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Lincoln’s Reelection in 1864

In mid-1864 Lincoln’s prospects for defeating the South’s bid for independence were bleak, and cracks appeared in his shaky coalition dominated by Radicals.  It was at this time that Southern commissioners were in Canada planning a northern front with freed prisoners at Johnson’s Island and burning New York City in retaliation for Atlanta. Had this found success, and Generals Joe Johnston and Nathan Bedford Forrest been left to harass and defeat Sherman’s army before Atlanta, a negotiated peace and thousands of lives saved might have resulted.

But, as Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana wrote, “All the power and influence of the War Department . . . was employed to secure the re-election of Mr. Lincoln.” In his study of Lincoln as politician, author Don C. Seitz writes that “something like two hundred thousand soldiers were furloughed to go home and vote.”

Lincoln’s Reelection in 1864

“Apathy and disheartenment reached even into the upper circles of the [Republican] party and penetrated the White House. Henry J. Raymond, editor of the New York Times, heard only discouraging reports and learned only of a general conviction that a change was needed. The consensus seemed to be that the war languished and Lincoln would not or could not bring peace. War-weariness and a desire for peace was everywhere.

Something had to be done, Raymond told [Secretary of War Simon] Cameron, to attract public attention. “Great victories might do it – but we are not likely to get them.” Raymond asked Cameron’s advice on another step: let Lincoln propose to Jeff Davis that both sides disband their armies and stop the war “on the best basis of recognizing the supremacy of the constitution” and refer all disputed questions to a convention of the States!

Raymond went to Washington to lay the proposal before the President, but Lincoln did not accept it. Instead he wrote a memorandum sealed it, had the members of the cabinet witness the envelope, and put it in his desk. The memorandum read: “This morning as for some days past, it seems exceedingly possible that this administration will not be elected.  Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration as he will have secured his election on such grounds that he cannot possibly save it afterwards.”

If Lincoln had in mind following Raymond’s plan, he was merely adopting [Horatio] Seymour’s proposals for a negotiated peace.  The prospect frightened [Massachusetts Governor] John Andrew and he dashed about furiously writing letters  . . . asking help [in saving] Lincoln from evil influences.

Sherman’s victory before Atlanta reinvigorated the Republican campaign. The President wrote to [General W.T.] Sherman to let Indiana’s soldiers, “or any part of them, go home at vote at the State election.” This was, Lincoln explained, in no sense an order. Sherman understood that it was a command. He sent soldiers home, and on election day in October the soldiers gathered at the Indiana polls. The Nineteenth Regiment of Vermont Volunteers voted in Indiana that day, but many a Democrat found his vote challenged. When the votes were counted, [Governor Oliver P.] Morton had been elected by a majority of 22,000.

On that same day the need for Lincoln’s aid was illustrated in Pennsylvania.  Under the law the Democratic minority had no rights, But Republican [Governor Andrew] Curtin, disgusted with the situation generally, determined to appoint some Democratic commissioners to collect the soldiers’ vote.  As the commissioners passed through Washington, however, the Democrats among them disappeared, under [Secretary of War Edwin] Stanton’s orders, into the Old Capitol Prison.”

(Lincoln and the War Governors, William B. Hesseltine, Albert A. Knopf, 1955, pp. 377-379)

 

A New Nation of Men of Lesser Minds

The brief Gettysburg address of Lincoln was described by listeners as “a wet blanket” after Edward Everett’s stirring oration, but it did announce the end of the original confederation of States. While Northern governors expected words of appreciation for the sacrifices of the various States supporting his war, “Lincoln rose at Gettysburg to talk of the nation.” He did not “mention that four score and seven years before, the Father had brought forth thirteen independent States.”  As Lincoln spoke of government of the people and by the people, few were aware that a hundred miles away General Robert Schenck’s blue-clad soldiers were patrolling the election polls in Delaware.

A New Nation of Men of Lesser Minds

“Only three times did groups of [Northern] governors assemble to formulate policy. The Cleveland meeting of Western governors and [Pennsylvania’s Governor] Curtin in May 1861 came at the height of initial enthusiasm for the war, and the governors merely demanded that more attention be given to the West.  Lincoln accepted their pledge of cooperation and gave the governors so much work in raising troops that they had no time for further consultation over campaign strategy.

The Providence meeting of New England governors sent a committee to Lincoln to demand cabinet changes, but the President skillfully . . . turned them away. [Massachusetts Governor] Andrew led his neighbors from Providence to Altoona, but was unable to get agreement from other governors for schemes to use Negro troops [to avoid drafting white men] and replace McClellan with Fremont.

