Browsing "Bringing on the War"

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)

Journalism, Truth and War

“There is something in the human mind that turns instinctively to fiction, and that even journalists succumb.” What remains to the world, Mencken argued, “is a series of long tested and solidly agreeable lies.”

Journalism, Truth and War

In May 1830 James Gordon Bennett founded the New York Herald in search of “that mass market” which was soon to become the Holy Grail of American industry. In its pages aimed at the laboring classes were “police-court reports, details of murders and offenses against morality of an interesting nature, blow-by-blow write ups of bare knuckle prize fights, stock market reports, gossip and the most up-to-date news that money could procure.”

By the 1850s news-collection was the central task of the business, with political broadsiding still the bread and butter of each paper – as each thought of itself as the very political life of its particular partisan party.

New reporters picked this up immediately and wrote from the party point of view.  When trouble commenced in the Kansas Territory in the mid-1850s, Republican party-minded papers sent young reporters on westbound trains and steamers to get the right news to send back East.

One “reporter” was 21-year-old James Redpath, a Scottish immigrant to Michigan, whose only training was writing “fervid articles damning slavery in a Detroit paper.” This caused him to be highly regard by the editors of the St. Louis Missouri Democrat, Chicago Tribune and New York Tribune. These connections and his worship of John Brown helped him become a delegate for the first two conventions of the Free State faction, and a major’s rank in the Free State army once guerilla warfare began.

Bernard Weisberger wrote in his “Reporters for the Union” that the “reporters sent to Kansas by the metropolitan journals wrote amid the time-hallowed insanity of an election year and under the weight of their own upbringing. They were actors, not spectators, and many believed that truth could be put to flight in a free and open encounter unless it received at least some assistance. They sallied forth to depict a contest between freedom and tyranny in the impressive arena “beyond the Mississippi.” The results boded ill for the Union.”

Just before Lincoln’s election in 1860 Redpath admitted: “I believed that a civil war . . . would ultimate in slave insurrection and that Kansas troubles would probably create a military conflict . . . Hence I . . . went to Kansas; and endeavored personally and by my pen, to precipitate a revolution.”

(Reporters for the Union, Bernard A, Weisberger, Little, Brown and Company, 1953)

Lacking Faith in the Government

A powerful and skillful debater, James A. Seddon of Virginia was the self-appointed manager of the Washington Peace Conference, chaired by former President John Tyler.  It is said he matched John Randolph’s contempt of all forms of Northern life, “from the statesmen of New England to the sheep that fed on her hillsides.” The irony of the North’s “hatred of slavery” is that the black man usually arrived in the America’s in the filthy holds of New England slavers, being sold by their own brethren for New England rum and Yankee notions. After the war began, Seddon became Secretary of War of the Confederate States.  

Representative Preston King of New York, below, seemed unaware that his State’s ratification of the 1789 Constitution reserved to itself secession should it so desire; in assuming his office, he swore to uphold the Constitution rather than the federal government.

It is true that States to not have a “right” to secede: being sovereign entities since the 1783 Treaty of Paris with England, and only granting the federal agent specific enumerated authority in the Articles of Confederation and later Constitution, each State holds the ability to withdraw and form a more perfect union at its pleasure.

Kentucky’s James Guthrie, below, argued in the Peace Convention that New England had threatened secession several times in the past as it lost faith in the federal government to protect its interests, and that the South in 1861 was following the same path. It is said that John C. Calhoun absorbed the secessionist teachings of New Englanders.       

Lacking Faith in the Government

“[Seddon] declared that the object of the dominant party of the North . . . desired that the national and practical institutions of the South should be surrounded by a cordon of twenty free States and in the end extinguished.  

Seddon [emphasized] that the slaves had benefited by being brought to America and civilized. The South had done nothing wrong to the race; yet the South was assailed, attacked by the North, from the cradle to the grave, and the children of the free States had been educated to regard the people of the South as monsters of lust by the abolitionist societies and their doctrines and by their support for John Brown, and asked whether this was not a sufficient reason for suspicion and grave apprehension on the part of the South.

