Browsing "Democracy"

Effecting a Change of Masters

The examples of Jamaica and Haiti were clear to most in the antebellum period, though the abolitionists seemed unconcerned with the predictable result of emancipation in America. With the result of Lincoln’s revolution, the African slave had only changed masters as he became the chattel and ward of the now all-powerful federal government at Washington. The Republican party now needed the freedmen’s vote to ensure their victory at the polls, and worked ruthlessly through its Union League to keep Republican ballots in black hands.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Effecting a Change of Masters

“It is scarcely in the power of human language to describe the enthusiastic delight with which the abolitionists, both in England and in America, were inspired by the spectacle of West India Emancipation. We might easily adduce a hundred illustrations of the almost frantic joy with which it intoxicated their brains [but we might also illustrate] how indignant [the abolitionist] became that others were not equally disposed to part with their sober senses.

In one day, probably seven hundred thousand of human beings were rescued from bondage to full, unqualified freedom. The crowning glory of this day was the fact that the work of emancipation was wholly due to the principles of Christianity. The West Indies were freed, not boy force, or human policy, but by the reverence of a great people for justice and humanity.

[The good people of the free States] did not go into raptures over so fearful an experiment before they had some little time to see how it would work. They did, no doubt, most truly and profoundly love liberty. But then they had some reason to suspect, perhaps, that liberty may be one thing, and abolitionism quite another. Liberty, they knew, was a thing of light and love; but as for abolitionism, it was, for all they knew, a demon of destruction.

We shall begin with Jamaica. The very first year after the complete emancipation of the slaves of this island, its prosperity began to manifest symptoms of decay. The abolitionist not only closed his eyes on every appearance of decline in the prosperity of the West Indies, he also seized with avidity every indication of the successful operation of his [emancipation] scheme, and magnified it to both himself and to the world.

[But] “Shipping has deserted her ports; her magnificent plantations of sugar and coffee are running to weeds; her private dwellings are falling to decay . . .”It is impossible [to not arrive] at the conclusion that the freedom granted to the negro has had little effect except that of enabling him to live at the expense of the planter so long as anything remained. Sixteen years of freedom did not appear to its author to have “advanced the dignity of labor or of the laboring classes one particle,” while it had ruined the land, and this great damage had been done to the one class without benefit of any kind to the other.”

In relation to Jamaica, another witness says: “The marks of decay abound . . . People who have nothing, and can no longer keep up their domestic establishments, take refuge in the abodes of others, where some means of subsistence are still left;. . . the lives of crowded thousands appear to be preserved from day to day by a species of miracle.

We might fill volumes with extracts to the same effect. We might in like manner point to other regions, especially to Guatemala, to the British colony on the southern coast of Africa, and to the island of Hayti, in all of which emancipation was followed by precisely similar events. By the act of emancipation, Great Britain paralyzed the right arm of her colonial industry. The laborer would not work except occasionally, and the planter was ruined. The morals of the Negro disappeared with his industry, and he speedily retraced his steps toward his original barbarism. All this had been clearly foretold.

Precisely the same thing had been foretold by the Calhoun’s and Clays of this country. The calmest, the profoundest, the wisest statesman of Great Britain likewise forewarned the agitators of the desolation and the woes they were about to bring upon the West Indies. But the madness of the day would confide in no wisdom except its own, and listen to no testimony except the clamor of fanatics. Hence the frightful experiment was made . . .

But what is meant by freedom of the emancipated slaves, on which so many exalted eulogies have been pronounced? Its first element, it is plain, is a freedom from labor – freedom from the very first law of nature. In one word, its sum and substance is a power on the part of the freed black to act pretty much as he pleases.”

The magnificent colony of St. Domingo did not quite perish . . . the entire white population soon melted, like successive snowflakes of snow, in a furnace of that freedom that Robespierre had kindled. The atrocities of this awful massacre have had, as the historian has said, no parallel in the annals of human crime. “The Negroes,” says Alison, “marched with spiked infants on their spears instead of colors; they sawed asunder the [white] male prisoners, and violated the females on the dead bodies of their husbands.”

