News Fronts, Rumors, False Reports and Speculations

“When we study the history of journalism we are principally studying a way in which men in the past have grasped reality.” James W. Carey, (“The Problem of Journalism History, Journalism History, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 1974)

In 1860 New York City was the hub of journalism and locked in the maelstrom of lurid crime reports, immoral . . . created by James Gordon Bennett’s news machine, the New York Herald. Pay for “reporters” was minimal and all that was required was a reasonable grasp of the English language. The worst “were not above fabricating news if facts did not come readily to hand.”

The New Orleans Picayune editorialized that “The Herald may be said to represent, in one particular, the genius of the ‘universal Yankee nation’ — that is, in its supreme regard for what is vulgarly called the main chance.”

News Fronts, Rumors, False Reports and Speculations

“The people of the interior,” President [James] Buchanan wrote apprehensively to James Gordon Bennett on the very day that South Carolina left the Union, “are kept in a constant state of excitement from what are called “telegrams.” The Philadelphia Morning Pennsylvanian, among many others, though the telegraph “a curse to the country.”

“We warn the people to beware of this new power in our midst, more potent than ‘an army with banners.’ Its whole stock in trade consists in the perpetual excitement of the community.”

The Erie Weekly Gazette had another caution: “Beware of this ‘special correspondence’ confidence game . . . in the New York or Philadelphia journals. A safe plan is to believe nothing you find in a ‘sensation’ column, however seemingly well authenticated . . .”

There was ample justification for these forebodings.  As word came of State after State preparing to follow South Carolina out of the Union in anticipation of a Republican in the White House . . . the press began dispensing news, rumors, false reports and speculations on a scale that left men confounded. 

Undercover men from the New York World, the Tribune, the Evening Post, the Baltimore American, and the Philadelphia Press arrived [in Charleston] as the tension mounted. Everyone who could read knew by the middle of February [1861] that the brick walls of Sumter were eight feet thick, that the Major and his garrison numbered scarcely a hundred . . .

[Charles A. Dana of Horace Greeley’s Tribune, had] three men in Charleston. These and other Tribune men in the South sported blue secession cockades in their lapels, wrote in an elaborate code Dana had devised, and addressed their material to New York banks and commercial houses which had agreed to serve as fronts.

In the third week of May . . . Dana [served an editorial] with plenty of lead: “On to Richmond! To Richmond Onward! On to Richmond, then is the voice of the people . . . Let her still sowing of the wind, have generous harvest of the whirlwind, and let it be now . . . To Richmond! To Richmond!”

(Bohemian Brigade: Civil War Newsmen in Action, Louis M. Starr, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987, excerpts pp. 9-11; 20-21; 33-34)

Journalism, Truth and War

“There is something in the human mind that turns instinctively to fiction, and that even journalists succumb.” What remains to the world, Mencken argued, “is a series of long tested and solidly agreeable lies.”

Journalism, Truth and War

In May 1830 James Gordon Bennett founded the New York Herald in search of “that mass market” which was soon to become the Holy Grail of American industry. In its pages aimed at the laboring classes were “police-court reports, details of murders and offenses against morality of an interesting nature, blow-by-blow write ups of bare knuckle prize fights, stock market reports, gossip and the most up-to-date news that money could procure.”

By the 1850s news-collection was the central task of the business, with political broadsiding still the bread and butter of each paper – as each thought of itself as the very political life of its particular partisan party.

New reporters picked this up immediately and wrote from the party point of view.  When trouble commenced in the Kansas Territory in the mid-1850s, Republican party-minded papers sent young reporters on westbound trains and steamers to get the right news to send back East.

One “reporter” was 21-year-old James Redpath, a Scottish immigrant to Michigan, whose only training was writing “fervid articles damning slavery in a Detroit paper.” This caused him to be highly regard by the editors of the St. Louis Missouri Democrat, Chicago Tribune and New York Tribune. These connections and his worship of John Brown helped him become a delegate for the first two conventions of the Free State faction, and a major’s rank in the Free State army once guerilla warfare began.

Bernard Weisberger wrote in his “Reporters for the Union” that the “reporters sent to Kansas by the metropolitan journals wrote amid the time-hallowed insanity of an election year and under the weight of their own upbringing. They were actors, not spectators, and many believed that truth could be put to flight in a free and open encounter unless it received at least some assistance. They sallied forth to depict a contest between freedom and tyranny in the impressive arena “beyond the Mississippi.” The results boded ill for the Union.”

