Browsing "Myth of Saving the Union"

The Seductive Promises of Demagogues

The late M.E. Bradford understood that the centrality of freedom was the core of Southerners’ insistence on their right to govern their private and local affairs in their own way, and was the same for citizens of all other States. He held that “the only equality Americans can universally approve is accidental, a corollary of liberty or simple equality before the law with limited scope.” Bradford made his readers painfully aware of Lenin’s belief that the only way to make men equal is to treat them unequally.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Seductive Promises of Demagogues

“The wrath [Bradford] directed against Lincoln, like the wrath he directed against Julia Ward Howe, the authors of the Reconstruction amendments, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and all those who had imposed the teleological will of an instrumental government and judiciary upon an unsuspecting nation, had little to do with personal animosity.

It stemmed from his indignation against people he viewed as so intellectually blind as to be incapable of understanding the enormity they had wrought or so morally blind as not to care, provided only that they accomplished their immediate ends. Such attitudes, for Bradford, embodied the reverse – indeed the repudiation – of the obligations of stewardship and amounted to the despoiling of the children as well as the desecration of the fathers.

Bradford refused to apologize for the severity of his message – that the Northern victory had extracted a terrible cost from the country and its culture. Rejecting the cult of equality as the opiate of the intellectuals, Bradford rejected the fashionable identification of the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution, referring to “the Great Divide of the War Between the States.”

He explained: “it has been more and more the habit of our historians, jurists, and political scientists to read the Continental Enlightenment, and the Age of Revolution that was its political consequence, back into the beginnings of our national beginnings by way of an anachronistic gloss upon the Declaration of Independence.”

He constantly reminds his readers that the Constitution, not the Declaration, embodies the country’s law, which it exists to articulate and protect. Thus, he argues in an uncharacteristically optimistic vein, the “Constitution makes it difficult or even impossible for us to alter our political identity on whim or when momentarily carried away by the adjuration of demagogues.”

By the time Bradford died [in 1993], he had reason to know that the American political identity he cherished was under formidable assault, primarily at the hands of the Supreme Court justices – those supposed custodians and interpreters of the Constitution itself.

Experience and history taught Bradford, as he believed they had taught the Framers, that in politics one must conjoin the “caution of David Hume and the pessimism of Saint Paul,” especially with respect to the seductive promises of demagogues. In the time of the Framers, as in our own, he insisted, caution and pessimism should lead to a deep mistrust of the myths of equality with which demagogues love to seduce the more gullible of the citizenry, and he approvingly quoted Rufus King of Massachusetts, “the unnatural Genius of Equality [is] the arch Enemy of the moral world.”

(M.E. Bradford’s Historical Vision, EF & ED Genovese; A Defender of Southern Conservatism, M.E. Bradford and His Achievements, Clyde N. Wilson, editor, University of Missouri Press, 1999, pp. 79-82)

Power and Politics over Country

The months between Lincoln’s election and his inauguration are seen as the most critical in American history as the historical record shows that he revealed little in those four months that might have averted war. Many people journeyed to Springfield, Illinois to better understand his positions though he “wished neither to articulate unrealistic solutions nor hinder ongoing negotiations,” and his Republican allies in Congress convinced him to follow a strategy of silence. His later claims that he wanted to avert war are difficult to explain, and the Founders would not have understood how a mere president could decide whether a State legislature could convene.

Lincoln’s friend Duff Green (1791-1875) was a Kentucky-born politician and businessman who had served under General William H. Harrison in the War of 1812. He later practiced law in Missouri where he also served in the legislature and served as a diplomat under Presidents John Tyler and Zachary Taylor. During the war he manufactured iron for the South and operated the Dalton Arms Factory.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Power and Politics over Country

“Green and Lincoln did meet one more time. On April 5, 1865, Lincoln was stationed off the Virginia shore on the USS Malvern trying to decide whether to allow a Virginia legislature to convene since that State had no other government. As it happened, Duff Green was in Richmond at the same time . . . [and] asked for and was granted an audience with the president. The two old friends enjoyed an amiable discussion . . . Green recalled that Lincoln received him “with great kindness.”

