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Introduction to
Politics and Social Issues

by
William L. Barney,
Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Comprised of printed material such as almanacs, city guides, broadsides, books, and pamphlets, the politics and social issues section offers a vivid cross section of the Confederate home front. Southerners were quite conscious that they were making history and they engaged in an ongoing debate over the meaning and purpose of the nation they were trying to create. The Vicksburg publisher H. C. Clarke, for example, rushed to go on record with his reading of Confederate nationalism when he published his "Diary of the War for Separation" in the midst of the war.

In this section one can follow Confederate political discourse on problems ranging from conscripting slaves for military duty to pressing the North for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. More localized material, such as the voter's card from Orange County, North Carolina, offers a glimpse into political machinations at the lowest level of government. Treatises such as William Hall's "Historic Significance of the Southern Revolution," T. W. MacMahon's "Cause and Contrast: An Essay on the American Crisis," and L. W. Spratt's "The Philosophy of Secession" present unique insights into the political ideology that drove the Confederate nation-state.

Materials less political in nature are equally fascinating. They include a variety of farmers' and soldiers' almanacs, minutes from Masonic meetings, guidebooks, and tracts that offer pointed social commentary (see, for example, "Erskine's" essay on the suppression of gambling). Of particular interest for an outsider's impression of the Confederacy is the account "Three Months in the Southern States" by Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, a young English army officer who traveled throughout the Confederacy in 1863. In summary, the blend of political and social material in this section offers a powerful means for understanding how Southerners committed themselves to the Confederate war effort.