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Men Is CheapExposing the Frauds of Free Labor in Civil War America$
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Brian P. Luskey

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781469654324

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469654324.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.northcarolina.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of North Carolina Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NCSO for personal use.date: 27 September 2021

Capital in Self

Capital in Self

(p.78) 3 Capital in Self
Men Is Cheap

Brian P. Luskey

University of North Carolina Press

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.

Keywords:   Recruitment, Union soldiers, credit, capital, independence, slavery, labor

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