The Real Cause of the Civil War
The Washington Peace Conference of early February 1861 was held in a city already involved in a military build-up caused by frenzied Republican editors and politicians. The Conference’s chairman, former President John Tyler described “an atmosphere where lunacy . . . prevails.” Those from the Southern States who understood the founders’ aversion to standing armies, resented the constant parading of US troops through the streets while regarding them as “a menace and a threat on the part of the North.”
The military buildup in a time of peace was fueled by Joseph Medill’s Chicago Tribune’s scare tactic of a supposed Southern army converging on Washington. The editor proclaimed himself a “volunteer sentinel on the walls.” Illinois congressman Elihu Washburne again advised Lincoln of “a widespread and powerful conspiracy,” which was in truth Americans in the South working together to form a more perfect union.
Vermont delegates to the recent Republican Convention were in town to oppose all concession to the South’s requests as a surrender of principle which would demoralize and destroy the polyglot Republican party – in other words, party over peace. Local newspapers excitedly reported rumors of secessionists poisoning army horses while Republican Radicals took delight in knowing that “grinning artillery” was ready “to rattle grape, if necessary.” Medill’s newspaper thought this a “charming medicine” for the disease called treason.” The New York Tribune wrote that “the only Peace Conference that we want is the one now assembled in Washington under General Scott.”
Treason, of course, is specifically and unmistakably defined in Article III, Section 3 of the US Constitution as waging war against “them” – the individual States.
(Old Gentleman’s Convention: The Washington Peace Conference of 1861. Robert Gray Gunderson, University of Wisconsin Press. 1961)