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Searching for Harriet Tubman

Searching for Harriet Tubman

The recent decision to replace Andrew Jackson’s likeness on the US twenty-dollar bill with that of Harriet Tubman has generated much discussion regarding her background and true place in American history. Hard evidence of her life and contributions to American history has been elusive and the question has been posed: is this paying homage to a deserving historic figure, or, it this an act of pure political correctness – or what is called cultural Marxism? Only a small amount of open-minded reading and research is required to determine who she was, what she did, and what impact her life and actions had on American history.

There seems to be little to recommend her for a place on US currency amid several who adorn our bills and somehow linked to the financial history of the country. Washington was of course the first president; Hamilton, a proponent of a national banking; Jackson, an opponent of a national bank; Lincoln created national fiat money, the greenback; and Grant was embroiled in schemes of government and corporate financial scandals.

Leader of an  “Underground Railroad”

To begin, a recent news article referred to Tubman as “the leader of the underground railroad” and “Moses of her people,” the title emanating from an 1886 biography by children’s book author Sara Hopkins Bradford  (1818-1912), of New York.  Bradford married prominent New York attorney, and later judge, John M. Hopkins. Their two eldest sons were killed in the War.

In 1869, Bradford penned “Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman” after several interviews with the illiterate Tubman and transcribing her recollections. Both the 1869 and 1886 books have been criticized for lack of documentation and thoroughness in historical methods, and both relied heavily on Tubman’s oral history and the reminiscences of anti-slavery leaders rather than traditional and objective sources. No bibliography, footnotes or index are provided.

The “underground railroad” of that era was not a physical entity but a term of exclamation made by a Southern planter of the luring away of slaves from their plantations as well as the aid given to them. It was a useful tool of the imagination by Northern abolitionists which created scenes of liberty and freedom for slaves if they simply left their homes in the South. In reality, the antebellum North offered little in the way of improved conditions for black people and was a far more regimented and segregated society than existed in the South. Bradford’s book does not address this important side of the story.

Importantly, Frederick Douglass was a contemporary of Tubman, born three years before she and in the very same part of eastern Maryland, though he seems not to know of her exploits, nor is she mentioned in his 1892 autobiography, the “Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.”

Another book pertaining to Tubman and considered to be a primary source is Wilbur H. Siebert’s “The Underground Railroad, From Slavery to Freedom,” published in 1898. This book is also extensively criticized for lack of documentation and credible sources, and in it the author describes Tubman as “Moses” and most likely drawn from Bradford’s 1886 book.

Siebert’s version of prewar events and people depends on recollections and reminiscences of elderly abolitionists, was published in 1898 and 50-plus years after the events it recalls. Neither book can be considered thoughtful, well-researched or scholarly treatises on Tubman or the underground railroad. Many dramatic descriptions of Mrs. Tubman’s heroic exploits fill the pages and appear copied from Bradford’s earlier book.

Appendix D, Bibliography of Siebert’s book states: “The materials upon which in large measure this book is based are reminiscences gathered by correspondence and conversation with more than a thousand persons many of whom were old-time abolitionists, while the remainder included the families and intimate friends of abolitionists, and a number of fugitive slaves.”

Siebert attests that “There are few volumes that supply us with numerous illustrations of the Underground Railroad in operation.” And all, like Siebert’s book itself, are postwar creations with the earliest being Eber M. Pettit’s 1879 “Sketches in the History of the Underground Railroad.” The others were published in the 1880s and 1890s, and none written in the late antebellum period to describe what was later claimed to be a widespread antislavery effort by the North between 1850 and 1860.

To support Tubman’s oral history, Bradford cites statements from prominent abolitionists like Gerrit Smith who wrote in 1868: “Of the remarkable events of her life I have no personal knowledge, but of the truth of them as she describes them I have no doubt.”

Another, Franklin B. Sanborn of Massachusetts averred that “I never had reason to doubt the truth of what Harriet said in regard to her own career, for I found her singularly truthful.”

Siebert also tells us that Tubman’s travels were mostly in the Border States rather than the Deep South, and her only experiences in the latter were a short time with the Northern army at Hilton Head, South Carolina and briefly at Jacksonville, Florida. More on this later.

Tubman’s Early Life

The current St. Catherine’s, Ontario website notes that the town was “the final terminus of the underground railroad for hundreds of slaves in the 1820s.” If this is true then it may have been others who carried slaves northward rather than Tubman who was born in 1820 or 1821, and we are not made aware of how those slaves arrived there. The city also claims that Tubman resided there for seven years, though in which particular house is not known.

Her birth name was Araminta Ross, and Bradford writes that she was the daughter of Benjamin Ross and Harriet Greene, both slaves, and born in Dorchester County, Maryland; she took her mother’s name sometime later. Araminta was one of ten children.

Put to learning the art of weaving as a child to provide clothing for the family and slaves, she resisted learning and developed a hatred for her mistress. Araminta was then hired out in her early teens as a field hand with duties described as “in the rudest labors – driving oxen, carted, plowed, and did all the work of a man – sometimes earning money enough in a year, beyond what she paid her master [for her keep], “to buy a pair of steers” worth forty dollars. She also “worked frequently for her father,” a timber inspector.

She was married about 1844 to John Tubman, a free colored man. In 1849 and after the death of her master, she walked away from her Baltimore home and husband to Philadelphia where a white lady took her in. With a little money earned she returned to Maryland in 1850 and found her husband “married to another woman, and no longer caring to live with her.”

The Anti-Slavery Career Begins

Siebert tells us that in December 1850 Tubman “went to Baltimore and abducted her sister and two children.” A few months later she brought away another company of three persons, one of who was her brother. From this time on till the outbreak of the War of the Rebellion her excursions were frequent. She is said to have accomplished nineteen such trips during the 1850s “and emancipated over three hundred slaves.”

