Document Type

Dissertation

Date of Degree

Spring 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

History

First Advisor

Douglas C. Baynton

Abstract

The unprecedented size and scope of the American Civil War fundamentally redefined the relationship between state and citizen. Through its conscription laws, the Union government empowered itself to standardize and evaluate the bodies of its citizens; the concurrent General Law pension system extended this standardization into the realm of disability. The government served as both national physician and national accountant, distributing millions of dollars a year to men it deemed unable to earn up to their potential due to wounds and diseases contracted in the Union's defense. Moreover, since so many disabilities were the result of disease - and therefore invisible to the naked eye - the state also asserted its power to certify to the taxpayers that these veterans were indeed among the "deserving poor," not idlers or parasites. This became especially important as pension-related expenses ballooned to the second-largest line item on the budget, and the "veteran vote" became the most important single-issue bloc in American politics.

Veterans were themselves voters, however, and could negotiate at least some of the terms of their disability through the political process. This established that disability is discursively constructed - it is a social position, not a permanent physical impairment. Veterans' organizations might sweep socially problematic old soldiers up into Homes, but veterans always retained their influence at the ballot box. Thus, the same political process which enabled the state to seize unprecedented powers of surveillance also kept these new powers at least somewhat in check.

Public Abstract

The unprecedented size and scope of the American Civil War fundamentally redefined the relationship between state and citizen. Through its conscription laws, the Union government empowered itself to standardize and evaluate the bodies of its citizens; the concurrent General Law pension system extended this standardization into the realm of disability. The government served as both national physician and national accountant, distributing millions of dollars a year to men it deemed unable to earn up to their potential due to wounds and diseases contracted in the Union’s defense. Moreover, since so many disabilities were the result of disease – and therefore invisible to the naked eye – the state also asserted its power to certify to the taxpayers that these veterans were indeed among the “deserving poor,” not idlers or parasites. This became especially important as pension-related expenses ballooned to the second-largest line item on the budget, and the “veteran vote” became the most important single-issue bloc in American politics.

Veterans were themselves voters, however, and could negotiate at least some of the terms of their disability through the political process. This established that disability is discursively constructed – it is a social position, not a permanent physical impairment. Veterans’ organizations might sweep socially problematic old soldiers up into Homes, but veterans always retained their influence at the ballot box. Thus, the same political process which enabled the state to seize unprecedented powers of surveillance also kept these new powers at least somewhat in check.

Keywords

publicabstract, civil war, disability, veterans

Pages

ix, 271

Bibliography

232-271

Copyright

Copyright 2015 Brian Edward Donovan

Included in

History Commons

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