Browsing "Conservatism and Liberalism"

Disruptive and Inharmonious Boston Abolitionists

The aristocratic cotton manufacturers who supported Henry Clay’s “American System” organized the Massachusetts Whig party out of the chaos of Andrew Jackson’s reelection in 1832. They and their allies saw high tariffs as job insurance, and resented Jackson’s appeal to immigrant labor, farmers and urban workers. These Massachusetts Whigs had grown wealthy from Eli Whitney’s invention and slave-produced cotton from the South, and considered abolitionists as enemies of the Constitution and peace. Both Whitney and the mill owners were responsible for perpetuating slavery in the South as they made cotton production highly profitable.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Disruptive and Inharmonious Boston Abolitionists

“The leaders of the Whig party, for a number of reasons, were particularly responsive to the abolitionist threat. Several members of their class, including Sewall, Edmund Quincy, Ellis Gray Loring, Francis Jackson, James Russell Lowell, William Ellery Channing, and Wendell Phillips, had entered abolitionist ranks and so threatened the newly-restored [upper Boston] class unity.

Although the aristocrats were engaged in a great many reforms, abolitionism never became fashionable or even acceptable to the social elite as a whole, and aristocrats who associated with the abolitionists were quickly ostracized. Consequently, many of the leading abolitionists came from less socially-distinguished families and were most successful in their appeals to the middle class.

The Whig leaders, who regarded abolitionism as a disruptive influence in American society and deplored the abolitionists’ opposition to harmony with the South and the maintenance of the Union, seldom distinguished the moderate abolitionists from the Garrisonian extremists.

Worst of all, from the Whig point of view, the abolitionists, in their demand for immediate, uncompensated emancipation, had attacked property right which the conservative Whigs regarded as fundamental to every other right.

The Whig leaders opposed all denunciations of slavery and slaveholders, many of whom were personal friends, business associates, and political allies. They considered slavery a redundant issue in Massachusetts politics and anti-slavery propaganda worse than meaningless in the North. Although most of them, to be sure, considered slavery an evil, they emphasized that it was an institution wholly controlled by the States, and as such was protected by the Constitution, which was no to be tampered with.

Anti-slavery agitation in the North would only bring about sectional disharmony and, in addition, worsen the condition of the slave in the South. Abbott Lawrence summed up the conservative Whig position when he wrote:

“I am in favor of maintaining the compact as established by our fathers. I am for the Union as it is. I have no sympathy with the abolition party of the North and East. I believe they have done mischief to the cause of freedom in several States of the Union. The abolition of slavery in the States is exclusively a State question and one with which I do not feel that I should meddle or interfere in any shape or form.”

(Cotton Versus Conscience: Massachusetts Whig Politics and Southwestern Expansion, 1843-1848, Kinley J. Brauer, University of Kentucky Press, 1967, excerpts pp. 22-24)

Contemptible Familiarities

Contemptible Familiarities

“Would you guys like something to drink?”

I could not help smiling at the lad and two men sitting across the table from me in this California restaurant injected into the middle of North Carolina. We had just been deploring the use of this unisex slang expression to mean “ladies and gentlemen” and debating the possibility of asking waitresses to avoid it.

The waitress cocked her head and asked if something was wrong. After a few minutes of embarrassing hesitation, I told her, “This is a lady sitting next to me, not a guy, and the rest of us are men or even gentlemen, not guys or kids or fellows.”

“Then what am I supposed to say?”

When one Southern literary gent at the table suggested “You all,” she protested, “But then I’d sound like a cracker.” We assured her that the best people said “Y’all” and added that if she wanted to talk Yankee, she should talk old Philadelphia and not suburban Des Moines.

“Guy,” whether it is derived from the effigies of Guy Fawkes burnt on the fifth of November or, as Mencken believed, from the guy-rope of a circus tent, has nothing to recommend itself as a term of address. Chesterton objected to being called a “regular guy” when he visited America – perhaps he thought he was being accused of being a Catholic terrorist.

The real point in using “guy” is that it is a weapon in the war to eliminate distinctions and to level sexes, ranks and ages into one neutral category that probably includes domestic animals.

Like “citizen” or “comrade,” guys is a political term that does nothing to elevate the waitress but only denies the social reality constructed by men and women, young and old. If pressed, the sweet young thing from Concord might had said she was doing this 50-something old man a favor by treating him as “one of the guys,” but some us old bucks are proud to have got to where we are and can barely tolerate the society of the under-35 guys, chicks, dudes, and hey-mans whose philosophy of life is “I deserve a break today.” Did somebody say “stupid”?

