Author Robert Penn Warren writes below of “The Treasury of Virtue,” the psychological heritage left to the North by the War and the irrefutable basis of its long-serving Myth of Saving the Union. With his armies victorious the Northerner was free “to write history to suit his own deep needs . . . and knows, as everybody knows, that the war saved the Union.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
The Legacy of the War
“When one is happy in forgetfulness, facts get forgotten. In the happy contemplation of the Treasury of Virtue it is forgotten that the Republican platform of 1860 pledged protection to the institution of slavery where it existed, and that the Republicans were ready, in 1861, to guarantee slavery in the South, as bait for a return to the Union.
It is forgotten that in July, 1861, both houses of Congress, by an almost unanimous vote, affirmed that the War was waged not to interfere with the institutions of any State but only to maintain the Union.
The War, in the words of the House resolution, should cease “as soon as these objects are accomplished.” It is forgotten that the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on September 23, 1862, was limited and provisional: slavery was to be abolished only in the seceded States and only if they did not return to the Union before the first of the next January.
It is forgotten that the Proclamation was widely disapproved [in the North] and even contributed to the serious setbacks to Republican candidates for office in the subsequent election.
It is forgotten that, as Lincoln himself freely admitted, the Proclamation itself was of doubtful constitutional warrant and was forced by circumstances; that only after a bitter and prolonged struggle in Congress was the Thirteenth Amendment sent, as late as January, 1865, to the States for ratification; and that all of Lincoln’s genius as a horse trader (here the deal was Federal patronage swapped for Democratic votes) was needed to get Nevada admitted to Statehood, with its guaranteed support of the Amendment.
It is forgotten that even after the Fourteenth Amendment, not only Southern States, but Northern ones, refused to adopt Negro suffrage, and that Connecticut had formally rejected it a late as July, 1865.
It is forgotten that Sherman, and not only Sherman, was violently opposed to arming Negroes against white troops. It is forgotten that . . . racism was all too common in the liberating army. It is forgotten that only the failure of Northern volunteering overcame the powerful prejudice against accepting Negro troops, and allowed “Sambo’s Right to be Kilt,” — as the title of a contemporary song had it.
It is forgotten that racism and Abolitionism might, and often did, go hand in hand. This was true even in the most instructed circles [as James T. Ayers, clergyman, committed abolitionist and Northern recruiting officer for Negro troops confided to his diary] that freed Negroes would push North and “soon they will be in every whole and Corner, and the Bucks will be wanting to gallant our Daughters Round.” It is forgotten, in fact, that history is history.
Despite all this, the war appears, according to the doctrine of the Treasury of Virtue, as a consciously undertaken crusade so full of righteousness that there is enough oversurplus stored in Heaven, like the deeds of the saints, to take care of all small failings and oversights of the descendants of the crusaders, certainly unto the present generation. The crusaders themselves, back from the wars, seemed to feel that they had finished the work of virtue.
[Brooks Adams pronounced] “Can we look over the United States and honestly tell ourselves that all things are well within us?” [Adams] with his critical, unoptimistic mind, could not conceal it from himself, but many could; and a price was paid for the self delusion.
As Kenneth Stampp, an eminent Northern historian and the author of a corrosive interpretation of slavery, puts it: “The Yankees went to war animated by the highest ideals of the nineteenth-century middle classes . . . But what the Yankees achieved – for their generation at least – was a triumph not of middle class ideals but of middle class vices. The most striking products of their crusade were the shoddy aristocracy of the North and the ragged children of the South. Among the masses of Americans there were no victors, only the vanquished.”
(The Legacy of the Civil War, Robert Penn Warren, University of Nebraska Press, 1998, pp. 60-65)