Browsing "Lincoln Revealed"

A New Nation of Men of Lesser Minds

The brief Gettysburg address of Lincoln was described by listeners as “a wet blanket” after Edward Everett’s stirring oration, but it did announce the end of the original confederation of States. While Northern governors expected words of appreciation for the sacrifices of the various States supporting his war, “Lincoln rose at Gettysburg to talk of the nation.” He did not “mention that four score and seven years before, the Father had brought forth thirteen independent States.”  As Lincoln spoke of government of the people and by the people, few were aware that a hundred miles away General Robert Schenck’s blue-clad soldiers were patrolling the election polls in Delaware.

A New Nation of Men of Lesser Minds

“Only three times did groups of [Northern] governors assemble to formulate policy. The Cleveland meeting of Western governors and [Pennsylvania’s Governor] Curtin in May 1861 came at the height of initial enthusiasm for the war, and the governors merely demanded that more attention be given to the West.  Lincoln accepted their pledge of cooperation and gave the governors so much work in raising troops that they had no time for further consultation over campaign strategy.

The Providence meeting of New England governors sent a committee to Lincoln to demand cabinet changes, but the President skillfully . . . turned them away. [Massachusetts Governor] Andrew led his neighbors from Providence to Altoona, but was unable to get agreement from other governors for schemes to use Negro troops [to avoid drafting white men] and replace McClellan with Fremont.

On the eve of the conference Lincoln issued the preliminary emancipation proclamation and cut the ground out from under Andrew’s radical plot.  Thereafter the governors attempted no meeting, and Lincoln dealt with them separately.

Lincoln had an enormously swollen patronage to dispense . . . but no part of the patronage was at the disposal of the governors. Moreover, the military patronage was at the President’s disposal. Governors might appoint company and regimental officers, but promotions from grade to grade and the selection of general officers depended on the President. The army and the civil patronage – as the experiences in the Border States, in Ohio in 1863, and in the campaign of 1864 proved – put the Republican Party exclusively in Lincoln’s hands.

But in the long run Lincoln’s victory over the governors was the triumph of a superior intellect. Of the sixty-three chief executives of the States only [New York’s] Horatio Seymour could approach the President in quality of mind. Seymour’s partial success in blocking conscription was a tribute to his intellectual power [and he] might have prevented the destruction of States’ rights [in the North].  But Seymour stood alone [and most] of the others were mediocrities who owed their positions to “availability” rather than to ability.

And this, above all, made Lincoln the architect of the new nation. The victory of nationalism over localism, of centralization over States’ rights, was, in the last analysis, a victory of a keener intellect over men of lesser minds. The new nation that emerged from the Civil War was not solely the result of the military defeat of the armies of Robert E. Lee. It was equally the result of the political victory that Abraham Lincoln’s mind and personality won over the governors of the Northern States.”

(Lincoln and the War Governors, William B. Hesseltine, Albert A. Knopf, 1955, pp. 391-392)

Military Government Perfected

“Lee, indeed, saw an analogy between the Revolution of 1776 and the Revolution of 1861. In ’76 the Colonists threw off the yoke of Great Britain, in ’61 eleven Southern States threw off the yoke of the North. In each instance the act was one on revolution. Lee maintained that a government held together by coercion – such as Lincoln’s call for troops would create – was but a semblance of a government. He remembered that Washington himself had declared, “There is nothing which binds one country or one state to another but interest.”

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation made an impression upon Robert E. Lee. He understood the significance. Lincoln intended to win the war and to preserve the Union regardless of consequences.  When he was inaugurated he had affirmed that he had neither the power nor the disposition to interfere with slavery. He had now reversed himself. But thereby his military government was made perfect.

This view Lee expressed to [President Jefferson] Davis. “The military government of the United States has been so perfected by the recent proclamation of President Lincoln, which you have no doubt seen, and civil liberty so completely trodden under foot, that I have strong hopes that the conservative portion of [the Northern] people, unless dead to the feelings of liberty, will rise and depose the party now in power.”

Yet while Lee was penning this letter to Davis he was signing and delivering a deed of manumission to the three hundred Custis slaves [he had inherited through marriage]. This act antedated Lincoln’s proclamation by three days; Lincoln’s proclamation became operative January 1, 1863, Lee’s manumission papers had been in effect since December 29 previous.”

