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Duress and Trophies of the Victor

The United States Constitution provides that States cannot be forced, invaded, or their republican form of government changed; and the Constitution itself cannot be amended unless three-fourths of the States freely ratify the change or changes. The three postwar amendments which tremendously increased federal authority were forced upon subjugated States – ironically by the same federal agent they had granted strictly limited power to in 1787.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Duress and Trophies of the Victor

“Time had indeed shown – a mere decade of it, from 1858 to 1868 – a Civil War and an attempted overturn of the American form of government. The South had been charged, she would “rule or ruin”; but it is shown the North, “taking over the government,” as [South Carolina Senator Hammond] stated, did “rule and ruin” nigh half a great nation.

As the truths of 1861-65 emerge, we see but a barren Pyrrhic victory won on false pretenses, and memorialized on labored perversions and obscurities, a Lincoln of fabulous creation and facultative dimensions, a false god of idolatrous devotees, and “Olympian” that never was!

In his last address Washington had cautioned against “any spirit of innovation upon the principles of the Constitution, however specious the pretexts . . . Facility in changes upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion exposes to perpetual change from the endless variety of hypothesis and opinion; and, in any event, should a modification of the Constitutional powers be necessary, it is to be made in the way the Constitution designates . . . but no change by usurpation.”

What but “usurpation” of the rights of three fourths of the States by making such changes were those three postwar amendments? Eleven States had no say whatever, except the raw pretenses of seizure of power, about their own ratifications; and these States were those most intimately and immediately affected. It would seem as if efforts to abolish republican forms of government or to destroy equality (e.g., in the Senate) should not be subject to deliberation.

Three unconstitutional amendments, incorporating the final results of the so-called “Rebellion,” are in summary the treaty between the belligerents – a duress. In them are the trophies of the victors, but no mention of the cause, the real cause, of the conflict – States’ rights. One observer commented that “. . . of the war waged ostensibly to maintain the integrity of the Union, and in denial of the dogma of State sovereignty, the future historian will not fail to note that the three amendments are silent on this subject . . .

What was to be the government and who were to comprise the constituency – hence the sovereignty – in 1866, of eleven American States? Was it proposed to take these endowments away and to install the tyrant’s whim and rule? No wonder chaos reigned in all departments of the federal government in 1865! Nothing was said then about the right of secession; if that right existed, it exists now, so far as any declaration in the organic law is concerned. It has not been renounced, and the supremacy of the “nation” has not been affirmed in the Constitution. Truth crushed to earth will rise again . . .

Determination of such a constitutional question as the permanence of the Union can never be decided by four justices [Texas vs White, 1869] of the Supreme Court, leaving unheard about forty million citizens. By the Constitution, seven men could not abolish the States of the Union, but three-fourths of those States could abolish that court and all its judges. And, along with it, all the Lincolns that ever sat in the White House and all the Sumner’s and Stevens that ever sat in the House or Senate.”

(The Constitutions of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, A Historical and Biographical Study in Contrasts, Russell Hoover Quynn, Exposition Press, 1959, pp. 45-49)

Suppressing the Consent of the Governed

As described below, Americans in general seem unaware of the enormity of the Southern experience 1861-1865 and the aftermath of devastating defeat and subjugation. The author’s analogy brings needed perspective to an unnecessary war and death of a million Americans, counting military and civilian casualties.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Suppressing the Consent of the Governed

“Imagine America invaded by a foreign power, one that has quadruple the population and industrial base. Imagine that this enemy has free access to the world’s goods as well as an inexhaustible supply of cannon fodder from the proletariat of other countries, while America itself is tightly blockaded from the outside world.

New York and Cincinnati have been taken. For months, Boston and Chicago have been under constant siege, the civilian population driven from their homes. Enemy forces roam over large parts of the country burning the homes, tools and food of the noncombatants in a campaign of deliberate terrorism.

Nearly eighty-five percent of the nation’s able-bodied men (up to 50 years of age) have been called to arms. Battlefield casualties have run to 39 percent and deaths amount to half of that, far exceeding those from any other war.

On the other hand, the enemy, though its acts and domestic propaganda indicate otherwise, is telling the American population that it only wants peace and the restoration of the status quo antebellum. Lay down your arms and all will be as before. What would be our state of morale in such conditions? Americans have never suffered such misfortune, have they?

