Book Review: With Malice Toward Some

With Malice Toward Some:  Treason And Loyalty In The Civil War Era, by William A. Blair

It is useful to remember what history looks like before it happens, so that we do not project our understanding of the past back to distort the options that were available to take at the time.  We live in an age where treason accusations fly fast and loose and where there is some significant disagreement about the way the country is headed and how it should head and who should be in charge of it, but at least we have not yet had civil conflict of the kind that we saw in the Civil War.  There are a lot of ways that loyalty and treason could have been treated during the course of the Civil War, and the author does a good job in untangling the different ways in which treason was viewed and defined during this period and how it was that mercy and reconciliation ended up winning out despite the fact that it could have gone very differently–and some might even argue at present that it should have gone much harsher for those who rebelled against the United States and did not recognize Lincoln’s election and the shift towards power in the North until it was too late to avoid a far worse tragedy.

In about 300 pages the author discusses his twin themes of treason and loyalty, beginning with an introduction and then discussing treason as it was viewed in the United States before the Civil War (1), and then questioned the definition of treason and whether it was expressed or implied (2) in various activities.  The author discusses the Civil War as it related to the three branches of American government and the importance of the legal climate of the Atlantic world in helping to influence American practice (3) as well as the confusion and difficulties that resulted from the provost marshals and their ambiguous place (4).  The author discusses the occupied south and the issues in behavior that made things difficult for all parties (5), discusses the role of the military in politics at the beginning of the war, especially in the border states (6), and the question of free elections in 1864 (7).  The author discusses the complex politics of mercy after Appomattox that led to the proliferation of statues and praise for former rebels and traitors (8) while concluding with the questions of black suffrage (as well as suffrage for former rebels) and the problem of debt and the limits to which rebels could be punished in the aftermath of the Civil War (9) before the author concludes with a discussion of what ended up happening.  There are also appendices included about the courts-martial records for treason (A) and disloyalty (B) during the time of the Civil War and the notices of political arrests in newspapers (C), along with notes, works cited, acknowledgements, and an index.

There are at least a few aspects of this book that will likely be quite intriguing to readers.  For one, the government really leaned hard on ministers to promote a pro-government viewpoint, or at least to offer up prayers for the government.  For another, a great deal of importance rested on the people on the spot in a given place in the occupied south or in the border states, since Lincoln was not focused on creating policies regarding rebels in such a way that prevented local action.  The government was just not capable, then or no, of being monolithic given the way that people throughout the limited bureaucracy of the government and police order would behave in such times.  For some readers, the fact that indictments for treason were made against Davis, Lee and other rebel civil and military authorities will be a surprise, but even those readers who already know and have read about such things will find much to ponder here about the complexities of loyalty in the Civil War era and how it played out for those who wanted to see loyal blacks rewarded even if it meant being merciful to unreconstructed rebels.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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