Browsing "Abolitionists & Disunionists"

Buchanan Identifies the Reason for War

Though opposed to secession while president, though admitting the Constitution gave him no authority to wage war upon a State, James Buchanan nonetheless saw little reason for the needless slaughter of Americans on both sides. Though desiring a reunited country, he should have wondered by 1864 how the Southern people could reconcile the brutality, savagery and wanton destruction caused by the Northern invasion.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Buchanan Identifies the Reason for War

“But Buchanan, like many of the peace Democrats, disapproved of abolitionists and the policy of emancipation. (He later stated that he delayed becoming a member of the Presbyterian Church until after the war because of the anti-slavery stand of the Northern wing of that church).

The Emancipation Proclamation, he asserted in 1864, demonstrated that “the [Lincoln] administration, departing from the principle of conducting the war for the restoration of the Union as it was, and the Constitution as it is, had resolved to conduct it for the subjugation of the Southern States and the destruction of slavery.

Buchanan had taken a firm stand against the discussion of peace proposals with the Confederacy; as the years passed, however, without modifying his demand that the Union must be preserved, he expressed approval of negotiations with the South.

After the reelection of Lincoln in 1864, (Buchanan had supported McClellan), he urged conciliation based on ignoring the slavery issue. “Now”, he wrote in November 1864: “would be the time for conciliation on the part of Mr. Lincoln. A frank and manly offer to the Confederates that they might return to the Union just as they were before they left it, leaving the slavery issue to settle itself, might be accepted.”

Buchanan spent much of his time during the war in preparing a defense of his actions as President . . . He was unfailingly critical of secessionism . . . But the basic cause of the sectional struggle and war was in operation long before 1860, and Buchanan insisted that this basic cause was not the institution of slavery or any other difference between North and South, but the agitation over slavery.

[Buchanan] always placed primary blame [for war] upon the Northern abolitionists. The original cause of all the country’s troubles, he wrote, was to be found in:

“[The] long, active and persistent hostility of the Northern Abolitionists, both in and out of Congress, against Southern slavery, until the final triumph of their cause in the election of President Lincoln . . .”

If there had been no opposition to slavery, was the theme of Buchanan’s reasoning, there would have been no sectional conflict or war.”

(Americans Interpret their Civil War, Thomas J. Pressly, Collier-MacMillan Company, 1954, excerpts pp. 140-141)

Sedition and Secession in New England

The first secession sentiment displayed in the US came from New England, a region which saw, in the early 1800s, a growing faith in monarchical Great Britain as “Federalist distrust of the youthful and growing American people increased.” In early 1811 when the bill to admit Louisiana was considered, the New England Federalists “violently resisted it.”

Josiah Quincy declared that “if this bill passes, the bonds of this Union are virtually dissolved; that the States which compose it are free from their moral obligations, and that, as it will be the right of all, so it will be the duty of some, to prepare for a separation – amicably if they can, violently if they must. The first public love of my heart in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There is my fireside; there are the tombs of my ancestors.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Sedition and Secession in New England

“As soon as Congress convened in November, 1808, New England opened the attack on [President Thomas] Jefferson’s retaliatory measures [in the Embargo against the British]. Senator James Hillhouse of Connecticut offered a resolution for the repeal of the obnoxious statutes. “Great Britain was not to be threatened into compliance by a rod of coercion,” he said.

[Timothy] Pickering made a speech that might have well been delivered in Parliament [Four years earlier, Pickering had plotted the secession of New England and enlisted the support of the British Minister to accompany it].

Before [Chief Justice John] Marshall had written [his friend Pickering], the Legislature of Massachusetts formally declared that the continuance of the Embargo would “endanger . . . the union of these States.” Talk of secession was steadily growing in New England. The National Government feared open rebellion.

On January 9, 1809, Jefferson signed the “Force Act,” . . . Collectors of customs were authorized to seize any vessel or wagon if they suspected the owner of an intention to evade the Embargo laws; ships could be laden only in the presence of National officials, and sailing delayed or prohibited arbitrarily.

Along the New England coasts popular wrath swept like a forest fire. Violent resolutions were passed. The Collector of Boston, Benjamin Lincoln, refused to obey the law and resigned. The Legislature of Massachusetts passed a bill denouncing the “Force Act” as unconstitutional, and declaring any officer entering a house in execution of it to be guilty of a high misdemeanor, punishable by fine and imprisonment.

