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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 Republican Party Endangers the Union

The Republican Party which formed out of the ashes of the Whig Party and combined with the Know-Nothing and Free Soil political organizations, was seen as a harmless lunatic fringe in 1856. But by the national election of 1860 it appeared to many that their broad support in the North might enable them to win. And if they were victorious, their platform pledged them to arrest, jail and possibly execute anyone who disagreed with their views on the Kansas Territory. This purely sectional party never promoted a peaceful or practical solution to the African slavery they found in their midst, and claimed was the reason they hated the South with such intensity.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Republican Party Endangers the Union

“Buchanan stated the keynote of his campaign in these words: “The Union is in danger and the people everywhere begin to know it. The Black Republicans must be, as they can be with justice, boldly assailed as disunionists, and this charge must be reiterated again and again.”

Forget the past, bury the bank, the tariff, and the rest of the historic fossils. The Democrats must publicize the statements of “the abolitionists, free soilers and infidels against the Union,” to show that the Union was in danger. “This race ought to be run on the question of Union or disunion.”

The Democratic press generally adopted this campaign them, and devoted columns to the antiunion pronouncements of prominent Republicans. Ohio’s Representative Joshua R. Giddings had announced “I look forward to the day when there shall be a servile insurrection in the South; when the black man . . . shall assert his freedom, and wage a war of extermination against his master; when the torch of the incendiary shall light up the towns of the South, and blot out the last vestige of slavery; and though I may not mock at their calamity, nor laugh when their fear cometh, yet I will hail it as the dawn of the millennium.”

New York’s Governor William H. Seward asserted that “there is a higher law than the Constitution,” and hoped soon to “bring the parties of the country into an aggressive war upon slavery.” Speaker of the House Nathaniel P. Banks said frankly that he was “willing . . . to let the Union slide.” Judge Rufus S. Spalding declared that if he had the alternatives of continuance of slavery or a dissolution of the Union, “I am for dissolution, and I care not how quick it comes.”

Editor James Watson Webb predicted that if the Republicans lost the [1860] election, they would be “forced to drive back the slavocracy with fire and sword.” A Poughkeepsie clergyman prayed “that this accursed Union may be dissolved, even if blood have to be spilt.”

O.L. Raymond told an audience in [Boston’s] Fanueil Hall, “Remembering that he was a slaveholder, I spit upon George Washington.”

(President James Buchanan: a Biography, Philip S. Klein, American Political Biography Press, 1962, excerpts pp. 257-258)

Lincoln Acts Alone and By Decree

As Lincoln never accepted the independence of those States which had withdrawn to form a more perfect union, his actions can be judged in a light illuminated by the United States Constitution and the strictly enumerated powers delegated to his branch. The crime of treason is clearly defined in Article III, Section 3 of that document: “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against Them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” Note the emphasis on “Them,” individually. By commencing hostilities against South Carolina and other States, he violated Section III, Article 3.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Lincoln Acts Alone and By Decree

“By his selective use of the American past, his devotion of the nation to an abstract proposition, and his expansive vision of America’s role in the world, Lincoln undermined the old federated republic. He rewrote the history of the founding, and then waged total war to see his version of the past vindicated by success.

But in the course of subjugating the “insurrectionary” and “revolutionary” combination in the South, and in creating a unitary nation, he also compromised the integrity of the Presidency as a Constitutional office, first by invading the powers of the other two branches and then by assuming further powers nowhere mentioned in the Constitution.

He may have claimed that in the midst of an unprecedented national crisis necessity knew no law, but the Constitution in fact recognized the possibility of emergencies and delegated necessary and appropriate powers to the President and Congress. As historian Clinton Rossiter wrote: “The Constitution looks to the maintenance of the pattern of regular government in even the most stringent of crises.” But Lincoln acted alone.

