Browsing "Bringing on the War"

A Calming Effect at Sumter

North Carolina’s Jonathan Worth sensed that despite the sectional troubles of the latter 1850s and Lincoln’s election, “Unionist sentiment was ascendant and gaining strength until Lincoln prostrated us.” He added “the President could abandon Sumter and Pickens without any sacrifice of his principles . . .” Worth also felt that Seward’s duplicity did more that all the secessionists to drive North Carolina out the Union, as Lincoln behind the scenes pursued his aggressive policy of war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

A Calming Effect at Sumter

“The [Confederate] commissioners were impatient to gain a hearing and get on with their negotiations. At first Seward promised to let them know how best to bring the subject of their mission before the President and the cabinet. Then he began to stall them off by saying the administration did not yet have time to deal properly with a matter so important.

The President, he explained, was “besieged” by applicants for office and was “surrounded by all the difficulties and confusion incident to the first days of a new administration.” Seward gave the commissioners to understand, however, that Sumter very soon would be evacuated anyhow.

When they demanded an informal conference with him (at no time had they and he met face to face) he said he would have to consult the President. The answer he later relayed back to them was “No, it would not be in his power to receive the gentlemen.”

The rumors Seward had started, about the early abandonment of Sumter, eventually appeared in the press. They made “great news” in the metropolitan dailies on Monday, March 11, the very day on which Lincoln, in his orders to [Gen. Winfield] Scott, reaffirmed the opposite policy – a fact which the newspapers did not report and did not know.

As the news spread, it had, on the whole, a calming effect in Richmond and elsewhere in the non-Confederate South. “The removal from Sumter,” said George W. Summers, writing on behalf of the Virginia Unionists, and writing as if the removal already were a fact, “acted like a charm – it gave us [Southern Unionists] great strength. A reaction is now going on in the State.”

In Washington, the Confederate commissioners agreed to postpone their demand for an immediate reception. They would wait, but only for a couple of weeks, until about March 28, and only on condition that the existing military status of the Union forts remain absolutely unchanged.

In Charleston, the publishers and the readers of the Charleston Mercury and the Courier rejoiced that Sumter would soon fall without a fight. “The news . . . seems to have caused an almost entire cessation of work on the batteries around us,” one of [Major] Anderson’s officers wrote to the War Department . . .”

In the city of New York, and throughout the . . . North – there was mixed reaction. Some thought the decision unfortunate but unavoidable. Some, especially Buchanan Democrats and also businessmen with Southern connections, heartily approved.”

(Lincoln and the First Shot, Richard N. Current, J.B. Lippincott Company, 1963, excerpts pp. 54-56)

 

Factions Combine to Battle a Common Foe

Lincoln was the consummate politician at the head of a minority party made up of warring factions, whose only commonality was deep hatred of Democrats and the interests of the American South. He realized after his plurality victory that public jobs, i.e., the patronage, had to be wisely distributed to these factions to cement the fragile party together. In the Fort Sumter crisis, though common sense and peace demanded wise leadership and diplomacy, Lincoln instead put party above country – fearing that any action appearing conciliatory toward the South would cause his Republican party of many faces to disintegrate.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Factions Combine to Battle the Common Foe

“The groups who contributed to Lincoln’s triumph in 1860 almost defy analysis, so numerous and varied they were. Among the more important were:

  1. the antislavery Whigs, who seized upon the sectional issue for political reasons or because they sincerely believed that the Southern planter interests would either politically ruin the nation or cause disunion.
  2. Free-Soil Democrats, particularly in the Northwest, who feared extension of Negro slavery into their territory or who had severed their allegiance with the Democratic party when [both Presidents Pierce and] Buchanan disregarded their section’s interest in favor of the South.
  3. Disgruntled Democrats, with no pronounced opinions on the sectional controversy . . . disappointed in their many quests for public office or else detested Buchanan and other Democratic chieftains . . .
  4. Certain Know-Nothing who disliked the Democrats for party reasons or because of the latter’s coddling of the Irish vote.
  5. German-born naturalized citizens who hated the Southern slave-plantation system, feared competition with Negro labor, and wanted free land.
  6. Homestead and internal improvement people in general.
  7. Protective tariff advocates, particularly in Pennsylvania, who opposed Democrats because of their free-trade [and low-tariff] tendencies.
  8. Groups in favor of the Pacific railroad [to increase Northeastern trade with the Orient].
  9. Those who wanted daily overland mail and who believed that the Buchanan administration was favoring [a Southern railroad route].
  10. Certain Union-minded conservative men in the border States, who believed that the regular Democratic party under Pierce and Buchanan was becoming an instrument of pro-slavery interests and a force for secession and who hoped to conservatize the Republican party from within.

