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The Spirit of Hate in Rochester

The vigilante justice of lynching was not confined to the South as is commonly believed, and race relations in the North, before and after the war, were seldom harmonious.  Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass thought his home in New York was surrounded by the spirit of Klansmen, perhaps attracted by his prewar militant activities which had brought on a war that claimed many Northern lives. Douglass fled to Canada after the State of Virginia wanted him extradited to stand trial as an accessory to John Brown; Brown met with Douglass prior to Harper’s Ferry.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Spirit of Hate in Rochester

“After his Rochester, New York, home was burned to the ground by incendiary on June 1, 1872, Frederick Douglass expressed his anger in his weekly New National Era: “Was it for plunder, or was it for spite? One thing I do know and that is, while Rochester is among the most liberal of Northern cities, and its people are among the most humane and highly civilized, it nevertheless has its full share of the Ku-Klux spirit . . . It is the spirit of hate, the spirit of murder.”

Race relations were often contentious in Rochester due in part to Douglass’s strong civil rights voice. By 1870, although Rochester’s African-American population was minute – just 427 out of a total population of 62,386 – racial tension, especially over employment, prompted concern by whites.

On Saturday, December 30, 1871, the [Rochester Daily] Union’s third edition published the city’s first report of the rape of an eight-year-old German girl by a black man after she had returned from a church event. News of the crime “spread like wild fire” after the child was returned to her parents. She had been brutally beaten but described her attacker to the police who began a frantic search for him.

Early Monday morning officers arrested William Edward Howard, and he was identified as the rapist by the girl at her home. Her father later “apologized to [a] reporter for not having killed the Negro when he was in the house.” Howard was not a stranger to the city’s police. In early 1871, he was arrested for voting illegally, and he served six months in jail. At the time of his arrest for rape, there was a warrant for his arrest for stealing from a local German woman.

Douglass’s son, Charles, who worked with his father on New National Era, wrote to his father on January 20: “That Howard boy was in my company in the 5th Cavalry. He came to the regiment as a [paid] substitute, and asked to be in my Co. I had to tie him up by the thumbs quite often. His offence was stealing.”

Outside the jail an agitated mob assembled . . . composed mainly of Germans, was intent on taking the law into its own hands, and the jail became Howard’s fortress. The [Rochester Daily] Union’s reportage was most descriptive: “Threats were made to lynch him and matters looked serious . . . four or five hundred people in the assemblage . . . [and cries of] “kill the nigger, give us the nigger” were loud and frequent.” [Judge R. Darwin Smith pronounced] “The sentence of the Court is that you be confined to Auburn State Prison for the period of twenty years at hard labor. The law formerly punished your crime with death.”

At the prison entrance, Howard turned toward [an angry crowd of several hundred men] and with his free hand placed his thumb on his nose and waved his fingers to mock them. Once in jail, Howard renounced his guilty plea, and professed his innocence.”

(The Spirit of Hate and Frederick Douglass, Richard H. White, Civil War History, A Journal of the Middle Period, Volume 46, Number 1, March 2000, pp. 41-47)

Impaling the South’s Agricultural Economy

Longtime-Democrat and early critic of Lincoln, Edwin M. Stanton, was appointed attorney general during the cabinet crisis by President James Buchanan in December 1860, though at the same time hobnobbing with Charles Sumner and other influential radical Republicans. As noted below, Stanton saw Negro emancipation as a weapon of war rather than a humanitarian policy — in truth a copy of British Lord Dunmore’s emancipation proclamation of 1775, and British Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane’s similar edict in 1814. All were aimed at inciting race war, denying the South its agricultural workers, and attracting black soldiers to be military laborers or cannon fodder.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Impaling the South’s Agricultural Economy

“Crusades, like politics, sometimes make strange bedfellows. Few antislavery Radicals in 1860 would have guessed that a member of Buchanan’s cabinet, an outspoken critic of Lincoln and the Republican Party, would become, by 1862, a valuable and enthusiastic ally. But then, few men ever were ingenious enough to predict the course Edwin M. Stanton might follow from one day to the next. Even today it is difficult to assess the degree of Stanton’s Radical Republicanism.

