural area near Walden Pond. He yearns to reexamine his human nature and to reinvent his position in the world. He resembles Emerson’s Goethe- a man who wants to take a step back from reality in order to enjoy the simple beauties inherent in nature. Thoreau scoffs at his fellow countrymen who farm incessantly, hoping for economic gain. He disapproves of an Irish immigrant’s vision of America as a land of opportunity. Work should not be akin to toil. He himself works only a few hours a day. He does not concern himself with money and he engulfs himself in intellectual pursuits. He takes the time to explore the minute details in nature in order to foster a better set of values within himself. He states, “We are so degraded that we cannot speak simply of the necessary functions of human nature (Walden, Baker Farm).”

     Both Thoreau and Emerson would look down upon the characters in Sontag’s Volcano Lover. Though some of the characters claim to have undergone transformations in their human nature, in the end, they revert to the same principles under which they lived before. They are not “new men” like Goethe and Thoreau. Rather, they are like the brutish Napoleon: self-centered and propelled by materialistic rewards.

     The Cavaliere, or William Hamilton, is an avid collector. On page 24 of the novel he tells his wife, Catherine, “It is my nature to collect (Sontag, 24).” He is overpowered by his inherent drive to obtain material possessions. His only love in nature is volcanoes. The Cavaliere does take the time to study them, but eventually it seems as though the structures become another commodity to him. He simply does not want to visit a volcano. Rather, he must visit a volcano. The Cavaliere views everything in his life through the eyes of a collector. He expresses no loving sentiments for his first wife. In fact, it is well known that he married Catherine for monetary gain and convenience purposes. Sontag writes, “There was no desire to be together as much as possible… He liked having reasons to admire her (Sontag, 23).” The Cavaliere treats his second wife, Emma, in the same manner. Though he does seem to love her, the Cavaliere is taken in by her beauty and her talent rather than her feelings.

     The Cavaliere does engage in intellectual pursuits and does take notice of the spectacular details that characterize his collectibles. Though it may seem like Emerson and Thoreau would applaud these aspects of the Cavaliere’s nature, in reality, they would not. He studies not for personal betterment, but for absolute distraction. The Cavaliere has no desire to improve himself. He sees book learning as something in which he can partake in order to pass time. He harbors similar superficial sentiments for his collectibles. The Cavaliere loves his possessions in and of themselves. They represent nothing special to him. He purchases them either because they are aesthetically pleasing or because they hold some profitable investment opportunity. He rushes to complete his collections rather than slowly taking the time to appreciate each individual item. Unlike Emerson and Thoreau, “The Cavaliere was not trying to understand more than he already did (Sontag, 157).”                

     Emerson and Thoreau would see neither Catherine nor Emma as laudable figures. Like the Cavaliere, they allow their self-interested human natures to control them. Catherine claims that she is happy whenever her husband is happy (Sontag, 16). She is involved in a platonic relationship with the Cavaliere but does nothing to fix it because the arrangement is convenient for her. She engages in an emotional relationship with the Cavaliere’s nephew, William, and lives in a manner that is easiest for her, much like Emma. Emma is beautiful, intelligent, ambitious, and artistically talented. Not only is she aware of her wonders, but she also flaunts them on a daily basis. She voraciously devours the Cavaliere’s academic resources and makes herself the center of attention at all social functions. Her relationship with her husband is dull and she pursues a more intimate one with the hero of the novel. All of these characters watch as their selfish human natures take them on the ride of life.

     Both the Cavaliere and Emma attempt to make the claim that they have changed their lives. In the interim between Catherine’s death and Emma’s arrival, the Cavaliere claims that he has become more amorous. Emma, on the other hand, feels accomplished due to the fact that she is no longer the vile woman she was before. Unfortunately, for both Emma and the Cavaliere, they continue to remain victims of their unchangeable human nature. The Cavaliere continues to pursue his collections with an unquenchable thirst. He watches as his marriage falls apart because he remains unable to love another human being as much as his possessions. Emma, though she maintains a respectful position in society for many years, does revert to her old ways. She gains weight, drinks heavily, and gambles incessantly. She, like the Cavaliere, has failed to reframe her human nature.

