Browsing "Aftermath: The Gilded Age"

The True Result of Appomattox

Lincoln’s war administration and deficit financing ushered in the modern American state which remains in existence today. The various Bureaus, Departments and revolutionary measures created for the purpose of increasing federal power were all linked to his total war-effort, including the restructuring of currency and banking. Author Bruce D. Porter (War and the Rise of the State, Free Press, 2002) wrote that “Appomattox thus represented not just the defeat of the South, but the defeat of the whole Southern economic and political system, and the triumph of a state-fostered industrial and financial complex in the North.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The True Result of Appomattox

“[in Herman Melville’s postwar] poems he recognized the tremendous costs, especially through the loss of freedom and the end of the founders’ dream for America as a result of the North’s victory. He viewed the construction of the new iron dome on the Capitol in Washington, DC, which replaced the wooden one, as a symbol of America’s future.

Bruce Porter’s well-documented study [of the war] relates some of the economic costs of the Civil War:

In connection with the war the Lincoln administration attempted to intervene in areas of the national life that the federal government had never touched before . . . Prior to 1861, the national government had been a minor purchaser in the American economy. During the war, it became the largest single purchaser in the country, a catalyst of rapid growth in key industries such as iron, textiles, shoe manufacturing, and meat packing . . .

The Civil War spawned a revolution in taxation that permanently altered the structure of American federalism and the relationship of the central government to the national economy. Prior to the war, over 80 percent of federal revenue had come from customs duties, but despite several upward revisions of the tariffs during the war, those could provide only a fraction of what was needed to sustain the union armies.

On August 5, 1861, the first income tax in US history came into effect, followed by the Internal Revenue Act of 1862, which levied a whole series of new taxes: stamp taxes, excise taxes, luxury taxes, gross receipt taxes, and inheritance tax, and value-added taxes on manufactured goods. The latter Act created the Bureau of Internal Revenue, perhaps the single most effective vehicle of federal power ever created . . .

Neither taxes nor paper dollars, however, came close to covering the enormous costs of the war. Dire fiscal straits forced the federal government to borrow over 80 percent of its cost, or more than $2.6 billion. [The] Lincoln administration created a captive source of credit by granting a monopoly on issuance of the new national currency to banks that agreed to purchase large quantities of federal bonds . . . [and] agree to accept federal regulation and federal charters. Thus, almost overnight, a national banking system came into being.

[Author] Eric Foner writes that the fiscal measures represented in their “unprecedented expansion of federal power . . . what might be called the birth of the modern American state . . .”

(The Costs of War, America’s Pyrrhic Victories, John V. Denson, Transaction Publishers, 1999, excerpts pp. 28-29)

Trade and Sovereignty

Of the many reasons that war occurred in 1861, trade and sovereignty were two of the most prominent. On the first, Northern editorial opinion changed dramatically after the new Confederate States government enacted a virtual free-trade 10% tariff which would have bankrupted Northern ports and industry; the second was the question of the federal agent of the sovereign States waging war upon its creators. In the years prior to the war, Manhattan banks were lending money at modest interest to planters expanding fields for cultivation — and New England mills eagerly accepted slave-produced cotton.  Since 1865, Northern capitalists and their allies in the three branches have had a free hand in federal monetary policy and trade.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Trade and Sovereignty

“The heart of the trade debate is not income or prices but sovereignty. The free trade agreements entered into by the United States not only violate our Constitution – a small thing, perhaps, since our own government does that very thing every day – but they also erode sovereignty.

This is obvious from the global apparatus of rigged trade established by NAFTA and GATT, but of the World Trade Organization set up in the last round of GATT alarmed even some knee-jerk free-traders. The WTO is a secret organization whose meetings are closed to the press, and it has a right to settle trade disputes between the US and other nations and the power to enforce its decisions.

When it comes right down to it, the free-traders believe that men and women are not really French or American, not really Christians or devil-worshippers; they are only rational producers and consumers, rootless hedonists and utility-maximizers who could just as well be born from a test tube as from a mother’s womb. They acknowledge no social ties except that of the contract for mutual exploitation. Concepts like “loyalty” and “treason” are as alien to them as they were to Red capitalists like Armand Hammer.

