Browsing "America Transformed"

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)

Accommodating Secession Way Up North

Though James Buchanan did little to stem the drift toward confrontation in 1860, and helped light the fuse of war by refusing to order Major Anderson out of Fort Sumter, he did understand the constitutional limits of a president’s authority. He was an experienced diplomat who preferred negotiation, and was perhaps misled by his successor that a constitutional convention of the States would be soon called to peacefully resolve the crisis.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Accommodating Secession Way Up North

“Quebec secession was the subject of an historic judgement handed down by the supreme court of Canada on August 20, 1998. This question reached the court by a “reference” or “renvoi” initiated by the governor general, in effect a request by the Prime Minister and his cabinet for an advisory opinion.

The judgement is not binding or enforceable by writs as in ordinary litigation, but is judicial advice given to the government of Canada.

The court held, while the government of Quebec has no constitutional right to work a unilateral secession of the province from Canada, the people of Quebec enjoy a constitutional right to have a referendum at public expense and without interference, and that, if the people of Quebec clearly vote for independence, the government of Canada has a constitutional duty to negotiate in good faith to accommodate their expressed desire.

The people of Quebec refused to be absorbed [into the dominant Anglo-Canada] and they intend to remain a distinct society – be constitutional accommodation with Anglo-Canada if possible, by independence if necessary. At the moment, separatism is an active force in Quebec, mainly because of a new constitution (the Canada Act of 1982) was imposed upon Quebec over the protest of her government.

In their recent judgment, the supreme court of Canada [was] right insofar as [the Constitution Acts of 1867-1982] include no express right of constitutional mechanism for secession. Yet by implication, the court wholly repudiated the course taken by Abraham Lincoln against the South in 1861-1865.

The justices understand the truth stated by President James Buchanan on the occasion of Lincoln’s election in 1860” “Our Union rests upon public opinion, and can never be cemented by the blood of its citizens shed in a civil war. If it cannot live in the affections of the people, it must one day perish. Congress possesses many means of preserving it by conciliation, but the sword was not placed in their hands to preserve it.”

(Cultural Revolutions, John Remington Graham, Chronicles, November 1998, excerpts pg. 7)

 

Neither Revolted Provinces nor Rebellious Subjects

The following is excerpted from a letter written to Confederate diplomat James M. Mason by Secretary of State, R.M.T. Hunter, explaining the American Confederacy’s reasons for seeking independence and a more perfect Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Neither Revolted Provinces nor Rebellious Subjects

“Department of State

Richmond, September 23, 1861

Sir — The President desires that you should . . . in presenting the case once more to the British Government, you ought again to explain the true position in which we appear before the world. We are not to be viewed as revolted provinces or rebellious subjects, seeking to overthrow the lawful authority of a common sovereign.

Neither are we warring for rights of a doubtful character, or such as are to be ascertained only be implication. On the contrary, the Union from which we have withdrawn was founded on the express stipulations of a written instrument which established a government whose powers were to be exercised for certain declared purposes and restricted within well-defined limits.

When a sectional majority persistently violated the covenants and conditions of that compact, those States whose safety and well-being depended upon the performance of these covenants were justly absolved from all moral obligation to remain in such a Union.

Such were the causes which led the Confederate States to form a new Union, to be composed of more homogenous materials and interests.

The authority of our Government itself was denied [by Washington], its people denounced as rebels, and a war was waged against them, which, if carried on in the spirit it was proclaimed, must be the most sanguinary and barbarous which has been known for centuries among civilized people.

The Confederate States have thus been forced to take up arms in defense of their right of self-government, and in the name of that sacred right they have appealed to the nations of the earth, not for material aid or alliances, offensive and defensive, but for the moral weight which they would derive from holding a recognized place as a free and independent people.”

(Instructions to Hon. James M. Mason, Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume VII, January-December 1879, Rev. J. William Jones, Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1990, excerpts pp. 231-233)

 

The Genius of Eli Whitney

Eli Whitney was a mechanically-talented Massachusetts farm boy who graduated from Yale and ventured South in 1792 to teach school in South Carolina. As he watched plantation slaves working laboriously to pick “the fuzzy, stubborn seeds from “vegetable wool,” at an average rate of two pounds per day,” he quit his teaching position to concentrate on the invention to speed the chore. Cotton production soared from 10,000 bales in 1793 to double that in 1796, and 180,000 by 1810 – Whitney can be said to have single-handedly perpetuated slavery.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Genius of Eli Whitney

“The Agricultural Society of South Carolina, second of its kind in the United States, came into being in 1785 “for promoting and improving agriculture and other rural concerns.” Its high-minded purposes were defined by Thomas Heyward, Jr., its first president, who expounded: “After having gloriously succeeded . . . in terminating a war . . . it is incumbent upon us equally to endeavor to promote and enjoy the blessings of peace. Agriculture was one of the first employments of mankind . . . [and] one of the most innocent and at the same time the most pleasing and beneficial of any . . .”

