Ways and Means : Lincoln and His Cabinet and the Financing of the Civil WarBy
From renowned journalist and master storyteller Roger Lowenstein, a revelatory financial investigation into how Lincoln and his administration used the funding of the Civil War as the catalyst to centralize the government and accomplish the most far-reaching reform in the country’s history
Upon his election to the presidency, Lincoln inherited a country in crisis. Even before the Confederacy’s secession, the United States Treasury had run out of money, and had no authority to raise taxes, no federal bank, and no currency. But from setbacks Lincoln saw opportunity—the chance to legislate in the centralizing spirit of a “more perfect union.” The US would now govern “for” its people: it would enact laws, establish a currency, and impose taxes for them, fostering economic opportunity for all.
Salmon Chase, Lincoln’s new secretary of the Treasury, waged war on the financial front, levying taxes, marketing bonds, and trying to contain inflation. And while the Union and Rebel armies fought increasingly savage battles, the Republican-led Congress enacted a blizzard of legislation that made the government, for the first time, a powerful presence in the lives of ordinary Americans. The impact was revolutionary. The 37th Congress legislated for a transcontinental railroad, involved the federal government in education, agriculture, and immigration policy, established a progressive income tax, and created the greenback—paper money. While the Union became self-sustaining, the South plunged into financial free fall, having failed to leverage its cotton wealth to finance the war—and leading to an epic collapse. Though Confederate troops continued to hold their own, the North’s financial advantage over the starving Southern citizens proved decisive; the war was won not on the battlefield, but in the banks.
Roger Lowenstein reveals the unlikely story of how Lincoln used the urgency of the Civil War to transform a union of states into one nation. Through a financial lens, he explores how this second American revolution, led by Lincoln, his cabinet, and his Congress, changed the direction of the country and established a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.