     The characters in Roberts and Olson’s account of the Alamo do not undergo the adjustment in human nature for which Emerson and Thoreau hope. The authors describe both the individuals and the general groups involved in the conflict as embodying fixed sets of characteristics that are resistant to change.

     Fighting in opposition to the Texans, Santa Anna considered himself a modern-day Napoleon (Roberts and Olson, 7). “Santa Anna possessed voracious appetites- for sex, power, and money, but most of all for adulation- and he dominated his country. He lusted for absolute power (Roberts and Olson, 6).” He allows his ruthless aggression to drive him through battle and has no qualms about his mistreatment of other individuals. Though he is motivated by self interest, he seeks a different type of self improvement than the form that Emerson and Thoreau describe. He devours information about Napoleon only because he fancies the idea of one day becoming like his idol. Santa Anna, “thought he was God (Roberts and Olson, 6).” He submits to his selfish human nature with no desire to fix himself.   

     William Travis and David Crockett, though seemingly different from Santa Anna, suffer from the same inability to alter their nature. “William Barret Travis longed for fame and fortune (Roberts and Olson, 28)…” After an unsuccessful law career and a troublesome marriage, he decides to move west. His debts consumed him and he hoped that Texas would bring him some financial relief. David Crockett sees Texas as a place that could ease his monetary burdens as well. When congress became a bore to him, and when he realized that writing and politics were not lucrative pursuits, he decided to travel to the land of opportunity. Like Thoreau, both men leave society and journey out into the wild. However, unlike Thoreau, Travis and Crockett hope to amass fortunes rather than feelings. They understand that there is an inherent problem with the manner in which they were living, but instead of attempting to reform themselves, Travis and Crockett move to a different location. They continue to live in the same materialistic manner as they did before.

     The Texans and the Mexicans refuse to reevaluate their human nature. In fact, this is the main source of contention between the two warring parties. Freedom and hierarchy are aspects that reside in human nature. It could be said that all people yearn to be free and desire to be better than everyone else. According to Alexis de Tocqueville, “Equality, which makes men independent of one another, naturally gives them the habit and taste to follow nobody’s will but their own (Roberts and Olson, 30).” Both the Texas rebels and the Mexican fighters struggle to attain liberty and prominence- two basic tenets of human nature.

     Frederick Douglass and his fellow slaves are engaged in the same fight as the Texans and the Mexicans. All humans have the need to be in control. This tendency manifests itself on the plantation.

     The slaveholders toil endlessly in order to assert their dominance over the slaves. Mr. Covey habitually sneaks-up on his slaves in order to make them feel as though he is always supervising them (Douglass, 61). Covey whips Douglass daily and on the day that Douglass decides to defend himself, Covey brawls with him for nearly two hours in order to teach him a lesson (Douglass, 72). When a slave by the name of Demby refuses to come out of a pond, his master, Mr. Gore, shoots and kills him (Douglass, 23). Gore is not only taking revenge on his unruly slave, but he is also warning all of his other slaves against the dangers of revolt. The slaveholders collect their slaves and treat them as if they are possessions. They refuse to educate their slaves and treat them in a kind manner only when such conduct is beneficial to them. They have no desire to change their human nature.

     Though not apparent, the slaves act in the same manner as their masters. They are resistant to changing their human nature. Subjugated and made to live in squalor, they continue to yearn for freedom and dignity. Douglass writes, “My natural elasticity was crushed… Why am I a slave (Douglass, 63-65)?” Emerson and Thoreau may be proponents of reexamining human nature, but Douglass has no desire to do this. He is a natural human being yearning for liberty. He describes his plot to escape from Master William Freeland’s control and explains the slaves’ natural tendency to argue over which master is better than the others. Douglass relishes the economic opportunities that freedom provides for people. He has no desire to relinquish his identity and to move away to the wilderness for self betterment. Rather, he teaches himself how to read and write in order to be able to assimilate himself into society.