The big-money boys of the capitalist West (in and out of government) have changed their rivals but not their attitudes. They will sell arms to both sides in an African civil war and poison gas to Saddam Hussein; and if a tin-pot dictator bankrupts his country buying fighter planes, computer systems and one-way railroads, the New York banks will be happy to give him a loan backed by the World Bank and the American taxpayer.

In the good old days, American conservatives had to do battle with an evil globalist ideology called communism. They had their difference but they agreed on what they were against.

Today, they are confronted by a different globalism, the ideology of free trade and open borders and world government. If our conservative Republicans refuse to stand up to this menace, then the only way they are going to get into the White House is by buying a ticket and taking the tour.”

(Selling the Golden Cord, Thomas Fleming, Chronicles, July 1998, excerpts pp. 12-13)

The Grant Era’s Comprehensive Rascality

Hamilton Fish, Secretary of State in US Grant’s second term, was said to be “the representative of a sterner, simpler American age,” and one who “took a just pride in his old-fashioned conceptions of integrity and morals.” He was certainly appalled by the corruption and endless scandals that dogged Grant’s presidency, and most certainly contemplated in quiet moments just what the true outcome of the South’s defeat portended for the United States. Grant’s impeached secretary of war, William Belknap, accompanied Sherman in 1864-65 on the Georgia-Carolinas looting expedition.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Grant Era’s Comprehensive Rascality

“The festering corruptions of the post-war period sprang up in every part of America and in almost every department of national life. Other loose and scandalous times . . . had been repellent enough; but the Grant era stands unique in the comprehensiveness of its rascality.

President Grant is chargeable with a heavy responsibility for some scandals of the day; just how heavy [Secretary of States Hamilton] Fish soon saw, and subsequent pages based upon his diary and letters will show.

Honest as to money himself, [Grant] was the source of more dishonesty than any other American president. His responsiveness to such great moneyed interests as Jay Cooke represented was a national calamity. But when we look at the scandals, his responsibility was for the most part general, not specific; indirect, not direct. At some points he cannot be defended.

The role he played in crippling the Whiskey Ring prosecutions and the impeachment of [Grant’s Secretary of War, William] Belknap offers the darkest single page in the history of the Presidency. For this and for his arbitrary acts in the South, he was far more worthy of impeachment than Andrew Johnson. But with most scandals of the time he obviously had nothing to do. The Credit Mobilier affair can as little be laid at his door as the [Boss] Tweed Ring thefts.

The American people always derives much of its tone from its President. It is strenuous under a Theodore Roosevelt, idealistic under a Wilson, slothful under a Coolidge. Lowell was correct in these years in writing, “a strong nation begets strong citizens, and a weak one weak.”

Plainly, Grant’s administration was one in which almost anything might happen. More and more, it carried about it an atmosphere of stratagems and spoils. Uneasiness, in fact, henceforth haunted [Fish]. What if [Grant’s] backdoor clique really took control of the government? But Fish was of a religious temperament; and he may have heard of Bismarck’s statement that a special Providence existed for fools, drunkards and the United States.”

(Hamilton Fish, the Inner History of the Grant Administration, Allan Nevins, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1937, excerpts pp. 641-642; 666)

Governing Voting Cattle in New York

Northern politicians in Congress regularly railed at postwar Southern elections whenever corrupt Republican-endorsed carpetbaggers were defeated, claiming voter suppression. The prewar political machines in Northern cities were notorious for gross election frauds and herding unlettered immigrants to the polls.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Governing Voting Cattle in New York

“During the long years of drought, while the party of Lincoln “battened at the public crib,” vital fragments of the opposition [Democratic] party, much diminished and discredited in its national pretensions, had survived, nay, flourished — in the citadels of certain municipal machines. Thus the practiced demagogues of Tammany Hall retained for generations their grip over the polyglot proletarian mass of New York City.

A great proportion of the immigrant arrivals in the land of milk, honey, and gilded pavements clung to life in New York’s frightful slums, comprising one of the most ignorant, violent, lumpen proletariats in the modern world. For this rabble, traditionally, the rulers of the city’s dominant political organization provided bread and even circuses in the form of annual clambakes and excursions.

Tammany agents, meeting their poor Irish and foreign brothers at the dock, gave them advice and aid, food baskets, beer, and even work; in return the new arrivals permitted themselves to be inducted—sometimes at the rate of 1000 a day — as citizens and “voting cattle” into the Democratic party.

