Browsing "America Transformed"

Threats of Federal Interference in Elections

The Republican Party used freedmen votes to win elections from Grant onward, though the election of Democrat Grover Cleveland demonstrated that more federal election interference in the South was needed to ensure GOP victories. Amid Republican claims that free elections were not being held in the South, Senator Zebulon Vance spoke against the Republican’s 1890 Force Bill and their assertion of electoral purity:

“[t]he supporters of this bill . . . is the same party, which inaugurated Reconstruction. By Reconstruction, it will be remembered one-fifth of the votes in eleven States was suppressed by law. The punishment of disfranchisement was freely inflicted [on Southerners] as a punishment for crime without trial and conviction. Thousands upon top of thousands of other votes were suppressed by fraud . . . [and] there were received and counted the ballots of those who were not entitled to suffrage under any law known to American history or tradition.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Threats of Federal Interference in Elections

“At the end of Reconstruction period the South, which had lost so much in other ways, gained in its representation in Congress through counting all the Negroes in the apportionment. In 1860 it had 108 representatives, in 1880 it had 135. In the same period the three Middle Atlantic States rose from 66 to 73, and the six New England States declined from 41 to 40.

The Southern gain worked for the advantage of the Democrats and the disadvantage of the Republicans. The Republicans, now controlling both houses of Congress, were indignant at a situation which . . . deprived them of votes in the House. This feeling led them to bring in the Federal Election Bill of 1890 . . . On its face the law applied to all parts of the country, but it was aimed mainly at the South and the city of New York.

Candid Southerners did not deny suppressing the Negro vote, but they justified it by saying a great wrong had been done when Negro suffrage was imposed on the South by military force; and they insisted it was necessary to eliminate that vote in order to have good government. Southerners gave clear warning that it would be impossible to enforce a law to put the South in the hands of the Negroes.

The bill passed the House but came to a halt in the Senate. The more it was considered the greater was the unwillingness to enter upon the stormy course its passage would produce. The proposal was finally killed by an agreement between eight free-silver Senators and a group of Southern senators.

The threat to pass the election bill alarmed Southerners greatly, and the defeat of the bill did not altogether remove their fears; for federal interference might be renewed at any time.

Another source of anxiety to the Southern Democrats was the appearance of the People’s [Populist] Party in their midst with a fair prospect of dividing the white vote. These two things led Southerners to pass certain amendments to several State constitutions, in order to exclude the Negro from voting without incurring penalties for violating the Fifteenth Amendment.

To do this it was necessary to word the alterations so that the Negro was not disenfranchised upon the specified grounds of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” the only grounds on which at that time the rights of suffrage might not be denied.

It was natural that these amendments should go to the Supreme Court for interpretation. But that tribunal showed a strong unwillingness to pas upon them in fact. To overthrow them would produce a critical situation in the South, where the whites were more determined that the Negroes should not rule either all or any part of the section. The Court showed a desire to avoid precipitating a sectional conflict.

Nevertheless the Fifteenth Amendment is still a part of the federal Constitution; and when the Negro race comes to have the weight of trained intelligence and the substantial possession of property, it will probably find a way to qualify and vote under the present State amendments.”

(Expansion and Reform, 1889-1926, John Spencer Bassett, Kennikat Press, 1971 (original 1926), pp. 22-24)

The North’s Powerful Pension Attorney Lobby

The North’s war pensions were costly – from 1866 to 1917 the total disbursement for pensions was over $5 billion – though including the negligible amount for the Indian and Spanish Wars. It is said to be the “largest expenditure for pensions of any sort in the history of the world.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The North’s Powerful Pension Attorney Lobby

“Disability pensions for [Northern] Civil War soldiers were authorized on a liberal scale by acts passed in Congress in 1862, 1864, 1865, 1872 and 1873. In 1872, [James A.] Garfield said in the House that the expenditure for pensions, then standing at $27,000,000, had reached its peak, would remain stationary for a few years and then decline.

His prediction might have proved correct but for the activities of the pension attorneys.

These men were numerous in Washington. They helped a soldier file his claim and received a fee fixed by the government. When the claim was good they rendered proper services. But as the good claims became fewer, some attorneys took up bad claims many of which were rejected by the Commissioner of Pensions.

Then grew up the habit of referring such claims, approved by a lenient committee, to Congress as private bills, where they usually passed without inquiry on the floor of either house. In carrying out this process the pension attorneys became a powerful and persistent lobby.

They went further than mere private bills and sought to get laws passed for more liberal pensions. To carry their schemes through they established newspapers and appealed to the soldier vote. They had a strong influence in the Grand Army of the Republic, composed of officers and soldiers of the Civil War.

Their first striking success was in 1879 when the Arrears-Pension Act was passed . . . [and] gave [a lump sum to] any pensioner the arrears from death or discharge to the time a pension was applied for. Under the stimulus of the attorneys the act was passed with the strong support of each party.

Under it the pension bill rose from $27,000,000 in 1878 to $56,000,000 in 1880; and the number of applicants increased from 44,587 to 141,466 in the same period. The pension attorneys were rewarded for their efforts by this vast increase in business, though the legal fee did not exceed $10 for each claim.

When [Democrat Grover] Cleveland was President he adopted the plan of examining carefully the private pension bills sent him for signature. Many of them he signed, and many he vetoed after satisfying himself they were unwarranted. Against him the pension attorneys opened their powerful batteries and reminded the public he was elected by the votes of former Confederate soldiers.

Cleveland did not modify his course and when the lobby got Congress to pass a bill in 1887 to allow pensions to all [Northern] soldiers dependent on their own labor and not able to earn a living he vetoed that bill also. For his entire pension policy he was severely arraigned in [the election of] 1888 and the assault was a strong factor in his defeat.

