June 2017 (vol. 7, no. 2)

June 2017 (vol. 7, no. 2)

Volume 7, Number 2
June 2017


Judith Giesberg

Editor’s Note


Earl Hess

Rejuvenating Civil War Military History: A New Take on Infantry Tactics

This essay represents the acceptance speech for the Watson Brown Prize for the best book published on the Civil War era in the calendar year 2015. Tad Brown, president of the Watson-Brown Foundation, awarded the prize to Earl Hess for his book Civil War Infantry Tactics, published by the Louisiana State University Press. Civil War Infantry Tactics offers a groundbreaking reassessment of the impact of the rifled musket on infantry combat. Decades of scholarship had insisted that the rifled musket made shoulder-to-shoulder, linear infantry formations obsolete in the Civil War. Hess rejects this consensus, arguing that massed infantry formations were indispensable to the survival and success of infantry units equipped with single-shot weapons. These remarks were given at the annual banquet of the Society of Civil War Historians (SCWH), held during the Southern Historical Association annual meeting on November 3, 2016, in St. Pete Beach, Florida.

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Daniel Peart

System, Process, Agency, and Contingency in the Study of Antebellum Policymaking: The Tariff of 1846

This article discusses one of the most hotly debated political issues in the Antebellum period—the controversial tariff of 1846, which passed the Senate by a single vote. It combines the study of the antebellum parties and high politics with an attention to the individual. Taking into account the interplay of systems, processes, and contingency, the article shows how personal relationships and state agendas were just as important as political conflicts at the federal level in the passage of the tariff. As the article demonstrates, no single method for analyzing the legislative process captures all of the complex factors that determined the tariff’s passage. Only by considering the influence of party, the demands of state legislatures, and the relationships between congressmen can we explain the fate of major legislation like the tariff of 1846.

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Sarah L. H. Gronningsater

“On Behalf of his Race and the Lemmon Slaves”: Louis Napoleon, Northern Black Legal Culture, and the Politics of Sectional Crisis

This article focuses on black citizens’ antislavery activism in the North through the notorious Lemmon slave case. In 1852 the black abolitionist Louis Napoleon petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus to free eight slaves that the Lemmon family of Virginia had brought to New York City while en route to New Orleans. A New York court freed the slaves, leading to lengthy appeals funded by the state governments of both New York and Virginia. The case became a national contest over a state’s right to defend its free soil, on the one hand, and slave owners’ right to travel with their slave “property” throughout the Union. The author demonstrates that the legal activism of forgotten black abolitionists like Napoleon spurred New York to fight for antislavery policy on the national stage, exacerbating the sectional conflict over slavery and ultimately contributing to secession.

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Michael E. Woods

“Tell Us Something About State Rights”: Northern Republicans, States’ Rights, and the Coming of the Civil War

This article takes aim at the persistence of the widespread belief that secession and the Civil War resulted from political conflicts over states’ rights, not slavery. The popularity of this belief rests on the mistaken assumptions that slavery and states’ rights were distinct political issues and that the South deployed states’ rights policies against a hostile, nationalistic North. The author argues that northern Republicans frequently appealed to states’ rights to oppose what they perceived to be proslavery federal policies in the 1850s. Republicans invoked states’ rights to counter slaveholders’ considerable influence in the federal government, bring Republican antislavery principles into the political mainstream, and expose the hypocrisy of southern appeals to states’ rights while seeking expanded federal protections for slavery. This essay ultimately demonstrates that Republicans successfully employed states’ rights rhetoric to shape the national debate over slavery, popularize political antislavery, and pave the way for Republican victory in the 1860 federal elections.

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John M. Sacher

“Twenty-Negro,” or Overseer Law: A Reconsideration

This article offers a reconsideration of the Confederacy’s controversial 1862 revision to its conscription act resulting in what became popularly known as the “twenty-negro” law. The law exempted from the draft one overseer on each plantation with twenty or more slaves. Historians long have contended that it exposed and exacerbated class divisions in the Confederacy, with some going so far as to claim that the law played a prominent role in the Confederacy’s supposed collapse from internal divisions. Rejecting these claims, the author examines how the Confederate congress crafted the law to alleviate popular concerns over maintaining order and the crucial production of food on plantations. Through amendments to the law and its careful application by conscription agents, the Confederacy prevented widespread abuse of its exemptions, and the legislation met with more approval than opposition at home. See the author’s Muster post on using the overseer law and related primary sources in the classroom.

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William D. Carrrigan

The Strange Career of Judge Lynch: Why the Study of Lynching Needs to be Refocused on the Mid-Nineteenth Century

This historiographical review of literature on lynching argues for resituating the study of lynching in the larger history of American mob violence. The article notes that the antebellum era was rife with mob violence, including lynching, and yet the study of lynching largely has been led by historians who study the twentieth, rather than the nineteenth, century. A fuller understanding of the long history of lynching has been hamstrung by reliance on early works that defined the “era of lynching” in the United States as beginning in the very late nineteenth century and extending into the next century. Bringing the study of lynching back into the antebellum period would center the practice as an important topic in the larger history of violence and crime and shed more light on the deep connections between race, law, crime, and the development of the state.

read this article at project muse