He contended that the moral aspect was by itself dangerous enough, and when combined with politics it was made much worse.

Seddon commented on the acquisitive spirit of the North, its ambitions for office, power, and control over government, which would permit it soon to control the South.  He re-emphasized that Virginia and the Border States would not remain in the Union without added guarantees. His personal opinion was that “the purpose of Virginia to resist coercion is unchanged and unchangeable.”

James C. Smith of New York . . . pointed out that the federal government held all territory in trust for the people. John G. Goodrich of Massachusetts essentially agreed. Seddon rose to reassert the Southern point of view. He declared that in the debate two new principles had been introduced: that [Southern people had restricted access to new territories], and that governmental action would be [Northern-influenced].

This was exactly what the Southern States feared, Seddon declared, and it was the principal cause of secession. This was his interpretation of the 1860 election. These policies were, in his view, not in accordance with the Constitution.

Preston King of New York declared that all owed allegiance to the Constitution above and beyond all other political duties and obligations. In contrast to Seddon, he considered the Union to be a confederation of States under the Constitution with all citizens owing primary allegiance to the Federal Government.

[Reverdy] Johnson of Maryland, who took the Southern point of view on most questions, doubted that a State had a right to secede, although he agreed with Madison’s point in the Federalist Number 42 that the right of self-preservation and revolution was above the Constitution as an integral part of the law of nature.

Even Seddon was restrained on this point, merely observing that Virginia was debating whether or not to remain in the Union because she feared for her safety under present conditions.

Seddon contended that what the South really wanted was security from the North and its dominant political party. [James] Guthrie [of Kentucky] observed that the North once contemplated destruction of the Union because of a feeling that the federal government was antagonistic to Northern interests. The South, he said, had the same feeling now and lacked faith in the government.”  

(Sectionalism in the Peace Convention of 1861, Jesse L. Keene, Florida Historical Quarterly, Volume XL, Number 1, July 1961, excerpt pp. 60-61; 69-70; 74-75)

Placing Party Above Peace

President James Buchanan well understood the limits of his authority and knew Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution – that waging war against any of the States united, and adhering to their enemies –constituted treason. As a former diplomat, he further saw the solution to the crisis in a Constitutional Convention of the States to properly settle differences between them. The Republican party, a purely sectional party which in no way represented Americans in the South, was now in power and sought to destroy Southern political and economic power by any means, including war.

Placing Party Above Peace

“On January 8, Buchanan sent to Congress a special message concerning relations with South Carolina. “The prospect of a bloodless settlement fades away,” he warned . . . “my province is to execute, not to make, the laws.” “We are in the midst of a great revolution . . . the Union must and shall be preserved by all constitutional means.”

Buchanan appealed again for the question to be “transferred from political assemblies to the ballot box” where the people would soon achieve a solution. “But in Heavens name, let the trial be made before we plunge into armed conflict upon the mere assumption that there is no other alternative.” From the beginning, concluded the president, no act of his should commence it, “nor even  . . . furnish an excuse for it by any act of this government.”

The inactivity of Congress convinced Buchanan that although the Republicans agreed with his policy and had nothing different to propose, they nonetheless did not wish a solution of the crisis during a Democratic Administration. He presumed that they would proceed with the same program once they came to power and thus take credit for a triumphant result, which, if Buchanan had achieved it, would annihilate their party. Lincoln’s repudiation of the use of armed force indicated that the new Administration would not pursue a course of coercion.

When on January 16 the Senate was asked to consider the least controversial point in the Crittenden plan, whether to initiate a constitutional convention, every Republican voted against letting the question even come to the floor.

Baron Stoeckl, Russian Minister in Washington, commented that the great Congressional leaders of the past had been replaced “by men undistinguished either by ability or reputation. Totally lacking in patriotism, they have but one purpose: the increase of the anti-slavery agitation . . . they preach war against the South and demand the extirpation of slavery by fire and iron.”