[Republican] President [Benjamin] Harrison took office pledged to a liberal pension policy. In his first annual message . . . Harrison urged the passage of a dependent pension law [and] Congress complied . . . In its second year of operation, when it was fully acting, the total expenditure for pensions had increased by $68,000,000 a year, and in the course of seventeen years by a total of $1,058,000,000. It was passed as a political measure, with an eye to the old soldier vote.”

(Expansion and Reform, 1889-1926, John Spencer Bassett, Kennikat Press, 1971 (original 1926), pp. 18-21)

A Warning of Things to Come

Reverend H. Melville Jackson warned his Richmond audience in 1882 that there will come a day when the victor’s literature and monuments shall crowd out remembrances of the Southern patriots who fought and perished in the cause of independence.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Warning of Things To Come

“It is been said of General Robert E. Lee that he often expressed the fear lest posterity should not know the odds against which he fought. [The] daily witness of incredible heroism, daily spectator of the dauntless courage with which a decimated army faced undismayed an overwhelming foe, the chieftain of your armies, gentlemen, feared lest the examples of knightly valor and splendid fortitude, which you have exhibited to the ages, might, through the incapacity or incredulity, or venal mendacity of the historian, be finally lost to the human race.

And there is, I will venture to say, scarcely a soldier of the Confederacy who does not share this apprehension that posterity may not do justice to the cause for which he fought. Soldiers, you cannot bear to think that your children’s children shall have forgotten the fields on which you have shed your blood. You cannot think with equanimity that a day will come when Virginia shall have suffered the fame of her heroes to be lost in obscurity, and the valorous achievements of her sons to fade from memory.

And if you thought, to-night, that the muse of history would turn traitor to your cause, misrepresent the principles for which you fought, and deny to you the attributes of valour, fortitude and heroic devotion you have grandly won, your souls would rise up within you in immediate and bitter and protesting indignation.

This apprehension is thought by some to be not altogether groundless. The North, it is said, is making the literature of these times, has secured the ear of the age and will not fail to make the impression, unfavorable to you, which time will deepen rather than obliterate.

Diligent fingers are carving the statues of the heroes of the Northern armies, writing partizan and distorted versions of their achievements, altering, even in this generation, the perspective of history, until, at no distant day, they shall have succeeded in crowding out every other aspirant of fame and beguiled posterity into believing that the laurels of honor should rest, alone and undisturbed, upon the brows of your adversaries.”

(Our Cause in History, Address of Reverend H. Melville Jackson of Richmond. Given at the Richmond Howitzer’s Banquet, December 13, 1882. From the Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume XI, pp. 26-30)

Washington College Was Not Spared

Liberty Hall Academy in Lexington, Virginia, was the recipient in 1796 of James River canal stock gift from General George Washington – and the grateful school trustees changed the name to Washington College in 1813. Almost immediately after Robert E. Lee’s death in 1870, the school became known as “Washington and Lee College.” Northern soldiers desecrated the college named for Washington in 1864, smashing windows and scribbling obscenities on the walls.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Washington College Was Not Spared

“But no one could hide the scars of the recent struggle. “The whole country from the Blue Ridge to the North Mountain has been made untenable for a rebel army,” Sheridan had informed Washington. If a crow wanted to fly across the area, he would have to carry rations. Trees were down. Fields were gutted. Fences, mills, barns, bridges, crops and stock had been destroyed. Instead of wheat, corn, and barley, the fields were overrun with briars, nettles and weeds.

The fields could be improved in a season; the people’s tempers and bitterness not for generations. Sectional antagonism went back far before the war. “We do not set any claims to public spirit in the matter of internal improvement,” a Rockbridge County historian admitted as early as 1852, “and are shamefully content to let all the glory that appertains there go to the go-ahead Yankees.” When the Yankees laid waste to the Shenandoah Valley, Virginians turned from sarcasm to denunciation.

People did not quickly forget the fate of towns like Scottsville, where every shop, mill and store was burned. Canal locks were dismantled. Records and books were wantonly scattered. The little town lay in its blackened pall, a returning soldier wrote “like a mourner hopelessly weeping.” If the small towns were bad, the cities were worse.

The closest major city to Lexington was Lynchburg, a transportation and manufacturing center fifty-four miles to the southeast. In 1865, life there was paralyzed. Stores were vacant. The tobacco business was ruined. Property everywhere declined in value. The occupying soldiers were a rowdy, rough and drunken set. Robberies occurred nightly.

Sixteen months before General Lee came to Lexington alone, [Northern] General David Hunter had come – with an army. His orders were to . . . destroy all supplies and burn all houses within five miles of the spot where resistance occurred . . . on June 6, 1864, Hunter took Staunton and headed for Lexington . . . crossed the bridge and burned the Virginia Military Institute, and looted the area.

Annie Broun echoed the native’s reaction in the helpless undefended town: “Can I say “God forgive him?” Were it possible for human lips to raise his name heavenward, angels would thrust the foul thing down again. The curses of thousands will follow him through all time, and brand upon the name Hunter infamy, infamy.”

Atop the bluff near the river stood the charred and blackened ruins of the “West Point of the South” – Virginia Military Institute. Along the streets were piles of rubble and brick. At the edge of town stood Washington College, desecrated and silent. Planks were nailed over smashed windows. Obscenities were scribbled on the walls.”

