Blight on The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by alib, Jan 7, 2012.

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  1. Via a recommendation on the Slate political gabfest I've come across The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877 by David W. Blight of Yale. I recommend the podcast highly, it is over 20 hours of video with Blight simply lecturing on the subject and he is very good at it, funny, insightful and a master of producing startling facts on the subject.

    For instance I knew slaves where economically important in the US economy but not that they were the single biggest capital asset after the land itself and how incredibly successful Dixie's booming slave holding capitalist economy was in comparison with the rather depressed industrial might of the more populous North.

    He pretty much demolishes the conventional view of this truly disastrous failure of The Founder's system that is commonly held in the US today, The Great Cause's venal roots, Lincoln's far from saintly nature. How the Mexican war lights the fuse, how California and the rush west fans the flames. The South's greedy expansionism towards the Caribbean and fear that if their system is not forever spreading it will die. The depths of Northern racism and paranoia about Southern oligarchs niggerising the simple sod buster with their gangs of degrading human property. The Nativists anti-Papist No Nothings even more alarmed by Irish immigration than negro's, the Free Soilers and the birth of the Republican party, followed by the sudden and complete failure of American politics and the South's revolt and so on towards the construction of a healing national myth that no one was wrong and it was all finally too the good.

    If you want to understand the formation US natural character after watching Ken Burn's fine but deceptively sentimentalized documentary series. this is a good place to start.
     
  2. I think a 'depressed industrial North' is a bit overstating it. The North was gripped by bad recessions in 1837 and 1857 before the War, but on the whole it was amazingly prosperous and dynamic. As for Lincoln not being 'saintly', thank God he wasn't. He had to be sharp, careful, calculating, and even a little ruthless, as well as inspiring and visionary in order to prevail. It is good though that revisionism has highlighted the antebellum South's integration into global capitalism, the prosperity of slavery etc, instead of the usual portrayal of the South as a poverty-stricken place of hayseeds.
     
  3. I think Blight's point is that the dynamism of the slave economy in the South has generally been underrated. So has the level of support for South's cause in Britain, it's only in retrospect that Brits revised their opinions.

    Blight is very critical of the Shelby Foote and his "the North was fighting with one hand behind its back", pointing out that while the South was disadvantaged in several respects, manpower industrial capacity, access to capital, no navy etc but its insurgency only had to avoid losing and exhaust the North. Its territory was huge and it proved to be formidable. It raised a considerable army that had a clearer cause: saving a very successful modus vivendi rather than the abstract union. It was much better led in the early part of the war though Blight did make me wonder about Lee's daring decision to invade the North. Blight also points to the conflicted views on abolition among the Northern command as a key to understanding its poor early performance.

    Lincoln I think was more than a little ruthless, a very devious and opportunistic man. Cromwell comes to mind as a comparison, though that is probably too kind.