To put this number in perspective and compare it to the ongoing voluntary emancipation by Southern slaveholders before the war, Virginians John Randolph and Washington Custis alone freed 400 and 200 slaves in 1833 and 1857, respectively, and this was not uncommon in the South. In the latter instance, Custis’ son-in-law Robert E. Lee, saw to it that those slaves received their freedom.  The question looms: Why are these men and others like them not accorded recognition for their contributions toward emancipation?

Though certainly unfamiliar with places beyond her native Maryland, Tubman is described as having an innate ability to understand astronomy while escaping slave patrols. It is said she was aware of the North Star and others to guide her path north and south.

This is very impressive for an illiterate black woman, a fugitive herself, travelling alone into slave holding country hostile to her mission and unfamiliar to her. Then to return each time with what seems to be 15-20 persons, through the same country. Further, Frederick Douglass states in his autobiography that no white person in the former slave States of the North could be trusted not to turn fugitives in for reward money.

Also, the Bradford book often mentions Tubman’s deep religious belief and faith in God, a devout Christianity certainly taught by her master and family. Her friend Thomas Garret stated that “she [always] ventured where God sent her, and her faith in the Supreme Power was truly great.” This Christianity was tempered by her mysticism and “tales of ghostly visitation, or spiritual manifestation, at a dimly lit séance.”

Friend of John Brown

Tubman left for Boston in the winter of 1858-59 apparently to raise money for her excursions southward, and “she left New England with a handsome sum of money toward the payment of her debt to Mr. [William] Seward.” While there, “she had several interviews with Captain [John] Brown, then in Boston.

He is supposed to have communicated his plans [for the Harper’s Ferry raid] to her, and to have been aided by her in obtaining recruits and money among her people.” Mrs. Tubman is said to have venerated Brown in a religious fashion since “his murder,” as Bradford called his execution for treason against the State of Virginia.

The War

At this point is worth asking a pertinent question: Even if we accept that Tubman did have an important part in taking three hundred slaves northward to what they believed to be freedom, this in no way compares with the voluntary manumission, i.e., emancipation, by Southern slaveholders by will, deed and reward for faithful service. By 1850, the South had a free black population of nearly 435,000, and over 484,000 by 1860 according to the Federal Census — far more than the twenty-five or thirty thousand blacks in Canada by the time of the War. The latter is claimed to be the result of the underground railroad. The figure 75,000 blacks in Canada is often cited, though the rough estimate of abolitionist Dr. Samuel Howe.

In short, Harriet Tubman and perhaps others like her were minor players in an advancing emancipation process, which might have continued had Northern abolitionists left the South to solve the dilemma of slavery on their own as the North did. It is worth noting that the Southern States were ending voluntary manumission after Nat Turner’s bloody 1831 rampage in Southampton, Virginia. A thoughtful observe today might consider what could have been, and how many lives would have been saved between the years 1861-1865 had abolitionists found a peaceful and practical solution to their often well-intended efforts.

Tubman Sent to War

Sarah Bradford credits Tubman with serving as a scout and spy for General David Hunter in occupied coastal areas of South Carolina in 1862, though Tubman would have had little if any knowledge of South Carolina and its people. Tubman readily admitted that she was travelling “through unknown regions” and the South Carolina slave dialect was far different from her own Maryland dialect. This certainly raises questions.

Gov. John Andrew of Massachusetts directed Tubman sent to Hilton Head, according to Bradford, and most likely the intent was to recruit black men for his State’s regiments. His purpose was most likely to add freedmen to Massachusetts regiments and avoid conscripting his own citizens. These new recruits from the South counted against his State’s quota of troops, and Andrew wanted to get the black men before other States did.

As an example of this, Andrew formed the Second Massachusetts Cavalry with one hundred men from California in late 1862, and four hundred more by early 1863. All were paid generous enlistment bounties raised by the State of Massachusetts, as well as towns and cities.

Bradford goes on to state that “This fearless woman was often sent into the rebel lines as a spy, and brought back valuable information as to the position of armies and batteries; she has been in battle when the shot was falling like hail, and the bodies of dead and wounded men were dropping around her like the leaves of autumn . . .”

This is an astonishing claim if Tubman was only employed as a nurse at Hilton Head. It is very likely that this refers to the Olustee raid into Florida in February 1864, with Tubman accompanying the expedition. The primary purpose of that raid was to disrupt Southern food production in Florida by destroying crops and luring slaves away from their homes. Without farm labor, the farms could no longer produce and Southern troops at a loss for food.

Gen. Hunter provided Tubman with papers on February 19, 1863 to “give her free passage at all times, on all government transports. Harriet was sent to me by Governor Andrew of Massachusetts, and is a valuable woman. She has permission, as a servant of the Government, to purchase such provisions from the Commissary as she may need.” Certainly, with this food she could attract the slaves after Northern troops destroyed their fields and farms.

Tubman’s New York Home

Interestingly, the mortgage for her Auburn, New York home was held by William Seward in the mid-1850s who at that time was a senator from New York. Bradford writes that “to the credit of [Seward] it should be said, that he sold her the property on very favorable terms, and gave her some time for payment.”

In early 1868 Seward as Secretary of State presented a petition to Congress for a government pension for Tubman, and General Rufus Saxon wrote in support of this, “for services rendered in the Union Army during the late war.” Saxon stated that he “can bear witness to the value of her services in South Carolina and Florida. She was employed in the hospitals and as a spy. She made raids inside the enemy lines, displaying remarkable courage, zeal and fidelity.”