Only a few years before these numerous factions had hewn at each other’s heads; they had come together in the recent campaign like Highland clans to battle the common foe. The leaders of these various factions were still jealous of one another and often openly hostile.”

(Lincoln and the Patronage, Harry J. Carman & Reinhard H. Luthin, Peter Smith, 1864, excerpts pp. 9-10)

 

Creating Engines for Political Security

The “glittering prize” of political party victory was control of the distribution of political offices, and Lincoln astutely arranged the patronage to control his party as well as keep jealous competitors at bay. The Collectors of Customs posts were most important, and were decisive in Lincoln’s decision for war rather than lose his tariff money and appointing powers.  Count Gurowski, the Polish immigrant and political gadfly mentioned below, believed in the European tradition that “treason” was simple opposition to royalty. In the United States, however, Article III, Section 3, defines treason only as waging war against “them,” the States, or adhering to their enemies.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Creating Engines for Political Security

“The arduous task of cabinet-making was far from completed before Lincoln was beset with a swarm of office-seekers. Indeed, Washington was a veritable mecca for patronage mongers bent upon securing consulships, Indian agencies, postmaster-ships, or anything else in the gift of the appointing power [of the President].

Those who witnessed the rush of job hunters could not easily forget the spectacle. Wrote home a Michigan Congressman: “The City is overwhelmed with a crowd of rabid, persistent office-seekers – the like never was experienced before in the history of the Government.”

An Indiana member reminisced later: “I met at every turn a swarm of miscellaneous people, many of them looking as hungry and fierce as wolves, and ready to pounce upon members [of Congress] as they passed, begging for personal intercessions, letters of recommendations, etc. . . . the scuffle for place was unabated.”

And the eccentric Count Adam Gurowski, viewing the scene, confided to his diary in this same month of March 1861 his impressions:

“What a run, a race for offices. This spectacle likewise new to me. The Cabinet Ministers, or, as they call them here, the Secretaries, have old party debts to pay, old sores to avenge or to heal, and all this by distributing offices, or by what they call it here, the patronage. They, the leaders, hope to create engines for their own political security, but no one seems to look over Mason and Dixon’s line to the terrible and with lightning-like velocity spreading fire of hellish treason.”

Politically and financially, the collectors of customs posts were among the most important at the disposal of the Administration. That at the metropolis of the Empire State was the most lucrative. “There is no situation in the U. States which enables the incumbent to exert such influence . . . as the Collectorship of New York,” one political observer had written in the 1840’s; to another this position was second only in influence to that of Postmaster-General.”

Under the caption “Fat Offices of New York,” Horace Greeley’s Tribune informed its readers in 1860 that ranking first in importance and revenue was the collectorship, with its fixed salary of $6,340, and some $20,000 more in the form of “pickings and fees.” Before Lincoln’s first administration had run its four years, the Surveyor of the Port estimated the number of employees in the New York Custom House at 1,200 and the assessment on their salaries for political party purposes at 2 percent.”

(Lincoln and the Patronage, Harry J. Carman & Reinhard H. Luthin, Peter Smith, 1864, excerpts pp. 53-54; 59-60)

 

Thirteen Little Sovereign States

As the last sentences of the passage below relates, the war of 1861-1865 was the end of numerous struggles between the States and the central government they had established. The “indivisible” came into being through sheer military force and multiple violations of a constitution the sixteenth president was sworn to uphold. That president was aided by several “jealous and suspicious” States, who provided troops to conquer other States.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Thirteen Little Sovereign States

“The Second Continental Congress, which approved the Declaration of Independence, was not a legislative body but a convention selected to propose measures for meeting the crisis with the mother country. This Congress had not contemplated a formal break with Great Britain when it had first met on May 10, 17775, three weeks after the Massachusetts militia had engaged in a skirmish with the British at Lexington and Concord.

A civil war had started, but the Congress was still hopeful of wringing concessions from Great Britain and patching up the disputes. Nevertheless this Congress decided that the militia at Lexington had acted in the interest of all, and Congress gave its approval by supporting George Washington, commander in chief of the forces defending the rights of the colonies.

