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Constitutional Convention on the Battlefield

The war of 1861-1865 seemed a violent replay of the 1800 election between Federalist John Adams and Republican Thomas Jefferson – and settling the question of whether New England or Virginia would dominate and guide the country. Author Russell Kirk observed in 1953 that “The influence of the Virginia mind upon American politics expired in the Civil War,” and that it would take 100 years for the ideas of a limited central government and free market ideas to begin a recovery.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Constitutional Convention on the Battlefield

“Beginning with the modern civil-rights movement in the late 1950s, it became popular and “politically correct” to proclaim that the Civil War was fought for the purpose of abolishing slavery and therefore was a just and great war. This gave the civil-rights movement much of its momentum, but it also served to injure race relations severely, and further, to mask the immense and disastrous costs of the Civil War, which included the deaths of 620,000 soldiers.

The destruction of the South and its Jeffersonian ideals of a free market, a non-interventionist foreign policy, and a limited central government were replaced by the ideals of Hamilton, thereby completely transforming the American government created by its founders.

The Civil War was, in effect, a new constitutional convention held on the battlefield, and the original document was drastically amended by force in order to have a strong centralized federal government, which was closely allied with industry in the North.

Foreign policy would now become heavily influenced by the economic interests of big business rather than by any concern for the freedom of the individual. Domestic policies of regulation, subsidy and tariff would now benefit big business at the expense of small business and the general population.

Beginning with the end of the Civil War, the American mind and policy would become molded into the image of Hamilton rather than Jefferson.”

(The Costs of War: America’s Pyrrhic Victories, John V. Denson, editor, 1999, Transaction Publishers, 1999, excerpts pp. 27-28)

Jul 8, 2018 - Antebellum Economics, Bringing on the War, Jeffersonian America, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Southern Statesmen    Comments Off on Virginians and the Exploration of the West

Virginians and the Exploration of the West

Tutorial schooling by local pastors was the rule in the Virginia Piedmont of Meriwether Lewis’s youth. Parson William Douglas had taught three American Presidents in their childhood – Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. Lewis was tutored 1789-1790 by Parson Matthew Maury in a rude log building, Albemarle’s Classical School, on the lawn of Edgeworth Farm. Maury was the father of the renowned Matthew Fontaine Maury of naval and hydrographic fame.

Captain Meriwether Lewis and his Corps of Discovery were to depart on his epic journey West by the end of June, 1803, but it was July 4th when he actually left Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Virginians and the Exploration of the West

“The expeditionaries carried tomahawks and scalping knives . . . the [.69 caliber] horse pistols were probably of the North and Cheney Model of 1799. Lewis was meticulous in his choice of rifles for the expedition . . . and [designed his own] “Harper’s Ferry Rifle” which resembled the Kentucky rifle but he had the easily damaged stocks reduced to half-length and the overall length of the .54 caliber piece was only 47 inches.

So efficient was Captain Lewis’s design that the rifles were used as models for the first “mass-produced” Army rifle in the United States. On May 25, 1803, the Secretary of War found the new rifle so functional that he ordered 4,000 of them manufactured for the troops.

Historians have wrangled for decades over just what was Jefferson’s intent in sending Lewis and Clark – exploration, commerce or conquest? It was clear enough to Lewis from his orders. While he awaited Clark’s decision [to join him] before contacting his second choice as a companion, Lieutenant Moses Hook, he read and reread the amended instructions drawn up and given him by the President.

“The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River, & such principal stream of it as, by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific Ocean, whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado or any other river, may offer the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent for the purposes of commerce.”

Jefferson ordered Lewis to fix, by coordinates of longitude and latitude, all “remarkable” points on the Missouri, such as rapids, islands, and the mouths of tributaries, the variations of the compass, the exact location of the portage between the Mississippi and Pacific drainages. He urged Lewis to make his observations with great care and to record them, as well as all of his notes, in several copies for safety against loss.

The President ordered him to become acquainted with the Indian nations, to determine their numbers and the extent of their possessions. He wished to know their languages, traditions and occupations, including agriculture, fishing, hunting, war and the arts. He was interested in their relationship with other tribes, their food, clothing and tools, their diseases and remedies, their laws and customs and the articles of commerce they possessed or desired, all to encourage future trade and their ultimate civilization by the United States.

