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Partisanship and Racial Attitudes in U.S. Civil War Enlistment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2022

Kumar Ramanathan*
Affiliation:
Department of Political Science, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
Nathan P. Kalmoe
Affiliation:
Department of Political Science, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, USA
*
*Corresponding author. E-mail: kumar.ramanathan.93@gmail.com
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Abstract

In this article, we investigate why millions of northern white men volunteered to fight in the Civil War. Prior studies have found that Republican partisanship played a significant role in boosting Union enlistment but do not test the competing hypothesis that views about slavery and race motivated them instead. Such views were highly salient among party elites before and during the war, which was sparked by a presidential election between parties divided over the expansion of Black enslavement. However, among the white mass public, we argue that partisanship rather than race-related attitudes explains patterns of war mobilization. Linking Union war participation records with election returns, we show that county-level war participation is better explained by Republican partisanship rather than views about the status of Black Americans (as measured by support for equal suffrage referenda and the Free Soil party). Analyzing a sample of partisan newspaper issues, we further show that Republican elites de-emphasized slavery as they sought to mobilize mass war participation while antiwar Democrats emphasized antiabolition and white supremacy, suggesting each party’s elites saw antislavery messaging as ineffective or even detrimental in mobilizing mass enlistment. This analysis offers additional evidence on the power of partisanship in producing mass violence and sheds more light on political behavior during a critical period in the history of U.S. racial politics.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Race, Ethnicity, and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association

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Supplementary material: PDF

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