Like their predecessors, [Boss] Tweed and his partners, Sweeny and Connally, had long levied upon the numerous brothels, saloons, gambling dens, and criminal associations, through the city police and the courts. Commanding the preponderance of voters who ruled at the polls, they earned tolerant support of the leaders of society, business and professional life who also must dwell with some security in their city.

By 1870, the depredations of the [Tammany] ring went far beyond a “necessary evil”; they were no longer an “instrument” for governing voting cattle, but an immense piratical monopoly.

By the operation of public-works schemes, they plundered $1,000,000 a month from the city treasury, earning more in a year than Mr. Vanderbilt; they had added some $50,000,000 to the public debt, controlled banks and embarked with Jay Gould and Jim Fisk upon perilous, unsocial schemes to corner railroads and the money market, as in the Black Friday affair of 1869.

The masses of the people had been highly indifferent to reports of the Tweed Ring spoliations; indeed they were traditionally friendly to the Tammany leaders and heartily prejudiced against “reformers.” Tweed himself held that the majority of his supporters could not read what was said of him, but he ascribed his disasters to [political cartoonist] Tom Nast’s pictures, which required no reading.

Commenting upon the overthrow of Tweed and the appearance of a reform movement in a letter to Samuel Tilden, [Horatio] Seymour says with exquisite justice and wit: “Our people want men in office who will not steal, but who will not interfere with those who do.”

(The Politico’s, 1865-1896: The Spoilsmen in Power, Matthew Josephson, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1938, excerpts pp. 151-153)

 

 

 

Northern Prosperity at the South’s Expense

By 1860, the immigrant floods which spread westward in the 1840s and 1850s had changed the United States into two distinct cultures and political views. The South maintained its ties to the 1776 generation and its republican political character; the North had become a conglomerate of immigrant ethnic groups controlled by machine politicians eager for power and beholden to industrialists eager for cheap labor. Immigrant voters, wholly unfamiliar with American political concepts and traditions, were easily led by demagogues and money.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Northern Prosperity at the South’s Expense

“The festering corruptions of the post-war period sprang up in every part of America and in almost every department of national life. Other loose and scandalous times – in [James] Buchanan’s day, in [Mark] Hanna’s, in [Warren] Harding’s – have been repellent enough; but the Grant era stands unique in the comprehensiveness of its rascality.

The cities, half of which had their counterparts in [New York’s Boss] Tweed; the legislatures, with their rings, lobbyists and bribe-takers; the South, prey of unscrupulous Carpetbaggers and Scalawags; the West, sacked by railway and mining corporations; Congress with its Credit Moblier’ [scandal], its salary-grab, its tools pf predatory business; the executive departments, honeycombed with thievery; private finance and trade, with greedy figures like Jay Cooke and Collis P. Huntington honored and typical – everywhere the scene was the same. Why?

The war explained much: its terrible strain upon all Ten Commandments; the moral exhaustion it produced; the waste and jobbery which it bred; its creation of vast new Federal responsibilities. Washington became an irresistible lodestone for crooked men.

The fecund war contracts, the tariffs, the subsidies, and [enlistment] bounties, huge appropriations for speculators and [pension] claim-agents, the opportunities for theft in both collecting and spending the swollen Federal revenues, drew them as honey draws flies.

The South was ruined, and the fine principles and traditions of its aristocracy were engulfed. The industrial revolution in the North wrought the roughest, most aggressive business elements to the front. As the West was settled with amazing rapidity, a more extensive and influential frontier than ever before gave manners a cruder cast.

Cities were filling up with immigrant communities, subservient to machine politicians. Everywhere tested standards, restraints of public opinion, the cake of custom, were broken down. Co0nditions of the day produced a new and flashier political leadership. They brought demagogues and pushing brigadiers into office; generals like Ben Butler and “Black Jack” Logan, vote getters like Oliver P. Morton and Zach Chandler, speculators like Oakes Ames.

But one fact must be emphasized. Contemporaneous with this corruption, geared to it as a motor is geared to the conglomerate machinery of a factory, was the tremendous industrial boom which followed the war. For eight years Northern business rollicked amid a flush prosperity.

