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The Enemy Within

The Enemy Within: Fears of Corruption in the Civil War North

Michael Thomas Smith
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Enemy Within
    Book Description:

    Stoked by a series of major scandals, popular fears of corruption in the Civil War North provide a unique window into Northern culture in the Civil War era. InThe Enemy Within,Michael Thomas Smith relates these scandals-including those involving John C. Frémont's administration in Missouri, Benjamin F. Butler's in Louisiana, bounty jumping and recruitment fraud, controversial wartime innovations in the Treasury Department, government contracting, and the cotton trade-to deeper anxieties.

    The massive growth of the national government during the Civil War and lack of effective regulation made corruption all but inevitable, as indeed it has been in all the nation's wars and in every period of the nation's history. Civil War Northerners responded with unique intensity to these threats, however. If anything, the actual scale of nineteenth-century public corruption and the party campaign fundraising with which it tended to intertwine was tiny compared with that of later eras, following the growth and consolidation of big business and corporations. Nevertheless, Civil War Northerners responded with far greater vigor than their descendants would muster against larger and more insidious threats.

    In the 1860s the popular conception of corruption could still encompass such social trends as extravagant spending or the enjoyment of luxury goods. Even more telling are the ways in which citizens' definitions of corruption manifested their specific fears: of government spending and centralization; of immigrants and the urban poor; of aristocratic ambition and pretension; and, most fundamentally, of modernization itself. Rational concerns about government honesty and efficiency had a way of spiraling into irrational suspicions of corrupt cabals and conspiracies. Those shadowy fears by contrast starkly illuminate Northerners' most cherished beliefs and values.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3137-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    During the first year of the Civil War, Republican U.S. senator John P. Hale announced on the floor of Congress that “the liberties of this country are in greater danger today from corruptions, and from the profligacy practiced in the various departments of the Government, than they are from the enemy in the open field.” Despite the grave military threat that the Confederate armies posed to the continued existence of the na-tion’s republican government, the senator claimed to fear the political corruption of members of his own party as an even more alarming menace. He also drew a connection between...

  5. Part One: Fears and Fantasies

    • 1 “A Carnival of Abundance and Pleasure” The Curse of the “Shoddy Aristocracy”
      (pp. 15-36)

      Northerners of both political parties between 1861 and 1865 feared that the emergence of a class of loathsome war profiteers foreshadowed the direst consequences for both the war effort and the future health of their society and government. These “shoddy aristocrats” inspired hatred and contempt far out of proportion to their numbers and influence. This obsessive concern was a striking and largely overlooked manifestation of the intense fear of extravagance and corruption expressed by Civil War Northerners throughout the conflict.

      The term “shoddy,” which first came into popular usage during the opening months of the Civil War, quickly became immensely...

  6. Part Two: Power-Hungry Generals

    • 2 The Beast Unleashed Benjamin Butler, Corruption, and Masculinity
      (pp. 39-66)

      Union General Benjamin F. Butler remains one of the most controversial and widely reviled figures of the U.S. Civil War. The flamboyant Massachusetts lawyer’s political connections and shameless selfpromotion had helped him attain a senior position in the state militia during the 1850s, and upon the outbreak of war in 1861 he was assigned field command of the first brigade sent into federal service from the Bay State. His troops seized Baltimore on May 13 and thereby helped ensure Union control of the nation’s capitol. In recognition of this service, President Lincoln sent Butler’s name to Congress among the first...

    • 3 “Profligacy & Corruption” The Frémont Scandal
      (pp. 67-94)

      When Union General Henry W. Halleck took command in Missouri in November 1861, his superior, then General-in-Chief George B. McClellan, informed him that he had his work cut out for him. Halleck’s assignment would not simply be to oppose the Confederate forces still at large in the state. “Old Brains” also had to accomplish “the far more dif-ficult task . . . of reducing to a point of economy . . . a system of reckless expenditure and fraud, perhaps unheard of before in the history of the world.” Halleck’s unenviable job was to clean up the mess left in...

  7. Part Three: Traitors and Trollops

    • 4 “A House of Orgies and Bacchanals” The 1864 Treasury Department Scandal
      (pp. 97-126)

      One of the most provocative corruption scandals to rock the Civil War North hit the press just as the critical 1864 campaigns in Virginia and Georgia opened, and played out in the shadow of those bloody and pivotal encounters. The 1864 presidential race was also beginning to heat up, with President Lincoln’s reelection and the Union cause both evidently in jeopardy. Worried Republicans cast about for possible stronger candidates, with the abortive campaigns of John C. Frémont and Treasury Department head Salmon P. Chase drawing much attention in the early summer. Chase’s resignation from the Cabinet following a battle of...

    • 5 “A Burning Shame” Bounty Jumpers and Recruitment Fraud
      (pp. 127-153)

      Not all of the scandals that rocked the Civil War North were as overblown as the hunt for alleged prostitutes in the Treasury Department. Public fears about various forms of recruitment fraud were solidly grounded in reality. The Northern wartime enlistment system was riddled with corruption and inefficiency. The innovative federal conscription system had serious problems, with only 3 percent of those called actually serving, and the rest suspiciously gaining exemptions through one means or another. Ultimately, wildly high cash bounties offered by both local and national authorities succeeded in increasing enlistments, as the proponents of conscription had hoped would...

    • 6 “All Cotton Became Tainted with Treason” The Cotton Trade and Corruption in the Occupied South
      (pp. 154-174)

      One final scandal, which culminated in the Civil War’s closing months, demonstrated that Northerners had not given up their intense fear of corruption in all its insidious guises. This scandal centered on the cotton trade in the occupied South. Americans during the Civil War era suspected “King Cotton” of possessing vast persuasive, and potentially corrupting, powers—and not entirely without reason. While the renewal of commercial ties between Northern investors and Southern planters under the supervision of the central government struck some liberalminded Republicans, like President Lincoln, as beneficial and desirable, it seemed otherwise to critics, belonging to both parties,...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 175-178)

    Civil War Northerners were beset by myriad enemies—within and without, both real and imagined. The definition of corruption in the 1860s remained broad and old-fashioned, with concepts like “luxury” and “extravagance” still easily conflated with “corruption.” In the minds of Civil War Northerners, these republican bogeymen remained difficult to distinguish. Too, corruption’s feared moral effects remained as significant as its practical ones. While the ascendant American ideology of liberalism championed “a system of politics based on the freedom to labor, both in mind and body” and the individual’s right to accumulate wealth in a competitive global market, the contrasting...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 179-204)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 205-224)
  11. Index
    (pp. 225-229)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 230-230)