The two men discussed the terms of peace and reconstruction. Lincoln said that all the Southern States had to do was “acknowledge the authority of the United States.”

Lincoln remembered their Springfield meeting four years earlier. The president told Green that he went to Washington “resolved to carry out in good faith” those same pledges that he gave when they met in Illinois. Lincoln insisted that he had been willing to sign a constitutional amendment prohibiting Congress from interfering with slavery in the States, a policy similar to what he communicated to Green in Springfield.

Green later contended that if Lincoln “had come to Washington in December, 1860, as I urged him to do, and had then exerted the like influence in favor of Mr. Crittenden’s resolution, extending the Missouri compromise line to the Pacific . . . who can doubt his influence . . . would have prevented the war?

Green believed Lincoln had wanted to avert a war. He alleged, however, that Lincoln’s conciliatory attitude “was carefully kept from the knowledge of the Southern people.” Green stated that if “any pains had been taken” to explain Lincoln’s position to the South, the hostilities may have ended. He blamed the Radical Republicans for deceiving both Lincoln and the Southern public. He believed the president sought peace but was overwhelmed by his party who initiated war in order to control the patronage and powers of the federal government.”

(Lincoln, Green and the Trumbull Letters, David E. Woodard; Civil War History, the Journal of the Middle Period, John T. Hubbell, editor, Kent State University, Vol. XLII, No. 3, September 1996, excerpts pp. -219)

Foreign-Born Tip the 1860 Election

Crucial to the immigrant vote for Lincoln in the 1860 election was Republican Party support for a Homestead bill, the transcontinental railroad, and not allowing black people into western lands — thus reserving those lands for white immigrants. The foreign-born who had already filled up Middle West States were eager for western lands to settle where government property was still available, which also meant clearing those lands of Indians. Future Republican administrations would accomplish that task. With a bare 39% percent of the popular vote, a lower foreign-born vote could have put Stephen Douglas in the White House and avoided war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Foreign-Born Tip the 1860 Election

“Scholars, particularly those interested in the impact of ethnic groups on key national elections, have long been intrigued by Abraham Lincoln’s victory in 1860. Ever since Professor William E. Dodd’s classic article [The Fight for the Northwest, 1860, American Historical Review, XVI, (1910), 786)] it has been axiomatic in the works of historians that the foreign-born of the Old Northwest, voting in solid blocs according to the dictates of their leaders, cast the decisive ballots.

Lincoln could not have won the presidency, Dodd suggested, “but for the loyal support of the Germans and other foreign citizens led by Carl Shurz, Gustav Keorner, and the editors of the Staatzeitung of Chicago.”

A decade later . . . Donnal V. Smith scrutinized the immigrant vote in 1860 and confidently declared that “without the vote of the foreign-born, Lincoln could not have carried the Northwest, and without the Northwest . . . he would have been defeated.”

Smith’s statistics also confirmed the premise that the social solidarity characteristic of ethnic groups invariably translated itself into political solidarity, and that because of the language barrier the immigrants needed leaders to formulate the political issues for them.

“The leaders who were so trusted,” Smith maintained, “were in a splendid to control the political strength of the foreign-born.” And in the election of 1860, he continued, even to the “casual observer” the ethnic leaders of the Middle West were solidly Republican . . . [and] except for isolated, insignificant minorities, the foreign-born of the Old Northwest voted Republican.

Foreign language newspapers generally carried the Lincoln-Hamlin banner of their mastheads; prominent immigrants campaigned actively for Old Abe and played key roles at the Chicago convention.”

