Browsing "Conscription"

Undisciplined Troops

The 4th US Colored Infantry was recruited in Baltimore with enrollment agents scouring the city, though “many of the city’s residents . . . reluctant to enlist – perhaps [because] so many had been dragooned into service by [General Robert] Schenck.” The latter impressed local slaves and free blacks into service at will to defend the city from liberation.

Many of the black recruits were forcibly removed from area farms and plantations, and in late July 1863 authority was granted to remove the inmates of a slave prison in the city for use as soldiers.

Any “able-bodied black male of military age owned “by an avowed Confederate or Rebel sympathizer” was subject to impressment. Lincoln’s proconsul in Maryland was “Governor” Augustus W. Bradford, a slave owner and committed Unionist who was allowed to keep his slaves.

These black recruits received no bounty as white troops had, and only white officers were allowed to command black units.  Lincoln added black men to his conscription net, and poor black men could not afford the $300 substitute fee to avoid service.  

Undisciplined Troops

“[General Joseph E.] Johnston’s surrender immediately placed the Union forces in North Carolina on occupation duty. Now that hostilities were officially ended, it was feared the USCT might break free of wartime restraints to trespass, assault and loot. [Colonel Samuel] Duncan was enjoined to place a guard at virtually every house on his route [to Goldsboro . . . [indicating] the low opinion that their own commanders sometimes entertained of the discipline and deportment of the USCT.

By the end of 1865 – five months after the XXIV Corps had officially ceased to exist – only a handful of Caucasian regiments in the Army of the James remained in the field. These units would be mustered out the following January and February. Much of the army’s USCT strength, however, would be kept on active duty for almost another year.

The War Department knew that if it were to keep white volunteers in service well beyond their appointed term of “three years or the duration of the war,” it risked the wrath of voters and their political representatives.

Not surprisingly, the War Office preferred to alienate African American troops, few of whom could vote and even fewer who wielded political power. Moreover, many black soldiers – especially former slaves – had no homes to return to once they left the service. They would be unlikely to object to being kept on the army’s payroll indefinitely. The 4th USCI served out its two final months of garrison duty in relative tranquility [at Washington]. There the formal process of mustering out the regiment took place on the morning of May 4, 1866.”

(A Regiment of Slaves: The 4th United States Colored Infantry, 1863-1866, Edward G. Longacre, Stackpole Books, 2003, excerpts pp. 165; 170-171)

Immigrants, Riots and Cannon Fodder

For five bloody days in mid-July 1863, armed mobs of draft resisters, mostly immigrants, fought on New York City streets against enforcement of Lincoln’s conscription law – what began as a simple demonstration on July 13 devolved into wholesale destruction of property and life – 120 black people were killed and many fled the city in fear of their lives. This carnage was the result of Lincoln’s insatiable need for troops, as volunteers were coming to the end of their enlistments, horrifying news came from the front, and the State drafts of 1862 met with widespread evasion. Also unpopular was Lincoln’s new war aim of freeing slaves. 

To combat the rioters, nearly ten thousand Northern troops and artillery units were brought in from Gettysburg to patrol the streets.

Immigrants, Riots and Cannon Fodder

“[The] film [Gangs of New York] gives a glimpse of the rather nasty nativism among Northerners, a great many of whom hated Catholics and immigrants as much or more than they hated Southerners. None of the above fit into the Yankee ideal of true Americanism. Nativist gangs burnt down convents in Philadelphia and Boston when such things were never dreamt of in the South.

The film can open the door to another dirty little secret. We have heard a lot about immigrant criminal gangs. The fact that vigilante law prevailed over much of the North during the War has been conveniently forgotten. Besides the thousands of his critics Lincoln jailed without due process, thousands more were killed, injured, intimidated, and run out of town by proto-fascist gangs of Republican bully boys called “Wide Awakes.” They played a major role in making sure Northern elections turned out right, i.e., Republicans won.