(Lee After the War, Marshall W. Fishwick, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1963, pp. 67-77)

Washington Will Be a Fortified City

Lemuel Burkitt (1750-1807) was a Baptist preacher and member of the 1788 Hillsborough Convention which considered the new union proposed by Alexander Hamilton. A devout anti-Federalist, he demanded a maximum of State rights and the preservation of individual liberties, and thus was highly suspicious of Hamilton’s centralization of power schemes.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Washington Will Be a Fortified City

“At the sessions of the courts, at county militia musters, in the taverns, wherever men gathered, the main topics of conversation [in 1787] were the Constitution and its framers. In the heat of argument no man’s character was above attack and no past political or military service could overcome party animosity. Thomas Person, a general of the Revolution and patriot of undoubted sincerity, denounced Washington as “a damned rascal and traitor to his country for putting his hand to such an infamous paper as the new Constitution.”

Willie Jones, leader of the [North Carolina] anti-federalists, found it necessary to deny in the public press that he had “called the Members of the Grand Convention, generally, and General Washington and Col. Davie, in particular, scoundrels” . . . William Lenoir of Wilkes county said later in the debates in the convention that his constituents had instructed him to oppose the adoption of the Constitution. William Lancaster of Franklin [county] said that his own feelings and his duty to his constituents induced him to oppose the adoption of the Constitution, since he believed every delegate was bound by his instructions.

Lemuel Burkitt, a Baptist preacher strongly opposed to ratification, was a [convention] candidate in Hertford county. In explaining the selection of an area ten square miles [to be] the seat of the [federal] government, Burkitt said: “This my friends, will be walled in or fortified. Here an army of fifty thousand, or perhaps, a hundred thousand men, will be finally embodied, and will sally forth, and enslave the [American] people, who will be gradually disarmed.”

[Hugh] Williamson . . . did not consider paper currency as honest tender because of its rapid depreciation. However convenient depreciated paper appeared to those who used it to discharge their debts, he contended that the credit and finances of the State had been injured by it. No part of the North Carolina debt of North Carolina had been discharged by the operations of paper money, “the whole advantage of depreciation being a mere juggle,” by which one citizen was injured for the convenience of another.”

So great were the evils of paper money that the dignity of government was wounded by declaring it legal tender, industry languished, the orphan was defrauded, and the most atrocious frauds were practiced under the sanction of the law.”

(The Ratification of the Federal Constitution in North Carolina, Louisa Irby Trenholme, Columbia University Press, pp. 107-110; 117)

Watching Richmond with a Cold Profiteering Eye

“Diamond Jim” Fisk, was a Vermonter who by 1864 had made a fortune through shrewd dealing with army contracts and smuggling cotton northward through Union lines. Allied with the notorious New York political boss Boss Tweed, his buying of judges and bribery of legislatures was the stuff of legend.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Watching Richmond With a Cold, Profiteering Eye

[Losing a large sum in stocks, Fisk] saw an opportunity to recoup his losses by capitalizing in a similar way on victory. Confederate bonds had fallen on the London exchange with Southern losses but were still selling at some eighty cents on the dollar. Grant now had Richmond in a vise. Victory seemed certain, and when the Confederacy met defeat her bonds would plummet in value.

Not yet was there an Atlantic cable, so it would take more than a week for news of the war’s end to reach England by fast steamship.  If anyone could get to London before the news, he could sell Confederate bonds short like mad at eighty cents on the dollar and reap a harvest when they sank. Fisk resolved to get there first.

Forming a pool with three capitalists, he furnished the scheme while they supplied the money. Chartering a fast steamer, he sent it to Halifax, the nearest North American port to England with orders to keep up steam for instant departure. Aboard the ship was his agent, a knowing New York broker named Hargreaves, who had instructions to speed to England when given the signal.

One obstacle was the telegraph, which then fell fifty miles short of reaching Halifax. Fisk had the last fifty miles strung at his colleagues’ expense, then watched Richmond with a cold, profiteering eye.

On the historic day when Lee surrendered, the word sped over the wires to Hargreaves: “Go!”  Hargreaves went.

He reached Liverpool in six days and a half — two days ahead of the arrival of the first ship from New York with the news. Speeding to London, he kept mum about defeat and dutifully sold Confederate bonds short to all buyers.

Alas! — one of Fisk’s partners, a conservative man, had privately telegraphed Hargreaves not to sell more than five millions in bonds, so he limited his sales to that amount. When the news of the surrender reached London, the bonds tumbled to $22.  Hargreaves therefore collected the difference between $22 and $80, making a handsome profit for his employers but missing the downright killing that would have been possible.”

(Jim Fisk The Career of an Improbable Rascal, W.A. Swanberg, Scribner’s Sons, 1959, pp. 20-21)

 

 

Virginia Seeks Peace, Radicals Seek War

No initiatives for peaceful compromise, nor peaceful and practical solution to African slavery were forthcoming from either Abraham Lincoln or the Republican party. Their policy since Lincoln’s election was steadfast resistance to any measures that would resolve the sectional differences. Congress was by February 1861 dominated by Northern politicians after the departure of several Southern States and had free reign over legislation which would have averted war between Americans.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Virginia Seeks Peace, Radicals Seek War

“[T]he Old Dominion, true to her traditional policy of taking the initiative in times of crisis, assumed the role of peacemaker. The legislature passed joint resolutions on January 19 calling for a peace convention to be held in Washington. An invitation was extended to the other States to appoint commissioners to meet in Washington on February 4 “to consider and, if practical, agree upon some suitable adjustment.” The opinion was expressed that the Crittenden Compromise, then pending in the Senate, would with some modification serve as a basis for adjustment.

These resolutions provided for the appointment of [former President] John Tyler as commissioner to the President of the United States and Judge John Robertson commissioner to the seceded States. They were instructed respectively to request the President . . . and the authorities of the seceded States to abstain, pending the action of the proposed peace convention, from “all acts calculated to produce a collision of arms between the States and the Government of the United States.”

