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President Buchanan’s Last Annual Message

President James Buchanan’s last annual message of December 3, 1860, placed the blame for the country’s sectional divide squarely upon the Republican party and its adherents. Below, the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Patriot and Union cited and commented upon the message in its December 6, 1860 issue.

President Buchanan’s Last Annual Message

“At no previous period of our national history has the message of the President of the United States been looked for with more solicitude than was the last annual message of Mr. Buchanan; for it was felt that upon his recommendation might depend the future of the country, and that the issues of peace or civil war were, to a great extent, in his hands.

If any man in the country has the right to speak with authority to the South it is JAMES BUCHANAN, as President of the United States and head of the Democratic party; for in his official capacity he has ever been faithful to all his constitutional obligations, and as a party leader has endeavored to bring about those just concessions which, had they been granted, would have saved the country from the perils that now environ it.

The President traces our present difficulties to their true source when he attributes them to the persistent agitation of years against the system of Negro slavery as it exists in the Southern States, and to the alarming sense of insecurity growing out of that agitation . . . growing and extending, until it culminated in the formation of a sectional Northern party, thoroughly imbued and entirely controlled by hostility to the institutions of the Southern States.

It is true that the platforms and creeds of the Republican party profess loyalty to the spirit of the Constitution, and disclaim any intention of interfering with the domestic institutions of the Southern States. But professions weigh nothing when contrasted with facts.

Since the organization of the Republican party the Abolitionists have ceased to exist in this latitude as a separate party, because they merged themselves in the Republicans, deeming that the best means of promoting their ultimate objects.

Every form and degree of Abolitionism has flourished and developed under the fostering care of this Republican party, which, when confronted with the fruits of its own teaching, meekly points to its platform, and says, “we mean no harm to the Southern States.”—Turning from fair words to foul deeds, the Southern people find that the consequences of Republicanism are—the encouragement of Abolitionism, which does not hesitate to avow hostility to slavery wherever it exists; the enactment of unconstitutional laws by Republican Legislatures to nullify the fugitive slave law; the circulation of incendiary publications throughout the South, calculated, if not designed, to encourage servile insurrections, and endanger the lives of the Southern people; the promotion of John Brown raids, and the subjection of the Southern States and people to a position of inferiority.

These are unmistakably indicated as the consequences of the existence of the Republican party, which, however moderate its professions, cannot escape direct responsibility for what it promotes or encourages, and is naturally judged by the Southern people from its fruits, and not from its platforms.

The President shows conclusively that secession is not a remedy conferred upon any State by the Constitution against the encroachments of the General Government, but that it would be a revolutionary step, only justifiable “as the last desperate remedy of a despairing people, after every other constitutional means of conciliation has been exhausted.”

Notwithstanding that the message takes grounds against the constitutional right of any State to secede from the Union, the position is maintained that the Constitution has delegated to Congress no power to coerce a State into submission; and this doctrine is fortified with powerful arguments. We do not see how they can be controverted.

The proceedings of the Convention that framed the Constitution—the very highest authority—show that “Mr. Edmund Randolph’s plan, which was the ground work of the Constitution, contained a clause to authorize the coercion of any delinquent State. But this clause was struck out at the suggestion of Madison, who showed that a State could be coerced only by military force; that the use of military force against a State as such would be in the nature of a declaration of war; and that a state of war might be regarded as operating the abrogation or dissolution of all pre-existing ties between the belligerent parties, and it would be of itself the dissolution of the Union.” Thus it appears that the idea of coercing disobedient States was proposed in the Constitutional Convention and rejected.

But the President advances one step further in the argument. Suppose a State can be coerced, how are we to govern it afterwards? Shall we invite the people to elect Senators and Representatives after they are subdued and conquered? Or shall we hold them as subjects, and not as equals? How can we subdue the unconquerable will? And how can we practically annul the maxim that all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed? Such a process would undermine the foundations of the government and destroy the principles upon which it is reared more certainly than to admit the want of coercive power in the general government.

The President concludes that portion of the message relating to our domestic troubles by suggesting that they may be settled by amending the Constitution, in the way provided by that instrument, so as to secure to the South the rights for which she contends.

