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Grover Finds a Substitute

Grover Cleveland at age twenty-five had been elected to Buffalo’s Second Ward; at twenty-seven he was appointed assistant district attorney of Erie County (Buffalo) and prepped for a long career in New York machine politics. As Lincoln targeted Democrats in New York with his conscription act of March 1, 1863, Cleveland was swept up in it — but already had a substitute to serve in his stead.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Grover Finds a Substitute

“[Said an editorial in the Buffalo Courier]: “Mr. Cleveland is one of the most promising young members of the bar, is a thoroughly read lawyer, and possesses talent of a high order.”

[Cleveland’s job of district attorney] paid half what he earned in private practice . . . should Grover be conscripted was an unthinkable prospect and unanswerable question – until Abraham Lincoln took up a pen to sign into law the Conscription Act of March 3, 1863.

Its provisions allowed draft eligible men to buy their way out of serving by paying $300 for “commutation,” or by furnishing a substitute. When the conscription procedure began with the drawings of names in May, Grover’s was chosen on the first day.

But he was ready: He had found a substitute in the person of a Great Lakes seaman named George Brinske, also known as Benninsky. Had Grover wished, as assistant district attorney he could have found an almost limitless roster of substitutes among discharged convicts or friendless men accused of a crime who would have gladly chosen army life over imprisonment.

Satisfied with the financial arrangement offered him ($150), Benninsky was sworn into the army at Fort Porter on July 6, 1863. Serving with the Seventy-sixth New York Regiment on the Rappahannock River in Virginia, he injured his back (not in combat) and served as an orderly in a military hospital in Washington, DC, for the remainder of the war.

When another local election loomed in 1865, [Grover] offered himself to Buffalo voters as the Democratic candidate for Erie County district attorney. His declaration has promptly hailed by the [Buffalo] Courier . . . “he is a young man . . . who, by his unaided exertions, has gained a high position at the bar, and whose character is above reproach.”

(An Honest President: the Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland, H. Paul Jeffers, HarperCollins, 2000, excerpts pp. 28- 31)

Fake News and Collusion

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

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Fake News and Collusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Last Election Held Under the Union

Hamilton Fish (1808-1893) was a prewar governor and senator from New York and served as secretary of state under Grant, 1869-1877. A wealthy man before the war, Fish was pragmatic and foresaw the destructive nature of the new Republican Party forming in the mid-1850s. He saw it as the duty of every man, North and South, to discourage unnecessary discussion of the slavery question which would only lead to the end of the Union. Fish, like other prominent Whigs who feared sectional parties, refused to join the Republicans and agreed with the view of Charles Sumner as vulgar, arrogant and deserving of caning. In 1860, only four years after fielding its first presidential candidate, the Republican Party had driven the first Southern State out of the Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Last Election Held Under the Union

“[In] 1855, the Republican Party advanced with rapid strides to the destruction of [the Whig Party]. News of violence was beginning to come from Kansas; fresh incidents were proving the Fugitive Slave Act unenforceable; in New York [Thurlow] Weed and [William] Seward were gravitating to the new organization.

Disunion was coming, D.D. Barnard sadly wrote Fish in July. The Fugitive Slave Law did something, and the Nebraska Bill has done everything, to stir up the anti-slavery sentiment of the North to a fever-heat. Fanaticism, meanwhile, makes a jubilee of the occasion, and demagogues, great and little, rush in to swell the commotion and make the most of the dreadful mischief. It is Massachusetts now, not South Carolina, which enters on a career of nullification . . .

A Northern party is loudly called for, with no principle to stand on but the eternal hatred and eternal war against the South on account of slavery. A Presidential election conducted by sectional parties, with nothing but slave issues between them – if such a thing were practicable—would be the last election held under the Union.

But Fish watched with grave disquiet. To Edward Ketchum he wrote that the Whig organization had ever been a national body, and he deplored its obliteration by sectional party. He also disliked the fanaticism, the intolerance of everything Southern, which stamped the prominent men among the Republicans.

At a recent meeting one [Republican] speaker had declared, “You are here to dethrone American slavery” . . . did [the speaker] know that such talk inflamed the South and placed the Union in peril?