(The Ethnic Voter and the First Lincoln Election, Robert P. Swierenga, Civil War History, Volume 11, No. 1, March 1965, excerpts, pp. 27-28)

Two Views on the Destruction of Historic Monuments

 

Noted speaker and author of “Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain, Robert K. Krick:

“We live in an age riven by shrill and intemperate voices, from all perspectives and on most topics. No sane person today would embrace, endorse, or tolerate slavery.

A casual observer, readily able to convince himself that he would have behaved similarly in the 1860s, can vault to the high ground with the greatest of ease. Doing that gratifies the powerful self-righteousness strain that runs through all of us, for better or worse.

In fact, it leaps far ahead of the Federal politicians (Lincoln among them) who said emphatically that slavery was not the issue, and millions of Northern soldiers who fought, bled and died in windrows to save the Union – but were noisily offended by mid-war emancipation.

It is impossible to imagine a United States in the current atmosphere that does not include zealots eager to obliterate any culture not precisely their own, destroying monuments in the fashion of Soviets after a purge, and antiquities in the manner of ISIS.

The trend is redolent of the misery that inundated the planet during the aptly-named Dark Ages, arising from savages who believed, as a matter of religion in that instance, that anyone with opinions different than their own was not just wrong, but craven and evil, and must be brutalized into conformity.

On the other hand, a generous proportion of the country now, and always, eschews extremism, and embraces tolerance of others’ cultures and inheritances and beliefs. Such folk will always be society’s salvation.”

 

Thos. V. Strain, Jr., Commander-in-Chief, Sons of Confederate Veterans:

“. . . It is my opinion, and that of many others, that these [monument] removals are an attempt to erase history. If you take some time to read the comments on social media and on the websites of the news organizations reporting these removals, it is obvious that only a few people support the removals. What it boils down to is that the politicians are telling those that elect them that their wishes mean absolutely nothing to them.

Just this week one of these politicians that voted to remove a statue in Virginia lost in the primary for reelection, and he noted that his stance on the removal more than likely cost him the election.

In the end, what we really have, in my humble opinion, is a group of people who are following their own personal agendas and saying, “to hell with the people” and moving forward with these removals. It isn’t what we want, it is all about them.”

(Civil War Times, October 2017, excerpts, pp. 32; 37)

Financing the War with Inflation

As Lincoln was unable to finance his war with the traditional tax and customs revenue sources, he turned to paper fiat money to be printed as needed, though the Constitution permits only gold and silver as legal tender. The predictable speculation in the value of greenbacks versus gold prices caused murky markets to emerge. In New York’s “Gold Room,” decisions were guided not so much by patriotic motives as the desire for profit. It was said that “Sectional feeling often entered largely into bull and bear contests in the Gold Room, and Union men and rebel sympathizers fought their battles sometimes, as much to gratify this as to make money.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Financing the War with Inflation

“To help finance the Civil War, the federal government began issuing “demand notes” in July 1861. These government obligations were not a legal tender currency and were freely convertible into gold upon presentation to a federal depository. During the course of 1861, the Union’s financial condition deteriorated, and in December the Treasury issues a very bleak report on the budgetary situation.

In the face of such news, bankers concluded that investors would lose confidence in the demand notes and the banks would soon experience a massive outflow of gold. On December 30, the banks suspended specie payments of gold [for greenbacks]. The government followed suit almost immediately.

Soon thereafter, in February 1862, Congress passed the first of the Legal Tender Acts. These acts authorized the government to issue “greenbacks” – a currency that was to be legal tender for both public and private debts. Of course, since demand notes were no longer convertible into gold, neither were greenbacks . . . [though] all available evidence indicates that the public believed that at some future date convertibility would be reinstated and all greenbacks would be redeemed in gold.

[Because Lincoln] was unable to finance the war with the available tax revenues . . . Greenbacks were a way of using inflation to pay for the war. Speculators knew that the degree to which the Union would have to rely on future greenback issues depended on just how much the war would ultimately cost. A long, expensive war would require more greenback issues and make it less likely that greenbacks would ever be exchanged for gold dollars on a one-for-one basis.

