Browsing "Bringing on the War"

The Inscrutable William Seward

It has been said that antebellum Southern politics were for the most part honest and ruled by responsible statesmen, but Reconstruction forced Southern leaders to unfortunately descend into the mud in order to successfully oppose carpetbag regimes and Radicals. The high-toned sense of serving the public good can be seen in Jefferson Davis, who acted from conviction alone; while William Seward was more interested in manipulating public opinion and serving his own twisted ends. The former was an American patriot who struggled to save the Constitution and Union of the Founders.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The Inscrutable William Seward

“It was on one of these visits that Mr. Seward said a most remarkable thing to me. We were speaking of the difficulty men generally had in doing themselves justice, if not cheered on by the attention and sympathy of the audience. Mr. Seward said . . . it is rather a relief to me to speak to empty benches.”

I exclaimed, “Then, whom do you impersonate?” [Seward replied] “The [news]papers . . . I speak to the papers, they have a much larger audience than I, and can repeat a thousand times if need be what I want to impress upon the multitude outside; and then there is the power to pin my antagonists down to my exact words, which might be disputed if received orally.”

Another day he began to talk on the not infrequent topic among us, slavery . . . I said, “Mr. Seward, how can you make, with a grave face, those piteous appeals for the Negro that you did in the Senate; you were too long a schoolteacher in Georgia to believe the things you say?”

He looked at me quizzically, and smilingly answered: “I do not, but these appeals, as you call them, are potent to affect the rank and file of the North.” Mr. Davis said, very much shocked by Mr. Seward’s answer, “But Mr. Seward, do you never speak from conviction alone?”  “Never,” answered he. Mr. Davis raised up his . . . head, and with much heat whispered, “As God is my judge, I never spoke from any other motive.”

After this inscrutable human moral, or immoral, paradox left us, we sat long discussing him with sincere regret, and the hope that he had been making a feigned confidence to amuse us. He [Seward] frankly avowed that truth should be held always subsidiary to an end, and if some other statement could sub serve that end, he made it. He said, again and again, that political strife was a state of war, and in war all stratagems were fair.

About this time Mr. Seward came forward into greater prominence, and became the most notable leader of the Republican party. Mr. [James] Buchanan said: “He was much more of a politician than a statesman, without strong convictions; he understood the art of preparing in his closet and uttering before the public, antithetical sentences, well-calculated to both inflame the ardor of his anti-slavery friends and exasperate his pro-slavery opponents . . . he thus aroused passions, probably without so intending, which it was beyond his power to control.”

(Jefferson Davis, A Memoir By His Wife Varina, N&A Publishing, 1990, excerpts, pp. 580-652)

Impending War Against the American South

Frederick Douglas was an admitted confidant of the murderous John Brown, and escaped into Canada after Brown’s 1859 raid to avoid prosecution for his part as an accessory to violent insurrection against the Commonwealth of Virginia. Douglas followed the path of other abolitionists by fomenting hatred and murder, rather than peaceful and practical efforts to solve the riddle of African slavery established by the British colonial system and perpetuated by New England slavers, cotton mills and Manhattan bankers.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Impending War Against the American South

“In a letter to the American Slaves from those who have fled from American slavery, “ [Frederick] Douglas asserted, “When the insurrection of the Southern slaves shall take place, as take place it will, unless speedily prevented by voluntary emancipation, the great mass of the colored men of the North, however much to the grief of us, will be found by your side, with deep-stored and long-accumulated revenge in their hearts, and with death-dealing weapons in their hands . . . We tell you these things not to encourage, or justify your resort to physical force; but simply, that you may know, be it your joy or sorrow know it, what your Northern brethren are, in these important respects.”

The vast majority of black New Yorkers supported John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. In New York, leading black abolitionists such as Douglas, Garnet and McCune Smith had been informed of Brown’s plan. After the raid, black abolitionists published some of the most thoughtful justifications of the right to rebellion against Southern slaveholders.

Douglas argued eloquently, “They have by the single act of slave-holding, voluntarily placed themselves beyond the laws of justice and honor, and have become only fitted for companionship with thieves and pirates — the common enemies of God and mankind.”

(Slavery in New York, Ira Berlin and Leslie Harris, editors, The New Press, 2005, pp. 258-259)

 

Northerners Illustrate Little Regard for the Union

Northern anti-slavery agitators fomented discord and disunion long before 1861 and did their utmost to cause the South to seek a more perfect union. And that South rightly asked why the North agreed to the Compromise of 1850 when it had no intentions of abiding by it. If the abolition of slavery was indeed their crusade, why did abolitionists not encourage the example of the British with compensated emancipation, thus averting war and wanton destruction?