Congress, however, paid no attention to the Virginia resolutions. In neither House were they printed or referred to a committee. They were soon allowed to lie on a table unnoticed.

Tyler left Washington on January 29 with the expectation of returning for the Peace Convention . . . On the day before leaving, he sent another letter to President Buchanan [which] expressed appreciation for the courtesies that had been shown him and pleasure of hearing the President’s message read in the Senate. He spoke of a rumor to the effect that at Fortress Monroe the cannon had been put on the land side and pointed inland.

His comment on this report was “that when Virginia is making every possible effort to redeem and save the Union, it is seemingly ungenerous to have cannon leveled at her bosom.” To this letter Buchanan sent a very courteous reply, stating that he would inquire into the rumors with reference to Fortress Monroe.”

(John Tyler, Champion of the Old South, Oliver Perry Chitwood, American Historical Association, 1939, pp. 436-438)

From PC to the New Public Orthodoxy

This excerpt from a July 2000 Samuel Francis article traced the Leninist origins of and predictable conclusion of the political correctness phenomenon already in stride by the turn of the century.  Dr. Francis wrote that “the whole strategy of the revolution today known as “political correctness” relies on the distorted title of Lenin’s [1904] pamphlet,” One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.”  Lenin’s goal was “the seizure of total power, in particular power over culture, the forms and structures of human thought and judgment.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

From PC to the New Public Orthodoxy

“The term “political correctness” is now more than ten years old, and no sooner had it come into vogue than it began to excite the kind of ridicule that it deserved. Tales of college classes where elementary facts of history, science, literature and philosophy were deliberately butchered or silenced in order to suit the sexual, class, or racial obsessions of blatantly unqualified teachers became commonplace.

Students and even faculty were disciplined and sometimes punished with expulsion or threats of violence for the slightest verbal deviation from the “codes” imposed at distinguished universities.

For some years after its appearance, the battle against “political correctness” served as a major theme of almost all conservatives, paleo or neo, not a few of them made their reputations as writers in exposing the p.c. farce.

Once the radicals retired [from universities] in the next ten or twenty years, [a prominent neoconservative] predicted, the political correctness cult would disappear. As usual, the neoconservatives were wrong.

What has actually happened is that p.c. took its degree and graduated into the larger society. Today, not only universities but corporations and even town and city councils maintain codes of speech and behavior often far more draconian than anything ever concocted at Berkley of Madison.

The common response of most conservatives and even of the most sensible liberals to political correctness is to treat it as a joke, a silly excess of ignoramuses and intolerant mediocrities unable to master the traditional curricula or abide by standards of conduct that prevail in real schools and universities. Unfortunately, that response largely misses the larger point about political correctness, which is that it represents an actual revolution.

The experimental, university phase of the revolution lasted for about five or six years – the end of the 1980s and the first part of the 1990s – before the speech codes imposed by the first generation of revolutionaries began to be dismantled and replaced by more “moderate” ones.

That the revolution has now entrenched itself well outside the English departments and dormitories of academe ought to be clear enough. In 1999, the famous incident of the use of the word “niggardly” by a white Washington, D.C., city worker led to the worker’s dismissal for using racially inflammatory and insulting language.

The point is that it is not the act of offense that is being punished, it is the language used and the ideas invoked. To use a word that even points toward forbidden subjects is not a breach of etiquette; it is an act of subversion.

What is happening is that one set of icons, symbols, and (in the cant of the day) “role models” created and established by the old American culture is being replaced by another set of icons and symbols created and established by another culture that has found a new master race: The Virginian Confederate heroes of Richmond’s Monument Avenue are displaced by a statue of black tennis star Arthur Ashe; a mural of Lee in Richmond is altered to suit black demands but is later firebombed and vandalized with the slogan “Kill the white demons”; names of Confederate generals on the city’s bridges are changed to names of local “civil rights” leaders.

The revolution will probably not finish as radically as it began . . . [and] will allow the “conservatives” who defend the old culture to save face a bit and boast of how moderate they are and how they are willing to accept change. But the premises – that the old nation and culture are so evil that their symbolism must be altered or discarded and that the new dominant race and culture are so good that theirs must be saluted and worshipped as part of the new public orthodoxy, the new political formula that justifies the new ruling class – have already been conceded.”

(The Revolution Two-Step, Dr. Samuel Francis, Chronicles, July 2000, excerpts, pp. 32-33)

Searching for Harriet Tubman

Searching for Harriet Tubman

The recent decision to replace Andrew Jackson’s likeness on the US twenty-dollar bill with that of Harriet Tubman has generated much discussion regarding her background and true place in American history. Hard evidence of her life and contributions to American history has been elusive and the question has been posed: is this paying homage to a deserving historic figure, or, it this an act of pure political correctness – or what is called cultural Marxism? Only a small amount of open-minded reading and research is required to determine who she was, what she did, and what impact her life and actions had on American history.

There seems to be little to recommend her for a place on US currency amid several who adorn our bills and somehow linked to the financial history of the country. Washington was of course the first president; Hamilton, a proponent of a national banking; Jackson, an opponent of a national bank; Lincoln created national fiat money, the greenback; and Grant was embroiled in schemes of government and corporate financial scandals.

Leader of an  “Underground Railroad”

To begin, a recent news article referred to Tubman as “the leader of the underground railroad” and “Moses of her people,” the title emanating from an 1886 biography by children’s book author Sara Hopkins Bradford  (1818-1912), of New York.  Bradford married prominent New York attorney, and later judge, John M. Hopkins. Their two eldest sons were killed in the War.