The “riots” did not start out as race pogroms, though they degenerated into that. They started out as organized civic resistance to the draft, encouraged by the Democratic State government. Everyone knew that the Lincolnites enforced the draft at a much higher rate in areas that opposed them than they did in friendly areas – according to forthcoming studies by the New York playwright and historian John Chodes, the draft was imposed at four times the rate for Massachusetts. And the conscripts were well aware that they stood a good chance of being used up as cannon-fodder by Republicans who knew if they lost four men for every Southerner killed they would still end up on top, as long as the immigrant flow kept up.

About a fourth of the total enrollment of Lincoln’s armies were immigrants, many of whom were brought over and paid bounties for enlisting. The situation was so bad that the Pope sent one of his most persuasive priestly orators to Ireland to warn the people about being used up for Union cannon fodder.

Perhaps we can begin to recognize the historical fact that millions of Northern citizens did not willingly go along with Lincoln’s War. And the opponents were not limited to the New York City draft rioters.

The truth is that Lincoln’s party did not save the Union and the Constitution. It was a Jacobin party that seized power and revolutionized the North as well as conquering the South. The Gangs of New York can perhaps open a window that will encourage further historical discovery along these lines.”

(Scorcese’s Gangs of New York; Defending Dixie: Essays in Southern History and Culture, Clyde N. Wilson, Foundation for American Education, 2006, excerpts pp. 220-221)

Carnage at New Market Heights

By mid-1862 enlistments had virtually ceased and Northern defeats aroused intense opposition to Lincoln’s war. The latter admitted that “We had about played our last card, and must change our tactics or lose the war.” Reminded of Lord Dunmore’s freeing of slaves in 1775 who would fight against American independence, Lincoln issued his own proclamation in 1863 doing the same to raise troops to fight against American independence.

The Sixth US Colored Infantry was organized in Philadelphia, a city where black people could not ride on most streetcars. Though black recruits were usually denied bounties for enlisting, Pennsylvania was desperate for troops and offered a $10 bounty, and the city an additional $250 per recruit. It should be pointed out that only 43%of the Sixth were actually volunteers, while 31% were conscripted, and over 25% were substitutes for a $300 fee.

Few were residents of Pennsylvania and listed 23 States as their origin. In the forlorn attack described below, Company D of the Sixth lost eighty-seven percent of its men, the heaviest loss of any company in the Northern army.

Carnage at New Market Heights

“On the morning of September 29 [1864], the Sixth finished their march and formed a line of battle. It held the left of the line, the Fourth Regiment forming up just to their right . . . the first signs of sunrise began to appear. The men could make out the enemy picket line falling back toward their entrenchments as they advanced. The field initially stretched downward toward the enemy, but the Confederates were well-positioned in the heights beyond . . . from which riflemen could pour devastating fire on any attack.

[General Benjamin] Butler personally addressed his black troops before the attack. Pointing toward the enemy he exhorted: “Those works must be taken by the weight of your column; not a shot must be fired.” They were not to stop to fire . . . to prevent it from happening they were ordered before the charge to remove the percussion caps from the locks of their rifles.

As they started down the field First Lieutenant John Johnson began excitedly to swing his sword in circles over his head . . . a Rebel bullet tore through the wrist of his sword arm. The rest of the regiment pressed on as the Texas Brigade poured murderous fire on them.

Rebel fire was bringing down many officers. [Colonel Samuel A.] Duncan was wounded four times . . . The smoke had grown so thick that no one could see more than a few feet ahead. [Colonel John] Ames said: “We must have more help, boys, before we [advance]. Fall back.”

So many bullets had ripped through the [regimental] flags that they had both been turned into mere strips of cloth.

The men started back, flags still flying to rally them. Companies C and F lost all their officers by the end of the assault, leaving the black non-commissioned officers or the men themselves to direct their safe return to friendly ground. Some companies began to withdraw in good order, others began rushing back in a complete rout.