From the fall of Fort Sumter in April, 1861, to the convening of a special session of Congress in July of 1861, President Lincoln ruled by decree, and on his own initiative and authority he commenced hostilities against the Confederacy. For 11 weeks that spring and early summer, Lincoln exercised dictatorial powers, combining them within his person the executive, legislative and judicial powers of the national government in Washington.

In his inaugural speech in March he had announced that the union had the right and the will to preserve itself. He promised to secure federal property in the seceded States, to collect all duties and to deliver the mails – all steps short of invasion but intended nonetheless to subjugate the South.

He assumed so-called “war-powers” – a familiar feature of the modern Presidency, but them a novelty – and proceeded to wage war without a declaration from Congress. The oft-raised concern that Lincoln could not have proceeded otherwise and still have preserved the Union should not obscure the problem of the means he resorted to.

The Constitutionality of his acts cannot be, as one historian claimed, “a rather minor issue,” for at stake was the integrity of free institutions.”

(The Costs of War, America’s Pyrrhic Victories, John V. Denson, Transaction Publishers, 1999, excerpts pp. 138-139)

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)

Immigrant Politics and Recruits Up North

An 1845 congressional committee investigating naturalization frauds in New York and Philadelphia found it was common practice on the eve of elections for immigrants, many not yet qualified by residency, to be naturalized in droves by political machines like Tammany Hall. This immigrant influx had created two Americas by the late 1850s: An immigrant-dominated North versus a South still consisting of English and Scots-Irish who originally settled the region. The former knew little of American institutions; the latter revered limited government, self-reliance and independence.

In 1860, the South contained some 233,000 people born under a foreign flag, while the North held nearly 4 million foreign-born inhabitants. While running for president in mid-1860, Lincoln purchased Springfield (Illinois) Zeitung to gather immigrant votes; by 1864, fully 25% of Lincoln’s war machine consisted of Germans.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Immigrant Politics and Recruits Up North

“In 1835, it was reported that more than one-half of the paupers in the almshouses of New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore were foreign-born, and in later years the proportion was even higher. Crime statistics, too, revealed a disproportionate number of foreign-born offenders; in 1850 there were three times as many foreign-born inmates of the New York State prisons as there were natives.

To many nativists an equally grave and more immediate threat to republican freedom stemmed from the political role of the foreign-born. In places the proportion of foreign-born voters had so increased as to hold the balance of electoral power; this of itself was a source of alarm, for most immigrants remained ignorant of American institutions.

In addition, the electoral violence and voting frauds, which had come to characterize immigrant voting in politics, we believed to be sapping the very foundations of the American political system. There were numerous complaints of native voters being kept from the polls by organized mobs of foreign laborers, of immigrants voting on the very day of their arrival in America, and of hired witnesses and false testimony as the commonplaces of naturalization proceedings.

[Native resentment] of German arrogance gave way to excited warnings against the machinations of a disaffected and turbulent element to whom America had unwisely given asylum. [An example of this were] the demands of Communist Forty-Eighters like Wilhelm Weitling, who advocated complete social revolution and the establishment of an American “republic of the workers.”

In Missouri in the spring of 1861, the bulk of Union forces consisted of German militiamen [who] thwarted secessionist attempts to take the State out of the Union. What led many to enlist was the offer of a bounty greater than an unskilled laborer’s annual earnings. Large numbers, too, joined the army because the trade depression at the beginning of the war, and its consequent unemployment, left them no choice save starvation or military service.

Such cases were common, for example, in New York where Horace Greeley, struck in April 1861 by the high proportion of foreigners among the recruits, wondered whether “the applicants were actuated by the desire of preserving the Union of the States or the union of their own bodies and souls.”