The government declined Seward’s request and did not see Mrs. Tubman’s actions as worthy of a soldier’s pension.

A Professor Hopkins of the Auburn Theological Seminary in 1886 is quoted in Bradford’s book: “Harriet lives on a farm which the twelve hundred dollars given her by Mrs. Bradford from the proceeds of this little book, enabled her to redeem from a mortgage held by Secretary Seward.”

Seward seems to have threatened foreclosure and was perhaps trying to obtain a government pension for Tubman to pay her mortgage off. Of note, no mention of Tubman or underground railroad occurs in the comprehensive 1991 biography of Seward by John M. Taylor.

In Bradford’s preface, she states that as she was about to embark on a voyage to Europe, “there was pressing need for this book, to save the poor woman’s little home from being sold under a mortgage, and letters and facts [from Tubman’s recollections] were penned down rapidly, as they came in.” She adds: “I will here state that so far as it has been possible, I have received corroboration for every incident related to me by my heroic friend.”

Fact or Fiction?

The National Park Service (NPS) has for some time embarked on a national underground railroad network of locations thought to be “stations.” The boon for towns and cities wanting to join the NPS network for more tourism dollars is that little if any hard evidence is necessary, and old homes claiming to have held fugitive slaves on their trek northward come under scant scrutiny to substantiate their claims.

Author Larry Gara, who in 1961 wrote “The Liberty Line, the Legend of the Underground Railroad,” pointed out that after examining the traditional sources, he concluded that “the legend was a mixture of fact and fiction and mostly based on the memoirs and reminiscences of descendants and friends of abolitionists.” This seems quite evident in both Bradford’s and Siebert’s books. In his 1985 “Partisan Imperative,” Joel H. Silbey stated that “[Larry] Gara demonstrated the fallacy of the idea that a well-organized and widespread underground railroad existed in the North.”

Certainly, that slaves and other laborers were leaving their plantations in the prewar period and assisted by sympathetic people along the way, such as Quakers, cannot be denied, but the existence of a formal network of “stations and conductors” cannot be proven.

To underscore the difficulty in finding evidence, Gara’s book related the experience of an Akron archeology graduate student, guided by his professors, who conducted an archeological search of 17 historic Ohio houses said to have been connected with the underground railroad. The student’s conclusion was that none of the homes he examined had tunnels or secret places of concealment. “If such constructions existed at all,” he wrote, “they must be extremely rare.” Gara’s book is highly recommend for anyone seeking a wider view of this question.

Perhaps envious of nearby St. Catherine’s, Ontario for its high visibility as an underground railroad tourist attraction, a Niagara Falls, New York, city official was under fierce criticism in July 2015 for promoting Tubman’s frequent visits to the city and spending a quarter-million dollars “to dedicate a park and erect a statue to a minor historical figure who by all accounts never set foot in Niagara Falls, Harriet Tubman.” Apparently Tubman did travel with a relative by rail across the Niagara gorge in the 1850s, but did not stop.

One city councilman supportive of the measure stated that “the park and statue . . . would draw even more tourists to a city . . . and offers unlimited opportunities for year-round tourism-related enterprises in attracting millions of visitors to Niagara Falls each year.” To further cloud the historical waters is the study by the city’s Underground Railroad Commission in conjunction with Niagara University, was unable to identify a single site anywhere in the city with any indisputable connection to the Underground Railroad . . .”

This criticism of the city’s actions concluded with “Harriet Tubman’s connection to what is now the city of Niagara Falls is tenuous at best . . . There is no corroborating evidence to support her recollection [of being here], which was related to her ghostwriter, children’s book author Sarah Hopkins Bradford [in 1886] (Niagara Falls Reporter, July 21-29, 2015).

In a similar search for more tourism dollars, city officials and local historical organizations in Wilmington, North Carolina, erected a plaque on its Riverwalk in May 2005 commemorating an “underground railroad site” – which was in reality a wartime defection of 22 black men to an enemy ship offshore.

A cursory look into this reveals that white men avoiding conscription as well as deserters were regularly defecting to enemy ships off the North Carolina coast from late 1861 through 1865. This is easily found in the reports of Union naval officer reports of deserters and slaves reaching their blockading ships offshore. This is desertion, defection and aiding the enemy – perhaps expecting compensation for intelligence information — but not an “underground railroad.”

Sadly, this was promoted by local tourism officials eager to be on the NPS UGRR network despite a lack of research and evidence. Today, the plaque stands today as a monument to historical inaccuracy and what is best termed intellectual fraud.

The Freedmen in Canada West

A topic little mentioned when discussing the existence of, or accomplishments of, an underground railroad, is the terminus in Canada and the life they led there. Most went to what was then known as Canada West, or roughly today’s Ontario, and found a difficult life in a strange climate and segregated society – not unlike the northern United States of that time.

Though the abolitionists of Bradford’s book describe a Canada welcoming black folks intent on enjoying liberty, the New York Herald printed an eight column article in its January 5, 1860 issue which described the freedmen settlements in Canada. It stated that “the fugitives go to Canada as beggars and the mass of them commit larceny and lay in jail until they become lowered and debased, and ready for worse crimes.”

That Canadians were not eager to allow unlimited numbers of ex-slaves in their country was underscored by an 1851 Toronto newspaper editorial which called for “restrictive immigration measures to check the influx of Negroes.” Though life for the free black in Canada was little different than the free black in the North or South, freedmen Nelson Moss said that he had suffered more from prejudice during three years in Pennsylvania than a free-black in Virginia.

Somehow black refugees thought Canada held more promise for them – perhaps instilled by Northerners who did not want them tarrying in their towns. Black New York minister Samuel E. Cornish viewed New York City as tainted with “an ever-present, ever-crushing Negro hate.”

