Browsing "Lincoln Revealed"

Creating Engines for Political Security

The “glittering prize” of political party victory was control of the distribution of political offices, and Lincoln astutely arranged the patronage to control his party as well as keep jealous competitors at bay. The Collectors of Customs posts were most important, and were decisive in Lincoln’s decision for war rather than lose his tariff money and appointing powers.  Count Gurowski, the Polish immigrant and political gadfly mentioned below, believed in the European tradition that “treason” was simple opposition to royalty. In the United States, however, Article III, Section 3, defines treason only as waging war against “them,” the States, or adhering to their enemies.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Creating Engines for Political Security

“The arduous task of cabinet-making was far from completed before Lincoln was beset with a swarm of office-seekers. Indeed, Washington was a veritable mecca for patronage mongers bent upon securing consulships, Indian agencies, postmaster-ships, or anything else in the gift of the appointing power [of the President].

Those who witnessed the rush of job hunters could not easily forget the spectacle. Wrote home a Michigan Congressman: “The City is overwhelmed with a crowd of rabid, persistent office-seekers – the like never was experienced before in the history of the Government.”

An Indiana member reminisced later: “I met at every turn a swarm of miscellaneous people, many of them looking as hungry and fierce as wolves, and ready to pounce upon members [of Congress] as they passed, begging for personal intercessions, letters of recommendations, etc. . . . the scuffle for place was unabated.”

And the eccentric Count Adam Gurowski, viewing the scene, confided to his diary in this same month of March 1861 his impressions:

“What a run, a race for offices. This spectacle likewise new to me. The Cabinet Ministers, or, as they call them here, the Secretaries, have old party debts to pay, old sores to avenge or to heal, and all this by distributing offices, or by what they call it here, the patronage. They, the leaders, hope to create engines for their own political security, but no one seems to look over Mason and Dixon’s line to the terrible and with lightning-like velocity spreading fire of hellish treason.”

Politically and financially, the collectors of customs posts were among the most important at the disposal of the Administration. That at the metropolis of the Empire State was the most lucrative. “There is no situation in the U. States which enables the incumbent to exert such influence . . . as the Collectorship of New York,” one political observer had written in the 1840’s; to another this position was second only in influence to that of Postmaster-General.”

Under the caption “Fat Offices of New York,” Horace Greeley’s Tribune informed its readers in 1860 that ranking first in importance and revenue was the collectorship, with its fixed salary of $6,340, and some $20,000 more in the form of “pickings and fees.” Before Lincoln’s first administration had run its four years, the Surveyor of the Port estimated the number of employees in the New York Custom House at 1,200 and the assessment on their salaries for political party purposes at 2 percent.”

(Lincoln and the Patronage, Harry J. Carman & Reinhard H. Luthin, Peter Smith, 1864, excerpts pp. 53-54; 59-60)

 

Radical Republicans Consolidate Power

Long unhappy with Lincoln’s lack of severity in punishing the South, Radical Republicans knew that freedmen could not be left in friendly relations with their former owners and jeopardize triumphant Republican war gains. The Union League was the terror-arm of the party which taught the freedmen that their white neighbors would re-enslave them at the first opportunity, and unwavering Republican voting would protect them. As the Radicals no doubt were responsible for Lincoln’s demise, they also found his successor lacking in sufficient hatred for the South and disposed of him as well.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Radical Republicans Consolidate Power

“While a stunned people paid final tribute to Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis fled southward from Richmond. His capture symbolized the end of power of a restraining, agrarian aristocracy in America. Lincoln’s passing removed the last effective check on vindictive Radicals and symbolized the end of power of a restraining, agrarian democracy.

Out of the confusion created from the scars of war and from the demise of hoary agrarian restraints, business-industrial America was to swagger in under the cloak of the [Republican] platform of 1860 and Radical Reconstruction.

Ephemerally, hate and revenge would run rampant, tarnishing reputations, sweeping away moderate men, and pushing to the top many who had not even expected political leadership only a few years before.

