ADVANCE PLACEMENT
AMERICAN HISTORY

SHODDY MILLIONAIRES AND SOUTHERN HOMESPUN

*The South’s Constitution was much like that of the Union, with a few minor differences.  However, its philosophical basis had a significant weakness.  The Confederacy, after all, was a nation based on states’ rights.  The Confederate Army, made up almost entirely of state-raised regiments based in the militia system, would consistently have trouble getting militias to fight outside their native states.  While Confederate soldiers froze in Virginia during the winter, warehouses full of uniforms would sit untouched in North Carolina, and soldiers in one part of the Confederacy would starve while civilians ate well behind the lines.  This was partly due to the poor transportation networks, but it can also be blamed on states’ rights.  Georgia’s governor was so recalcitrant that he often tried to manage his own state the to extent that some feared he would secede from the South, and fight the Yankees and the Rebels at once.

*President Jefferson Davis had not wanted his position.  He had been an officer in the Mexican War and Franklin Pierce’s Secretary of War.  He wanted to command an army, not manage a cabinet.  He was a good speaker and a good administrator, but he did not get along with Congress, his Vice-President, or many of his generals, and the Army of Tennessee would suffer immensely because he would not remove his friend Bragg from command, or trust his eventually replacement, Joseph Johnston.  Though a man of integrity who worked hard at his job, he was never a popular or successful leader.

*Lincoln was not initially respected much either.  The original baboon had a fractious cabinet, a reputation as a hick, and had a mixed record as a public speaker.  Foreign diplomats who saw him on the street early in his administration had to be told he was the President of the United States.  However, beneath a rough exterior he had a brilliant mind and could be a devious schemer.  He could also be charming in private, and was extremely patient with his cabinet, despite their contempt for him.  ‘Did Stanton say I was a damned fool?  Then I dare say I must be one, for Stanton is generally right and he always says what he means.’

*Lincoln was also willing to bend and stretch the law of the land to fit the emergency he saw before him and, even when he usurped the power of Congress, he was allowed to do so by his Republican colleagues in that august body.  In his call for volunteers, Lincoln enlarged the size of the Army, which is the prerogative of Congress, he had the Secretary of the Treasury give three private citizens $2 million for war purposes even though only Congress may decide how money is to be spent, he suspended the writ of habeas corpus so he could arrest anti-Union men (which Taney said only Congress could do), he shut down newspapers, had the army supervise voting, and established martial law in Maryland.  Although at times Davis was seen as imperious, and he may well have wished to exercise such arbitrary powers, states’ rights prevented him.

*In the beginning, the war effort on both sides depended on volunteers, and both sides would supply them in abundance.  However, by 1862 the South had begun to run dry, and the North would as well in 1863.  Both sides would pass conscription laws, also known as the draft.  Not only did this bring new men into service, but in some cases, particularly in the South, it kept volunteers from leaving it when their term of enlistment was up.  In both the North, anyone who could afford it could hire a substitute to take his place in the Army.  In the North, it was also possible to pay a $300 commutation fee in order to avoid service.  In the South, fear of slave insurrections were so great, that anyone who owned or served as overseer of 20 slaves was allowed to stay home to make sure they stayed down on the farm.

*On both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, this created resentment.  Private Sam Watkins of Company H, 1st Tennessee Regiment, CSA, explained ‘a law was made by the Confederate States Congress at this time allowing every person who owned twenty negroes to go home.  It gave us the blues; we wanted twenty negroes.  Negro property suddenly became very valuable, and there was raised the howl of “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight.”  The glory of the war, the glory of the South, the pride of our volunteers had no charms for the conscript.’  In the North, many people in predominantly Democratic and immigrant-filled New York City said it was not their fight, either, and largely Irish mobs rioted from 11 to 13 July in 1863, doing $1.5 to $2 million in damage and killing at least fifty people, many of them blacks who the rioters blamed for the war.  There were no draft riots in the South, but conscription agents did not often go into the pro-Union mountains to look for recruits, and on 2 April 1863 Mary Jackson led starving women in a bread riot in Richmond.