(Robert E. Lee: A Biography, Robert W. Winston, William Morrow & Company, 1934, excerpts pp. 96; 208-209)

President Buchanan’s Last Annual Message

President James Buchanan’s last annual message of December 3, 1860, placed the blame for the country’s sectional divide squarely upon the Republican party and its adherents. Below, the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Patriot and Union cited and commented upon the message in its December 6, 1860 issue.

President Buchanan’s Last Annual Message

“At no previous period of our national history has the message of the President of the United States been looked for with more solicitude than was the last annual message of Mr. Buchanan; for it was felt that upon his recommendation might depend the future of the country, and that the issues of peace or civil war were, to a great extent, in his hands.

If any man in the country has the right to speak with authority to the South it is JAMES BUCHANAN, as President of the United States and head of the Democratic party; for in his official capacity he has ever been faithful to all his constitutional obligations, and as a party leader has endeavored to bring about those just concessions which, had they been granted, would have saved the country from the perils that now environ it.

The President traces our present difficulties to their true source when he attributes them to the persistent agitation of years against the system of Negro slavery as it exists in the Southern States, and to the alarming sense of insecurity growing out of that agitation . . . growing and extending, until it culminated in the formation of a sectional Northern party, thoroughly imbued and entirely controlled by hostility to the institutions of the Southern States.

It is true that the platforms and creeds of the Republican party profess loyalty to the spirit of the Constitution, and disclaim any intention of interfering with the domestic institutions of the Southern States. But professions weigh nothing when contrasted with facts.

Since the organization of the Republican party the Abolitionists have ceased to exist in this latitude as a separate party, because they merged themselves in the Republicans, deeming that the best means of promoting their ultimate objects.

Every form and degree of Abolitionism has flourished and developed under the fostering care of this Republican party, which, when confronted with the fruits of its own teaching, meekly points to its platform, and says, “we mean no harm to the Southern States.”—Turning from fair words to foul deeds, the Southern people find that the consequences of Republicanism are—the encouragement of Abolitionism, which does not hesitate to avow hostility to slavery wherever it exists; the enactment of unconstitutional laws by Republican Legislatures to nullify the fugitive slave law; the circulation of incendiary publications throughout the South, calculated, if not designed, to encourage servile insurrections, and endanger the lives of the Southern people; the promotion of John Brown raids, and the subjection of the Southern States and people to a position of inferiority.

These are unmistakably indicated as the consequences of the existence of the Republican party, which, however moderate its professions, cannot escape direct responsibility for what it promotes or encourages, and is naturally judged by the Southern people from its fruits, and not from its platforms.

The President shows conclusively that secession is not a remedy conferred upon any State by the Constitution against the encroachments of the General Government, but that it would be a revolutionary step, only justifiable “as the last desperate remedy of a despairing people, after every other constitutional means of conciliation has been exhausted.”

Notwithstanding that the message takes grounds against the constitutional right of any State to secede from the Union, the position is maintained that the Constitution has delegated to Congress no power to coerce a State into submission; and this doctrine is fortified with powerful arguments. We do not see how they can be controverted.

The proceedings of the Convention that framed the Constitution—the very highest authority—show that “Mr. Edmund Randolph’s plan, which was the ground work of the Constitution, contained a clause to authorize the coercion of any delinquent State. But this clause was struck out at the suggestion of Madison, who showed that a State could be coerced only by military force; that the use of military force against a State as such would be in the nature of a declaration of war; and that a state of war might be regarded as operating the abrogation or dissolution of all pre-existing ties between the belligerent parties, and it would be of itself the dissolution of the Union.” Thus it appears that the idea of coercing disobedient States was proposed in the Constitutional Convention and rejected.

But the President advances one step further in the argument. Suppose a State can be coerced, how are we to govern it afterwards? Shall we invite the people to elect Senators and Representatives after they are subdued and conquered? Or shall we hold them as subjects, and not as equals? How can we subdue the unconquerable will? And how can we practically annul the maxim that all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed? Such a process would undermine the foundations of the government and destroy the principles upon which it is reared more certainly than to admit the want of coercive power in the general government.

The President concludes that portion of the message relating to our domestic troubles by suggesting that they may be settled by amending the Constitution, in the way provided by that instrument, so as to secure to the South the rights for which she contends.