Although he had been a Democrat since his college days and had served in a Democratic cabinet . . . He was in complete sympathy the Radical’s demands for a vigorous prosecution of the war and for the emancipation and military employment of Negro slaves. Yet, he never committed himself clearly to the economic program of the Republican Party: the high tariff, the Homestead Act, national banking, and a sound currency.

Though he used the considerable power of the War Department to aid Republican candidates in wartime elections, he used it also to benefit War Democrats, many of whom could never quite believe that he had really deserted the old party.

Stanton, then, was a true Union man, a partisan of any politician who believed, as he did, that the Southern Confederacy was a conspiracy of traitors and that total war was necessary to destroy it. In his hands, emancipation and the military use of Negroes became weapons of war.

Seldom did he consider the long-term implications of the war; his concern centered on the immediate task of defeating the Confederacy with every means at hand. But he had the prescience enough to realize that emancipation, though it would eliminate the problem of slavery, would at the same time create the problem of the freed Negroes. Impetuous and forceful, Stanton could not sympathize with Lincoln’s cautious approach to the problem.

[Horace Greely prophetically predicted that under Stanton], “no General or other officer of the army will more than once return a fugitive slave.” [Stanton’s predecessor, Simon Cameron in his final report stated:] “Can we afford to send them forward to their masters to be by them armed against us, or used in producing supplies to sustain the rebellion?”

Stanton recognized in the Radicals the strongest single bloc in Congress, a group to be cultivated and respected [as they had] worked hard to put him in the War Department.

It was [then] easy for the Radicals to demand publicly a war policy which would include emancipation and the military use of freed Negroes. [General David Hunter was rebuked by Lincoln for arming Negroes and Stanton publicly denied any responsibility, but] General Hunter’s subordinates charged later that Stanton had expressly authorized the action and that he had furnished guns and uniforms for the troops.

In spite of the Hunter affair, and without the President’s consent, he had tolerated isolated instances of using Negroes as soldiers . . . and few obstacles impeded the secretary’s policy of enlisting and arming the fugitives. The entire structure of slavery, he believed, could be transformed from a bulwark of the South agricultural economy into a weapon on which to impale its defenders.

“The power of the rebels rests upon their peculiar system of labor,” he insisted, and it was the duty of the Union to strike down that system, to “turn against the rebels the productive power that upholds the insurrection.” Next to the armed might of the Union, he considered the Emancipation Proclamation, with its military implications, the strongest weapon in the Northern arsenal.”

(Blueprint for Radical Reconstruction, John G. Sproat, Journal of Southern History, Volume XXIII, Number 1, February 1957, excerpts, pp. 25-29, 31-33)

 

Jefferson Reflects Upon Massachusetts

New England, and Massachusetts in particular, was supplying the French as General James Wolfe was enroute to the Plains of Abraham in 1759. In 1814 and the United States at war with the British, New England’s Federalist Party refused troops to repel the enemy, contemplated a separate peace with England, and came near secession from the Union in the December, 1814 Hartford Convention.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Jefferson Reflects Upon Massachusetts

“Oh Massachusetts! How I have lamented the degradation of your apostasy!

Massachusetts, with whom I went with pride in 1776, whose vote was my vote on every public question, and whose principles were then the standard of whatever was free or fearless. But she was then under the counsels of the two Adams’; while Strong, her present leader, was promoting petitions for submission to British power and British usurpation.

But should the State, once more, buckle on her republican harness, we shall receive her again as a sister, and recollect her wanderings among the crimes only of the parricide [Federal] party, which would have basely sold what their fathers so bravely won from the same enemy. Let us look forward, then, to the act of repentance, which, by dismissing her venal traitors, shall be the signal of return to the bosom, and to the principles of her brethren; and, if her late humiliation can just give her modesty enough to suppose that her Southern brethren are somewhat on par with her in wisdom, in patriotism, in bravery, and even in honesty, although not in psalm-singing, she will more justly estimate her own relative momentum in the Union.

With her ancient principles, she would really be great, if she did not think herself the whole.”