Not surprisingly, a formal market for buyers and sellers to trade gold came into existence within two weeks of the suspension of convertibility. The first organized dealings took place at the New York Stock Exchange on January 13, 1862. At about the same time a second market formed . . . in New York City . . . known as the Gold Room.

An important question for our purposes is how the gold market used the [political and war] information coming to it. Did the financial market react quickly to news that was available, or did it take several days to digest it? A closely related question is whether news of battles . . . reached all participants at the same time.

In a report on the burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, on July 31, 1864, the New York Herald explicitly noted that the government frequently withheld information from the public to minimize alarm and protect intelligence and sources.

The daily registry of the Gold Room was a quicker messenger of successes and defeats than the tardier telegrams of the Associated Press. A private secretary of a high official, with no capital at all to save his position, which gave him authentic information of every shaping of the chess game of war a full twenty hours in advance of the public, simply flashed to the words “sell, buy” across the wires, and trusted the honor of his broker for the rest.

If there was a sufficiently large number of “insiders” competing with each other, then the market would quickly transform war news into changes in the price of greenbacks, despite the fact that the news was not coming through published sources.

The observation of [New York Herald writer] Kinahan Cornwallis are consistent with this notion: “Almost every individual speculator in the Gold Room, whose transactions were large enough to make it of consequence, had a correspondent in the national capital, who sent him a telegraphic dispatch as occasion required . . .”

(Greenback Prices as Commentary on the Union Prospects, Guinnane, Rosen and Willard, Civil War History, The Journal of the Middle Period, Kent State University Press, December 1995, Volume XLI, No. 4, excerpts, pp. 315-318)

 

Readmission a Legal Impossibility

In the following mid-1864 letter to Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, General E.W. Gantt of Arkansas questions the revolutionary logic of the radical Republicans in Congress who claimed sovereign States had become mere territories after unsuccessfully seeking political independence — he expected the North to live up to its alleged aim of preserving the Union as it was. Gantt was a Confederate brigadier who decided by 1863 that Arkansas could not achieve independence and should return to the Union — he became the only Southern general to commit treason.  Historian Bruce S. Allardice suggests that Gantt’s behavior was the result of insobriety, cowardice, opportunism or immorality.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Readmission a Legal Impossibility

Secession and Readmission; Letter to Hon. Charles Sumner from Gen. E. W. Gantt, of Arkansas.

FIFTH-AVENUE HOTEL, June 1, 1864.

Hon. Chas. Sumner:

SIR: But for your resolution and action in reference to Arkansas politics, I feel sure that I should not have appeared before the public again. The subject which calls forth this letter being entirely of a public character, induces me to address you through the columns of the New-York TIMES.

Upon the application of the State of Arkansas to resume her relations — temporarily disturbed — with the National Government, by sending her constitutionally-chosen representatives for that purpose, you have seen fit to introduce the following resolution, to wit:

Resolved, That a State pretending to secede from the Union, and battling against the National Government to maintain their position, must be regarded as a rebel State, subject to military occupation, and without representation on this floor, until it has been readmitted by a vote of both Houses of Congress; and the Senate will decline to entertain any application from any such rebel State until after such a vote of both Houses.

From this I infer that you intend to oppose our peace offering, and to break up, if possible, our loyal State organization, effected as it has been at immense personal hazard, and wonderful exertions and determination upon the part of our loyal people.

When you say that a “State pretending to secede” must be “readmitted” by a vote of both Houses of Congress, what are we to understand you to mean? Do you mean that the State really did secede? That is, that it got out of the “compact?” If that be so does it not occur to you that it went out as a State and became a separate sovereignty? If this be so, “readmission,” it strikes me, is a legal impossibility. The Sovereign Government of Arkansas should apply for “annexation” and not “readmission.” But do you mean that it only pretended it was out, while in point of fact it was in the Union? Then how could you “readmit” that which never was out? It would place the Government in the awkward attitude, it seems to me, of fighting against the people of a State because they “pretended to secede,” and yet had not, and at the same time declaring that they did go out and must be “readmitted.”

