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April 06, 2020


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Patrick S. O'Donnell

I don’t know if McPherson cited John W. Chambers’ book, To Raise an Army (The Free Press, 1987), but Jon Elster relies on it in his examination of “military service in wartime” as but one of over a dozen examples to empirically illustrate allocative issues associated with “local justice” in which the “relative good is allocated –and the principle for allocating it chosen—by a relatively autonomous institution.”* Here is one paragraph with some numbers relevant to your post:

“During the Civil War, the North relied largely on volunteers, who made up more than 92 percent of the 2,100,000 who served in the Union army. Attempts to use the draft were made, but unsuccessfully: ‘Of the 300,000 men summoned [in 1863] by draft authorities, 40,000 failed to report for examination, 165,000 were examined and then exempted because of physical or other disability or dependency, 52,000 escaped service by paying the commutation fee (contributing $15 million to the federal bounty fund), 26,000 provided substitutes, and only 10,000 were held to personal services,’ Even low-paid unskilled workers were able to buy substitutes, since the states provided them with grants to do so. By contrast, the Confederate army was largely based on conscription. ‘Although only 21 percent of the one million Confederate soldiers were obtained through the draft, the Conscription Acts had been used to keep in the service for the duration the 79 percent who had first entered as volunteers. Also the South, unlike the North, soon prohibited substitution.”

* Jon Elster, Local Justice: How Institutions Allocate Scarce Goods and Necessary Burdens (Russell Sage Foundation, 1992): 29-30.

Steve L.

The real question is whether Elster cited McPherson, given that Battle Cry of Freedom, which included the same statistics, was published four years earlier, in 1988, winning that year's Pulitzer Prize.

It is more likely, of course, that both books cited the same primary source.


For those of you with lots of time at home these days, the Oxford History of the United States series, of which Battle Cry of Freedom is one, is a national treasure. Jump in and get started. After McPherson's work, David Kennedy's Freedom From Fear, which covers the Great Depression and World War II will generate the most interest.

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