Let the South pause before striking the last fatal blow at the Union, and await the time when a returning sense of justice shall induce the North to concede all her just demands . . . Let the North cease its unmanly aggressions—repeal its unconstitutional statutes—stop its reckless agitation against an institution for which it is not responsible and over which it has no control—overthrow any man or party that seeks to perpetuate strife—and the Union may yet be preserved, and even made stronger and more enduring by reason of the shock it has endured.

But without this spirit of concession and mutual forbearance, there is nothing to hope for in the immediate future but contention and disunion.”

(The President’s Message: Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Daily Patriot and Union, December 6, 1860)

 

How Fort Sumter Came to be Fired Upon

Jefferson Davis wrote of President James Buchanan, that “he as soon as thought of aiding in the establishment of a monarchy among us as of accepting the doctrine of coercing the States into submission to the will of a majority, in mass, of the people of the United States. When discussing the question of withdrawing the troops from the port of Charleston, he yielded a ready assent to the proposition that the cession of a site for a fort, for purposes of public defense, lapses whenever that fort should be employed by the grantee against the State by which the cession was made, on the familiar principle that any grant for a specific purpose expires when it ceases to be used for that purpose.” (Rise and Fall, Vol. I, pg. 185)

How Fort Sumter Came to be Fired Upon

“There are many matters of interest and importance connected with the firing upon Fort Sumter which are not generally mentioned in our American histories. These are given in some detail in Dr. H.A. White’s “Life of Robert E. Lee. Such information is essential to an understanding of the whole subject of the beginnings of the sectional conflict.

. . . “ ’It will be an advantage for the South to go off,’ said [Henry Ward] Beecher. After the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln there was a strong current opinion in the North that the Federal troops should be withdrawn from the Southern forts. President Lincoln’s ‘organ,’ the National Republican, announced that the Cabinet meeting of March 9 had determined to surrender both Sumter and Pickens. That [Major] Anderson would be withdrawn from Sumter ‘was the universal impression in Washington’ (Rhodes, U.S., vol. iii., p. 332).

Welling, of the National Intelligencer, was requested by Seward to communicate the Cabinet’s purpose to George W. Summers, member of the Virginia Convention (The Nation, Dec. 4, 1879).  [On] March 15 Secretary Seward unofficially notified the Confederate Commissioners, through Justice Campbell of the Supreme Court that Sumter would be yielded at once to the Southern Confederacy.”

. . . “March 24 brought Colonel Ward H. Lamon of Washington to Fort Sumter. He obtained permission from Governor Pickens to visit Major Anderson upon the representation that he had come as ‘confidential agent of the President,’ to make arrangements for the removal of the garrison. “The impression produced upon Major Anderson by Lamon, as well as upon the officers and men of the garrison, was that the command was to be withdrawn.’ Lamon informed Governor Pickens ‘that the President professed a desire to evacuate the work.’

After Lamon’s return to Washington he sent a written message to Pickens, that he ‘hoped to return in a very few days to withdraw the command.’ “

(Women of the South in War Times, Matthew Page Andrews, Norman, Remington Company, 1920, pp. 59-60)

Immigrant Politics and Recruits

A congressional committee investigating naturalization frauds in New York and Philadelphia found it was the common practice on the eve of elections for immigrants, many not yet qualified by residency, were naturalized in droves by political machines like Tammany Hall. The 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.

Immigrant Politics and Recruits

“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)

“Kossuth Exile” in Florida

The commander of Northern forces attacking Marianna, Florida in late September, 1864 was “Kossuth Exile” Alexander Asboth, a Hungarian revolutionary and contemporary of Lajos Kossuth in the failed 1848 socialist uprising. Fearing execution for treason, he fled that country in 1849.

A large contingent of Hungarian socialists journeyed to Iowa where they received US government interest-free loans. Kossuth conducted a fund-raising tour of the US to support his revolutionary cause, but expended most of it on a lavish lifestyle.  

Initially on the staff of General John C. Fremont in 1861, Lincoln promoted Asboth to the rank of brigadier-general with an eye to enlist more Hungarian refurgees in this country. After an undistinguished military career, he was assigned to western Florida. At the one-sided battle of Marianna against old men and teenage boys, Asboth was severely wounded in the left cheek and left arm before his retreat.  

In recognition of his accomplishments, in early 1866 President Andrew Johnson promoted Asboth to the permanent rank of major-general, and then appointed him US Minister to Uruguay.