The work of death, thus completed with such outbursts of unutterable brutality, constituted and closed the first act in the grand drama of Haytian freedom. In this frightful chaos, the ambitious mulattoes, whose insatiable desire for equality had first disturbed the peace of the island, perished miserably beneath the vengeance of the very slaves whom they had themselves roused from subjection and elevated into irresistible power. Thus ended the second act of the horrible drama.

[In the new independent Negro state, the lands] were divided out among the officers of the army, while the privates were compelled to cultivate the soil under their former military commanders . . . No better could have been expected except by fools or fanatics. The blacks might preach equality, it is true, but yet, like the more enlightened ruffians of Paris, they would of course take good care not to practice what they had preached.

Hence, by all the horrors of their bloody revolution, they had only effected a change of masters. The white man had disappeared, and the black man, one of their own race and color, had assumed his place and his authority.”

(Liberty and Slavery, Albert Taylor Bledsoe, J.B. Lippincott & Company, 1856, pp. 229-278; reprinted 2000 by www.confederatereprint.com)

Oct 8, 2016 - America Transformed, Democracy, Enemies of the Republic, Pathways to Central Planning, Prescient Warnings    Comments Off on Democracy and the Prize of the Dominant Class

Democracy and the Prize of the Dominant Class

Democracy and the Prize of the Dominant Class

“Class war eventuating in class dictatorship is, however, only the most dramatic of the perils inherent in the democratic idea, the end product of the modern tragic fallacy. Democracy in practice has shown itself prey to lesser ills which must weigh against it in any accounting of its capacities. The fear of one-man power, is, for example, a democratic obsession, so that the people are willing to sacrifice governmental efficiency in a misguided effort to guard against such power.

The spoils system in civil service in an unavoidable conclusion of democratic premises regarding political equality. The idea that each man is as good as the next leads to rotation in administrative office and foments stubborn popular opposition to the development of a merit system. This opens the way to the establishment of a self-perpetuating political oligarchy, since the political organizer is paid for his services in the coinage of government jobs.

Democracy has also led increasingly to a new and degraded form of political decision-making. “The activity of the State, under the new democratic system, shows itself every year more at the mercy of clamorous factions, and legislators find themselves constantly under greater pressure to act, not be their deliberate judgment of what is expedient, but in such a way as to quell clamor, although against their judgment of public interests. Inevitably, “the consequence is the immense power of the lobby, and legislation comes to be an affair of coalition between interests to make up a majority.”

The drive for power among conflicting interests tends always to convert the state into a prize to be won by the dominant class; meanwhile, issues of social policy are decided, not on the basis of their merits, but in accordance with the pressures brought to bear on the tribunes of the people.”

(American Conservatism in the Age of Enterprise, 1865-1910, Robert G. McCloskey, Harper, 1951, pp. 59-60)

 

 

A Court Party Living Off the Farmers

The Founders referred to their creation as a republic and built in safeguards against the rise of democracy, which they saw as mob rule. Professor Donald Livingston instructs us that the United States is not a republic, but a federation of republics — and the federation itself, cannot be referred to as a “republic.”

Jefferson’s revolution of 1800 election temporarily ended the Federalist Party’s quest to mold the United States into an aristocratic and centralized nation, though encroachments of federal power upon the States continued through the Supreme Court (“sappers and miners”), centralized banking, special interest protectionism — and finally the creation of the States, the federal agent — waging war upon States that rightly opposed the encroachments. The new Republican Party of Lincoln was an incarnation of Adam’s Federalist Party, and empowered by the protectionist and banking interests of New England.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Court Party Living Off the Farmers

“Any system of government, from a democracy to an aristocracy to a monarchy, is capable of drowning its people in tyranny. “I see no infallible criterion for defining the nature of government, except its acts,” wrote John Taylor of Caroline in “Construction Construed and Constitutions Vindicated,” (1820). “If the acts of a monarchy, aristocracy and democracy are the same, these forms of government are to a nation essentially the same also. To contend for forms only, is to fight for shadows.”

