Browsing "Myth of Saving the Union"

Hollywood Censorship and Denatured History

The William Dieterle-directed film “Tennessee Johnson” released in January 1943, originally written to depict the epic post-Civil War political battle between Andrew Johnson and Thaddeus Stevens, is not available on video though according to the author “pops up now and then on Turner Classic Movies.” This was the same era when South Carolinian Jimmy Byrnes was told that despite his stellar career in the Democratic Party, a Southerner could not be added to FDR’s ticket as vice president in 1940 – but the Soviet-friendly Henry Wallace was.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Hollywood Censors and Denatured History

“Tennessee Johnson, an MGM biography of President Andrew Johnson . . . starred Van Heflin as the cussed tailor of Greenville and Lionel Barrymore (one of Hollywood’s great New Deal-haters) as Thaddeus Stevens, Johnson’s radical nemesis. The movie received the sort of respectful notices often given to earnest historical films. It was also one of Hollywood’s most craven moments.

The film was originally titled The Man on America’s Conscience.  The script . . . took the traditional Claude Bowers view of Reconstruction and Johnson’s impeachment: that is, that “Johnson fought the bravest battle for constitutional liberty and for the preservation of our institutions ever waged by an executive” against Pennsylvania congressman Stevens, the brilliant but hateful clubfoot who wished to mistreat the conquered Southerners like a vast peonage.”

Enter Walter White, secretary of the NAACP. When he learned that MGM was producing an anti-Reconstruction film, White complained to Lowell Mellett, director of the Bureau of Motion Pictures of the Office of War Information. The OWI, a propaganda agency created by one of FDR’s executive orders, requested a copy of the screenplay . . . [and] when Mellett and White previewed the unedited film, they hit the roof.

Mellett demanded that key scenes be reshot or removed. Thad Stevens, the screenplay’s villain, was humanized; one new scene had him kissing and petting Andrew Johnson’s grandkids. A scene in which Stevens plied Johnson with drink before his legendary incoherent vice presidential Inaugural Address was left on the cutting room floor. Rewritten dialogue assured us that Stevens was “sincere” if a mite vengeful.

The essential character of Lydia Smith, Steven’s mulatto housekeeper and probable mistress, disappeared. Despite the changes, a gang of Hollywood liberals – Ben Hecht, Zero Mostel, Vincent Price – petitioned the OWI to destroy the picture, in best fascist fashion, in the cause of national unity.

Tennessee Johnson – the OWI demanded a conscience-less title – was released in its denatured form. It’s a fairly standard biopic: Johnson, nicely played by Heflin, is the runaway tailor’s apprentice and self-styled champion of “poor white trash” who is only trying to act on his predecessor’s wise policy of malice toward none and charity toward all. With the exception of Jefferson Davis, secessionists are depicted as huffy churls and hotheads.

One consequence of Walter White’s protest was the omission of Lydia Smith, a meaty role for a black actress. The part was recast as the corpulent “laws a mercy!” black maid of stereotype. The excision of Lydia Smith not only warred upon the truth, it also made Steven’s Negrophilia less comprehensible. Love, after all, is always a higher afflatus than political principle.

Walter White’s autobiography makes no mention of his role in altering Tennessee Johnson. The title is absent from a full shelf of books on censorship and the movies; censorship, it seems, only worked one way in Hollywood.”

(The Hollywood Ten(nessean), Bill Kaufmann; Chronicles, October, 1998, excerpt, pp. 39-40. www.chroniclesmagazine.org)

A Superior Race of Yankee Employers

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

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

A Superior Race of Yankee Employers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letting the South Go In Peace

John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, President from 1824 to 1829 and later speaking of the proposed annexation of Texas in the late 1840s, stated: “We hesitate not to say that annexation of Texas, effected by any act or proceeding of the Federal Government, or any of its departments, would be identical with dissolution. It would be a violation of our national compact . . . not only to result in a dissolution of the Union, but fully to justify it . . .” Secession from the Union was an original New England idea, and flouted whenever it determined its influence in the Union was being diminished. It was an idea later adopted by the South, but by then New England had control of the federal apparatus and would not allow its national power to be diminished. Coercion followed.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Letting the South Go in Peace

