Browsing "Aftermath: The Gilded Age"

Religious Bigotry, Ethnic Hatred, and Lynch Mobs

Though the war had a chilling effect upon Cincinnatians trading southward, by 1863 it was a boomtown supplying the Northern military and “filling large orders for iron and steel products, uniforms and wagons. In a few years, the profits amassed into great fortunes.”

Lincoln’s administration maintained the patriotism of the West with lucrative military supply contracts. Cincinnati’s political system became corrupt, and its leaders notorious for controlling elections and manipulating judges and juries.

The Courthouse Riot of 1884 occurred after German worker Wilhelm Berner and mulatto accomplice Joe Palmer murdered their employer, William Kirk. Though the judge, after the trial and confessions, sentenced both to 20 years in prison, the bribed jury returned a verdict of simple manslaughter.

The “Boss” Cox mentioned below was George B. Cox, a saloonkeeper who ran Cincinnati’s Republican political machine, which Ohioan William Howard Taft called a “local despotism” for the benefit of big corporations.

Religious Bigotry, Ethnic Hatred and Lynch Mobs

“Between 1830 and 1840 the population grew by 85 percent, reaching 46,338 residents, and made Cincinnati the fastest-growing city in America, sixth in population and third in manufacturing. In the 1830s and 1840s, Cincinnati’s population was composed mainly of native-born Americans from the Eastern Middle Atlantic and Upper Southern States.

Travel writers described it as a Yankee city with a pleasant blend of Southern ease and charm. But a new ethnic element appeared in the Thirties, when people from the fragmented states of Germany discovered Cincinnati.

Many of them clustered north of the canal in an area that they called Over-the-Rhine, where they built churches, houses, tenements (street-level shops with residence above), and small commercial buildings.

The new Whig party, intellectual successors to the Federalists, advocated government funding of “internal improvements,” primarily canals, highways and railroads . . . (Southern and eastern-based Jacksonians opposed federal funding for sectional projects that would chiefly benefit Kentucky, Ohio and the “West.” By the 1850s, entrepreneurial railroads radiated out from five depots in downtown Cincinnati like spokes on a half-broken wheel.

From 1835, German-speaking people were coming to Cincinnati in large numbers. The first were predominantly Protestants and Freethinkers, but Roman Catholics soon outnumbered them. By 1840, one-third of Cincinnati’s 75,000 citizens were German-speaking, of which an estimated two-thirds to three-fourths were Roman Catholic. The Irish . . . were also arriving in considerable numbers after 1840 . . .

As their numbers grew, so did hostility from the native-born majority. The Nativist riots of the 1840s and the political activities of the Know-Nothing party in the 1850s were indicative of the continuing bigotry toward Catholics and immigrants. In the 1870s and 1880s . . . Native-born Americans often blamed poor pay and labor conditions on the surplus of recent immigrants and freedmen. Social and political tensions grew over issues of class, race, ethnicity and criminal justice.

The city had a record of street violence, but there was no precedent for the Cincinnati Courthouse Riot of 1884, one of the bloodiest riots in American history. What began as a meeting in Music Hall . . . to discuss corruption in the justice system (a bribed jury had found a confessed murderer guilty of manslaughter only) ended with a lynch mob engaging law enforcement officials in a three-day street battle.”

After the riot, Cincinnati turned to George “Boss” Cox to stabilize city government.”

(Architecture in Cincinnati: An Illustrated History of Designing and Building an American City, Sue Ann Painter, Ohio University Press, 2006, excerpts pp. 30; 35-36; 45; 94-97)

Worship of the Dynamo

Clement Eaton wrote that the plantation society of the Old South emphasized the family far more than in the North, and family graveyards were a familiar sight south of Mason and Dixon’s line. The family altar was a part of its religious mores, devotion to kin and tradition was essential, and “people were evaluated not so much as individuals but as belonging to a family, a clan.”

Additionally, the old Southern culture was different from our own age in its greater devotion to the classics; Hugh Swinton Legare of Charleston believed that their study “would form in [students] a pure taste, kindle their imaginations “with the most beautiful and glowing passages of Greek and Roman poetry and eloquence” [and] store their minds with “the saying of sages,” and indelibly impress upon their hearts the achievements of the Greek and Roman heroes.

The quest for the Northern conception of progress, unrestrained social change and an embrace of industrial capitalism changed all this.

Worship of the Dynamo

“The United States . . . does not possess many of the conservative advantages enjoyed by most premodern cultures . . . [and is] made up of dozens of peoples and cultures. Some are compatible with the culture of the original, predominantly British settlers; others are not.

We have long since lost our reverence for tradition. If the United States has a national tradition, it is the habit of change and the worship of the dynamo. Our most poignant folk hero is John Henry, the defeated enemy of progress.