This interest in diversified agriculture was further evidence that the institution of slavery – a national rather than sectional cancer – was well on its way to extinction before the American Revolution. Jefferson was strongly opposed to it; his original draft of the Declaration of Independence contained a denunciation of it. Early attempts along these lines were thwarted by the British crown.

To Virginia goes the honor and distinction of being the first American State to prohibit the importation of slaves, having passed a law to this effect during the very first session of its existence under the republican government (1778). Maryland followed suit in 1783.

The tobacco planters, slavery’s principal eighteenth-century exponents, were learning slavery’s folly and coupling it with old guilts of moral shame.

So firm was the resolve and so positive was the action that there can be no doubt as to the demise of the slave during the early years of the nineteenth century, had it not been for the “sudden apparition of the great cotton crop, conjured by the genius of Eli Whitney” and dwarfing all other Southern resources by the “instant employment of the half-idle slaves, whose presence had begun to be felt as a burden.”

Without an economical means to separate the lint from the seed, cotton could not have become the ruthless king that it was. Without King Cotton, slavery would have withered and died. Without the emotionally packed issue of slavery, the newly-formed States would have arrived at a peaceable solution to their differences, because their quarrels centered around cotton and the tariff.”

(This is the South, Robert West Howard, editor, Rand McNally & Company, 1959, excerpts pp. 136-138)

Another Casualty of the War

It is written that “despite the changes which the catastrophe of 1865 made inevitable, the distinctive culture of the region was never destroyed.” Both races had to return to living together in the same land, but social relations deteriorated with the political machinations of the carpetbaggers and the Republican Party’s Union League. For simple political opportunism and lasting hegemony over the defeated South, the latter taught the black man to hate his lifelong white neighbor and vote for the Northern party which impoverished the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Another Casualty of the War

“Since the Civil War, there has been a decline in what the ante-bellum traveler Frederick Law Olmsted called “the close habitation and association between black and white.” Immediately after the war the two races separated in churches, and for the cultural give and take of the plantation was substituted a dual school system which sealed off the children of one race from another.

Gradually it became impossible for a white person to teach in a Negro school without losing caste. When the courts forced the attendance of Negroes in white schools, no genuine interracial fraternity developed. No longer did the two races have what William Faulkner calls “the same parties: the identical music from identical instruments, crude fiddles and guitars, now in the big house with candles and silk dresses and champagne, now in the dirt-floored cabins with smoking pine knots and calico and water sweetened with molasses.”

The whites have been able to implement a growing aversion to intimate contact with the blacks through the use of labor-saving devices and through the spread of progressive notions concerning the dignity of labor. Despite Supreme Court decisions, immutable social custom makes for increased residential segregation, especially in the newer sections of the cities.

One of the most persistent beliefs about the South is that the Negro is in a constant state of revolt against the social pattern of the section. Despite a vast literature to the contrary, the facts of history refute this assumption.

As a slave the black man never attempted general insurrection and did not run away often. “The slaves,” says a historian of the Confederacy, Robert Cotterill, “supported the Confederacy (albeit somewhat involuntarily).” It is now proved that outside compulsions rather than inner ambitions prompted the political insubordinations of Reconstruction. Their artificial character is proved by the fact that they were not accompanied by much social insubordinations and by the fact that they disappeared as soon as the outside compulsions were removed.

Indicative of the willingness of the rank and file blacks to accept the status quo are the words of a conservative demagogue who knew the Negro well. “If the election of the governor of South Carolina were left “entirely to the Negro vote,” declared Cole L. Blease in 1913, “I would receive without trouble 75 to 90 percent.”

(The Everlasting South, Francis Butler Simkins, LSU Press, 1963, excerpts pp. 48-49)

“Forecasts of Good Times a-Coming”

Since the war, Americans have believed, or led to believe, that national unity is the ultimate goal of all Americans – the South has been portrayed as evil given its distinction of unsuccessfully withdrawing from the Union. Southern historian Francis Butler Simkins notes that even Southern-friendly historians seem to get “inspiration from William T. Sherman who felt justified in imposing a cruel punishment upon the South because it tried to destroy the national unity.” In reality, the South’s withdrawal did not destroy the Union, it simply reduced the numerical constituency of the Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“Forecasts of Good Times a-Coming”

“The reputation of the region of the United States below the Potomac today suffers from the same forces from which the Middle Ages suffered at the hands of historians during the Enlightenment. Chroniclers of Southern history often do not grasp the most elementary concept of sound historiography: the ability to appraise the past by standards other than those of the present.

