At a time of increasing uncertainty for public universities across Illinois, a new exhibit at Morris Library celebrates the continuity of Southern Illinois University Press, SIU’s nonprofit book publishing unit. The exhibit, which runs from November 7 to December 16 and is housed in the Hall of Presidents and Chancellors, commemorates SIU Press’s sixty years of publishing, and allows visitors an inside look at the history of the press and how it operates.
Cases and displays throughout the hall feature published books from across the years in the press’s many subject areas, which include Abraham Lincoln, Civil War history, and Southern Illinois. An animated video created for the event, “From Manuscript to Shelf,” walks viewers through the steps of the publishing process, from an author’s initial submission to the moment readers can flip through the finished product. You can view the video here; be sure to watch for cameos of press employees and authors!
In addition, the displays allow visitors to explore the history of SIU Press, from its founding in 1956 under former university president Delyte Morris, to its embrace today of contemporary technology such as e-books and social media in order to reach the greatest number of readers. Also featured in the exhibit is Saluki Publishing, the press’s soon-to-be launched self-publishing platform aimed at SIU students, staff, faculty, and alumni.
Siu Press 60th Anniversary Sale for November
Three Southern Illinois University Press authors, Lionel Kimble Jr., Tarez Samra Graban, and Jason Silverman, have all had their latest books reviewed favorably in the current issue of CHOICE!
CHOICE gives “A New Deal for Bronzeville” by Lionel Kimble Jr., “recommended” status, calling it “a very readable and often insightful exploration of how the New Deal and WWII shaped the African American campaign for economic and social rights in postwar Chicago.” The reviewer notes that Kimble “stresses black agency, coalition building and evidence of success…useful in undergraduate African American history collections.”
Purchase “A New Deal for Bronzeville” here.
CHOICE also gives “recommended” status to “Women’s Irony: Rewriting Feminist Rhetorical Histories” by Tarez Samra Graban. “Arguing that ‘irony lingers historically in women’s political discourse,’ Graban analyzes irony existing as situation, form of disruption, process, and movement between location and memory as she constructs a theory of irony that challenges previous definitions….A book for those interested in rhetoric, history, feminist studies, and political science.”
Purchase “Women’s Irony” here.
Jason Silverman’s “Lincoln and the Immigrant,” part of the Concise Lincoln Library, is “highly recommended” for all levels and libraries. The review notes that “[a]mong the multitude of books on the Civil War, studies of immigration during the war are few and far between…A well-written, welcome account of how Lincoln, in the midst of a much wider conflict, managed to adapt to changing circumstances within the nation through awareness of its evolving citizenry.”
Purchase “Lincoln and the Immigrant” here.
SIU Press would like to thank the reviewers at CHOICE for such kind words. Congratulations go out to all our authors who wrote such fantastic books; we’re thrilled they’re getting the good press they deserve!
The Spring and Summer 2016 catalog is in the house! Well, it’s on the Internet at least, which we think is even better.
This season, we have new titles in poetry, history, rhetoric, biography, and Illinois history, just to name a few subjects. Browse the catalog below to discover your new favorite book!
Like what you see? On our website, you can find all our books from this season, and seasons past, so why not head over and buy something you’ll love?
Southern Illinois University Press is pleased to announce that Huiling Ding’s book Rhetoric of a Global Epidemic: Transcultural Communication about SARS has been awarded the Conference on College Composition and Communication’s (CCCC) Best Book Award in Technical or Scientific Communication for 2016.
Professor Ding, an associate professor at North Carolina State University, will be announced as recipient of the Technical and Scientific Communication Award on April 8, during the 2016 CCCC Annual Convention in Houston, Texas.
Our congratulations to Professor Ding!
Buy Rhetoric of a Global Epidemic here: http://www.siupress.com/product/Rhetoric-of-a-Global-Epidemic,6030.aspx
Matthew W. Hall, a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and former general counsel for the University of Pennsylvania, has had a lifelong interest in American history. As an attorney in the field of natural resources law, Hall dealt with several cases requiring close analysis of legislative history. When he discovered that Jesse Burgess Thomas, a third great uncle of his wife, had been the prime mover behind the negotiations that led to the Missouri Compromise, Hall set out to write an account of this vitally important but neglected figure and the legislative crisis he helped to defuse.