The Governor of Connecticut declined the request of the Secretary of War to afford military aid and addressed the Legislature on a speech bristling with sedition. The Embargo must go, said the Federalists, or New England would appeal to arms. Riots broke out in many towns. Withdrawal from the Union was openly advocated.”

(Life of John Marshall, Albert J. Beveridge, Volume IV, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1919, excerpts pp. 13-17; 27)

Preferring Compromise to War

Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois addressed the United States Senate on January 3, 1861 (below), after the Committee of Thirteen was unable to agree on a plan to remedy the escalating sectional crisis between North and South. He promoted several constitutional amendments to peacefully reestablish the Union on the basis of sectional integrity and national prosperity. The new Republican Party refused several attempts at compromise, and invaded the American South after provoking a conflict at Charleston harbor.  It should be remembered that Article 3, Section 3 or the Constitution defines treason as waging war against “them,” the united States.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Preferring Compromise to War

“In my opinion, the Constitution was intended as a bond of perpetual Union. It was intended to last [forever], and was so understood when ratified by the people of the several States. New York and Virginia have been referred to as having ratified with the reserved right to withdraw or secede at pleasure. This was a mistake. [Their intention was] that they had not surrendered the right to resume the delegated powers, [and] must be understood as referring to the right of revolution, which nobody acknowledges more freely than I do, and not the right of secession.

Nor do I sympathize at all in all the apprehensions and misgivings I hear expressed about coercion. We are told that inasmuch as our Government is founded upon the will of the people, or the consent of the governed, therefore coercion is incompatible with republicanism. Sir, the word government means coercion. There can be no Government without coercion.

But coercion must always be used in the mode prescribed in the Constitution and laws. But the proposition to subvert the de facto government of South Carolina, and reduce the people of that State into subjection to our Federal authority, no longer involves the question of enforcing the laws in a country within our possession; but does involve a question whether we will make war on a State which has withdrawn her allegiance and expelled our authorities, with the view of subjecting her to our possession for the purpose of enforcing our laws within her limits.

I desire to know from my Union-loving friends on the other side of the Chamber how they intend to enforce the laws in the seceding States, except by making war, conquering them first, and administering the laws in them afterwards.

In my opinion, we have reached a point where dissolution is inevitable, unless some compromise, founded upon mutual concession, can be made. I prefer compromise to war. The preservation of this Union, the integrity of this Republic, is of more importance than party platforms or individual records.

Why not allow the people to pass [judgment] on these questions? All we have to do is to submit [the constitutional compromises] to the States. If the people reject them, theirs will be the responsibility . . . if they accept them, the country will be safe, and at peace.

The political party which shall refuse to allow [the] people do determine for themselves at the ballot-box the issue between revolution and war on the one side, and obstinate adherence to a party platform on the other, will assume a fearful responsibility.

A war upon a political issue, waged by a people of eighteen States against a people of fifteen States, is a fearful and revolting thought. The South will be a unit, and desperate, under the belief that your object in waging war is their destruction, and not the preservation of the Union; that you meditate servile insurrection . . . by fire and sword, in the name and under the pretext of enforcing the laws and vindicating the authority of the Government.

You know that such is the prevailing opinion at the South; and that ten million people are preparing for the conflict under that conviction.”

(The Politics of Dissolution: the Quest for a National Identity & the American Civil War, Marshall L. DeRosa, editor, Transaction Publishers, 1998, excerpts, pp. 194-196; 201-202)

 

“On Whom Rests the Blame for the Civil War”

The Republican defeat of the Crittenden Compromise and subsequent thirteenth amendment to the Constitution, which Lincoln endorsed, opened the path to war prosecuted by the North. Lincoln let it be known to Republicans that no compromise or peaceful settlement of issues dividing the country would be tolerated before his inauguration, as he put his party above the safety and continuance of the Founders’ Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

“On Whom Rests the Blame for the Civil War”

“From Buffalo, on January 18, 1861, [Horatio Seymour] wrote Senator [John J.] Crittenden of Kentucky in support of his scheme of compromise. It was in his opinion that this “great measure of reconciliation” struck “the popular heart.” James Ford Rhodes fortified one’s belief in the good judgment of Seymour when he studied the defeat of Senator Crittenden’s proposals. In view of the appalling consequences the responsibility of both Lincoln and [William] Seward for that defeat is heavy, if not dark – in spite of all that historians of the inevitable have written of “this best of all possible worlds.”