(President James Buchanan, A Biography, Philip S. Klein, American Political Biography Press, 1962, excerpt pp. 391-392)

Planting Anarchism in America

Johann Most, self-styled anarchist communist found sympathetic ears in New York after arriving in 1882.  He promoted “propaganda of the deed,” acts of violence that would energize the masses. After the assassination of President McKinley, he wrote that it was not a crime to kill a ruler. Most gave a speech at Cooper Union twenty-two years after Abraham Lincoln gave his promoting ideas not found in the Constitution; in the latter’s audience was Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, who employed Karl Marx (with Friedrich Engels assisting) as his European correspondent.  

By late 1864, fully a quarter of Lincoln’s army were German immigrants led by expelled revolutionaries of Europe’s 1848 socialist upheavals. Col. Rudolph von Rosa, an early member of the New York Communist Club, led the all-German Forty-sixth New York Regiment.

Planting Anarchism in America

“The failures and disappointments resulting from the series of national elections from 1874 to 1884 at last made an opening for party movements voicing the popular discontent and openly antagonistic to the traditional Constitution.

The Socialist Labor party held its first national convention in 1877. Its membership was mostly foreign; of twenty-four periodical publications then carried on in the party interest, only eight were in the English language; and this polyglot press gave justification to the remark that the movement was in the hands of people who proposed to remodel the institutions of the country before they had acquired its language.

The alien origin of the movement was emphasized by the appearance to two Socialist members of the Reichstag, who made a tour of the country in 1881 to stir up interest in the cause. It was soon apparent that the Socialist party organization was too hindered by the fact that it was too studious and its discussions too abstract to suit the energetic temper of the times. Many Socialists broke away to join revolutionary clubs . . . to fight the existing system of government.

At this critical moment in the process of social disorganization, the influence of foreign destructive thought made itself felt. The arrival of Johann Most from Europe in the fall of 1882 supplied this revolutionary movement with a leader who made anarchy its principle. Originally a German Socialist aiming to make the state the sole landlord and capitalist, he had gone over to anarchism and proposed to dissolve the state altogether, trusting to voluntary association to supply all genuine social needs.

Driven from Germany, he had taken refuge in England, but even the habitual British tolerance had given way under his praise of the assassination of Czar Alexander in 1881 and his proposal to treat other rulers in the same way. He had just completed a term of imprisonment before coming to the United States.

Here he was received as a hero; a great mass meeting in his honor was held at Cooper Union, New York, in December 1882; and when he toured the country he everywhere addressed large meetings.”

(The Chronicles of America Series, Allen Johnson, editor, Yale University Press, 1919, excerpts pp. 135-136)  

The Essence of Piety

Richard Weaver wrote of the modern position of egotism, which seems to permeate all we see, read and hear today.  This develops, he reasoned, “when man has reached a point at which he will no longer admit the right of existence of things not of his own contriving.”  He presents the paradox of man’s continual warring upon nature as “not a sign of superiority to her; it is proof of preoccupation with nature, of a sort of imprisonment by her.”

The Essence of Piety

“[Man’s] immersion in the task of reconstructing nature is an adolescent infatuation. The youth is an intellectual merely, a believer in ideas, who thinks that ideas can overcome the world. The mature man passes beyond intellectuality to wisdom; he believes in ideas too, but life has taught him to be content to see them embodied, which is to see them under a sort of limitation. In other words, he has found that substance is part of life, a part which is ineluctable.

The humbler view of man’s powers is the essence of piety; and it is, in the long run, more rewarding, for nature seems best dealt with when we respect her without allowing ourselves to want too fiercely to possess her.

The second form of piety accepts the substance of other beings. It is a matter of everyday observation that people of cultivation and intellectual perceptiveness are quickest to admit a law of rightness in ways of living differently from their own; they have mastered the principle that being has a right qua being.

Knowledge disciplines egotism so that one credits the reality of other selves. The virtue of the splendid tradition of chivalry was that it took formal recognition of the right to existence not only of inferiors but also of enemies.