On the eve of the conference Lincoln issued the preliminary emancipation proclamation and cut the ground out from under Andrew’s radical plot.  Thereafter the governors attempted no meeting, and Lincoln dealt with them separately.

Lincoln had an enormously swollen patronage to dispense . . . but no part of the patronage was at the disposal of the governors. Moreover, the military patronage was at the President’s disposal. Governors might appoint company and regimental officers, but promotions from grade to grade and the selection of general officers depended on the President. The army and the civil patronage – as the experiences in the Border States, in Ohio in 1863, and in the campaign of 1864 proved – put the Republican Party exclusively in Lincoln’s hands.

But in the long run Lincoln’s victory over the governors was the triumph of a superior intellect. Of the sixty-three chief executives of the States only [New York’s] Horatio Seymour could approach the President in quality of mind. Seymour’s partial success in blocking conscription was a tribute to his intellectual power [and he] might have prevented the destruction of States’ rights [in the North].  But Seymour stood alone [and most] of the others were mediocrities who owed their positions to “availability” rather than to ability.

And this, above all, made Lincoln the architect of the new nation. The victory of nationalism over localism, of centralization over States’ rights, was, in the last analysis, a victory of a keener intellect over men of lesser minds. The new nation that emerged from the Civil War was not solely the result of the military defeat of the armies of Robert E. Lee. It was equally the result of the political victory that Abraham Lincoln’s mind and personality won over the governors of the Northern States.”

(Lincoln and the War Governors, William B. Hesseltine, Albert A. Knopf, 1955, pp. 391-392)

Military Government Perfected

“Lee, indeed, saw an analogy between the Revolution of 1776 and the Revolution of 1861. In ’76 the Colonists threw off the yoke of Great Britain, in ’61 eleven Southern States threw off the yoke of the North. In each instance the act was one on revolution. Lee maintained that a government held together by coercion – such as Lincoln’s call for troops would create – was but a semblance of a government. He remembered that Washington himself had declared, “There is nothing which binds one country or one state to another but interest.”

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation made an impression upon Robert E. Lee. He understood the significance. Lincoln intended to win the war and to preserve the Union regardless of consequences.  When he was inaugurated he had affirmed that he had neither the power nor the disposition to interfere with slavery. He had now reversed himself. But thereby his military government was made perfect.

This view Lee expressed to [President Jefferson] Davis. “The military government of the United States has been so perfected by the recent proclamation of President Lincoln, which you have no doubt seen, and civil liberty so completely trodden under foot, that I have strong hopes that the conservative portion of [the Northern] people, unless dead to the feelings of liberty, will rise and depose the party now in power.”

Yet while Lee was penning this letter to Davis he was signing and delivering a deed of manumission to the three hundred Custis slaves [he had inherited through marriage]. This act antedated Lincoln’s proclamation by three days; Lincoln’s proclamation became operative January 1, 1863, Lee’s manumission papers had been in effect since December 29 previous.”

(Robert E. Lee: A Biography, Robert W. Winston, William Morrow & Company, 1934, excerpts pp. 96; 208-209)

Jan 2, 2021 - America Transformed, Antebellum Realities, Newspapers, Prescient Warnings    Comments Off on An Unmitigated Curse

An Unmitigated Curse

An Unmitigated Curse

“Every day’s experience and observation more and more convinces us that that great institution, the magnetic telegraph, instead of being a blessing, is a curse to the country. No doubt, under the control of honest and conscientious men, and confined in its operations to the transmission of facts as they really exist, and events as they really and truthfully transpire, it would be productive of much good, and be an efficient medium of communication. But this is not the case, and hence the manifold and pestilent evils that have flowed from its invention and its general and universal use.

The telegraph is a money-making institution—the mercenary element is interwoven with every tissue and fiber of the vast web which it has woven and stretched over the country. Just as its agents and correspondents multiply words—whether those words be true or false—and send them over the wires for publication in sensation newspapers, under the headings of display type and half-column captions, just in that proportion are its revenues augmented and its thrift enhanced.

Does not everyone see at a glance how completely its interests are at variance with those of the public? And does not everyone see at a glance, likewise, the tremendous power it must wield, as long as implicit reliance is placed in the statements it furnishes as news?

We warn the people to beware of this new power in our midst, more potent than an “army with banners.” Its whole stock in trade consists in the perpetual excitement of the community—in a morbid appetite for startling news and a monomania for extravagant and almost incredible rumors; because this diseased condition of the public mind furnishes a market for the sale of improved “extras” and “sensation” newspapers—bringing grist to two mills—the telegraph and the printing office.