General John Gregg’s Texas Brigade counterattacked, swarming out of their rifle pits onto both flanks . . . Many of the black troops were killed, while other threw down their weapons and surrendered. An uncomplimentary Texan described the black troops as being “hurled upon us, driven on by white leaders at the point of the sword.”

He continues to describe the heavy fire into the advancing infantry until, as he says, “They reel and fall by the scores; now they waver and now they run, and they go to the rear as fast as their – legs can carry them & the artillery opened with terrible slaughter.”

A Union officer then shouted the order to charge, but only those Union troops directly in front of the First Texas Regiment obeyed. They rushed the breastworks and in some places crossed them, and plunged into the Texas troops. But after less than three minutes of struggle all these attackers were casualties, half shot or bayoneted, and half taken prisoner.

Sergeants [Alexander] Kelly and [Thomas] Hawkins bore the two flags safely back from the field of battle in spite of wounds. For the heroism that they displayed in this battle, these two . . . would earn the Congressional Medal of Honor.”

(Strike the Blow for Freedom: The 6th United States Colored Infantry in the Civil War, James M. Paradis, White Mane Books, 1998, excerpts pp. 70-72; 74-75)

New Yorker Antagonism Toward the War

In May, 1863 New York’s Democrat Governor Horatio Seymour pointed out to his constituents “that New York’s [troop] quota was too high and draft districts that were Democratic in their voting habits were called upon to furnish higher ratios of their population than Republican areas.”

It is worth noting that New York Democrats, in addition to opposing Lincoln’s war, opposed political and social equality of Negro citizens; the 1865 Republican State Convention dodged the issue and did so once again in 1866. The long-established “Jim Crow” limitations of Negro voting rights continued unabated in the Empire State.

New Yorker Antagonism Toward the War

“The political opposition contended, from the first, that the war was unnecessary because they felt that differences between North and South could be and should be compromised. To them there was no other goal superior to the preservation of the Union, and they saw the war primarily as a result of a Republican power drive wherein that party had refused to give up its advantages to save the nation.

[New Yorkers] voted Democrats into power along with Seymour in the election of 1862 after having voted Republicans into office in 1858 and 1860. This was a real blow to the Republican administration both in Albany and in Washington and possibly could be interpreted as a repudiation of the party’s policies and actions.

New Yorker’s enthusiasm for “Mr. Lincoln’s War,” it appeared was not running very high in 1862, and they expressed themselves at the polls.

General George B. McClellan’s Peninsula campaign in Virginia collapsed in July 1862 and started the disillusionment. This military failure of the North was quickly followed by General Robert E. Lee’s defeat of General John Pope at [Second] Manassas in August.

Meanwhile, Democratic electioneering and political carping in the fall of 1862 pointed to the failure of Lincoln’s administration to win the war and excoriated his effort to make emancipation a war aim . . . which did not sit well with a great number of New Yorkers.

As a result, when Lincoln sent out another call for troops after [Sharpsburg], local boards in New York counties refused to cooperate in drafting, under State law, about 60,000 militia men for nine months duty. So disastrous was the response that Republican Governor Morgan and the Republican Secretary of War arranged for suspension of the call.

New Yorkers, evidently, were not inspired in the face of impending defeat and a new humanitarian goal of emancipation to rise to either cause. Passively, they avoided service in the armed forces.

In December [1862], just before Christmas, General Burnside’s troops were decimated at Fredericksburg. The defeat produced a wail of despair in the North, and, as the new year of 1863 began, New Yorker’s antagonism to the war heightened.

In New York City a giant mid-May [1863] mass meeting of 30,000 people was promoted by [Mayor] Fernando Wood’s Peace Democrats and held at Union Square. The language of the speakers was incendiary . . . [one] reminded “the George III of the present day [Lincoln] that he too may have his Cromwell or his Brutus . . .”