Jefferson insisted that Lewis’s entry into the Far West be a peaceful one. “In all your intercourse with the natives, treat them in the most friendly and conciliatory manner which their own conduct will admit; allay all jealousies . . . [and convey] our wish to be neighborly, friendly and useful to them . . .”

(Meriwether Lewis, a Biography, Richard Dillon, Coward-McCann, Inc., 1965, excerpts pp. 14; 42-44; 50)

Ben McCulloch’s Visit to New England

Ben McCulloch (1811-1862) of Tennessee was a soldier in the Texas Revolution, a Texas Ranger, major-general in the Texas Militia, a major in the US Army during the Mexican War, a US marshal, and lastly a brigadier-general in the Confederate States Army. He was killed in action by an Illinois sniper at the battle of Pea Ridge in March of 1862. McCulloch’s prewar visit to New England in mid-1856 allowed him to view that region’s notable historic and transatlantic slave trade sites. His younger brother Henry served in both Houses of the Texas Legislature and was also a Confederate brigadier; their father Alexander was a Yale graduate, ancestor of George Washington, and veteran of the Creek War of 1813.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Ben McCulloch’s Visit to New England

“Increasingly contemptuous of the North and its institutions, and set in his belief that an abolitionist conspiracy was in place not only to end slavery but to destroy the South’s political liberties, Ben recommended to Henry, then a member of the Texas legislature, that he introduce a joint resolution appointing commissioners to negotiate with the owners of Mount Vernon for its purchase by the State of Texas. “It would be a proud day for our State when it was proclaimed that she owned the Tomb of Washington. Besides,” he wrote, we may want a campaign ground near the city in the event of the election of a Black Republican candidate.”

During the final weeks of June 1856, with [Franklin] Pierce’s term of office drawing to a close and the great regional controversy over the expansion and perpetuation of slavery reaching a crisis, McCulloch took his first trip into New England. After spending no longer in Boston than required to visit “the monument on Breed’s Hill, Faneuil Hall, the Commons, etc.,” Ben reported to Henry that “the whole population looked as though they were just returning from a funeral. Too puritanical in appearance to be good neighbors or patriotic citizens.”

[In Albany, New York, Whig presidential candidate Millard Fillmore] told the North that the South “would not permit a sectional president of the north to govern them.” McCulloch shared this opinion most earnestly, and he vowed to be “the first to volunteer my services as a soldier to prevent it, and would rather see the streets of this city knee deep in blood than to see a black republican take possession of that chair.”

(Ben McCulloch and the Frontier Military Tradition, Thomas W. Cutrer, UNC Press, 1993, excerpts pp. 140-141)

The Cornerstone of New England Prosperity

The primary reason for the large number of slaves in the Southern colonies, despite their repeated complaints to the Crown, was the British colonial labor system supporting large plantations in the South – all to the benefit of England. Although Massachusetts and Rhode Island abolished slavery, their slave trading on the coast of Africa continued unabated. Jefferson castigated George III for waging a “cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people [Africans] who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Cornerstone of New England’s Prosperity

“The relation between master and slave had practically continued in every one of the American provinces, until the close of the Revolution in 1783. Immediately after that event, it was decided by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts that slavery had been, in fact, abolished in that State by the operation of the State Constitution, adopted in the year 1790.

In all of the other original thirteen provinces north of Mason and Dixon’s line, except Delaware . . . legislative measures were taken, shortly after the Revolution, for either the immediate or gradual extinction of slavery. The sum total of the slaves in all these Northern States in 1790, was 49,240. The rest of the slaves in the States, amounting to 648,657, were distributed between Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, except 8,887 in Delaware.

[Interestingly, the Northern States, when involved in establishing the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution] did not deem themselves authorized to meddle with [slavery] outside of their several State jurisdictions.

Mr. Jefferson, indeed, gave a reason for this reticence imputing it to the indirect interest of the Northern maritime States, in the transportation of African slaves to the Southern States. In his original draft of the Declaration of Independence he had inserted an article unqualifiedly reprobating the foreign slave trade, and urging the protection afforded to it by the King as one powerful motive for the rebellion.

He finally withdrew this clause from the document, and his reason, recorded by himself, appears in explanation of his conduct. After alluding to the disposition of some of the Southern States to keep up the slave trade, he continues:

“Our Northern brethren, also, I believe, felt a little tender under those censures, for though their people have very few slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others [Jefferson’s Works, I., p. 15].”

