Friday, August 10, 2018

Just Finished Reading - The Loyal Republic: Traitors, Slaves, and the Remaking of Citizenship in Civil War America

The definition of who a citizen is is one that has constantly evolved. However, few, if any, periods in American history had a greater impact on who is considered a citizen than the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Citizenship is often determined through the lens of loyalty. To whatever nation/state one's loyalty is given is where citizenship resides, at least in theory. Historically, legal citizenship has presented obstacles. For example, at one period in American history only white property owning males were considered true citizens. Obviously that has changed over the years to include many different groups of people. Much of that change came through the crucible of the Civil War. 

In The Loyal Republic: Traitors, Slaves, and the Remaking of Citizenship in Civil War America, author Erik Mathisen primarily uses the Mississippi Valley as his geographic focus. It is a good choice on his part due to all of the change this region experienced during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Although Mississippi was the second state to secede there were pockets where loyalty to the United States remained strong, and it was home to individuals who were unwilling to claim allegiance to the newly formed Confederacy. Among those that did side with secession, the author intriguingly also examines the seemingly cloudy world of whether one's greater loyalty was to the state of Mississippi or the Confederate nation. On the surface this may seem one in the same, but when "push comes to shove" issues arose it made for tough decision making. 

This era brought opportunities for African Americans to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States by fleeing their owners and entering Union lines to either provide needed labor or enlist as soldiers when finally allowed to do so in 1863. Blacks would use their loyalty as a leverage point during the initial Reconstruction years that Confederate whites could not. The formerly enslaved, especially those who had fought in USCT regiments, demanded their citizenship be recognized in the forms of Constitutional amendments (14th & 15th) and bred resentment by former Confederates who basically lost their citizenship rights for a time. 

The Loyal Republic is a thought provoking work that makes one reexamine preconceptions of loyalty and citizenship and how we came to our current understanding of those terms. I recommend it.

No comments:

Post a Comment