Humpty Dumpty

(Contemptible Familiarities, Chronicles, February 2000, pg. 12)

Postwar Corruption and Thievery in Washington

The war waged against the American South was more about destroying it’s political and economic power in the Union, so that Northern political and economic interests could prevail nationally. The resulting carnival of political vice and scandal is best summarized with: “The festering corruptions of the post-war period sprang up in every part of America and in almost every department of national life. Other loose and scandalous times . . . had been repellent enough; but the Grant era stands unique in the comprehensiveness of its rascality.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Postwar Corruption and Thievery in Washington

“The Civil War had severed the Southern checks on the exploitation of natural resources, had supplanted an old, experienced ruling class for a new, inexperienced one, had released the dynamic energies of the nation, and had ushered in the Era of Manipulation.

Under President Grant, pliant and politically naïve, the government had fallen into the hands of dishonest and incapable men . . . politics under the cloak of Radicalism more and more had become identified with manipulation for economic favor. Hordes of lobbyists had swarmed over the land, seeking railroad subsidies, mining concessions, and thousands of other government handouts.

The West was being plundered by railroad and mining corporations, the South by Carpetbaggers and Scalawags. The cities and the State legislatures, in North and South alike, were infested with rings, lobbyists, bribe-givers, and bribe-takers. Even the national Congress had become a tool of predatory business interests. Machine politics, firmly founded on patronage, economic privilege, the bloody shirt, and the soldier vote, prevailed everywhere.

The new ruling classes, flushed with prosperity, had lost their sense of responsibility, and corruption had kept pace with the upward swing of the business cycle. Political morality had sunk to its lowest level in American history.

In the closing days of the last Congress, [Grant’s self-styled House floor leader] Ben Butler and a few others had slipped through a measure increasing the salaries of the President, members of Congress, and other high officials. Tacked onto the unpopular measure was a retroactive feature which in effect gave each member a $500 bonus for his service the last two years.”

(John A. Kasson, Politics and Diplomacy from Lincoln to McKinley; Edward Younger, State Historical Society of Iowa, 1855, excerpts pp. 250-252)

Peaceable Americans Form a More Perfect Union

In President Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address he pointed out that “sovereign States here represented have proceeded to form this Confederacy; and it is an abuse of language that their act has been denominated a revolution. They formed a new alliance, but within each State its government remained.” He added simply, “The agent through which they communicated changed.” Thus there was no “destruction of the Union” as was charged by the North, but merely a reduction in the number of constituent States forming the union of 1787.

Bernhard Thuersam www.Circa1865.org

 

Peaceable Americans Form a More Perfect Union

“On February 15, 1861, before the arrival of Mr. Davis at Montgomery to take the oath of office, the Congress passed a resolution providing “that a commission of three persons be appointed by the President-elect as early as may be convenient after his inauguration and sent to the government of the United States, for the purpose of negotiating friendly relations between that government and the Confederate States of America, and for the settlement of all questions of disagreement between the two governments, upon principles of right, justice, equity and good faith.”

Truly, as Mr. [Alexander] Stephens, of Georgia, one of the delegates to this Montgomery Congress, says . . . “[the Confederate Congress] were no such men as revolutions or civil commotions usually bring to the surface . . . Their object was not to tear down, so much as it was to build up with the greater security and permanency.” And we may add that they meant to build up, if so permitted, peaceably.

In this spirit of amity and justice, the first act of the Louisiana State convention, after passing the ordinance of secession [from union with the United States], was to adopt, unanimously, a resolution recognizing the right to free navigation of the Mississippi River (which flows down from Northern States of the great inland basin and empties into the sea within the confines of Louisiana), and further recognizing the right of egress at that river’s mouth and looking to the guaranteeing of these rights.

President Davis’ inaugural address, delivered February 18, 1861, breathe the same spirit of friendship toward our brothers of the North. He said in part:

“Our present political situation . . . illustrates the American idea that governments rest on the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to abolish them at will whenever they become destructive of the ends for which they were established.”

(Living Confederate Principles, Lloyd T. Everett, Southern Historical Society Papers, No. II, Volume XL, September 1915; Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1991, excerpts pp. 24-25)

 

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)

The Seeds of Sectionalism and War

Both Jefferson and Hamilton recognized that sectionalism had been a part of American politics since colonial days, and the emerging West was adding a third section to the political landscape. The political problem facing Federalists and Republicans was “how to win the allegiance of the absconding swindlers, murderers, fugitive slaves, bankrupts, brigands and failures” who settled the wild areas of the West. And certainly those Westerners would give their political allegiance to whomsoever got them what they wanted. Therein lay the seeds of future war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Seeds of Sectionalism and War

“[Jefferson] saw that factions were forming in the United States, and the political parties were emerging. This was something the Founding Fathers had not envisioned when they wrote and agreed upon the Constitution. But it was clear enough to Jefferson that, on one side, there was a Federalist Party, led by Hamilton.