Alas, they have. This was the experience of the Southern people from 1861-1865 in their lost War for Independence.

How hard the Southerners struggled for independence from the American Empire has been, and continues to be, suppressed by a nationalist culture that can only wonder: How could any group possibly have dissented from the greatest government on earth? But a very large number of Americans did no consent that government (the regime, after all, was supposed to be founded on the consent of the governed).

They were willing to put their dissent on the line in a greater sacrifice than any large group of Americans has ever been called on to make. Until finally, as a disappointed Union officer quoted by [author Gary] Gallagher remarked: “The rebellion [was] worn out rather than suppressed.”

(An Honorable Defeat, Clyde Wilson, Chronicles, October 1998, pg. 28)

Lincoln Turns the Trick

Lincoln purposely withheld news of military disasters so as not to discourage enlistments. To satisfy the endless levies for troops, Secretary of State William Seward scoured Europe for mercenaries, Lincoln allowed Northern governors to count captured slaves against State quotas, and generous enlistment bounties put many men in blue who would not otherwise fight.  After McClellan’s defeat at Gaines’s Mill, the Comte de Paris related that “Far from letting the [Northern] people know what was taking place around Richmond, the Secretary of War [Seward] . . . gave out that the Army of the Potomac had undertaken a strategic movement which would result in the capture of Richmond.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lincoln Turns the Trick

“The defeat of General [George] McClellan’s right wing at Gaines’s Mill [June 1862] was a shock to President Lincoln and his cabinet, who were daily anticipating the capture of the Confederate capital. It was hard for them to realize that the expensively equipped Grand Army, on which their hopes and expectations of swiftly ending the war were fixed, had turned its back on Richmond.

President Lincoln, on further weighing McClellan’s despondent telegram, felt assured that the Peninsula campaign was about to end in failure and that a new levy of troops would be necessary.

Yet, while he wanted volunteers badly, he was, as he says in a carefully prepared letter to Secretary [William] Seward, fearful that “a general panic and stampede would follow” if he “publicly appealed to the country for this new force”; for the desperate strait of the Federal army on the Peninsula was being withheld from the people. How otherwise than by direct call, queries Bancroft [Life of Seward], “could a hundred thousand new soldiers be obtained?  Seward was a master of political strategy, and Lincoln was no novice. Here is the device: it was principally Seward’s.”

Seward, taking with him Lincoln’s letter just mentioned and an equally adroit letter to the governors of Northern States, hurried to New York and other cities for personal and telegraphic conferences with such governors and other men of influence as could meet them. During these conferences Seward so shaped matters that the responsibility for a new levy was seemingly shifted from the President and assumed by the governors of the several States.

To give the appearance of reality to the transaction he formulated a petition for the loyal governors to sign. The petition recites:

“The undersigned, governors of the states of the union, impressed with the belief that the citizens of the states which they respectfully represent are of one accord in the hearty desire that the recent successes of the Federal arms may be followed up . . . that you at once call on the several states for such equal numbers of me . . . as may in your judgment be necessary to garrison and hold all the numerous cities and military positions that have been captured by our armies and to speedily crush the rebellion.”

To this uniquely contrived petition, the President graciously replied: “Fully concurring in the wisdom of the views expressed to me in so patriotic a manner by you . . . I have decided to call into the service an additional force of three hundred thousand men.”

When the correspondence, “purporting to be the voluntary request of eighteen governors to the President,” was published on July 2, the people were still ignorant of McClellan’s discomfiture. When [the Northern public] learned that the army had been driven to Harrison’s Landing, the trick had been turned.  “The alarm and anger of the North,” adds Bancroft, “were great, but the prospects of having large reinforcements saved the administration from serious embarrassments.” Under this call 421,465 men were secured. To stimulate volunteering Secretary Stanton agreed, at Seward’s request, to go beyond his lawful authority and advance $25 out of the $100 bounty promised to each recruit.”

(The History of North Carolina in the War Between the States, Volume II, Bethel to Sharpsburg, Daniel Harvey Hill, Edwards & Broughton, 1926, pp. 128-130)

A Court Party Living Off the Farmers

The Founders referred to their creation as a republic and built in safeguards against the rise of democracy, which they saw as mob rule. Professor Donald Livingston instructs us that the United States is not a republic, but a federation of republics — and the federation itself, cannot be referred to as a “republic.”

