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Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in…
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Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South

by Stephanie McCurry

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In Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South, Stephanie McCurry focuses on the agency of women and slaves, groups who lacked traditional political power in the Confederacy. She writes, “This was the Confederate project: to build a nation, perhaps in war, while winning the support of the majority of white Southerners who were not slaveholders, nullifying the individual and collective agency of women, and holding much of the population in slavery” (pg. 2). McCurry argues, “Gender, as the Confederate experience reminds us, was a fundamental, not incidental, feature of emancipation wherever it transpired” (pg. 9).
McCurry writes, “In defining the people and the citizens as white, politicians not only proscribed black men from the body politic; they also dispensed with white women. In moving seamlessly between citizens and voters, they elided white women entirely and arrived at a radically delimited definition of the people” (pg. 23). Despite this, McCurry argues, “Even among ‘the people,’ the white male voters soon to be soldiers, unity was elusive” (pg. 77). She further argues, “In the American Civil War, white Southern women’s politics and allegiance came to matter as never before. Taken as a while, the swirling set of developments around the matter of women and war amounted to nothing less than an assertion and reluctant recognition of women’s political personhood and capacity for treason” (pg. 89). Beyond spies and those who harbored Unionist sympathies, “deserter networks were familial in shape, and women were key parties to their operations” (pg. 125). Women further used the identities of soldiers’ wives to form a new constituency in Confederate politics. McCurry argues, “For all intents and purposes women citizens’ relationship with the state dates from the Civil War” (pg. 141). Of the food riots in 1863, McCurry argues, “The key [to understanding them] lies closer to home, in events on the Confederate home front, in the breakdown of rural and urban household economies, and in women’s assumption of leadership on the critical politics of subsistence that convulsed the C.S.A” (pg. 179). Looking at later programs, McCurry writes, “In the C.S.A. the soldier’s wife was the very prototype of the welfare client and provided the political model for the new welfare system and its entitlements” (pg. 207). She concludes, “Whether they liked it or not – and most didn’t – local officials were accountable to the women, forced to treat them as significant members of the political constituency they had been elected or appointed to serve” (pg. 214).
Of slavery, McCurry writes, “In relegating slaves to their masters’ authority, slavery also left them beyond the reach of the state. Slaves’ standing in relation to the state and the way slavery shaped the state this were two sides of the same Confederate coin” (pg. 219). She continues, “The plantation emerged as a critical site of Civil War politics because it grounded a struggle that radiated out and up through the various levels of power and sovereignty in the C.S.A. The war between slaves and masters on Confederate plantations could hardly be contained to those allegedly private domains” (pg. 252). Slaves exercised their own forms of legitimacy. McCurry writes, “Ironic as it might seem, slaves’ consent emerged as a critical factor in Confederate impressment policy” (pg. 267). In terms of slaves assisting Union soldiers or sympathizers, “It was one thing for private citizens to call slaves traitors and quite another for the government or military to formally acknowledge them as such, given the Pandora’s box it would open about their standing in the slaveholders’ republic” (pg. 301). McCurry concludes, “The dynamic of war, including the policies Confederates forged to wage it, so profoundly shifted the balance of power that slaves gained unprecedented opportunities to resist their enslavement” (pg. 360). In this way, "the poverty of Confederates' proslavery political vision had been proved once and for all time" (pg. 357). ( )
  DarthDeverell | Aug 22, 2017 |
A really insightful new book highlighting the structure of the Confederate state, and the ways that non-citizens (white women and enslaved folks) still had political clout despite their deliberate exclusion from conceptions of citizenry. It's a great, easy read that really challenges a lot of dominant narratives about the Confederacy and opens up new avenues for considering that political project. ( )
  aijmiller | Dec 24, 2016 |
I haven't read much of this history yet but have been told by a neighbor who judges for a major US History prize that it is one of the best histories published this year, if not the best.
  flashflood42 | Oct 5, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674045890, Hardcover)

The story of the Confederate States of America, the proslavery, antidemocratic nation created by white Southern slaveholders to protect their property, has been told many times in heroic and martial narratives. Now, however, Stephanie McCurry tells a very different tale of the Confederate experience. When the grandiosity of Southerners' national ambitions met the harsh realities of wartime crises, unintended consequences ensued. Although Southern statesmen and generals had built the most powerful slave regime in the Western world, they had excluded the majority of their own people—white women and slaves—and thereby sowed the seeds of their demise.

Wartime scarcity of food, labor, and soldiers tested the Confederate vision at every point and created domestic crises to match those found on the battlefields. Women and slaves became critical political actors as they contested government enlistment and tax and welfare policies, and struggled for their freedom. The attempt to repress a majority of its own population backfired on the Confederate States of America as the disenfranchised demanded to be counted and considered in the great struggle over slavery, emancipation, democracy, and nationhood. That Confederate struggle played out in a highly charged international arena.

The political project of the Confederacy was tried by its own people and failed. The government was forced to become accountable to women and slaves, provoking an astounding transformation of the slaveholders' state. Confederate Reckoning is the startling story of this epic political battle in which women and slaves helped to decide the fate of the Confederacy and the outcome of the Civil War.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:06 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"The story of the Confederate States of America, the proslavery, antidemocratic nation created by white Southern slaveholders to protect their property, has been told many times in heroic and martial narratives. Now, however, Stephanie McCurry tells a very different tale of the Confederate experience. When the grandiosity of Southerners' national ambitions met the harsh realities of wartime crises, unintended consequences ensued. Although Southern statesmen and generals had built the most powerful slave regime in the Western world, they had excluded the majority of their own people - white women and slaves - and thereby sowed the seeds of their demise." "Wartime scarcity of food, labor, and soldiers tested the Confederate vision at every point and created domestic crises to match those found on the battlefields. Women and slaves became crucial political actors as they contested government enlistment and tax and welfare policies, and struggled for their freedom. The attempt to repress a majority of its own population backfired on the Confederate State of America as the disenfranchised demanded to be counted and considered in the great struggle. The government was forced to become accountable to women and slaves, provoking an astounding transformation of the slaveholders' state. Confederate Reckoning is the startling story of this epic political battle in which women and slaves helped to decide the fate of the Confederacy and the outcome of the Civil War."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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