In 1869, Bradford penned “Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman” after several interviews with the illiterate Tubman and transcribing her recollections. Both the 1869 and 1886 books have been criticized for lack of documentation and thoroughness in historical methods, and both relied heavily on Tubman’s oral history and the reminiscences of anti-slavery leaders rather than traditional and objective sources. No bibliography, footnotes or index are provided.

The “underground railroad” of that era was not a physical entity but a term of exclamation made by a Southern planter of the luring away of slaves from their plantations as well as the aid given to them. It was a useful tool of the imagination by Northern abolitionists which created scenes of liberty and freedom for slaves if they simply left their homes in the South. In reality, the antebellum North offered little in the way of improved conditions for black people and was a far more regimented and segregated society than existed in the South. Bradford’s book does not address this important side of the story.

Importantly, Frederick Douglass was a contemporary of Tubman, born three years before she and in the very same part of eastern Maryland, though he seems not to know of her exploits, nor is she mentioned in his 1892 autobiography, the “Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.”

Another book pertaining to Tubman and considered to be a primary source is Wilbur H. Siebert’s “The Underground Railroad, From Slavery to Freedom,” published in 1898. This book is also extensively criticized for lack of documentation and credible sources, and in it the author describes Tubman as “Moses” and most likely drawn from Bradford’s 1886 book.

Siebert’s version of prewar events and people depends on recollections and reminiscences of elderly abolitionists, was published in 1898 and 50-plus years after the events it recalls. Neither book can be considered thoughtful, well-researched or scholarly treatises on Tubman or the underground railroad. Many dramatic descriptions of Mrs. Tubman’s heroic exploits fill the pages and appear copied from Bradford’s earlier book.

Appendix D, Bibliography of Siebert’s book states: “The materials upon which in large measure this book is based are reminiscences gathered by correspondence and conversation with more than a thousand persons many of whom were old-time abolitionists, while the remainder included the families and intimate friends of abolitionists, and a number of fugitive slaves.”

Siebert attests that “There are few volumes that supply us with numerous illustrations of the Underground Railroad in operation.” And all, like Siebert’s book itself, are postwar creations with the earliest being Eber M. Pettit’s 1879 “Sketches in the History of the Underground Railroad.” The others were published in the 1880s and 1890s, and none written in the late antebellum period to describe what was later claimed to be a widespread antislavery effort by the North between 1850 and 1860.

To support Tubman’s oral history, Bradford cites statements from prominent abolitionists like Gerrit Smith who wrote in 1868: “Of the remarkable events of her life I have no personal knowledge, but of the truth of them as she describes them I have no doubt.”

Another, Franklin B. Sanborn of Massachusetts averred that “I never had reason to doubt the truth of what Harriet said in regard to her own career, for I found her singularly truthful.”

Siebert also tells us that Tubman’s travels were mostly in the Border States rather than the Deep South, and her only experiences in the latter were a short time with the Northern army at Hilton Head, South Carolina and briefly at Jacksonville, Florida. More on this later.

Tubman’s Early Life

The current St. Catherine’s, Ontario website notes that the town was “the final terminus of the underground railroad for hundreds of slaves in the 1820s.” If this is true then it may have been others who carried slaves northward rather than Tubman who was born in 1820 or 1821, and we are not made aware of how those slaves arrived there. The city also claims that Tubman resided there for seven years, though in which particular house is not known.

Her birth name was Araminta Ross, and Bradford writes that she was the daughter of Benjamin Ross and Harriet Greene, both slaves, and born in Dorchester County, Maryland; she took her mother’s name sometime later. Araminta was one of ten children.

Put to learning the art of weaving as a child to provide clothing for the family and slaves, she resisted learning and developed a hatred for her mistress. Araminta was then hired out in her early teens as a field hand with duties described as “in the rudest labors – driving oxen, carted, plowed, and did all the work of a man – sometimes earning money enough in a year, beyond what she paid her master [for her keep], “to buy a pair of steers” worth forty dollars. She also “worked frequently for her father,” a timber inspector.

She was married about 1844 to John Tubman, a free colored man. In 1849 and after the death of her master, she walked away from her Baltimore home and husband to Philadelphia where a white lady took her in. With a little money earned she returned to Maryland in 1850 and found her husband “married to another woman, and no longer caring to live with her.”

The Anti-Slavery Career Begins

Siebert tells us that in December 1850 Tubman “went to Baltimore and abducted her sister and two children.” A few months later she brought away another company of three persons, one of who was her brother. From this time on till the outbreak of the War of the Rebellion her excursions were frequent. She is said to have accomplished nineteen such trips during the 1850s “and emancipated over three hundred slaves.”

To put this number in perspective and compare it to the ongoing voluntary emancipation by Southern slaveholders before the war, Virginians John Randolph and Washington Custis alone freed 400 and 200 slaves in 1833 and 1857, respectively, and this was not uncommon in the South. In the latter instance, Custis’ son-in-law Robert E. Lee, saw to it that those slaves received their freedom.  The question looms: Why are these men and others like them not accorded recognition for their contributions toward emancipation?

Though certainly unfamiliar with places beyond her native Maryland, Tubman is described as having an innate ability to understand astronomy while escaping slave patrols. It is said she was aware of the North Star and others to guide her path north and south.

This is very impressive for an illiterate black woman, a fugitive herself, travelling alone into slave holding country hostile to her mission and unfamiliar to her. Then to return each time with what seems to be 15-20 persons, through the same country. Further, Frederick Douglass states in his autobiography that no white person in the former slave States of the North could be trusted not to turn fugitives in for reward money.

