Final Project: Mapping Secession
One of the more difficult issues involved in the conceptualization of change over time is problem of envisioning the often differential and contested nature of such changes. As part of the process of thinking about a new site of newpaper editorials from the months leading up to the Civil War, I have been bothered by the issue of presenting the notion that the divisions evident in the editorials do not break down neatly along the North-South divide. In reviewing the editorials for publication, one finds Southern newspapers objecting to rush toward secession and war and Northern newspapers at times supporting secession or at least maintaining that Lincoln and his party was responsible for the sectional divisions.
In our earlier review of the various uses of maps on the Web, I was taken by the use of maps as a something of a two way mirror—reflecting particular aspects of a historical moment, while also serving as navigational aid to the Web site itself. Mapping the editorials we had and their changing attitudes toward secession and sectional conflict began to seem like an ideal means of organizing the site.
To test this, I scanned in 100 editorials from the original three volume series, trying for a fairly tight geographical focus on key cities (typically state capitals or major urban centers) and a diversity of opinion. To assist in the stucture of the site, I created a number of different “views” of the materials, including separate pages for each city, each newspaper, and lists of the editorials organized by state and by the quantities published from each newspaper.
I then re-read the essays with an eye toward developing a taxonomy that would capture the different trajectories toward war. In reading them, I was struck by the diversity of subjects and lines of analysis. The editors of the original series made a conscious effort to reflect the wide array of concerns that drove wedges of division between the two regions, so a simple taxonomy based on the slavery question, for instance, would fail to capture the changing temper and tone of the editorials. More often than not, the slavery issue was couched in other rhetorical garb or set aside altogether for different lines of analysis—in the South, for instance, a great deal of ink was spilled exploring the cultural differences between the two regions.
Given this diversity, I thought it wise to develop separate taxonomies for Northern and Southern newspapers. The Southern newspapers seem to have developed along an axis of separateness. For the purposes of this pilot test, we use a four stage color scheme to represent four points along this trajectory:
Taxonomy for Southern Editorials
Obviously, at the point at which the site begins, very few of the newspapers were espousing a sense of commonality, but a few, like the New Orleans Daily True Delta highlighted common interests in opposing the march toward secession. I differentiate the True Delta's position from those in the second category, reflected in early the early editorials of the Richmond Enquirer and through much of the period by newspapers in Kentucky. These papers espouse a clear difference between the two sections, but nevertheless suggest the possibility of conciliation to ameliorate the differences. This category covers a fairly wide range of opinions that were hostile to the North, but reluctant to take the step to formal division. The third category indicates those who have taken the fateful step, to a declaration that the cultural, political, or economic differences were sufficiently hard to merit a political separation of the Southern states. A number of papers dithered on the cusp of the third category, weighing whether the Constitution could validate the move toward secession. We keep them in stage 2, until they finally declare the need for formal separation. The decision to separate from the Union was not overtly viewed as the same as taking up arms against the federal government, so we reserve a final category to register when particular newspapers took the next step, and called for the mobilization of troops.
Taxonomy for Northern Editorials
The taxonomy for the Northern editorials follows a similar four stage system:
Unlike the Southern editorials, there is far greater diversity along this taxonomy up to and beyond the beginning of hostilities. In cities like New York, for instance, a number of newspapers maintained a pro-Southern position beyond the end of our analysis. It is fairly easy to differentiate the early position of a paper like the Washington States and Union and the New York Daily News from those taking an overtly pro-Union stance. The more important point of contention is between points 1 and 2, as the line between pro-Southern and and anti-Republican opinion can sometimes be hard to measure. The key, for our purposes, is the differing stances toward the Union. A paper like the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, which rejects secessionist arguments is put in stage 2, even if they often spend time fulminating against the Republican party for precipitating Southern grievances. The key line between stage 2 and 3 then, is measured at the point where the editorial writers privilege preservation of the Union as a crucial priority. This is often couched in terms that reject the need for military conflict, and cite secondary reasons as prompting the necessity for taking fairly hard line against Southern secession. This is evident fairly early on in papers like the New York Daily Tribune, which took an anti-slavery line, and the Illinois State Journal, which took a constitutional line. As in the Southern categories, the critical difference between stage 3 and 4 is the point at which they declare the need to take up arms and defend the interests of their section.
Using this taxonomy then, we constructed a map which would highlight the shifts along these two trajectories. To do this, I organized the editorials chronologically and geographically, then assigned ratings to each editorial. The data was then plotted onto the map using LiveMotion 2.0.
Aside from the realization that the taxonomy is a fairly imperfect as a measure of the diverse issues that fed into the sectional divide, the process also highlighted the further problem of how one uses color to designate abstract ideas. I ultimately settled on shades of gray for the South and shades of blue for the North, only to discover that the difference between the two at category 1 is almost invisible on the Web.
So the end result is imperfect in any number of ways. For the purposes of the larger project, the preparation process has highlighted a further problem in the original publications, which I had initially overlooked—the different volumes for the two regions use different time frames. The Southern editorials begin in March 1860 and end in late-April 1861, while the Northern editorials dont really begin until December 1860 and extend into June of 1861. As a result, there is an interesting gap in the Northern responses to the rising tide of Southern sentiments. The encoding process also highlighted that the selections from a number of papers end before the formal start of the war, leaving us unsure of how the outbreak of hostilities tested their views.
So I remain dissatisfied with the map in its current form. Nevertheless, I think the concept remains interesting, and as a navigational feature I think it provides much easier access to the data, as readers can identify particular stages in the evolution toward Civil War, or click on a particular locality to review editorials from a particular city or town.