For a few fleeting days following Lincoln’s assassination, Radicals had purred contentedly around Andrew Johnson. The new President was one of them: he talked of harsh treatment for rebels. But by . . . late May, Johnson . . . was following Lincoln’s moderate reconstruction policies.

In the [mid-June 1865 Iowa] State convention . . . A rising temper of Radicalism had been revealed . . . Radicals on the floor had pushed through a proposal committing the party to an amendment to the State constitution allowing Negro suffrage.

To grant universal suffrage to the Negro would enable “base politicians” to pander to “ignorance and incapacity”; the race as a whole would be unfit to exercise the voting privilege for a generation.

Thad Stevens, cool, grim and confident, sat ready to “spring the drop” on [new] Southern Congressmen, on President Johnson, and on any moderate Republicans who stood in his way. With malice toward the defeated, and charity toward Negroes, railroad entrepreneurs and industrialists, this cynical old man had some carefully laid plans for the perpetual ascendancy of the Republican party.

[Johnson’s reconstruction plan] would bring Western and Southern men (with certain Eastern allies] into a combination to rule the republic. Such a rule, agrarian in nature, might mean loss of power for Republicans; and it would almost certainly dilute or reverse wartime tariff, railroad and monetary policies so lucrative to the expansive business, financial and industrial interests. [Financiers], ironmasters, and railroad entrepreneurs had as much to lose from an unfavorable economic policy as did Radical politicians from a Reconstruction policy which might bring loss of power and patronage.”

(John A. Kasson, Politics and Diplomacy from Lincoln to McKinley, Edward Younger, State Historical Society of Iowa, 1955, excerpts, pp. 178-179; 181-184; 189-190)

Smallpox Hand Grenades Feared in Virginia

The Twenty-first Regiment of New York Volunteers was initially enlisted for a three-month tour of duty after Fort Sumter. On August 20, 1861, as the unit neared the end of their sworn term, it was reported that “attempted revolt” in the ranks arose as Lincoln requisitioned the short-term volunteers for his lengthy war. Generous enlistment bounties, furloughs, new immigrants impressed and captured Southern black men counted toward State quotas would solve the issue.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Smallpox Hand Grenades Feared in Virginia

“On June 5th [1861], the Elmira correspondent of the [New York World] writes as follows: “The Cayuga, Buffalo and Hillhouse regiments are the only ones that have received their arms, and indeed, the only ones that are uniformed. The Buffalo men were uniformed by their fellow citizens, and present a fine appearance.”

In Mr. Faxon’s correspondence with the [Buffalo] Courier, we find the following:

“Yesterday and today were given almost entirely to the preventive service. Small-pox having been announced as one of the warlike weapons in use by our rebellious friend in Virginia, to scatter among our troops as a soldier would throw hand grenades, our Surgeon . . . [introduced] into the entire human economy of the regiment a little vaccine matter.

The Rev. Mr. Robie had become at once a general favorite. He has donned the theological uniform . . . and looks as though he was ready, at a moment’s notice, to engage the rebels of the South or the foe of all mankind.

Says a member of the regiment in a letter to the Buffalo Courier: “I consider it the duty of someone to tender our grateful acknowledgments to the ladies . . . Ladies of Buffalo, we will bear you in everlasting remembrance, and try to do our duty as soldiers, — to the killing of Jeff. Davis, if possible.”

[July 8th]: Last Thursday being the eighty-fifth anniversary of American Freedom, was fitly celebrated with us by a review of the troops in Washington and vicinity.

[Near Falls Church, Virginia], We learned this morning [29 September] that a scouting party returning from the front last night were fired upon by a California regiment, and several men killed, the result of carelessness in not having the countersign. Some of the men have been foraging among the deserted rebel mansions in the neighborhood. The house of Major Nutt, which its gallant owner hastily evacuated the day of our advance, stands, or did stand, about a mile north of the hill.

A party of [General Ludwig] Blenker’s [German regiment], probably carrying out the precepts of old world warfare, have completely demolished it, together with that portion of the contents which they did not choose to carry away. The remains of a fine piano and other heavy furniture litter the grounds; the garden and outbuildings are sacked and destroyed, and the [livestock] appropriated by the ravagers.”