(Letter to General Henry Dearborn, March 1815; The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, Funk & Wagnall’s Company, 1900, pg. 5)

Our Inhuman Foe

Though Northern General David Birney was born in Alabama, his Kentucky abolitionist father moved the family to Philadelphia where he was educated and indoctrinated. A thoroughly political general who rose through the ranks by self-promotion and connections, his career was dotted with discipline issues and courts martial. He was described as a “pale, Puritanical figure, with a demeanor of unmovable coldness . . .” He ordered the indiscriminate bombardment of women, children and old men in mid-1864 Petersburg, which offered no military targets.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Our Inhuman Foe

“The war against the civilian population of the Cockade City began in earnest on June 16. The 10th Massachusetts Battery took an advanced position near the Hare House Hill, from which, one artilleryman later recalled, the “spires of Petersburg were now in full view, though distant, perhaps, two miles.”

Two days of bitter fighting remained before the Union leaders would admit failure in their attempt to storm Petersburg, but the targeting of noncombatants did not wait that long. “By order of Gen. Birney we gave our pieces ample elevation and fired the first shots known to have been thrown into the city,” cannoneer John D. Billings noted.

“What a night was the last,” Fanny Waddell wrote the next morning. “Our inhuman foe without a single warning opened their guns upon us, shelling a city full of defenseless women, children and old men.” The bombardment that began on June 16 lasted well into the early hours of June 17.

“I lay quietly until nearly one o’clock listening the bursting of the shells when one exploded so near that the light flashed in my face,” Mrs. Waddell recollected. Ah! The bitterness of that night will never pass from our hearts and memories.”

The correspondent for the Savannah Republican reported on June 19 that a “number of shells have exploded in the streets [of Petersburg], but thus far only eleven persons have been hurt, including one old Negro woman killed.”

An officer visiting Petersburg shortly after this report was filed thought that everything seemed “exceedingly depressing. The streets were almost deserted, and the destructive work of the shells was visible on every hand. Here a chimney was knocked off, here a handsome residence was deserted, with great rents in its walls, and the windows shattered by explosion; here stood a church tower mutilated, the church yard filled with new-made graves.”

Large numbers of civilians fled the Petersburg battle zone within days of Grant’s approach. James Albright, a Virginia artilleryman, wrote in his diary on June 20, “The vandals are still throwing shells into the city, and it is very distressing to see the poor women and children leaving. It is hard on all; but to see the poor women with the children on one arm and their little budgets on the other seeking a safe place – is enough to move the hardest heart.”

The civilian exodus was accelerated by rumors that the Yankees planned to celebrate the Fourth of July with “a furious bombardment of the City.” Another Petersburg diarist noted that during one bombardment “pieces of shell [were] rattling like hail about our house.” There were so many burning structures that one Southern artilleryman angrily declared that the “Yankees appear[ed] to be throwing incendiary shells into the city – as some five buildings were on fire at the same time.”

At least one Union battery did use Petersburg to test its homemade incendiary shells. These were concocted by Major Jacob Roemer and thrown into the city in late July, doing “a great deal of damage there.” Another heavy Union bombardment on July 28 started a number of blazes, all noted by Union observers.

To add to the fire hazard, the Union artillery would concentrate its shelling on the burning structures, so that the air around the men battling the flames would be filled with a “perfect storm of shot and shell.”

(The Last Citadel, Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864-April 1865, Noah Andre Trudeau, Little, Brown and Company, 1991, excerpts pp. 91-92; 95-96)

Stephen Douglas on the Alternatives

Illinois politician Stephen A. Douglas thought the solution to the sectional divide in 1860 was finding compromise with Republicans through amendments to the Constitution. Douglas’s Senate speech in early 1861 listed three eventualities he saw ahead, and knew the last would end the union – as Alexander Hamilton presciently observed many years earlier. Formerly a man of compromise, after Fort Sumter, Douglas implored Lincoln to raise “thrice as many” volunteers, despite his witnessing the subjugation of Americans and the end of the Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Stephen Douglas on the Alternatives

“In a speech in the Senate, March 15, 1861, Mr. Douglas had reduced the situation to the following three alternative points:

  1. The Restoration and Preservation of the Union by such Amendments to the Constitution as will insure domestic tranquility, safety and equality of all the States, and thus restore peace, unity and fraternity to the whole country.
  2. A Peaceful Dissolution of the Union by recognizing the Independence of such States as refuse to remain in the Union without such Constitutional Amendments, and the establishment of a liberal system of commercial and social intercourse with them by treaties of commerce and amity.
  3. War, with a view to the subjugation and military occupation of those States which have Seceded or may Secede from the Union.”