Jefferson’s revolution of 1800 election temporarily ended the Federalist Party’s quest to mold the United States into an aristocratic and centralized nation, though encroachments of federal power upon the States continued through the Supreme Court (“sappers and miners”), centralized banking, special interest protectionism — and finally the creation of the States, the federal agent — waging war upon States that rightly opposed the encroachments. The new Republican Party of Lincoln was an incarnation of Adam’s Federalist Party, and empowered by the protectionist and banking interests of New England.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Court Party Living Off the Farmers

“Any system of government, from a democracy to an aristocracy to a monarchy, is capable of drowning its people in tyranny. “I see no infallible criterion for defining the nature of government, except its acts,” wrote John Taylor of Caroline in “Construction Construed and Constitutions Vindicated,” (1820). “If the acts of a monarchy, aristocracy and democracy are the same, these forms of government are to a nation essentially the same also. To contend for forms only, is to fight for shadows.”

How then, should we define the nature of a republic? The word itself was batted around by all the Founding Fathers, but its use varied. John Adams, who favored aristocracy and “balanced power,” wrote that the only “rational” definition of republic is “aa government, in which all men, rich and poor, magistrates and subjects, officers and people, masters and servants, the first citizen and the last, are equally subject to the laws.”

Taylor assailed this sort of “republic,” which puts its faith in the “rule of law.” Answering Adams in 1814 (An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States), he asked how this was any different from the government from which they had declared independence. What guarantees that the law to which everyone is “equally subject” is just – or good?

Adam’ imagined government would counter [inherent financial injustice] with a “balance of power,” by which each class, emerging “naturally” according to a divine distribution of talent, would find equal representation. But do such classes arise “by nature,” according to “God’s design?” Taylor argues that Adams’ classes are artificial – special interests created by laws and sustained by government. (Government’s creation of a standing army, for example, creates a “soldier class,” a military interest. Central banking, creates a banking interest. Etc.)

And man’s lust for power being what it is, these artificial classes would (did) seek to advance their standing among the others, if not dominate them altogether even; even taking the moral high ground for doing just so. “One tyrant may thank God that he is not another tyrant.”

During the infant days of the United States, the means by which the federal government was creating this phony aristocracy was, according to Taylor, its control of the economy, through central banking and taxation – unjust transfers of wealth from one interest to another.

“Wealth, established by law, violates the principle, which induced the American states to wage war with Britain. It separates the imposer from the payer of taxes. No nation would tax itself to enrich an order or separate interest. When therefore a nation is so taxed, it must proceed from the power of the order itself, which is invariably the imposer and receiver of the tax; whilst the rest of the nation is the payer.”

For Taylor, a true, sustainable republic is not characterized by a “balance of power” among artificial interest groups, but by self-government. “The distinguishing superiorities of our policy, are, the sovereignty of the people; a republican government, or a government producing publick or national good; and a thorough system of responsible representation.”

Who, then, were these sovereign “people,” and what is this “good.” The people are farmers. At the time of the War of Independence, 95 percent of Americans were engaged in farming. The prospect of owning a farm was what made the colonies attractive in the first place.

But this life had been threatened by a distant [British] central government that was cash-strapped and weary from financing its own imperial adventures. The small colonial farmer found it difficult to hold onto his land when the crown began to manipulate the money supply. Slapping taxes on his and stifling free trade only made things worse.

The Federalists’ “consolidated republic” threatened to do just the same. Federalist fiscal policy created new interests, a new Court Party of paper wealth. These sundry interests could not live without the farmers, yet they must live off them.

According to Jeffersonian tradition, of which Taylor was the greatest exemplar, the farmer is capable of self-government. His is the only vocation that is “natural” – that is not a creation of government. He depends upon God to sustain him . . . [and] he takes up his arms to defend hearth and home in the local militia, and the mantle of statesman when called upon – all the while eager, as Taylor was, to get back to his land, to the plow.

This is the true republican ideal [and] . . . its people are defined not by party affiliation or political law but by the mores majorum, the “customs of the fathers.”