(New York State in the Civil War, Robert J. Rayback, New York History, New York State Historical Association, Volume XLII, No. 1, January 1961, excerpts pp. 64-66)

Resisting Lincoln’s Draft

The New York City draft riot of mid-1863 was the desperate result of dwindling Northern enlistments after a bloody 1862, little Northern military success to show for its invasion of the South, and Lincoln’s conversion of the war to one of emancipation, which few in the North were willing to die for. With Lincoln’s conscription implemented, Northern governors feared losing the next election and began raising monies to fund exemptions for their constituents as well as bounty money to attract the poor, released prisoners and foreigners into the army of emancipation.

Further, Massachusetts Governor John Andrew sent his State agents into the occupied South to acquire black “recruits” who would count against his State’s troop quota established by Lincoln.

In New York’s Oswego County, “the Republican Times advocated the recruitment of Negroes to fill the ranks and delay the draft” (Oswego County’s Response to the Civil War, New York History, Jan. 1961, pg. 79). Oswego County later sent a delegation to occupied Newport News, “for the purpose of procuring substitutes among the freedmen,” and expecting they could be hired cheaply.

Resisting Lincoln’s Draft

“July 21. Tuesday [1863].

The N.Y. Herald of 16th had been received, & its accounts quoted by today’s papers. The riot had continued through third day, (Wednesday, 15th,) without abatement. Several severe conflicts had taken place between the military & “the people” . . . “Negroes greatly persecuted, & 3 hung.” A great flight of Negroes from the city — & also many of the superior inhabitants . . . “The (City) Council has appropriated $2,500,000 for conscripts.”

This last incident is the most important of all. The city government has by this action completely submitted to the mob, & agreed to pay, out of the property of those citizens who possess property, for the exemption from military service of all conscripts of the city who have no property. This is a far more signal victory to the rioters than was the suspension of the draft.

It [the draft] may now be safely resumed & carried out, without annoyance to the conscripts, as the payment for their exemption is fixed in advance & at the expense of other people . . . The procedure is equivalent to offering a reward of $300 (the price for exemption) to every rioter who would have been liable to conscription.

This is enough to induce like riots in every other Yankee town. And before the operation of this additional incentive, like riots, or disturbances, but less violent & destructive than in New York, had broken out in sundry other places – at Brooklyn, Troy, Newark, Yorkville, Harlem, Jamaica, Westchester, & elsewhere.

July 25. Saturday [1863].

The [New York City] draft is not to be renewed for a week . . . waiting until a full force of 35,000 men shall be arrayed in the city to restrain the populace, & enforce the execution of the draft. Then, I think, there will be more serious & bloody work than before . . . the army, with artillery and grape-shot in every street, may restrain important outbreaks in the city . . .

The like policy of buying exemptions of the poor, is under discussion in the public councils of Philadelphia, & $2,000,000 is the appropriation proposed. It will operate like the policy of the sinking western Roman empire in buying the mercy & the retreat of the invading hosts of barbarians, when threatening to enter to sack and burn the city of Rome.

In the meantime, [editor Horace] Greeley, through the [New York] “Tribune,” (the organ of the thorough abolitionists,) is calling upon the federal power to carry out the draft, & to crush all opposition by overwhelming military force.”

(The Diary of Edmund Ruffin, Volume III, A Dream Shattered: June 1863-June 1865, William K. Scarborough, editor, 1989, LSU Press, excerpts pp. 74-75; 83)

“Freed” Slaves for Lincoln’s Army

After Northern troops occupied northeastern North Carolina in mid-summer 1862, is was estimated that over 7500 “contrabands” were within their lines, and this would grow after 1863. According to author William C. Harriss (In the Country of the Enemy, pp. 12-13), “These refugees of slavery provided the troops with inexpensive delicacies, such as cakes and pies, labor, and services. Several hundred blacks were hired, if not conscripted, to build fortifications at New Bern and other coastal points. Though New England soldiers generally approved of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, many held anti-black sentiments. One Maine soldier . . . “could not bear” the sight of blacks. Such men did not hesitate to exploit black refugees, forcing them to work as servants for little compensation.”

