Manning shows how slavery was a key issue in the years leading up to the war, and fomented tensions throughout the war years too. In the chapter “Many Are the Hearts that are Weary Tonight,” Manning discusses the “paradoxical nature of black Union soldiers’ experiences, and the war in general,” as black soldiers were not treated or paid equally with their white counterparts (Manning 147). Emancipation was one thing; equality yet another. As a political impetus, emancipation provided the motivation for fighting for the Union and yet the practical and pragmatic realities of ensuring the deeper principles of equality remained unresolved. There was no overarching vision for what the nation would look like once the war was over, leading ultimately to a failed program of Reconstruction.
Race became a powerful propaganda weapon during the final war years, especially in the South but in the North as well. Some of the propaganda demoralized the Union troops, suggesting for instance that Lincoln was “prolonging the warâ€¦to advance black rights at the expense of whites,” (Manning 154). Although Union soldiers were fighting for emancipation on paper or in theory, their personal beliefs often remained bigoted. Many opposed universal suffrage for all men, and could not envision an America in which white and black were equal. Many white soldiers disliked fighting alongside blacks. The irony led to serious cognitive dissonance among the troops, as white Union soldiers continued to believe in their cause on one level, while on another shirked from the work that needed to be done to eliminate the root problem of racism. Some even went so far as to claim to be “for liberty — but not for equality,” (Manning 157). The real questions of what to do about race relations when the war was over loomed.
The war was being fought ostensibly over slavery, but whites in the north and south continued to share the same racist beliefs. Northerners were faced with several challenges during these critical years in the war. On the one hand, ending slavery was the calling card of the Union. Slavery was believed to be tearing apart the nation, and therefore, slavery became a symbolic cause most of all. On the other hand, whites were unwilling to acknowledge the fact that ending slavery meant guaranteeing the rights of blacks. Racist whites fighting against slavery were still racist; and their morale in the war was diminished due to their inability to reconcile their loyalty to the union with their prejudices. Blacks fighting for the Union could not necessarily trust that the nation they fought for would stand up to racism and bigotry, or ensure that once slavery was abolished, the principles of equality as well as liberty would prevail. Indeed, the writing was already on the wall that Reconstruction would fail because race relations actually began deteriorating. “Prejudice is the curse of the North as slavery is the curse of the South,” (cited by Manning 161). Racism was more overt and manifest in the South than in the North, but covert racism loomed as a reality throughout the nation. It was preferable to slavery, but it was still representative of an imperfect union.
Discrimination, unequal pay, and outright prohibition against black soldiers fighting during the war for the Union all served as portents of things to come once the war was over. The eventual Union victory dismantled the legal and economic infrastructure of slavery, which was no small feat, but a Union victory in the war did little to correct the root causes of racism. Without addressing racism and uprooting prejudice, it would be impossible to provide a common rubric for Reconstruction that would have prevented its failure. Preventing race-related problems from festering would have also prevented the disintegration of the South into Jim Crow. Throughout the war years, the North looked down upon the South for its extreme examples of racism and gender segregation, but refused to look in the mirror at its own weaknesses.
Manning, Chandra. What This Cruel War Was Over. Vintage, 2008.
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