SIU Press intern and SIU MFA-in-poetry candidate Kirk Schlueter interviewed Hall about his new book, Dividing the Union: Jesse Burgess Thomas and the Making of the Missouri Compromise.
What made you decide to write this book?
I was doing some research on my wife’s family and came across mention that the younger brother of her third great-grandfather was the author of the Missouri Compromise. Intrigued, I began looking at accounts of the Missouri controversy in pre–Civil War histories and found many mentions of the so-called Thomas amendment that drew a geographical line dividing slave and free and resolved a deadlock that could have broken up the Union. But there were no accounts of Thomas himself, no sense of how he came to play that pivotal role, and no history of how he fashioned the final compromise. I decided that this was an important enough moment in American history to merit a full account, and that is what I set out to do.
Jesse Burgess Thomas is someone I’d never heard of before reading your book, but he had an integral role in proposing and drafting the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which lasted for thirty-four years and is generally credited with delaying the Civil War until the 1860s. Can you briefly describe who Jesse Burgess Thomas was, what the Missouri Compromise was, and why Thomas is so important to history?
Jesse Burgess Thomas was one of the first two senators from Illinois and was from the beginning of his term in 1818 an ally and protégé of William Harris Crawford. Crawford was serving at the time as secretary of the treasury in President Monroe’s cabinet and was the leading contender to succeed Monroe in 1824. Thomas arrived in Washington just as the controversy over slavery west of the Mississippi was brewing. Both he and Crawford wanted the crisis resolved so Crawford could address other pressing problems and pursue his presidential ambitions. Though he was an inexperienced senator, Thomas became the point person in the ensuing Congressional negotiations that led to the drawing of a geographical line along the southern border of Missouri extending westward; there was to be no slavery in any territory north of that line with the exception of Missouri, which would be admitted as a slave state. This, along with the admission of Maine as a free state, constituted the Missouri Compromise, which, as you said, held for thirty-four years and delayed the conflagration of the Civil War.
I wonder if you could talk more about Jesse Burgess Thomas’s personal traits? You mention one of his sayings in the book, “You can’t talk a man down, but you can whisper him to death.” What did he mean by that, and what insights into his character does that give?
Thomas was a quiet man. While almost every other senator and most representatives gave hours-long speeches showcasing their oratorical talents and committing themselves to seemingly nonnegotiable positions, Thomas never made a substantive speech. In part this was because he was not a good public speaker, but mostly it was because he could see no good in locking himself into positions that would limit his room for future maneuver. He was also a patient man, as witnessed by the four subtly different versions of his compromise amendment that he put forward in the course of negotiations, eventually persuading a majority of his fellow senators and then the House conference committee to support the fourth version and winning passage by a single vote. With calm persistence he had “whispered” his way to a workable compromise.
You describe a tangled scene in the Northwest Territory (what would become Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin) in the early 1800s, with various factions jockeying for position, carving off new territories, or making territories into states, and a struggle for power to determine who would benefit the most from this fluctuating landscape. Could you describe the political environment on the American frontier where Jesse Burgess Thomas cut his teeth in the late 1700s and early 1800s?
The governance of this vast area was framed in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. As settlers flooded into the area at the turn of the century, they competed ravenously for ownership and political control of the land they seized from Native Americans. The future of this area, thus, was built primarily on the exploitation of Native Americans. To a lesser extent, however, it was also built on the backs of slaves. Slavery was prohibited in Article VI of the Northwest Ordinance, but there was another provision in the ordinance protecting property rights. While antislavery Northerners relied on Article VI, Southern settlers claimed that all existing property rights in slaves were protected. Thus there was ambiguity and misunderstanding from the beginning, and it only grew worse as each new territory or state wrestled with the problem.
You talk about Jesse Thomas’s ability to straddle political fences, especially on slavery. He had a way of keeping his true opinions on the subject ambiguous; antislavery voters seemed to think he was antislavery, and proslavery voters seemed to think he was proslavery. Early on, he owned slaves himself but later in life joined the very abolitionist Episcopalian Church. What were Thomas’s views on slavery?
