Browsing "No Compromise"

The Inscrutable William Seward

It is said that antebellum Southern politics were for the most part honest and ruled by responsible statesmen, but Reconstruction forced Southern leaders to reluctantly descend into the mud to successfully oppose the carpetbaggers, Union Leagues and Radical Republicans. The high-toned sense of serving the public good was seen in statesman Jefferson Davis, who acted from conviction alone; William Seward was more interested in manipulating public opinion and serving his own twisted ends. The former tried his best to save the Union, the latter helped destroy it.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The Inscrutable William Seward

“It was on one of these visits that Mr. Seward said a most remarkable thing to me [Varina Davis]. We were speaking of the difficulty men generally had in doing themselves justice [when speaking in public], if not cheered on by the attention and sympathy of the audience. Mr. Seward said . . . ” it is rather a relief to me to speak to empty benches.”

I exclaimed, “Then, whom do you impersonate?” [Seward replied] “The [news]papers . . . I speak to the papers, they have a much larger audience than I, and can repeat a thousand times if need be what I want to impress upon the multitude outside; and then there is the power to pin my antagonists down to my exact words, which might be disputed if received orally.”

Another day he began to talk on the not infrequent topic among us, slavery . . . I said, “Mr. Seward, how can you make, with a grave face, those piteous appeals for the Negro that you did in the Senate; you were too long a schoolteacher in Georgia to believe the things you say?”

He looked at me quizzically, and smilingly answered: “I do not, but these appeals, as you call them, are potent to affect the rank and file of the North.”

Mr. Davis said, very much shocked by Mr. Seward’s answer, “But Mr. Seward, do you never speak from conviction alone?”  “Never,” answered he. Mr. Davis raised up his . . . head, and with much heat whispered, “As God is my judge, I never spoke from any other motive.”

After this inscrutable human moral, or immoral, paradox left us, we sat long discussing him with sincere regret, and the hope that he had been making a feigned confidence to amuse us. He [Seward] frankly avowed that truth should be held always subsidiary to an end, and if some other statement could sub serve that end, he made it. He said, again and again, that political strife was a state of war, and in war all stratagems were fair.

About this time Mr. Seward came forward into greater prominence, and became the most notable leader of the Republican party. Mr. [President James] Buchanan said: “He was much more of a politician than a statesman, without strong convictions; he understood the art of preparing in his closet and uttering before the public, antithetical sentences, well-calculated to both inflame the ardor of his anti-slavery friends and exasperate his pro-slavery opponents . . . he thus aroused passions, probably without so intending, which it was beyond his power to control.”

(Jefferson Davis, A Memoir By His Wife Varina, N&A Publishing, 1990, excerpts, pp. 580-652)

Indispensable African Slaves

In his message to Congress on 29 April 1861, President Jefferson Davis cited the Northern threat to the South’s labor system as a cause of withdrawal from political union with the North. The murderous raid of John Brown in 1859 had convinced the South of the North’s violent intentions, which were supported by influential and wealthy men.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Indispensable African Slaves

“As soon . . . as the Northern States that prohibited African slavery within their limits had reached a number sufficient to give their representation a controlling voice in the Congress, a persistent and organized system of hostile measures against the rights of the owners of slaves in the southern States was inaugurated and gradually extended. A continuous series of measures was devised and prosecuted for the purpose of rendering insecure the tenure of property in slaves . . .

Senators and Representatives were sent to the common councils of the nation, whose chief title to this distinction consisted in the display of a spirit of ultra-fanaticism, and whose business was . . . to awaken the bitterest hatred against the citizens of sister States, by violent denunciation of their institutions; the transaction of public affairs was impeded by repeated efforts to usurp powers not delegated by the Constitution, for the purpose of . . . reducing those States which held slaves to a condition of inferiority.

In the meantime, the African slaves had augmented in number from about 600,000, at the date of the adoption of the constitutional compact, to upward of 4,000,000. In moral and social condition they had been elevated from brutal savages into docile, intelligent and civilized agricultural laborers, and supplied not only with bodily comforts but with careful religious instruction.