     Whereas Emerson and Thoreau call people to reevaluate their human nature, Sontag, Douglass, Roberts, and Olson believe that human nature is unchangeable and impenetrable. Emerson and Thoreau see the ideal person as one who retreats from society and lives simply, fully appreciating the natural beauties of life. The characters in the other texts do not fit this mold. They are materialistic, ambitious, and selfish. The live the lives that society deems as beneficial- lives clouded with visions of fame, fortune, and liberty. Though some of the latter mentioned authors do seem to offer the possibility of change, they never depict their characters as better off than they were before. Maybe they are suggesting that change is possible, but severely difficult granted the traits inherent in human nature. I think all of the authors would agree that human nature is something very difficult to probe; it takes a certain type of individual to completely alter it.   

Works Cited


Douglass, Frederick . “Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass, An

American Slave .” UNC, 02/25/2020. Web. 21 Feb

2011. <>.

Emerson, Ralph. “American Transcendentalism Web.” N.p., n.d.

Web. 21 Feb 2011.



Emerson, Ralph. “Ralph Waldo Emerson- Texts.”

N.p., 09/03/2009. Web. 21 Feb 2011.


Roberts, Randy, James S., and Prof James. A Line in the Sand: The Alamo

in Blood and Memory. NY, NY: Free Press, 2001. Print.

Sontag, Susan. The volcano lover: a romance. NY, NY: Picador USA,

2004. Print.

Thoreau, Henry. “Walden.” N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb

2011. <>.

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The Marquesas Islands

On his second voyage aboard a whaler in 1842, Herman Melville jumped ship in the Marquesas Islands and lived amongst cannibals who cultivated the land. He enjoyed the simplicity inherent in the island culture and took advantage of the serenity in order to write a novel. Like Emerson and Thoreau, Melville was searching for a world devoid of the modern obsessions with capitalism and big business. In his novel, Ishmael joined the Pequod not for economic gain, but rather, for personal gain. To Emerson, Thoreau, and Melville the world was a place to be explored. Nature was to be enjoyed in and of itself. Going out to the woods, going out to sea, or going out to the Marquesas Islands were all manifestations of this need to reap the benefits of nature. It was through the exploration of nature that people came to understand themselves. The Americans in the 19th century were still looking for their identity.


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Why does Ishmael survive?

     Ishmael survives the sinking of the Pequod because he is the only crewmember able to do the story justice. Unlike his shipmates, Ishmael has a profound attachment to every aspect of the whaling industry. He respects the whales and describes their characteristics in a tone of awe. He admires the whales’ thick bodies, flexible heads, massive spines, and powerful tails. He considers whaling to be heroic and believes that Vishnu, Jonah, Hercules, Perseus, and St. George can all be considered whalers. He is enthusiastic about squeezing the sperm into liquid and describes the labor as a relationship strengthening activity. He loses himself in his duties. Ishmael never feels as though he can portray an adequate picture of the whale. He treats the whale as if it was an omnipotent god and believes that it will continue to prosper and survive. In the chapter about the Pacific Ocean (111), Ishmael describes the sea as if it were heaven. To Ishmael, whaling means more than a job or a pursuit. Whereas whaling transcends Ishmael, it is no more than an adventurous job for most of the crew. The foreigners such as Quequeg and Tashtego seem to enter into this field on account of their savagery. In other words, they know how to survive in the wild and can succeed as whalers. The mates of the ship, such as Starbuck and Flask, seem to work aboard whaling ships because they simply need some form of income. They are skillful at doling out and following orders. The captain, Ahab, sails the Pequod because he is obsessed with Moby Dick. Though one could posit that Ahab harbors a fascination with whales akin to Ishmael’s sentiments, this fascination appears to be more like a miserable fixation rather than an awesome respect. Ahab follows one whale whereas Ishmael follows all whales. Ishmael yearns to uphold the dignity of the whaling industry (in chapter 134, Ishmael defends Ahab’s pursuit of the whale). The other members of the Pequod’s crew seem to only be concerned with their own ideals.

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The Birthplace of Davy Crockett.

On August 17, 1786, David Crockett was born in this log cabin. Decades after the battle at the Alamo, Hollywood imortalized Crockett, transforming him from the unreachable “David” to the highly approachable “Davy.” For many Americans, he came to represent the self-made man. He rose from humble beginnings at this log cabin and became the “hero” of the Alamo.

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