How then, should we define the nature of a republic? The word itself was batted around by all the Founding Fathers, but its use varied. John Adams, who favored aristocracy and “balanced power,” wrote that the only “rational” definition of republic is “aa government, in which all men, rich and poor, magistrates and subjects, officers and people, masters and servants, the first citizen and the last, are equally subject to the laws.”

Taylor assailed this sort of “republic,” which puts its faith in the “rule of law.” Answering Adams in 1814 (An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States), he asked how this was any different from the government from which they had declared independence. What guarantees that the law to which everyone is “equally subject” is just – or good?

Adam’ imagined government would counter [inherent financial injustice] with a “balance of power,” by which each class, emerging “naturally” according to a divine distribution of talent, would find equal representation. But do such classes arise “by nature,” according to “God’s design?” Taylor argues that Adams’ classes are artificial – special interests created by laws and sustained by government. (Government’s creation of a standing army, for example, creates a “soldier class,” a military interest. Central banking, creates a banking interest. Etc.)

And man’s lust for power being what it is, these artificial classes would (did) seek to advance their standing among the others, if not dominate them altogether even; even taking the moral high ground for doing just so. “One tyrant may thank God that he is not another tyrant.”

During the infant days of the United States, the means by which the federal government was creating this phony aristocracy was, according to Taylor, its control of the economy, through central banking and taxation – unjust transfers of wealth from one interest to another.

“Wealth, established by law, violates the principle, which induced the American states to wage war with Britain. It separates the imposer from the payer of taxes. No nation would tax itself to enrich an order or separate interest. When therefore a nation is so taxed, it must proceed from the power of the order itself, which is invariably the imposer and receiver of the tax; whilst the rest of the nation is the payer.”

For Taylor, a true, sustainable republic is not characterized by a “balance of power” among artificial interest groups, but by self-government. “The distinguishing superiorities of our policy, are, the sovereignty of the people; a republican government, or a government producing publick or national good; and a thorough system of responsible representation.”

Who, then, were these sovereign “people,” and what is this “good.” The people are farmers. At the time of the War of Independence, 95 percent of Americans were engaged in farming. The prospect of owning a farm was what made the colonies attractive in the first place.

But this life had been threatened by a distant [British] central government that was cash-strapped and weary from financing its own imperial adventures. The small colonial farmer found it difficult to hold onto his land when the crown began to manipulate the money supply. Slapping taxes on his and stifling free trade only made things worse.

The Federalists’ “consolidated republic” threatened to do just the same. Federalist fiscal policy created new interests, a new Court Party of paper wealth. These sundry interests could not live without the farmers, yet they must live off them.

According to Jeffersonian tradition, of which Taylor was the greatest exemplar, the farmer is capable of self-government. His is the only vocation that is “natural” – that is not a creation of government. He depends upon God to sustain him . . . [and] he takes up his arms to defend hearth and home in the local militia, and the mantle of statesman when called upon – all the while eager, as Taylor was, to get back to his land, to the plow.

This is the true republican ideal [and] . . . its people are defined not by party affiliation or political law but by the mores majorum, the “customs of the fathers.”

(A Share in the Patria, Aaron D. Wolf, Chronicles, May 2009, excerpts, pp. 21-22)

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)

America Exports Democracy

John Quincy Adams said long ago that “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” The North forgot his words, conquered the South, established it as an economic colony, and set off on imperial adventures to add colonies of subject peoples to the American empire.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

 

American Exports Democracy

“On July 4, 1901, William Howard Taft took the oath of office as the first Governor-General of the Philippines, and control of the islands passed from the military arm of the government. Not all the problems [of converting the islands] had been solved. Philippine society remained ill-suited to the concept of representative democratic government, primarily because it is not one culture, but several. An election in Zamboanga was decided by which Filipino shot the other candidates first.