The committee to which Crittenden’s bill for compromise was referred consisted of thirteen men. Crittenden himself was the most prominent of the three representatives from the Border States. Of three Northern Democrats, [Stephen] Douglas of Illinois, was the leader; of five Republicans, Seward was the moving spirit. Only two men sat from the Cotton States, [Jefferson] Davis and [Robert] Toombs. Commenting on the fateful vote of the committee, Rhodes observed:

“No fact is more clear than that the Republicans in December [1860] defeated the Crittenden compromise; a few historic probabilities have better evidence to support them than the one which asserts that the adoption of this measure would have prevented the secession of the cotton States, other than South Carolina, and the beginning of the civil war in 1861 . . . It is unquestionable, as I have previously shown, that in December the Republicans defeated the Crittenden proposition; and it seems to me likewise clear that, of all the influences tending to this result, the influence of Lincoln was the most potent.”

Two-thirds of each House . . . recommended to the States a compromise thirteenth amendment to the Constitution, as follows: “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.” Conservative Republicans voted with the Democrats to carry this measure of which Lincoln approved in his inaugural address.

“As bearing on the question on whom rests the blame for the Civil War,” observes Rhodes, this proposed thirteenth amendment and its fate is of the “highest importance.”

(Horatio Seymour of New York, Stewart Mitchell, Harvard University Press, 1938, pp. 223-224)

Newspapers Fuel the War

As the secession crisis increased in intensity, the Fredericksburg Herald editor wrote in early January 1860: “Newspapers and Telegraphs have ruined the country. Suppress both and the country could be saved now.” The Northern press influenced vast numbers, including newly-landed immigrants; in New York alone the circulation of newspapers and periodicals was triple that in the entire South. And Massachusetts could claim about the same. As those newspapers counseled war against the South, they could also have sought compromise and a peaceful settlement of the issues dividing the country.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Newspapers Fuel the War

“In mid-April 1860, virtually all newspapers of the future Confederate States believed in preserving the Union, provided that Southern “rights,” as they conceived them, could be protected. One year later all but a handful of the same journals had endorsed the Confederacy. During most of the intervening twelve months, the Southern press was divided on the question of secession.

Papers which believed that the Union was salvageable held the upper hand in the pre-election period. But a combination of events – notably the alleged abolitionist conspiracy in Texas, the election of Lincoln, the secession of South Carolina and the lower South, and the failure of compromise – shifted the initiative to the disunion publicists and led to a gradual breakdown of Unionist journalism, until, with few exceptions, the press in eleven States became a unit in favor of withdrawal.

Like their Southern-rights counterparts, Unionist editors feared a Republican administration, though some failed to realize the depth of their fears until after the election. In the days following Lincoln’s triumph at the polls, as some Northern journals taunted and threatened the South and as the States of the lower South took firm, irrevocable steps preparatory to leaving the Union, Southern Unionist papers increasingly found it necessary to decide between the Confederacy and the Union.

Most Southerners regarded the election of a Republican president by Northern votes as a direct, calculated insult to their section. With the South’s honor allegedly at stake, most Southern Unionist editors soon forgot their earlier quarrel with secessionists over the legality of secession.  Moreover, Southerners were convinced that abolition would be but the first in a chain of events that would spell disaster for the South.

A Tennessee journal showed exceptional insight when, at the height of the sectional crisis, it blamed the alienation of the sections upon the newspapers. “. . . [E]ach indulges in constant crimination and labors incessantly to mislead and prejudice the people of the respective sections. And even now, when the country is trembling on the verge of dissolution, the warfare of misrepresentation and abuse is carried on with redoubled violence by the vultures who thrive and fatten on popular prejudice. We would rather be the lowest thing that crawls the earth than rear our children on bread obtained by such means.”

(Editors Make War, Southern Newspapers in the Secession Crisis, Donald E. Reynolds, Vanderbilt University Press, 1966, excerpts pp. 210-217)

Mass Market Sensationalism and Kansas

Early New York newspapermen James Gordon Bennett and Moses Beach both recognized the power of the telegraph on news they could sell in their Herald and Sun, respectively, and both sought that “mass market” which was shortly to become the Holy Grail of American industry. The revolutionary-minded reporters they sent to Kansas in 1856 greatly helped light the fuse for the coming war; the election of a purely sectional president in 1860 finished their work.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Mass Market Sensationalism and Kansas

“The appearance of the telegraph [in 1835] unlocked the door to the entire country for the newspaperman. Until it came, current news was the property only of the city room . . . while the steam locomotive sliced helpfully into the mailbag’s travel time, it could not keep up with the dots and dashes.