Even Thomas’s contemporaries could not settle on an answer to this question; so, at this far remove, it is almost impossible for us to do so. What is clear is that Thomas was pragmatic and believed there were more pressing questions facing the young republic, such as the financial panic of 1819, which was then rolling westward, and the country’s policies on the sale of public lands. Thomas was also accused of being duplicitous on the question of slavery, telling people what they wanted to hear. My feeling, for what it is worth, is that, reflecting his Southern background, he started off being mildly proslavery and then steadily shifted to a strongly antislavery stance later in life.
In many ways, Thomas’s political life in Illinois and on the national scene was defined by his rivalry with Ninian Edwards, another powerful Illinois political figure. As someone born and raised in Edwardsville, I found Edwards and Thomas’s relationship to be engaging and interesting. What different political ideas did the two represent, and how did they play out in Illinois politics as well as nationally?
Ironically the two men differed little in their political views. Because of the influence of Daniel Pope Cook, Edwards’s faction was the first to come out against slavery, but Edwards and some of his relatives were among the largest slaveholders in Illinois. Thomas, on the other hand, owned few slaves, but his faction was responsible for keeping open the possibility of slavery in Illinois. Neither of them, however, was ever a strong advocate for slavery. Beyond that, their ideas on public lands policy and internal improvements (like highways and canals) were nearly identical. Their rivalry was almost entirely personal and a matter of style—Edwards was an elitist with a clear sense of entitlement, and Thomas was more self-effacing but probably more sure of himself. Edwards was more powerful than Thomas during the territorial period from 1809 to 1818, but following statehood Thomas chose a more powerful mentor in Washington and was soon chairman of the all-important public lands committee and became a more powerful presence in the Senate. This reversal of their positions made Edwards extremely bitter and was a factor leading to the so-called A.B. affair, which ended in Edwards’s exit from national politics. For his part, toward the end of his Senate term, Thomas found himself spending more time in Missouri and Ohio than in the state he represented, and when he left the Senate in 1829 he never returned to Illinois.
What I found most fascinating about the actual drafting of the Missouri Compromise was how much deliberate care was put into it—things like word choice and capitalization became huge issues. And you argue that in many ways the political brilliance of the Compromise was that it managed to take contradictory positions—essentially, proslavery people could read it one way, and abolitionists could read it another. Can you talk more about the legislative work that went into drafting the Compromise and making it ambiguous enough that both sides could agree on it?
The deliberate ambiguity you describe is not unique to the Missouri Compromise. I believe it is a characteristic of many political compromises and is probably not that bad a thing. Not only is it sometimes essential for passage of a bill, but it also gives the legislation room to adapt over time. Additionally, the participants in the compromise are often complicit in the ambiguity—they know that the legislation is being interpreted in different ways by different people, and they knowingly present it to their constituents in the way the constituents want to interpret it. It is far from ideal, but the ambiguity allows the politicians to put the matter behind them and gives them a kind of plausible deniability.
By the time the Missouri Compromise was repealed in 1854 with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, in the minds of many Americans (especially Northerners) it had reached almost sacred status as something that should be upheld. Yet you argue that part of the appeal of the Compromise in 1820 was that both sides could, under its linguistic ambiguities, wiggle out of the agreement. For example, even though the document said slavery was theoretically banned “forever” in any territory north of the 36˚30ʹ line, some believed that it was permissible under the Compromise for a new state to vote to make slavery legal after they moved out of territorial status. Given that the seeds of its downfall were literally written into the document, why did the Compromise survive so long?
The Missouri Compromise was the first test for the second generation of political leadership in the United States, and in the years following, leaders in both the North and the South did not want to again come as close to the breakup of the Union as they had in 1820. The proslavery faction showed restraint in never attempting to use the loophole you describe (except for the failed early attempt in Thomas’s own state of Illinois). The Union was far more than an abstract concept for them—it also provided protection against the European powers that were waiting to take advantage of the first fissures in the infant republic. As a result, both sides worked together to put off the admission of the next state from the Louisiana Purchase until Iowa joined in 1846. By that time it was becoming apparent that there would be more states admitted from north of Thomas’s 36°30ʹ than south of it, and the North began to feel more committed to the Compromise.