The Second Continental Congress represented primarily a party, the Whigs, who opposed the encroachments of King George III and his Tory party. Many citizens of the colonies at this stage, perhaps the majority, still regarded themselves as loyal to the king. Only gradually during the year which followed the fighting at Lexington did the American Whigs win enough support to bring about a complete break with Great Britain.

When a delegate from Virginia introduced a resolution into the Continental Congress which led to the Declaration of Independence, he declared that the “colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.”

This is precisely what they became after the signing of the Declaration: in effect, thirteen little sovereign states, often jealous and suspicious of each other, frequently opposed to each other by conflicting interests.

The relation of the individual States to the central government to be established was a critical problem, not completely resolved until the fratricidal civil war of 1861-1865. Only after that struggle could the United States claim to be one nation, indivisible. In 1776 each new-fledged State was self-consciously aware of its independent sovereignty and determined to maintain its autonomy.”

(Tribulations of a New Nation, Louis B. Wright; The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 82, No. 2, April 1974, William M.E. Rachal, editor, excerpts pp. 134-135)

Smallpox Hand Grenades Feared in Virginia

The Twenty-first Regiment of New York Volunteers was initially enlisted for a three-month tour of duty after Fort Sumter. On August 20, 1861, as the unit neared the end of their sworn term, it was reported that “attempted revolt” in the ranks arose as Lincoln requisitioned the short-term volunteers for his lengthy war. Generous enlistment bounties, furloughs, new immigrants impressed and captured Southern black men counted toward State quotas would solve the issue.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Smallpox Hand Grenades Feared in Virginia

“On June 5th [1861], the Elmira correspondent of the [New York World] writes as follows: “The Cayuga, Buffalo and Hillhouse regiments are the only ones that have received their arms, and indeed, the only ones that are uniformed. The Buffalo men were uniformed by their fellow citizens, and present a fine appearance.”

In Mr. Faxon’s correspondence with the [Buffalo] Courier, we find the following:

“Yesterday and today were given almost entirely to the preventive service. Small-pox having been announced as one of the warlike weapons in use by our rebellious friend in Virginia, to scatter among our troops as a soldier would throw hand grenades, our Surgeon . . . [introduced] into the entire human economy of the regiment a little vaccine matter.

The Rev. Mr. Robie had become at once a general favorite. He has donned the theological uniform . . . and looks as though he was ready, at a moment’s notice, to engage the rebels of the South or the foe of all mankind.

Says a member of the regiment in a letter to the Buffalo Courier: “I consider it the duty of someone to tender our grateful acknowledgments to the ladies . . . Ladies of Buffalo, we will bear you in everlasting remembrance, and try to do our duty as soldiers, — to the killing of Jeff. Davis, if possible.”

[July 8th]: Last Thursday being the eighty-fifth anniversary of American Freedom, was fitly celebrated with us by a review of the troops in Washington and vicinity.

[Near Falls Church, Virginia], We learned this morning [29 September] that a scouting party returning from the front last night were fired upon by a California regiment, and several men killed, the result of carelessness in not having the countersign. Some of the men have been foraging among the deserted rebel mansions in the neighborhood. The house of Major Nutt, which its gallant owner hastily evacuated the day of our advance, stands, or did stand, about a mile north of the hill.

A party of [General Ludwig] Blenker’s [German regiment], probably carrying out the precepts of old world warfare, have completely demolished it, together with that portion of the contents which they did not choose to carry away. The remains of a fine piano and other heavy furniture litter the grounds; the garden and outbuildings are sacked and destroyed, and the [livestock] appropriated by the ravagers.”

(Chronicles of the Twenty-first Regiment, New York Volunteers, J. Harrison Mills, Twenty-first Regiment Veteran Association, 1887, excerpts pp. 50-52; 121)

Letting the South Go In Peace

John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, President from 1824 to 1829 and later speaking of the proposed annexation of Texas in the late 1840s, stated: “We hesitate not to say that annexation of Texas, effected by any act or proceeding of the Federal Government, or any of its departments, would be identical with dissolution. It would be a violation of our national compact . . . not only to result in a dissolution of the Union, but fully to justify it . . .” Secession from the Union was an original New England idea, and flouted whenever it determined its influence in the Union was being diminished. It was an idea later adopted by the South, but by then New England had control of the federal apparatus and would not allow its national power to be diminished. Coercion followed.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Letting the South Go in Peace

“In regard to this question of the right of the States to withdraw, and the power of coercion, is it not appropriate to call attention to the following views expressed by Mr. Horace Greeley, one of the ablest writers and firmest supporters of the Republican, or, abolition party. In an article published in the New York Tribune a few day[s] after the election of Lincoln in 1860, and reproduced in his work styled “The American Conflict,” he says:

“That was a base and [hypocritical] row that was once raised at Southern dictation about the ears of John Quincy Adams, because he presented for the dissolution of the Union. The petitioner had a right to make the request; it was the member’s duty to present it.