They accept a fanatical nationalism which leaves little room for sectional variations, a faith in Darwinian progress which leaves no room for static contentment, and a faith in the American dream of human equality which leaves little room for one person to get ahead of another except in making money.

In theory at least, our historians refuse to tolerate a concept of “all sorts and conditions of men” of which The Book of Common Prayer speaks.

Growing out of the uncritical acceptance by historians of the South of this creed of contemporary Americans are certain concrete dogmas: the church and state should be separate, but not the school and state; school but not church attendance should be compulsory; universal education is better than folk culture; political democracy is better than aristocratic rule; freedom is better than slavery; nationalism is better than provincialism; urban standards are better than rural ones; small farms are better than plantations; the larger the number of voters the better for the commonwealth; and the two-party system is better than the harmony of one party.

The historians who are friendly to the region and who accept the ideal of human equality seem ashamed of the degree to which the South has not attained this ideal. Their faith in the benefits of two political parties has led them to predict, for the past ten decades, the breakup of the Solid South and the coming of a state of rectitude like that of New York or Illinois.

They are apologetic over the existence in the South of the sharpest social distinction in all America: that between the white man and the Negro. They hail breaks on the color line as forecasts of the good times a-coming.”

(The Everlasting South, Francis Butler Simkins, LSU Press, 1965, excerpts pp. 4-5)

 

“Visiting Statesmen” in Florida

The South acquiesced to the inauguration of “His Fraudulency,” Rutherford B. Hayes, in the notorious national election of 1876 with the withdrawal of Northern troops from the South as well as promises of federal aid to Southern railroads. This election was a continuation of Republican election fraud in the South which herded freedmen to the polls while intimidating white Democratic voters. In order to win elections, the Democratic Party was to become as corrupt as their even worse political adversaries.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“Visiting Statesmen” in Florida

“The smallest tadpole in the dirty pool of Secession,” as the New York Herald had described Florida in the war, had become something very different to The New York Times in 1876. Early in the morning after the election, that strong Republican paper, 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” of both parties hastened to Tallahassee. Local partisans were active too. Some of the Republicans who came were . . . Governor Edward F. Noyes, of Ohio, who presented the Republican case and was said to have made some remarkable Republican promises . . .

Lew Wallace, the politician and novelist . . . 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, 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.

Fraud was national. It applied to the Presidency as well as railroad bonds. “Visiting statesmen” who came late showed no more scruples that 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 recent historical scholarship is that “Hayes was probably entitled to the electoral votes of South Carolina and Louisiana, and that Tilden was entitled to the four votes of Florida, and that Tilden was therefore elected by a vote of 188 to 181.”

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

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)

 

 

 

Igniting the Flame at Fort Sumter

President James Buchanan’s vacillation and failure to seek conciliation during the Fort Sumter crisis burdened the inexperienced Lincoln with something he was ill-prepared to handle. Buchanan had underway a secret negotiation with the president-elect “to obtain his backing for a national constitutional convention, and he expected an answer from Lincoln at any hour.” Though Buchanan tried to engage conservative Republicans to endorse some conciliatory measures to defuse the crisis, none were forthcoming.  Jefferson Davis, in his efforts to save the Union, encouraged his fellow congressmen and the president to seek peaceful solutions to the crisis.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Igniting the Flame at Fort Sumter

[South Carolina-born, American diplomat] William H. Trescott, acting as a go-between, scheduled a procedural meeting [with Buchanan] for December 27. On the morning of that fateful day news arrived [in Washington] which created wild excitement. Major [Robert] Anderson had just spiked the guns of Moultrie and had moved his entire command into Fort Sumter under cover of darkness . . .

The South Carolina commissioners cancelled their visit to [President] Buchanan and waited for more information. Trescott hurried to [Secretary of War John B.] Floyd’s office and obtained from him a promise that he would promptly order Anderson back to Moultrie as soon as he received official confirmation of the reports.

Floyd immediately telegraphed Anderson that he did not believe the news, “because there is no order for any such movement,” but Anderson replied, “The telegram is correct.”

While messages sped back and forth, the Southern leaders in Washington headed for the White House. Jefferson Davis arrived first and broke the news to Buchanan. “Now, Mr. President,” he said, “you are surrounded with blood and dishonor on all sides.”

“[Buchanan exclaimed]: I call God to witness, you gentlemen more than anybody know that this is not only without but against my orders. It is against my policy.”