There’s a historical dilemma about the Missouri Compromise: it may have been the only realistic legislative option and it arguably put off the Civil War for at least thirty-four years, which we think of as a good thing, But it did so by prolonging and tolerating slavery, dooming millions more to live and die in bondage. The Compromise also created an official, very public geographical line to demarcate between slave and free states, helping to solidify the North/South split and heightening sectarian tension. You quote Thomas Jefferson as writing, “[The Compromise] like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once the death knell of the Union. . . . As it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him nor safely let him go.” So even at the time there was a great deal of consternation about the bill. For you, what is the lasting historical legacy of the Missouri Compromise?
I agree that the prolongation and toleration of slavery was a tragedy. I see only one other way the crisis could have been resolved. The Missouri crisis actually began in the Congressional debate about the admission of Illinois in 1818 when James Tallmadge of New York made two proposals—that no new slaves be admitted into Illinois and that all slaves then living there be freed when they reached a certain age. These proposals were voted down for Illinois but renewed when Missouri applied for statehood two years later. They became central to the ensuing debate. Tallmadge’s amendments, which I describe as temporal solutions, would have led to the gradual end of slavery in Illinois and Missouri and could have become a model for other states. The Tallmadge amendments have been viewed in history largely as a provocation thrown up by the anti-slavery forces, but in fact they were modeled on the successful emancipation laws of New York and other northeastern states. I believe they were put forward in a more constructive vein than commonly believed and could conceivably have worked. After all, politicians love to vote for propositions that will come to fruition long after they have left office! Such a temporal solution would have left slavery in place for a period far shorter than what occurred under the Missouri Compromise, and could conceivably have prevented the Civil War. There is, though, considerable doubt Tallmadge’s proposals could have passed.
Why do you think that Jesse Thomas has been so overlooked by historians?
The neglect of Thomas at the time was perhaps understandable because he was an unobtrusive figure working a quiet strategy that was submerged by the extravagant rhetoric flowing out of Congress. The neglect of him today, however, is less explicable. For example, of the one hundred documents chosen by the National Archives as the most important in American history, the handwritten conference committee report memorializing the Missouri Compromise is ranked 55th, but nowhere is it mentioned on the National Archives website or elsewhere that the handwriting on the document is that of Jesse Thomas, the head of the Senate delegation to the conference committee.
This December we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. After Alabama, North Carolina, and Georgia ratified the amendment in the first week of December, William H. Seward proclaimed its adoption on December 18, 1865.
Christian G. Samito’s new book Lincoln and the Thirteenth Amendment examines how Lincoln’s opposition to amending the U.S. Constitution shaped his political views before he became president, and how constitutional arguments overcame Lincoln’s objections, turning him into a supporter of the Thirteenth Amendment by 1864. You can read Samito’s introduction here (click to enlarge):
Lincoln and the Thirteenth Amendment is available at www.siupress.com. If you order between now and December 20, use promo code BLACKFRIDAY at checkout to receive 40% off the list price.
Guy R. Hasegawa, a pharmacist, is senior editor of the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy. He is the author of Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs and a coeditor of Years of Change and Suffering: Modern Perspectives on Civil War Medicine.
SIU Press intern and SIU MFA-in-poetry candidate Kirk Schlueter interviewed Hasegawa about his new book, Villainous Compounds: Chemical Weapons and the American Civil War.
What a fascinating subject matter. You mention this in your preface, but would you mind again going through what the process was that got you interested in chemical weapons in the Civil War and led to the writing of this book? It started with you accidentally discovering a letter while you were doing research for another topic, if I’m correct.