The Filipinos in the northern islands were Tagalog Christians, those in the south were Moro’s (meaning “Mohammedan”) who had long resisted Tagalog encroachment. A tribal people, they were fiercely jealous of their semi-savage freedom. Wisely, the Spaniards had left them to their own devices; but the Americans wanted to clean up and educate everybody.

So the [American] army established a garrison at Balangiga, on Samar, in the south where Magellan had sighted the Philippines and where he was to die at the hands of natives. On September 1, 1901, the natives from the surrounding hills of Balangiga fell on the American garrison, and in a devastating surprise littered the street with the heads, brains and intestines of the soldiery.

This was the beginning of a religious war with the Moros, one that took longer to settle than the war against Aguinaldo’s insurrectos. The fight became a struggle to win the minds and hearts of the villagers, who supplied the guerrilla bands and offered them bases and sanctuaries.

What was called for [to control the Moros], [General John] Pershing decided, was to disarm the entire Moro Province, to confiscate or buy every rifle, pistol, campilan, bolo and krise on the islands. It was not an original idea. General Leonard Wood, who left the Philippines in 1910 to become Chief of Staff advised Perching: “You cannot disarm the people. It means they will bury their best arms and turn in a few poor ones, especially some who want to make a show of obedience.”  Moros who surrendered their arms were victimized by those who had not . . . it is as hard to disarm a people as it is to make them give up a religious belief.

In a letter to Avery D. Andrews, Pershing put succinctly the apostolic creed to which he himself subscribed:

“It has been urged by some people at home that the Filipinos should be given their independence. Such a thing would result in anarchy. To whom should we turn over the government? Tagalog, Viscayan, Igorrote, Macabebe or Moro? No one can answer that any of these tribes represents the people in any sense, any more than the Sioux represents all the Indians in America.

There is no national spirit, and except for the few agitators, these people do not want to try independence. They will have to be educated up to it and to self-government as we understand it, and their education will take some time and patience. It is a grand work cut out for us from which there should be no shirking.”

(Pipe Clay and Drill; John J. Pershing: The Classical American Soldier”, Readers Digest Press, 1977, excerpts, pp 100-153)

 

New England Town Meeting Superstition

The fabled New England town-meeting was no more than a local debating body of radical commoners who sought “to destroy all privilege, political, economic and social.” While they debated and drank against the aristocracy, the real power brokers of New England made political appointments and decisions.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

New England Town Meeting Superstition

“In the year 1764 Boston had a population of about sixteen thousand persons, and it is a popular superstition that its town-meeting was a thoroughly democratic forum where, if ever in this troubled world, the voice of the people might make itself heard.

The fact was, however, that the average number of voters in the decade from that year to the revolution was only about five hundred and fifty-five, or three and one-half percent of the population. Not only so, but of these sturdy citizens who turned out thinking they were freely voting for their rulers, nearly all were unconscious puppets in the hands of political leaders.

That extremely useful machine tool, the caucus, had been deftly used for many years, although the discovery that such was the case seems to have come somewhat as a shock to the young John Adams.

“This day I learned,” he wrote in his diary in February 1763, “that the Caucus Club meets, at certain times, in the garret of Tom Dawes . . . There they smoke tobacco till you cannot see from one end of the garret to the other. There they drink flip, I suppose, and there they choose . . . selectmen, assessors, collectors, wardens, firewards and representatives are regularly chosen in the town.

At this stage, therefore, it is evident that the “people” whose voice was heard consisted of the members of the Caucus and Merchants’ Club harmoniously and unobtrusively working together in the sphere of practical politics, each for the “benefit of his business.”