Let the South pause before striking the last fatal blow at the Union, and await the time when a returning sense of justice shall induce the North to concede all her just demands . . . Let the North cease its unmanly aggressions—repeal its unconstitutional statutes—stop its reckless agitation against an institution for which it is not responsible and over which it has no control—overthrow any man or party that seeks to perpetuate strife—and the Union may yet be preserved, and even made stronger and more enduring by reason of the shock it has endured.

But without this spirit of concession and mutual forbearance, there is nothing to hope for in the immediate future but contention and disunion.”

(The President’s Message: Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Daily Patriot and Union, December 6, 1860)

 

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)

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)  

Defending British Interests in the Orient

Contrary to mainstream textbook histories, FDR faced stiff opposition in Congress and the military with regard to Japan.  As a committed Anglophile, Roosevelt allowed a neutral US to supply munitions to a belligerent England and sought a backdoor to the European war by luring Japan into shooting first. Admiral J.O. Richardson, commander of the US Pacific fleet in 1940, was relieved of command when he twice criticized FDR’s order for the fleet to remain at Pearl Harbor as obvious bait, instead of steaming back to the safety of San Diego.

An early warning of Japanese intentions was sent by US Ambassador Joseph C. Grew on January 27, 1941: “There is a lot of talk around town to the effect that the Japanese, in case of a break with the United States, are planning to go all out in a surprise mass attack on Pearl Harbor. Of course I informed our Government.” (Ten Years in Japan, Grew, Simon & Schuster, 1944, pg. 368)

Defending British Interests in the Orient

“In mid-August General Douglas MacArthur, the Army Chief of Staff, had told Secretary of War Hurley that, “While this country may conceivably become engaged in a war in the Pacific or with other countries of this hemisphere, such a war under present conditions is not probably and in any event would not be of such a magnitude as to threaten our national safety.”

A bit later he and [Admiral William] Pratt assured the President that Japan could be defeated were war to eventuate; how long it would take depended on whether Great Britain were an active ally of the United States. The views of MacArthur, that war with Japan was “improbable,” reflected a species of folk wisdom extant in the country at that time. There had been no crises in Japanese-American relations since the [California] Immigration Act of 1924, and considerable cooperation had been manifested since 1927.

As an institution, the [US Navy] General Board had long accepted as fact that Japan was the national “enemy” (today the term would be “threat”) and eventually the conflict of interests between the two nations would lead to war. In 1927 the board accepted the premise that Japan’s goal was “political, commercial and political domination of the Western Pacific.”  The events of 1931-1932 merely confirmed this premise.

Led by Rear Admiral Bristol, a former Asiatic Fleet Commander (1927-1929), the Board stood foursquare for maintaining the Open Door [China policy], resisting Philippine independence measures, and promoting American commerce in the Orient. On the other hand, Admiral Taylor, the current CINCAF; his relief in 1933, F.B. Upham; and the respected Rear Admiral W.D. Leahy, destined to become Chief of Naval Operations in January 1937, all shared a common feeling that the United States had so few genuine interests in China that it was foolish to be needling the Japanese. Leahy summed up a lot of [naval] service opinion when he wrote in his diary:

“I do not understand what the Japanese are trying to do . . . It would seem that the United States has little interest there but may be drawn into a war in the Orient by the desire of Europe to have somebody else preserve its trade advantages in China.  It would be wise for America to keep hands off before it is too late.

“Today press news by radio brings us information that the training squadron and all available ships in the Atlantic have been ordered into the Pacific Ocean “for maneuvers . . .”

“Lacking any information as to a reasonable excuse for getting into trouble in the Orient at this time it seems that a movement of all ships to the Pacific can only intensify the existing unfavorable attitude of the Orient toward us. It definitely looks like a bluff that the other side may have to call whether it wants to or not.”