To James Hamilton he wrote still more emphatically. The Republican State platform “has not an element of nationality”; it is “covered all over with the wildest sectional agitation.” His love of peace and the Union would not permit him to accept it.

[Fish] concluded:

“For myself I cannot consent to be made an Abolitionist, or to become an “Agitator” of the slavery question. I cannot close my eyes to the fact that history shews, that every physical revolution (of governments) is preceded by a moral revolution; that the discussion of questions on which the sections are united among themselves but differ the one from the other, leads to estrangement first, and next to hostility and hatred which end inevitably in separation. The separation of this country from Great Britain was not the result of the War of the Revolution, or even the Declaration of Independence. The discussions and controversies which had preceded the latter event caused and effected the separation which was only formally proclaimed by the Declaration, and forcibly maintained by the war.”

(Hamilton Fish, the Inner History of the Grant Administration, Allan Nevins, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1937, excerpts pp. 54-56)

The Republicans Bloody Shirt

Thomas Wentworth Higginson was a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts who identified with disunion and militant abolitionism during the 1840s and 1850s. He was deeply involved with the funding and arming of John Brown, was jubilant when Lincoln invaded the South, and became colonel of a black regiment of slaves taken from Southern plantations overrun and burned by Northern troops. In the postwar, Higginson came to realize what his prewar revolutionary zeal had unleashed, and to the chagrin of the Radical Republicans whose power then depended primarily on the freedmen’s ballot.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Republicans Bloody Shirt

“During the [1884] Massachusetts campaign Republicans frequently denounced the [Southern] Bourbons. [Senator George F.] Hoar stressed that his party was the true friends of the South. Republicans had sponsored bills to educate the section’s illiterates, had passed tariffs to protect its infant industries, and had adopted the war amendments to free all Southerners from the shackles of slavery . . . In a like tone Henry Cabot Lodge argued that the highest Republican duty was to preserve “the freedom and purity of the ballot box.”

In an open letter on “The Suppressed Negro Vote,” Higginson explained that he and other abolitionists . . . had studied “the Southern question apart from the bias of politics” and had come to the conclusion that colored men neither needed nor desired Northern aid.

After having corresponded with and talked to many of the South Carolina, Georgia and Florida Negroes who had served in his Civil War regiment . . . most of them admitted that they did not vote simply because they were uninformed and not interested in politics.

Higginson even condoned the enactment of complicated Southern election laws designed to confuse illiterate Negroes, such as the Eight-Box act requiring separate ballots and receptacles for each office being voted upon. Since only educated men could comprehend involved methods, these measure amounted to a literacy test and achieved what many Northern States decreed directly.

“The Massachusetts way,” Higginson went on, “is more honorable, no doubt; but suppose an attempt were made to import our system into South Carolina, it would at once be denounced as an outrage almost worthy of Mississippi.”

To Republicans, this reasoning was detestable. Former Governor John D. Long of Massachusetts had little use for “Col. Higginson and the Boston Advertiser [who] say “education should be on top.”

Asked why it so vigorously opposed the use of the war issues [to denounce the South], the New York Evening Post answered it was because Northern politicians had “never discoursed upon the suppression of the suffrage at the South, except as an argument for keeping themselves in power, and as a reason why the country should not be disgusted by the gross abuses in administration which the Republican party practiced, permitted and connived at.”

In the 1870’s [Republican party] Stalwarts had employed the theme “to reconcile us to the whiskey thieves and the knavish Cabinet officers of the Grant administration, and to the general corruption of the party in power.”

Under [Rutherford B.] Hayes, they had invoked it “to reconcile us next . . . to the abandonment by that statesman of even the slightest attempt to reform the civil service with which he began his Administration.”

Though last not least, [John] Blaine had stressed sectionalism during his 1884 campaign. “In short,” the Post announced, “during a period of fully fifteen years, whenever the Republican party was called to account for any shortcoming,” its sole answer was the bloody shirt.”