(Origin of the Late War: Traced from the Beginning of the Constitution to the Revolt of the Southern States; George Lunt, Crown Rights Book Company, 2001, (original D. Appleton, 1866), excerpt pp. 10-11)

Fixing Blame for African Slavery

By 1689, few African slaves had been introduced to Virginia and elsewhere by British, Dutch, French slavers, though this changed radically in the next seventy years – by 1760 the black race formed fully two-fifths of the entire Southern population. The increasing supply of Africans certainly fixed the plantation system on the South as part of the British colonial labor system.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Fixing Blame for African Slaves

“So far as the [colonial] Southern tidewater is concerned, the increase in population came largely through the involuntary immigration of African Negroes. During the seventeenth century . . . British merchants and their government were organizing as never before for the exploitation of the slave trade.

The prosperity of the Royal African Company stimulated competition, and before long “separate traders” from England and [New England] broke down the company’s monopoly. In 1713 the British slave-traders gained a great advantage over Dutch and French rivals by the Asiento agreement, giving them the privilege of supplying slaves to the Spanish colonial market.

There are no comprehensive statistics; but in 1734 it was estimated that about 70,000 slaves annually were exported from Africa to the New World.

The responsibility for slavery in the English colonies must be distributed widely. British merchants, the imperial government, which defeated efforts on the part of colonial assemblies to check the trade, [and] New England traders . . . each group must take its share.

Peter Fontaine, an Anglican clergyman of Huguenot stock, spoke of it as the “original sin and curse of the country,” but urged that when the colonists tried to restrict importation, their acts were commonly disapproved in England.

Besides, he argued, the Negroes had been first enslaved in Africa by men of their own color . . . Efforts were made to Christianize and educate the Negroes, and the Anglican missionaries were expected to make this part of their work.”

(The Foundations of American Nationality, Evarts Boutell Greene, American Book Company, 1922, excerpts pp. 316; 322)

Boston and Newport Slave Merchants

By the year 1750, Rhode Island had become the center of the transatlantic slave trade as it surpassed Liverpool — while also angering British shipbuilders as their workmen left for New England and better pay. Boston’s Peter Fanueil made his wealth through slaving, and the famous Redwood Library in Newport was built with land and money from Abraham Redwood, who grew rich in the slave trade. The Brown family of Newport, Nicholas, John, Joseph and Moses, who established Brown University, made their fortune in the slave trade.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Boston and Newport Slave Merchants

“British commercial relations with the northern colonies, though important, were less close than with the South and the West Indies. New England had no staple exports to England at all comparable with West Indian sugar or Virginia tobacco. Her fish and lumber were marketed largely elsewhere, chiefly in the West Indies but also in other colonies, in the Azores, and in southern Europe.

From the American point of view the British government ought to have encouraged the trade with the foreign West Indies instead of trying to check it with the Molasses Act. The English authorities were, however, less impressed by [New England arguments] than by the smuggled European goods which came in through this “back door.”

Before, as well as after, the passage of the Molasses Act, sugar and molasses from the foreign West Indies continued to supply the distilleries of New England, whence rum was sent out for use in the Indian trade and in the purchase of African slaves. In this latter trade, Boston and especially Newport merchants competed with those of the mother country.

In the first half of the eighteenth century, Newport became the chief base in North America for the African slave trade. The round of this trade began with the rum manufactured from West Indies molasses. What followed may be illustrated from the correspondence of some of these Newport merchants.

In 1755, for instance, the firm of Wilkinson and Ayrault sent Captain David Lindsay to the African coast, where he was to exchange his cargo for gold and slaves. With his human freight he was to sail to Barbados or St. Christopher, where the slaves were to be sold, provided he could get an average price of twenty-seven pounds for them all, “great and small.” The captain did this business on commission, getting among other things five slaves for his own share.

The profits of this trade, legal and illegal, were building up at Boston, Newport, Salem, and elsewhere a rich merchant class of decidedly cosmopolitan interests.

“[The] Narragansett planters” of Rhode Island had also a reputation for generous living.  Indentured servants came in from England and Ireland . . . Prosperous families, especially in the larger towns, often had one or more Negro slaves and there was no general feeling against the practice, though a few protests were heard. Rhode Island had the largest proportion of Negroes and the Narragansett planters used slave labor more than any other part of New England.

Generally speaking, the small farmers of New England could not use Negro slaves to much purpose.”