As a thorough Union man, he could never have agreed to “A Peaceful Dissolution of the Union.” On the other hand he was equally averse to War, because he held that “War is Disunion. War is final, eternal separation.” Hence all his energies and talents were given to carrying out his first-stated line of policy.”

(The Great Conspiracy, John A. Logan, A.R. Hart & Company, 1886, excerpt, pg. 271)

No Compromise for Charles Sumner

The responsibility for the death of nearly one million Americans, considering death by combat, disease and starvation, military and civilian, must be laid at the feet of those like Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Unwilling to compromise for the sake of peace and Union, his incessant insults against Americans in the South reached their climax in his attack upon Senator Andrew P. Butler of South Carolina. Senator Cass of Michigan delivered the official rebuke to Sumner, stating that “such a speech [was] the most un-American and unpatriotic that ever grated on the ears of the members of this high body – I hope never to hear again here or elsewhere.” For that verbal insult upon Senator Butler, Sumner received well-deserved gutta-percha punishment.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

No Compromise for Charles Sumner

“Of all the earnest, high-minded men and women who helped to drive a wedge between the North and the South during the years between the Mexican War and the Civil War, no one was more bent on forcing the issue than the famous senator from Massachusetts, Charles Sumner.

[An advocate of pacifism, in his] first important speech of his life, a patriotic address delivered in Tremont Temple on July 4, 1845, he had astounded his audience, accustomed to a conventional recital of the stirring deeds of the Revolution, by denouncing in scathing terms the misguided patriotism which glorified deeds of [the Mexican] war.

Sumner drove his point home by comparing the cost to the nation of the [USS] Ohio, a ship-of-the-line then lying in Boston Harbor, with the annual expenditure of Harvard College. It was not a tactful speech considering that the officers of the Ohio had been specially invited to grace the occasion, but then Charles Sumner was not a tactful man.

His lack of tact was as notorious as his lack of humor or his unconscious arrogance. Unlike most of the political figures of his generation, he was very much at home in Europe. Sometimes he wearied his friends at home by telling them of all the distinguished people he had met abroad in the course of his travels and yet, beneath the European veneer, there was a moral fervor about Sumner, a “sacred animosity” against evil, to quote his own words, that stamped him unmistakably as a New Englander.

In 1849, as Chairman of the Peace Committee of the United States, he had issued an address recommending that an American delegation attend the Second General Peace Congress to be held in Frankfort. Representatives of the leading nations of Europe were to present plans for the revision of international law and for the establishment of a World Court.

Sumner, who was known as one who believed that war was an outdated method of settling disputes, was chosen as one of the delegates to the Congress, but at the last moment he declined.

[T]here was something ironic in the fact that the champion of arbitration in 1850 stood out resolutely against sending any delegates from Massachusetts to [former President John Tyler’s] Peace Convention held in Washington on the eve of the war [in 1861]. In his frantic search for a compromise, Senator [John J.] Crittenden found no one more stubborn, more determined not to yield an inch, than Senator Sumner. [Sumner] . . . insisted that concessions [to the South] would settle nothing. “Nothing,” said Sumner, “can be settled which is not right. Nothing can be settled which is against freedom. Nothing can be settled which is against divine law.”

(No Compromise!, Arnold Whitridge, Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1960, pp. 120-126)

A Slippery Senator from Massachusetts

The colony of Massachusetts was the first to codify slavery in its law in 1641, three years after the first ship brought Africans from the West Indies. The defiant Pequot Indians enslaved by the Puritan settlers were often traded for Africans who made better workers. Massachusetts became preeminent in the transatlantic slave trade, shipping rum and Yankee notions to be used to buy slaves from African tribes. Senator Sumner seemed unaware of his State’s history.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Slippery Senator from Massachusetts

“Extracts from the debate between Senators Charles Sumner and Andrew P. Butler in June, 1854, beginning on page 1.013 of the Appendix to the Congressional Globe, First Session, Thirty-third Congress:

Mr. Sumner: “Sir, slavery never flourished in Massachusetts; nor did it ever prevail there at any time, even in the early Colonial days, to such a degree as to be a distinctive feature of her powerful civilization. And let me add that when this Senator [Butler] presumes to say that American Independence was won by the arms and treasure of slave-holding communities, he speaks either in irony or ignorance.”