Also, the Bradford book often mentions Tubman’s deep religious belief and faith in God, a devout Christianity certainly taught by her master and family. Her friend Thomas Garret stated that “she [always] ventured where God sent her, and her faith in the Supreme Power was truly great.” This Christianity was tempered by her mysticism and “tales of ghostly visitation, or spiritual manifestation, at a dimly lit séance.”

Friend of John Brown

Tubman left for Boston in the winter of 1858-59 apparently to raise money for her excursions southward, and “she left New England with a handsome sum of money toward the payment of her debt to Mr. [William] Seward.” While there, “she had several interviews with Captain [John] Brown, then in Boston.

He is supposed to have communicated his plans [for the Harper’s Ferry raid] to her, and to have been aided by her in obtaining recruits and money among her people.” Mrs. Tubman is said to have venerated Brown in a religious fashion since “his murder,” as Bradford called his execution for treason against the State of Virginia.

The War

At this point is worth asking a pertinent question: Even if we accept that Tubman did have an important part in taking three hundred slaves northward to what they believed to be freedom, this in no way compares with the voluntary manumission, i.e., emancipation, by Southern slaveholders by will, deed and reward for faithful service. By 1850, the South had a free black population of nearly 435,000, and over 484,000 by 1860 according to the Federal Census — far more than the twenty-five or thirty thousand blacks in Canada by the time of the War. The latter is claimed to be the result of the underground railroad. The figure 75,000 blacks in Canada is often cited, though the rough estimate of abolitionist Dr. Samuel Howe.

In short, Harriet Tubman and perhaps others like her were minor players in an advancing emancipation process, which might have continued had Northern abolitionists left the South to solve the dilemma of slavery on their own as the North did. It is worth noting that the Southern States were ending voluntary manumission after Nat Turner’s bloody 1831 rampage in Southampton, Virginia. A thoughtful observe today might consider what could have been, and how many lives would have been saved between the years 1861-1865 had abolitionists found a peaceful and practical solution to their often well-intended efforts.

Tubman Sent to War

Sarah Bradford credits Tubman with serving as a scout and spy for General David Hunter in occupied coastal areas of South Carolina in 1862, though Tubman would have had little if any knowledge of South Carolina and its people. Tubman readily admitted that she was travelling “through unknown regions” and the South Carolina slave dialect was far different from her own Maryland dialect. This certainly raises questions.

Gov. John Andrew of Massachusetts directed Tubman sent to Hilton Head, according to Bradford, and most likely the intent was to recruit black men for his State’s regiments. His purpose was most likely to add freedmen to Massachusetts regiments and avoid conscripting his own citizens. These new recruits from the South counted against his State’s quota of troops, and Andrew wanted to get the black men before other States did.

As an example of this, Andrew formed the Second Massachusetts Cavalry with one hundred men from California in late 1862, and four hundred more by early 1863. All were paid generous enlistment bounties raised by the State of Massachusetts, as well as towns and cities.

Bradford goes on to state that “This fearless woman was often sent into the rebel lines as a spy, and brought back valuable information as to the position of armies and batteries; she has been in battle when the shot was falling like hail, and the bodies of dead and wounded men were dropping around her like the leaves of autumn . . .”

This is an astonishing claim if Tubman was only employed as a nurse at Hilton Head. It is very likely that this refers to the Olustee raid into Florida in February 1864, with Tubman accompanying the expedition. The primary purpose of that raid was to disrupt Southern food production in Florida by destroying crops and luring slaves away from their homes. Without farm labor, the farms could no longer produce and Southern troops at a loss for food.

Gen. Hunter provided Tubman with papers on February 19, 1863 to “give her free passage at all times, on all government transports. Harriet was sent to me by Governor Andrew of Massachusetts, and is a valuable woman. She has permission, as a servant of the Government, to purchase such provisions from the Commissary as she may need.” Certainly, with this food she could attract the slaves after Northern troops destroyed their fields and farms.

Tubman’s New York Home

Interestingly, the mortgage for her Auburn, New York home was held by William Seward in the mid-1850s who at that time was a senator from New York. Bradford writes that “to the credit of [Seward] it should be said, that he sold her the property on very favorable terms, and gave her some time for payment.”

In early 1868 Seward as Secretary of State presented a petition to Congress for a government pension for Tubman, and General Rufus Saxon wrote in support of this, “for services rendered in the Union Army during the late war.” Saxon stated that he “can bear witness to the value of her services in South Carolina and Florida. She was employed in the hospitals and as a spy. She made raids inside the enemy lines, displaying remarkable courage, zeal and fidelity.”

The government declined Seward’s request and did not see Mrs. Tubman’s actions as worthy of a soldier’s pension.

A Professor Hopkins of the Auburn Theological Seminary in 1886 is quoted in Bradford’s book: “Harriet lives on a farm which the twelve hundred dollars given her by Mrs. Bradford from the proceeds of this little book, enabled her to redeem from a mortgage held by Secretary Seward.”

Seward seems to have threatened foreclosure and was perhaps trying to obtain a government pension for Tubman to pay her mortgage off. Of note, no mention of Tubman or underground railroad occurs in the comprehensive 1991 biography of Seward by John M. Taylor.

In Bradford’s preface, she states that as she was about to embark on a voyage to Europe, “there was pressing need for this book, to save the poor woman’s little home from being sold under a mortgage, and letters and facts [from Tubman’s recollections] were penned down rapidly, as they came in.” She adds: “I will here state that so far as it has been possible, I have received corroboration for every incident related to me by my heroic friend.”

Fact or Fiction?

The National Park Service (NPS) has for some time embarked on a national underground railroad network of locations thought to be “stations.” The boon for towns and cities wanting to join the NPS network for more tourism dollars is that little if any hard evidence is necessary, and old homes claiming to have held fugitive slaves on their trek northward come under scant scrutiny to substantiate their claims.