The modern formula of unconditional surrender – used first against nature and then against peoples – impiously puts man in the place of God by usurping unlimited rights to dispose of the rights of others. Chivalry was a most practical expression of the basic brotherhood of man. But to have enough imagination to see into other lives and enough piety to realize that their existence is a part of beneficent creation is the very foundation of human community.

There appear to be two types to whom this kind of charity are unthinkable: the barbarian, who would destroy what is different because it is different, and the neurotic, who always reaches out for control of others, probably because his own integration has been lost.”

(Ideas Have Consequences, Richard M. Weaver, University of Chicago Press, 1948, excerpts pg. 173-175)  

Restless Yankees Infested with Guilt

One of the great conundrums of American history is the “treasury of virtue” claimed by New England as it allegedly struck the chains of slavery off the black man. Though the war was begun by Lincoln as simply one to “save the Union,” with Massachusetts troops conspicuously rushing to his side, New England abolitionists were quick to morph the war into an abolition crusade.

In truth, the ancestors of the crusading abolitionists grew wealthy in the transatlantic slave trade which exchanged Yankee notions and rum for enslaved Africans, then sailed to the West Indies and North America to deposit those that survived the murderous middle passage.  The exploitation of the black man continued with Eli Whitney’s invention, cotton-hungry New England mills, and Manhattan banks which revived a dying and unwanted peculiar institution. It is then fair to state that the original “slave power” was New England.

Restless Yankees Infested with Guilt

During the Victorian Age, an aphorism held that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”  In England the adage may have been coined to salve the consciences of plutocrats wallowing in wealth gained at the expense of a wretched factory proletariat, but in the United States, at least, it had broader connotations. 

When times were hard and the struggle to make ends meet the Yankees accepted their lot uncomplainingly, as if that was what God had destined for them.

When times were good and life was easy, they became restless and infested with feelings of guilt. In such circumstances, their tendency was to look around for evil and band together to strike it out.  [The] years after the 1849 gold rush were a period of unprecedented prosperity that lasted almost a decade. Fads and fancies proliferated, but most commonly, Yankees focused their reforming energies upon slavery, or, more properly, upon which they perceived as the slave power.”

(States’ Rights and the Union: Imperium in Imperio, Forrest MacDonald, University of Kansas Pres, 2000, excerpts pg. 165)

Southern Abolition Societies

Southern colonists were greatly alarmed at the great influx of African slaves being transported into their midst by British and New England ships by the mid-1700s. Both Virginia and North Carolina taxed the importation of slaves to discourage the practice, only to be overruled by the King who sought productive colonial plantations.

By 1750, Rhode Island was the center of the transatlantic slave trade, which continued to at least 1859. When discussing the antebellum period it is more accurate to speak of all the States as free, and the Northern States properly referred to as former slaveholding States, along with some being former slave trading States.

Southern Abolition Societies

“Slavery continued to be recognized within the South as a grave social problem. Perhaps Southerners were less concerned about it than they had been in the Revolutionary period, but during the course of the Missouri debate, responsible Southern spokesmen openly admitted that slavery was evil; and ten years later there occurred the greatest and most searching discussion of the nature and problem of slavery that was ever held in the South, the debate in the Virginia legislature in 1832.

Several antislavery journals appeared in the slave States: The Emancipator, founded in East Tennessee in 1820; The Genius of Universal Emancipation, which was moved to Tennessee from Ohio in 1821 and was later moved to Baltimore; and the Abolition Intelligencer, founded in Kentucky in 1822.

Benjamin Lundy, editor of the Genius of Universal Emancipation, estimated in 1827 that there were 106 antislavery societies with 5,150 members in the slave States whereas there were only 24 such societies with 1,475 members in the free States, not counting 10 or 12 in Illinois about which he could get no information.

But these facts by no means indicate that Southerners generally were conscience-stricken over slavery . . . [and] the hostility of some Southerners to slavery was founded on something very different from sympathy for the oppressed. When Governor David Holmes of Mississippi warned that “The evils arising from this odious practice [the slave trade] are constantly . . . increasing,” and there would be serious results “unless the traffic is wholly prohibited,” his concern was for the welfare of the Mississippi white man.