“Freed” Slaves for Lincoln’s Army

“In issuing his Emancipation Proclamation as an incitement for race war, Lincoln was continuing his policy of violating both the Constitution and international law. Food and medicine had already been declared contraband. Later, Lincoln issued “Instructions for the Government of the Armies of the United States in the Field,” (General Orders, No. 100, 1863), authorizing starvation and bombardment of Southern women and children.

Since the Emancipation Proclamation was “a practical war measure,” its enforcement was determined by whether it advanced Lincoln’s war effort. As a consequence, when Lincoln’s Army arrived, “freed” Southern slaves often found themselves re-enslaved under the fiction of a one- year work contract. They could suffer a loss of pay or rations for acts of laziness, disobedience or insolence, and had to obtain a pass to leave the plantation.

Provost marshals ensured that they displayed “faithful service, respectful deportment, correct discipline and perfect subordination. Other “freed” slaves found themselves forced to build fortifications for Lincoln’s Army or were violently conscripted.

In a May 1862 report, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase was advised that: “The Negroes were sad . . . Sometimes whole plantations, learning what was going on, ran off to the woods for refuge . . . This mode of [enlistment by] violent seizure is repugnant.”

As late as February 7, 1865, Lincoln wrote to Lieutenant Colonel Glenn, operating in Kentucky: “Complaint is made to me that you are forcing Negroes into the military service, and even torturing them.”

(Lincoln and the Death of the Old Republic, Joseph E. Fallon, Chronicles, August 2002, excerpts pg. 44 – www.chroniclesmagazine.org)

Feb 19, 2019 - America Transformed, Bringing on the War, Conscription, Costs of War, Enemies of the Republic    Comments Off on Merchants of War

Merchants of War

From the fearsome arquebuse of the Middle Ages to the modern jets carrying atomic weapons, the arms industry provided governments with the means to wage war. Without the arms industry Lincoln would have been unable to arm 2 million men to subdue the South, and with his war came the scandals of enormous commissions paid to men who merely obtained contracts for arms and munitions. The Northern government became a source of easy money for arms merchants selling $14.50 pistols at $25, and $117 for diseased horses worth no more than $60. Dupont was a reliable Northerner who refused to sell his gunpowder to the South for political reasons, thus helping ensure the subjugation of those Americans. Perhaps if Dupont had refused to produce powder for Lincoln’s armies for use against fellow Americans . . .

Merchants of War

“Who – to be specific – has the power to declare war? All constitutions of the world (except the Spanish) vest the war-making power in the government or in the representatives of the people. They further grant the power to conscript man-power to carry on such conflicts. Why is there no ethical revolt against these constitutions?

Governments also harbor and foster forces like nationalism and chauvinism, economic rivalry and exploiting capitalism, territorial imperialism and militarism. Which is the most potent for war, these elements or the arms industry? The arms industry is undeniably a menace to peace, but it is an industry to which our present civilization clings and for which it is responsible.

It is an evidence of the superficiality of many peace advocates that they should denounce the arms industry and accept the present state of civilization which fosters it. Governments today [1934] spend approximately four and a half billion dollars every year to maintain their war machines. This colossal sum is voted every year by representatives of the people.

There are, of course, some protests . . . but by and large it is believed that “national security” demands these huge appropriations. The root of the trouble, therefore, goes far deeper than the arms industry. It lies in the prevailing temper of peoples toward nationalism, militarism and war, in the civilization which forms this temper and prevents drastic or radical change. Only when this underlying basis of the war system is altered, will war and its concomitant, the arms industry, pass out of existence.

The fact is that the armament maker is the right-hand man of all war and navy departments, and, as such, he is a supremely important political figure. His sales to the home government are political acts, as much as, perhaps even more so, the tax collector. His international trade is an act of international politics . . . [and his] international sale of arms, even in wartime, is merely business.