(A Share in the Patria, Aaron D. Wolf, Chronicles, May 2009, excerpts, pp. 21-22)

Achieving Southern Destiny

Washington warned that sectional animosity would endanger the new Union; by 1826 both Jefferson and Adams deplored the loss of republican direction provided by the revolutionary generation. The tariff controversy of the early 1830s ignited the fire that would not be quelled until 1865, though the Constitution and the Union were destroyed in the process.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Achieving Southern Destiny

“[Henry] Clay’s campaign for his “American System” drew fire mainly from the South Carolinians.

In 1827, Robert J. Turnbull, under the pseudonym of Brutus, published a series of thirty-three articles in the Charleston Mercury, and promptly issued them in a pamphlet entitled “The Crisis: Or Essays on the Usurpation of the Federal Government,” which he dedicated “to the people of the “Plantation States” as a testimony of respect, for their rights of sovereignty.”

Turnbull vehemently urged the people of the South to face the facts, to realize that the North was beginning to use its control of Congress for Southern oppression by protective tariffs and otherwise; and he proposed as a remedy that South Carolina should promptly interpose her sovereignty, and safeguard Southern interests, by vetoing such congressional acts as she should decide to be based upon Federal usurpations and intended for Northern advantage at the cost of Southern oppression.

“. . . William H. Trescott’s “The Position and Course of the South” [was] an embodiment of the soundest realization of the sectional conditions of the Southern section in the closing decade of the ante-bellum period. The author, a leading, experienced, conservative citizen of South Carolina, states in his preface, dated Oct. 12, 1850, that his purpose is to unify the widely separated parts of the South.

He says his views are not new, but they are characteristically Southern: “We are beginning to think for ourselves, the first act toward acting for ourselves.” The essay begins with an analysis of industrial contrasts.

The political majority of the North represents labor; that of the South, capital; the contrast is violent. Free labor hates slave labor, and it will overturn the system if it can. The two sections with many contrasting and conflicting characteristics are combined under the United States Constitution, but they are essentially irreconcilable. Even in foreign relations the North is jealous of foreign powers for commercial and industrial reasons, while Southern industry is not competitive with, but complementary to European industry and commerce, and the South, if a nation by itself, would be upon most cordial terms with foreign powers.

“The United States government under the control of Northern majorities must reflect Northern sentiment, sustain Northern interests, impersonate Northern power. Even if it be conceded that the South has no present grievance to complain of, it is the part of wisdom to consider the strength and relations of the sections, and face the question, what is the position of the South? In case our rights should be attacked, where is our constitutional protection? The answer is obvious.

But one course is open to her honor, and that is secession and the formation of an independent confederacy. There are many men grown old in the Union who would feel an honest and pardonable regret at the thought of its dissolution. They have prided themselves on the success of the great American experiment in political self-government, and feel that the dissolution of the Union would proclaim a mortifying failure. Not so.

The vital principle of political liberty is representative government, and when Federal arrangements are discarded, that lives in original vigor. Who does not consider the greatest triumph of the British constitution the facility and vigor with which, under slight modifications, it developed into the great republican government under which we have accomplished our national progress. And so it will be with the United States Constitution.

We believe that Southern interests demand an independent government. We believe that the time has come when this can be established temperately, wisely, strongly. But in effecting this separation we would not disown our indebtedness, our gratitude to the past. The Union has spread Christianity, fertilized a wilderness, enriched the world’s commerce wonderfully, spread Anglo-Saxon civilization. “It has given to the world sublime names, which the world will not willingly let die — heroic actions which will light the eyes of a far-coming enthusiasm. It has achieved its destiny. Let us achieve ours.”

(History of the Literary and Intellectual Life of the Southern States (Vol. VII), Ulrich B. Phillips, Southern Historical Publication Society, 1909, pp. 193-198)

 

Two Cultures of 1860 America

A twenty-two year old Virginian in 1861, George Benjamin West wrote his memoirs thirty years after the war. He noted during his State’s early occupation by the enemy the prevalence of German rather than American soldiers in blue – and the same in 1865 as he rode through occupied Richmond. His observations reveal two distinct cultures in the United States of 1860.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Two Cultures of 1860 America

“Our servants stayed with us several weeks [after the capitulation]. I intended to get a parole, but father insisted that I could go about much freer and would not be subjected to so many interruptions by the guards around Old Point if I took the oath.