Under the supervision of a superior race, their labor had been so directed as not only to allow a gradual and marked amelioration of their own condition, but to convert hundreds of thousands of square miles of the wilderness into cultivated lands covered with a prosperous people; towns and cities had sprung into existence, and had rapidly increased in wealth and population under the social system of the South . . . and the productions of cotton, sugar, and tobacco, for the full development and continuance of which the labor of African slaves was and is indispensable, had swollen to an amount which formed nearly three-fourths of the exports of the whole United States and had become absolutely necessary to the wants of civilized man.

With interests of such overwhelming magnitude imperiled, the people of the Southern States were driven by the conduct of the North to the adoption of some course of action to avert the danger with which they were openly menaced.”

(The Causes of the Civil War, Kenneth M. Stampp, editor, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1965, pp. 134-135)

Unfounded Fears of Slavery Expansion

Lincoln receives insufficient credit for his part in defeating the compromise measures of 1860-61 which would have averted war, whose effects are still felt today. The author below asserts that slavery had reached its natural limits and was “a cumbersome and expensive system [that] could show profits only as long as it could find plenty of rich land to cultivate” and a market that would take the product. He adds that “the free farmers in the North who dreaded its further spread had nothing to fear. Even those who wished [slavery] destroyed had only to wait a little while – perhaps a generation, probably less. It was summarily destroyed at a frightful cost to the whole country and one-third of the nation was impoverished for forty years.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Unfounded Fears of Slavery Expansion

“In the forefront of that group of issues which, for more than a decade before the secession of the cotton States, kept the Northern and Southern sections of the United States in irritating controversy and a growing sense of enmity, was the question of whether the federal government should permit and protect the expansion of slavery into the western territories . . . It was upon this particular issue that a new and powerful sectional party appeared in 1854, that the majority of the Secessionists of the cotton States predicated their action in 1860-1861, and it was upon this also that President-elect Lincoln forced the defeat of the compromise measures in the winter of 1860-61.

It seems safe to say that had this question been eliminated or settled amicably, there would have been no secession and no Civil War . . .

Disregarding the stock arguments – constitutional, economic, social and what-not – advanced by either group, let us examine afresh the real problem involved. Would slavery, if legally permitted to do so, have taken possession of the territories or of any considerable portion of them?

The causes of the expansion of slavery westward from the South Atlantic coast are now well-understood. The industrial revolution [in the North and in England] and the opening of world markets had continually increased the consumption and demand for raw cotton, while the abundance of fertile and cheap cotton lands in the Gulf States had steadily lured cotton farmers and planters westward. Where large-scale production was [possible, the enormous demand for a steady supply of labor had made the use of slaves inevitable, for a sufficient supply of free labor was unprocurable on the frontier . . . and slave labor was usually not profitable in growing grain.

This expansion of the institution was in response to economic stimuli . . . [and the] movement would go on as long as far as suitable cotton lands were to be found or as long as there was a reasonable expectation of profit from slave labor, provided, of course, that no political barrier was encountered.

But by 1849-50 . . . and by the time the new Republican party was formed to check the further expansion of slavery, the westward march of the cotton plantation was evidently slowing down. The only possibility of a further westward extension of the cotton belt was in Texas. In that alone was the frontier line of cotton and slavery still advancing . . .

In New Mexico and Arizona, Mexican labor is cheaper than Negro labor, as has always been the case since the acquisition of the region from Mexico. It was well-understood by sensible men, North and South, in 1850 that soil, climate, and native labor would form a perpetual bar to slavery in the vast territory then called New Mexico. [By 1860], ten years after the territory had been thrown open to slavery, showed not a single slave; and this was also true of Colorado and Nevada. Utah, alone of all these territories, was credited with any slaves at all . . . [and] the census of 1860 showed two slaves in Kansas and fifteen in Nebraska.

The Northern anti-slavery men held that a legal sanction of slavery in the territories would result in the extension of the institution and domination of the free North by the slave power; prospective immigrants in particular feared that they would never be able to get homes in this new West. Their fears were groundless; but in their excited state of mind they could see neither the facts clearly nor consider them calmly.

In the cold facts of the situation, there was no longer any basis for excited sectional controversy over slavery extension . . . [but] the public mind had so long been concerned with the debate that it could not see that the issue had ceased to have validity. In the existing state of the popular mind, therefore, there was still abundant opportunity for the politician to work to his own ends, to play upon prejudice and passion and fear.”