(Chronicles of the Twenty-first Regiment, New York Volunteers, J. Harrison Mills, Twenty-first Regiment Veteran Association, 1887, excerpts pp. 50-52; 121)

A Superior Race of Yankee Employers

The land seized, sold and leased in occupied South Carolina by the North’s Direct Tax Commission was dominated by Northern philanthropists and others who had acquired their wealth by exploiting free labor. They developed Northern support for the “Port Royal Experiment” by convincing manufacturers that successful black farmers would become ravenous purchasers of Yankee goods. In a June 15, 1864 letter to the Edward S. Philbrick mentioned below, Northern General Rufus Saxon wrote: “What chance has [the Negro] to get land out of the clutches of the human vulture, who care for him only as they can gorge themselves upon his flesh? If you had seen the hungry swarms gathered here at the land sales in February . . .”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

A Superior Race of Yankee Employers

“[In the occupied South Carolina’s Sea Islands], the first purchasers were principally the New England wing of the planter-missionaries [who] welcomed more favorable circumstances in which to prove their theory that free labor could grow more cotton, more cheaply, than slave labor. The largest buyer [of land] was Edward S. Philbrick, backed by wealthy Northern philanthropists . . .

Federal authorities were reluctant to lease or sell subdivided plantation tracts to the freedmen [though some] managed to purchase several thousand acres . . . but the acreage they acquired was always well below that purchased by Northern immigrants, and this result was intended by a majority of the tax commissioners.

The truth is, not many of the liberators had boundless faith in the freedmen’s capacity for “self-directed” labor so soon after their emancipation. When in January 1865 General William T. Sherman set aside a strip of land along the southeastern seaboard for the exclusive occupancy of the thousands of slaves who followed his army to the sea, the news was generally greeted in the North with lamentation and deep foreboding.

It was a great mistake in statesmanship, the New York Times said, for what the ex-slaves needed was not isolation and complete independence, but “all the advantages which the neighborhood of a superior race . . . would bring to them. And what they needed even more was the good example and friendly guidance such as Yankee employers could largely provide. Few doubted, after emancipation, that the freedmen had some promise, provided that Yankee paternalism was allowed full scope.

When the old masters talked of free labor, they really meant slave labor, “only hired, not bought.” And how could men whose habits and customs were shaped by the old order readily grasp the requirements of the new order? The case seemed plain to all who had eyes to see. If the freedmen were ever to be transformed into productive free laborers within the South, the New York Times argued with unintended irony, “it must be done by giving them new masters.”

(New Masters: Northern Planters During the Civil War and Reconstruction, Lawrence N. Powell, Yale University Press, 1980, excerpts, pp. 4-5)

The Second War on the Liberties of American Citizens

In September 1864, the New York World editorialized “for the simple reason that, after [peace candidate George B. McClellan’s] inauguration, the character of the war will have so changed that the Southern people will no longer have a sufficient motive to stand out.” Despite a critical New York press, Lincoln barely won the State’s 212 electoral votes in November 1864 against McClellan, the manipulated soldier vote assisting greatly in the .92% margin of victory. After Lincoln’s assassination in mid-April 1865, the Yonkers Herald-Gazette condemned it as “the darkest crime” but added that “it might have been a wise move at the beginning of the war during the darker days of the struggle.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Second War on the Liberties of American Citizens

“For the Democrats of Westchester County [New York], the presidential contest of 1864 appears as the last opportunity for opposition to Lincoln, his policies, and the future course of the war. This time, they could rally around a single candidate, George B. McClellan.

For Mary Lydig Daly, having Lincoln as president once again was a repulsive thought. [She] wrote in her diary . . . “We are at present ruled by New England, which was never a gentle or tolerant mistress, and my Dutch and German obstinate blood begins to feel heated to see how arrogantly she dictates and would force her ideas down our throats, even with the bayonet.”