With money easy, with fortunes rising on every hand, with the temptation to speculate irresistible, the whole tendency of American life conduced to greed.”

(Hamilton Fish, the Inner History of the Grant Administration, Allan Nevins, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1937, excerpts pp. 638-639)

The South and Northern Finance Imperialism

One of the outcomes of the devastation and destruction was a need for Southern men to find employment and rebuild their impoverished section, and this most often meant working under the direction of the conqueror. Though Lee refused “to accept a sinecure from a Northern business concern,” many former Confederate officers became the agents or attorneys of the invading capitalists and “took action that had all the earmarks of scalawagism”, in the words of the author below.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The South and Northern Finance Imperialism

“One of the prices the South pays for its progressive industrialization is increasing servitude to Northern capital. New York has grown into the most autocratic city-state of modern times, with the Southern province of the United States as one of its important colonies.

The great financial houses of that and kindred cities control most of the region’s strategic industries, having sent out a second and third generation of carpetbaggers to found factories or to purchase those already existing. The Southern industries owned and controlled by outsiders include the region’s railroads, its coal fields, its iron reserves, its electric power, and its gas, Sulphur, and oil sources.

The existence of Northern patent monopolies and the absence of local machine manufacturing permit outside direction even of industries locally owned. The South manufactures its own cast-iron pipes, steel rails and bridges, and oils, but not its hardware, locomotives, automobiles, clocks, radios, dynamos, drugs, and many other finished products requiring the highest skill to produce and bringing in the highest profits.

Retail profits are siphoned out of the section by Northern-owned chain stores. The Southern businessman usually is a mere factor or agent of Northern principals, who control both production and distribution. His function is to sell [Northern articles] endeared to the Southern public through advertising. Some of these articles are as worthless as the wooden nutmegs the Yankee peddler is said to have imposed upon the public in ante-bellum times.

In 1937, economist David Coyle estimated that the South was paying out a billion dollars annually in excess of its income. It balanced its credit by selling property to investors from other sections of the country, by borrowing, by going bankrupt, and by destroying forests and lands to secure immediate incomes.

The possibility of the South revolting against its debtor status, in the manner of the Revolutionary planters against their British creditors, is ruled out by the outcome of the Civil War. That Southern leaders are able to reconcile the sons and grandsons of those who followed Robert E. Lee and William Jennings Bryan to the economic domination of the North caused Benjamin Kendrick to cry out bitterly in 1942:

“We are confronted by a paradox more amazing and ironical than any ever conjured by the imagination of Gilbert and Sullivan. The people of the South, who all their lives have suffered deprivation, want, and humiliation from an outside finance imperialism, followed with hardly a murmur of protest, leaders who, if indirectly, were nonetheless agents and attorneys of the imperialists.” What was true in 1942 is truer thirty years later.”

(The Everlasting South, Francis Butler Simkins, LSU Press, 1963, excerpt pp. 55-57)

The Revolution of 1913

Below, author Frank Chodorov rightly points to the centralization of economic power in Washington as the origin of dissolution of the Union. The Lincoln revolution of 1861 left the Founders’ republic a shambles, and imperial authority became seated in Washington supported by the financial apparatus of the Northeast. The marriage of government and corporate interests was not possible with conservative Southerners in Congress; the Gilded Age and imperial expansion followed the end of the republic, and the Sixteenth Amendment was sure to follow. This was what antebellum Southern statesmen warned against and could not prevent.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Revolution of 1913

“The federal government rubbed along on what it could get out of customs duties and excise taxes until the enactment of the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913. It requires no great imagination to draw up a bill of particulars [today] against the present American state comparable to the indictment of the British crown in the Declaration, and one could well argue that there is more cause for revolt today than there was in 1776. The will, however, is absent.

Among the casualties of the revolution of 1913 is the doctrine of federalism. From 1789 until the Civil War, the tradition of coequal authority between local and federal governments held firm, and even after that war (which settled only the question of secession), the States maintained their autonomy by virtue of their economic independence. The country was a Union, not a nation; it was only when the federal government obtained power over the citizens’ property that our constitutional structure was mutated.