(The Natural Limits of Slavery Expansion, Charles W. Ramsdell (1929); The Causes of the Civil War, Kenneth M. Stampp, editor, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1965, pp. 86-91)

 

War Against a Free Trade South

It is clear that the withdrawal of the Southern States in early 1861 was caused by Northern hostility, especially with regard to the South’s political conservatism and domestic institutions. More obvious is that secession did not necessitate war, as the North could have let the South form its more perfect union peaceably. The North waged war for economic reasons and to thwart the free trade policies of the new American Confederacy.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

War Against a Free Trade South

“When the Southern States began to secede after Lincoln’s election, it soon became evident that the great majority of Northerners considered disunion intolerable. Among the reasons, they foresaw disastrous economic consequences; and this explains in part their demand that Lincoln “enforce the laws” in the South. The Boston Herald (November 12, 1860), predicted some of the evils that would result from disunion:

“Should the South succeed in carrying out her designs, she will immediately form commercial alliances with European countries who will readily acquiesce in any arrangement which will help English manufacturing at the expense of New England.

The first move the South would make would impose a heavy tax upon the manufactures of the North, and an export tax upon the cotton used by Northern manufacturers. In this way she would seek to cripple the North. The carrying trade, which is now done by American {Northern] vessels, would be transferred to British ships, which would be a heavy blow aimed at our commerce.

It will also seriously affect our shoe trade and the manufacture of ready-made clothing, while it would derange the monetary affairs of the country.”

Boston Transcript, March 18, 1861:

“It does not require extraordinary sagacity to perceive that trade is perhaps the controlling motive operating to prevent the return of the seceding States to the Union, which they have abandoned. Alleged grievances in regard to slavery were originally the causes for the separation of the cotton States; but the mask has been thrown off, and it is apparent that the people of the principal seceding States are now for commercial independence.

They dream that the centres of traffic can be changed from Northern to Southern ports. The merchants of New Orleans, Charleston and Savannah are possessed with the idea that New York, Boston and Philadelphia may be shorn, in the future, of their mercantile greatness, by a revenue system verging upon free trade. If the Southern Confederation is allowed to carry out a policy by which only a nominal duty is laid upon imports, no doubt the business of the chief Northern cities will be seriously injured thereby.

The difference is so great between the tariff of the Union and that of the Confederated States, that the entire Northwest must find it to their advantage to purchase their imported goods at New Orleans rather than at New York. In addition to this, the manufacturing interest of the country will suffer from the increased importations resulting from the low duties . . . The . . . [government] would be false to all of its obligations, if this state of things were not provided against.”

(The Causes of the Civil War, Kenneth M. Stampp, editor, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1965, pp. 78-80)

The Fort on South Carolina's Sovereign Soil

When South Carolina resumed its full sovereignty through the consent of their citizens in December 1860, the United States soldiers in Charleston Harbor became foreign troops and should have been recalled by their government.  To refuse to abandon the forts caused South Carolina to forcibly eject them as they were then hostile military forces threatening the political independence of that State.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The Fort on South Carolina’s Sovereign Soil

“For well over one hundred years, uninformed and liberal historians and others have charged South Carolina with starting the Civil War when the shore batteries at Charleston fired on the Federally-held Fort Sumter in the bay. These writers have stated that this fort was the property of the federal government. This statement is false.

On March 24, 1794, the US Congress passed an act to provide for the defense of certain ports and harbors of the United States. The sites of forts, arsenals, navy yards and other public property of the federal government were ceded or assigned by the States within whose limits they were, and subject to the condition, either expressed or implied, that they should be used solely and exclusively for the purpose for which they were granted. The ultimate ownership of the soil, or eminent domain, remains with the people of the State in which it lies, by virtue of their sovereignty.

South Carolina, in 1805 by legislative enactment, ceded to the United States in Charleston Harbor and on the Beaufort River, various forts and fortifications and sites for the erection of forts. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts enacted the same in its legislature in 1836. New York State, in granting the use of the site for the Brooklyn Navy Yard says: “The United States are to retain such use and jurisdiction so long as said tract shall be applied to the defense and safety of the city and port of New York and no longer . . .” The cession of the site of Watervliet Arsenal was made on the same terms.