Mr. Butler: “When the Declaration of Independence was made, was not Connecticut a slave-holding State?”

Mr. Sumner: “Not in any just sense.”

Mr. Butler: “Sir, you are not the judge of that. Was not New York a slave-holding State?”

Mr. Sumner: “Let the Senator [Seward] from New York answer that.”

Mr. Butler: “Sir, if he answers, he will answer the truth, and perhaps it might not be exactly agreeable to you. Was not New Jersey a slave-holding State? Was not Rhode Island a slave-holding State?

Mr. Seward: “It is due the honorable gentleman from South Carolina that I should answer his question in reference to New York, since it has been referred it to me. At the time of the Revolution, every sixteenth man in the State of New York was a slave.”

Mr. Butler: “Was not New Hampshire a slave-holding State? Was not Pennsylvania a slave-holding State? Was not Delaware a slave-holding State?

Mr. Seward: “I am requested to make my answer a little more accurate, according to the truth. I understand, that at the time of the Revolution, every twelfth man in New York was a slave.”

Mr. Butler: “They can afford no refuge for historical falsehood such as the gentleman [Sumner] has committed in the fallacy of his sectional vision. I have shown that twelve of the original States were slave-holding communities.

Now sir, I prove that the thirteenth, Massachusetts, was a slave-holding State before, and at the commencement of, the Revolution. As to the character of slavery in that State, that may be somewhat a different thing, which can not contradict the fact stated in the newspapers of the day, that Negroes were held, were advertised for sale, with another truth, that many were sent to other slave-holding States in the way of traffic.

When slavery was abolished [in Massachusetts], many that had been slaves and might have been freemen were sold into bondage.”

Mr. Sumner: “By slave-holding States, of course, I mean States which were peculiarly, distinctively, essentially slave-holding, and not States which the holding of slaves seems to have been rather the accident of the hour, and in which all the people, or the greater part of the people, were ready to welcome emancipation.”

Mr. Butler: “Mr. President, I think the remarks of the Senator verify exactly what I said, that when he chooses to be rhetorical, it is upon an assumption of facts, upon his own construction, and by an accumulation of adjectives.”

(The Case of the South Against the North, B.F. Grady, Edwards & Broughton, 1899, 225-226)

Sumner’s Rendezvous With a Gutta-Percha

After South Carolina Congressman Preston S. Brooks administered a lesson to Charles Sumner, senator from the slave-trading State of Massachusetts, Brooks received new canes from all over the South. The canes were accompanied by emphatic suggestions that he promptly deliver additional beatings on Sumner for the insults toward his uncle and distinguished Senator Andrew P. Butler. Sumner feigned injury to attract sympathy from abolitionist newspapers.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sumner’s Rendezvous With a Gutta-Percha

“From the moment he took his seat in the Senate, Sumner’s conscience was always on parade. [And] according to Sumner, the Constitution did not sanction slavery, and since slavery was a monstrous evil it should be eliminated at once.

Freedom was national whereas slavery was only sectional.  In the official view of the South, which incidentally coincided with that of the Garrisonians, the founding fathers had expressly guaranteed slavery along with other forms of personal property.  Far from being a national evil, it was a national benefit, to the Negro as much as to the white man.

Sumner seized upon the controversy over Kansas, whether the territory was to come into the Union as a free or as a slave State, to pronounce what he called “the most thoroughgoing philippic ever uttered in a legislative body.”  It was an elaborate speech and it took five hours to deliver.

For those who expected an accurate presentation of the facts about Kansas it was a disappointment, but Sumner’s conscience was never concerned with facts unless the facts bore on the depravity of slaveholders. Sumner’s conscience directed him to pour more oil on the fire rather than water.