And now when the Cotton States consider the value of the Union debatable, we maintain their perfect right to discuss it. Nay! We hold we hold with Mr. Jefferson, to the inalienable right of communities to alter or abolish forms of government that have become injurious or oppressive, and if the Cotton States shall decide that they can do better out of the Union than in it, we insist upon letting them go in peace.

The right to secede is a revolutionary one, but it exists nevertheless, and we do not see how one party can have a right to do what another party has a right to prevent. We must ever resist the asserted right of any State to coercion in the Union, and to nullify and defy the laws thereof; to withdraw from the Union is quite another matter.

And whenever a considerable section of our Union shall deliberately resolve to go out, we shall resist all coercive measures to keep it in. We hope never to live in a republic whereof one section is pinned to another by bayonets.

But while we uphold the practical liberty, if not the abstract right of secession, we must insist that the step be taken, if ever it shall be, with the deliberation and gravity becoming so momentous an issue. Let ample time be given for reflection, let the subject be fully canvassed before the people, and let a popular vote be taken in every case before secession is decreed.

A judgment thus rendered, a demand for separation so backed, would either be acquiesced in without effusion of blood, or those who rushed upon carnage to defy or defeat it, would place themselves clearly in the wrong.”

It would be hard to conceive language more forcible for defining the right of the States to withdraw and the wrong and criminality of the attempt to coerce them when they had exercised that right, than this of Mr. Greeley’s.”

(The Heritage of the South: A History of the Introduction of Slavery; Its Establishment from Colonial Times and Final Effect Upon the Politics of the United States, Jubal Anderson Early, Brown Morrison Co., 1915, excerpts pp. 96-97)

Mission of Peace and Goodwill Comes to Naught

The prime object in establishing the Constitution in 1787 was to insure domestic tranquility, and even the New York Tribune itself editorialized in November and December 1860 that: “We hold with Jefferson to the inalienable right of communities to alter or abolish forms of government that have become oppressive or injurious . . . we insist on letting them go in peace.” New York, in its ratification of the Constitution in 1787, expressly reserved the right to secede should it determine the need. The author below rightly sums up the Southern peace initiatives: “Well might the Southern leaders have adopted for their own the language of the Psalmist, “I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.” It is then clear the immediate cause of the war was the Republican Party, and its refusal to pursue peaceful solutions.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Mission of Peace and Goodwill Comes to Naught

“Nor did [President Jefferson Davis] content himself with mere words of peace. He acted promptly on the resolution from Congress and appointed three commissioners from our government to the government of the United States. “These commissioners,” says Mr. Stephens, “were clothed with plenary powers to open negotiations for the settlement of all matters of joint property, forts, arsenals, arms, or property of any kind within the limits of the Confederate States, and all joint liabilities with their former associates, upon principles of right, justice, equity and good faith.”

Let me ask, could anything have been fairer?

These commissioners promptly proceeded on their way. A few days after the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln at Washington they formally notified his Secretary of State, Mr. Seward, that “the President, Congress and people of the Confederate States earnestly desire a peaceful solution” of pending questions between the two governments.

Suffice it to say that it was through no fault of these commissioners, or of the people and government they represented, that their mission of peace and goodwill to their late allies of the North came to naught.

Yet another effort for peace was made from a Southern official quarter in those portentous, ominous months following the sectional victory at the polls in November 1860. The Border Southern States were yet within the old union, hoping against hope for continued union, peace and justice. Among these Border States was Virginia, the oldest, most powerful of them all. By unanimous vote of her Legislature all the States of the union were invited to send delegates to a conference, to devise a plan for preserving harmony and constitutional union.

This conference met in Washington, February 4, 1861, the very day on which the Congress of the seceded Cotton States assembled in Montgomery. The demands or suggestions of the South in this Peace Congress were only that constitutional obligations should be observed by all parties; nay, that certain concessions to the North would be agreed to, by means of constitutional amendment, if only the constitution, as thus amended, might be obeyed.