Frederick Douglas saw Philadelphia in much the same way. The alternative was to stay in the South and await emancipation or purchase his freedom, and seek a better life in familiar surroundings. As an example of free-blacks persons prospering in the South, those in 1850 New Orleans held $2,354,640 in property while at the same time in Buffalo free-blacks held only $57,610.

Lastly, Canadian “Jim Crow”

Fred Landon wrote in the January 1925 Journal of Negro History about the town of Amherstburg in Canada West, a popular destination of the so-called underground railroad. He stated that “Canadian law drew no distinction between black and white in matters of citizenship,” but he found that white Canadians preferred Negroes having schools of their own – which could be said to be precisely the stance of the American South after the war.

Landon wrote that in 1854 the Negroes had a separate school “having neither blackboard nor chairs. The whole interior was comfortless and repulsive. The teacher was a colored woman, apparently doing the best she could under the discouragement of poor surroundings and frequent absences of her pupils.”

He wrote that the arrival of so many people “of another race and color into southwestern Ontario” was something white Canadians found displeasing: “Deep prejudice manifested itself at times and an occasional outburst in some newspaper reflected the feelings of an element of the population.”

The October 27, 1849 Amherstburg Courier printed “a resolution of the district council passed on October 8 of that year, protesting vigorously against the proposed Elgin settlement which was planned by Reverend William King as a home for fugitives from slavery.” This was about the time of Mrs. Tubman’s final visits to Canada with her abducted brethren.

One resident named Larwill, said “there is but one feeling, and that is of disgust and hatred, that they [the Negroes] should not be allowed to settle in any township where there is a white settlement.” This resolution asked that Negroes not be allowed to buy land, suggested a poll tax on Negroes, “a law against amalgamation and a requirement that Negroes shall furnish good security that they will not become a burden.” An additional question advanced was whether Negroes should be allowed to vote.

When abolitionist and Tubman friend, Dr. Samuel G. Howe, visited Amherstburg in 1863 to investigate conditions of freedmen there, he was told by a Mr. Park of the town that some of the Negroes were “indolent and part industrious. They tended to neglect their own poor and begged more than the whites.” Dr. Howe interviewed a Captain Averill who saw the Negroes as good sailors, “but they were never made mates and none owned ships of their own.” A sad reality rather than a welcoming Canadian population.

To conclude, it is worth rethinking Joel Silbey’s view that author Larry Gara “demonstrated the fallacy of the idea that a well-organized and widespread underground railroad existed in the North,” demand more accurate and thoughtful accounting of history from those practicing as historians, and rethink the notion that Tubman was a person worthy of such high recognition.

Upon wider research and deep reflection, and despite what Bradford and Siebert have written, it appears that the well-intentioned Tubman did perhaps bring her relatives and some others away from their condition of slavery – how many others is only a matter of conjecture as there is no hard evidence.

It is also likely that Tubman was selected by abolitionists after the war — with her actions amplified — as suitable moral figures were desperately sought to salve the costly reality of 600,000 war dead and what would become an $8 billion expenditure. That eventual cost of the war would be sufficient to have purchased the freedom of every slave, with the 40 acres, several times over. Certainly something to ponder.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sources:

Harriet Tubman, the Moses of Her People, Sarah Bradford, 1886

The Underground Railroad, From Slavery to Freedom, W. H. Siebert, 1898

The Partisan Imperative, Joel H. Silbey, Oxford University Press, 1985

Amherstburg, Fred Landon, Journal of Negro History, Vol. X., No. 1, January 1925, pp. 5-8

Harriet Tubman to Get a Park, Statue, Niagara Falls Reporter, July 12-29, 2015

Lincoln’s Desperate Search for Troops

By June 1862 Lincoln found enlistments near nonexistent, and it was time to find new sources of recruits as Northern men resisted war service.  Bounty money was offered to help solve this, and the Homestead Act had the dark purpose of attracting foreign-born troops promised bounties and public land to subjugate Americans seeking political self-determination.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lincoln’s Desperate Search for Troops

“The summer of 1862 brought more gloom to the Union cause. Stonewall Jackson’s heroics in the Shenandoah Valley were followed by McClellan’s withdrawal from his lines before Richmond . . . and the North’s setbacks in the field weighed heavily on the secretary of state. [Seward] had [earlier] watched the Army of the Potomac embark at Alexandria; he had considered it united and unbeatable.

In June of 1862 following the collapse of McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign, Lincoln had sent Seward to New York to stimulate recruiting. The secretary carried with him a confidential letter, explaining the danger and noting that the capital itself was once again in danger under the threat from the rebels. Seward, in New York City, contemplated issuing a new call form the president for volunteers.

On reflection, however, he concluded that for Lincoln to initiate the call would have overtones of panic. Instead he prevailed on most of the Northern governors to request that Lincoln issue a new call for volunteers. The upshot was that Lincoln, seemingly in response to appeals from the Northern governors, was able to issue a proclamation calling for an additional three hundred thousand men.

Seward continued his proselytizing on his return to Washington. He persuaded Secretary of War Stanton to offer new recruits an immediate bounty of twenty-five dollars when their regiments were mustered into service.

Congress had just enacted the Homestead Act, providing that any citizen or alien could acquire title to 160 acres of public land by residing on and cultivating the land for a period of five years. This was just the sort of stimulus to immigration that Seward would have favored under any conditions, but now it included a vital military dimension as well.

He sent copies of the legislation to US envoys with the covering memorandum calling the Homestead Act “one of the most important steps ever taken by any government toward a practical recognition of the universal brotherhood of nations.”