Governor [Thomas Mann] Randolph of Virginia put the matter very bluntly. He deplored the “error of our ancestors in copying a civil institution from savage Africa,” because as he reasoned, “The want of moral motives and a defect of intelligence, the too common absence of settled character, that marks the race [degraded] by slavery, if not by nature,” was injurious to the State of Virginia.

There was much support throughout the South in the 1820s for plans to deport Negroes . . . Haiti, Africa and unsettled parts of the western territories of the United States were suggested as possible places to which Negroes could be sent, but the only serious effort that came out of the discussion was the organization in Washington in 1817, of the American Colonization Society.”

(The Development of Southern Sectionalism, 1819-1848, Volume V, A History of the South, Charles S. Sydnor, LSU Press, 1948, excerpts pp. 95-96)

Only Congress May Draw the Sword

Alexander H. Stephen’s criticism of President James Polk sending American troops to the Rio Grande in July 1845 and threatening Mexico, inspired his arraignment of Lincoln in 1861 for leading the country into an avoidable war.

In Lincoln’s case, his party’s governors provided the troops for his unconstitutional actions and invasion of Southern States, and subjugated a free people with an “oath of allegiance administered at the point of a bayonet.” Stephens foresaw the treatment the South would receive.

Only Congress May Draw the Sword

“From [his] first speech in Congress to his last before the war, his straight line of endeavor was to preserve the Union under the Constitution. His opposition to Texan annexation was not pleasing to the South . . . and the first to bring him into national prominence, contained the oft-quoted sentences which revived against him at the South the charges of abolitionism while at the North he was accused of laboring for slavery extension:

“My reason for wishing it [the slavery limit] settled in the beginning, I do not hesitate to make known. I fear the excitement growing out of the agitation hereafter may endanger the harmony and even existence of our present Union . . . I am no defender of slavery in the abstract. I would rejoice to see all the sons of Adam’s family in the enjoyment of those rights set forth in the Declaration of Independence as natural and inalienable . . .”

The right of the Union to “acquire territory” and the wisdom of doing so were questioned. He declared for expansion but against imperialism: “This [annexation] is an important step settling the principle of our future extension. We are reminded of the growth of the Roman Empire which fell of its own weight; and of England, who is hardly able to keep together her extensive parts. Rome extended her dominions by conquest, she compelled provinces to bear the yoke; England extends hers upon the principle of colonization; her distant dependencies are subject to her laws but are deprived of the rights of representation.

With us, a new system has commenced, characteristic of the age. It is a system of a Republic formed by the union of separate independent States, yielding so much of their sovereign powers as are necessary for national and foreign purposes, and retaining all others for local and domestic objects. Who shall undertake to say how far this system may not go?”

He said, speaking of Mexican territory:

“No principle is more dangerous than that of compelling other people to adopt our form of government. It is not only wrong in itself, but contrary to the whole spirit and genius of liberty we enjoy.”

Asking if the Mexican war was waged for conquest:

“If so, I protest . . . I am no enemy to the extension of our domain . . . but it is not to be accomplished by the sword. We can only properly enlarge by voluntary accessions.”

In his denunciation of [President James] Polk’s abuse of power . . . :

“Only Congress can constitutionally draw the sword. The President cannot. The war was brought upon us while Congress was in session and without our knowledge. The new and strange doctrine is put forth that Congress has nothing to do with the conduct of the war; that the President is entitled to uncontrolled management; that we can do nothing but vote men and money to whatever extent his folly and caprice may dictate.

Neighboring States may be subjugated, extensive territories annexed, provincial governments erected, the rights of conscience violated, and the oath of allegiance administered at the point of the bayonet . . .”

(Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens, Myrta L. Avary, editor, LSU Press, 1998, excerpts pp. 31-32)

Pages:1234567...31»