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Northerners Illustrate Little Regard for the Union

“In the North, sincere if fanatical abolitionists and opportunists alike used the slavery issue for political advancement. In the South, the voices . . . grew more passionate in their crusades for independence. Northern agitators gave them the ammunition.

When the Southern States had adopted the Compromise of 1850, the Georgia legislature summarized the attitude of them all. Serving notice that the preservation of the Union depended on the Northern States’ faithfully abiding by the terms of the Compromise, the Georgia delegates stressed its particular application to the federal laws regarding fugitive slaves.

This was a very real issue to the planters, and nothing so impressed the individual Southerner with Northern hostility as the protection given runaways in the North and the actual attacks on federal officials trying to enforce the laws on stolen property. On this last point, the Georgians stated, “It is the deliberate opinion of this convention that upon the faithful execution of the fugitive-slave bill depends the preservation of our much-loved Union.”

Yet in the North, many people continued to repudiate and defy the fugitive slave laws, which constituted about the only thing the South got out of the Compromise. To the Southerners trying to promote secession, this breach of faith served to illustrate the little regard in which the North held Union.

Then Northern literature erupted into what amounted to an anti-Southern propaganda mill. In 1851 appeared Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that inflammable work of the imagination, to start the decade in a spirit of recriminations. With the pamphlets and literature which took up where Mrs. Stowe left off, newspapers joined in the denunciations of their fellow Americans. To support the fictional pictures of the benighted Southerners, the New York Tribune stated flatly that plantations were “little else than Negro harems,” and that, of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Tyler (who was still living) “hardly one has failed to leave his mulatto children.”

Even Virginia, which produced these Presidents, had been brought to ruin by “pride and folly and . . . [Negro] concubinage . . . ” while South Carolina, with its “chivalry-ridden inhabitants,” like the other States, “is a full thousand years behind the North in civilization.” Emerson and Longfellow, Lowell and Whittier, the new literary pillars of that civilization, conjured up pictures of the vileness of their Southern neighbors.”

(The Land They Fought For, The Story of the South as the Confederacy, 1832-1865, Clifford Dowdey, Doubleday and Company, 1955, pp. 44-45)

Hurrying Down to Swift Destruction

Southerners replied to abolitionist tirades with examples of the civilizing aspects of African slavery, as well as reminding them that their own fathers had shipped the Africans in chains to the West Indies and North America. The invention of Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney along with the hungry cotton mills of that State, perpetuated slavery, and new plantation expansion into the Louisiana territory was fueled by Manhattan lenders – all of whom could have helped end African slavery in North America. The following is excerpted from the introduction of “Cotton is King,” E.N. Elliott, editor (1860), and from “Liberty and Slavery,” Albert Taylor Bledsoe.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Hurrying Down to Swift Destruction

“Geographical partisan government and legislation . . . had its origin in the Missouri [Compromise] contest, and is now beginning to produce its legitimate fruits: witness the growing distrust with which the people of the North and South begin to regard each other; the diminution of Southern travel, either for business or pleasure, in the Northern States; the efforts of each section to develop its own resources, so as to render it independent of the other; the enactment of “unfriendly legislation,” in several of the States, toward other States of the Union, or their citizens; the contest for the exclusive possession of the territories, the common property of the States; the anarchy and bloodshed in Kansas; the exasperation of parties throughout the Union; the attempt to nullify, by popular clamor, the decision of the supreme tribunal of our country; the existence of . . . a party in the North organized for the express purpose of robbing the citizens of the Southern States of their property; . . . the flooding of the whole country with the most false and malicious misrepresentations of the state of society in the [Southern] States; the attempt to produce division among us, and to array one portion of our citizens in deadly array to the other; and finally, the recent attempt to incite, at Harper’s Ferry, and throughout the South, an insurrection, and a civil and servile war, with all its attendant horrors.

All these facts go to prove that there is a great wrong somewhere, and that a part, or the whole, of the American people are demented, and hurrying down to swift destruction.

The present slave States had little or no agency in the first introduction of Africans into this country; this was achieved by the Northern commercial States and by Great Britain. Wherever the climate suited the Negro constitution, slavery was profitable and flourished; where the climate was unsuitable, slavery was unprofitable, and died out. Most of the slaves in the Northern States were sent southward to a more congenial clime.

Upon the introduction into Congress of the first abolition discussions, by John Quincy Adams, and Joshua Giddings, Southern men altogether refused to engage in debate, or even to receive petitions on the subject. They averred that no good could grow out of it, but only unmitigated evil.”

