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The Enemy Within: Fears of Corruption in the Civil War North

Michael Thomas Smith; University of Virginia Press

Probing why Northerners seemed to be obsessed with corruption, Michael Smith concludes it was because “they had been educated in the principles of republicanism, which warned that they must vigilantly guard against the encroachment of government power against individual liberties.” The conflict spawned governmental centralization, economic growth and social changes, making adequate regulation impossible and “corruption all but inevitable.”

Smith includes some juicy stories, such as the hunt for alleged prostitutes in the Treasury Department. His account of Ben Butler’s reign as New Orleans’ Federal administrator is nuanced and revealing, characterizing Butler as “a practical radical, a selfish patriot, an uninhibited gentleman, an unscrupulous moralist, a superbly talented incompetent, and a corruptionist on the side of justice.” It’s clear why Smith chose most of his chapter epigraphs from Shakespeare. Who better understood the vagaries of the human spirit than the Bard? The Enemy Within is an important contribution to the social history of the war.


Originally published in the December 2011 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.