But do you mean that the secession ordinances passed by certain legislatures and conventions reduced the States in which the same were passed to Territories? If so, how? If the ordinances referred to put the States out, why they went out as States. It won’t do to say they had just enough sovereignty to scramble out of the Government, and that then they rumbled into Territories.

The sovereignty reserved that could take them out, could hold them up as States. As such, they could form compacts with other Governments, or new combinations of their own. They could not possibly work their way out of the Government, and being out, fall back to the Government as a part of its territory — no more than they could merge into the Russian possessions. A doctrine so dangerous might destroy the Government in a month. Secession ordinances passed by twenty States, reducing them to Territories, would stop the wheels of Government.

But you may intend this as a punishment because our State “pretended to secede.” If so, we are already punished enough. But why discriminate? Missouri pretended to secede, and so did Kentucky. There was no question raised over them. And Mr. BOULINEY, of Louisiana, remained in the Congress of the United States more than one year after Louisiana pretended to secede.

But, then, your opposition may arise from want of regularity in the reorganization. That it was without precedent I admit. That the people, groaning under anarchy, oppression and despair, wrought out a government from the wreck around them, with no beaten path to follow, is true.”

(New York Times, June 3, 1864)

 

Southern Scholarly Conversation

Alabamian Clarence Cason (1896-1935) as a writer experienced the continuing sectional bias of Northerners toward the South as he sought to describe and explain the culture of his native region. His well-known book “90 Degrees in the Shade” made it known that the slow pace of life and work in the South was the result of the sultry climate, and helped create the region’s unique culture, cuisine, and outdoors lifestyle coveted by Northerners.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Southern, Scholarly Conversation

“Wishing to be complimentary, a forthright city editor of a Manhattan newspaper once proclaimed that young men from the South make excellent reporters provided they can rid themselves of malaria and gentility. This characterization may be accepted as a fair statement of the reputation of Southerners abroad in the land. By malaria the city editor meant not so much the pathological state induced by the mosquito’s sting, as that dreamy and miasmic attitude of mind usually associated with the disease.

And by gentility the editor intended to imply a false assumption of gentlemanly graces and immunities, especially an immunity from a conscience which holds steady work to be a duty.

From his own point of view the Manhattan journalist of course spoke with accuracy. But from the point of view of the indigenous Southerner he was altogether wrong. For the terrestrial aims of the Southerner are not the same as those of the New Yorker or New Englander. To be properly appreciated for his native qualities, the honest Southern person should stay at home.

When I went north to college, a dean, after learning the region of my nativity, asked in a tone of slight facetiousness what I considered the aim of Southern scholarship. Did I also think Southern scholars had to do nothing but sit pleasantly on a vine-covered back porch and drink lemonade?

I shall always feel that one of the tragic failures of my experience was that I did not, to our common astonishment, say, “Yes — provided the scholarly conversation is graceful, well-mannered, and leisurely enough.”

(Culture in the South, Middle Class and Bourbon, Clarence Cason, UNC Press, 1934, excerpt, pp. 478-481)

 

Propping Strongmen and Juntas in Vietnam

Dwight Eisenhower announced his domino theory and resistance to communism in 1954, despite leading the massive effort ten years earlier against Germany with the welcome assistance of Stalin’s communist Russia – the latter armed to the teeth by the United States.  Robert E. Lee’s postwar comment to Lord Acton was clear about the new American empire becoming “aggressive abroad.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Propping Strongmen and Juntas in Vietnam

“By 1952, the United States was financing one-third of the French military effort in Vietnam. Despite American logistical support, the French lost the pivotal battle of Dien Bien Phu [in mid-March 1954] to communist forces. Ike offered a rationale for committing the United States to fighting communism in Vietnam. “You have a row of dominoes set up,” he explained, “you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly.”

