Cartoon: Jesse and Frank James Discover the Risks of Railroad Robbery, by M.W. Summers

summers_ordealThis post is part of our series of political cartoons by historian and illustrator Mark Wahlgren Summers, author of The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction.

On Thursdays, we feature a new cartoon—hand drawn by Summers—that offers a creative, satirical spin on Reconstruction history. Each cartoon is accompanied by brief commentary from the author/illustrator to help put things into context. These cartoons stimulate your brain, tickle your funny bone, and bring history to life in a whole new way.

Today’s cartoon features two businessmen of the Wild West who eclipsed even the notorious Jesse James in their exploitative conquests. (Click image for full size.)

jesse james“Jesse and Frank James Discover One of the Biggest Risks in Railroad Robbery.” Most people think of the Wild West and Reconstruction as if they were separate eras. They weren’t. The Abilene Trail began just as Congressional Reconstruction got under way. Jesse James’s gang grew out of Civil War bushwhackers; the great failed bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota, took place just as South Carolina and Louisiana freedpeople were fighting for their lives and right to share in the political process in 1876. Custer’s last stand happened barely a fortnight before a quite different massacre in cold blood of black militiamen in Hamburg, South Carolina; and that same summer James “Wild Bill” Hickok was felled from behind in Deadwood, South Dakota. He was holding aces and eights, a combination since known for that reason as the “dead man’s hand,” and perhaps the main reason why he would be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979.

But the James Brothers were pikers when it came to railroad robbery. The biggest thieves sat in corporate boardrooms, notably Jay Gould and his partner Jim Fisk, who looted and ruined the Erie Railroad and swindled rival railroad chief Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt out of tens of thousands of dollars. Like Jesse James, Fisk was shot to death, though in his case his mistress’s other lover did the deed. Gould went on to become a railroad builder and consolidator and the most hated of all the so-called “Robber Barons” of the later 1800s.

Mark Wahlgren Summers is professor of history at the University of Kentucky. He is author of The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction, A Dangerous Stir: Fear, Paranoia, and the Making of Reconstruction, and many other books.

Cartoon: John B. Gordon Takes Umbrage and Crisp Twenties, by Mark Wahlgren Summers

summers_ordealHere’s the latest in a series of political cartoons from historian and illustrator Mark Wahlgren Summers, author of The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction.

On Thursdays, we feature a new cartoon—hand drawn by Summers—that offers a creative, satirical spin on Reconstruction history. Each cartoon is accompanied by brief commentary from the author/illustrator to help put things into context. These cartoons stimulate your brain, tickle your funny bone, and bring history to life in a whole new way. 

Today’s cartoon: duplicitous politicians fight (and feed) corruption. (Click image for full size.)

 

gambling gordon“Conservative John B. Gordon, in Rufus Bullock’s Railroad Aid Casino, Takes Umbrage and Crisp Twenties.” White conservatives raged against the stealing and financial waste in Republican programs to help build railroads across the South. They were right in some cases. In Georgia, Governor Rufus B. Bullock’s government was particularly lavish in promising subsidies to projected lines—though promises outran performance and some of the most controversial grants were scaled down or repudiated when Democrats came to power. What Democrats didn’t say was that the beneficiaries of that aid were nearly all businessmen in their own party. Some of their top politicians had cozy, even corrupt relationships with some of the foremost railroad corporations in the country. One of those was former Confederate general and future U. S. Senator John B. Gordon, whose services to California’s railroad barons were of the most intimate and dubious kind. But then, Georgia was no different than elsewhere. Former Confederate Nathan Bedford Forrest, head of the Ku Klux Klan, was deeply involved in railroad-building schemes dependent on bonds guaranteed by Republican authorities in Alabama, and among those protesting corruption loudest in South Carolina were conservatives of property and standing who shared in the take.

Mark Wahlgren Summers is professor of history at the University of Kentucky. He is author of The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction, A Dangerous Stir: Fear, Paranoia, and the Making of Reconstruction, and many other books.