That’s right. My historical research has focused on Civil War medicine, and my reading has included literature on the roles that Civil War scientists and health practitioners played outside medical care. Some of those sources mentioned ideas for chemical weapons, but the same ideas were covered repeatedly, so I assumed that the subject was exhausted and didn’t warrant further research. Then I stumbled on a letter in which a Confederate surgeon proposed chemical weapons that had not appeared in anything I had read before. That accident suggested that there might be additional proposals waiting to be discovered, and I ended up finding a lot of ideas that had not been previously described. Civil War weaponry is not my field, but chemical agents clearly fall within my medical interest. After all, medical personnel would have been responsible for treating victims of chemical weapons. As it turns out, most of the chemicals proposed as weapons had medicinal uses, and many of the weapons’ proponents were physicians.
Gabriel James Rains, a Confederate general, described one device he designed as “a most infernal contrivance to do evil.” What sort of ethical concerns did political and military leaders have about using chemical weapons? Were they dismayed, or were they willing to embrace the view in William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous quote that “war is cruelty, and you cannot refine it”?
I think the answer depends on the intent of the weapon. Many of the weapons were supposed to temporarily subdue the enemy without causing lasting harm, and ethical objections to these were minimal. There was a general aversion to weapons that maimed or killed in an underhanded or dishonorable manner, such as land mines and poisons. Since most politicians and military men claimed to put great value on honor, they would generally have objected to the lethal poisons, at least in public pronouncements. Weapons that were unnecessarily cruel were also condemned. On the other hand, the proponents of the weapons said that desperate times demanded desperate measures, even if those measures seemed morally questionable. Some individuals pointed out that it was more merciful to kill enemy soldiers quickly and painlessly with poison than to mangle them with projectiles and leave them to die agonizingly on the battlefield. Sherman’s quotation might suggest that he would accept the necessity of chemical weapons, but professional soldiers could have seemingly inconsistent views. Civil war troops used conventional weapons to inflict horrible suffering on the enemy, yet one leader of such troops, George McClellan, objected to an incendiary weapon as being outside the bounds of “civilized warfare.” I guess that term, to some people, was not an oxymoron.
You say that a lot of inventors were foiled by the government not taking their ideas seriously, even if some of the proposed devices were quite practical. What do you think was behind the reluctance by both the United States and the Confederate governments to consider and implement these sorts of weapons?
It’s well documented that the chief of the U.S. ordnance department was less than open to the ideas, and the same was probably true on the Confederate side, although there’s less direct evidence for that. Both sides had their hands full trying to supply their troops with conventional weapons and would be understandably reluctant to spend time studying unproven concepts. Besides, to a trained military man, it was clear at a glance that most of the suggestions would not work as intended on the battlefield. It must have been maddening for weapons experts to receive unwelcome advice about their own specialty, especially from civilians.
A good percentage of those proposing chemical weapons were physicians. Most of the chemicals suggested for military use had medicinal purposes as well, so physicians would be familiar with them, and yet proposals for chemical weapons seem to fly utterly in the face of our ideas of doctors and a “do no harm” philosophy. Did it surprise you that many of the civilians on both sides proposing chemical weapons were physicians or had some sort of medical background?
Yes, that was a big surprise. I think part of the reason is that our modern concept of a physician differs from the reality of the Civil War era. In those days, there was essentially no regulation of medical practice, so you could call yourself a physician without graduating from a medical school or passing a licensing exam. To get a medical degree, you attended two usually identical sets of lectures, each of which took only several months, and completed an apprenticeship and thesis. The major barrier to entering a medical school was paying for the lectures. Clearly, becoming a physician back then didn’t entail the tremendous expense and devotion as it does today, and it was common for people who practiced medicine or had a medical degree to have other occupations. It’s my guess that the ethical standards and commitment to the profession that we associate with today’s physicians were not embraced as strongly by many physicians of the Civil War era. It’s notable that many physicians joined the Union or Confederate ranks hoping to experience combat, so my findings are not an isolated example of medical men acting contrary to the “do no harm” principle.
There are some proposals in the book that seem quite silly on the surface, such as throwing cayenne pepper onto a ship to irritate the soldiers fighting there. Yet you point out that in a lot of ways, ideas like this are very similar to modern-day pepper spray. Even concepts that might seem almost laughable to us like stink pots have modern-day counterparts in substances used by Israeli police. Were you ever surprised while researching at how some of the proposed (and even ridiculed) devices foreshadowed modern concepts and technology?