(American Immigration, Maldwyn Allen Jones, University of Chicago Press, 1960, excerpts pp. 152-154; 171-172)

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)

Fake News and Collusion

Charles A. Dana is a seldom mentioned figure in wartime incidents, though he became an internal spy for Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and monitored Grant’s early activities in the western theater of war. When Jefferson Davis was placed in irons in Fortress Monroe, it was Dana who wrote the order. In the prewar period, Dana was a member of the utopian Brook Farm commune in Massachusetts, and encouraged Karl Marx to contribute to Horace Greeley’s Tribune. Dana later admitted that the entire power of the War Department was utilized to ensure Lincoln’s reelection in 1864.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Fake News and Collusion

“White-haired and long faced, [Secretary of War Simon] Cameron was turning army procurement into a fish fry for manufacturers of his native Pennsylvania. Not a word of criticism, however, came from the [New York] Tribune, normally freighted to the water’s edge with brickbats for public officials suspected of mischief . . . Part [of editor Horace Greeley’s reason] was due to the fact that Cameron, in an early draft, proposed a favorite Greeley scheme of arming escaped slaves.

Part of it, however, mirrored the touching understanding between the war minister and his favorite news-gatherer [the Tribune’s Samuel Wilkeson]. Wilkeson would send Cameron a clipping of one of his more flattering articles on the existing management of the war, and
Cameron would respond in a way that counted, by dropping a note to the telegraph censor and requesting that Wilkeson’s dispatches be sent through untouched.

[The] New York Herald ferretted out of an investigation of Cameron’s contracts a story which charged the Washington correspondent and two of the Tribune’s commercial and financial writers had secured the charter of a Connecticut gun manufacturer and submitted a bid to supply the government with 25,000 muskets at twenty dollars apiece.

Wilkeson (whose name was twisted by the Herald to Wilkinson) had supposedly used his influence to have the Ordnance Department hurry matters along. The Tribune denied that any of its men had owned any part of the contract in question; Wilkeson admitted to an act of “disinterested kindness” and nothing more, but soon thereafter left Washington for the army.

[Cameron in January 1862 was replaced with Edwin M.] Stanton, [and who] almost as soon as he was installed at his desk, wrote to Charles A. Dana, the managing editor, confiding that his mission tended toward the same end as that of the paper.

In an early entanglement over a censored dispatch Stanton admitted that he and Dana were of “one heart and mind” in the cause of victory. He meant it, apparently, for Dana subsequently left Greeley’s payroll and, under the title of Assistant Secretary of War, ventured afield to keep an eye on various headquarters for Stanton.”

(Reporters for the Union, Bernard A. Weisberger, Little, Brown and Company, 1953, excerpts pp. 175-178)

Hostile Colonies and States United

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

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

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Hostile Colonies and States United

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Hundred Years After 1865

The Immigration Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Celler Act, was a radical departure from previous immigration policies which restricted African and Asian immigration while favoring those coming from northern and western Europeans. Promoted by civil rights activists, as well as Lyndon Johnson and Ted Kennedy, proponents “argued that the new policies would not significantly influence American culture.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

One Hundred Years After 1865

“Since 1965, farsighted critics with an understanding of history and human nature have warned that the new immigration would lead, and is leading, to the balkanization of the United States of America. Democrats and liberals, as well as radicals, have steadfastly denied the likelihood, even the possibility, of such a thing; whoever argues otherwise, they say, is a racist and xenophobe.

Liberals persist in maintaining this fantasy, whose falsity is demonstrated by liberalism itself in its new guise of identity politics, whose rise coincides exactly with the arrival of scores of millions of nonwhite, non-Christian, and non-Western peoples and whose program is ideally fixed to the phenomenon, as well as a reflection of it.

In 1861, the United States was a house divided (though not nearly so widely as she is thought to have been). In 2018, she is a house shattered and tottering.

As for democracy, only the politicians profess to believe that the US is any such thing anymore. The majority of Americans are weary of war, weary of financial and human sacrifice, weary of unsavory allies, weary of unpleasantly foreign, unsuitable, and unassimilable hordes arriving from uncivilized places to transform their country into a congeries of crowded International Houses subsidized at their expense.”

(One Nation Divided, Chilton Williamson, Jr., Chronicles, June 2018, excerpts pp. 9-10)

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