Cartoon: Wade Hampton’s Whiskers, by Mark Wahlgren Summers

summers_ordealWe’re happy to share the latest in a series of political cartoons from historian and illustrator Mark Wahlgren Summers, author of The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction.

On Thursdays, we feature a new cartoon—hand drawn by Summers—that offers a creative, satirical spin on Reconstruction history. Each cartoon is accompanied by brief commentary from the author/illustrator to help put things into context. These cartoons stimulate your brain, tickle your funny bone, and bring history to life in a whole new way. 

Today’s feature: How the Lost Cause lost its way with Wade Hampton. (Click image for full size.)

 

wade hampton's whiskers“The Lost Cause Isn’t All That Lost. It Just Went into Redeemer Wade Hampton’s Whiskers and Couldn’t Find the Way Out.” A gray coat covered a multitude of causes. While Democrats and conservatives who “redeemed” the South from Republican rule in particular and democracy in general insisted that theirs would be a New South accepting the results of the Civil War, the kind of leaders they chose did not show it. South as well as North, voters chose figures with impeccable military records. In South Carolina, whites claimed to have elected onetime Confederate cavalryman Wade Hampton as governor in 1876 and with their paramilitaries, had him inaugurated. Hampton would graduate into the Senate a few years later. Hampton’s esteem outside the state did not rest on his war record, nor his reputation as a planter from a distinguished line of Wade Hamptons dating to Revolutionary War times. Rather, he was honored as a symbol of how far that Lost Cause had been tamed into something that northerners could find acceptable: love for the American flag and lip-service, at least, to fair treatment for African Americans. In Hampton’s case, it was more than lip-service: it was a liberalism that got him into serious political trouble with the rank and file. His willingness to appoint blacks to low-level government positions and preserve the basics of the school system, though, did not extend to protecting black voters’ political rights. Majority rule in South Carolina would have meant Republican control, and that outcome Hampton and his white-line critics alike were determined to prevent by whatever means of persuasion they could muster—homicidal ones included.

Mark Wahlgren Summers is professor of history at the University of Kentucky. He is author of The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction, A Dangerous Stir: Fear, Paranoia, and the Making of Reconstruction, and many other books.

J. Matthew Gallman: On Heroes and Hypocrites: War Talk 150 Years Ago and Today

gallman_definingWe welcome a guest post from J. Matthew Gallman, author of Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front. The Civil War thrust Americans onto unfamiliar terrain, as two competing societies mobilized for four years of bloody conflict. Concerned Northerners turned to the print media for guidance on how to be good citizens in a war that hit close to home but was fought hundreds of miles away. Examining the breadth of Northern popular culture, Gallman offers a dramatic reconsideration of how the Union’s civilians understood the meaning of duty and citizenship in wartime.

In the following post, Gallman compares the similarities and differences between the “carpet-knights,” or military hypocrites of the Civil War, and modern day “chickenhawks.”

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In July 1862, Nathaniel Hawthorne—writing under the pen name “A Peaceable Man”—published a lengthy essay “Chiefly About War Matters” in the Atlantic Monthly. It was a bitingly satirical piece. Hawthorne had been travelling throughout the east, including visits to the seat of war, and he was not satisfied with what he had seen. Although the men in charge earned quite a few sharp words, A Peaceable Man saved some of his most searing barbs for officers and faux officers who had taken to sitting around Washington’s Willard’s Hotel, smoking cigars, drinking brandy, and exchanging war stories. This “crowd of carpet-knights” infuriated him. Some were actual soldiers, who exaggerated their exploits from the safety of a bar stool. Others were “self-commissioned officers” who had purchased uniforms and posed as the real thing. Their presence was galling when Union soldiers were actively fighting in the field.

Hawthorne’s essay, and hundreds of other editorials, short stories, cartoons and songs, engaged in a broad public conversation about what sorts of men deserved praise in wartime, and who had earned public distaste and ridicule. It was a more complex discussion than one might expect.