This did not suit commissioners from the Northern States, as was bluntly stated by one of them, then and there. Salmon P. Chase, of Ohio, who was slated for a portfolio in Lincoln’s cabinet, and therefore spoke at least quasi ex cathedra. So the Peace Congress proved of no avail.

We find a similar situation in the Congress of the United States at its regular session that winter. Of the condition there Mr. Pollard says, in his book “The Lost Cause”: “It is remarkable that of all the compromises proposed in this Congress for preserving the peace of the country, none came from the Northern men; they came from the South and were defeated by the North.”

(Living Confederate Principles, Lloyd T. Everett, Southern Historical Society Papers, No. II, Volume XL, September 1915; Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1991, excerpts pp. 26-28)

 

 

Un-American Union of Force

The party of Seward and Lincoln fielded its first presidential candidate in 1854; in the space of another seven years this party succeeded in alienating nearly half the country, waged bloody war in Kansas, forced a State to peacefully withdraw from the Union, and plunged the country into a bloody and destructive war that led to the deaths of a million people.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Un-American Union of Force

“Finally, a new party was formed, with its primary object, as professed, the exclusion of the South from the common territories that had been acquired by the common blood and the common treasure of the South and the North.

And, significantly, early in its history, or as soon (1860) as it had acquired material growth and substantial prestige, this new political party, already thus avowedly sectional in its principles, made a sectional “protective” tariff one of its demands.

And when it had elected a president (by a sectional and a minority popular vote, be it remembered), and so caused a disruption of the union of States, “protection” was a primary means employed to support the war that followed – a war of aggression and conquest waged by this party to secure both its own continued supremacy and the new consolidated and un-American union of force in place of the pristine confederated union of choice which itself had had done so much to destroy; a war in which Negro emancipation “in parts of the Southern States” was incidentally proclaimed as a “military measure,” the thirteenth amendment coming later to extend and validate this unconstitutional proceeding.

“Un-American union of force,” I said; we must remember that widespread opposition to the war of conquest against the South manifested itself in the North, and that the myriads of immigrants from centralist, “blood and iron” Germany had much to do with turning the scale in the North in support of Lincoln’s and Seward’s war.

In these aliens there had arisen “a new king which knew not Joseph,” who had no inconvenient recollections of ’76 to hold him in check.”

(Living Confederate Principles, Lloyd T. Everett, Southern Historical Society Papers, No. II, Volume XL, September 1915; Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1991, excerpts pp. 22-23)

A Minority Party Blunders into War

William H. Seward lost the Republican presidential nomination to a political novice from Illinois, and was quietly licking his wounds while that novice was ignoring the secession crisis in Springfield. As Seward was the creation and protégé of New York newspaperman Thurlow Weed, he might have exerted party leadership to bring on a constitutional convention of the States to properly settle the issues. Weed was no friend of secession, but saw signs that the conservative South was open to negotiation – as the Crittenden Compromise offered. Seward deferred to Lincoln, and Lincoln stumbled into war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

A Minority Party Blunders into War

“Aside from misconceiving the importance of the secession movement, the Republicans were also placed at a great disadvantage by their lack of experience as a majority party and their lack of a leader to chart their course for them. The crisis overtook them before they could remedy these defects.

It demanded that they produce a formula to save the Union, and made this demand at a time when they had never even borne the responsibility of appointing a postmaster. They were yet a minority party, not destined to assume office for three months to come.

They had never been anything other than a minority party, skilled in opposition tactics, steeped in opposition psychology, unused to responsibility, unaccustomed to the formulation of policy. Unprepared as they were to cope with a crisis, they clung to their nominal position as a minority group and shrank from taking affirmative action. The future belonged to them; they alone could pledge it; and consequently they alone could wield the initiative.

This handicap might have been overcome by clear-cut and decisive leadership. But in the moment when an unexpected crisis and unfamiliar responsibility fell simultaneously upon Republican congressmen, they found themselves with no unquestioned leader. Abraham Lincoln was, of course, the elected chief, but he had been silent for more than half a year.

Mr. Lincoln was, in the eyes of many simply an ex-congressman from Illinois, now President-elect . . . Certainly they gave no sincere allegiance to the unknown quantity from Springfield, and if anyone held the position of leadership it was Lincoln’s rival, William H. Seward. Seward had been the leader of the Republican party, and especially of the Republicans in Congress, for nearly six years . . . and probably the most intelligent member on the Republican side of the Senate.