Before income taxation, the best the government could offer the local politician in the way of bribery were land grants, franchises, a few posts in the limited bureaucracy and “rivers and harbors” bills. The price was not high enough to buy up the integrity of the people’s representatives completely; a truly patriotic congressman was not a rarity.

The ink was hardly dry on the Sixteenth Amendment before the heretofore picayune grant-in-aid program began to blossom; in 1914 came the Smith-Lever Act establishing the Agricultural Extension Service . . . followed in rapid order with others; it would take a book of proportions merely to list the legislation passed since 1913 to favor political ambitions.

It is a truism to say that the congressman is only a liaison officer between his constituents and the Treasury Department. In fairness, one should not point to this consequence of the Sixteenth Amendment as evidence of the moral decline of the politician; it is rather proof of a dwindling social integrity.

That the politician unashamedly boasts of the prosperity his “influence” has brought to his community, by way of airfields, bridges, dams, and smokestacks, only reflects the general attitude. And the general attitude, visibly expressed in the endless safari to Washington in behalf of “worthy” causes, is in turn the result of the transfer of economic power from society to the state.

But the quid pro quo [economic power transfer] is the abdication of local social power in favor of the greater monopolization of coercion by the central establishment. The price of favors is sovereignty. Just as the citizen was turned into a subject by the confiscation of his property, so does the local politician transfer his allegiance from his community to the source of munificence.

A [John C.] Calhoun, struggling to keep inviolate the customs of his State, has no place in our mores; the people would not elect him. Nor could a governor of Rhode Island hold office today if he presumed to defy, as did several of his predecessors, the authority of Washington.

State lines have are practically obliterated, the States reduced to parish status, their politicians nationalized. The independent home government emerging from the revolution of 1789 has been destroyed by the revolution of 1913. The Union is dissolved.”

(Fugitive Essays, Selected Writings of Fran Chodorov, Charles Hamilton, editor, Liberty Press, 1980, excerpts pp. 258-266)

Corruption and Protective Tariffs in Postwar Washington

The shipping interests of New England, dealing in slaves and goods, sparked the initial war with England, and later New England manufacturer’s hunger for protectionist tariffs drove the South to create a more perfect Union among themselves. After Southern Representatives and Senators left Congress in 1861, the Northern Congress immediately voted high tariffs, land grants, and subsidies to its numerous wealthy patrons who spent lavishly in Washington. The Collis Huntington mentioned below is cast by historians as the consummate villain, and came to symbolize the greed and corruption of the Gilded Age. Much of his money came from defrauding the American taxpayer in Western railroad schemes. His stepson, Archer Milton Huntington, used his inheritance to purchase Gov. Joseph Allston’s plantation and several others just south of Murrell’s Inlet, SC in 1930 — and renamed Brookgreen Gardens.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Corruption and Protective Tariffs in Postwar Washington

“The descriptive powers of Washington correspondents had so captured the imagination of the American that some Republican journalists after the Panic of 1873 and the scandals later revealed considered it advisable to play down the brilliance of social life in the capital.

The lobbyists as a class, male and female, flourished [in Washington] as never before. The railroad magnates, hungry for public land grants and subsidies, bid against each other for the favors of politicians. Collis P. Huntington, promoter of the Central Pacific, came to Washington with $200,000 in a trunk for “legal expenses” to obtain a Federal charter. General [Richard] Franchot, his agent, spent $1,000,000 for “general legal expenses” over and above his salary of $30,000.

[Lincoln’s financier] Jay Cooke undertook almost singlehanded to underwrite the expenses of the Republican presidential campaign. The rewards, however, were commensurate.

In 1871 Thomas A. Scott received a 13-million acre grant for the Texas Pacific Railroad, and Jay Cooke obtained a grant of 47 million acres for the Northern Pacific in 1868. By 1870, four Western [railroads] had received as much public land as the combined States of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Even Speaker [of the House James G.] Blaine was heavily involved in the Fort Smith and Little Rock Railroad, shares of which he tried to sell to his fellow members of Congress.

The venality of Congressmen had become a by-word. “A Congressional appropriation costs money,” said Colonel Sellers in The Gilded Age. “A majority of the House Committee . . . was $40,000. A majority of the Senate Committee . . . say $40,000, a little extra for one or two Committee Chairman . . . say $10,000 . . . Then seven male lobbyists at $3,000 each, one femal lobbyist at $10,000 – a high moral Congressman or Senator here or there – the high moral ones cost more because they give a certain tone to a measure – say ten of these at $3,000 each. Then a lot of small fry country members who wouldn’t vote for anything whatever without pay. Say twenty at $500 apiece.”