(Farewell to the Bloody Shirt: Northern Republicans and the Southern Negro, 1877-1912, Stanley P. Hirschson, Indiana University Press, 1962, excerpts pp. 132-134)

Republicans and the Freedmen’s Role

The North’s Republican Party was solely responsible for the postwar Solid South which opposed their Reconstruction efforts, and the former utilized the newly-enfranchised freedmen to establish a Southern wing to maintain their national hegemony. To hold Northern votes the Republicans waved “the bloody shirt”; at the same time they swayed the black voter with warnings of newly-elected Democrats re-enslaving them.  Below, the home State of Carl Schurz was not Missouri, he was a socialist revolutionary from Erftstadt, Germany, and elevated by Lincoln to attract German immigrant support for his war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Republicans and the Freedmen’s Role

“One of the first [Northerners] to change his mind about the freedmen was Carl Schurz. In 1865, after a Southern tour, he had recommended that the Negro be enfranchised, disregarding the fact that “the [white] masses are strongly opposed to colored suffrage.” But in 1870, when he realized that uneducated Negroes were an easy prey for spoilsmen, Schurz admitted that he had erred.

To his disgust the [Republican] machine politicians in Missouri, his home State, dominated the scene by manipulating ignorant, but enfranchised, Negroes. Henceforth, Schurz steadfastly opposed all legislation designed to aid the colored man. And he assumed that anyone who tried to stir up sectional passions had yielded to the worst elements in the Republican organization.

Although the transition in the thinking of George William Curtis, the editor of Harper’s Weekly, was far different, he eventually reached the same conclusion. Like Schurz, Curtis after the war favored Negro suffrage. He argued that the freedmen had proven their loyalty and deserved the ballot. Admittedly, many of them were ignorant, but so were “great masses of Northern voters. Education,” he wrote, “is a good thing; but it appears some of the staunchest patriots in the land cannot read, and that some of the basest traitors are highly educated.”

During the 1880 campaign Harper’s Weekly vigorously denounced the Solid South. He then said that the Southern question was dead. The federal government could do nothing more to help the Negro. After that, Curtis joined Schurz in resisting all attempts to stir up the race issue.

A third distinct case was Edwin L. Godkin of the Nation. Although he begrudgingly advocated the enfranchisement of the Negro after the Civil War, he never abandoned the conviction that white Anglo-Saxons were inherently superior to “ignorant foreigners” and atavistic colored men. “I do not oppose the admission [to suffrage] of such Negroes as shall prove their fitness,” Godkin wrote in 1865. “. . . What I ask, and meant to ask, was not that the blacks shall be excluded as blacks, but simply that they shall not be admitted to the franchise simply because they are blacks and have been badly treated.”

Godkin recommended the disenfranchisement of all Negroes who could not learn to read or write within two years. Only by developing his intelligence could the colored man distinguish between “statesman and demagogue; between honest public men and knavish public men; between his own real friends and his real enemies.”

Although Godkin originally supported the Radical plan of Reconstruction, which provided for military enforcement of Negro suffrage, he was convinced by 1871 that this adventure had failed.

“We owe it to human nature to say that worse governments have seldom been seen in a civilized country,” the editor admitted. “They have been composed of trashy whites and ignorant blacks.” Control of Southern affairs should be returned to those “who have most influence and knowledge.” The simple truth was that the freedmen were unfit for the role the Republicans desired them to play: “Any party in which the Negro is in the majority, cannot help having its policy, if not shaped, greatly influenced by their political ignorance and incapacity.”

(Farwell to the Bloody Shirt, Northern Republicans and the Southern Negro, 1877-1912, Stanley P. Hirshson, Indiana University Press, 1962; excerpts pp. 126-128)

The British Version of Sherman

With respect to the initiation of modern total war against a civilian population, the author below argues that after a century or two of civilized warfare between European combatants, “total war did in fact appear, beginning with the American Civil War, and has been the form of war in the twentieth century.” Lincoln’s general, Sherman, seems to have absorbed Allan Ramsey’s view of war against civilians, and was driven by his belief that Americans in the South could in no manner oppose the will of his government — to do so meant fire and sword used to bring them to subjection – after which his fury would cease. Sherman continued his total war against the Plains Indians; a young Spanish officer named Valeriano Weyler visited the North during the War, observed Sherman’s art of warfare, and used this to devastating effect against Cuban civilians in the mid-1890s.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The British Version of Sherman

“Although [David] Hume presented the specter of total war against the civilian population as a reduction to absurdity of British policy on both moral and practical grounds, his good friend Allan Ramsey embraced it as the only way to win the war. But what is most important about Ramsey’s proposal in the moral justification he offered for it.