(The South: A Documentary History, Ina Woestemeyer Van Noppen, D. Van Nostrand Company, 1958, pp. 265-266)

The South Against a Seceding North

Though South Carolina had been threatened with invasion over nullifying federal law in the early 1830s, no such threats were made to Northern States in the 1850s as they instituted personal liberty laws which nullified federal law and obstructed federal officers. Had Lincoln not won his plurality in 1860, the secession of the North might have been the case.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The South Against a Seceding North

“There was strong opposition to secession, not only in the Upper South, but also in some parts of the Lower South, the very heart land of the future Confederacy. In every convention except South Carolina’s there were votes against secession, and in Alabama and Georgia the opposition was considerable. In Georgia, Alexander H. Stephens, Herschel V. Johnson, and Benjamin H. Hill gave up their fight for the Union only after their State had seceded and threatened to leave them behind.

In their campaign to save the nation, the [Southern] Unionists resorted both to argument and to delaying tactics. They played on national sentiments; the Revolution and its heroes . . . the Constitution, which largely Southerners had made and was sufficient for all needs if properly interpreted and enforced. Up to this time the South had generally dominated the government, either through Southern-born presidents or . . . Northern men with Southern principles. Most of the Supreme Court had been Southerners, and the court at this time was dominated by the South.

In fact, the whole idea of secession was illogical and wrong, it was argued. The process should be reversed. The North should do the seceding, for the South represented more truly the nation which the forefathers had set up in 1789. Therefore the South should not allow itself to be driven out of its own home.

Henry A. Wise of Virginia was especially vigorous in arguing this point of view. “Logically the Union belongs to those who have kept, not those who have broken, its covenants,” he declared. If he ever had to fight he hoped it would be against a seceding North, “with the star-spangled banner still in one hand and my musket in the other.”

(A History of the South, Volume VII, The Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, E. Merton Coulter, LSU Press, 1950, pp. 3-5)

Higher Law Treason

Many viewed William H. Seward’s “higher law” speech treasonous as it claimed “laws” which superseded the United States Constitution – the compact agreed to by all the States as the law of the land. In reality, the abolitionists who sought a separation from what they referred to as “a covenant with Hell,” and unstable theorists like Seward, were the disunionists in 1860.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Higher Law Treason

“[Future President] Franklin Pierce addressed a Union meeting in Manchester [New Hampshire] in November 1850. His speech reveals his true sentiments on the most important issue of his time. When several Baptist ministers “hissed” at his remarks in favor of the Union, Pierce responded that the “feeble demonstration of moral treason to the Union, to humanity, to the cause of civil liberty would disturb neither him nor the meeting.” He declared, “If we are precipitated into a war by fanaticism, we cannot conquer. Both sections of the country may be immolated. Neither could come out of the contest short of ruin.”

Pierce was consistent in believing the preservation of the Union was more important than any one issue. The New Hampshire Patriot reported Pierce’s speech: “Who did not deplore slavery? But what sound-thinking mind regarded that as the only evil which could rest upon the land? The [abolitionist] men who would dissolve the Union did not deplore slavery any more than he did . . . The resort to disunion as an experiment to get rid of a political evil, would be about as wise as if a man were to think of remedying a broken arm by cutting his head off.” Pierce closed with the shout, “The Union! Eternal Union!”

When Senator Seward of New York followed [Daniel] Webster’s [7 March 1850] speech with one in which he declared that there is a “higher law” than the Constitution and that God was opposed to slavery, the Patriot editorialized, “If Mr. Seward’s doctrine were to be endorsed by the people at large there would be an end not only of the Union but of every rational form of government”. . . Webster would later call the “higher law” doctrine “Treason, treason, treason!”

(Franklin Pierce: New Hampshire’s Favorite Son, Peter A. Wallner, Plaidswede Publishing, 2004, pp. 168-169)

The Abolitionists Mad and Fatal Course

Henry Clay, the “great compromiser,” pleaded with abolitionists to cease their incendiary activities which threatened to disrupt the Union in a speech before the United States Senate in February 1839. The States he labels as “free” were former slave and slave trading States which were offering no peaceful and practical solutions to the African slavery they greatly helped nurture and perpetuate.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The Abolitionists Mad and Fatal Course

“ . . . Abolition should no longer be regarded as an imaginary danger. The abolitionists, let me suppose, succeed in their present aim of uniting the inhabitants of the free States, as one man, against the inhabitants of the slave States. Union on one side will beget union on the other.

