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Adding up postbellum economics

by Knull, Morgan Issue: Fall 1999

This issue represents a milestone in several respects. I am pleased to announce that David Madden,novelist and founding director of the United States Civil War Center, has agreed to contribute aregular column to our pages, to be devoted to classics. We are embarking on a quarterly publishingschedule, so readers may look forward to four issues during 2000. In addition to subscription by mail,Civil War Book Review now is available for purchase at Books-A-Million stores nationwide. And our freeelectronic edition, located at, features the entire contents of theprint edition plus scores of book annotations unique to the Web site. Check it out!

Book reviewing is fraught with the usual human vagaries, which may explain how the same work can begiven conflicting treatment in different reviews.

In our Summer issue, Kent Gramm reviewed enthusiastically Runaway Slaves by John Hope Franklinand Loren Schweninger (Oxford University Press, $35.00, ISBN 0195084497). As fall approached, I saw areview published elsewhere that received the book less warmly, suggesting that it fails to acknowledgethe long-term social consequences of slavery. Deceit and defiance may be natural responses to bondage,but what happens when they persist beyond their necessity? This question lately has assumed particularsalience in regard to Russia's bumpy transition to liberal democracy. Like the newly freed slaves,Soviets were reared in circumstances that encouraged-and sometimes necessitated-lawbreaking. It is noeasy task to foster the rule of law or to restore familial harmony and work ethic where they have longbeen absent or suppressed. Such is the inheritance of collective history, which, though not chosen bythem, still profoundly affects individuals.

To recognize the courage required to both acknowledge and move beyond the past must not discourage itsundertaking. Were not slaves -- just as the post-serf and post-Soviet Russians -- better off as freedmen? Atlast summer's annual Deep Delta Civil War Symposium, James G. Hollandsworth, author of Pretense ofGlory: The Life of General Nathaniel P. Banks (Louisiana State University Press, $34.95, ISBN0807122939), told of New Hampshire captain Jonathan Johnson, who was stationed in South Louisianaduring the War. Writing home, Johnson described the freedwomen who visited the Union encampment to dowashing. When another soldier asked one of the women if she preferred working on her own to slavery,she replied unhesitatingly: "I had a great deal rather work hard and be my own mistress, for what Iearn now is my own and I can do with it as I like."

Beechers, Stowes, and Yankee Strangers (University Press of Florida, $24.95, ISBN 0813016460),an account of Reconstruction in Florida by John T. Foster, Jr., and Sarah Whitmer Foster, captures adifferent aspect of post-slavery economics. "Planters also turned to contracting with former slaves toresume work on their farms," the authors note. "Those planters known for being 'cruel' often foundthemselves without laborers." Not only working conditions improved with the demise of the slaveeconomy; so also did the cause of human dignity. As the Louisiana washerwoman put it: "I have workedfor a mistress as long as I want to. I want to live by myself."Even when reviewers cannot agree on a book's purpose, merit, or style, the testimony of those whodirectly experience history speaks for itself.

review of EDITORIAL:

Adding up postbellum economics, by Knull, Morgan, Civil War Book Review, (Fall 1999).