On October 24, 1954, President Eisenhower pledged support to [Vietnamese prime minister] Ngo Dinh Diem, and even pondered sending direct American military aid to prop him up. The fall of Dien Bien Phu was followed by additional Viet Minh victories, which convinced the French to conclude with the Viet Minh and Geneva Accord . . . dividing Vietnam along the seventeenth parallel . . .

While Ho Chi Minh set up a communist government in the North, the United States worked with French and South Vietnamese authorities to build an ostensibly “democratic” South Vietnamese government as well as a military to defend it.

[After the French withdrew completely], Eisenhower and Diem, now president of South Vietnam, proclaimed their support for Vietnamese democracy [and] the Geneva Accord mandated . . . a plebiscite – a popular referendum reflecting the will of the majority – to decide the future of the nation.

Yet both Ike and Diem feared that such a popular vote would reunify Vietnam under the popular and dynamic Ho Chi Minh rather than Diem, a man incapable of commanding much popular support. Diem turned his back on the Geneva Accords and simply refused to hold the mandated vote in the South. Eisenhower voiced no objection to this abridgement of democracy.

On July 8, 1959, two US servicemen became the first Americans killed in action in Vietnam. Two months later Diem’s continued refusal to allow a plebiscite prompted the Viet Cong – a communist guerilla group that succeeded and absorbed elements of the Viet Minh – to begin concreted warfare against the South.

[After increased military assistance in 1960], popular support for the Diem government continued to decline and Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy, decided to prop up the government by authorizing increased numbers of military advisors . . . and by June 30, 1962, there were 6,419 American soldiers and airmen in South Vietnam.

[By the fall of 1963] President Kennedy acquiesced in a CIA-backed ARVN military coup d’etat that removed Diem and resulted in his assassination on November 2, 1963. The overthrow . . . served only to make the country even less stable. The incoming military junta was politically inexperienced and generally inept . . . Coups and counter coups followed, so that seven South Vietnamese rose and fell in 1964 alone, with a succession of four more to follow in 1965. [Each new leader] was compliant with US direction, yet each was incapable of commanding the loyalty of a majority of the South Vietnamese.

[After Lyndon Johnson’s ascent to the presidency, in August 1964, two US Navy ships were reportedly attacked in Vietnamese waters, though] current military historians and even some who were present on the scene have concluded that the radar signals were false targets and that no attack was taking place.

Both the president and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara characterized the reported North Vietnamese attacks as unprovoked, even though the mission . . . had been to provide intelligence in direct support of South Vietnamese attacks against the North . . .

McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk both admitted that the attacks [against the North] had occurred, yet, with tortured logic, insisted that they were strictly South Vietnamese operations that did not justify North Vietnamese retaliation against the United States.”

(Profiles in Folly, History’s Worst Decisions and Why They Went Wrong, Alan Axelrod, Sterling, 2008, excerpts, pp. 325-329)

New Yorker’s Resist Conscription

The resistance to Lincoln’s conscription law became violent on July 13, 1863 as mobs fought New York City police and soldiers in the streets. With that State having predominantly Democratic voters, Lincoln seemed to levy a higher draft quota there and poor Irish immigrants would bear the brunt of forced military service — and feared freed blacks flooding North and taking all laboring jobs held by Irish. The author below relates that “Negroes had been hunted down all day, as though they were so many wild beasts, and one, after dark, was caught, and after being severely beaten and hanged to a tree, left suspended there until [police took] the body down. Many [blacks] had sought refuge in police stations and elsewhere, and all were filled with terror.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

New Yorker’s Resist Conscription

“The ostensible cause of the riots of 1863 was hostility to the draft, because it was a tyrannical, despotic and unjust measure – an act which has distinguished tyrants the world over, and should never be tolerated by a free people. Open hostility to oppression was more than once hinted in a portion of the press – as not only a right, but a duty.