In fact, so far as its communications for the public eye are concerned, it is almost an unmitigated curse. No news which it sends over the wire is reliable, save what transpires in legislative bodies, and in the transactions of the money and other markets. One half of its “reports'”, and “rumors” are the pure inventions of the imagination, and “like the baseless fabric of a vision, leave not a wreck behind,” save the painful memory of deceit and imposition.

As far as its transmission of intelligence, respecting men and measures, helps to form that public opinion, which is the basis of political action, the telegraph, as abused, is a positive nuisance. Unless it is shorn of its strength, by unbelief in all it says and does, it can bring upon us a war at pleasure; it can cry down the good and elevate the bad; it can achieve the success of any party; it can elect any man, almost, President of the United States; and it can render uncertain almost any investment of the capitalist, and play, as with a football, with the great interests of labor and industry.”

(The Telegraph and Its Abuses: Philadelphia Morning  Pennsylvanian, February 6, 1861)

How Fort Sumter Came to be Fired Upon

Jefferson Davis wrote of President James Buchanan, that “he as soon as thought of aiding in the establishment of a monarchy among us as of accepting the doctrine of coercing the States into submission to the will of a majority, in mass, of the people of the United States. When discussing the question of withdrawing the troops from the port of Charleston, he yielded a ready assent to the proposition that the cession of a site for a fort, for purposes of public defense, lapses whenever that fort should be employed by the grantee against the State by which the cession was made, on the familiar principle that any grant for a specific purpose expires when it ceases to be used for that purpose.” (Rise and Fall, Vol. I, pg. 185)

How Fort Sumter Came to be Fired Upon

“There are many matters of interest and importance connected with the firing upon Fort Sumter which are not generally mentioned in our American histories. These are given in some detail in Dr. H.A. White’s “Life of Robert E. Lee. Such information is essential to an understanding of the whole subject of the beginnings of the sectional conflict.

. . . “ ’It will be an advantage for the South to go off,’ said [Henry Ward] Beecher. After the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln there was a strong current opinion in the North that the Federal troops should be withdrawn from the Southern forts. President Lincoln’s ‘organ,’ the National Republican, announced that the Cabinet meeting of March 9 had determined to surrender both Sumter and Pickens. That [Major] Anderson would be withdrawn from Sumter ‘was the universal impression in Washington’ (Rhodes, U.S., vol. iii., p. 332).

Welling, of the National Intelligencer, was requested by Seward to communicate the Cabinet’s purpose to George W. Summers, member of the Virginia Convention (The Nation, Dec. 4, 1879).  [On] March 15 Secretary Seward unofficially notified the Confederate Commissioners, through Justice Campbell of the Supreme Court that Sumter would be yielded at once to the Southern Confederacy.”

. . . “March 24 brought Colonel Ward H. Lamon of Washington to Fort Sumter. He obtained permission from Governor Pickens to visit Major Anderson upon the representation that he had come as ‘confidential agent of the President,’ to make arrangements for the removal of the garrison. “The impression produced upon Major Anderson by Lamon, as well as upon the officers and men of the garrison, was that the command was to be withdrawn.’ Lamon informed Governor Pickens ‘that the President professed a desire to evacuate the work.’

After Lamon’s return to Washington he sent a written message to Pickens, that he ‘hoped to return in a very few days to withdraw the command.’ “

(Women of the South in War Times, Matthew Page Andrews, Norman, Remington Company, 1920, pp. 59-60)

Two Views of Freedom

The following excerpt is from Senator Hubert Humphrey’s account of his interview with Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev in 1959. Though claiming to be staunchly anti-communist, Humphrey in 1944 endorsed and promoted the fusion of the Farmer-Labor party with Democrats, as well accepting the support of “Stalinists and other assorted radicals who dominated the CIO [Congress of Industrial Organizations] in Minneapolis at this time.” Humphrey was also admired by Roosevelt’s pro-Soviet vice president, Henry Wallace.

Two Views of Freedom

“I told [Krushchev] that a lot of young and vigorous Democrats . . . were coming up and that things would be very different after the 1960 elections. “Mr. Premier,” I said, “you and your system have been living on borrowed time. You have just had it easy with the Republicans. Just wait until the Democrats come in. You want economic competition? We’ll run you right out of Gorki Park.”