The ordinary restraints imposed by community and religion survive most powerfully in the distorted forms of intolerance and superstition – much like the bizarre remnants of ancient paganism that endured for several centuries beyond the official Christianization of the Roman Empire. All that seems to bind us together as a nation is a vague ideology of liberty, equality and progress.

Apart from a certain natural inertia, there are few restraints on social innovation. Far from being unique, the United States has been, much like Athens, the education of the modern world.

Herein lies the special quality and crisis of our civilization. Our original and creative minds seethe with new ideas. A few of them are productive, but in the nature of things, most are not. There is nothing wrong with originality, but what is missing from the modern scene are all the powerful restraints, the governors that control the speed of social change, the filters of experience and tradition that sort out the practical from the merely clever.

What we lack are the divine oracles that thunder against any trespass upon ancient rights and any invasion of the nature of things. We have our prophets, it is true, but most of them insist on being creative men of original genius.

The family and the church have not disappeared . . . But they survive in isolated and individualized forms, which cannot impose much restraint upon the community or the state. In the 1980s . . . American families cannot even be sure of their right to rear their children without government interference.

The churches have seen their actual power reduced even more than the family. Today . . . the tax-exempt status of churches is regarded as a privilege granted by an indulgent government. Church schools are regularly taken to court in efforts to make them conform to the model of public education.

What is unsettling is the idea that community bodies – like local churches – have no part to play in exercising social control, that power is exclusively a function of the government and perhaps, the mass media.”

(The Politics of Human Nature, Thomas Fleming, Transaction Publishers, 1988, excerpts pp. 8-9)

A Party of Disunion and Thievery

Fielding their very first presidential candidate in 1856, the new Republican party was responsible for breaking up the 1789 federation of States only four years later – it was indeed the party of disunion. With conservative Southerners gone from Congress in 1861, the Republicans began dismantling the Founders’ republic and ushered in America’s “Gilded Age” and pursuit of empire. This new America would be “despotic at home and aggressive abroad” as Robert E. Lee famously remarked to Lord Acton shortly after the war ended.

A Party of Disunion and Thievery

“In the Plundering Generation, Ludwell H. Johnson summarized the real reasons for Lincoln’s violent opposition to the South’s independence: “Manufacturers feared the loss of American markets to a flood of cheap British goods pouring through a free-trade Confederacy; Northern shippers feared the loss of their monopoly of the coasting trade and their share of the transatlantic carrying trade; merchants feared the loss of the profits they garnered as middlemen between the South and Europe; creditors feared the loss of Southern debts; the Old Northwest feared the loss or curtailment of the Mississippi trade; the Republicans feared the disintegration of their party should it let the South go and bring upon the North all the consequences just mentioned.”

Lincoln waged war on the South, however, to achieve more than preservation of the status quo. War was the means to establish the North’s hegemony over the political and economic life of the United States. War offered Lincoln, his party, and Northern special interests a continental empire to exploit. And they did so with ruthless abandon. In the North, Lincoln’s Congress imposed excise taxes on virtually all items; raised the protective tariff to the highest level in the country’s history (under the Morrill Act of 1861); issued paper currency (Legal Tender Act of 1862); awarded Northern railroad companies government loans and extensive land grants (Pacific Railway Act of 1862); unilaterally repealed Indian land claims; promoted settlement of western lands by Northerners (Homestead Act of 1862); effectively “nationalized” the country’s financial institutions (National Banking Acts of 1863 and 1864); and furnished Northern business with cheap labor (Contract Labor Law of 1864).

In the South, Congress authorized the theft of tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, worth of Southern property (Confiscation Acts of 1861 and 1862, Direct Tax Act of 1862, and Captured and Abandoned Property Act of 1863). The cotton, alone, that the North stole has been conservatively valued at $100 million.

This legalized robbery was in addition to the plundering by Lincoln’s Army. In December 1864, Sherman wrote: “I estimate the damage done to the State of Georgia . . . at $100,000,000; at least $20,000,000 which has inured to our advantage, and the remainder is simple waste and destruction.”

With Lincoln came the wholesale corruption of the political system. In 1864, Edward Bates, Lincoln’s attorney general, lamented that “the demoralizing effect of this civil war is plainly visible in every department of life. The abuse of official powers and thirst for dishonest gain are now so common as they cease to shock.”

(Lincoln and the Death of the Old Republic, Joseph E. Fallon, Chronicles, August 2002, excerpts pp. 44-45; www.chroniclesmagazine.org)

Lincoln’s Broad Economic Revolution

In the four prewar years 1856-1860, total federal expenditures were a mere $274 million, and financed by tariffs (disproportionately paid by the South), and the sale of public lands. The direct costs of the Northern war effort 1861-1865 is estimated at $2.3 billion; when indirect costs such as outright destruction and soldier pensions are included the estimate rises to $8 billion. “[The] Union’s expenditures on the war were equivalent to more than 70% of the North’s share of the 1859 gross domestic product. Lincoln’s war economy enabled Philip Amour to make $2 million selling pork to the Northern army; Clement Studebaker amassed a fortune providing wagons to Northern forces, and Andrew Carnegie grew rich as an iron merchant.