It has been said by many historians that these sites were purchased outright by the federal government. This is also false. The Act of 1794 clearly states, “that no purchase shall be made where such lands are the property of the State.”

When General George B. McClellan and his federal army of 112,000 men landed on the tip of the Virginia peninsula April12, 1862 and occupied Fortress Monroe, this action verified the Southern charge of Northern aggression.

A State withdrawing from the union would necessarily assume the control theretofore exercised by the general government over all public defenses and other public property within her limits. The South, on the verge of withdrawal (from the union) had prepared to give adequate compensation to an agent of the Northern government for the forts and other public works erected on the land. Therefore, three commissioners from South Carolina, one from Georgia, and one from Alabama were sent to Washington to negotiate for the removal of federal garrisons from Southern forts.

The commissioners, all prominent men, were Messrs. Robert W. Barnwell, James H. Adams, and James L. Orr of South Carolina; Martin Crawford of Georgia, and John Forsythe of Alabama, and arrived in Washington on the 5th of March.

On March 12th they addressed an official communication to Mr. [William] Seward, Secretary of State, explaining their functions and their purpose. Mr. Seward declined to make any formal recognition of the commissioners, but assured them in verbal conferences of the determination of the government at Washington to evacuate Fort Sumter; of the peaceful intentions of the government, and that no changes in the status prejudicially to the Confederate States were in contemplation; but in the event of any change, notice would be given to the commissioners.

The commissioners waited for a reply to their official communication until April 8th, at which time they received a reply dated March 15th by which they were advised that the president had decided not to receive them, nor was he interested in any proposals they had to offer. During this time the cabinet of the Northern government had been working in secrecy in New York preparing an extensive military and naval expedition to reinforce the garrison at Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina.

As they had tried to deceive the people of the North and South in January 1861 with the Star of the West [expedition to Sumter], loaded with troops and ammunition, the radical Republicans again advised the press that this mission was also a mission of mercy for the garrison of Fort Sumter, and on April 7th the expedition set sail southward bound loaded with troops and arms.

At 2PM, April 11, 1861, General Beauregard demanded that Major Anderson of Fort Sumter evacuate the works, which Anderson refused to do. At a little after 3AM, General Beauregard advised Major Anderson that “in one hour’s time I will open fire.”  At 4:40AM, from Fort Johnson the battery opened on Fort Sumter, which fire was followed by the batteries of Moultrie, Cummings Point and the floating battery.

At this time a part of the federal naval force had arrived at the Charleston bar, but strange to say, Captain Fox, after hearing the heavy guns of the bombardment decided that his government did not expect any gallant sacrifices on his part, and took no part in the battle. On April 13 after the Confederate guns had reduced Sumter to a smoking heap of ruin, Major Anderson surrendered, with no loss of life on either side.

[Reverend R.C. Cave said in 1894] “On one side of the conflict was the South led by the descendants of the Cavaliers, who with all their faults had inherited from a long line of ancestors a manly contempt for moral littleness, a high sense of honor, a lofty regard for plighted faith, a strong tendency for conservatism, a profound respect for law and order, and an unfaltering loyalty to constitutional government.”

Against the South was arrayed the power of the North, dominated by the spirit of Puritanism which, with all its virtues, has ever been characterized by the pharisaism which worships itself, and is unable to perceive any goodness apart from itself, which has ever arrogantly held its ideas, its interests, and its will, higher than fundamental law and covenanted obligations; which has always “lived and moved and had its being, in rebellion against constituted authority.”

(Not Civil War But Northern Agression, Lewis P. Hall, Land of the Golden River, Vol. II, Hall’s Enterprises, 1980, pp. 77-78)

Lincoln's Duplicity at Fort Sumter

The land ceded to the federal agent at Washington for forts, arsenals and yards by individual States were intended for the protection, not destruction, of the States they were located in. If a fort was to be used by that agent for a warlike purpose against a State, it is obvious that State would immediately eject the federal employees. Lincoln in early 1861 sent spies to Charleston to gather intelligence before he commenced war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Lincoln’s Duplicity at Fort Sumter

“There are many matters of interest and importance connected with the firing upon Fort Sumter which are not generally mentioned in our American histories. These are given in some detail in Dr. H.A. White’s “Life of Robert E. Lee.” Such information is essential to an understanding of the whole subject of the beginnings of the sectional conflict.

