Browsing "Northern Culture Laid Bare"

An Army of Plunderers

Lincoln was well-aware of the atrocities committed against Americans in Georgia and South Carolina by his military, and this would neither diminish or end in North Carolina. The war against civilians in no way contributed to “saving the Union” or healing the political divisions of 1861. Americans, North and South, now saw vividly the destructive results of seeking political independence from the new imperial regime in Washington.

An Army of Plunderers

“Foraging was still necessary to sustain the great number of troops until the Federal Army reached Goldsboro. Vandalism, stealing, and burning continued along their path. Neighbors recalled that “Mrs. Mary Corbett of Ivanhoe [Sampson County, NC] had just delivered a baby when the marauders came into her home. In order to make her reveal where the valuables were hidden, they started a fire at her bedroom window. Petrified with terror, Mrs. Corbett gave them up.”

In Johnston County, the bummers were especially harsh. They locked Mrs. Henry Finch in her home and set it afire. She jumped out the window.

Archibald Buchanan, similarly plundered like his neighbors of everything edible, found himself reduced to eating kernels of corn scattered by [enemy] cavalry “feeding their horses, and washing and grinding these handfuls for meal.”

Mrs. Rachel Pearson, of Duplin County, witnessed her aged, very ill aunt tossed from the bed onto the floor by the bummers looking for treasure. The Federals also killed Dr. Hicks by hanging him. Apparently they wanted to know the whereabouts of his hidden valuables, and he died before confessing.

As he resisted the plundering of his plantation east of Fayetteville, John Waddell was shot. [Enemy] Negro soldiers hung an old Negro man three times because he would not reveal where the owner’s valuables lay hidden. Older men and young boys suffered the same fate.

In Wayne County, Mrs. Cobb was in bed very ill when Sherman’s troops came to pillage. They destroyed every useful thing in her house except for articles in the room she lay in.

As the last few months of the war lowered its curtain, the US Army in the East began its march toward Goldsboro . . . The land between New Bern and Kinston was described as a wasteland. Homes had been burned, stock stolen or driven off, and gardens untended.

Sherman was quoted in December, 1864: “We are not fighting armies, but a hostile people.” He further stated: “The simple fact that a man’s home has been visited by an enemy makes a soldier very, very, anxious to get home to look after his family and property.”

This apparently was his reason to permit his soldiers to pillage, burn and terrorize North Carolina’s citizens.”

(Blood and War at My Doorstep, Volume II, Brenda Chambers McKean, Xlibris, 2011, excerpts pp. 1011-1012; 1016; 1019)

An Army of Plunderers “Foraging was still necessary to sustain the great number of troops until the Federal Army reached Goldsboro. Vandalism, stealing, and burning continued along their path. Neighbors recalled that “Mrs. Mary Corbett of Ivanhoe [Sampson County, NC] had just delivered a baby when the marauders came into her home. In order to make her reveal where the valuables were hidden, they started a fire at her bedroom window. Petrified with terror, Mrs. Corbett gave them up.” In Johnston County, the bummers were especially harsh. They locked Mrs. Henry Finch in her home and set it afire. She jumped out the window. Archibald Buchanan, similarly plundered like his neighbors of everything edible, found himself reduced to eating kernels of corn scattered by [enemy] cavalry “feeding their horses, and washing and grinding these handfuls for meal.” Mrs. Rachel Pearson, of Duplin County, witnessed her aged, very ill aunt tossed from the bed onto the floor by the bummers looking for treasure. The Federals also killed Dr. Hicks by hanging him. Apparently they wanted to know the whereabouts of his hidden valuables, and he died before confessing. As he resisted the plundering of his plantation east of Fayetteville, John Waddell was shot. [Enemy] Negro soldiers hung an old Negro man three times because he would not reveal where the owner’s valuables lay hidden. Older men and young boys suffered the same fate. In Wayne County, Mrs. Cobb was in bed very ill when Sherman’s troops came to pillage. They destroyed every useful thing in her house except for articles in the room she lay in. As the last few months of the war lowered its curtain, the US Army in the East began its march toward Goldsboro . . . The land between New Bern and Kinston was described as a wasteland. Homes had been burned, stock stolen or driven off, and gardens untended. Sherman was quoted in December, 1864: “We are not fighting armies, but a hostile people.” He further stated: “The simple fact that a man’s home has been visited by an enemy makes a soldier very, very, anxious to get home to look after his family and property.” This apparently was his reason to permit his soldiers to pillage, burn and terrorize North Carolina’s citizens.” (Blood and War at My Doorstep, Volume II, Brenda Chambers McKean, Xlibris, 2011, excerpts pp. 1011-1012; 1016; 1019)

The Radical Cause Uber Alles

By the time of the July-August 1861 special session of Congress, Lincoln had already raised an army, as well as money, without congressional approval – and defied the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. After the disasters of First Manassas and Ball’s Bluff, the Republican Radicals, or, “Jacobins” of Lincoln’s party, began their ruthless investigations into generals who were deemed lacking in sufficient zeal in destroying Southern resistance.