The world at present apparently wants both the war system and peace; it believes that “national safety” lies in preparedness, and it denounces the arms industry. This is not merely confused thinking, but a striking reflection of the contradictory forces at work in our social and political life.

Thus it happens that so-called friends of peace frequently uphold the institutions of armies and navies to preserve “national security,” support “defensive wars,” and advocate military training in colleges.

Out of this background of conflicting forces the arms maker has risen and grown powerful, until today he is one of the most dangerous factors in the world – a hindrance to peace, a promoter of war. He has reached this position not through any deliberate planning of his own, but simply as a result of the historic forces of the nineteenth century. Granting the nineteenth century [was one of] amazing development of science and invention . . . the modern armament maker with all his evils was inevitable.”

(Merchants of Death, H.C. Engelbrecht & F.C. Hanighen, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1934, excerpts pp. 7-10)

Incurring Great Evils for the Greater Good

Faced with military defeats, setbacks, dwindling enlistments and unable to conquer the American South as quickly as expected, Lincoln and his party Radicals converted the war from that of restoring the Union to one of emancipation and subjugation.

The North had become a despotism of taxes, conscription, political surveillance and arbitrary arrest, with paupers and immigrants filling the ranks for bounty money. Captured slaves from areas overrun by Northern troops netted black soldiers for heavy labor, guard and occupation duties —  who would be counted against State troop quotas – thus relieving white Northern men from fighting the unpopular war.

Four of the “great evils incurred” below were the loss of the United States Constitution, one million deaths, the subjugation of Southern Americans, and inciting racial antagonisms which remain with us today.

Incurring Great Evils for the Greater Good

“What Lincoln’s Proclamation Will Do: (from the New York Round Table, Republican)

Not only the overthrow of the rebellion as a military power, but the complete subjugation of the Southern people, until they are so utterly crushed and humbled as to be willing to accept life on any terms, is the essential condition of the President’s scheme. It may therefore prolong the war, and after the war is substantially ended, it may defer reunion . . .

It cannot be doubted that the President contemplates all this, and that in his mind, the removal of slavery being considered the most essential condition of the most desirable and permanent peace, he felt justified in incurring great evils for the sake of a greater ultimate good.

In plain English, we are informed that in order to abolish slavery the war is to be prolonged, and the day of the restoration of the Union deferred.”

(What Lincoln’s Proclamation Will Do: From the Republican New York Round Table, 1863; Logic of History: Five Hundred Political Texts, Being Concentrated Extracts of Abolitionism; Also, Results of Slavery Agitation and Emancipation; Together with Sundry Chapters on Despotism, Usurpations and Frauds. Stephen D. Carpenter, S.D. Carpenter, Publisher, 1864, excerpts pg. 304)

Republican Rule in Indiana

Though Lincoln initially acted unilaterally to launch his war against Americans in the South, he did seek absolution when Congress convened in July 1861 – though the threat of arrest and imprisonment became common for those who opposed his will. In his treatment of what he or his minions believed to be “disloyal” practices, Lincoln carried his authority far beyond the normal restraints of civil justice, and in violation of fundamental concepts of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence.

Republican Tyranny in Indiana

“Before Abraham Lincoln ordered a national draft, which would cause insurrections throughout the North, the President put into law the involuntary call-up of each State’s militia. Indiana inducted 3,090 men into the national army this way, but this caused a major backlash of violent resistance. More significantly, the Democrats won substantial victories in both houses of the Indiana Assembly in the fall of 1862.

With the loss of Republican power, [Governor] Oliver P. Morton became more emotionally unbalanced. He saw treason everywhere, and expected a revolution at any moment. At the beginning of 1863, Indiana’s Democrats voted for peace negotiations with the Confederacy. Simultaneously, many Republican army officers, appointed by Morton, resigned their commissions over Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and the governor’s support of this radical document, which would destroy State sovereignty. Army recruitment stagnated and desertions increased.