Just before Lincoln’s election in 1860 Redpath admitted: “I believed that a civil war . . . would ultimate in slave insurrection and that Kansas troubles would probably create a military conflict . . . Hence I . . . went to Kansas; and endeavored personally and by my pen, to precipitate a revolution.”

(Reporters for the Union, Bernard A, Weisberger, Little, Brown and Company, 1953)

Lacking Faith in the Government

A powerful and skillful debater, James A. Seddon of Virginia was the self-appointed manager of the Washington Peace Conference, chaired by former President John Tyler.  It is said he matched John Randolph’s contempt of all forms of Northern life, “from the statesmen of New England to the sheep that fed on her hillsides.” The irony of the North’s “hatred of slavery” is that the black man usually arrived in the America’s in the filthy holds of New England slavers, being sold by their own brethren for New England rum and Yankee notions. After the war began, Seddon became Secretary of War of the Confederate States.  

Representative Preston King of New York, below, seemed unaware that his State’s ratification of the 1789 Constitution reserved to itself secession should it so desire; in assuming his office, he swore to uphold the Constitution rather than the federal government.

It is true that States to not have a “right” to secede: being sovereign entities since the 1783 Treaty of Paris with England, and only granting the federal agent specific enumerated authority in the Articles of Confederation and later Constitution, each State holds the ability to withdraw and form a more perfect union at its pleasure.

Kentucky’s James Guthrie, below, argued in the Peace Convention that New England had threatened secession several times in the past as it lost faith in the federal government to protect its interests, and that the South in 1861 was following the same path. It is said that John C. Calhoun absorbed the secessionist teachings of New Englanders.       

Lacking Faith in the Government

“[Seddon] declared that the object of the dominant party of the North . . . desired that the national and practical institutions of the South should be surrounded by a cordon of twenty free States and in the end extinguished.  

Seddon [emphasized] that the slaves had benefited by being brought to America and civilized. The South had done nothing wrong to the race; yet the South was assailed, attacked by the North, from the cradle to the grave, and the children of the free States had been educated to regard the people of the South as monsters of lust by the abolitionist societies and their doctrines and by their support for John Brown, and asked whether this was not a sufficient reason for suspicion and grave apprehension on the part of the South.

He contended that the moral aspect was by itself dangerous enough, and when combined with politics it was made much worse.

Seddon commented on the acquisitive spirit of the North, its ambitions for office, power, and control over government, which would permit it soon to control the South.  He re-emphasized that Virginia and the Border States would not remain in the Union without added guarantees. His personal opinion was that “the purpose of Virginia to resist coercion is unchanged and unchangeable.”

James C. Smith of New York . . . pointed out that the federal government held all territory in trust for the people. John G. Goodrich of Massachusetts essentially agreed. Seddon rose to reassert the Southern point of view. He declared that in the debate two new principles had been introduced: that [Southern people had restricted access to new territories], and that governmental action would be [Northern-influenced].

This was exactly what the Southern States feared, Seddon declared, and it was the principal cause of secession. This was his interpretation of the 1860 election. These policies were, in his view, not in accordance with the Constitution.

Preston King of New York declared that all owed allegiance to the Constitution above and beyond all other political duties and obligations. In contrast to Seddon, he considered the Union to be a confederation of States under the Constitution with all citizens owing primary allegiance to the Federal Government.

[Reverdy] Johnson of Maryland, who took the Southern point of view on most questions, doubted that a State had a right to secede, although he agreed with Madison’s point in the Federalist Number 42 that the right of self-preservation and revolution was above the Constitution as an integral part of the law of nature.

Even Seddon was restrained on this point, merely observing that Virginia was debating whether or not to remain in the Union because she feared for her safety under present conditions.

Seddon contended that what the South really wanted was security from the North and its dominant political party. [James] Guthrie [of Kentucky] observed that the North once contemplated destruction of the Union because of a feeling that the federal government was antagonistic to Northern interests. The South, he said, had the same feeling now and lacked faith in the government.”  

(Sectionalism in the Peace Convention of 1861, Jesse L. Keene, Florida Historical Quarterly, Volume XL, Number 1, July 1961, excerpt pp. 60-61; 69-70; 74-75)

Economic and Political Opportunity in Florida

Almost immediately after war commenced the New England Emigrant Aid Company envisioned the national benefits of “transplanting friends of the Union” in conquered States and flooding them with “Energetic, loyal, liberty-loving colonists.” The promoters avowed that their goal was “to aid in the political, industrial and social regeneration of the South.” In the case of Florida, the emigrants would settle the rich soil, open resorts for invalids, and build permanent homes for “those whose delicate constitutions cannot endure the severe weather of the North.”