Fellow Hungarian revolutionary Albin Francisco Schoepf became one of Lincoln’s brigadier generals who eventually commanded the notorious Fort Delaware prison camp. Schoepf allowed his subordinates absolute control over Southern prisoners, some of whom were tortured and used as forced labor, resulting in a high death rate and reputation as the most brutal POW camp in America.

Social Democrats and Revolution

In 1883 Georgi Valentinovich Plekhanov, son of a prosperous country gentleman, founded the first Russian Marxist movement and dominated it for over twenty years.  Coming from the country where many revolutionary leaders originated rather than cities, he was turned to radical politics as a student. He formed a “Liberation of Labor” group whose principal object was to systematically apply Marxism to the Russian scene.  

Plekhanov believed that Russia would have to become industrialized in order to produce a proletariat, a working class, before Czarism could be overthrown. Only the workers could produce a revolution. The Narodniks had a different view, opposed the capitalistic and industrial path of eventual revolution, holding that “serfdom to socialism” was more direct.

Karl Marx was a contributor to Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune before the war, promoted Lincoln’s cause in Europe and penned supportive letters to both Lincoln and his successor, Andrew Johnson. Marx saw the industrialized North as fertile ground for a socialist proletariat, and black people as workers to be organized against capitalism.

Social Democrats and Revolution

“One starts to see here the beginnings of a future rivalry; the Marxists with their emphasis on the industrial worker and the Narodniks with their emphasis on the peasants. It was Plekhanov, presiding over his revolutionary court in Geneva, who most rapidly began to gain ground.  In his writings he urged that terrorism was a secondary weapon; the main object was to set up a socialist organization among the working class in Russia, to train agitators, to stimulate strikes and demonstrations, and to spread Marxist ideas through the illegal printing press.

Soon small groups of his followers began to form in the principal cities in Russia. They called themselves Social Democrats.

Neither Marx nor Engels, moreover, had thought very highly of the Russians. Marx was particularly trenchant about them. “I do not trust any Russian,” he once wrote Engels. Russia, in any case, Marx thought, still had a long way to go before it achieved socialism; he had much better hopes of the United States where “the masses are quicker.”

(The Russian Revolution, Alan Morehead, Bantam Books, 1959, excerpts pp. 35-36)

If Our Enemies Prevail

Prominent South Carolina theologian James H. Thornwell saw the sectional conflict as not being merely between abolitionists an slaveholders,” but waged on one side by “athiests, socialists, communists, red Republicans and Jacobins, and the other by the “friends of order and regulated freedom. In one word, the world is the battleground and Christianity and Atheism the combatants.” Thornwell saw the progress of humanity as being at stake in the war.  Among Lincoln’s staunchest supporters were Karl Marx, many influential German revolutionaries who had fled the failed socialist revolutions of 1840s Europe, and New England utopians.

If Our Enemies Prevail

“Some Southerners saw such deception [as Lincoln’s] coming, James H. Thornwell, a prominent Presbyterian preacher and seminary professor in South Carolina, predicted if the South were defeated, then the North would not only revolutionize “the whole character of the government” from ‘a federal republic, the common agent of the sovereign and independent States’ to a “central despotism, with the notion of States forever abolished,’ but also would brand the South with the stigma of slavery:

“And what have we to expect if our enemies prevail? Our homes, too, are to be pillaged, our cities and property confiscated, our true men hanged, and those who escape the gibbet, to be driven as vagabonds and wanderers in foreign climes. This beautiful country is to pass out of our hands. The boundaries which mark our States are, in some instances, to be effaced, and the State that remain are to be converted into subject provinces, governed by Northern rulers and by Northern laws.

Our property is to be ruthlessly seized and turned over to mercenary strangers, in order to pay the enormous debt which our subjugation has cost. Our wives and daughters are to become the prey of brutal lust. The slave, too, will slowly pass away, as the red man did before him, under the protection of Northern philanthropy; and the whole country, now like the Garden of Eden in beauty and fertility, will first be a blackened and smoking desert, and then the minister of Northern cupidity and avarice.

There is not a single redeeming feature in the picture of ruin which stares us in the face, if we permit ourselves to be conquered.  It is a night of thick darkness that will settle upon us. Even sympathy, the last solace of the afflicted, will be denied to us.  The civilized world will look coldly upon us, and even jeer us with the taunt that we have deservedly lost our own freedom in seeking to perpetuate the slavery of others.

We shall perish under a cloud of reproach and of unjust suspicions, sedulously propagated by our enemies, which will be harder to bear than the loss of home and of goods. Such a fate never overtook any people before.”