The resulting publicity assured a continuing flow of military manpower to the North from Ireland and northern Europe. John Bigelow, the US consul in Paris, would write that Seward’s circular was important for “the light I throws on the mysterious repletion of our army during the four years of war, while it was . . . being so fearfully depleted by firearms, disease and desertion.”

In addition to his military problems, Lincoln had to deal with the touchy question of war aims. Publicly he continued to argue against general emancipation, telling Horace Greeley in his famous letter of August 1862 that if he could save the Union without freeing a single slave he would do it.

Indeed, Lincoln had no authority to confiscate “property” in the North, and no ability to enforce any Federal edict in territory controlled by the Confederacy. [But as] commander in chief, Lincoln argued that he could surely seize slaves belonging to the enemy just as he could capture their railroads.

[Seward thought issuing the] proclamation following a string of defeats on the battlefield . . . would hint of desperation – “the Government stretching forth its hands to Ethiopia, instead of Ethiopia stretching forth her hands to the Government.” He feared a slave uprising would turn the war for the Union into a class war . . . and that emancipation would destroy the South’s economy, raising the specter of intervention boy Britain or France to protect its supply of raw cotton.”

(William Henry Seward, Lincoln’s Right Hand, John M. Taylor, Harper Collins, 1991, pp. 200-202)

Radical Reconstruction and Negro Suffrage

The victorious Radicals in the North were faced with a practical dilemma as they punished the South for seeking political independence. Should the freedmen be left alone with their former masters they would vote with them and possibly remove the Republicans from power. The infamous Union League was then unleashed on Southern blacks to hold their white neighbors in contempt and vote against their interests – a sad result still in evidence today. In 1868, Grant was narrowly elected over Democrat Samuel Tilden with 500,000 freedmen-provided  votes.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Radical Reconstruction and Negro Suffrage

“The reconstruction of the Southern States . . . is one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of government. As a demonstration of political and administrative capacity, it is no less convincing than the subjugation of the Confederate armies as an evidence of military capacity.

The Congressional leaders – Trumbull, Fessenden, Stevens, Bingham and others – who practically directed the process of reconstruction, were men of as rugged a moral and intellectual fiber as Grant, Sherman and the other officers who crushed the material power of the South.

In the path of reconstruction lay a hostile white population in the South, a hostile executive at Washington, a doubtful if not decidedly hostile Supreme Court, a divided Northern sentiment in respect to Negro suffrage and an active and skillfully-directed Democratic Party.

With much the feelings of the prisoner of tradition who watched the walls of his cell close slowly in from day to day to crush him, the Southern whites saw in the successive developments of Congress’ policy the remorseless approach of Negro rule. The fate of Southern whites, like that of the prisoner of tradition, may excite our commiseration; but the mechanism by which the end was achieved must command an appreciation on its merits.

The power of the national government to impose its will upon the rebel States, irrespective of any restriction as to means, was assumed when the first Reconstruction Act was passed, and this assumption was acted upon to the end.

That the purpose of reconstruction evinced as much political wisdom as the methods by which it was attained, is not clear. To stand the social pyramid on its apex was not the surest way to restore the shattered equilibrium in the South.

The enfranchisement of the freedmen and their enthronement in political power was as reckless a species of statecraft as that which marked “the blind hysterics of the Celt,” in 1789-95. But the resort to Negro suffrage was not determined to any great extent by abstract theories of equality.

Though Charles Sumner and the lesser lights of his school solemnly proclaimed, in season and out, the trite generalities of the Rights of Man, it was a very practical dilemma that played the chief part in giving the ballot to the blacks.

By 1867 it seemed clear that there were three ways available for settling the issues of the war in the South: first, to leave the [Andrew] Johnson governments in control and permit the Southern whites themselves, through the Democratic Party, to determine either chiefly or whole the solution of existing problems; second, to maintain Northern and Republican control through military government; and third, to maintain Northern and Republican control through Negro suffrage.

The first expedient was . . . grotesquely impossible. The choice had to be made between indefinite military rule and Negro suffrage. It was a cruel dilemma. The traditional antipathy of the English race toward military rule determined resort to the second alternative. It was proved by the sequel that the choice was unwise. The enfranchisement of the blacks, so far from removing, only increased, the necessity for military power.

Seven unwholesome years [to 1877] were required to demonstrate that not even the government which had quelled the greatest rebellion in history could maintain the freedmen in both security and comfort on the necks of their former masters. ”

(Essays on the Civil War and Reconstruction and Related Topics, William A. Dunning, The Macmillan Company, 1898, pp. 247-252)

Wendell Phillips Hands Drenched in Blood

Author Howard R. Floan noted the “tendency, stubbornly persistent even in our own time, to mistake the planter aristocracy for the entire South, to envision the Southerner simply as the slaveholder.” His study of the New England abolitionist aristocracy shows a radical, idealistic clique of utopians divorced from reality who had little, if any understanding of the slavery inherited from the English colonists. Their hands would be stained by the blood of a million Americans who perished in the war they did much to ignite.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Wendell Phillips Hands Drenched in Blood

“In the job of molding public opinion, [William Lloyd] Garrison needed help. The need of a platform personality to carry the cause directly to the people was answered, unsolicited, by Wendell Phillips. At a meeting in 1837, young Phillips rose from the audience, denounced the murderers of Elijah Lovejoy, the antislavery editor, of Alton, Illinois . . . A Bostonian once reported that during a Phillips speech he had heard a man in the audience applauding, stamping his feet, and exclaiming enthusiastically, “The damned old liar! The damned old liar!