He began by assuming the truth of every charge made against the slave power in Kansas, and ignoring all the evidence on the other side. Major John Sedgewick, who was stationed in Kansas at the time . . . thought that most of the atrocities had been committed by the [Northern] Free Soil party, but any such evidence, even if it had come his way, Sumner would have brushed aside as the ravings of a lunatic.  He had prepared his speech with infinite pains, committed it to memory, practiced it before the glass, and nothing would induce him to alter it.

The crime against Kansas was nothing less than “the rape of virgin territory compelling it to the hateful embrace of slavery.” The criminal (slave power) has “an audacity beyond that of Verres, a subtlety beyond that of Machiavelli, a meanness beyond that of Bacon, and an ability beyond that of Hastings.”

The long string of erudite insults reached their climax in an attack upon the much beloved Senator Butler of South Carolina who, said Sumner, “has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows and who, although ugly to others, is always lovely to him; although polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight — I mean the harlot, Slavery.”

That Sumner honestly thought he was serving the cause of freedom by such language is hard to believe. Senator Cass of Michigan, a devoted Union man and not a slaveholder, delivered the official rebuke: “Such a speech — the most un-American and un-patriotic that ever grated on the ears of the members of this high body — I hope never to hear again here or elsewhere.”

While Senators were shaking their heads . . . Sumner was suddenly transfigured into a national hero, a martyr for freedom. The man responsible for this . . . was a Southerner, Congressman Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina, a nephew and a devoted admirer of Senator Butler.

[And] Brooks had made up his mind that the only suitable answer to Sumner was severe corporeal punishment. Accordingly, while Sumner was sitting at his desk after the Senate had adjourned, Brooks strode up to him and . . . struck him over the head with a gutta-percha cane.

How severely Sumner was injured has always been a matter of dispute, but by the time Brooks had finished his chastisement Sumner was lying on the floor unconscious. Southerners accused Sumner of shamming.

The doctor who attended him took four stitches in his scalp and declared him ready to return to duty after a few days of rest. [Sumner] complained of perpetual headache and nervous prostration, but Southerners pointed out that during a trip to Europe to recover his health he indulged in a continuous round of social entertainments that might well have reduced any traveler to a state of exhaustion.”

(No Compromise!, Arnold Whitridge, Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1960, pp. 125-127)

Northern Hostility Toward the Negro

Anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan of New York wrote Calhoun in 1848 that “The feeling toward [the Negro] in the North is decidedly that of hostility. There is no respect for them. No wish for their elevation; but on the contrary a strong desire to prevent the multiplication of the race as far as it is possible to do so . . .” Former New York Governor (and later Union Major-General] John Adams Dix spoke of the “inferior caste” in free States: “Public opinion at the North – call it prejudice if you will – presents an insuperable barrier against its elevation in the social scale . . . A class thus degraded . . . will not multiply . . .” Pennsylvania Congressman David Wilmot in mid-1846 introduced a bill to ban African slavery from land acquired from Mexico.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Northern Hostility Toward the Negro

“Closely interwoven with the northern fear of [Southern political] dominance was fear of the Negro himself, and the [Wilmot] Proviso, commonly called the “White Man’s Resolution” by the free-soilers, seems to have expressed a northern desire to keep the territories free not only of slaves, but of the black race.

The rhetoric of the free-soil movement is replete with expressions of hostility toward the Negro. One of the most notable instances occurs in James Russell Lowell’s allegorical treatment of the territorial issue in his enormously popular “Bigelow Papers.”

In this poem Lowell represents the Negroes as “long-legged swine” who ruin the territories, making them uninhabitable for the northern farmer. Anti-Negro expressions also found their way into free-soil platforms, albeit in muted form. The Barnburners Utica [New York] Convention called for preserving the western land “for the Caucasian race,” or in the more popular parlance of Thomas Hart Benton “keeping the territory clean of Negroes.”

One free-soiler assured the House of Representatives that he had little concern for “the degraded and degenerate blacks.”

Northern hostility toward the Negro is likewise revealed in the vehement response to a proposal by Governor William Smith of Virginia to export the State’s freedmen to the North. In his speech representing the great dangers involved in rejecting the Wilmot Proviso, [New York Congressman] George Rathbun referred incidentally to Governor Smith’s proposal.