Allan Ramsey was a court [portrait] painter to George III . . . [and] also a political theorist of some merit and wrote a number of pamphlets on political topics . . . [arguing in 1778] that the war is being lost because the British have not followed a proper strategy. The war must be turned against the civilian population.

Ramsey proposes that a garrison be established in New York . . . to serve as a rendezvous point for all British operations. Ten thousand troops are then to embark on transports to any province that is vulnerable and important . . . [and] to carry away all “that may be useful to the public service” and then “burn and destroy the houses, magazines, and plantations . . . sparing the lives of all the persons who do not attempt by arms to prevent them.” The troops are then to embark for some other province “where the like may be repeated.”

Washington’s army could not match the mobility of the British navy, and one could expect the colonial army to melt away as men returned to their devastated provinces to assist their families. Should the people remain obstinate, their scorched and impoverished land could be occupied by loyal immigrants.

Ramsey recognized that “such a scheme . . .” would be rejected as barbarous by “the more human, and more respectable part of the community.” But to this he had an ingenious reply.

[As] the American people claim to be sovereign; thus the people themselves are in a state of war with the King’s forces. “[The] inhabitants of America . . . with the express purpose of making war upon England, have formed themselves into a Government . . . where every man may be said, in his own individual person, to have bid defiance to the King of Great Britain; so that he must thank his own folly and temerity, if, at any time, he should come off short from so unequal a contest.”

We have here the germ of the twentieth-century rationale for total war: war aimed at the people of a nation, scorched-earth strategy, the bombing of civilian populations, massive deportations of peoples, and the enslavement of the vanquished.

Total war is not unique to the twentieth century, nor is it due to “technology,” which has merely made its implementation more practicable and terrible. Modern total war is possible only among “civilized” nations. It is shaped and legitimated by an act of reflection, a way of thinking about the world whereby an entire people become the enemy.

Happily the rules [of civilized warfare] were still in force for Lord North and George III, who did not follow Ramsay’s advice to wage total war against the colonists. The complete domination of reflection over moral sentiment, which is the mark of the barbarism of refinement, had not yet occurred.”

(Philosophical Melancholy and Delirium, Hume’s Pathology of Philosophy, Donald W. Livingston, University of Chicago Press, 1998, excerpts pp. 296-301)

Pillaging and Flattening American towns

Referring to his prewar employment and residence in Louisiana, the Macon [Georgia] Telegraph called the destructive Sherman “Judas Iscariot, a betrayer, a creature of depravity, a demon of a thousand fiends.” As for Sherman’s misunderstanding of treason, it is clearly defined in Article III, Section 3 of the United States Constitution as “levying War against them [the united States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” Sherman, by order of his commander, Lincoln, waged war against the united States.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Pillaging and Flattening American Towns

“Officially, Sherman’s orders to his officers were against capricious violence and destruction on his army’s sweep through South Carolina. But the true desires of their leader filtered back to Sherman’s men as they slogged through the swamps under the dripping moss of the live oaks in South Carolina Low Country. Sherman issued few, if any, restraining orders to the troops.

South Carolina is where treason began, and there, Sherman swore, was where it would end. And so, to Sherman’s implied commands, the troops responded with a greater vengeance than they had in Georgia.

Villages in Sherman’s path through the Low Country were virtually obliterated: Hardeeville, Purysburg, Robertville, Lawtonville, Allendale. At least one brigade – often two or more a day – marched through, pillaging and flattening the towns and the lands between mid-January and early February 1865.

The forces commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Edward S. Solomon of the 82nd Illinois Infantry of Operations seem to have been particularly effective in razing the hometowns of the Willingham and Lawton families.