(The History of New England, Vol. II; Revolutionary New England, 1691-1776, James Truslow Adams, Little, Brown and Company, 1941, pp. 304-305)

Jackson's Centralized Popular Democracy

Andrew Jackson, the leveling-democrat, set in motion the elevation of the federal agent above its creators. His view that a common and even unfit man could ascend to the presidency predictably misled many others into believing the same. With the Founding generation in their graves, the democracy they feared would transform the republic they wrought.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Jackson’s Centralized Popular Democracy

“Last of the Revolutionary generation to hold the Presidency, the last chief to wear a queue and smallclothes, was the self-effacing Virginian, James Monroe. [Andrew] Jackson, duelist, frontiersman, romantic lover, had no illusions about his abilities. “Do they think I am such a damned fool as to consider myself fit for the Presidency?”

But like other military heroes, before and since, he was drafted into the job. He had been a hero in the old Creek War, living on scorns and holding off mutiny with oaths and an unloaded rifle. He had been a fourteen-year-old soldier of the Revolution, watching the slaughter of the Battle of Camden through the logs of a prison stockade.

He was the peoples’ president. It was under Jackson, not Lincoln, that our modern, centralized popular democracy was born. Jackson first gave the laboring man a voice and vote in the ranks of the Democratic party.

Jackson, in his war with the United States Bank, dramatically demonstrated that the power of Big Business could only be countered by big government in Washington.

Jackson called the bluff on the belief of the Southern Nullifiers that the power of a State was superior to that of the general government. Jackson himself was living proof of Jefferson’s doctrine of the natural aristocracy. Yet he perverted that doctrine. He failed to see the genius in himself. He felt that if he, a common man, could handle the Presidency, so could any other common man.

This was a belief highly-acceptable to the proponents of all-out majority rule. It marked the start of the lowering and leveling process which eventually tainted all national leadership, education and mass entertainment. Not since Jackson’s time has the goal of “Jeffersonian democracy” been to ferret out the natural leadership. Instead, the aim has been to prove literally that all men are equal, and to press all down into a single mold of conformity.”

(The Molders, Margaret L. Coit, This Is the South, Robert West Howard, editor. Rand McNally, 1959, pp. 92-93)

 

The Old and New Republican Party

The first disputed presidential election occurred in 1796 with John Adams elected only “by the whim of two Southern electors” — one from Virginia and one in North Carolina – and both voted for Jefferson as Vice President. This electoral result and victory for the monarchical Adams spurred Jefferson and Madison to formulate the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, whose spirit was that State governments were the foundation of the American political system, and their power unlimited except for strictly delegated and enumerated functions.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The Old and New Republican Party

“The Democratic-Republican Party . . . was the political party whose theory was aimed at the increase of direct popular control over the Government, the widening of the right of suffrage, the limitation of the powers of the Federal Government, and the conservation of the powers reserved to the State governments by the Constitution. It is therefore a strict construction party and has always operated as a check upon the nationalization of the United States.

It at first (1792-3) took the name of the Republican party, which more properly belongs to its present possessors, and was generally known by that name until about 1828-30. Upon its absorption of the French or Democratic faction, in 1793-6, it took the official title of the Democratic-Republican party.

About 1828-30 its nationalizing portion having broken off and taken the name of “National Republican,” the particularist residue assumed the name of “Democrats,” which had been accepted since about 1810 as equivalent to “Republicans,” and by which the have since been known. Some little confusion therefore, has always been occasioned by the similarity in name between the strict construction Republican party of 1793 and the broad construction Republican party of 1856.

[During the formative period, 1789-93 period, the forces] which have always tended to the complete nationalization of the American Union were in operation at the adoption of the Constitution, [and their] influence was as yet by no means general. The mass of the people was thoroughly particularist, interested mainly in the fortunes of their State governments, and disposed to look at the new Federal Government as a creature of convenience only, to be accepted under protest until the exercise of its functions should prove burdensome or unpleasant.