For many years now I have been mulling over this and related questions about how public discussions defined the meaning and expectations of citizenship and duty during the Civil War. It is striking how contemporary conversations about military service and wartime exploits resonate with those of 150 years ago. There is much that is quite similar, and also a good bit that is dramatically different.

Today stories periodically surface of public figures who have been claiming—and even wearing—military decorations that they had not earned. Nearly ten years ago George W. Bush signed the “Stolen Valor Act of 2005” to punish such fraud. When that legislation was ruled unconstitutional, Congress passed a recrafted “Stolen Valor Act of 2013,” signed by Barack Obama. Clearly, profiting from falsified bravery was not something to be taken lightly.

During the election of 2004, one candidate’s military service in Vietnam came under such harsh scrutiny (I am no expert, but it seemed unfair and inaccurate to me), that the term “swiftboating” was born. He lost. The other candidate’s military service in the Texas National Guard received some scrutiny as well, although much of that seemed to concern whether he served properly as opposed to where he served. Meanwhile, pundits and antiwar critics coined the term “chickenhawk” to describe folks whose new enthusiasm for wars appeared unseemly in contrast to how they behaved when they were of military age.

The public conversation that emerged in the Union states during the Civil War meshes well with these contemporary discussions. The greatest scorn was reserved for the dishonest charlatans who sought to profit from a war where they had not shared in the risks. A few months after the disastrous First Battle of Bull Run, New York’s Vanity Fair published a public letter directed to a certain “young gentleman in Broadway” who had taken to walking up and down the city’s streets in a fake uniform, accepting admiring glances from men and women alike. “Don’t you think it is about time you took off that uniform?” the letter demanded. Although serving honorably in the Texas National Guard might generally have been seen as appropriate service during an unpopular war, Civil War cartoonists loved mocking men who served in the “Home Guard” while dining at fancy restaurants and staying clear of harm’s way.

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Cartoonists for New York-based Vanity Fair enjoyed ridiculing the local elites who paraded around in uniforms but spent much for their time dining at the city’s fashionable Delmonico’s restaurant. This series of six drawings plays on the idea that these faux soldiers are engaged in defending “Fort Delmonico,” down to the “Grand Charge” at the end of the evening. Vanity Fair, November 23, 1861, 232. Courtesy of HarpWeek.

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Cartoon: 1874 Arkansas Politics, by Mark Wahlgren Summers

summers_ordeal

Here is the latest in a series of political cartoons from historian and illustrator Mark Wahlgren Summers, author of The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction.

On Thursdays, we feature a new cartoon—hand drawn by Summers—that offers a creative, satirical spin on Reconstruction history. Each cartoon is accompanied by brief commentary from the author/illustrator to help put things into context.  

Today’s feature: the messy politics of Reconstruction-era Arkansas. (Click image for full size.)

1980 MWS, Arkansas politics is to politics like

“1874 Arkansas Politics Is to Politics What Jackson Pollock Is to Portrait Painting.” Arkansas politics had always had the nation bafflingly confused. By 1874, it made no sense to anyone outside the state. The regular Republican faction, known as the Minstrels, had run a wartime Unionist, Elisha Baxter for governor; Democrats had adopted a dissident radical Republican, Joseph Brooks, as their candidate. In November, the voters did not make the result; the vote-counters did. Backed by the legislature and the courts, Minstrels declared Baxter elected. Little did they realize that he would sell them out (but then, little did Baxter realize that eventually the Democrats would sell him out, too!). When Baxter’s apostasy became clear, Minstrel leaders had the state supreme court declare Brooks the winner after all. With a militia at his back, Brooks—now backed by most Republicans—overthrew Baxter—now backed by most Democrats. The brief civil war that followed, the Brooks-Baxter War, ended in the president throwing his weight on Baxter’s side, dooming Reconstruction in Arkansas. By the time the president had unscrambled who was on whose side and decided that Brooks may have been elected after all, it was too late to do anything about it.

Mark Wahlgren Summers is professor of history at the University of Kentucky. He is author of The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction, A Dangerous Stir: Fear, Paranoia, and the Making of Reconstruction, and many other books.