Even the London Times said: “It would have been strange, indeed, if the American people had submitted to a measure which is a distinctive mark of the most despotic governments of the Continent.”

It might as well be said, that because settling national difficulties by an appeal to arms has always been a distinctive feature of despotic governments, therefore the American people should refuse to sustain the government by declaring or prosecuting any war; or that because it has always been a distinctive feature of despotic governments to have naval and military schools, to train men to the art of war, therefore the American people should not submit to either.

[If troops] enough can be raised on a reasonable bounty, it is more expedient to do so; but the moment the bounty becomes so exorbitant as to tempt the cupidity of those in whom neither patriotism nor sense of duty have any power, volunteering becomes an evil. We found it so in our recent war.

The bounty was a little fortune to a certain class, the benefit of which they had no idea of losing by being shot, and hence they deserted or shammed sickness, so that scarce half the men ever got to the front, while those who did being influenced by no higher motive than cupidity, became worthless soldiers.

If a well-known name, [or] that of a man of wealth, was among the number [conscripted], it only increased the exasperation, for the law exempted every one drawn who would pay three hundred dollars towards a substitute. This was taking practically the whole number of soldiers called for out of the laboring classes.

A great proportion of these being Irish, it naturally became an Irish question, and eventually an Irish riot. It was in their eyes the game of hated England over again – oppression of Irishmen.”

(The Great Riots of New York, 1712 to 1873; Joel Tyler Headley, editor, Dover Publications, 1971, excerpts, pp. 137; 139; 149. Original published by E.B. Treat in 1873)

Self-Preservation Compelled Secession

Foremost in the minds of Southerners by 1860 was the incessant abolitionist agitation that had wrought Nat Turner’s murderous rampage in 1831, and most recently then, John Brown’s in 1859. The memory of brutal slave uprisings and massacres in Santo Domingo and what may lay ahead for them had much to do with separating the South from the North. Rather than work toward a practical and peaceful compromise to end the labor system inherited from Britain, the abolitionists and Lincoln himself allowed the drift to war and the end of the republic.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Self-Preservation Compelled Secession

“What mighty force lay back of this Southern movement, which by the beginning of February, 1861, had swept seven States out of the Union?

An explanation early accepted and long held by the North made it simply the South’s desire to protect slavery. Forty years of wrangling over this subject, fortified by many statements Southerners had made about it . . . [and] South Carolina in her secession declaration had made the North’s interference with slavery her greatest grievance, and the subject appeared equally large in other seceding States.

Yet simple answers are never very satisfying, and in this case it was too simple to say that Southerners seceded and fought a four-year war for the surface reason of merely protecting their property in slaves. Had not the South spurned the Corwin Amendment, which guaranteed slavery in the States against all interference by Congress? And what happened to the subject of slavery in the territories, which had loomed so big in the 1850’s? Now it was forgotten by both the North and the South.

Slavery was undoubtedly a potent cause; but more powerful than slavery was the Negro himself. It was the fear of what would ultimately happen to the South if the Negro should be freed by the North, as the abolitionists seemed so intent on doing – and Southerners considered Republicans and abolitionists the same.

This fear had worried [John C.] Calhoun when he wrote in 1849 “The Address of Southern Delegates in Congress to their Constituents.” It was not the loss of property in slaves that the South feared so much as the danger of the South becoming another Santo Domingo, should a Republican regime free the slaves.

And it is no argument to say that Lincoln would never have tried to do this. The South believed his party would force him to it if he did not do so of his own volition. If he were not himself an abolitionist, he had got his position by abolition votes. A friend of Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, told him that the South’s knowledge of what happened in Santo Domingo and “Self-preservation had compelled secession.”

(A History of the South, Volume VII, The Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, E. Merton Coulter, LSU Press, 1950, excerpts, pp. 8-10)

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