Lincoln’s Broad Economic Revolution

“First . . . the [Northern] citizenry remained passionately resistant to any form of federal income tax. A second option was to turn to borrowing. The great advantage of this choice was that it would pass some of the cost of the war on to future generations (in the form of interest and debt). A final choice was to print money and declare it legal tender – a policy not without cost. The printing of currency not backed by specie would raise prices, thus financing the war through inflation.

As soon as the war began, President Lincoln ordered Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase to begin taking steps to fund the war. Chase faced an economy that had barely recovered from the Panic of 1857 before being thrown into recession by the secession crisis. Chase initially turned to increase import fees, excise taxes and the sale of government land, but he soon shifted his attention to the sale of [war] bonds [hoping] to fund its war effort through a form of borrowing.

Congress [passed] the revolutionary Legal Tender Act [in] February 1862 [which] provided for the issuance of $150 million in non-interest bearing notes. Although not backed by gold or silver, these “greenbacks” were legal tender for all debts except import duties and interest on government loans. By issuing notes without the backing of specie, the government risked serious inflation.

In August 1861 Congress passed a 3 percent tax on incomes of more than eight hundred dollars, but it was a year before those funds were collects. The following July a new revenue measure expanded income taxes and added an assortment of other levies.

In late summer 1862 bond sales had dwindled [and] Secretary Chase turned to Philadelphia broker Jay Cooke to orchestrate a massive campaign to stimulate them. This strategy [of 2500 agents nationwide] anticipated the patriotic war bond drives of World Wars I and II. [Roughly] one in four Northern families [purchased them,] Yet it appears most war bonds ended up in the hands of banks and wealthy investors.

The final piece of Chase’s financial program did not fall into place until midway through the war. The National Banking Act of February 1863 (and legislation of June 1864) established a new system of banks. Finally, in March 1865, Congress passed a 10 percent tax on all notes issued by State banks [which was sufficient to] drive most State banks into the new banking system.

When all was said and done bond sales funded two-thirds of the North’s military expenses. Various forms of wartime taxation funded 21 percent of the war’s cost, and the remaining costs were financed through inflation. By printing greenbacks the federal government caused an increase in prices, which had a measurable impact on the Northern economy. At their peak, prices rose to 80 percent above antebellum levels.

The funding legislation passed by the war Congress raises a broader issue. How did wartime measures reshape the American economy?

One long-standing interpretation is that the war was a triumph of industrial capitalism. With for decades the intellectual heirs of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton had battled over the constitutionality of federal measures to assist economic development.

With the [Southern] congressmen safely out of the way [in 1861] – so the interpretation goes – Republicans were free to pursue an agenda which features protective tariffs and strong banking legislation. The Civil War provide the perfect excuse for imposing a broad economic revolution.”

(The North Fights the Civil War: The Homefront, J. Matthew Gallman, Ivan R. Dee, 1993, excerpts pp. 96-99)

Postwar Corruption and Thievery in Washington

The war waged against the American South was more about destroying it’s political and economic power in the Union, so that Northern political and economic interests could prevail nationally. The resulting carnival of political vice and scandal is best summarized with: “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.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Postwar Corruption and Thievery in Washington

“The Civil War had severed the Southern checks on the exploitation of natural resources, had supplanted an old, experienced ruling class for a new, inexperienced one, had released the dynamic energies of the nation, and had ushered in the Era of Manipulation.

Under President Grant, pliant and politically naïve, the government had fallen into the hands of dishonest and incapable men . . . politics under the cloak of Radicalism more and more had become identified with manipulation for economic favor. Hordes of lobbyists had swarmed over the land, seeking railroad subsidies, mining concessions, and thousands of other government handouts.

The West was being plundered by railroad and mining corporations, the South by Carpetbaggers and Scalawags. The cities and the State legislatures, in North and South alike, were infested with rings, lobbyists, bribe-givers, and bribe-takers. Even the national Congress had become a tool of predatory business interests. Machine politics, firmly founded on patronage, economic privilege, the bloody shirt, and the soldier vote, prevailed everywhere.

The new ruling classes, flushed with prosperity, had lost their sense of responsibility, and corruption had kept pace with the upward swing of the business cycle. Political morality had sunk to its lowest level in American history.

In the closing days of the last Congress, [Grant’s self-styled House floor leader] Ben Butler and a few others had slipped through a measure increasing the salaries of the President, members of Congress, and other high officials. Tacked onto the unpopular measure was a retroactive feature which in effect gave each member a $500 bonus for his service the last two years.”

(John A. Kasson, Politics and Diplomacy from Lincoln to McKinley; Edward Younger, State Historical Society of Iowa, 1855, excerpts pp. 250-252)

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)

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