[Then] Krushchev made the most interesting statement of the whole interview. “They are old-fashioned, they are reactionary,” he said of the communes. “We tried that right after the revolution. It just doesn’t work. That system is not nearly so good as the state farms and the collective farms. You know Senator, what those communes are based on? They are based on that principle, “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” You know that won’t work. You can’t get production without incentive.”

[We] got into a debate about over the nature of capitalism and “socialism” (meaning Soviet Communism). I told him that he was sadly misinformed about as to how American capitalism really works and he told me Americans “just plain don’t understand us.” His remarks included a remarkable statement of the Communist idea of freedom:

“In the USSR there is freedom.” Krushchev said, “In the capitalist world there is freedom of enterprise, freedom just to take care of yourself. In the USSR freedom means every member taking care of all the others. The citizen of the USSR regards the country’s welfare as his own welfare.  This needs to be understood. As a religious man believes in God, so does a citizen of a socialist country depend on the welfare of the country as a whole. You believe in God and you believe that your welfare is in the hands of God. We believe the individual’s welfare is the welfare of the state and is in the hands of the state.”

(My Marathon Talk with Russia’s Boss, Hubert Humphrey, LIFE, January 12, 1959, pg. 86)

Fraud was National

The contested result of the 1876 election was settled in a back room, with Democrats acquiescing to “His Fraudulency” Rutherford B. Hayes ascent to the presidency in exchange for the removal of Northern occupation troops from the South and the assurance of federal railroad aid.

Fraud was National

“Early in the morning after the election, [the New York Times], after accounting politically for every State in the Union but Florida, announced: ‘This leaves Florida alone still in doubt. If the Republicans have carried that State, as they claim, they will have 185 votes, a majority of one.’ The situation was not quite that simple, but Florida’s vote was that important. “Visiting statesmen” from both parties hastened to Tallahassee. Local partisans were active too.

[Politician and former Northern general] Lew Wallace described the Florida situation in a letter to his wife: “It is terrible to see the extent to which all classes go in their determination to win. Conscience offers no restraint. Nothing is so common as the resort to perjury . . . Money and intimidation can obtain the oath of white men as well as black to any required statement . . . If we [Republicans] win, our methods are subject to impeachment for possible fraud. If the enemy [Democrats] win, it is the same thing . . .”

Fraud was national. It applied to the Presidency as well as railroad bonds. “Visiting statesmen” who came late showed no more scruples than carpetbaggers who came early or the scalawags whom they found. The Republicans secured the vote of Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina.

But the Florida vote remains more significant in view of Dr. Vann Woodward’s statement that the consensus of modern scholarship is “that Hayes was probably entitled to the electoral votes of South Carolina and Louisiana, and that [Samuel] Tilden was entitled to the four votes of Florida, and that Tilden was therefore elected by a vote of 188 to 181.”

(Prince of Carpetbaggers, Jonathan Daniels, J.B. Lippincott, 1958, excerpts pp. 282-283)

Assuming Puritanical Attitudes

Born at sea while his family sailed from Ireland to America, John Newland Mafffitt was destined for a life on the water. Having just relinquished command of the USS Crusader at New York on March 1, 1861, after several years capturing New England-captained and financed slavers off Cuba, the country he had left had become something different.

Soon to become one of the most famed of blockade runners and privateers, he had, by his account, in the first three of his four captures of slavers, rescued 789 Africans from their cramped holds.

The Wilmington Daily Journal of 25 September 1863 remarked, “It is a curious fact, for those who maintain the civil war in America is founded upon the slave question, that [Maffitt] should be the very man who has distinguished himself actively against the slave trade.”  

Though describing himself as a “slave holder” due to a modest interest in land he had inherited from his wife’s family, Maffitt found the newly-rediscovered morality of New Englanders disingenuous.

Assuming Puritanical Attitudes

“The news of Fort Sumter reached Washington in the early evening of April 13, causing intense excitement within the city. Maffitt now faced his terrible decision of allegiance. He could hear the tramp of soldiers and the roll of artillery wagons day and night outside his house. Southern families departed daily; resignations were announced “in language of gall and bitterness.” Maffitt’s relatives were in the South. His property was partly in the North – his Washington home with its valuable furnishings and fine library; and partly in the South interest in land he inherited . . .

He recoiled against a people who sold slaves to Southerners and then became puritanical in their attitudes:

‘I fancied that New England, with her well-developed secession proclivities, would offer no material objection to the course of the South. In truth it was natural to presume that fanatical abolitionism would hail with joy the departure of the un-Godly, slaveholding section of the country from her unwelcome participation in the Union. But material interest gave zest to patriotism, and her war course would lead the world to suppose that she never contemplated a severance from the Union and forming a Northern Confederation.”