(The Foundations of American Nationality, Evarts Boutell Greene, American Book Company, 1922, excerpts pp. 246-247; 262-263; 266)

Buchanan Identifies the Reason for War

Though opposed to secession while president, though admitting the Constitution gave him no authority to wage war upon a State, James Buchanan nonetheless saw little reason for the needless slaughter of Americans on both sides. Though desiring a reunited country, he should have wondered by 1864 how the Southern people could reconcile the brutality, savagery and wanton destruction caused by the Northern invasion.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Buchanan Identifies the Reason for War

“But Buchanan, like many of the peace Democrats, disapproved of abolitionists and the policy of emancipation. (He later stated that he delayed becoming a member of the Presbyterian Church until after the war because of the anti-slavery stand of the Northern wing of that church).

The Emancipation Proclamation, he asserted in 1864, demonstrated that “the [Lincoln] administration, departing from the principle of conducting the war for the restoration of the Union as it was, and the Constitution as it is, had resolved to conduct it for the subjugation of the Southern States and the destruction of slavery.

Buchanan had taken a firm stand against the discussion of peace proposals with the Confederacy; as the years passed, however, without modifying his demand that the Union must be preserved, he expressed approval of negotiations with the South.

After the reelection of Lincoln in 1864, (Buchanan had supported McClellan), he urged conciliation based on ignoring the slavery issue. “Now”, he wrote in November 1864: “would be the time for conciliation on the part of Mr. Lincoln. A frank and manly offer to the Confederates that they might return to the Union just as they were before they left it, leaving the slavery issue to settle itself, might be accepted.”

Buchanan spent much of his time during the war in preparing a defense of his actions as President . . . He was unfailingly critical of secessionism . . . But the basic cause of the sectional struggle and war was in operation long before 1860, and Buchanan insisted that this basic cause was not the institution of slavery or any other difference between North and South, but the agitation over slavery.

[Buchanan] always placed primary blame [for war] upon the Northern abolitionists. The original cause of all the country’s troubles, he wrote, was to be found in:

“[The] long, active and persistent hostility of the Northern Abolitionists, both in and out of Congress, against Southern slavery, until the final triumph of their cause in the election of President Lincoln . . .”

If there had been no opposition to slavery, was the theme of Buchanan’s reasoning, there would have been no sectional conflict or war.”

(Americans Interpret their Civil War, Thomas J. Pressly, Collier-MacMillan Company, 1954, excerpts pp. 140-141)

Hostile Colonies and States United

The American Revolution involved two groups fighting the British: the conservatives, who reluctantly left British control as it guaranteed their power and wealth; and the radicals who wanted to overturn the aristocratic colonial structure as well as British rule from afar. The latter desired sovereign States with a weak central government, the former desired the reverse.

The author below notes “the writing and ratification of the Articles of Confederation is merely the first chapter in the constitutional history of the United States. In the years to come, section was to be arrayed against section, class against class, and party against party in an effort to determine the province of the central government and that of the States.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Hostile Colonies and States United

“The fundamental difference between the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of 1787 lies in the apportionment of power between the States and the central government. In the first the balance of power was to the States, and in the second to the central government. The first constitution was one of a federal organization; the second was in essence that of a national government, although political realities demanded the retention of federal features.

The difference between the two was the result of the shifting balances of political power within the thirteen States, which enabled first one party and then the other to write its desires, its beliefs, and its interests into the colorless language of a constitution.

Hence it was the nature of union, and not its desirability, that was the major issue between the parties in 1776. The conservatives wished for the recreation, as nearly as might be, of the system that had existed before the Revolution.

The radicals tended to desire a union chiefly for the purpose of carrying on the war, but a union that would not infringe upon the sovereign authority of the individual States. They believed profoundly that only under such a system was democracy possible.

The greatest obstacle to a union of almost any kind was the States’ independence of one another. The colonies had been founded individually and had developed different traditions and attitudes in spite of a common heritage of language, law, and government.

Their relations with each other were often unfriendly, especially after the middle of the eighteenth century, as a result of rival land claims. Actual warfare had been prevented only by the external power of Britain, which subdued them but did not eliminate their animosity toward one another.

Above all, the radicals believed that the independence of the States was the guarantee of the kind of government they desired. Speaking broadly, it was democracy they wanted, and they knew full well that the kind of democracy they wanted was incompatible with centralization. Their experience with the British Empire had taught them that much, and they were not soon to forget the lesson.”

