Most literature on the Civil War focuses on soldiers, battles, and politics. But for every soldier in the United States Army, there were nine civilians at home. The war affected those left on the home front in many ways. Westward expansion and land ownership increased. The draft disrupted families while a shortage of male workers created opportunities for women that were previously unknown.
The war also enlarged the national government in ways unimagined before 1861. The Homestead Act, the Land Grant College Act, civil rights legislation, the use of paper currency, and creation of the Internal Revenue Service to collect taxes to pay for the war all illustrate how the war fundamentally, and permanently, changed the nation.
The essays in this book, drawn from a wide range of historical expertise and approaching the topic from a variety of angles, explore the changes in life at home that led to a revolution in American society and set the stage for the making of modern America.
Contributors: Jean H. Baker, Jenny Bourne, Paul Finkelman, Guy Gugliotta, Daniel W. Stowell, Peter Wallenstein, Jennifer L. Weber.
Paul Finkelman is an expert on constitutional history, the law of slavery, and the American Civil War. He coedits the Ohio University Press series New Approaches to Midwestern Studies and is the president of Gratz College. More info →
Donald R. Kennon is the former chief historian and vice president of the United States Capitol Historical Society. He is editor of the Ohio University Press series Perspectives on the History of Congress, 1789–1801. More info →
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The American Civil War was the first military conflict in history to be fought with railroads moving troops and the telegraph connecting civilian leadership to commanders in the field. New developments arose at a moment’s notice. As a result, the young nation’s political structure and culture often struggled to keep up. When war began, Congress was not even in session.
“When Lincoln took office, in March 1861, the national government had no power to touch slavery in the states where it existed. Lincoln understood this, and said as much in his first inaugural address, noting: ‘I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists.’”
During the long decade from 1848 to 1861 America was like a train speeding down the track, without an engineer or brakes. The new territories acquired from Mexico had vastly increased the size of the nation, but debate over their status—and more importantly the status of slavery within them—paralyzed the nation. Southerners gained access to the territories and a draconian fugitive slave law in the Compromise of 1850, but this only exacerbated sectional tensions.