Capital in Self
Capital in Self
Soldier recruitment, experienced and understood through the prism of consumer capitalism and narratives about fraud, forced northern families to create new circulations of credit and capital that connected army camps and distant homes. Some soldiers sought to build on this source of credit to speculate for more individual and family income. Others’ struggles with accumulating credit and capital led them to speak of their desire for black laborers as a means to increase their personal autonomy as employers and heads of household. Union soldiers could not take advantage of the “chattel principle,” which served as the foundation for human commodification in southern slavery. In the context of their other speculations about credit and wages, soldiers believed that becoming an employer meant earning economic and cultural capital and the independence it conferred. To many Union soldiers, personal autonomy could only be earned—and validated by peers—through the control of workers’ labor. American men arrived at recruiting offices driven by a variety of ideological and material forces. Their decisions to enlist and the government’s efforts to recruit them cannot be understood apart from the culture of capitalism from which northerners hailed and the flows of capital that the war would produce.
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