(The Articles of Confederation, an Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774-1781, Merrill Jensen, University of Wisconsin Press, 1940, excerpts pp. 109-110; 116-117)

The Problem of Sovereignty

Regarding the location of sovereignty in the American system of government, Jefferson Davis, in his postwar “Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,” stated: “If any lingering doubt could have existed as to the reservation of their entire sovereignty by the people of the respective States when they organized the federal Union, it would have been removed by the adoption of the tenth amendment to the Constitution, which was not only one of the amendments proposed by various States when ratifying that instrument, but the particular one in which they substantially agreed, and upon which they most urgently insisted.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Problem of Sovereignty

“The fundamental issue in the writing of the Articles of Confederation was the location of the ultimate political authority, the problem of sovereignty. Should it reside in Congress or the States?

Many conservatives in 1776-1777, as in 1787, believed that Congress should have a “superintending” power over both the States and their individual citizens. They had definite reasons for such a desire.

They feared mob action and democratic rule.

The radicals, on the other hand, were fighting centralization in their attack upon the British Empire and upon the colonial governing classes, whose interests were so closely interwoven with the imperial relationship. Furthermore, the interests of the radicals were essentially local.

To them union was merely a means to their end, the independence of the several States. Hence centralization was to be opposed. Finally, the democratic theory of the time was antagonistic to any government with pretensions toward widespread dominion. Theorists believed that democratic government was impossible except within very limited areas.

Thus the conflict between those who were essentially “nationalists” and those who were forerunners of the “States rights” school.

The real significance of this controversy was obscured during the nineteenth century by historians and politicians who sought to justify the demands of rising industrialism on the central government and the Northern attitude toward the South’s secession in 1860-61.

The Southern contention that the Union was a compact between sovereign States was opposed by the contention that the Union was older than the States. North historians insisted that the first Continental Congress was a sovereign body, and that it represented the people of the United States as a whole, not the people of the several States as represented in their State governments.

To prove their contentions the Northerners cited such documents as the Declaration of Independence and the preamble to the Constitution of 1787 . . . [and italicizing] to place undue emphasis on the portions of the documents which seemed to prove their arguments.

This is essentially the technique of argument used by small boys and would be unworthy of consideration had it not been so effective in shaping certain ideas which have profoundly influenced the interpretation of American history.”

(The Articles of Confederation, an Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774-1781, Merrill Jensen, University of Wisconsin Press, 1940, excerpts pp. 161-163)

 

Martial Law in Maryland

As Lincoln prepared his invasion of the South after Fort Sumter, he responded to public outcry in Maryland with illegally suspending the right of habeas corpus, increasingly severe repression, and monitoring elections. The author below writes that Lincoln’s “clumsy response is better explained by psychological impulse than by political imperative,” as he could not abide having dissident Maryland citizens waving Southern banners so close to his political seat.

Bernhard Thuersam  www.Circa1865.org

 

Martial Law in Maryland

“[General Winfield] Scott . . . [issued the order] for the arrest of Baltimore’s city marshal, George P. Kane, and the entire board of police commissioners – all of whom [were] implicated in the imagined [Maryland secession] plot.

So it was that at an early hour on June 27, 1861, a detachment of troops marched through Baltimore’s streets . . . [to] Marshal Kane’s home. Within the hour Kane arrived at Fort McHenry . . . When the sun rose over the Eastern Shore on July 1, all four commissioners lay in the dank dungeon of Fort McHenry . . . Soldiers by the hundreds strode Baltimore’s streets with their bayonets fixed that morning, and citizens who dared to express disagreement with their government felt the teeth of martial law.

The United States Congress convened three days after the arrest of the commissioners and questioned the seemingly highhanded action taken against public officials of a loyal State. Knowing that Lincoln had already ignored judicial demands in such matters, the police commissioners bypassed the legal system to petition their congressional representative for relief, and twenty days into its session the House of Representatives adopted resolution requesting [Lincoln] to provide grounds and evidence for the arrests.

Lincoln declined to cooperate. Citing what would become the favorite excuse of future administrations seeking to invoke a dubious prerogative, he informed the elected representatives of the people that it was “incompatible with the public interest at this time” to release that information.

Some of the commissioners remained in confinement for months, and Marshal Kane was not released until November of 1862, but for the rest of the war and thereafter, revealing the reason for their detention remained incompatible with the public interest.”

(Mr. Lincoln Goes to War, William Marvel, Houghton Mifflin, 2006, excerpts pp. 104-105)

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