Previewing the March 2024 JCWE

Previewing the March 2024 JCWE

Questions of slavery, freedom, and violence are at the heart of this journal issue. For decades, historians have described how enslaved people during the Civil War saw new possibilities for escape with the presence of US military forces nearby, and how profoundly their actions shaped the course of the war and the dynamics of postwar freedom. The articles published here advance our understanding of these crucial dynamics, contributing new insights about the lives of enslaved people, emancipation and military occupation in the border states, the impacts of postwar violence on the process by which US presidents are elected, and the history of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization that has come to epitomize organized white supremacy in the United States.

Focusing on Missouri, Iain Flood’s “Proving Disloyalty: Enslaved People and Resistance in Missouri’s Guerrilla Households” demonstrates enslaved people’s intimate familiarity with enslavers’ households in an area where most slaveowners were relatively small farmers. This intimacy meant they could be coerced into supporting pro-Confederate guerrilla networks but also that they had information that could be valuable for US forces. Flood shows how enslaved people created a “second supply line” by carrying intelligence out of guerrilla households and into the hands of US soldiers. Army officers recognized that value of such information and promised freedom in exchange.

In “Reconstruction, Racial Terror, and the Electoral College,” Michael W. Fitzgerald and Mark Bohnhorst offer a new history of Reconstruction-era debates about the selection of presidential electors. Absent a clear mandate in the US Constitution, antebellum states increasingly codified the idea that electors were chosen by popular vote, not by the legislature. But in 1868, amid white southerners’ violent campaigns to suppress the Black vote, Florida canceled its presidential canvass and had its legislature select electors, and Alabama considered doing the same. These developments prompted the introduction in Congress of a sixteenth constitutional amendment that required popular selection of electors. Although the amendment enjoyed bipartisan support and passed the Senate, it died in the House. Fitzgerald and Bohnhorst’s account helps us understand a part of the American constitutional order that, unfortunately, has become newly relevant since the chaotic 2020 election.

Katherine Lennard’s article, “Brother Dixon: College Fraternities and the Ku Klux Klan,” uses the life of Thomas Dixon Jr. (1864–1946) to discuss the complex interpenetration of secret societies, white college fraternities, and the Ku Klux Klan in the years after the Civil War. Dixon, who wrote popular and controversial novels glorifying the Klan in the early twentieth century, was a member of the fledgling Kappa Alpha fraternity at Wake Forest College. Lennard demonstrates that Dixon’s stories about the Klan drew heavily on the iconography of white college fraternities and on their exclusionary, intimidating practices. In representing the Klan this way, Dixon distanced it from its original incarnation as a lawless, pro-Confederate, white supremacist organization and made it appear more familiar to members of the college-educated white elite across the United States.

In his review essay, “Possessed: Understanding the Lives of Enslaved Americans,” Christopher Bonner provides a sweeping examination of recent scholarship on slavery and enslaved people, with an emphasis on the crucial question of how historians balance attention to structure with focus on the agency of the enslaved. Bonner points to Stephanie Camp’s Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South (2004) as an essential work that has informed much subsequent scholarship on how enslaved people managed to make meaning, find pleasure, and leave traces of their lives in circumstances where their choices and actions were drastically constrained. Bonner’s essay will help readers understand current dynamics in the field and appreciate the significance of continuing to try to understand how enslaved people experienced the world.

We are pleased to announce a number of editorial transitions. This issue is the last to which Luke Harlow contributed as associate editor of review essays and Kathryn Shively as associate editor for book reviews. Harlow served in that role for five years, demonstrating his commitment to a broad view of the field and to careful editing in essays like Chandra Manning’s state of the field on religious history to Alaina Roberts’s essay on the history of Black people in and around the Five Tribes of Oklahoma to Cameron Blevins and Christy Hyman’s review of digital history work. Harlow extended his time in the position to help the editorial team manage the challenges of the early years of COVID. Shively oversaw the book review section for three years and heroically continued to solicit books and find reviewers—with unstinting attention to diversity in both the books we reviewed and the reviewers we invited—even in the depths of the pandemic. Each was a complete pleasure to work with, and we are immeasurably grateful for their service to the journal. We wish them the very best as they move on to other projects. From 2021 to 2023, Mikala Stokes, a PhD candidate at Northwestern, assisted Shively with the book review section, supported by funding from the Northwestern University Department of History. Stokes now moves on as well, and we applaud her as she works toward completion of a dissertation on Black men, family relationships, and political activism in the antebellum North.

We are delighted to welcome Catherine Jones (UC Santa Cruz) and Megan Bever (Missouri Southern State University) as review essay editor and book review editor, respectively. As we write this editors’ note, Bever and Jones have been in position for a couple of months already. We are excited for their continuing contributions. Finally, we thank Edward Green, a Penn State PhD candidate, for stepping in as editorial assistant over the summer, and we welcome Heather Carlquist Walser back into the role she ably filled earlier in our tenure.

Kate Masur and Greg Downs

Kate Masur is an associate professor at Northwestern University, specializing in the history of the nineteenth-century United States, focusing on how Americans grappled with questions of race and equality after the abolition of slavery. Greg Downs, who studies U.S. political and cultural history in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is a professor of history at University of California--Davis. Together they edited an essay collection on the Civil War titled The World the Civil War Made (North Carolina, 2015), and they currently co-edit The Journal of the Civil War Era.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.