“This agency,” wrote James Gordon Bennett at the time, “will be productive of the most extraordinary effects on society, government, commerce and the progress of civilization.”

The Herald . . . [was] soon blooming with 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.

In 1841, Bennett wrote to Henry Clay, asking for the distinguished Senator’s help in removing [a rule barring non-Washington reporters from House and Senate galleries]. Clay, a master politician, perhaps guessed that already the Herald was useful to have on one’s side. He went to work and the rule fell . . . [soon] the solons rapidly accustomed themselves to orating for a national audience.

National elections came in 1856 – automatically a year ripe for trouble. At the very beginning of it, ominous stories were appearing from the territory of Kansas, opened to settlement since 1854. There had been elections for a legislature, bad blood between factions divided on the inescapable issue of slavery, angry claims of fraud, and then shootings.

Editors swung around in their chairs and scribbled notes; reporters boarded trains and steamboats and headed West to cover Kansas.

They wrote as 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 [from them].

They sallied forth to depict a contest between freedom and tyranny in the impressive arena “beyond the Mississippi.” The results boded ill for the caving Union.”

(Reporters for the Union, Bernard A. Weisberger, Little, Brown and Company, 1953, excerpts pp. 17-18; 20; 22-23)

The Impassable Breach in 1850

The idea of States withdrawing from the Union was not new in 1860, the first being New England’s desire for independence once the Louisiana Purchase was contemplated, and afterward during the War of 1812, and as other territories were added. It is said that John C. Calhoun learned his concept of secession from the New Englanders. In 1850, as described below, the withdrawal of the South from the Union was well along and only a matter of time.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Impassable Breach in 1850

“[Silver Bluff], 17 March 1850

“The Session of Congress has been stormy and thus far nothing has been done but to debate Slavery and the Union. The South has threatened dissolution through many Representatives, in doing which [Robert] Toombs of [Georgia] and [Thomas] Clingman of [North Carolina], both Whigs, have taken the lead. [South Carolina] rather silent.

In the Senate [Jeremiah] Clemens of [Alabama], [Solomon] Downs of [Louisiana], [Henry] Foote and [Jefferson] Davis of [Mississippi have been the most violent. Many calculations have been paraded showing the advantage of disunion to the South. On the other hand threats of coercion have been made freely by minor men. There have been some terrible scenes in the House.

The North has given up the Wilmot proviso for the present, on the avowed ground that that Slavery is naturally excluded from the newly acquired Territories. The main question is on the admission of California as a State – the adventurers there having without any of the usual forms, made a Constitution, excluding Slavery, and asked for admission into the Union.

[Henry] Clay has brought in a long string of what he calls compromise resolutions, which surrender everything in issue to the North. He has denounced the South bitterly and prophesied, if not threatened, Civil war and coercion.

The South contends that the admission of California [as a free State] destroys her equality in the Senate – already merely nominal there, for Delaware belongs to the North. That deprived of equality there [in the number of slave vs. free States] and already in a vast minority in the House and Electoral College, she will be undone.

Mr. [John C.] Calhoun has made an admirable speech, showing that the equilibrium between the North and South is utterly annihilated, and must be restored or we must separate. As such a restoration is well known to be an impossibility – his proposition is plainly – Disunion.

Webster followed with a most eloquent speech, denouncing the free-soil and anti-fugitive [slave] movements, but denouncing slavery and yielding nothing. At this moment, however, my impression is that they will enter into another fatal truce and stave off the difficulty for the present.

I have had drawn up for a month . . . many resolutions which I had intended to proposed there, if I could get backing. They are short and to the effect that Conventions should be immediately called in the Slave States to send Delegates to a General Congress, empowered to dissolve the Union, form a new Constitution, and organize a new Government, and in the meantime appoint a Provisional Government until the Constitution could go into operation.”