Yes. The one that surprised me the most was a proposal to place two relatively safe chemicals in an artillery shell and have them mix during flight to form deadly hydrogen cyanide, which would be released when the shell exploded. This was a so-called binary weapon, and the same concept appeared during the Cold War, for example, in an American artillery projectile designed to deliver the nerve agent sarin. Not only that, the chemicals suggested during the Civil War were used in American gas chambers starting in the 1930s and decades later in terrorist bombs. In this instance, the proponent got the general idea and the specific ingredients right, although it’s unclear whether the delivery system he suggested would have worked exactly as he claimed.
There’s a section in the book where George Meade, watching a demonstration of liquid fire to defend a position, points out that the fire is effective at up to thirty feet and rifle fire is effective up to three thousand yards. This is an objection that most of the weapons described in the book run up against time and time again; they’re really useful only in close quarters fighting or would be extremely difficult to implement on the battlefield. Of all the weapons discussed in the book, which (if any) do you think at the time was most practical and could have actually influenced sieges and battles if followed up on? Which of the weapons you cover did you find to be the most interesting?
First, let me clarify Meade’s remark, because he was being loose with numbers to make a point. He was referring to squirting liquid fire from a garden engine—a device whose range might be, say, 60 or 70 feet—and the distance from which riflemen could shoot accurately was perhaps in the hundreds rather than thousands of yards. Nevertheless, he was correct that enemy soldiers could deliver lethal fire from well beyond the maximum range of the primitive flamethrower. Some of the proposed weapons may have killed or incapacitated a few nearby enemy combatants, which may have been useful in some situations, so we shouldn’t totally discount them. To answer your question, though, I doubt that any of the proposed weapons would have influenced a full-scale battle. Many were simply unsuitable for being weaponized or didn’t have the chemical or toxicologic properties that would make them effective on the battlefield. Which weapons interested me the most? Other than the binary cyanide shell already described, I’d say the artillery shell containing liquid chlorine. Its proponent had a good understanding of the properties of chlorine, but the technology necessary to implement the idea was decades away. Chlorine, of course, was used effectively in World War I and apparently very recently in the Middle East. In World War I, chlorine was released from cylinders rather than placed in artillery shells, but the rationale for its use was exactly that articulated during the Civil War.
One sentiment expressed by inventors and some military officials throughout the book is that advanced weapons of warfare are actually to be desired because the idea and use of such weapons results in short wars and long periods of peace; “Sharp wars are brief,” you quote the Lieber Code from 1863 as saying. Is there really any historical support for this idea? It seems that the more “scientific” and advanced technology in war has become, especially in the last century, the fighting has become more horrid and destructive, and not necessarily shorter.
Well, I’m not an expert in the tactics or strategy of war. It seems to me, though, that having advanced weapons is only one variable in how long wars last and that another is the willingness of decision makers to use them in light of political and other considerations. I think that, at least in today’s world, the “sharp wars are brief” dictum is too simplistic.
Chemical weapons have a bit of a lurid grip in our minds even today, it seems (or perhaps it’s just my mind). As you mention in Villainous Compounds, some governments (and terrorist organizations such as Aum Shinrikyo, responsible for the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995) use these weapons today, and I think the prospect of a chemical weapons attack causes anxiety in the minds of a lot of Americans. As a final question, has your research given you any thoughts about how chemical weapons are perceived and used today?
Our anxiety about chemical weapons is understandable. Not only do we associate them with terrorists and other ruthless groups, we see photos of the chemicals’ lifeless victims, who are often civilians. Chemical weapons seem particularly frightening and insidious because we imagine ourselves defenseless against horrible and invisible poisons that are spreading far and wide while the attacker skulks in the distance. This apprehension was not present during the Civil War, largely because highly effective agents—in terms of toxicity and suitability for weaponization—didn’t exist, military officials didn’t take chemical weapons seriously, people didn’t have real examples to frighten them, and civilians were not seen as likely targets for any kind of weapon. I wrote Villainous Compounds with hopes that readers could relate to its topic. Going back to a time when chemical weapons were being proposed but concerns about them were minimal can provide some insight about why we fear the weapons today.