In early 1864, Salmon Chase’s presidential ambitions were assisted by increased military invasions of Florida to occupy more land area and establish a new State government dominated by his political appointees. They were then expected to declare Florida’s 3 electoral votes for him come November.

Economic and Political Opportunity in Florida

“Almost from the beginning of the fratricidal conflict of 1861-1865 far-seeing politicians and interested economic groups from the North began an economic invasion of the South. First, a Confiscation Act made all property used in support of the rebellion subject to seizure by the federal government. Later in 1861, despite Abraham Lincoln’s questioning of its constitutionality, Congress passed a second Confiscation Act which made the property of all Confederate officials subject to immediate confiscation by Union officials.

The authors of the Act, by a provision that gave people supporting the Confederacy sixty days to drop their support or have their property become liable to federal confiscation, struck below the upper stratum of the Southern official family and at the roots of Southern life.

Then, in the summer of 1862, Congress passed the Direct Tax Set which, once Union troops occupied rebel territory, made Southern homes, lands, farms and plantations subject to sale or seizure by the federal government if the owners failed to pay the assessed taxes.

The avowed objectives of the laws were to “relieve” rebels of their war-producing materiel and to finance the [cost of the] war; but under them Northerners could transfer Southern wealth to themselves at the same time they emasculated the South politically.

Among the most frank in expressing their desire to exploit the South and guide Southern political development were the directors of the New England Emigrant Aid Company. This company had already experimented with sending emigrants to Kansas in an effort to flood that blood-stained territory with abolitionist settlers. Now with the war hardly more than a year old, the directors saw the South as a land of opportunity for Northerners and Northern ideals.

To them, the war presented an opportune time for settling in the South Northern workmen in numbers large enough to “support presses, schools, and churches true to their own principles and to the interests of freedom.” Land for the emigrants would be no problem since the government was sure to acquire considerable quantities through confiscation and defaulted direct taxes.

The implications of these plans were great. Should they succeed, Southerners would lose both their wealth, and their voice in the national political arena.”

(Northern Plans for the Economic Invasion of Florida, 1862-1865, Robert L. Clarke, Florida Historical Quarterly, Volume XXVIII, No. 4, April 1950, excerpt pp. 262-263)

Placing Party Above Peace

President James Buchanan well understood the limits of his authority and knew Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution – that waging war against any of the States united, and adhering to their enemies –constituted treason. As a former diplomat, he further saw the solution to the crisis in a Constitutional Convention of the States to properly settle differences between them. The Republican party, a purely sectional party which in no way represented Americans in the South, was now in power and sought to destroy Southern political and economic power by any means, including war.

Placing Party Above Peace

“On January 8, Buchanan sent to Congress a special message concerning relations with South Carolina. “The prospect of a bloodless settlement fades away,” he warned . . . “my province is to execute, not to make, the laws.” “We are in the midst of a great revolution . . . the Union must and shall be preserved by all constitutional means.”

Buchanan appealed again for the question to be “transferred from political assemblies to the ballot box” where the people would soon achieve a solution. “But in Heavens name, let the trial be made before we plunge into armed conflict upon the mere assumption that there is no other alternative.” From the beginning, concluded the president, no act of his should commence it, “nor even  . . . furnish an excuse for it by any act of this government.”

The inactivity of Congress convinced Buchanan that although the Republicans agreed with his policy and had nothing different to propose, they nonetheless did not wish a solution of the crisis during a Democratic Administration. He presumed that they would proceed with the same program once they came to power and thus take credit for a triumphant result, which, if Buchanan had achieved it, would annihilate their party. Lincoln’s repudiation of the use of armed force indicated that the new Administration would not pursue a course of coercion.

When on January 16 the Senate was asked to consider the least controversial point in the Crittenden plan, whether to initiate a constitutional convention, every Republican voted against letting the question even come to the floor.

Baron Stoeckl, Russian Minister in Washington, commented that the great Congressional leaders of the past had been replaced “by men undistinguished either by ability or reputation. Totally lacking in patriotism, they have but one purpose: the increase of the anti-slavery agitation . . . they preach war against the South and demand the extirpation of slavery by fire and iron.”