And this process of reciprocal consolidation will be attended with all the violent prejudices, embittered passions, and implacable animosities, which ever degraded or deformed human nature. A virtual dissolution of the Union will have taken place, while the forms of its existence remain.

The most valuable element of union, mutual kindness, the feelings of sympathy, the fraternal bonds, which now happily unite us, will have been extinguished for ever.

One section will stand in menacing and hostile array against the other. The collision of opinion will be quickly followed by the clash of arms. I will not attempt to describe scenes which now happily lie concealed from our view. Abolitionists themselves would shrink back in dismay and horror at the contemplation of desolated fields, conflagrated cities, murdered inhabitants, and the overthrow of the fairest fabric of human government that ever rose to animate the hopes of civilized man.

Nor should these abolitionists flatter themselves that, if they can succeed in uniting the people of the free States, they will enter the contest with a numerical superiority that must insure victory. All history and experience proves the hazard and uncertainty of war. And we are admonished by Holy Writ, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. But if they were to conquer, whom would they conquer?

A foreign foe – one who had insulted our flag, invaded our shores, and laid our country waste? No, sir; no, sir. It would be a contest without laurels, without glory; a self, a suicidal conquest; a conquest of brothers over brothers, achieved by one over another portion of the descendants of common ancestors, who, nobly pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, had fought and bled, side by side, in many a hard battle on land and ocean, severed our country from the British crown, and established our original independence.

The inhabitants of the slave States are sometimes accused by their Northern brethren with displaying rashness and sensibility to the operations and proceedings of the abolitionists.

[But] Let me suppose that the people of the slave States were to form societies, subsidize presses, make large pecuniary contributions, send forth numerous missionaries throughout all their borders, and enter into machinations to burn the beautiful capitals, destroy the productive manufactories, and sink in the ocean the gallant ships of the Northern States. Would these incendiary proceedings be regarded as neighborly and friendly, and consistent with the fraternal sentiments which should ever by cherished by one portion of the Union toward the another?

Would they excite no emotion? Occasion no manifestations of dissatisfaction? Nor lead to any acts of retaliatory violence?

I beseech the abolitionists themselves, solemnly to pause in their mad and fatal course . . . let them select some one more harmless, that does not threaten to deluge our country in blood. I entreat that portion of my countrywomen, who have given their countenance to abolition, to . . . reflect that the ink which they shed in subscribing with their fair hands abolition petitions, may prove but the prelude to the shedding of the blood of their brethren.

I adjure all the inhabitants of the free States to rebuke and discountenance, by their opinion and their example, measures which must inevitably lead to the most calamitous consequences.”

(The South, A Documentary History, Ina Woestemeyer Van Noppen, D. Van Nostrand Company, 1958, pp. 258-260)

Spending the Money of Future Generations

Robert Hayne of South Carolina followed Jefferson’s admonition that the national debt was not something to be passed on to future generations; it was considered immoral for a president not to pay the debts incurred under their administrations before leaving office. In encouraging an unending public debt, Daniel Webster, on the other hand, Webster was promoting the American System of Whig politician Henry Clay which would give the government an endless supply of money with which to buy influence and power.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Spending the Money of Future Generations

“The gentleman from Massachusetts (Webster), in alluding to a remark of mine that before any disposition could be made of the public lands, the national debt (for which they stand pledged) must be first paid, took occasion to intimate (that Southerners desire to pay the national debt) “arises from a disposition to weaken the ties which bind the people to the Union.”

But, adds he gentleman, “so far as the debt may have an effect in binding the debtors to the country, and thereby serving as a link to hold the States together, he would be glad that it should exist forever.” Surely then, sir, on the gentleman’s own principles, he must be opposed to the payment of the debt.

Sir, let me tell that gentleman that the South repudiates the idea that a pecuniary dependence on the Federal Government is one of the legitimate means of holding the States together. A monied interest in the Government is essentially a base interest . . . it is opposed to all the principles of free government and at war with virtue and patriotism. In a free government, this principle of abject dependence if extended through all the ramifications of society must be fatal to liberty. Already we have made alarming strides in that direction.

The entire class of manufacturers, the holders of stocks with their hundreds of millions in capital, are held to the Government by the strong link of pecuniary interests; millions of people, entire sections of the country, interested, or believing themselves to be so, in the public lands and the public treasure, are bound to the Government by the expectation of pecuniary favors.

If this system is carried on much further, no man can fail to see that every generous motive of attachment to the country will be destroyed, and in its place will spring up those low, groveling, base and selfish feelings which bind men to the footstool of despots by bonds as strong and as enduring as those which attach them to free institutions.”