In a postscript to a report that Colonel H. Case of the 129th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, First Brigade, Third Division, Twentieth Corps, had made . . . reported that a forage party near Camden “has captured at last a portion of the assets of the Bank of South Carolina and the Bank of Camden and also a quantity of jewelry and silver plate” and that “the safes were delivered to the Provost Marshal of the Twentieth Corps.”

Shortly after Lee’s surrender, a correspondent of the New York Times wrote, “I hazard nothing in saying that three-fifths [in value] of the personal property we passed through were taken by Sherman’s Army.”

(Kith and Kin, a Portrait of a Southern Family, Carolyn L. Harrell, Mercer University Press, 1984, excerpts pp. 135-138)

 

Questions Solved Only by War

Sherman was unable to understand that the South was fighting a defensive war to maintain its independence, and had no desire to alter the governance of the Northern States. Sherman wrote the following in late 1863 to his superior, noting that he saw no need for civil compromises to soften the war against the women and children in his path, and that “the South has done her worst [in its struggle for independence], and now is the time for us to pile on blows thick and fast.” Sherman could not see the humanity suffering in his midst, only faceless enemies obstructing his employer’s will.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Questions Only Solved by War

“For such a people, [Sherman wrote], “a civil government now . . . would be simply ridiculous.” The interests of the United States “demand the continuance of the simple military rule after all the organized armies of the South are dispersed, conquered and subjugated.” The only real issue, he wrote, was, “Can we whip the South?”

[Sherman continued] “Another great and important natural truth is still in contest, and can only be solved by war. Numerical majorities by vote have always been our great arbiter. The South, though numerically inferior, contend they can whip the Northern superiority of numbers, and therefore by natural law contend that they are not bound to submit.

This issue is the only real one . . . War alone can decide it.

I would banish all minor questions, assert the broad doctrine that a nation has the right, and also the physical power to penetrate every part of our national domain, and that we will do it – that we will do in our own time and in our own way . . . that we will remove and destroy every obstacle, if need be, take every life, every acre of land . . . that we will not cease till this end is attained . . . I would not coax them or even meet them halfway but make them so sick of war that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it . . .”

(Sherman, Fighting Prophet, Lloyd Lewis, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1932, excerpts pp. 307-308)

Gen. Hill Writes to Gen. Foster, 1863

Gen. Daniel H. Hill, in a letter to a Union general.

GOLDSBOROUGH, N. C., March 24, 1863.

Maj. Gen. J.G. FOSTER, Federal Army.

SIR: Two communications have been referred to me as the successor of Gen. French. The prisoners from Swindell’s company and the Seventh North Carolina are true prisoners of war and if not paroled I will retaliate five-fold.

In regard to your first communication touching the burning of Plymouth you seem to have forgotten two things. You forget, sir, that you are a Yankee and that Plymouth is a Southern town.

It is no business of yours if we choose to burn one of our own towns. A meddling Yankee troubles himself about every body’s matters except his own and repents of everybody’s sins except his own. We are a different people. Should the Yankees burn a Union village in Connecticut or a cod-fish town in Massachusetts we would not meddle with them but rather bid them God-speed in their work of purifying the atmosphere.

Your second act of forgetfulness consists in your not remembering that you are the most atrocious house-burner as yet unsung in the wide universe.

Let me remind you of the fact that you have made two raids when you were weary of debauching in your Negro harem and when you knew that your forces outnumbered the Confederates five to one. Your whole line of march has been marked by burning churches, school-houses, private residences, barns, stables, gin-houses, Negro cabins, fences in the row, &c.

Your men have plundered the country of all that it contained and wantonly destroyed what they could not carry off.

Before you started on your freebooting expedition toward Tarborough you addressed your soldiers in the town of Washington and told them that you were going to take them to a rich country full of plunder. With such a hint to your thieves it is not wonderful that your raid was characterized by rapine, pillage, arson and murder.

Learning last December that there was but a single weak brigade on this line you tore yourself from the arms of sable beauty and moved out with 15,000 men on a grand marauding foray. You partially burned Kinston and entirely destroyed the village of White Hall.

The elegant mansion of the planter and the hut of the poor farmer and fisherman were alike consumed by your brigands. How matchless is the impudence which in view of this wholesale arson can complain of the burning of Plymouth in the heat of action!