“In regard to this question of the right of the States to withdraw, and the power of coercion, is it not appropriate to call attention to the following views expressed by Mr. Horace Greeley, one of the ablest writers and firmest supporters of the Republican, or, abolition party. In an article published in the New York Tribune a few day[s] after the election of Lincoln in 1860, and reproduced in his work styled “The American Conflict,” he says:

“That was a base and [hypocritical] row that was once raised at Southern dictation about the ears of John Quincy Adams, because he presented for the dissolution of the Union. The petitioner had a right to make the request; it was the member’s duty to present it.

And now when the Cotton States consider the value of the Union debatable, we maintain their perfect right to discuss it. Nay! We hold we hold with Mr. Jefferson, to the inalienable right of communities to alter or abolish forms of government that have become injurious or oppressive, and if the Cotton States shall decide that they can do better out of the Union than in it, we insist upon letting them go in peace.

The right to secede is a revolutionary one, but it exists nevertheless, and we do not see how one party can have a right to do what another party has a right to prevent. We must ever resist the asserted right of any State to coercion in the Union, and to nullify and defy the laws thereof; to withdraw from the Union is quite another matter.

And whenever a considerable section of our Union shall deliberately resolve to go out, we shall resist all coercive measures to keep it in. We hope never to live in a republic whereof one section is pinned to another by bayonets.

But while we uphold the practical liberty, if not the abstract right of secession, we must insist that the step be taken, if ever it shall be, with the deliberation and gravity becoming so momentous an issue. Let ample time be given for reflection, let the subject be fully canvassed before the people, and let a popular vote be taken in every case before secession is decreed.

A judgment thus rendered, a demand for separation so backed, would either be acquiesced in without effusion of blood, or those who rushed upon carnage to defy or defeat it, would place themselves clearly in the wrong.”

It would be hard to conceive language more forcible for defining the right of the States to withdraw and the wrong and criminality of the attempt to coerce them when they had exercised that right, than this of Mr. Greeley’s.”

(The Heritage of the South: A History of the Introduction of Slavery; Its Establishment from Colonial Times and Final Effect Upon the Politics of the United States, Jubal Anderson Early, Brown Morrison Co., 1915, excerpts pp. 96-97)

Mission of Peace and Goodwill Comes to Naught

The prime object in establishing the Constitution in 1787 was to insure domestic tranquility, and even the New York Tribune itself editorialized in November and December 1860 that: “We hold with Jefferson to the inalienable right of communities to alter or abolish forms of government that have become oppressive or injurious . . . we insist on letting them go in peace.” New York, in its ratification of the Constitution in 1787, expressly reserved the right to secede should it determine the need. The author below rightly sums up the Southern peace initiatives: “Well might the Southern leaders have adopted for their own the language of the Psalmist, “I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.” It is then clear the immediate cause of the war was the Republican Party, and its refusal to pursue peaceful solutions.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Mission of Peace and Goodwill Comes to Naught

“Nor did [President Jefferson Davis] content himself with mere words of peace. He acted promptly on the resolution from Congress and appointed three commissioners from our government to the government of the United States. “These commissioners,” says Mr. Stephens, “were clothed with plenary powers to open negotiations for the settlement of all matters of joint property, forts, arsenals, arms, or property of any kind within the limits of the Confederate States, and all joint liabilities with their former associates, upon principles of right, justice, equity and good faith.”

Let me ask, could anything have been fairer?

These commissioners promptly proceeded on their way. A few days after the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln at Washington they formally notified his Secretary of State, Mr. Seward, that “the President, Congress and people of the Confederate States earnestly desire a peaceful solution” of pending questions between the two governments.

Suffice it to say that it was through no fault of these commissioners, or of the people and government they represented, that their mission of peace and goodwill to their late allies of the North came to naught.