In 1864, McClellan made it clear he would continue the war to its successful conclusion, that is, the restoration of the Union as it was. He did not advocate “peace at any price,” in spite of the sentiments of some members of his party.

Should he have won the presidency in 1864, he would have dismantled the repressive aspects of Lincoln’s policies against civil liberties and civilians. He would have undone the Republican experiments in social engineering, especially emancipation.

When his Northern solders commented on the evils of slavery (many of them having seen the institution for the first time), what they were really seeing were the consequences and disorder of emancipation. The Reconstruction Era presented a clear picture of what that was like, resulting in “nothing but freedom” for the ex-slaves.

When Lincoln was nominated that June [1864], the Yonkers Herald-Gazette . . . commented “Another four years of “Honest old Abe” would leave nothing but the shadow of a Republic on the American continent. The Republican papers in the county, such as the rival Yonkers Statesman, trotted out their familiar epithet of “disloyalty” against this paper and other Democratic sheets . . .

The Yonkers Herald-Gazette retorted: “We confess to the smallest possible amount of respect for the Republican professions of “loyalty,” or Republican charges of “disloyalty.” The word is not American, nor Republican even – here it originally expressed the treasonable attachment of the loyal Tories to George the Third, in his wanton war against American liberty; and as now used, it general means partisan devotion to Abraham Lincoln, not in resistance to a Southern Rebellion, but in a would-be second war on the liberties of American citizens.”

(The Last Ditch of Opposition: The Election of 1864 and Beyond; Yankees & Yorkers: Opposition to Lincoln’s Policies in Westchester County, New York, and the Greater Hudson Valley, Richard T. Valentine; Northern Opposition to Mr. Lincoln’s War, D. Jonathan White, editor, Abbeville Institute Press, 2014, excerpts pp. 204-206)

Awful Sacrifices and Doomed Assaults

Northern General George Meade knew the futility of massed charges of men against a strongly entrenched opponent, the latter was his position at Gettysburg versus Lee. Though Meade was characterized as “failed, maladroit and weak-willed,” his subordinates praised their superior’s courage in ordering withdrawals in the face of strong Southern positions. They were painfully aware that “Meade had only snap his fingers” and there would have been “ten thousand wretched, mangled creatures” lying on the valley slopes. By the end of 1863, “courage” to some had become the will to renounce the charge; Lincoln and the Radicals desired relentless assaults and mass-carnage.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Awful Sacrifices and Doomed Assaults

“Even before the assault at Cold Harbor, [Northern] soldiers entering their fourth year of war understood perfectly what the result would be. They knew that the Confederates had had thirty-six hours in which to prepare their positions and that by that stage of the war any attack under such circumstances was doomed.

Charles Wainwright thought it absurd that Grant should simply repeat here the order “which has been given at all such times on this campaign, viz: “to attack along the whole line.”

On the eve of battle, Union soldiers who had glimpsed some part of the Southern defenses or heard them described by the “news-gatherers” were, Wilkinson reported, depressed: “Some of the men were sad, some indifferent; some so tired of the strain on their nerves that they wished they were dead and their troubles over . . . and though they had resolved to do their best, there was no eagerness for the fray, and the impression among the intelligent soldiers was that the task cut out for them was more than men could accomplish.”

Indeed, numbers of soldiers wrote their names on small pieces of paper and pinned them to their coats, in a hope, signaling hopelessness, that their bodies would not go unidentified.

On June 15, 1864, when Grant’s army finally reached the James [River] at a cost of 60,000 casualties, a number equivalent to the size of Lee’s army at the outset of the campaign, the Union regular Augustus Meyers felt the “gloomy and depressing effect” of such “awful sacrifices without any advantages.”

When the Twenty-seventh Maine’s tour of duty was about to expire just prior to the battle of Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln authorized the award of the Medal of Honor to each soldier who would reenlist. Three hundred agreed to remain on duty as “emergency troops,” but medals were issued in error to all 864 members of the regiment. The Twenty-seventh Maine had seen no battle before Gettysburg; its remnant played no role at Gettysburg.