When writing to his brother, Admiral Taylor felt China was “up to its old tricks trying to get someone, preferably the U.S., to fight her battles for her.” A year later he concluded that Secretary [of State Henry] Stimson had “botched” things badly because he had forgotten that legalistic judgment against Japan was worthless unless the public and a sheriff backed the verdict.  “It seems to me that one of the most dangerous persons in the world is a lawyer turned diplomat . . . So in diplomacy, treaties can be quoted, but what is their value as a deterrent to a nation determined on a course of action unless violation brings in its train the international police represented by fleets and troops.”  

Admiral F.B. Upham . . . had a simple prescription: the United States should clear out of the Orient and close its markets to Japanese products.  

(Admiral William V. Pratt, US Navy, A Sailor’s Life (excerpts), Gerald F. Wheeler, Naval Historical Division, 1974, pp. 340-349)

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)

Nov 12, 2020 - America Transformed, Antebellum Economics, Bringing on the War, Economics, New England History, Sharp Yankees    Comments Off on Making the South Tributary to the North

Making the South Tributary to the North

“England had discouraged manufacturing in her colonies that she might have a larger market for her manufactures. Immediately upon the declaration of our independence we began to manufacture what we needed, and for the first quarter century after our independence the South took the lead of the North in commerce and manufactures as well as agriculture. We shipped our produce and bought goods in exchange in the open markets of the world. The ports of Norfolk, Wilmington, Charleston and Savannah had a direct trade with Europe.

In 1799, according to assessment for direct taxes, the North and the South had almost exactly the same amount of property, viz., $400,000,000 in value each. From 1791 to 1802 inclusive the exports from the North were $129,205,000. In the same period the five Southern States exported $256,708,300.

From 1791 to 1813 the five Eastern States exported, including an immense amount of Southern productions, only about $299,000,000. The Southern States for the period, including New Orleans, exported $509,000,000. The commercial prosperity was wholly on the side of the South.

Why then did the South lose its supremacy in commerce and navigation? [Thomas Hart] Benton in his “Thirty Years’ View” said the extinction of the commercial supremacy of the South was and is charged to Federal legislation by which the producing and self-sustaining section was made subject to the non-producing or dependent section.

Some of the chief legislation of the Government against which he inveighed was the policy of the protective tariff and internal improvements and the immense sums levied on the products of one section of the country to be disbursed in tremendous expenditures in the other, making the South tributary to the North and a supplicant for a small part of the fruits of its own labor.

Benton in a speech in Congress said: “Under this legislation the exports of the South have been made the basis of the Federal revenues. Virginia, the two Carolinas and Georgia may be said to defray three-fourths of the annual expense of supporting the Federal Government; and of this great sum annually furnished by them, nothing, or next to nothing, is returned to them in the shape of government expenditures.”

(Annual Agricultural Resources and Opportunities of the South, J. Bryan Grimes, Farmers’ National Congress speech, 1901, pp. 4-5)

A Constitution All Sail and No Anchor

Lord Macaulay on American Institutions

“On May 23, 1857, he stated: “You are surprised to learn that I have not a high opinion of Mr. Jefferson, and I am surprised at your surprise. I am certain that I never . . . uttered word indicating an opinion that the supreme authority in a state ought to be to be entrusted to a majority of citizens told by the head, in other words the poorest and most ignorant of society.

I have long been convinced that institutions purely democratic must, sooner or later, destroy liberty or civilization, or both . . . I have not the smallest doubt that if we had a purely democratic government [in England] . . . Either the poor would plunder rich, and civilization would perish; or order and prosperity would be saved by a strong military government, and liberty would perish . . .

Your fate I believe to be certain, though it is deferred by a physical cause.  As long as you have a boundless extent of fertile and unoccupied land, your laboring population will be far more at ease than the laboring population of the Old World, and, while that is the case, the Jefferson politics may continue without causing any fatal calamity.

But the time will come when New England will be as thickly populated as old England . . . then your institutions will be fairly brought to the test . . . I seriously apprehend that you will, in some such season of adversity as I have described, do things that will prevent prosperity from returning . . . There will be, I fear, spoliation. The spoliation will cause distress. The distress will produce fresh spoliation. There is nothing to stop you. Your Constitution is all sail and no anchor.