Neither were the manufacturers of New England neglecting their special interests. John L. Hayes was lobbying among the members of Congress seeking for the continuation of the tariff on [imported] textiles to protect the mills of the North. The wool interests in the Middle West were endeavoring to increase the tariff on imported cloth, and the steel and iron magnates of Pennsylvania, headed by Representative “Pig iron” Kelley kept an anxious eye on the importation of steel rails from England; several of the charters granted to railroads specified that the rails laid down must be of American manufacture.

The tariff issue was, indeed, beginning to overshadow the “Southern question” as the fundamental concern of the Republican party.”

(The Uncivil War, Washington During Reconstruction, 1865-1878; James H. Whyte, Twayne Publishers, 1958, excerpts, pp. 183;194-195)

Speaking the Language of Monuments

Historians record Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) leader General John Logan of Illinois as a creative political opportunist: a prewar Stephen Douglas Democrat who favored conciliatory measures toward the South to prevent war — but correctly sensing Radical Republican power he allied with them to keep his political star ascendant. Feeling slighted as West Point-educated commanders refused him promotions he developed an aversion to that institution; in the postwar he was known for his “bloody-shirt” oratory and catering to the pension desires of GAR veterans, serving as their commander for three terms. Logan’s postwar writings underscore the Republican Party ideology of containing slaves, and later freedmen, in the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Speaking the Language of Monuments

“In short, the Grand Army [of the Republic] memory of the war represented the persistence into peacetime of the millennial, republican vision prevalent in the North before 1860 . . . [and this] older ideology of republicanism lived blissfully on in the campfires of the GAR until at least 1900.

In that view, the virtuous nation, saved until [Fort] Sumter from the ordinary travails of history, had come through the war purified of the blot of slavery and ready to lead the rest of the world into the sunshine of universal democracy. Despite the painfully obvious failure of Gilded Age America to live up to that vision, the Grand Army of the Republic (the name of the order itself is highly significant) strained to see the nation in those terms.

The past was the past, With the Republic secure, the saviors could return to lives as simple citizens. “There is not in human history, a case cited except ours, in which a million soldiers were, in a day, removed from belligerent to peaceful life,” Logan told the 1869 national encampment. “Probably, there is no government on earth, except our own, that would have dared try the experiment. I am confident there is no other in which such trial would be safe.”

These were not the words of realists trying to come to grips with a bloody and divisive war, nor those of militarists with a present-day political agenda. The members of the Grand Army had no such words in their vocabulary. Instead, the spoke the language of monuments.

[Logan announced] that “that the late war between the American States was the legitimate climax of several cooperating forces.” The North American continent, he wrote, was reserved for European civilization through “a marvelous ordering of events.” The Revolution, though it “arrested the attention of the world,” was actually the product of trends dating back “forty centuries.”

The Civil War, by removing the blot of slavery, had rendered the Declaration of Independence “the Magna Carta of all mankind, destined to last while the human race endures.” The main threat to [Logan’s] yeoman’s paradise was “class distinction,” both in the slaveholding South and at “aristocratic” West Point . . . [and] argued that the Southern slave system had been the legitimate child of monarchy.” Once cured, the country presumably could return to its pristine state, provided that “class distinction” did not come back to ravage it.” To avoid that fate, Logan wrote, the “restrictive, inadequate, and wholly un-American” military academies need to be overhauled in the interests of democracy.”

(Glorious Contentment, the Grand Army of the Republic, 1865-1900; Stuart McConnell, UNC Press, 1992, excerpts, pp. 192-198)

 

Monuments to Timeless Virtue and Infamy

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) formed after the war and quickly became a powerful organization whose political might led historians to see it as a pension lobby or “bloody-shirt” Republican club. The membership sustained the postwar Republican Party and Glided Age political corruption that followed the war, and no Northern politician’s campaign was complete unless he received the blessing of the GAR. The organization maintained the view that they saved the Union and that the South was guilty of treason, though the Constitution clearly states in Article III, Section 1: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only of levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” “Them” means the States comprising the United States.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Monuments to Timeless Virtue and Infamy

“A . . . theme that emerged from GAR memorializations of the 1880s was that the war had broad meaning, not to say a moral, that transcended individual combat experiences. With occasional exceptions . . . the authors of the personal war experiences left the moral unstated. But in campfire speeches and war lectures, the repeated lesson was one of national salvation: the war had maintained the Union.