Similarly, so many brevet (i.e., honorary) promotions were awarded, Augustus Meyers complained, that they “seemed to lose dignity” and became objects of ridicule. His friends in the ranks began to refer to mules as “brevet horses” and to camp followers as “brevet soldiers.” Such awards, moreover, seemed seldom to recognize battlefield bravery.

On November 28, Meade probed Lee’s position [at Mine Run] and prepared for a large-scale assault. Meanwhile, Federal rank and file had an opportunity to judge for themselves the strength of the defense. “All felt it would be madness to assault,” Robert Carter of the Twenty-second Massachusetts said. “I felt death in my very bones all day.” George Bicknell of the Fifth Maine wrote that there was not “a man in our command who did not realize his position. Not one who . . . did not see the letters [of] death before his vision . . . [N]ever before nor since had such a universal fate seemed to hang over a command.

[Meade] canceled the assault and on December 1 ordered his army back across the Rapidan, a retreat into winter quarters.”

(Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War, Gerald F. Linderman, The Free Press, 1987, excerpts, pp. 161; 163-164)

Un-American Union of Force

The party of Seward and Lincoln fielded its first presidential candidate in 1854; in the space of another seven years this party succeeded in alienating nearly half the country, waged bloody war in Kansas, forced a State to peacefully withdraw from the Union, and plunged the country into a bloody and destructive war that led to the deaths of a million people.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Un-American Union of Force

“Finally, a new party was formed, with its primary object, as professed, the exclusion of the South from the common territories that had been acquired by the common blood and the common treasure of the South and the North.

And, significantly, early in its history, or as soon (1860) as it had acquired material growth and substantial prestige, this new political party, already thus avowedly sectional in its principles, made a sectional “protective” tariff one of its demands.

And when it had elected a president (by a sectional and a minority popular vote, be it remembered), and so caused a disruption of the union of States, “protection” was a primary means employed to support the war that followed – a war of aggression and conquest waged by this party to secure both its own continued supremacy and the new consolidated and un-American union of force in place of the pristine confederated union of choice which itself had had done so much to destroy; a war in which Negro emancipation “in parts of the Southern States” was incidentally proclaimed as a “military measure,” the thirteenth amendment coming later to extend and validate this unconstitutional proceeding.

“Un-American union of force,” I said; we must remember that widespread opposition to the war of conquest against the South manifested itself in the North, and that the myriads of immigrants from centralist, “blood and iron” Germany had much to do with turning the scale in the North in support of Lincoln’s and Seward’s war.

In these aliens there had arisen “a new king which knew not Joseph,” who had no inconvenient recollections of ’76 to hold him in check.”

(Living Confederate Principles, Lloyd T. Everett, Southern Historical Society Papers, No. II, Volume XL, September 1915; Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1991, excerpts pp. 22-23)

Profiteering in Arkansas

With Lincoln’s approval, former Illinois Congressman William Kellogg advanced a cotton-trading scheme at Northern occupied Helena, Arkansas, which would reap millions for himself and provide slave-produced cotton for hungry Northern mills. Though Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase opposed the idea, Kellogg was later appointed chief justice of the Nebraska Territory in early 1865 for his patriotic efforts.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Profiteering in Arkansas

“Upon occupying Helena, Arkansas, in mid-July 1862, Union General Samuel Curtis complained that his camp was “infested with Jews, secessionists and spies.” By issuing orders that restricted trade to a few people he could control under military law as sutlers, Curtis adopted a policy that made him vulnerable to charges of improper monopolization.

Shortly, a steady stream of rumored abuses percolated up to Chicago and the department headquarters for Curtis’s army at St. Louis. Illinois Senator Orville Browning’s diary records Chicago rumors that Curtis deposited $150,000 with a Chicago financier less than three months after occupying Helena. By October 1862, [an] officer said, Curtis had already seized several million dollars worth of [cotton] and “converted it to his own use.”