Yet another effort for peace was made from a Southern official quarter in those portentous, ominous months following the sectional victory at the polls in November 1860. The Border Southern States were yet within the old union, hoping against hope for continued union, peace and justice. Among these Border States was Virginia, the oldest, most powerful of them all. By unanimous vote of her Legislature all the States of the union were invited to send delegates to a conference, to devise a plan for preserving harmony and constitutional union.

This conference met in Washington, February 4, 1861, the very day on which the Congress of the seceded Cotton States assembled in Montgomery. The demands or suggestions of the South in this Peace Congress were only that constitutional obligations should be observed by all parties; nay, that certain concessions to the North would be agreed to, by means of constitutional amendment, if only the constitution, as thus amended, might be obeyed.

This did not suit commissioners from the Northern States, as was bluntly stated by one of them, then and there. Salmon P. Chase, of Ohio, who was slated for a portfolio in Lincoln’s cabinet, and therefore spoke at least quasi ex cathedra. So the Peace Congress proved of no avail.

We find a similar situation in the Congress of the United States at its regular session that winter. Of the condition there Mr. Pollard says, in his book “The Lost Cause”: “It is remarkable that of all the compromises proposed in this Congress for preserving the peace of the country, none came from the Northern men; they came from the South and were defeated by the North.”

(Living Confederate Principles, Lloyd T. Everett, Southern Historical Society Papers, No. II, Volume XL, September 1915; Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1991, excerpts pp. 26-28)

 

 

The Second War on the Liberties of American Citizens

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

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Second War on the Liberties of American Citizens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Un-American Union of Force

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

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Un-American Union of Force

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

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

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

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

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

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

American Attilla

On the 18th of December1864 Lincoln’s general-in-chief Henry Halleck wrote Sherman: “Should you capture Charleston, I hope that by some accident the place may be destroyed; and if a little salt should be sown upon its site, it may prevent the growth of future crops of nullification and secession.” Ironically, secession was first threatened by New England at the time of the Louisiana Purchase and in its 1814 Hartford convention; nullification of federal law was the very basis of the North’s prewar Personal Liberty Laws. In late 1864 and early 1865, Sherman’s 65,000 man army triumphantly plundered and destroyed Georgia and South Carolina with virtually no opponents except old men, women and children. General Joe Wheeler had 5,000 cavalry to merely harass Sherman with. The following was reprinted from a May 1873 article in Southern Magazine.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

American Attilla

“To [Halleck’s letter] General Sherman replies, December 24: “This war differs from European wars in this particular – we are not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people; and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war, as well as their organized armies.

I will bear in mind your hint as to Charleston, and don’t think “salt” will be necessary. The truth is, the whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreak vengeance on South Carolina. I almost tremble for her fate, but feel that she deserves all that seems to be in store for her.”

On the 23rd he writes to General Kilpatrick: “Let the whole people know the war is now against them, because their armies flee before us and do not defend their country or frontier as they should. It is pretty nonsense for Wheeler and Beauregard and such vain heroes to talk of our warring against women and children. If they claim to be men, they should defend their women and children and prevent us reaching their homes.”

If, therefore, an army defending their country can prevent invaders from reaching their homes and families, the latter have a right to that protection; but if the invaders can break through and reach these homes, [they] are justified in destroying women and children. Certainly this is a great advance on the doctrine and practice of the Dark Ages.

Is it any wonder that after reading [this] we fervently echo General Sherman’s devout aspiration: “I do wish the fine race of men that people our Northern States should rule and determine the future destiny of America?”

(Gleanings from General Sherman’s Dispatches, Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume XIII, William Jones, editor, 1885, Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1990, excerpts pp. 446-448)

Profiteering in Arkansas

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

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Profiteering in Arkansas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Minority Party Blunders into War

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

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

A Minority Party Blunders into War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Republicans Frustrate Compromise Efforts

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

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Republicans Frustrate Compromise Efforts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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