Author Larry Gara, who in 1961 wrote “The Liberty Line, the Legend of the Underground Railroad,” pointed out that after examining the traditional sources, he concluded that “the legend was a mixture of fact and fiction and mostly based on the memoirs and reminiscences of descendants and friends of abolitionists.” This seems quite evident in both Bradford’s and Siebert’s books. In his 1985 “Partisan Imperative,” Joel H. Silbey stated that “[Larry] Gara demonstrated the fallacy of the idea that a well-organized and widespread underground railroad existed in the North.”

Certainly, that slaves and other laborers were leaving their plantations in the prewar period and assisted by sympathetic people along the way, such as Quakers, cannot be denied, but the existence of a formal network of “stations and conductors” cannot be proven.

To underscore the difficulty in finding evidence, Gara’s book related the experience of an Akron archeology graduate student, guided by his professors, who conducted an archeological search of 17 historic Ohio houses said to have been connected with the underground railroad. The student’s conclusion was that none of the homes he examined had tunnels or secret places of concealment. “If such constructions existed at all,” he wrote, “they must be extremely rare.” Gara’s book is highly recommend for anyone seeking a wider view of this question.

Perhaps envious of nearby St. Catherine’s, Ontario for its high visibility as an underground railroad tourist attraction, a Niagara Falls, New York, city official was under fierce criticism in July 2015 for promoting Tubman’s frequent visits to the city and spending a quarter-million dollars “to dedicate a park and erect a statue to a minor historical figure who by all accounts never set foot in Niagara Falls, Harriet Tubman.” Apparently Tubman did travel with a relative by rail across the Niagara gorge in the 1850s, but did not stop.

One city councilman supportive of the measure stated that “the park and statue . . . would draw even more tourists to a city . . . and offers unlimited opportunities for year-round tourism-related enterprises in attracting millions of visitors to Niagara Falls each year.” To further cloud the historical waters is the study by the city’s Underground Railroad Commission in conjunction with Niagara University, was unable to identify a single site anywhere in the city with any indisputable connection to the Underground Railroad . . .”

This criticism of the city’s actions concluded with “Harriet Tubman’s connection to what is now the city of Niagara Falls is tenuous at best . . . There is no corroborating evidence to support her recollection [of being here], which was related to her ghostwriter, children’s book author Sarah Hopkins Bradford [in 1886] (Niagara Falls Reporter, July 21-29, 2015).

In a similar search for more tourism dollars, city officials and local historical organizations in Wilmington, North Carolina, erected a plaque on its Riverwalk in May 2005 commemorating an “underground railroad site” – which was in reality a wartime defection of 22 black men to an enemy ship offshore.

A cursory look into this reveals that white men avoiding conscription as well as deserters were regularly defecting to enemy ships off the North Carolina coast from late 1861 through 1865. This is easily found in the reports of Union naval officer reports of deserters and slaves reaching their blockading ships offshore. This is desertion, defection and aiding the enemy – perhaps expecting compensation for intelligence information — but not an “underground railroad.”

Sadly, this was promoted by local tourism officials eager to be on the NPS UGRR network despite a lack of research and evidence. Today, the plaque stands today as a monument to historical inaccuracy and what is best termed intellectual fraud.

The Freedmen in Canada West

A topic little mentioned when discussing the existence of, or accomplishments of, an underground railroad, is the terminus in Canada and the life they led there. Most went to what was then known as Canada West, or roughly today’s Ontario, and found a difficult life in a strange climate and segregated society – not unlike the northern United States of that time.

Though the abolitionists of Bradford’s book describe a Canada welcoming black folks intent on enjoying liberty, the New York Herald printed an eight column article in its January 5, 1860 issue which described the freedmen settlements in Canada. It stated that “the fugitives go to Canada as beggars and the mass of them commit larceny and lay in jail until they become lowered and debased, and ready for worse crimes.”

That Canadians were not eager to allow unlimited numbers of ex-slaves in their country was underscored by an 1851 Toronto newspaper editorial which called for “restrictive immigration measures to check the influx of Negroes.” Though life for the free black in Canada was little different than the free black in the North or South, freedmen Nelson Moss said that he had suffered more from prejudice during three years in Pennsylvania than a free-black in Virginia.

Somehow black refugees thought Canada held more promise for them – perhaps instilled by Northerners who did not want them tarrying in their towns. Black New York minister Samuel E. Cornish viewed New York City as tainted with “an ever-present, ever-crushing Negro hate.”

Frederick Douglas saw Philadelphia in much the same way. The alternative was to stay in the South and await emancipation or purchase his freedom, and seek a better life in familiar surroundings. As an example of free-blacks persons prospering in the South, those in 1850 New Orleans held $2,354,640 in property while at the same time in Buffalo free-blacks held only $57,610.

Lastly, Canadian “Jim Crow”

Fred Landon wrote in the January 1925 Journal of Negro History about the town of Amherstburg in Canada West, a popular destination of the so-called underground railroad. He stated that “Canadian law drew no distinction between black and white in matters of citizenship,” but he found that white Canadians preferred Negroes having schools of their own – which could be said to be precisely the stance of the American South after the war.

Landon wrote that in 1854 the Negroes had a separate school “having neither blackboard nor chairs. The whole interior was comfortless and repulsive. The teacher was a colored woman, apparently doing the best she could under the discouragement of poor surroundings and frequent absences of her pupils.”

He wrote that the arrival of so many people “of another race and color into southwestern Ontario” was something white Canadians found displeasing: “Deep prejudice manifested itself at times and an occasional outburst in some newspaper reflected the feelings of an element of the population.”

