Brook Thomas, “The Galaxy, National Literature, and Reconstruction” (pp. 50–81)

The North’s victory in the Civil War preserved the Union and led to the abolition of slavery. Reconstruction was a contentious debate about what sort of nation that union of states should become. Published during Reconstruction before being taken over by the Atlantic Monthly, the Galaxy tried, in Rebecca Harding Davis’s words, to be “a national magazine in which the current of thought of every section could find expression.” The Galaxy published literature and criticism as well as political, sociological, and economic essays. Its editors were moderates who aesthetically promoted a national literature and politically promoted reconciliation between Northern and Southern whites along with fair treatment for freedmen. What fair treatment entailed was debated in its pages. Essayists included Horace Greeley, the abolitionist journalist; Edward A. Pollard, author of The Lost Cause (1866); and David Croly, who pejoratively coined the phrase “miscegenation.” Literary contributors included Davis, Walt Whitman, Henry James, Mark Twain, Constance Fenimore Woolson, John William De Forest, Julian Hawthorne, Emma Lazarus, Paul Hayne, Sidney Lanier, and Joaquin Miller. Juxtaposing some of the Galaxy’s literary works with its debates over how the Union should be reimagined points to the neglected role that Reconstruction politics played in the institutionalization of American literary studies. Whitman is especially important. Reading the great poet of American democracy in the context of the Galaxy reveals how his postbellum celebration of a united nation—North, South, East, and West—aligns him with moderate views on Reconstruction that today seem racially reactionary.

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