But there is another species of effrontery which New England itself cannot excel. When you return to your harem from one of these Union-restoring excursions you write to your Government the deliberate lie that you have discovered a large and increasing Union sentiment in this State.

No one knows better than yourself that there is not a respectable man in North Carolina in any condition of life who is not utterly and irrevocably opposed to union with your hated and hateful people.  A few wealthy men have meanly and falsely professed Union sentiments to save their property and a few ignorant fishermen have joined your ranks but to betray you when the opportunity offers. No one knows better than yourself that our people are true as steel and that our poorer classes have excelled the wealthy in their devotion to our cause.

You knowingly and willfully lie when you speak of a Union sentiment in this brave, noble and patriotic State. Wherever the trained and disciplined soldiers of North Carolina have met the Federal forces you have been scattered as leaves before the hurricane.

In conclusion let me inform you that I will receive no more white flags from you except the one which covers your surrender of the scene of your lust, your debauchery and your crimes. No one dislikes New England more cordially than I do, but there are thousands of honorable men even there who abhor your career fully as much as I do.

Sincerely and truly, your enemy,

D.H. HILL, Maj. Gen., C.S. Army

 

 

Seward’s Hot Potato

Samuel Cutler Ward (1814-1884), known as the “King of the Lobby” due to his exemplary success at high-level political persuasion, was the brother of abolitionist Julia Ward, and served as an intermediary between William Seward and Confederate leaders before the war. Ward told Seward in 1862 that the Confederate leaders would not rejoin the Union as he saw in the South “a malignant hatred of the North which rendered” the destruction of the South necessary. Ward understood that “within two years they would have formed entangling free trade and free navigation treaties with Europe and a military power hostile to us.” Seward may have believed that peace might prevail, but Lincoln and his party’s extremists led the way to war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Seward’s Hot Potato

“Seward, who was to be Secretary of State, it had become definite, was in a quandary. As he saw the situation, he faced two necessities: one was to guide the inexperienced Lincoln in shaping the policies of the Administration; and the other was to convince his former associates in the Senate, who now headed the insurrectionary Confederacy in Montgomery, that Washington would initiate no hostilities against them, but would follow a policy of conciliation and friendship.

Seward wanted Jefferson Davis, Judah P. Benjamin, and the others to understand clearly that he would be the chief architect of Administration policy; and further, that they could rely on his assurance that this policy would be one of peace, not provocation. In this, of course, he spoke only for himself, but he was convinced that he would be able to shape Lincoln’s view of the situation; Lincoln, he reasoned, was unversed in statecraft, and would be grateful for expert leading by a thoroughly practiced Secretary of State.

Seward’s sincere conviction was that the problem of secession, like all other human disagreements, could be resolved by reasonable discussion among reasonable men. One wing of the Republican party was howling for the forcible suppression of “treason” in the South; this wing was led by Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, and to them Seward’s conciliatory views were themselves barely removed from Treason, — if removed at all. For him to communicate directly with the men in Montgomery might be construed as “communicating with the enemy.”

If he were to communicate with them at all, he would have to work through an intermediary whom both he and Southern leaders could trust . . . [poet, politician and gourmet] Sam Ward.

When Lincoln slunk into Washington in a distressing pusillanimous manner (or so it seemed), supposedly to foil an assassination plot, Sam was disgusted.

Seward was juggling a hot potato tossed to him by three commissioners whom the Confederacy had sent to Washington to treat for the peaceable surrender of United States forts in Southern territory, principally Fort Sumter at Charleston, and Fort Pickens near Pensacola, Florida. The commissioners . . . were well-known to Sam . . . If [they] go back unacknowledged as [commissioners], President Davis cannot hold back the people from attacking the forts.

[Seward] kept stalling the Southern commissioners with excuses – pressure of patronage demands, the delays attendant [to] departmental routine, and such pretexts. He could not receive the commissioners without recognizing the government behind them; yet he did not wish to send them back to Montgomery in anger.”

(Sam Ward, “King of the Lobby,” Lately Thomas, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965, excerpts pp. 251-253)

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