ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance
Carolyn L. Karcher
"The Moderate and the Radical: Melville and Child on the Civil War and Reconstruction"
Melville and Child both endeavored to guide the nation toward an understanding of the Civil War and a policy of Reconstruction that could produce lasting peace and justice--Melville through the poems and prose "Supplement" of Battle-Pieces (1866), Child through polemical tracts, newspaper articles, letters to key opinion makers, and her novel A Romance of the Republic (1867). Because they spoke for disparate sectors of the white Northern public—Melville for the moderates who supported President Andrew Johnson as the heir to Lincoln's legacy, Child for the abolitionists who backed the Radical Republicans—a comparison of their views on the Civil War and Reconstruction allows us to examine the disagreements between the two camps from the standpoint of writers mediating between politicians and the electorate. Such a comparison also reveals broader cultural trends of the turbulent era inaugurated by the war: growing fears among middle-class, native-born whites of losing economic and political power as emancipated slaves, immigrant workers, and the urban and rural poor flexed their muscles--fears Melville and Child shared; and a gradual retreat by all but a few from ideals of interracial brotherhood as the trauma of fratricidal strife and the threat of perpetual unrest in the South took their toll--a retreat Melville, but not Child, made.