Senators Hunter, Lane, Yulee, even Slidell called and bore down on Buchanan to order Anderson out of Sumter or face general secession and war. Buchanan paced nervously, telling his excited callers to keep calm and trust him. He gave evidence of sympathizing with their position for it seemed to him at the moment that if Anderson had ruptured the “gentlemen’s agreement” [to maintain the status quo in Charleston harbor]. It was certainly a move the president had not anticipated. But for all his soothing words, he gave the Southerners no promise.

The afternoon Cabinet meeting ran over into the night. Black, Holt and Stanton aggressively defended Anderson’s action. “Good,” said Black. “It is in precise accordance with his orders.” “It is not,” said Floyd.

Buchanan believed that Anderson’s orders justified his maneuver. The Cabinet had assigned the major “military discretion” and had authorized him to take defensive action in the face of “tangible evidence of a design to attack him.” His report of a few days before had offered such evidence, though no hint that he intended to transfer the troops.

Buchanan said he would not order Anderson to return to Moultrie, but he expressed deep concern over the settlement of the question of responsibility. Neither the President nor Secretary of War had commanded the transfer . . .

Buchanan agreed to see the South Carolinians “only as private gentlemen.” At their interview, the only one which was to be held, they informed the president excitedly and with asperity that they would not negotiate with him until he ordered all federal troops out of the Charleston area. Buchanan replied that he could issue no such order.

The commissioners then withdrew and that night prepared a letter . . . It suggested that South Carolina had made a serious mistake “to trust your honor rather than its own power,” and warned that unless the troops were withdrawn, affairs would speedily come to a “bloody issue.”

(President James Buchanan, a Biography, Philip S. Klein, American Political Biography Press, 1962, excerpts pp. 378-379)

The Last Election Held Under the Union

Hamilton Fish (1808-1893) was a prewar governor and senator from New York and served as secretary of state under Grant, 1869-1877. A wealthy man before the war, Fish was pragmatic and foresaw the destructive nature of the new Republican Party forming in the mid-1850s. He saw it as the duty of every man, North and South, to discourage unnecessary discussion of the slavery question which would only lead to the end of the Union. Fish, like other prominent Whigs who feared sectional parties, refused to join the Republicans and agreed with the view of Charles Sumner as vulgar, arrogant and deserving of caning. In 1860, only four years after fielding its first presidential candidate, the Republican Party had driven the first Southern State out of the Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Last Election Held Under the Union

“[In] 1855, the Republican Party advanced with rapid strides to the destruction of [the Whig Party]. News of violence was beginning to come from Kansas; fresh incidents were proving the Fugitive Slave Act unenforceable; in New York [Thurlow] Weed and [William] Seward were gravitating to the new organization.

Disunion was coming, D.D. Barnard sadly wrote Fish in July. The Fugitive Slave Law did something, and the Nebraska Bill has done everything, to stir up the anti-slavery sentiment of the North to a fever-heat. Fanaticism, meanwhile, makes a jubilee of the occasion, and demagogues, great and little, rush in to swell the commotion and make the most of the dreadful mischief. It is Massachusetts now, not South Carolina, which enters on a career of nullification . . .

A Northern party is loudly called for, with no principle to stand on but the eternal hatred and eternal war against the South on account of slavery. A Presidential election conducted by sectional parties, with nothing but slave issues between them – if such a thing were practicable—would be the last election held under the Union.

But Fish watched with grave disquiet. To Edward Ketchum he wrote that the Whig organization had ever been a national body, and he deplored its obliteration by sectional party. He also disliked the fanaticism, the intolerance of everything Southern, which stamped the prominent men among the Republicans.

At a recent meeting one [Republican] speaker had declared, “You are here to dethrone American slavery” . . . did [the speaker] know that such talk inflamed the South and placed the Union in peril?

To James Hamilton he wrote still more emphatically. The Republican State platform “has not an element of nationality”; it is “covered all over with the wildest sectional agitation.” His love of peace and the Union would not permit him to accept it.

[Fish] concluded:

“For myself I cannot consent to be made an Abolitionist, or to become an “Agitator” of the slavery question. I cannot close my eyes to the fact that history shews, that every physical revolution (of governments) is preceded by a moral revolution; that the discussion of questions on which the sections are united among themselves but differ the one from the other, leads to estrangement first, and next to hostility and hatred which end inevitably in separation. The separation of this country from Great Britain was not the result of the War of the Revolution, or even the Declaration of Independence. The discussions and controversies which had preceded the latter event caused and effected the separation which was only formally proclaimed by the Declaration, and forcibly maintained by the war.”

(Hamilton Fish, the Inner History of the Grant Administration, Allan Nevins, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1937, excerpts pp. 54-56)

Pages:«1234567...45»