The planters of the South, and particularly of Virginia, had generally supported the change in government [from the Articles of Confederation] and the early measures of the Federal party, induced partly by the influence of Madison and partly by the compromises by which the Constitution had been made acceptable to them.

When Hamilton, early in 1790, finally, and almost from sheer necessity, fell back upon commercial interest as the stock upon which to graft his nationalizing measures, he necessarily alienated the whole South, which was not only particularist but exclusively agricultural, except in a few isolated spots on the seaboard. The difference between the two sections was as yet only in degree, not in kind.

Both were mainly agricultural; both were particularist; neither possessed manufactures; but the South, which had far less banking and commerce than the North, and therefore in Jefferson’s words, “owed the debt while the North owned it,” first felt repulsion to the Hamiltonian policy.

The opposition to his plan for settling the public debt was mainly to its commercial aspect; the opposition to his project of a national bank in the following year was of a distinct party nature, and was based upon that strict construction of the Constitution which was always afterward to be the party’s established theory.

In 1791-2, therefore, we may consider the Anti-Federal party, which had so warmly opposed the adoption of the Constitution, as rehabilitated into a party, as yet without a name, which was to maintain the binding force of the exact and literal language of the Constitution, and to oppose any enlargement of the Federal Government’s powers by interpretation.

The first authoritative claim of the party name occurs in Jefferson’s letter of May 13, 1792, to Washington, in which he says:

“The Republican party, who wish to preserve the government in its present form, are fewer in number [than the monarchical Federalists]. They are fewer even when joined by the two, three or half-dozen Anti-Federalists, who, though they dare not avow it, are still opposed to any general government; but being less so to a republican to a monarchical one, they naturally join those whom they think pursuing the lesser evil.”

Before the close of the year 1792 we must regard the Republican party as fairly formed. Its general basis was a dislike to the control exercised by any government not directly affected by the vote of the citizen on whom the laws operated; a disposition to regard the Federal Government . . . as possibly a second avatar of royalty; and an opposition to the Federalist, or Hamiltonian, measures of a national bank, a national excise [tax], a protective tariff, a funding system for the debt, and to all measures in general tending to benefit the commercial or creditor classes.”

(American Political History, 1763-1876, Alexander Johnston, Volume I, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1905, pp. 208-212)

 

Credit Mobilier's Gentlemen Thieves

With Southern conservatives absent from the United States Congress after the war, Whig/Republicans had free rein for legislation and schemes to benefit the corporate interests which kept them in power.  Thus the Northern marriage of government and corporations gave birth to public treasury-raiding schemes like the Credit Mobilier scandal, and all under the watchful eye of President U.S. Grant.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Credit Mobilier’s Gentlemen Thieves

“The looting of the Erie Railroad was accomplished with the help of the easily corruptible legislatures of only two States, New York and New Jersey. It was a fairly simple business. But to loot the immense federal project of the Union Pacific Railroad required far more sophisticated talents. This monumental piece of thievery involved United States representatives and senators. It involved cabinet officers, the Vice-President of the United States, and a future President. The loot ran to approximately forty-four million dollars. It was removed almost painlessly from the Union Pacific’s coffers by a trick outfit with a fancy French name, the Credit Mobilier.

The Union Pacific was sponsored and financed by the United States. The purpose of the Credit Mobilier was to take over the contract for building the road. Stockholders of both companies were identical. They proceeded to contract with themselves to build the road at a cost calculated to exhaust the resources of the Union Pacific. The so-called profits were to be divided among Credit Mobilier stockholders.

Prominent in Credit Mobilier were Oakes and Oliver Ames, brothers of Easton, Massachusetts, who had inherited a business . . . [and the] Hon. Oakes Ames was a representative of the old Bay State in Congress.

From the day it was whelped, the double-jointed money-making machine worked perfectly. As the tracks of the Union Pacific pushed across the Great Plains, the Credit Mobilier collected the enormous bounty granted to the line from the public purse and domain. Mile upon mile the railroad was systematically stripped of its cash, which reappeared almost simultaneously as dividends for the happy stockholders of Credit Mobilier. It was, as the Hon. Oakes Ames told his comrades in the House, “a diamond mine.”