“What do we say [to it]?” asked Rathbun. He gave the answer: “That there is no territory in the free States belonging to them [the Negroes]; that there is no place for them. As far as New York is concerned, should the refuse part of the population of Virginia reach our territory, we will carry them back to Virginia.”

Smith’s proposal caused such consternation in Ohio that the Democratic minority in the State legislature was almost able to force through a law prohibiting Negro immigration altogether. One Democratic congressman from Ohio . . . appealing to the fear and hatred of the Negro in the North, used Smith’s proposal as a justification for bowing to the will of the South on the Proviso question.

In the North, where the Negro population was relatively small, the means of assuring white supremacy was to exclude the Negro, and when he could not be physically excluded, he was excluded from civic life.

The key to the strong emotional commitment in the North to free soil was the overwhelming fear of the extension of an alien race, as well as of an alien institution, to the point where it would directly affect the Northern people. The Wilmot Proviso had such a strong appeal precisely because it expressed the Northern determination to prevent the spread not only of slavery but of the despised Negro as well.”

(Democratic Politics and Sectionalism, the Wilmot Proviso Controversy, Chaplain W. Morrison, UNC Press, 1967, excerpts pp. 70-73)

The Republican’s Stubborn Purpose

The following is excerpted from a postwar letter written by Clement C. Clay of Alabama, to review the facts leading to the withdrawal of the Southern States in 1861, and Jefferson Davis’ efforts to forestall secession, seek conciliation with Northern leaders, and preserve the Union. It clearly identifies those wanting to preserve the Union, and lays the responsibility for disunion at the feet of Lincoln’s party.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Republican’s Stubborn Purpose

“Mr. Davis did not take an active part in planning or hastening secession. I think he only regretfully consented to it, as a political necessity for the preservation of popular and State rights’ which were seriously threatened by the triumph of a sectional party who were pledged to make war on them.

No “plan of secession” or “scheme of revolution” was, to my knowledge, discussed – certainly none matured – at the [Democratic] caucus, 5th of January, 1861 . . . I have never heard that the caucus advised the South “to accumulate munitions of war,” or “to organize and equip an army of one hundred thousand men,” or determined “to hold on as long as possible to the Southern seats [in Congress].”

So far from it, a majority of Southern Senators seemed to think there would be no war; that the dominant party in the North desired separation from the South, and would gladly let their “erring sisters go in peace.” I could multiply proofs of such a disposition.

As to holding on to their seats, no Southern legislature advised it, no Southern Senator who favored secession did so but one, and none others wished to do so, I believe.

The “plan of secession,” if any, and the purpose of secession, unquestionably, originated, not in Washington City, or with the Senators or Representatives of the South, but among the people of the several States, many months before it was attempted. They followed no leaders at Washington or elsewhere, but acted for themselves, with an independence and unanimity unprecedented in any movement of such magnitude.

Before the election of Lincoln, all the Southern States, excepting one or two, had pledged themselves to separate from the Union upon the triumph f a sectional party in the Presidential election, by acts or resolutions of their Legislatures, resolves of both Democratic and Whig State Conventions, and of primary assemblies of the people – in every way in which they could commit themselves to any future act.

Their purpose was proclaimed to the world through the press and telegraph, and criticized in Congress, in the Northern Legislatures, in press and pulpit, and on the hustings, during many months before Congress met in December, 1860.

Over and above all these facts, the reports of the United States Senate show that, prior to the 5th of January 1861, Southern Senators united with Northern Democratic Senators in an effort to effect pacification and prevent secession, and that Jefferson Davis was one of a committee appointed by the Senate to consider and report such a measure; that it failed because the Northern Republicans opposed everything that looked to peace; that Senator [Stephen A.] Douglas arraigned them as trying to precipitate secession, referred to Jefferson Davis as one who sought conciliation, and called upon Republican Senators to tell what they would do, if anything, to restore harmony and prevent disunion. They did not even deign a response.

Thus by their sullen silence, they made confession (without avoidance) of their stubborn purpose to hold up no hand raised to maintain the Union . . .”

(The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Volume One, Jefferson Davis, D. Appleton and Company, 1881, excerpts, pp. 206-209)

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