This course is a seminar which emphasizes reading, discussion, research, and writing. Despite the contentions of some historians, the Civil War had a profound impact on the people and history of New Orleans. During the late antebellum period (1840s-1850s), the city was the principal slave market in the nation. This "domestic trade" fueled the lower south and New Orleans's economic development. Slavery shaped the economic and social character of the south, over the years creating not only a society with slaves, but also a slave society. Despite its dominance and apparent unanimity, slavery was also a contentious and divisive institution. Slavery in New Orleans was no exception to these twin dynamics. The historical recordnewspapers, acts of sales, successions, census records, and private correspondencedemonstrate the centrality of slavery to New Orleans's antebellum society. On the other hand, the city's complex racial, ethnic, and sectional composition heightened political and social tensions, raising suspicions and fears about racial identity, naturalization and citizenship, and loyalty. Slavery and ethnicity shaped issues of civil liberties, criminal justice, and politics.
The presidential and secession elections of 1860 and 1861 sharply divided New Orleans, as they did throughout much of the urban south. These divisions did not disappear with mobilization and civil war, but were only intensified in the hothouse of occupation, reunion, reconstruction, and, above all, loss. New Orleans suffered greatly during and after the Civil War. Thousands of men were killed or died from wounds and disease and even more were maimed physically and scared emotionally. The fighting ended, but the war continued beyond Appomattox Court House. To this day, the "privileges and immunities" of American citizens are intensely debated, bringing not only hope but also rancor and division, as much as they did in antebellum New Orleans and America.