(President James Buchanan, A Biography, Philip S. Klein, American Political Biography Press, 1962, excerpt pp. 391-392)

On The Bare Hills, Men Without a Country

It is said that Grant at Appomattox offered rations and transportation home to Lee’s surrendered Americans, or to exile in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Many might have gladly avoided living under Northern rule, “but in distant homes were old men, helpless women and children, whose cry for help it was not hard to hear.” With all the destruction around them and carpetbaggers flowing Southward, “no one dreamed of what has followed.”

On the Bare Hills, Men Without a Country

“[The enemy] were proud of their success, were more willing to give than our men, in the soreness of defeat, and not a man of that grand army of a hundred and fifty thousand men but could, and, I believe, would testify, that on purely personal grounds, the few worn out, half-starved men that gathered around General Lee and his falling flag held the prouder position of the two. Had politicians left things alone, such feelings would have resulted in a very different condition of things.

“We stacked eight thousand stands of arms, all told: artillery, cavalry, infantry, stragglers, wagon rats and all the rest, from twelve to fifteen thousand men.

The United States troops, by their own estimate, were one hundred fifty thousand men, with a railroad connecting their rear with Washington, New York, Germany, France, Belgium, Africa – all the world, and the rest of mankind,” as General [Richard] Taylor comprehensively remarked, for their recruiting stations were all over the world, and the crusade against the South, under pressure of the “almighty dollar,” was as absolute and varied in its nationality as was that of “Peter the Hermit,” under pressure of religious zeal upon Jerusalem.

Those of us who took serious consideration of the state of affairs, felt that with our defeat we had absolutely lost our country – the one we held under the Constitution – as though we had been conquered and made a colony of by France or Russia. So far, it was all according to the order of things, and we stood on the bare hills, men without a country.”

(Dickison and His Men, Mary Elizabeth Dickison, Courier-Journal Printing, 1890, excerpt pp. 241-243)

New Deal Front

Jeffersonian Democracy embraced republicanism which meant opposition to the artificial aristocracy of merchants, manufacturers and bankers, and corruption which accompanied it. The insistence on virtue and support for the farmer and plain people of America was the hallmark of this system of government.

New Deal Front

“The Southern Committee for Jeffersonian Democracy has made some very keen observations. The Committee points out that Mr. Roosevelt has gained control of the National Democratic Party, using it as a front party for the New Deal as Herr Hitler gained control of what was the National Labor Democratic Party in Germany. 

And the Committee further observes that today both of those Democratic parties, as exemplified by Mr. Roosevelt here and Herr Hitler over there, have no resemblance in principle or purpose to the original party.”

Rep. Fred L. Crawford, (R., Michigan), Congressional Record, October 2, 1940, pg. 19677.

(The Illustrious Dunderheads, Rex Stout, editor, Alfred A. Knopf, 1942)

Unleashing Uncontrollable Power

The Marquis of Wellesley is reported to have said that the victory over Napoleon at Waterloo was unfortunate for England; having put down a power she might have controlled, she raised up a power that she would be unable to control.

Unleashing Uncontrollable Power

 “I firmly believe that if the coming vote in Congress on the repeal of the Neutrality Act carries, it will be our last chance to vote on the question of keeping out of war and that our representative form of government will be doomed. It will probably require another revolution to reestablish it . . .

Now we are linked to the bear than walks like a man; a ruthless, murderous Stalin than can send his best friend before a firing squad with utter complacency. So that’s our ally.

Do you think you want to team up with that kind of monster? Do you want your country to spend its substance in a fight to make the world safe for communism? That’s what we would be doing by coming to the aid of Russia . . .”

Rep. Anton Johnson (R. Illinois). From radio address, inserted in Congressional Record, Oct. 15, 1941, p. a4937.

(The Illustrious Dunderheads, Rex Stout, editor, Alfred A. Knopf, 1942)

Black Suffrage in Rhode Island

The presidential canvas of 1840 served as a catalyst for democratic reform in the former slave-trading State of Rhode Island, which still limited voting to property-holding requirements. There were black people in the State who were barred from voting; of those who occupational data exists 85 were laborers, 27 pilot-mariners, 14 barbers, and 10 carters and draymen. Abolitionists were not well-thought of in antebellum Rhode Island – it is recalled that the colony had surpassed Liverpool as the center of the transatlantic slave trade by 1750 and that State’s post-Revolution prosperity was built with ill-gotten wealth. Thomas W. Dorr was a former Whig in the reform-minded Democratic party.