Phillips strove to foster a public opinion hostile to slaveholding . . . Phillips battleground was the Northern mind. His eye was on the North, though his shots appeared to be aimed at the South. To arouse Northern awareness of danger, Phillips emphasized the political threat of the South by pointing to its wealth and its continued success in Washington.

For all practical purposes, Phillips said, the slave power was the South; there could be no other South until the North created one. The image of the South which Phillips labored to evoke in the Northern mind embodied deformities that were designed to call up repugnance, anger and fear. It violated the cherished ideals of the North. He conjured up a land of whipping posts and auction blocks, a feudal society in which newspapermen, politicians, and clergymen were vassals. “The South is the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.”

Phillips . . . often spoke of the possibility of armed rebellion in the South. “I can imagine the scenes of blood through which a rebellious slave-population must march to their rights.”

The agitator must continually intensify his attack if he is to maintain the appearance of vitality. With the years, Phillips grew more vitriolic. In 1853, surveying the achievements of the abolition movement, he said: “To startle the South to madness, so that every step she takes in her blindness, is one more step toward ruin, is much. This we have done.”

Nothing shows more clearly that Phillips had become a victim of his own program. BY this time he could summarize his view of the South in one image: the South was “one great brothel where half a million women are flogged to prostitution, or, worse still, are degraded to believe it honorable.”

By the time of the [John Brown] Harpers Ferry incident, Phillips was able to say that Brown had more right to hang [Virginia] Governor Wise than the Governor had to hang Brown. As Phillips grew more outspoken, some of his listeners became indignant, and the abolitionists were forced to form bodyguards.”

(The South in Northern Eyes, 1831 to 1861, Howard R. Floan, McGraw-Hill, 1958, pp. 11-14)

What Lincoln Accomplished

What Lincoln Accomplished

“The world claims now, and rightly, that Lincoln made the United States of America a “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Lincoln found the United States of America a government of the States, by the States and for the States. He changed it by force of a four-year war into a nation.

Up to 1861, the Federal government was a republic of sovereign States of such wisdom and power as to win the respect and love of all true lovers of political liberty, but too wise and not powerful enough to coerce sovereign States.

Now, since 1861, we are a nation with sovereign States reduced to provinces, State rights gone (for what rights have they who dare not strike for them?); a nation, admired still by the world, but feared and mistrusted as a nation boastful and overbearing, ready and willing to regulate, if not to rule, the world like old Rome. O what a fall was there, my countrymen!”

(What Lincoln Accomplished, Berkeley Minor, Charlottesville, VA, Confederate Veteran, September 1926, page 324)

The Forces Lincoln Unleashed

By initiating war against his own people, overturning the Constitution, creating fiat money and fusing government with corporations, Lincoln destroyed the Founders’ republic and ushered in the Gilded Age.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

The Forces Lincoln Unleashed

“As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow and the Money Power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working on the prejudices of the people until wealth is aggregated in the hands of the few and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war.”   Abraham Lincoln.

(Collective Speeches of Louis T. McFadden, Omni Publications, pg. vi, 1970)

New England Rebels and Tyrants

Admiral Raphael Semmes wrote in the immediate postwar that “Constitutions are made for the protection of minorities,” that “they naturally cling to the guarantees and defences provided for them in the fundamental law; it is only when they become strong” and become majorities “that their principles and their virtues are really tested.” He was referring to New England which when in the minority was firmly for States’ rights, but in 1860 when it became the majority, became strongly nationalist and embarked on a path to subjugate the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

New England Rebels and Tyrants

“The American Constitution died of a disease that was inherent in it. It was framed on false principles inasmuch as the attempt was made, through its means of binding together, in a republican form of government, two dissimilar peoples, with widely dissimilar interests.

Monarchical governments may accomplish this since they are founded by force, but republican governments never. The secession of the Southern States was a mere corollary of the American proposition of government; and the Northern States stultified themselves, the moment they started to resist it. The consent of the Southern States being wanted, there should have been an end of the question.

If the Northern States were not satisfied to let them go, but entertained, on the contrary, a desire to restrain them by force, this was a proof that those States had become tired of the republican form and desired to change it.

So loth was the South to abandon the Union that she made strenuous efforts to remain in it, even after Mr. Lincoln had been made president in 1860. In this election that dreaded sectional line against which President Washington had warned his countrymen in his Farewell Address, had at last been drawn . . . There had at last arisen a united North, against a untied South.

[Lincoln’s election] was purely geographical; it was tantamount to a denial of the co-equality of the Southern States with the Northern States, since it drove the former out of the common Territories. In both houses of Congress the Northern faction which had so recently triumphed in the election of their president, was arrayed in hostility to the South, and could not be moved [to compromise] an inch. Rebels, when in a minority, [New Englanders] had become tyrants now that they were in a majority.

Nothing remained to the South, but to raise the gauntlet which had been thrown at her feet. The federal government which had been established by our ancestors had failed of its object. Instead of binding the States together, in peace, and amity, it had, in the hands of one portion of the States, become an engine of oppression of the other portion. It so happened, that the slavery question was the issue which finally tore them asunder, but . . . this question was a mere means, to an end.

[That] end was empire . . . in this hemisphere, the drama which had so often been enacted in the other, of the more powerful nation crushing out the weaker.

The war between the American sections was but the prototype of many other wars, which have occurred among the human race. It had its origin in the unregenerated nature of man, who is only an intellectual wild beast, whose rapacity has never yet been restrained, by a sense of justice. The American people thought, when they framed the Constitution that they were to be an exception to mankind, in general.

History had instructed them that all other peoples, who had gone before them had torn up paper governments, when the paper was the only bulwark that protected such governments, but then they were the American people, and no such fate could await them.”