The moral grandeur of “lost causes” held little appeal for him. Consequently, he became a superb politician, a master of artifice, equivocation, and silence. With Lincoln silent in Springfield, the public gaze turned upon Seward, the leader in Congress, and, as rumor had it, the next Secretary of State.

Had Seward been prepared to act vigorously at this juncture, he might have exerted an enormous influence. But he was, himself, inhibited at this critical moment by his reticence in assuming leadership so soon after his defeat for the [presidential] nomination, by his underestimate of the crisis, and by his anxiety not to take any step that would impair his prospective influence with the new administration.

Amid this welter of confusion [in Republican ranks], Congress at last convened [in] joint session [to hear President James Buchanan] set forth his belief that the States cannot legally secede, but that the Federal government could not legally restrain them; in it he recommended that Congress call a constitutional convention . . .”

(Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis, David M. Potter, Yale University Press, 1942, excerpts pp. 80-82)

 

Republicans Frustrate Compromise Efforts

Well-aware of his meager claim to electoral victory with only 39% of the popular vote, Lincoln told Republican Congressman James Hale of Pennsylvania that supporting the compromise plan of Kentucky’s John J. Crittenden would mean the end of the Republican Party and of his new government. During several compromise efforts between December 1860 and March, 1861, Lincoln wrote important Republican leaders in Congress to oppose any settlement with the South, which of course ensured secession and his war upon the South. Again, it is clear that the cause of secession and war was the Republican Party, and Lincoln placing party survival over saving the Founders’ Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Republicans Frustrate Compromise Efforts

“[Crittenden desperately] was trying to halt what he called the “madness” possessing the South and begged northerners in Congress to make the “cheap sacrifice” and “little concessions of opinions” that his pan required in order to save the country.

Crittenden directed his plea primarily to Republicans. They held the balance of power in Congress, and their reaction would decide the fate of the Crittenden program. Northern Democrats who had been traditionally more conciliatory toward the South . . . could be expected to give the program substantial support.

Some Republicans agreed with Crittenden that a few concessions to the South to preserve the union might be worthwhile, if the price was not too high. From the beginning, [Republican] antagonism doomed Crittenden’s high hopes [though] Unionists in both houses of Congress, however, fought for legislation that encompassed Crittenden’s plan.

In the lower house, on December 5 [1860], Alexander Boteler of Virginia successfully moved that a committee of one member from each State (the Committee of Thirty Three) be established to work out a plan to save the Union. Republicans cast every negative vote on the resolution, giving an early indication that they were opposed to compromise. Republicans blocked every other compromise measure suggested in the Committee of Thirteen.

Crittenden’s followers still refused to admit defeat. The Virginia legislature invited all the States to send representatives to a “Peace Conference” in Washington in February. Although none of the States that had already seceded sent delegates, twenty-one States did join the conference. Once again Republican leaders opposed compromise plans, claiming they did not want to cripple Lincoln’s freedom to deal with secession by committing him to a program before his inauguration.

An Indiana Republican delegate wrote to his governor from the conference: “We have thus done all in our power to procrastinate, and shall continue to do so, in order to remain in session until after [Lincoln’s inauguration on] the 4th of March.” The Senate voted on the original Crittenden plan and defeated it by a 20 to 19 vote. Not one Republican supported the plan.

The Republican decision to frustrate compromise efforts was one of the most significant political decisions in American history. Although it would be unreasonable to assert that had Republicans supported compromise they would definitely have ended the secession movement and prevented the Civil War, such a result was quite possible given the wide support that Crittenden’s plan attracted.

All the pro-Southern aspects of the compromise disturbed the Republicans; but their ire was raised in particular by the territorial provisions. The Republican party’s strength was contained in its antislavery wing, which was held together by opposition to any expansion of slavery [into the territories].

Had Republicans abandoned their opposition to slave expansion in 1860, they would have committed political suicide. Such a concession to the South would have constituted a repudiation of their own platform, “an admission that Southern complaints were valid,” and a confession that Lincoln’s election as president warranted secession.

Republican voters by the thousands cautioned their congressmen and leaders not to compromise with the South and agitated at home against conciliation, as when Pittsburgh Republicans broke up a unionist meeting by turning off the gas, smashing seats, and yelling “God d —-n John J. Crittenden and his compromise.”

(The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire: 1854-1861, Robert E. May, LSU Press, 1973, excerpts pp. 210-212; 214-217)

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