Yet the gentlemen-thieves of Credit Mobilier had a falling out when two factions fought for control; and the warfare gave those senators and congressmen who were not involved the courage to demand an investigation of the Union Pacific-Credit Moblier situation.

In an effort to forestall just such a possibility, the Credit Mobilier officers had been distributing free stock in the House and Senate, and elsewhere. But Congress was at last forced to act, and the revelations of its investigating committee . . . were so appalling that “all decent men trembled for the honor of the nation.”

No one was more hopelessly involved in the scandal than Vice-President Schuyler Colfax . . . except of course, Representative Oakes Ames of Massachusetts . . . along with Representative Brooks, also of Massachusetts . . .

Although the Congressional investigation resulted in an almost complete official whitewash, it did leave strong doubt in many minds regarding the character of such eminent men as James A. Garfield, James G. Blaine, and almost a score more.”

(The Age of the Moguls, Stewart H. Holbrook, Doubleday & Company, 1953, pp. 49-50)

 

European Jacobin Views of a Massachusetts Whig

The visiting Frenchman, Ernst D. de Hauranne, travelled only in the North for his eight months in America and was a strong supporter of the Northern invasion of the American South. Ironically, when confronted by a Radical lieutenant enraged at Americans resisting subjugation, the Frenchman could reel off the specifics of Lincoln’s destruction of liberty, and compared the despotic Northern government to the worst aspects of the French Revolution.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

European Jacobin Views of a Massachusetts Whig

[Diary Entry] June 28, 1864

“Here I found my first expert on American politics, Lieutenant C. He is not only a Republican, he is a Radical, and we have already crossed swords several times. Like all Americans, he pushes adulation of his country well beyond the limits of politeness and acceptability. Democracy is his oracle, his god, and he will never agree that it may not be the same thing as liberty.

If I reply that even the will of the people should have its limits, and that if it exercises in America the absolute reign that he talks about, it is more likely to pave the way to tyranny than to preserve liberty, he answers brusquely that I am French, that I don’t understand anything about freedom and that I have no right to judge his country. “Europeans,” he told me, “are born slaves. They always have been and they always will be. Only America knows what freedom is.”

“Oh,” I replied, “get off your high horse. There are many darks spots on your wonderful picture of American freedom.” Thereupon I ticked off for him the suspension of habeas corpus, the violation of the freedom of the press, the transfer of jurisdiction over many cases from civil to military courts, secret arrests, arbitrary imprisonments and all the other abuses of power that are the sad accompaniments of the Civil War. I asked him if that was what he called freedom.

“It is freedom if we have willed it. Mr. Seward boasts that he needs only ring his little bell to have absolutely anyone put in prison. That is true, but behind him are the American people who direct him. Let him strike down the rebels and traitors . . . We want martial law, do you understand? We want it, and that’s why we are still free.

“[I replied] Revolutionary power is a seed of dictatorship. Watch out that the seed doesn’t take root. You refuse to see the danger; the freedom of your neighbor means little to you! This is the way to lose your own freedom and to rush headlong into despotism one of these days. [Let’s] get to the bottom of it. I know your theories. We practiced them under the [French revolutionary] National Convention. You think you’ve discovered a new idea, but all you do is recite the sophistries of the Committee of Public Safety.”

Are these not strange opinions in the mouth of an American, notions that would fit better with the outlook of a European Jacobin or a Massachusetts Whig? We think the Americans are madly in love with their individual freedom, yet there is a school of thought which springs up to repudiate it in the name of public safety, which views freedom as submission to the multitude. Love of freedom, like all human passions, falls asleep when it is not contested.”

(A Frenchman in Lincoln’s America, Ernst D. de Hauranne, Donnelly & Sons, 1974, Volume I, pp. 67-70)