Stoked by a series of major scandals, popular fears of corruption in the Civil War North provide a unique window into Northern culture in the Civil War era. In his book, Smith relates these scandals—including those involving John C. Frémont’s administration in Missouri, Benjamin F. Butler’s in Louisiana, bounty jumping and recruitment fraud, controversial wartime innovations in the Treasury Department, government contracting and the cotton trade—to deeper anxieties.
“The massive growth of the national government during the Civil War and lack of effective regulation made corruption all but inevitable, as indeed it has been in all the nation’s wars and in every period of the nation’s history,” according to Smith. “Civil War Northerners responded with unique intensity to these threats, however. If anything, the actual scale of 19th-century public corruption and the party campaign fundraising with which it tended to intertwine was tiny compared with that of later eras, following the growth and consolidation of big business and corporations. Nevertheless, Civil War Northerners responded with far greater vigor than their descendants would muster against larger and more insidious threats.”
Smith, who has been at McNeese since 2006, is also author of two additional books, “A Traitor and a Scoundrel: Benjamin Hedrick and the Cost of Dissent” and “Letters from a North Carolina Unionist: John A. Hedrick to Benjamin S. Hedrick, 1862-1865.” He received his doctorate in American history from Pennsylvania State University.