Your republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste by the barbarians in the twentieth century as the Roman Empire was in the fifth . . . your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your own country by your own institutions. Thinking thus, of course, I cannot reckon Jefferson among the benefactors of mankind . . .”

On October 9, 1858, Macaulay continued: “I am perfectly aware of the immense progress which your country has made, and is making in population and wealth. But I see no reason for attributing these things to the policy of Jefferson. The progress which you are now making is only a continuation of the progress which you have been making ever since the middle of the seventeenth century . . . enjoyed by your forefathers, who were loyal subjects of the kings of England . . . I do not admit that the prosperity which your country enjoys arises from those parts of your polity which may be called, Jeffersonian.” [The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, Sir George Trevelyan, Vol. II, New York, 1875, pp. 407-412]

(The Correspondence Between Henry Stephens Randall and Hugh Blair Grigsby, 1856-1861, Frank J. Klingberg and Frank W. Klingberg, editors, Volume 43, University of California Press, 1952, excerpts pp. 185-186)

If Our Enemies Prevail

Prominent South Carolina theologian James H. Thornwell saw the sectional conflict as not being merely between abolitionists an slaveholders,” but waged on one side by “athiests, socialists, communists, red Republicans and Jacobins, and the other by the “friends of order and regulated freedom. In one word, the world is the battleground and Christianity and Atheism the combatants.” Thornwell saw the progress of humanity as being at stake in the war.  Among Lincoln’s staunchest supporters were Karl Marx, many influential German revolutionaries who had fled the failed socialist revolutions of 1840s Europe, and New England utopians.

If Our Enemies Prevail

“Some Southerners saw such deception [as Lincoln’s] coming, James H. Thornwell, a prominent Presbyterian preacher and seminary professor in South Carolina, predicted if the South were defeated, then the North would not only revolutionize “the whole character of the government” from ‘a federal republic, the common agent of the sovereign and independent States’ to a “central despotism, with the notion of States forever abolished,’ but also would brand the South with the stigma of slavery:

“And what have we to expect if our enemies prevail? Our homes, too, are to be pillaged, our cities and property confiscated, our true men hanged, and those who escape the gibbet, to be driven as vagabonds and wanderers in foreign climes. This beautiful country is to pass out of our hands. The boundaries which mark our States are, in some instances, to be effaced, and the State that remain are to be converted into subject provinces, governed by Northern rulers and by Northern laws.

Our property is to be ruthlessly seized and turned over to mercenary strangers, in order to pay the enormous debt which our subjugation has cost. Our wives and daughters are to become the prey of brutal lust. The slave, too, will slowly pass away, as the red man did before him, under the protection of Northern philanthropy; and the whole country, now like the Garden of Eden in beauty and fertility, will first be a blackened and smoking desert, and then the minister of Northern cupidity and avarice.

There is not a single redeeming feature in the picture of ruin which stares us in the face, if we permit ourselves to be conquered.  It is a night of thick darkness that will settle upon us. Even sympathy, the last solace of the afflicted, will be denied to us.  The civilized world will look coldly upon us, and even jeer us with the taunt that we have deservedly lost our own freedom in seeking to perpetuate the slavery of others.

We shall perish under a cloud of reproach and of unjust suspicions, sedulously propagated by our enemies, which will be harder to bear than the loss of home and of goods. Such a fate never overtook any people before.”

(From Founding Fathers to Fire Eaters: The Constitutional Doctrine of States’ Rights in the Old South, James Rutledge Roesch, Shotwell Publishing, 2018, excerpt pp. xiv-xv)  

A Political Party Dangerous to Peace

Stephen R. Mallory succeeded David Yulee as Florida Senator in 1851, after a highly-contested campaign. Yulee vigorously opposed the Compromise of 1850, holding “that the North had violated the Missouri Compromise by proposing the Wilmot Proviso.” Mallory’s Catholic faith disturbed Yulee supporter and future Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who later “ruled that Lincoln’s assassination had been a Catholic plot.” It is also understood that the hanging of Mrs. Surratt “has been charged to her Roman faith.” Below, Senator Mallory addresses the United States Senate regarding the John Brown insurrection in Virginia.