Black Suffrage in Rhode Island

“Haunting the [Rhode Island] People’s Convention and earlier [Rhode Island Suffrage] Association gatherings was the issue of extending the franchise to blacks. The question had arisen at September 1841 meetings of the Providence Suffrage Association, when a black barber of the city, Alfred Niger, was proposed as treasurer of the local group.

Nominating him was an outspoken opponent of black suffrage who had acted, he explained, to discover “how many “wolves in sheep’s clothing” [i.e., abolitionists] there were among them.”

Niger’s nomination was defeated, and hotly contested resolutions were introduced urging the convention to restrict the vote to whites in the new constitution. On behalf of the black community, Dorr and [Benjamin] Arnold introduced an eloquent resolution which argued that the Association’s claim to defend popular rights would be undermined if blacks were excluded from the electorate . . . But there was much opposition. One delegate from Smithfield opposed granting the vote to blacks because, he explained to the presiding officer of the convention, if they could vote they could also be “elected to office; and a n***** might occupy the chair where your honor sits. A pretty look that would be.”

Other influential men, such as [Samuel] Atwell and Duttee J. Pearce, opposed black suffrage on the grounds that a constitution with such a provision would never be ratified in Rhode Island. When the issue finally came to a final count (on a motion to strike the word “white” from the specifications of the electorate) only eighteen delegates upheld the rights of blacks; forty-six voted no.

(Dorr’s Rebellion: A Study in American Radicalism, 1833-1849, Marvin E. Gettleman, Random House, 1973, excerpt pp. 46-47)  

The Triumph of Industry Over Idleness

Though Lincoln had been dead for a week, numerous Northern abolition and Republican party personages assembled in Charleston “for Lincoln’s elaborately planned ceremonial of retribution.” General Milton Littlefield spoke in Savannah a few days later, after remarks by his commander, General Quincy Gillmore. Both had been instrumental in conscripting black men from overrun plantations and using them for destructive raids in Georgia and South Carolina – and assisting Salmon P. Chase in his presidential ambitions and conquering Florida for its electoral votes. Littlefield is best known for his role in raising black troops and pocketing most of each recruits bonus money for enlistment, as well as his postwar railroad bond frauds in North Carolina and Florida.    

The Triumph of Industry over Idleness

 “[Judge William D.] Kelley, then and long after a Congressman from Philadelphia, was probably more symbolic of the past and future than the others present. A founder of the Republican party, abolitionist advocate for the use of Negro troops, he was to become famous in history as “Pig Iron” Kelley because of his equally earnest advocacy of high tariffs on iron and steel, which the Republican party had won along with the war.

“For both the whites and blacks it was a highly emotional occasion: “from the hysterical contraband to the dispassionate judge there was no reserve or restraint in the general flow of tears.”

Littlefield spoke and tied his fellow Yankees to New England] where that “Christian band of patriots,” the Pilgrims, had planted their feet and the tree of liberty on the rocky shore. Such Yankees, he said, sought liberty, not gold. “In crossing the old Atlantic,” he told the Southerners who had gathered in subserviency, “they were led by no such allurements as guided DeSoto and his followers.” It had been 350 years since the Spaniard had visited Savannah greedy for any treasure. Little gold was apparent there in 1865.

“This principle [of liberty] is what had given New England her fame, the Yankee a name,” he went on in cool instruction, “and this is what the people of the South contended so strongly against, Free Labor.  We have fought for this, and will fight for it still. We know that the Yankee side of the question is Industry and the opposite is Idleness; the contest is over at last, and the question has been decided on the side of self-government and universal liberty.

The people of South Carolina, Georgia and all the Southern States, can have peace if they wish, by simply complying with the laws and showing themselves unconditionally loyal. The United States Government can afford to be generous; she will be so when those in rebellion repent of the errors of their ways, become good peaceable citizens, and prove it by their actions.

If instead, of standing upon a sentiment, mourning for lost aristocracy, you will go at once, like a good businessman, to restore harmony among your people among your people, industry in all classes, there will be no questions of your rights and wrongs. Should you want help to put yourselves in order, we will send down some of our Yankees in blue, to put you in running shape.  

If you cannot do this, do not be at all disappointed if you should find, one of these fine mornings, some of these Yankees filling your places. You have now but a short time to consider. The world moves, and so does the Yankee nation.”

(The Prince of Carpetbaggers, Jonathan Daniels, J.B. Lippincott Company, 1958, excerpt pp. 117-119)

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