(High Seas Confederate: The Life and Times of John Newland Maffitt, Royce Shingleton, University of South Carolina Press, 1994, excerpts pp. 30; 32-33)  

Defenders of Their Once Peaceful Homes

Bethel, Virginia is located about ten miles from Yorktown where Cornwallis surrendered and virtually ended the Revolutionary War, with French assistance. Oddly enough, the War to conquer the South began near the same place, Little Bethel Church and a little further north, Big Bethel Church.

In command of forces invading Virginia was Massachusetts lawyer and General, Benjamin Butler.  His plan of battle was described as “the official plan for the first battle for the maintenance of the Republic.” The object of Butler’s expedition “was stated in these unconventional words: “If we bag the Little Bethel men, push on to Great Bethel, and simultaneously bag them.  Burn both Bethels or blow up if brick.” Most of the work, it was further directed, was to be done with the bayonet.

Colonel John B. Magruder was commander of three Southern regiments, one of which was the First North Carolina Volunteers under Col. D. H. Hill.

Defenders of Their Once Peaceful Homes

“Yorktown, Virginia July 3, 1861

To: Mrs. Hugh McCormick, Bladen County, NC

As I am not well today I am not at work. I cannot pass off my time in a more satisfactory way than writing to one of my most highly esteemed cousins. I hope when this letter is received by you that Cousin Hugh, you and the babe will be well and enjoying the richest blessings of life.

 Cousin Bettie, I am now faring worse than I ever have. I try to take it in good faith, since I do not consider myself better than those who are sharing the same fate. I will stand firmly under all the hardships and temptations I’m exposed to here.

The Cause that I’m engaged in is a glorious one. Please do not understand me to say that Civil War is a glorious thing – it is not. On the other hand it is the greatest curse that ever befell a nation. But we did not introduce war into our peaceful land. We are only defenders of our once peaceful homes. We have taken up arms to drive back the invading foe and the hirelings of the North. Our commanders are much stronger than Lincoln or Scott. I believe our great Benefactor is interceding for us and will continue to do so as long as we are engaged in the right Cause.

Tell Cousin Hugh that I was in the battle at Bethel. Our company was in the most exposed position of any of them . . . We could only dodge the balls the best way we could. The shells came so thick it gave the appearance of a hailstorm. A shell burst about twenty or thirty feet from me in the air.

Cousin Bettie, I must close by saying I hope to see you all one more time.

Yours until death, N.G. King”

(Our John of Argyll and Cumberland, An Informal Narrative of John MacCormick and His Descendants, 1762-1976, Luola MacCormick Love, Publisher, 1976, pp. 55-56)

Lincoln’s General, Ben Butler

A prewar antiwar Democrat in the Massachusetts legislature who “regularly spoke out against the abolition of slavery”, Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts rose in rank from militia officer but only noted for his lack of military skill. Earning the title “Beast” at occupied New Orleans in 1862, his command there and elsewhere were marred “by financial and logistical dealings across enemy lines, some of which probably took place with his knowledge and to his financial benefit.”

Lincoln’s General, Ben Butler

“[Lincoln’s private secretary John] Hay had some characteristic references to another notoriety of that period – Benjamin F. Butler – whom he met at Point Lookout in January, 1864.

“In the dusk of the evening,” he writes, “Gen’l Butler came clattering into the room where Marston and I were sitting, followed by a couple of aides. We had some hasty talk about business: he told me how he was administering the oath at Norfolk; how popular that was growing; children cried for it; how he hated Jews; how heavily he laid his hand on them; ‘a nation that the Lord had been trying to make something of for three thousand years, and had so far utterly failed.’ ‘King John knew how to deal with them – fried them in swine’s fat.’

At Baltimore we took a special car and came home. I sat with the General all the way and talked with him about many matters . . . He says he can take an army within thirty miles of Richmond without any trouble; from that point the enemy can either be forced to fight in the open field south of the city, or submit to be starved into surrender . . . He gave me some very dramatic incidents of his recent action in Fortress Monroe, smoking out adventurers and confidence men, testing his detectives, and matters of that sort. He makes more business in that sleepy little Department [of the James] than anyone would have dreamed was in it.”

At that sort of work Butler undeniably excelled; at fighting, his achievements were restricted to the feats he boasted he could perform when the enemy was at an entirely safe distance.”

(The Life and Letters of John Hay, Volume I, William Roscoe Thayer, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1908, pp. 142-143)

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