The October 27, 1849 Amherstburg Courier printed “a resolution of the district council passed on October 8 of that year, protesting vigorously against the proposed Elgin settlement which was planned by Reverend William King as a home for fugitives from slavery.” This was about the time of Mrs. Tubman’s final visits to Canada with her abducted brethren.

One resident named Larwill, said “there is but one feeling, and that is of disgust and hatred, that they [the Negroes] should not be allowed to settle in any township where there is a white settlement.” This resolution asked that Negroes not be allowed to buy land, suggested a poll tax on Negroes, “a law against amalgamation and a requirement that Negroes shall furnish good security that they will not become a burden.” An additional question advanced was whether Negroes should be allowed to vote.

When abolitionist and Tubman friend, Dr. Samuel G. Howe, visited Amherstburg in 1863 to investigate conditions of freedmen there, he was told by a Mr. Park of the town that some of the Negroes were “indolent and part industrious. They tended to neglect their own poor and begged more than the whites.” Dr. Howe interviewed a Captain Averill who saw the Negroes as good sailors, “but they were never made mates and none owned ships of their own.” A sad reality rather than a welcoming Canadian population.

To conclude, it is worth rethinking Joel Silbey’s view that author Larry Gara “demonstrated the fallacy of the idea that a well-organized and widespread underground railroad existed in the North,” demand more accurate and thoughtful accounting of history from those practicing as historians, and rethink the notion that Tubman was a person worthy of such high recognition.

Upon wider research and deep reflection, and despite what Bradford and Siebert have written, it appears that the well-intentioned Tubman did perhaps bring her relatives and some others away from their condition of slavery – how many others is only a matter of conjecture as there is no hard evidence.

It is also likely that Tubman was selected by abolitionists after the war — with her actions amplified — as suitable moral figures were desperately sought to salve the costly reality of 600,000 war dead and what would become an $8 billion expenditure. That eventual cost of the war would be sufficient to have purchased the freedom of every slave, with the 40 acres, several times over. Certainly something to ponder.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sources:

Harriet Tubman, the Moses of Her People, Sarah Bradford, 1886

The Underground Railroad, From Slavery to Freedom, W. H. Siebert, 1898

The Partisan Imperative, Joel H. Silbey, Oxford University Press, 1985

Amherstburg, Fred Landon, Journal of Negro History, Vol. X., No. 1, January 1925, pp. 5-8

Harriet Tubman to Get a Park, Statue, Niagara Falls Reporter, July 12-29, 2015

Lincoln’s Desperate Search for Troops

By June 1862 Lincoln found enlistments near nonexistent, and it was time to find new sources of recruits as Northern men resisted war service.  Bounty money was offered to help solve this, and the Homestead Act had the dark purpose of attracting foreign-born troops promised bounties and public land to subjugate Americans seeking political self-determination.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lincoln’s Desperate Search for Troops

“The summer of 1862 brought more gloom to the Union cause. Stonewall Jackson’s heroics in the Shenandoah Valley were followed by McClellan’s withdrawal from his lines before Richmond . . . and the North’s setbacks in the field weighed heavily on the secretary of state. [Seward] had [earlier] watched the Army of the Potomac embark at Alexandria; he had considered it united and unbeatable.

In June of 1862 following the collapse of McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign, Lincoln had sent Seward to New York to stimulate recruiting. The secretary carried with him a confidential letter, explaining the danger and noting that the capital itself was once again in danger under the threat from the rebels. Seward, in New York City, contemplated issuing a new call form the president for volunteers.

On reflection, however, he concluded that for Lincoln to initiate the call would have overtones of panic. Instead he prevailed on most of the Northern governors to request that Lincoln issue a new call for volunteers. The upshot was that Lincoln, seemingly in response to appeals from the Northern governors, was able to issue a proclamation calling for an additional three hundred thousand men.

Seward continued his proselytizing on his return to Washington. He persuaded Secretary of War Stanton to offer new recruits an immediate bounty of twenty-five dollars when their regiments were mustered into service.

Congress had just enacted the Homestead Act, providing that any citizen or alien could acquire title to 160 acres of public land by residing on and cultivating the land for a period of five years. This was just the sort of stimulus to immigration that Seward would have favored under any conditions, but now it included a vital military dimension as well.

He sent copies of the legislation to US envoys with the covering memorandum calling the Homestead Act “one of the most important steps ever taken by any government toward a practical recognition of the universal brotherhood of nations.”

The resulting publicity assured a continuing flow of military manpower to the North from Ireland and northern Europe. John Bigelow, the US consul in Paris, would write that Seward’s circular was important for “the light I throws on the mysterious repletion of our army during the four years of war, while it was . . . being so fearfully depleted by firearms, disease and desertion.”

In addition to his military problems, Lincoln had to deal with the touchy question of war aims. Publicly he continued to argue against general emancipation, telling Horace Greeley in his famous letter of August 1862 that if he could save the Union without freeing a single slave he would do it.

Indeed, Lincoln had no authority to confiscate “property” in the North, and no ability to enforce any Federal edict in territory controlled by the Confederacy. [But as] commander in chief, Lincoln argued that he could surely seize slaves belonging to the enemy just as he could capture their railroads.

[Seward thought issuing the] proclamation following a string of defeats on the battlefield . . . would hint of desperation – “the Government stretching forth its hands to Ethiopia, instead of Ethiopia stretching forth her hands to the Government.” He feared a slave uprising would turn the war for the Union into a class war . . . and that emancipation would destroy the South’s economy, raising the specter of intervention boy Britain or France to protect its supply of raw cotton.”

(William Henry Seward, Lincoln’s Right Hand, John M. Taylor, Harper Collins, 1991, pp. 200-202)

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