(Memoirs of Service Afloat During the War Between the States, Raphael Semmes, 1868, LSU Press, 1996, excerpts, pp. 53-70)

 

When Conservative Statesmen Walked the Earth

The Southern Dixiecrat movement was greatly the result of the communist-dominated labor union infestation of FDR’s Democrat party from 1936 onward. FDR’s labor advisor was Sidney Hillman, Russian refugee from the 1905 revolution who as a radical labor organizer in New York City, earlier delivered communist votes to Roosevelt for governor. In 1936 Hillman formed the CIO and the first political action committee, CIO-PAC, with the intention of funneling labor money directly to FDR’s reelection campaigns. Roosevelt’s 1940 running mate, Henry Wallace, saw nothing wrong with communism and the Southern Democrats had had enough. Hillman’s CIO spawned the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, a communist labor-organizing training facility attended in the mid-1950’s by M.L. King and Rosa Parks.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

When Conservative Statesmen Walked the Earth

“From the outset of his administration, the central theme of the [Virginia Governor William] Tuck tenure was hostility to organized labor. In his first message to the General Assembly, the new governor denounced public employee unions, and the legislators responded by declaring public employee collective bargaining to be contrary to the public policy of Virginia.

When employees of the Virginia Electric and Power Company threatened a strike in the spring of 1946, Tuck declared that a state of emergency existed, and mobilized the unorganized State militia, and threatened to induct 1,600 of the utility’s employees. The next year he convened a special session of the General Assembly and secured passage of two additional measures: one permitting State seizure of strike-plagued utilities, and another outlawing compulsory union membership (the “Right to Work Law”).

Across the nation a rash of postwar strikes caused the organized labor movement’s popularity to plummet. President Truman in 1946 vetoed legislation designed to curb union power, and that move, in combination with concessions made by the administration in order to end a United Mine Workers strike, brought the new President widespread criticism.

Senator [Harry F.] Byrd and the State’s conservative Democratic congressmen spent much of their reelection campaigns in 1946 pillorying organized labor; Eighth District Congressman Howard W. Smith, for example, assailed the Congress of Industrial Organizations’ political action committee (“CIO-PAC”) as a “new swarm of carpetbaggers who are invading the Southern States [and] are impregnated with communism.”

The ever-widening gulf between Senator Byrd and the national Democratic Party was the principal reason for the [Virginia] Republicans high hopes. Byrd supported Franklin Roosevelt for President in 1932, but he quickly became disenchanted as the new President repudiated the conservative thrust of his 1932 platform and embarked on a broad new social agenda.

When Roosevelt’s ill-fated “court-packing” plan was advanced in 1937, Byrd and other Southern Democrats joined with the Republicans to defeat it, thereby giving birth to the conservative coalition that would remain a formidable force within the Congress for decades. It was President Truman, however, who most infuriated Byrd.

Like most of his Southern colleagues, the Virginia senator initially greeted Harry Truman’s ascension to the Presidency in April 1945 with favor. Truman, after all, was the son of a Confederate soldier, and his Missouri accent fueled the feeling among Southerners that one of their own was finally in charge. In fact, Truman owed his spot on the national ticket in 1944 to Southern party leaders who had insisted that Roosevelt jettison liberal Vice President Henry Wallace as the price of their continued support.

[After Truman] attempted to breathe new life into FDR’s New Deal coalition, the President proposed a variety of liberal initiatives in his State of the Union message. The President’s initiative brought a sharp and swift denunciation from Virginia’s senior senator. “[Taken] in their entirety,” declared Byrd, “[the Truman civil rights proposals] constitute a mass invasion of States’ rights never before even suggested, much less recommended, by any previous President.”

The senator’s disdain for Truman was surpassed, perhaps, only by that of Governor Tuck. On February 25, 1948, the governor went before the General Assembly to denounce the Truman civil rights program and to propose a measure of his own for dealing with the President. The Tuck “ballot bill” would keep the names of all presidential candidates off of the November ballot in Virginia. Instead, only the parties would be listed . . . [to] keep Truman from getting Virginia’s electoral votes . . . In Washington, Senator Byrd took to the floor to strongly endorse the Tuck bill and commend it to his Southern colleagues.”

(The Dynamic Dominion, Realignment and the Rise of Virginia’s Republican Party Since 1945, Frank B. Atkinson, George Mason University Press, 1992, pp. 20-22)

 

 

An Opportunistic Amalgamation of Factions

The American republic was only 45 years-old when the political seams began bursting and the Founders fears of unbridled democracy had firmly gained root. The Whig’s combined somewhat opposing factions which would not last long in alliance, especially Southerners who strictly interpreted the Constitution and allied to the various isms, higher-law abstractions, and centralizing instincts of New England. From this latter poisonous cauldron Lincoln’s ill-named Republican party emerged.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

An Opportunistic Amalgamation of Factions

“To call the Whig coalition a political party is to do it a service above and beyond the call of historical accuracy. It was not a party – not in the European sense, certainly, and probably not in the modern American sense. It was, instead, a loose confederacy of warring factions bound vaguely together by a common hatred of the new popular democracy in general and of General Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren in particular.

The party grew out of that hatred in 1833-1835 and it collapsed in confusion of its own internal intellectual and factional contradictions in 1853-1854. During its twenty-year history it elevated two bewildered generals to the White House, William Henry Harrison in 1840 and Zachary Taylor in 1848, and it nominated another – General Winfield Scott – in 1852. These leaders were chosen to head the Whig coalition primarily because they stood for nothing controversial, antagonized no one, and because they could be sold to the voters, as Andrew Jackson had been marketed in 1828, wrapped in an aura of military glory.