“. . . It will be an advantage for the South to go off,” said H.W. Beecher. After the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln there was a strong current opinion in the North that the Federal troops should be withdrawn from the Southern forts. President Lincoln’s “organ,” the National Republican, announced that the Cabinet meeting of March 9 had determined to surrender both Sumter and Pickens.

That [Major Robert] Anderson would be withdrawn from Sumter “was the universal opinion in Washington (Rhodes, U.S., vol. iii, p. 332). Welling, of the National Intelligencer, was requested by [William] Seward to communicate the Cabinet’s purpose to George W. Summers, member of the Virginia Convention (The Nation, Dec. 4, 1879). March 15 Secretary Seward unofficially notified the Confederate Commissioners, through Justice Campbell of the Supreme Court, that Sumter would be yielded at once to the Southern Confederacy.”

“. . . March 24 brought Colonel Ward H. Lamon of Washington to Fort Sumter. He obtained permission from Governor Pickens to visit Major Anderson upon the representation that he had come as “confidential agent of the President,” to make arrangements for the removal of the garrison. The impression produced upon Major Anderson by Lamon, as well as upon the officers and men of the garrison, was that the command was to be withdrawn.” Lamon informed Governor Pickens “that the President professed a desire to evacuate the work.” After Lamon’s return to Washington he sent a written message to Pickens, that he “hoped to return in a very few days to withdraw the command.”

(The Women of the South in War Times, Matthew Page Andrews, editor, Norman, Remington Company, 1920, pp. 59-60)

Lincoln's War Against Right, Reason, Justice and Nature

Confederate Vice President Alexander Hamilton Stephens asked for what reason the North arrayed its armies against the South, and why the North denies the spirit and essence of Jefferson’s Declaration to them. Stephen’s said the struggle for independence by the South was not Lincoln’s “idle and absurd assumption of the existence of a riot which was to be dispersed by a posse comitatus,” but the birth of a new American republic with the consent of the governed, and a more perfect American union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Lincoln’s War Against Right, Reason, Justice and Nature

In a speech delivered during the second year of the war, [Mr. Stephens] said:

“The States South had done nothing but what was their right – their inalienable right to do, the same as their ancestors did, in common with the North, when they severed their connection with the British Government.

This war was waged by the North in denial of this right, and for the purpose of conquest and subjugation. It was therefore, aggressive, wanton, and unjust. Such must be the judgment of mankind, let its results be what they may. The responsibility, therefore, for all its sacrifices of treasure and blood, heretofore and hereafter to be made in its prosecution, rests not upon us.

What is all this for? Why this array of armies? Why this fierce meeting in mortal combat? What is all this carnage and slaughter for? Why the prolongation of this conflict? Why this lamentation and mourning going up from almost every house and family from Maine to the Rio Grande, and from the Atlantic and Gulf to the Lakes, for friends and dear ones who have fallen by disease and violence in this unparalleled struggle?

The question, if replied from the North, can have but one true answer. What is all this for, on their part, but to overturn the principle upon which their own Government, as well as ours, is based – to reverse the doctrine that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed?”

What is it for but to overturn the principles and practice of their own Government from the beginning? That Government was founded and based upon the political axiom that all States and peoples have the inalienable right to change their form of government at will.

This principle was acted on in the recognition by the United States of the South American republics. This principle was acted on in the recognition of Mexico . . . the struggle of Greece to overthrow the Ottoman rule . . . the recognition of Texas, when she seceded, or withdrew, from the Government of Mexico.

Well may any and every one, North and South, exclaim, what is all this for? What have we done to the North? When have we ever wronged them? We quit them, it is true, as our ancestors and their ancestors quit the British Government. We quit as they quit – upon a question of constitutional right. That question they determined for themselves, and we have but done the same. What, therefore, is all this for?

It is a war, in short, on their part against right, against reason, against justice, against nature. If asked on our side what is all this for, the reply from every honest breast is that it is for home, for firesides, for our altars, for our birthrights, for property, for honor, for life – in a word, for everything for which freemen should live, and for which all deserving to be freemen should be willing, if need be, to die.”