(Secret and Sacred, the Diaries of James Henry Hammond, a Southern Slaveholder; Carol Bleser, editor, Oxford University Press, 1988, excerpts pp. 197-198)

Another Casualty of the War

It is written that “despite the changes which the catastrophe of 1865 made inevitable, the distinctive culture of the region was never destroyed.” Both races had to return to living together in the same land, but social relations deteriorated with the political machinations of the carpetbaggers and the Republican Party’s Union League. For simple political opportunism and lasting hegemony over the defeated South, the latter taught the black man to hate his lifelong white neighbor and vote for the Northern party which impoverished the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Another Casualty of the War

“Since the Civil War, there has been a decline in what the ante-bellum traveler Frederick Law Olmsted called “the close habitation and association between black and white.” Immediately after the war the two races separated in churches, and for the cultural give and take of the plantation was substituted a dual school system which sealed off the children of one race from another.

Gradually it became impossible for a white person to teach in a Negro school without losing caste. When the courts forced the attendance of Negroes in white schools, no genuine interracial fraternity developed. No longer did the two races have what William Faulkner calls “the same parties: the identical music from identical instruments, crude fiddles and guitars, now in the big house with candles and silk dresses and champagne, now in the dirt-floored cabins with smoking pine knots and calico and water sweetened with molasses.”

The whites have been able to implement a growing aversion to intimate contact with the blacks through the use of labor-saving devices and through the spread of progressive notions concerning the dignity of labor. Despite Supreme Court decisions, immutable social custom makes for increased residential segregation, especially in the newer sections of the cities.

One of the most persistent beliefs about the South is that the Negro is in a constant state of revolt against the social pattern of the section. Despite a vast literature to the contrary, the facts of history refute this assumption.

As a slave the black man never attempted general insurrection and did not run away often. “The slaves,” says a historian of the Confederacy, Robert Cotterill, “supported the Confederacy (albeit somewhat involuntarily).” It is now proved that outside compulsions rather than inner ambitions prompted the political insubordinations of Reconstruction. Their artificial character is proved by the fact that they were not accompanied by much social insubordinations and by the fact that they disappeared as soon as the outside compulsions were removed.

Indicative of the willingness of the rank and file blacks to accept the status quo are the words of a conservative demagogue who knew the Negro well. “If the election of the governor of South Carolina were left “entirely to the Negro vote,” declared Cole L. Blease in 1913, “I would receive without trouble 75 to 90 percent.”

(The Everlasting South, Francis Butler Simkins, LSU Press, 1963, excerpts pp. 48-49)

Igniting the Flame at Fort Sumter

President James Buchanan’s vacillation and failure to seek conciliation during the Fort Sumter crisis burdened the inexperienced Lincoln with something he was ill-prepared to handle. Buchanan had underway a secret negotiation with the president-elect “to obtain his backing for a national constitutional convention, and he expected an answer from Lincoln at any hour.” Though Buchanan tried to engage conservative Republicans to endorse some conciliatory measures to defuse the crisis, none were forthcoming.  Jefferson Davis, in his efforts to save the Union, encouraged his fellow congressmen and the president to seek peaceful solutions to the crisis.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Igniting the Flame at Fort Sumter

[South Carolina-born, American diplomat] William H. Trescott, acting as a go-between, scheduled a procedural meeting [with Buchanan] for December 27. On the morning of that fateful day news arrived [in Washington] which created wild excitement. Major [Robert] Anderson had just spiked the guns of Moultrie and had moved his entire command into Fort Sumter under cover of darkness . . .

The South Carolina commissioners cancelled their visit to [President] Buchanan and waited for more information. Trescott hurried to [Secretary of War John B.] Floyd’s office and obtained from him a promise that he would promptly order Anderson back to Moultrie as soon as he received official confirmation of the reports.

Floyd immediately telegraphed Anderson that he did not believe the news, “because there is no order for any such movement,” but Anderson replied, “The telegram is correct.”

While messages sped back and forth, the Southern leaders in Washington headed for the White House. Jefferson Davis arrived first and broke the news to Buchanan. “Now, Mr. President,” he said, “you are surrounded with blood and dishonor on all sides.”

“[Buchanan exclaimed]: I call God to witness, you gentlemen more than anybody know that this is not only without but against my orders. It is against my policy.”

Senators Hunter, Lane, Yulee, even Slidell called and bore down on Buchanan to order Anderson out of Sumter or face general secession and war. Buchanan paced nervously, telling his excited callers to keep calm and trust him. He gave evidence of sympathizing with their position for it seemed to him at the moment that if Anderson had ruptured the “gentlemen’s agreement” [to maintain the status quo in Charleston harbor]. It was certainly a move the president had not anticipated. But for all his soothing words, he gave the Southerners no promise.