This party, he felt, had made a virtual prisoner of Washington . . . and was hiding behind his prestige to effect its nefarious scheme of converting the United States into a monarchy for the specific benefit of Northern financiers. Hamilton, Jefferson somewhat wildly wrote, “was not only a monarchist, but for a monarchy bottomed on corruption.”

Jefferson saw the Federalists as aristocrats who were the enemies of natural law and the rights of man. They interpreted the Constitution to mean the Federal government could seize any rights not specifically denied it, in order to destroy liberty. They were hand in hand with the financiers of Great Britain, and their opposition to slavery was not humanitarian, but just a hypocritical way of seeking to undermine the economy, and hence the power, of the agricultural Southern States.

On the other side, in Jefferson’s view, there ought to be the “anti-Federalist” party, which would stand for strict construction and the rights of States in order to safeguard the rights of man. As he saw them, the anti-Federalists were those who feared the creation of a national bank as another Federalist plot to destroy these rights; they were the true revolutionaries, whereas the Federalists represented the forces of reaction.

As revolutionaries, the republicans were therefore the enemies of monarchical Great Britain and the friends of revolutionary France. If they believed in slavery, it was because – well, of course nobody could really believe in slavery; the South was at heart republican and of course someday slavery would be abolished, but not right now. It was not the time to raise that question: the times now demanded opposition to the anti-revolutionary Federalists.

The anti-Federalists should form a party.”

There was meanwhile a nation to govern – one whose destiny lay clearly in the West. Here, between the Appalachians and the Mississippi, were two-hundred thousand American settlers whose political opinions could be decisive. Both saw opportunities to speculate in western lands [but] both feared that the balance of political power might shift from the East Coast to these broad western lands with the swift growth of population there. It was a possibility that occurred to western politicians as well.”

(Eminent Domain: the Louisiana Purchase and the Making of America, John Keats, Charterhouse, 1973, excerpts pp. 242-244; 247-248)

 

The True Result of Appomattox

Lincoln’s war administration and deficit financing ushered in the modern American state which remains in existence today. The various Bureaus, Departments and revolutionary measures created for the purpose of increasing federal power were all linked to his total war-effort, including the restructuring of currency and banking. Author Bruce D. Porter (War and the Rise of the State, Free Press, 2002) wrote that “Appomattox thus represented not just the defeat of the South, but the defeat of the whole Southern economic and political system, and the triumph of a state-fostered industrial and financial complex in the North.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The True Result of Appomattox

“[in Herman Melville’s postwar] poems he recognized the tremendous costs, especially through the loss of freedom and the end of the founders’ dream for America as a result of the North’s victory. He viewed the construction of the new iron dome on the Capitol in Washington, DC, which replaced the wooden one, as a symbol of America’s future.

Bruce Porter’s well-documented study [of the war] relates some of the economic costs of the Civil War:

In connection with the war the Lincoln administration attempted to intervene in areas of the national life that the federal government had never touched before . . . Prior to 1861, the national government had been a minor purchaser in the American economy. During the war, it became the largest single purchaser in the country, a catalyst of rapid growth in key industries such as iron, textiles, shoe manufacturing, and meat packing . . .

The Civil War spawned a revolution in taxation that permanently altered the structure of American federalism and the relationship of the central government to the national economy. Prior to the war, over 80 percent of federal revenue had come from customs duties, but despite several upward revisions of the tariffs during the war, those could provide only a fraction of what was needed to sustain the union armies.

On August 5, 1861, the first income tax in US history came into effect, followed by the Internal Revenue Act of 1862, which levied a whole series of new taxes: stamp taxes, excise taxes, luxury taxes, gross receipt taxes, and inheritance tax, and value-added taxes on manufactured goods. The latter Act created the Bureau of Internal Revenue, perhaps the single most effective vehicle of federal power ever created . . .

Neither taxes nor paper dollars, however, came close to covering the enormous costs of the war. Dire fiscal straits forced the federal government to borrow over 80 percent of its cost, or more than $2.6 billion. [The] Lincoln administration created a captive source of credit by granting a monopoly on issuance of the new national currency to banks that agreed to purchase large quantities of federal bonds . . . [and] agree to accept federal regulation and federal charters. Thus, almost overnight, a national banking system came into being.

[Author] Eric Foner writes that the fiscal measures represented in their “unprecedented expansion of federal power . . . what might be called the birth of the modern American state . . .”

(The Costs of War, America’s Pyrrhic Victories, John V. Denson, Transaction Publishers, 1999, excerpts pp. 28-29)

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)

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)

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