(A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Confederacy, 1861-1865, James D. Richardson, Volume I, US Publishing Company, 1906, pp. 175-176)

Flight to Exile and Freedom in the Confederacy

Former Vice President John C. Breckinridge sat in the US Senate as a representative of Kentucky in July 1861. He denounced Lincoln’s concentration of power in Washington as an act “which, in every age of the world, has been the very definition of despotism.” He also saw the Republican party using the war to change the very character of our government, and the reduction of the resisting State’s into territories governed by Lincoln’s appointees.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Flight to Exile and Freedom in the Confederacy

“On September 18 [1861], the Kentucky legislature formally ended neutrality and took the side of the Union. The arrests began the same night, and among the first to be taken was former Governor [Charles] Morehead of Louisville. At the same time, the pro-Southern Louisville Courier was suppressed. That same day several men throughout the nation advised Washington authorities that Breckinridge should be arrested.

The Republican Cassius Clay, who believed that “John C. Breckinridge . . . was never at heart a Secessionist.” Even a bearded little Union general, U.S. Grant, sympathized with the senator in some degree. “He was among the last to go over to the South,” Grant would say, “and was rather dragged into the position.”

He had fought for compromise and failed; he had sought peace and moderation and found only bitterness; and had proclaimed his devotion to the Union to the best of his ability . . . He was an innocent man, but he would be taken, denied his rights, and like Morehead, spirited away to a prison deep in the North to sit for months without hope.

On October 8, 1861, from Bowling Green, he issued his last address as a statesman, and his first as a Confederate. He returned the trust given him to represent Kentucky in the Senate, he said. He could no longer keep it. He had tried to stand for the State’s wishes in Washington, he had opposed Lincoln’s war policy at every step, even to refusing Kentucky’s men and money . . . ”I resign,” he said, “because there is no place left where a Southern Senator may sit in council with the Senators of the North. In truth, there is no longer a Senate of the United States within the meaning and spirit of the Constitution.”

The Union no longer existed, he continued, Lincoln had assumed dictatorial powers. The rights of person and property were being flagrantly violated every day. Unlawful arrests were the rule. The subjugation and conquest of the South were the rallying cries in the Federal Congress.

As for Kentucky, her rights of neutrality had been violated repeatedly, arms secretly supplied to Federal sympathizers, troops unlawfully raised within her borders, the legislature intimidated and packed with the minions of Washington, freedoms of speech, press, and assembly, restricted, and hundreds forced to flee their homes for safety. He explained his own flight to avoid arrest, saying he would have welcomed it if he had any assurance that it would have been followed by a trial of judge and jury, but he knew that would not be.

Would Kentucky stand by while all of this went on? Would she consent to the usurpations of Lincoln and his hirelings; would she suffer her children to be imprisoned and exiled by the “German mercenaries” that the Union was enlisting to fights its war? Never, he said.

Whatever might be the future relations of the two nations, the old Union could never again be reunited as it once was. He wanted peace between the them lest one conquer the other and the result be military despotism. To defend his own birthright and that of his fellow Kentuckians who had been denied the protection due them, and were forced to choose between arrest, exile, or resistance, he now exchanged the “with proud satisfaction, a term of six years in the Senate of the United States for the musket of a soldier.” As one of those forced to make that choice, he said, “I intend to resist.”

(Breckinridge, Statesman, Soldier, Symbol, William C. Davis, LSU Press, 1974, pp. 287- 290)

Americans Treated as Enemies

Enemy soldiers in the South sent revealing letters home which contained views shaped by official army policies, and censors allowed those which portrayed events in a government-approved light. The writer does note that Negro hands have left the farms, more the result of seizure than liberation; the desperate plea for more recruits reflects the lack of Northern enlistments after the carnage of mid-July 1862.  By this time Lincoln’s radicalized regime embarked on a total war strategy agaisnt Americans that would target civilians as well as armies.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865

 

Americans Treated as Enemies

“Camp Rufus King, July 22, 1862. The following letter we cut from the [Buffalo, New York] Courier:

“The South is paying dearly for this unnatural war upon the country. Famine and pestilence must soon follow on its desolating track. Seed time and harvest have passed, and the planter finds his barns empty. The standing grain has rotted in the field for the want of hands to gather it in.