*In financing the War, the North had some distinct advantages over the South.  Being richer to begin with, the North had a bigger and better tax base.  The US passed their first income tax in 1862, instituting a 3% flat tax on incomes between $600 and $10,000 per annum and a 5% tax on incomes over $10,000.  This lasted until 1872, although it was briefly revived and then declared unconstitutional in 1894 and 1895.

*To bring in revenue and to protect the manufacturing interests that supported the war and the Republican Party, tariffs were raised again.  The Morrill Tariff Act of 1861 increased the tariff by 5-10%, to about 27%.  Later tariffs would raise it higher, and both the government and manufacturers would grow wealthy.  The Federal government also printed paper money again, and these notes were called Greenbacks, because they were only backed by the ink they were printed with.  As the Union’s credit went up or down, usually due to success or defeat on the battlefield, so did the value of the Greenbacks, so that at one point they fell to a value of 39 cents on the dollar.  The government also made money through the sale of bonds.  To prevent private banks from flooding the market with poorly regulated paper, as they had done so often and for so long, the US government passed the National Banking Act in 1863 to standardise bank notes.  Banks that joined the new National Banking System could buy government bonds and use them to back their paper money, making it more reliable, and of a standard value.  This, along with the independent treasury, would serve as the nation’s banking system until 1913.

*The South also printed paper money and sold bonds, end even levied a tax on farm produce.  The South printed more paper than the North, and, especially late in the war when the CSA seemed likely to lose, it was rapidly devalued as the South experienced terrible inflation.  At the end of the War, it would be worth 1.6 cents on the dollar, and even in 1863 a barrel of flour would cost $100 or more in Richmond, which was one of the causes of the Bread Riot.

*Northern manufacturers made a fortune during the War, especially those involved in war industries, many of whom cheated the government outrageously.  They often got away with this by paying kickbacks to politicians.  Such graft was worse in the North than in the South, although mostly because in the North there was more wealth to skim off of.

*Northern manufacturers made uniforms out of shoddy, a sort of felted wool made of scraps from the wool-making process.  Such cloth wore out quickly and could easily tear.  Shoes sometimes had cardboard soles, and ‘desiccated vegetables’ spoiled so often they were known as ‘desecrated vegetables.’  Profiteers benefiting from this were called ‘shoddy millionaires.’

*To outfit the Army factories used the sewing machine to speed the creation of uniforms and the invention of standard sizes in order to fit soldiers quickly.

*The West was also growing more populous and more wealthy.   The mechanicical reaper fed the army, and settlers flooded west to take advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862.

*Women assisted the war effort.  They served as clerks and even as factory workers, worked as spies (and were sometimes executed as such), served as nurses (including Dorothea Dix’s position as superintendent of nurses for the US Army) and organised the Sanitary Commission (Dr Elizabeth Blackwell) and the American Red Cross (Clara Barton).  Confederate women made their own clothes and knitted socks for their soldiers.  Many opened their homes as private hospitals, and Sally Tompkins of Richmond was awarded the rank of captain by Jefferson Davis for running her infirmary.  Phoebe Pember, a Jewish widow from Charleston operated the world’s largest hospital, Chimborazo Military Hospital in Richmond.

*In addition to losing over 250,000 men, or 4.5% of her population, in the War, the South would be destroyed economically.  Fortunes would be lost in useless bonds and depreciated paper money.  The blockade cut off trade with the world and made cotton useless.  After the War, the average Southern income would be reduced to 40% that of the average Northerner, and it would stay that way for the remainder of the century.  Transportation systems collapsed, railroads were destroyed, and Southern women even considered cutting off their hair to sell abroad for wigs, although the blockade prevented this noble gesture.  Over $2 billion worth of investment in slaves would be lost forever.  Before the war, Louisiana was the richest state in the Union.  After the war, she was the poorest.  The anaconda had done its work.

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This page last updated 19 November, 2003.