Later, Curtis wrote Lincoln directly to explain that the complaints originated out of envy from unsavory characters who were unworthy of trade privileges. Nonetheless, within a few months, the general was transferred to St. Louis to become the new department commander, and rumors of his possible fraud trailed along.

An investigating Treasury agent concluded that Helena’s trade “diverted soldiers to become agents and brokers of cotton buying [and had] thrown thousands of dollars into the hands of our enemies.” Corruption flourished at Helena, where the army had little to do during twelve months of idle occupation before invading central Arkansas in late summer of 1863.

Federal soldiers even purchased cotton from slaves with counterfeit Confederate money.

Lincoln’s military governor of Arkansas complained late in 1862 that the idle troops at Helena were principally engaged in profiting from cotton trade. They raided neighboring plantations to confiscate whatever cotton they could get. As an afterthought, they would often destroy the plantation homestead.

Helena’s steady occupation led to deplorable sanitary conditions, particularly among the freed slaves . . . [and] disease, malnutrition, and lack of clothes and shelter took a toll on the blacks who sought refuge in the town.

Before the end of 1862, the inland navy began to get involved. [Admiral David Dixon Porter’s] crews became covetous of cotton as a prize of war . . . [and] 50 percent of a captured cargo was subject to a reward for the crew of the ship making the capture. By the end of the war, Porter had become so aggressive at stealing cotton . . . [he was dubbed] “Thief of the Mississippi.”

His sailors would seize bales and stencil “C.S.A” on them, thereby falsely representing the cotton as property of the Confederate government and therefore subject to prize law.”

(Trading With the Enemy: The Covert Economy During the American Civil War, Philip Leigh, Westholme Publishing, 2014, excerpts pp. 65-66)

A Minority Party Blunders into War

William H. Seward lost the Republican presidential nomination to a political novice from Illinois, and was quietly licking his wounds while that novice was ignoring the secession crisis in Springfield. As Seward was the creation and protégé of New York newspaperman Thurlow Weed, he might have exerted party leadership to bring on a constitutional convention of the States to properly settle the issues. Weed was no friend of secession, but saw signs that the conservative South was open to negotiation – as the Crittenden Compromise offered. Seward deferred to Lincoln, and Lincoln stumbled into war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

A Minority Party Blunders into War

“Aside from misconceiving the importance of the secession movement, the Republicans were also placed at a great disadvantage by their lack of experience as a majority party and their lack of a leader to chart their course for them. The crisis overtook them before they could remedy these defects.

It demanded that they produce a formula to save the Union, and made this demand at a time when they had never even borne the responsibility of appointing a postmaster. They were yet a minority party, not destined to assume office for three months to come.

They had never been anything other than a minority party, skilled in opposition tactics, steeped in opposition psychology, unused to responsibility, unaccustomed to the formulation of policy. Unprepared as they were to cope with a crisis, they clung to their nominal position as a minority group and shrank from taking affirmative action. The future belonged to them; they alone could pledge it; and consequently they alone could wield the initiative.

This handicap might have been overcome by clear-cut and decisive leadership. But in the moment when an unexpected crisis and unfamiliar responsibility fell simultaneously upon Republican congressmen, they found themselves with no unquestioned leader. Abraham Lincoln was, of course, the elected chief, but he had been silent for more than half a year.

Mr. Lincoln was, in the eyes of many simply an ex-congressman from Illinois, now President-elect . . . Certainly they gave no sincere allegiance to the unknown quantity from Springfield, and if anyone held the position of leadership it was Lincoln’s rival, William H. Seward. Seward had been the leader of the Republican party, and especially of the Republicans in Congress, for nearly six years . . . and probably the most intelligent member on the Republican side of the Senate.

The moral grandeur of “lost causes” held little appeal for him. Consequently, he became a superb politician, a master of artifice, equivocation, and silence. With Lincoln silent in Springfield, the public gaze turned upon Seward, the leader in Congress, and, as rumor had it, the next Secretary of State.