Oh ye who live in the quiet of your peaceful homes, with all the comforts of life within your reach, and know little of the horrors of war, strengthen our ranks if you would have us stand between you and an earnest, determined foe. Rely not with too much confidence on the ability of the army to beat back the hordes that are arrayed against us. Every able-bodied man in the South is in arms, and they are terribly in earnest.

Not so with us. Our policy, hitherto, has been to conciliate rather than destroy our foe, and as we advance, looking upon the inhabitants as friends and allies until they prove themselves to be enemies. We have been deluded into the belief that there is a strong Union sentiment in the revolted States. It may be so, but it is very slow in manifesting itself.

Few indeed, have the courage to come out boldly and sustain the Government, while the vast majority [does] not hesitate to proclaim their preference for the Southern Confederacy. The [Southern] masses are ignorant to a degree that is startling to a Northerner. It knows little that transpires in the world beyond its immediate circle. It believes implicitly all that is told by the leading spirits of the neighborhood.

The very dialect of the mass betrays its ignorance – differing in no respect from that used by the slaves. And yet these men are told that the Northern mechanic and laboring man ranks no higher in the scale of civilization than the Negro, and that it is the yoke of these Northern mechanics and laborers that they are fighting to throw off.

Our policy of conducting the war is to be changed. It is time. We are in the enemy’s country, and those who inhabit it should be treated as enemies until they yield prompt obedience to the Government.”

(Chronicles of the Twenty-first Regiment, New York State Volunteers: Embracing a Full History of The Regiment, J. Harrison Mills, Regimental Veterans Association, Buffalo, 1887, pp. 201-202)

Fanatical and Intransigent Abolitionists

The antebellum abolitionists saw in majority rule the basis of power – that “might makes right” and through their higher law fiction new laws could be manufactured that would impose punishment on those they disliked. It should be noted that the author below mentions “the free States” as many historians do, but should rightly be identified as “former slave States.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Fanatical and Intransigent Abolitionists

“The abolitionist, sharing the transcendentalist’s refusal to accept the dictum vox populi vox dei, had to carry that refusal one step further: public opinion at any given time before the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth could never be the voice of God, and if it were, the reformer would lose his vocation. The voice of the reforming minority was the voice of God.

But the majority was also teachable; the reformer was God’s instrument to teach the nation the truth and the vanguard in its march to a better social order. [T]he abolitionist would insist that truth is not ascertained by public opinion polls, and he would point out that the majority in the 1830s and 1840s would vote against abolition of slavery, against prohibition (a few abolitionists would too), for capital punishment, and for Jim Crow laws in the free States.

The laws, customs, even the Constitution, reflecting the general will in the unregenerate state, could not be the authority on which the reformer based his claim to the role of teacher. His authority to a higher law as embodied in the Bible and conveniently set forth, in part, in the first sentence of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. The corrupt majority prevailed not because it was right, but because it could enforce its will. “Might makes right” was in the abolitionist’s view logically deducible from the principle of majority rule.

It follows that the reforming minority, while necessary, must always be unpopular. As Wendell Phillips put it, when explaining why even abolitionists who employed conciliatory and moderate language “found every man’s hand against them”: “our unpopularity is no fault of ours, but flows necessarily and unavoidably from our position.” [Those abolitionists who carried this logic to its conclusion would suggest . . . that public acceptance would be a sign that their duty was to move on to a new unpopular position.]

Their refusal to water down their “visionary” slogan was, in their eyes, eminently practical, much more so than the course of the antislavery senators and congressmen who often wrote letters to abolitionist leaders justifying their adaptation of antislavery demands to what was attainable.

The abolitionist, while criticizing such compromises, would insist that his own intransigence made favorable compromises possible. He might have stated his position thus: If politics is the art of the possible, agitation is the art of the desirable. For one thing, [this] can be useful to the political bargainer; the more extreme demand of the agitator makes the politician’s demand seem acceptable and perhaps desirable in the sense that the adversary may prefer to give up half a loaf rather than the whole.”

(Means and Ends in American Abolitionism, Aileen S. Kraditor, Pantheon Books, 1967, pp. 25-28)