A Political Party Dangerous to Peace

 “On December 7, 1859, in discussing the Harper’s Ferry invasion resolution, he said:

“In this case the cause of Virginia is the cause of the South. We feel proud of her attitude, proud of her high tone, proud of the legal and constitutional manner in which her executive and people have met this outbreak; and we expect to stand by her in any issue that she may make.

Now, Sir, are not the Southern people justified in looking to the North to quiet public opinion? Are they not justified in the excitement which is felt there, though it is not manifested in words or acts – deeply as it underlies the current of society?

I might appeal to Northern gentlemen for the justification. I might tell them, Sir, that the popular pulpit throughout the North, that the light literature of the North, that the separation of the churches between the North and the South, that the laws upon her statute books, the speeches in her Legislatures, the messages of her Governors, all have tended to produce the fruits which now stare us in the face.

Gentlemen get up here frankly and disavow, in terms more or less explicit, all knowledge or concurrence with, or approval of, the acts of this simple murderer, midnight assassin, and traitor. They could do no less . . .

The speaker went on to call attention to the threat of the Republican party to [the peace of the country, and] to the “meetings of sympathy condolence and compassion . . . for a man who deserves the severest condemnation throughout the whole world. Bells are tolled; in Albany [New York] one hundred guns are fired . . . [in his honor]”

(Stephen Russell Mallory, Occie Clubbs, Florida Historical Quarterly, Volume XXVI, Number 1, July 1947)

News Fronts, Rumors, False Reports and Speculations

“When we study the history of journalism we are principally studying a way in which men in the past have grasped reality.” James W. Carey, (“The Problem of Journalism History, Journalism History, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 1974)

In 1860 New York City was the hub of journalism and locked in the maelstrom of lurid crime reports, immoral [tales of varied personages] . . . created by James Gordon Bennett’s news machine, the New York Herald. Pay for “reporters” was minimal and all that was required was a reasonable grasp of the English language. The worst “were not above fabricating news if facts did not come readily to hand.”

The New Orleans Picayune editorialized that “The Herald may be said to represent, in one particular, the genius of the ‘universal Yankee nation’ — that is, in its supreme regard for what is vulgarly called the main chance.”

News Fronts, Rumors, False Reports and Speculations

“The people of the interior,” President [James] Buchanan wrote apprehensively to James Gordon Bennett on the very day that South Carolina left the Union, “are kept in a constant state of excitement from what are called “telegrams.” The Philadelphia Morning Pennsylvanian, among many others, though the telegraph “a curse to the country.”

“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.”

The Erie Weekly Gazette had another caution: “Beware of this ‘special correspondence’ confidence game . . . in the New York or Philadelphia journals. A safe plan is to believe nothing you find in a ‘sensation’ column, however seemingly well authenticated . . .”

There was ample justification for these forebodings.  As word came of State after State preparing to follow South Carolina out of the Union in anticipation of a Republican in the White House . . . the press began dispensing news, rumors, false reports and speculations on a scale that left men confounded. 

Undercover men from the New York World, the Tribune, the Evening Post, the Baltimore American, and the Philadelphia Press arrived [in Charleston] as the tension mounted. Everyone who could read knew by the middle of February [1861] that the brick walls of Sumter were eight feet thick, that the Major and his garrison numbered scarcely a hundred . . .

[Charles A. Dana of Horace Greeley’s Tribune, had] three men in Charleston. These and other Tribune men in the South sported blue secession cockades in their lapels, wrote in an elaborate code Dana had devised, and addressed their material to New York banks and commercial houses which had agreed to serve as fronts.

In the third week of May . . . Dana [served an editorial] with plenty of lead: “On to Richmond! To Richmond Onward! On to Richmond, then is the voice of the people . . . Let her still sowing of the wind, have generous harvest of the whirlwind, and let it be now . . . To Richmond! To Richmond!”

(Bohemian Brigade: Civil War Newsmen in Action, Louis M. Starr, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987, excerpts pp. 9-11; 20-21; 33-34)

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