(From Founding Fathers to Fire Eaters: The Constitutional Doctrine of States’ Rights in the Old South, James Rutledge Roesch, Shotwell Publishing, 2018, excerpt pp. xiv-xv)  

Lee’s Only Chance

Though Lincoln doubted that he would be reelected in 1864, and was heard to state that he hoped another Republican would replace him as he feared being imprisoned by a Democrat for his numerous unconstitutional acts, his Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana said “the whole power of the War Department was used to secure Lincoln’s re-election in 1864.” By that time there were far too many whose careers and wealth depended upon the powerful centralized government Lincoln had created, and which the Radical Republicans wanted to rule.

The starving, ragged soldiers of Lee and Johnston were the last remaining barriers to full Radical control of the destiny of the “nation conceived in liberty” declared at Gettysburg in November 1863.  

Lee’s Only Chance

“In Lee’s ranks there was less fear of Grant than of that grim enemy, hunger. George Cary Eggleston [A Rebel’s Recollections] reports the rigid economies in food which his men practiced; then he adds:

“Hunger to starving men is wholly unrelated to the desire for food as that is commonly understood and felt. It is a great agony of the whole body and the soul as well. It is unimaginable, all-pervading pain inflicted when the strength to endure pain is utterly gone. It is a great despairing cry of a wasting body – a cry of flesh and blood, marrow, nerves, bones, and faculties for strength with which to exist and to endure existence. It is a horror which, once suffered, leaves an impression that is never erased from memory, and to this day the old agony of that campaign comes back upon me at the mere thought of any living creature’s lacking the food it desires, even though its hunger be only the ordinary craving and the denial be necessary for the creature’s health.”

In the whole campaign from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, the Union losses were 55,000, nearly as much as Lee’s whole army. Grant, however, could find new recruits; he was amply reinforced; and he had no embarrassment from the lack of food or equipment. As a defensive accomplishment in fighting off superior numbers, the campaign stands as a significant chapter in Confederate annals.

Confederate losses in the Wilderness campaign were proportionally heavier than those of Grant, behind whom stood the North with its numbers, wealth, organization, and equipment.  Lee’s chance of conquering the Northern armies had gone.  His only chance was in the doubtful hope that a stout and desperate defense, if continued long enough, would wear down the Northern will to fight, produce Lincoln’s defeat in the election of 1864, and by the sheer force of war weariness bring peace on terms acceptable to the South.”

(The Civil War and Reconstruction, James G. Randall, D.C. Heath and Company, 1937, excerpts pp. 544-547)

Unceasing Blows and Sheer Attrition

In early May 1864, Grant moved across the Rapidan River in Virginia to pass quickly through the Wilderness before giving battle. Instead, there he lost some 26,000 men in the dense thickets. On June 3rd Grant lost “more men in the eight minutes of hottest fighting than in any period of the war.”  Though this carnage intensified the peace movement in the North, Lincoln provided Grant with an endless supply of immigrants, substitutes and conscripted men to continue this fearful slaughter. Lincoln, despite ruling the North with near-dictatorial powers, was well-aware 1864 was an election year and victories at any cost were needed before November.

Unceasing Blows and Sheer Attrition

“With the spring of 1864, the war entered a new phase. Union victories in the West had cut deeply into the economic and military strength of the Confederacy.  They had done more, for they had associated the names of Grant and his lieutenants with a habit of mind which connoted aggressiveness, strategy on a large scale, and victory.

It was not that Grant was a supreme master of the “science of war,” nor even that he merited full credit for the victories under his command . . . It was rather that a situation had been reached where, with Northern recruiting, Confederate depletion, and Grant’s sledge-hammer blows, the essential conditions of Union triumph had been presented.

Almost immediately [after Grant’s elevation to lieutenant-general] the final grand strategy of the war began to unfold itself, a strategy by which Grant used his numerical superiority and plunged ruthlessly ahead in Virginia, losing an enormous number of men, but wearing out the Confederates by sheer attrition; while in the lower South Sherman attained unenviable laurels by destroying vast amounts of food and other supplies in his “march” through Georgia and the Carolinas.  

It was by these unceasing blows at the heart of the Confederacy that the war, which had dragged on indecisively for three years, was brought to an end in 1865.”

(The Civil War and Reconstruction, James G. Randall, D.C. Heath and Company, 1937, excerpts pp. 539-543)

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