(The Webster-Hayne Debate on the Nature of the Union, Herman Belz, Editor, Liberty Fund, 2000, pp. 42-43. Speech of Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina, January 25, 1830)

Haitian Emigration Encouraged

James Redpath was a determined abolitionist and author of many Northern newspaper articles damning slavery. Also a determined revolutionist, he later admitted that he “endeavored, personally and by my pen, to precipitate a revolution” in 1855 Kansas. His writings worshipped the fanatic John Brown and he specialized in sending Horace Greeley lurid accounts of flesh-creeping atrocities by barbaric Southerners in Kansas. Redpath, like Lincoln and many abolitionists, despised African slavery but wanted freedmen relocated elsewhere.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Haitian Emigration Encouraged

“The government of Haiti actively encouraged the emigration of American Negroes. Immigrants were promised a homestead, tools for working the land, and food and shelter from the time they arrived on the island until they had managed to get settled. But above all Haiti promised a homeland for Afro-Americans.

As the General Agent of emigration to Haiti, James Redpath — the American abolitionist — wrote in his “Guide to Hayti,” “Pride of race, self-respect, social ambition, parental love, the madness of the South, the meanness of the North, the inhumanity of the Union, and the inclemency of Canada — all say to the Black and the man of color, Seek elsewhere a home and a nationality.” Hundreds of refugees from both the North and South went to Haiti, including some from Charleston. But once there they had a hard time getting the government to deliver on any of its promises.”

(No Chariot Let Down, Johnson & Roark, editors, UNC Press, 1984)

Angela Grimke's Cornerstone of the Republic

Poor Alexander H. Stephens!

The Vice President of the American Confederacy’s informal speech to a Savannah audience in March 1861 is used to verify that the defense of slavery is all the new experiment in American government was about — and despite the fact that Stephen’s remarks were simply imperfect reporter’s notes and we are not even sure if he uttered those exact words.

If Stephen’s indeed mentioned “cornerstone and African slavery” in the same sentence in Savannah, he most likely was referring to Charleston abolitionist Angelina Grimke’ who some 25 years before said this about the United States.

Angelina’s speech in 1836 was entitled “An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South” and its topic anti-slavery. Both she and her sister were born into wealth in Charleston, SC — and later moved to the former center of the transatlantic slave trade, New England, to become Quakers and join William Lloyd Garrison’s abolition movement. There the Grimke’ sisters perhaps not only engaged in serious abolitionist discourse but also discovered that the slavery they abhorred was a mostly New England enterprise, and supported by its notorious rum trade with Africa.

Grimke stated in her appeal that “The interests of the North . . . are very closely combined with those of the South. The Northern merchants and manufacturers are making their fortunes out of the produce of slave labor . . . [and] the North is most dreadfully afraid of Amalgamation. She is alarmed at the very idea of a thing so monstrous, as she thinks. And lest this consequence might flow from emancipation, she is determined to resist all efforts at emancipation without expatriation. It is not because she [the North] approves of slavery, or believes it to be “the cornerstone of our republic,” for she is as much anti-slavery as we are; but amalgamation is too horrible to think of.” (see “Against Slavery, An Abolitionist Reader,” Angelina & Sarah Moore Grimke’, Penguin Books, 2000).

Stephen’s wrote in his Recollection’s that he spoke extemporaneously in his Savannah speech, and the reporter’s notes he reviewed afterward “were imperfect” contained “glaring errors.” He goes on to explain the contents of his speech with “The relation of the black to the white race, or the proper status of the colored population amongst us, was a question now of vastly more importance than when the Constitution was formed. The order of subordination is nature’s great law; philosophy taught that order as the normal condition of the African amongst European races. Upon this recognized principle of a proper subordination, let it be called slavery or what not, our State institutions were formed and rested. The principle of the subordination of the inferior to the superior was the “cornerstone” on which it was formed. I used this metaphor merely to illustrate the firm convictions of the framers of the new Constitution that this relation of the black to the white race, which existed in 1787 . . . The status of the African race in the new Constitution was left just where it was in the old; I affirmed and meant to affirm nothing else in this Savannah speech” (Recollections of  Alexander H. Stephens, 1910/1998, LSU Press).

Thus Stephens viewed African slavery in the same way as the abolitionists who sought secession from the United States by New England, to separate themselves from what they saw as the evil cornerstone of the United States. And the Confederacy incorporated nothing more than what the United States already had recognized as a domestic institution of the States, to be accepted or eradicated in time by each State.  This raises the obvious question: If the abolitionists were opposed to slavery, why did they not advance a peaceful and practical emancipation proposal as did England in the 1840s with compensated emancipation?

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org