Prewar social and economic differences between the sections, issues of free labor and political power in the West, and especially the questions of blacks and slavery received scant mention in celebrations of the war’s outcome. Instead, the grand achievement of the Northern armies had been to rescue the indivisible nation as it had existed before . . . The war was a mission accomplished; the nation, something maintained intact rather than something greatly changed. It was a rhetoric pf preservation.

Both Civil War armies invoked republican traditions; both pointed to the same Revolutionary symbols. The other great influence on popular historical thinking during the antebellum years was evangelicalism . . . in the North, evangelical crusades against sin, culminating in the antislavery movement, drew on images of battles and the Apocalypse.

Yankee reformers pictured it as the crossroads of history. Armageddon, a climatic struggle from which the nation would emerge redeemed. Hymns urged patriots to march; ministers spoke of millennial change. No longer was the Republic seen as an entity formed at the beginning; it needed to be actively saved, not passively preserved. History was to be shaped, not studied, for examples of virtue.

At the same time, the overwhelming importance of the Republic’s preservation required permanent and public commemoration. Veterans proclaimed the message of national preservation in Congress, where on pension questions they drew pointed inferences regarding the duty of the nation to its saviors. And in city after city, new monuments refuted in stone any notion of the Civil War’s “pastness.”

As long as ex-Confederates did not question the moral lesson of the war, they were treated cordially – in fact, they were sometimes contrasted favorably with “loyal” noncombatants. Especially after 1880, [GAR] posts and encampments occasionally socialized with veterans from the other side.

[In 1894], white Northerners and white Southerners were engaged in a veritable love feast of reconciliation, complete with Blue-Grey reunions, Lost Cause nostalgia, and Confederate war monuments (including the first to be permitted at Gettysburg).

When it came to drumming the lessons of the war into the next generation, however, the ex-Confederates were doomed forever to play the heavy, always on the side of error, always vanquished by the hosts of the righteous. In the words of GAR commander William Warner, “we were eternally right and . . . they were eternally wrong.”

The line dividing cordiality from hostility ran between those actions (such as lecture invitations) that implied only sociability between former foes and those (such as the erection of Confederate monuments and waving the Confederate flag) that seemed to be aimed at subverting the message of national salvation.

Union veterans commonly expressed the division by saying that while the former rebels might be fine fellows, their principles were, and always would be, wrong. In 1874 [a Massachusetts veteran] . . . objected to the decoration of Confederate graves on Memorial Day by saying “he had nothing but the kindest feelings toward those who fought against us . . . but . . . let it be understood that we distinguish between loyalty and disloyalty; the latter is the treason against which we fought, and the former we pay respect and tribute to.”

In 1891, [GAR CIC] John Palmer allowed that the Confederates had been gallant and said the GAR was willing to accept them as fellows “on the broad grounds of American citizenship and unconditional loyalty.” But he went on to denounce several GAR men who had marched in Atlanta parade that included the Confederate flag. In New York a GAR member was dishonorably discharged for toasting Jefferson Davis at a Southern banquet.

In general, Grand Army posts objected most strenuously to those behaviors or symbols that implied honor to the Confederate cause – a flag, a monument, a toast to a president, flowers on a grave. Nor was it with the proper exegesis of battles, for those conflicts were by definition one-time only events. The worry was not so much about the lauding of individual Confederates (unless they were symbolic individuals such as Davis), for they would die eventually.

Instead, GAR posts worried about transmitting the moral of the war to the next generation intact. If monuments were to call forth “public valor and virtue in all coming time,” the lessons of war could not be subject to historical change. And if the virtue of the Union was to be timeless, so must be the infamy of the Confederacy.”

(Glorious Contentment, the Grand Army of the Republic, 1865-1900; Stuart McConnell, UNC Press, 1992, excerpts, pp. 181; 186-188-190-192)

Pages:123456»