I went up to take the oath, and General Joseph R. Anderson, CSA, of the Tredegar Iron Works, a splendid looking man and soldier, was ahead of me, and I heard the questions asked him, and saw the manner of the (Federal) lieutenant, who felt his importance, and I became so indignant with the lieutenant and sorry for the general that when my time came I did not feel the humiliation and shame I expected.

Look around at the sight now. No people ever recuperated in such a short time. This whole section soon became a garden spot, and though most of the people had to lose even their land for security debts (often for the hire of slaves before the war), yet though not accustomed and often not really able to work, they made the best of the situation and determined if possible to start in life again and show the Yankees that they could live without their aid, and even without slaves or property.

I think the South believed that the North opposed slavery not so much because of their [abolitionists’] love for humanity as they pretended but because they were envious of the prosperity of the South and hated the aristocracy because they knew they were superior, and felt that their own mean pecuniary dealings and money-making propensity was condemned.

The South did not try to make money because money was the means by which they could elevate themselves, because they looked more to a man’s character and behavior than to his bank account.

The North had to work harder and live more economically to get along, and probably on this account they would take advantages and do little mean tricks which were looked upon by us as wanting in honor and honesty, and gentlemanly instincts.

The better classes of the North never visited the South, nor were the Southern people anxious to mingle with them at the North, so we grew wider apart every year. They hating and envying us more and more, and we looked down upon them.”

(When the Yankees Came, Civil War and Reconstruction on the Virginia Peninsula, George Benjamin West, Park Rouse, Jr., editor, The Dietz Press, 1977, pp. 97-98)

Theories of Conflict and Higher Law

Many in the antebellum South viewed the theories advanced by abolitionists and the new Republican Party as threatening the Union they wished to remain in and forcing their withdrawal. As South Carolina was threatened with coercion in 1832 over nullification, those in the South wondered why the Northern States which nullified federal laws were not threatened with coercion – which well might have impelled those Northern States to secede.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Theories of Conflict and Higher Law

“But whatever the real issue between the sections in the territorial dispute, there was no doubt, in the South at least, of the sectional objectives in defending or in opposing two new theories developed in the North during the decade of the fifties.

These were the theories of the “irrepressible conflict” and of the “higher law.”

Both were considered by the South to be incompatible [with the United States Constitution] . . . both were soundly denounced as a direct infringement of the principle of constitutional guarantees.

The theory of the “irrepressible conflict” was the joint product of Abraham Lincoln’s address before the Republican State Convention in Illinois, delivered on June 16, 1858, and of William Seward’s “Irrepressible Conflict” speech delivered at Rochester, New York, October 25, 1858.

This theory was denounced by every legitimate agency in the South from county assemblies to State conventions. On December 2, 1859, the General Assembly of Tennessee resolved “that we recognize in the recent outbreak at Harper’s Ferry the natural prints of this treasonable, “irrepressible conflict” doctrine put forward by the great head of the Black Republican party and echoed by his subordinates.”

The second of these theories — the theory of the higher law – [was championed by] William Seward of New York.

This theory doubtless sprang from the ranks of the abolitionists in the latter thirties, for as early as June 15, 1841, Representative Kenneth Raynor of North Carolina attacked the position of John Quincy Adams on the slavery question because he “has thrown aside law and Constitution, and has dared to put the issue of this question upon the high and impregnable ground of the Divine law”, a position which Raynor declared “sweeps away everything like human compact and rests the mutual rights of men on what the imagination of fanaticism may picture to itself as a Divine requirement.”

In February 1851, Robert Toombs discovered that a “great question is rising up before us [to] become a “fixed fact” in American politics. It is . . . sometimes called the higher law, in antagonism to our constitutional compact. If the first (i.e, higher law) succeeds, we have no other safety except in secession; if the latter (i.e, the constitutional compact succeeds) “liberty and Union, may be forever one and inseparable.”

Before the end of the following year, the “fixed fact” had found definite expression from the pen of William Hosmer in a volume of some two hundred pages entitled, The Higher Law. Within those pages, the author makes the following contention: “Men have no right to make a constitution which sanctions slavery, and it is the imperative duty of all good men to break it, when made . . . the fact that a law is constitutional amounts to nothing, unless it is also pure . . .”