When in 1844 the Whigs did nominate a man who stood for something, Henry Clay, the Democrats beat him with James Polk, a political unknown. Party platforms and statements were scrupulously avoided by the Whigs for fear the brawling factions would disintegrate the party in a gigantic internal explosion.

The Whig party was an opportunistic amalgamation of two major factions. Foremost in its councils were the National Republicans, descendants of Hamiltonian Federalism. Led by Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John Quincy Adams, they supported the nationalistic American System – tariff protection, internal improvements, national bank – and they were generally loose constructionists of the Constitution. They had no use for slavery . . . [and were] the best organized, best-led, and most influential faction. They most consistently represented the interests of the merchants, shippers, and the new industrialists of the North and Northeast.

Second in power and prestige within the Whig coalition, were the State’s rights Whigs of the South. Former Jeffersonian Democrats, they were variously disenchanted with Andrew Jackson for his spoils system, his Force Bill, and his removal of the Bank deposits . . . They remained . . . strict constructionists, free-traders, and anti-nationalists, and they looked to the continued domination of the national political process by gentlemen. Their hatred of the egalitarian Jackson and all his works was summed up in Mrs. John Floyd’s heated characterization of the General as a “bloody, bawdy, treacherous, lecherous villain.”

Finally, there were the Anti-Masons, that strange and emotional sect that came bursting out of western New York and onto the American political scene in 1831 with little more for a program than the naïve and half-crazed belief that Freemasonry and Americanism were somehow incompatible. Skilled and practical politicians like Thurlow Weed, William H. Seward, and Francis P. Granger quickly moved in on this lunatic fringe and made of it an anti-Jackson, anti-Van Buren faction on the Empire State, dedicated in its principles to the protective tariff and to internal improvements.”

(And Tyler Too. A Biography of John and Julia Gardiner Tyler, Robert Seager, II, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1963, pp. 115-117)

Truman the Prisoner of Socialist Planners

Author John T. Flynn wrote in 1949 of the communist takeover of the Democrat Party, which was fairly complete in 1936 as FDR’s labor friend Sidney Hillman formed the first political action committee, CIO-PAC, to funnel labor unions funds into his political campaign. By the early 1940’s Southern Democrats had enough of party communists and railed at FDR’s running mate in 1940, Henry Wallace, who was very friendly with the Soviets. Thus came the Dixiecrat Party.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Truman the Prisoner of Socialist Planners

“The country recently witnessed a struggle in the United States Senate around a proposal of the president to put federal force behind the guarantee of what is called “civil rights.” Few of those who read of the filibuster conducted by the Southern Democratic senators understood the real purpose behind this bill.

Ostensibly it was to give our Negro citizens equality of rights of various kinds with their white brethren. But the real objective was little discussed and even less perceived by the casual newspaper reader.

Of course the problem of the Negro and his position in the South and, for that matter, in the North, is a perpetual irritant. It is not easy to square the discriminations against the Negro with a number of the most rapturously repeated phrases in accepted national philosophy. There are some aspects of the question that ought to be kept in mind.

First of all, the lurid and sensational stories about lynchings and hatreds and suppressions and oppressions have been outrageously exaggerated. It is a fact that almost all of the publicity about the outrages against Negroes in the South has originated in the propaganda agencies of the communist trouble-makers.

Why is the communist so deeply stirred about the Negro? Is he trying to correct injustices suffered by the Negro in order to improve his lot here and make him love America more? We know that the communist has one supreme interest and that is to excite and stimulate the hatreds of every class in the country.

Sooner or later this country must face the problem of the Negro. It is simple enough in New York. It is not so simple in Mississippi, where the Negroes almost equal the whites in number, or in Georgia, where Negroes outnumber whites in probably half the counties in the State.

White supremacy is a phrase encrusted with unpleasant connotations in the North. But in hundreds of Southern counties where Negroes outnumber whites the people are sure that if the Negroes voted there would be not white supremacy but Negro supremacy. In light of our professed beliefs about the rights of man, however, it is not an easy matter for our people to face up to this problem squarely.

One day an educated Negro population, rather than the poor cornfield worker and the illiterate serving man, will confront the people of the country. Time, education on both sides of the color line, patience, understanding, may lead us to a happier relationship. But one thing is certain. There is no spot for the trouble-maker, the revolutionist, the communist bent on mischief, on division and disturbance.

The problem was thrown into the Senate in 1949 by [Democrat President Harry Truman]. I have, I believe, made it clear that the President is the prisoner of the socialist planners among his supporters, who elected him and who could break him pathetically tomorrow if it suited their purpose. It was in obedience to their imperious demand that this hurry-up solution of the Negro problem in the south has hurled into the Senate.

Now what was their purpose? Was it love for the Negro? Was it a wish to advance his position? Not at all. The purpose was entirely a part of the effort of these socialist planners to solve the great crucial political problem which confronts them. The Negro is merely to be one of the tools in the job.

[The Republican Party after 1865 has sewn up the black vote] But with the advent of the New Deal and the distress among the Northern and Southern Negroes and the great streams of relief money at the disposal of Democratic politicians, the Negro was brought en masse into the Democratic fold. This, however, hardly describes the performance perfectly.

The depression and the rise of the communist and New Deal socialist wing in New York, with Harry Hopkins sitting at the cashier’s window, made it possible for the socialist wing of the Democratic-Red alliance to capture Negro votes. Today [1949] the socialist movements have that vote in their bag. And they believe they can do the same thing with the Negroes in the South if they can get the vote for them.”

(The War on the South, The Road Ahead to Socialism, America’s Creeping Revolution, John T. Flynn, Devin-Adair Company, 1949, pp. 98-100)