The afternoon Cabinet meeting ran over into the night. Black, Holt and Stanton aggressively defended Anderson’s action. “Good,” said Black. “It is in precise accordance with his orders.” “It is not,” said Floyd.

Buchanan believed that Anderson’s orders justified his maneuver. The Cabinet had assigned the major “military discretion” and had authorized him to take defensive action in the face of “tangible evidence of a design to attack him.” His report of a few days before had offered such evidence, though no hint that he intended to transfer the troops.

Buchanan said he would not order Anderson to return to Moultrie, but he expressed deep concern over the settlement of the question of responsibility. Neither the President nor Secretary of War had commanded the transfer . . .

Buchanan agreed to see the South Carolinians “only as private gentlemen.” At their interview, the only one which was to be held, they informed the president excitedly and with asperity that they would not negotiate with him until he ordered all federal troops out of the Charleston area. Buchanan replied that he could issue no such order.

The commissioners then withdrew and that night prepared a letter . . . It suggested that South Carolina had made a serious mistake “to trust your honor rather than its own power,” and warned that unless the troops were withdrawn, affairs would speedily come to a “bloody issue.”

(President James Buchanan, a Biography, Philip S. Klein, American Political Biography Press, 1962, excerpts pp. 378-379)

The Last Election Held Under the Union

Hamilton Fish (1808-1893) was a prewar governor and senator from New York and served as secretary of state under Grant, 1869-1877. A wealthy man before the war, Fish was pragmatic and foresaw the destructive nature of the new Republican Party forming in the mid-1850s. He saw it as the duty of every man, North and South, to discourage unnecessary discussion of the slavery question which would only lead to the end of the Union. Fish, like other prominent Whigs who feared sectional parties, refused to join the Republicans and agreed with the view of Charles Sumner as vulgar, arrogant and deserving of caning. In 1860, only four years after fielding its first presidential candidate, the Republican Party had driven the first Southern State out of the Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Last Election Held Under the Union

“[In] 1855, the Republican Party advanced with rapid strides to the destruction of [the Whig Party]. News of violence was beginning to come from Kansas; fresh incidents were proving the Fugitive Slave Act unenforceable; in New York [Thurlow] Weed and [William] Seward were gravitating to the new organization.

Disunion was coming, D.D. Barnard sadly wrote Fish in July. The Fugitive Slave Law did something, and the Nebraska Bill has done everything, to stir up the anti-slavery sentiment of the North to a fever-heat. Fanaticism, meanwhile, makes a jubilee of the occasion, and demagogues, great and little, rush in to swell the commotion and make the most of the dreadful mischief. It is Massachusetts now, not South Carolina, which enters on a career of nullification . . .

A Northern party is loudly called for, with no principle to stand on but the eternal hatred and eternal war against the South on account of slavery. A Presidential election conducted by sectional parties, with nothing but slave issues between them – if such a thing were practicable—would be the last election held under the Union.

But Fish watched with grave disquiet. To Edward Ketchum he wrote that the Whig organization had ever been a national body, and he deplored its obliteration by sectional party. He also disliked the fanaticism, the intolerance of everything Southern, which stamped the prominent men among the Republicans.

At a recent meeting one [Republican] speaker had declared, “You are here to dethrone American slavery” . . . did [the speaker] know that such talk inflamed the South and placed the Union in peril?

To James Hamilton he wrote still more emphatically. The Republican State platform “has not an element of nationality”; it is “covered all over with the wildest sectional agitation.” His love of peace and the Union would not permit him to accept it.

[Fish] concluded:

“For myself I cannot consent to be made an Abolitionist, or to become an “Agitator” of the slavery question. I cannot close my eyes to the fact that history shews, that every physical revolution (of governments) is preceded by a moral revolution; that the discussion of questions on which the sections are united among themselves but differ the one from the other, leads to estrangement first, and next to hostility and hatred which end inevitably in separation. The separation of this country from Great Britain was not the result of the War of the Revolution, or even the Declaration of Independence. The discussions and controversies which had preceded the latter event caused and effected the separation which was only formally proclaimed by the Declaration, and forcibly maintained by the war.”

(Hamilton Fish, the Inner History of the Grant Administration, Allan Nevins, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1937, excerpts pp. 54-56)

Pages:1234567...19»