On February 18, 1861, Fulton Anderson, commissioner from Mississippi to Virginia, warned the Virginia Convention that an “infidel fanaticism, crying out for a higher law than that of the Constitution . . . has been enlisted in this strife”; and in the Alabama Convention of that year L.M. Stone maintained that the “triumph of a Higher Law party, pledged to the destruction of our Constitutional Rights, forced us to dissolve our political connection with [the] hostile States.”

(The South As A Conscious Minority, Jesse T. Carpenter, New York University, 1930, pp 157-160)

Uncle Gibb’s Liberators

The passage below describes the surrender and occupation of Smithville, now Southport, North Carolina in late January 1865 after Fort Fisher had fallen to Northern forces. The town’s public offices were plundered by the troops and those like Uncle Gibb suffered ill-treatment from soldiers who sought buried valuables.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Uncle Gibb’s Liberators

“Now Smithville [North Carolina] had relapsed into its state of quiet, but not the quiet of former days . . . Negroes however reaped a rich harvest in the shape of clothing from soldiers and blankets of which the forest was strewn.

A large assembly of Negro men, women and children had collected at the boat in order to greet their “saviors,” and to fall upon their necks and kiss them if such liberties should be allowed. [Northern] Captain [William] Cushing then addressed the sable crowd and informed them that they were free, that they were in all respects equal to the whites and would be so treated. In order to make that this was true he directed that they [the Negroes] should form a procession and give three cheers which they did saying, “God bless Massa Lincum, we’re free” and “Massa Lincum is cumin in a day or two to bring each of us a mule and deed for forty acres of land.”

The procession then started to move, and wild cheering for “Massa Lincum.” There were some small United States flags scattered among the crowds which they waved frantically in the air, crying “hallelujah, hallelujah.” The procession then moved through the garrison to Moore Street, a motley crowd dressed in every conceivable style bearing banners of anything that was bright color and they started down Moore Street amid cheering for “Massa Lincum.”

In the procession which had marched around town was “Uncle Gibb,” and in his posterity “Uncle Gibb” had been treated during his entire life as kindly as any white citizen in the town. He had a house to live in, plenty of food and clothes, and a horse and dray; and it was difficult to perceive how he had bettered his condition by freedom; but he soon found out as he was brought a prisoner into the [Northern army] Garrison for some alleged offense.

Here he was tied up by the thumbs to an oak tree which stood there, and hoisted till his toes barely touched the ground. This was done in full view of his own sister who was cooking in an adjoining kitchen, and who fainted and fell at the awful sight. We thus had an opportunity to find out whether the new friends of the colored race were any better than the old friends who had treated him with such kindness.

The ceremony attending the surrender [of Smithville] having been completed, the boat containing the plunder was dispatched back to the [USS] Monticello, and there being apparently nothing to do on shore, the sailors were given liberty and the officers proceeded to enjoy themselves.

The sailors spread themselves over the town, and proceeded first to inspect the public buildings. They broke open the court house and its offices, tore up such papers as they found lying around, among which happened to be the entire record of the Court of Equity and scattered them about the streets. They went to the Academy building in which was a Masonic Hall, and stole the jewels of the Order, and carried them to the ship.”

(Reminiscences, Dr. D.W. Curtis, Special Collections, W.M. Randall Library, UNCW, pp. 33-37)

Men of the Republican Political Machine

Congressman Roscoe Conkling of New York controlled patronage positions in the New York customhouse after the war, and selected friend and future vice president and president Chester Arthur to the top position of collector in 1871. Seen as a loyal Republican Party hack, Arthur was accused by reformers of taking “illegal kickbacks, overstaffing, insidious accounting and lax administration.” Ironically, Arthur’s custom house corruption investigation was initiated during the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes, himself known as “His Fraudulency” and elected by Republican Party vote-fraud in the occupied South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Men of the Republican Political Machine

“The Radical Republicanism that defined the immediate years after the Civil War was an attempt by Congress to reengineer the former slave States. The Radicals narrowly failed to remove President Andrew Johnson . . . [was followed] by the election of Ulysses S. Grant. Grant had been a crusty, drunken, charismatic commander, but his presidency marked the end of the politics of passion and the beginning of a long period when personalities determined factions, and when competent, loyal (and at times corrupt) insiders thrived.

