The Union Cause Hypocrisy

Happy 4th of July!

Considering the overwhelming Confederate slant we see in motion pictures and most literature (eg. Gone With the Wind), it is equally important to address the media imbalance in regards to the Union Cause. We learned and discussed endlessly about the Confederate South and the Lost Cause, but the one element that we touched on but did not spend too much time on is the hypocrisy of northerners and the Union Cause. A fellow student brought up this issue more times than none and I began to see puzzling misconceptions I had about the North, especially the hypocritical practices and its double standard surrounding racism and segregation, just to mention a few.

Recruitment Poster

As much as admire President Lincoln (and of whom I wrote about in my last blog), it was eye opening and disappointing to see how politics play out in the whole scheme of things. For example in Gallagher’s book Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotton… Lincoln’s speech to Congress reaffirms, “This is essentially a People’s contest…whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men.”[1] Could this statement in Lincoln’s speech be in reference to the emancipation of slaves and surely the promotion that “all men are created equal?”  If this is the case and if  “men’s condition is to be elevated” then why did segregation exist in the Union army and why were the men in the 54th regiment belittled and treated with contempt and discrimination? No man’s condition can be elevated (let alone in spirit), when men are refused the necessities of life or most crucial, not treated with dignity and respect! For instance, one extreme injustice was when the men of the 54th showed their tear-stained letters from their families to politicians in the hopes that the pay crisis could be resolved as their families struggled in poverty.[2]

A testiment to the bravery of the
members of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment,
Colored US Troops

In Hope and Glory Essays… Donald Yacovone writes about the promises made by Massachusetts’ governor John A. Andrew to black recruits, “The Fifty-Fourth would have the same equipment, be eligible for the same bounties and federal benefits, and receive the same pay as white Union soldiers.” [3] Of course, we all know what happed to the “pay crisis” controversy.  Later we learn these men did not receive pay for over a year! [4]   Learning about these injustices towards African American soldiers during the Civil War and who, I might add “volunteered” for the Union Cause was overwhelmingly sad and disappointing. To find out that the North was no better than the South in their politics and treatment of blacks is…you guessed it, pretty hypocritical.

[1] Gary W. Gallagher, Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood & Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War, (North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2008) 115.

[2] Martin Henry Blatt, Thomas J. Brown, and Donald Yacovone. Hope & Glory: Essays on the Legacy of the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts in association with Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, 2001), 44.

[3] Martin Henry Blatt, Thomas J. Brown, and Donald Yacovone, 35.

[4] Martin Henry Blatt, Thomas J. Brown, and Donald Yacovone, 44.

  1. elewis417 said:

    I believe Lincoln was referring to the elevation of men (white men) of the United States to move past disagreements and reunite as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. I don’t think he was addressing black men at all. His main goal was to keep the United States united and to legitimize democracy.
    Further, race is a major issue in the United States. The U.S. Armed Forces were segregated until after WWII –1948 to be exact.
    Racism has always existed in the North as well as the South. But, I think comparing the degree of racism between Civil War North and South in the context of your blog is uneven. To take a slave holding territory and it’s attitude towards blacks and compare it to a non-slave holding territory and it’s attitude towards black can’t compare. The North is most definitely flawed in their own race relations, but they were leaps and bounds better than the South. I mean, if the North is going to pay black soldiers $3 less than the white soldiers versus Southerners who would not pay blacks, but return them to servitude, how can we compare the two views?

  2. jmmblog said:

    I agree that the Union was very hypocritical in their politics and treatment of African Americans. Before this class I never really thought of how African Americans were treated in the North during the Civil War. Learning about the pay crisis was really enlightening. It so sad that these men volunteered after being promised pay and were treated the way they were. Even worse to think of are the ones that volunteered, died, and never saw any monietary compensation.

  3. angryeyes said:

    Hypocrisy existed in both the North and South. Being a hypocite does not excuse the fact that the south’s system of slavery does not excuse the fact that owning another person of what ever color or race is morally and ethically wrong. You cannot compare someone’s preceived hypocrisy as a justification for an an inherent evil..The south lost. Give it up and move on.

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