[Morton] blamed “organized conspirators” — meaning Democrats. Under his orders, Indiana soldiers threatened Senator Thomas Hendricks and Daniel Voorhees, both leading Democrats. Then these troops destroyed Democratic newspapers in Rockport and Terre Haute.

On January 8, 1863, amidst military failures and malignant partisanship, the Indiana legislature began its bi-annual session. Morton telegraphed Secretary of War [Edwin] Stanton that the legislature intended to recognize the Confederacy, implying that the federal army’s interference was required to arrest the “traitors” in the Assembly, as had been done in Maryland [in April 1861].

The Republican members determined to withdraw from the House . . . thus the legislature came to an end . . . [and] Morton would administer the State all alone. His first problem was to secure the money to rule as a tyrant for the next two years [and] with the President’s approval collected $90,000 “for ammunition for the State arsenal.” The Republican Indiana State Journal triumphantly announced that this money would really be used to carry on the functions of government.

Governor Morton quickly exhausted these funds. Once again he met with . . . Lincoln . . . An appropriation of 2.3 million dollars had need made by Congress in July 1862, to be expended by the President “to loyal citizens in States threatened with rebellion,” and in organizing such citizens for their own protection against domestic insurrection.

When Stanton placed [Lincoln’s] order in Morton’s hands, both men appreciated the great risk they were incurring. “If the cause fails, we shall both be covered in prosecutions,” Morton said. Stanton replied, “if the cause fails, I do not wish to live.”

(Northern Opposition to Mr. Lincoln’s War, D. Jonathan White, editor, Abbeville Institute Press, 2014, excerpts pp. 217-221)

Fighting and Dying in an Unjust War

Lincoln’s congress passed the Enrollment Act on March 3, 1863, also known as the Conscription Act of 1863. When New York Governor Horatio Seymour feared riots against the July draft in New York City, Lincoln’s Provost Marshal General James B. Fry refused any postponement. Fry’s behavior confirmed Democrat fears that the draft’s intent was to provoke a riot as an excuse for martial law and using federal troops to supervise and manipulate votes in upcoming elections.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Fighting and Dying in an Unjust War

“On the same day it passed the new draft law in March, Congress had authorized the suspension of habeas corpus throughout the United States, enabling the administration to detain political prisoners indefinitely without charges or any other due process of law. The draft law also empowered the secretary of war to create a police arm, the office of the provost marshal general, whose assistants scoured the country arresting deserters, spies, traitors, and other people deemed disloyal to the Northern war effort.

When criticized for suspending the writ of habeas corpus, Lincoln replied that the rebels and their agents in the North were violating every other law of the land and using constitutional protections – including freedom of speech and assembly – to shield their destructive, subversive activity.

During the spring of 1863, Democrats had warned that Lincoln was amassing dictatorial powers and the expanding central government was poised to wipe out what little remained of States’ rights. The draft, they said, was the ultimate expression of arbitrary federal power: the States’ role in raising troops had been supplanted, and individuals – those who could not afford a substitute – were to be coerced by the distant bureaucracies in Washington into fighting and dying in an unjust war.

[New York’s Governor Horatio Seymour] not only asserted that the draft law was unconstitutional, but complained, rightly, that the Republican administration and its newly-created Bureau of the Provost Marshal General had set disproportionately high [troop] quotas for New York City – which was predominantly Democratic.

Along with Horatio Seymour, Manton Marble’s New York World had fiercely denounced the arrest [of Democrat Clement Vallandigham in Ohio] and the central government’s “despotic power,” . . . “When free discussion and free voting are allowed, men are not tempted to have recourse to violence and relief of bad rulers,” the World asserted.

“You may stigmatize these irregular avengers as a “mob,” but there are times when even violence is nobler than cowardly apathy.”

The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America, Barnet Schecter, Walker Publishing, 2005, excerpts pp. 23-24)

Pages:123»