Had Seward been prepared to act vigorously at this juncture, he might have exerted an enormous influence. But he was, himself, inhibited at this critical moment by his reticence in assuming leadership so soon after his defeat for the [presidential] nomination, by his underestimate of the crisis, and by his anxiety not to take any step that would impair his prospective influence with the new administration.

Amid this welter of confusion [in Republican ranks], Congress at last convened [in] joint session [to hear President James Buchanan] set forth his belief that the States cannot legally secede, but that the Federal government could not legally restrain them; in it he recommended that Congress call a constitutional convention . . .”

(Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis, David M. Potter, Yale University Press, 1942, excerpts pp. 80-82)

 

Republicans Frustrate Compromise Efforts

Well-aware of his meager claim to electoral victory with only 39% of the popular vote, Lincoln told Republican Congressman James Hale of Pennsylvania that supporting the compromise plan of Kentucky’s John J. Crittenden would mean the end of the Republican Party and of his new government. During several compromise efforts between December 1860 and March, 1861, Lincoln wrote important Republican leaders in Congress to oppose any settlement with the South, which of course ensured secession and his war upon the South. Again, it is clear that the cause of secession and war was the Republican Party, and Lincoln placing party survival over saving the Founders’ Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Republicans Frustrate Compromise Efforts

“[Crittenden desperately] was trying to halt what he called the “madness” possessing the South and begged northerners in Congress to make the “cheap sacrifice” and “little concessions of opinions” that his pan required in order to save the country.

Crittenden directed his plea primarily to Republicans. They held the balance of power in Congress, and their reaction would decide the fate of the Crittenden program. Northern Democrats who had been traditionally more conciliatory toward the South . . . could be expected to give the program substantial support.

Some Republicans agreed with Crittenden that a few concessions to the South to preserve the union might be worthwhile, if the price was not too high. From the beginning, [Republican] antagonism doomed Crittenden’s high hopes [though] Unionists in both houses of Congress, however, fought for legislation that encompassed Crittenden’s plan.

In the lower house, on December 5 [1860], Alexander Boteler of Virginia successfully moved that a committee of one member from each State (the Committee of Thirty Three) be established to work out a plan to save the Union. Republicans cast every negative vote on the resolution, giving an early indication that they were opposed to compromise. Republicans blocked every other compromise measure suggested in the Committee of Thirteen.

Crittenden’s followers still refused to admit defeat. The Virginia legislature invited all the States to send representatives to a “Peace Conference” in Washington in February. Although none of the States that had already seceded sent delegates, twenty-one States did join the conference. Once again Republican leaders opposed compromise plans, claiming they did not want to cripple Lincoln’s freedom to deal with secession by committing him to a program before his inauguration.

An Indiana Republican delegate wrote to his governor from the conference: “We have thus done all in our power to procrastinate, and shall continue to do so, in order to remain in session until after [Lincoln’s inauguration on] the 4th of March.” The Senate voted on the original Crittenden plan and defeated it by a 20 to 19 vote. Not one Republican supported the plan.

The Republican decision to frustrate compromise efforts was one of the most significant political decisions in American history. Although it would be unreasonable to assert that had Republicans supported compromise they would definitely have ended the secession movement and prevented the Civil War, such a result was quite possible given the wide support that Crittenden’s plan attracted.

All the pro-Southern aspects of the compromise disturbed the Republicans; but their ire was raised in particular by the territorial provisions. The Republican party’s strength was contained in its antislavery wing, which was held together by opposition to any expansion of slavery [into the territories].

Had Republicans abandoned their opposition to slave expansion in 1860, they would have committed political suicide. Such a concession to the South would have constituted a repudiation of their own platform, “an admission that Southern complaints were valid,” and a confession that Lincoln’s election as president warranted secession.

Republican voters by the thousands cautioned their congressmen and leaders not to compromise with the South and agitated at home against conciliation, as when Pittsburgh Republicans broke up a unionist meeting by turning off the gas, smashing seats, and yelling “God d —-n John J. Crittenden and his compromise.”

(The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire: 1854-1861, Robert E. May, LSU Press, 1973, excerpts pp. 210-212; 214-217)

Pages:«1234567...20»