Grant’s defenders described him as an icon of pragmatism . . . his detractors assaulted his administration as a descent into a world where the highest bidder was rewarded. By the late 1860s, a new generation of Republicans and [Northern] Democrats jelled into a political class that shared a desire for order and control.

In place of stirring orators debating high principles . . . the Senate was occupied by a class of politicos who believed in “women, wine, whiskey, and war,” as Senator John McDougall of California remarked. They reveled in the martial cult of the Civil War and eagerly supported America’s military expansion against the Native Americans of the Plains. But they reveled more in the political machine and its benefits.

[Grant’s Vice-President Roscoe] Conkling defended the machine as necessary and even constructive force in American political life, thundering, “We are told that the Republican Party is a machine. Yes. A government is a machine, the common-school system of the State of New York is a machine, a political party is a machine . . .”

For him, as for Chester Arthur and even James Blaine, the party was a church to which absolute fealty was expected and demanded, and in emotional moments these men of the machine could wax about its virtues with the romantic zeal of a lover serenading his loved one.

In 1871, Arthur was offered one of the plum positions in the federal bureaucracy, the collector of New York Customhouse. The position of collector had opened up when the former occupant, Arthur’s friend Tom Murphy, was forced to step down in the face of corruption allegations.

The port of New York was the primary gateway for goods from abroad, and smuggling was a constant. As an incentive, officials who snared illegal, unregistered or undertaxed shipments were entitled to a percentage of the goods seized or the fines levied. This “moiety” process made it possible for even a low-level official to double or triple his income . . . [while] it struck reformers . . . as unsavory.”

(Chester Alan Arthur, Zachary Karabell, Henry Holt and Company, 2004, excerpts, pp. 18-20; 22)

Southern Historians Sapping and Mining the Northern Myth

Historian and author Frank L. Owsley dedicated his professional life to righting the revisionist history of postwar Northern textbooks and relating an honest appraisal of why the War was fought between North and South. He viewed the conflict of 1861 as a struggle between Southern agrarian culture versus Northern industrialism intent upon political and economic control of the entire country.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Southerners Sapping and Mining the Northern Myth

“In describing the writings of one New Southerner, Frank Owsley wrote Allen Tate on February 29, 1932: “He is the typical “New Southerner,” the defeated [and] conquered . . . American. Dodd [William E. Dodd, Frank’s major professor at Chicago] remarked to me that it did not hurt him so much to be whipped! Or to see the South whipped! What broke his heart was to see the South conquered . . . he says it is the most completely defeated and conquered people of all history.”

Frank continued: “I believe that the spiritual and intellectual conquest of the South, which Dodd laments, is superficial. The leadership is in the hands of [these New Southerners] . . . and the history textbooks have been written by Yankees.

The purpose of my life will be to undermine by “careful” and “detached,” “well-documented,” “objective” writing the entire Northern myth from 1820-1876. My books will not interest the general reader. Only the historians will read them, but it is the historians who teach history classes and write textbooks and they will gradually, and without their own knowledge be forced into our position. There are numerous Southerners sapping and mining the Northern position by objective, detached books and Dodd is certainly one of the leaders.

By being critical first of the South itself, the Northern historian is disarmed, and then Dodd hits where it will do the most good . . . [Dodd told Davidson] that the younger Southern writers were making the Northern writers look unimportant.”

Frank’s essay in I’ll Take My Stand, “The Irrepressible Conflict,” concerned “the eternal struggle between the agrarian South and the commercial and industrial North to control the government, either in its own interest, or negatively, to prevent the other section from controlling it in its interests.”

At the time the Union was formed, the two sections were evenly balanced both in population and in number of States. The conflict worsened as the balance of power began to change. Slavery was an element of the agrarian society, but not an essential one. Even after the war, when there was no slavery, the South was an agrarian section. The irrepressible conflict was not a conflict between slavery and freedom, nor was it merely a protest against industrialism. It was equally a protest against the North’s brazen and contemptuous treatment of the South “as a colony and as a conquered province.”

(Frank Lawrence Owsley, Historian of the Old South, Harriet C. Owsley, Vanderbilt University Press, 1990, pp. 78-81)