This was the Republican Committee on the Conduct of the War, whose targets were not permitted to know the charges against them, so-called evidence was kept secret, and prejudgment of the unfortunate general was common. Usually the officer under investigation was held in confinement without charges; “the defamation of character, however, could not be outdone; petty persecution continued to plague him; and at last, finding his usefulness to the army destroyed, he resigned” (Civil War and Reconstruction, Randall, pg. 370).

The Radical Cause Uber Alles

“In Washington [in January 1862], [Gen. William S.] Rosecrans was summoned to appear before the Committee on the Conduct of the War. This joint committee of the Congress, called by T. Harry Williams the “unnatural child of lustful radicalism and a confused conservatism,” grew out of Northern differences regarding war aims.

Conservatives, Lincoln the foremost, declared themselves for restoration of the Union, even with slavery. The Radicals considered Lincoln’s war policy mild; they shuddered to think that Democratic generals might convert battlefield victories into election victories; and they seized upon the minor disaster at Ball’s Bluff to set up machinery to investigate the whole conduct of the war.

[Major] John C. Fremont, the “Pathfinder” and Republican presidential candidate in 1856 . . . [in the West] had won no victories, but had declared martial law, confiscated property, disregarded Washington, become involved in procurement scandals, allowed his accounts to become muddled, declared emancipated the slaves of Missourians convicted of bearing arms against the United States, and finally had been removed [by Lincoln].

The Radicals proclaimed him a martyr, and determined to restore him to command. Lincoln yielded to their pressures.

Behind Lincoln’s hesitancy [of directing McClellan’s movements in Virginia] lay complex pressures, obscure and sometimes contradictory forces. T. Harry Williams comments: “Plots and counterplots boiled beneath the troubled surface. [Secretary of War Edwin] Stanton hatched innumerable schemes to destroy his enemies. McClellan twisted and turned as the Radicals struck. And behind all was the implacable Committee. It seems possible that a meeting between Stanton and the Committee on the Conduct of the War was worked out to cause McClellan to fail in his campaign.

The Radicals apparently wanted a quick victory, but not at the expense of abolition; a great victory, but not one that would make Democrat McClellan a national hero and hurt them personally or the Radical cause.”

(The Edge of Glory: A Biography of General William S. Rosecrans, William M. Lamers, LSU Press, 1961, excerpts pp. 66-69)

Lincoln’s Army of Emancipation

Northern Colonel [later brevet Major General] Charles E. Hovey was born in Vermont, graduated from Dartmouth and studied law in Massachusetts. He moved to Illinois where he became superintendent of schools in Peoria, and helped in the organization of Illinois State University where a building is named in his honor. Hovey was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Hovey’s early exposure to New England abolitionism did not dissuade him from trading the black men within his lines back to their owners for cotton bales for personal profit.

Lincoln’s Army of Emancipation

“For years the Abolitionist politicians have been rocking the cradle of liberty, and singing the lullaby of freedom, and the idea of buying and selling of “human flesh” as “chattels” was most terribly shocking to them. The following, from a publication during the summer of 1863, will speak for itself.

The matter was hushed up because Gen. [Samuel R.] Curtis was a political General, but “when this cruel war is over” many facts blacker than the following will appear in the great record book of recorded facts:

“A commission is now in session at the West with Maj. Gen. [Irvin] McDowell at its head, investigating the conduct of Maj. Gen. Curtis and other Republican officials, in conducting their military operations so as to secure the largest amount of cotton possible for their own private benefit.

One of the richest revelations is in reference to the trading off of Negroes for cotton. The specification alleges that Negro slaves had been taken from the plantations upon the pretense of giving them freedom under the President’s “emancipation edict,” and thus used as a substitute for coin. It has been fully proven before the investigation court.

The officer charged with this lucrative speculation was Col. Hovey of Illinois, formerly the principal of the State Normal School at Bloomington. The following is the testimony upon the subject, “Brice Suffield being called and sworn, testified as follows:

“In due time [was brought] twenty-six bales of cotton [with the plantation overseer, and] After the cotton was delivered, the boatmen, by order of the captain, put on shore fifteen Negroes that had been used as [our] boat hands. After getting them ashore, they tied them after considerable struggling on the part of the Negroes . . . this was about the 24th of September [1863].

Q: After these fifteen Negroes were put ashore, did any other Negroes come back with you as deck hands in the service of the [US] boat?

A: No sir. These Negroes were taken on an expedition to the same place some weeks before from the same place.

Q: Under whose charge was that expedition?

A: Col. Hovey.”

It would crowd the dimensions of our volume to unreasonable proportions to continue this chapter to the full . . .”

(Logic of History: Five Hundred Political Texts, Being Concentrated Extracts of Abolitionism; Also, Results of Slavery Agitation and Emancipation; Together with Sundry Chapters on Despotism, Usurpations and Frauds. Stephen D. Carpenter, S.D. Carpenter, Publisher, 1864, excerpts pg. 263)

Lincoln’s Broad Economic Revolution

In the four prewar years 1856-1860, total federal expenditures were a mere $274 million, and financed by tariffs (disproportionately paid by the South), and the sale of public lands. The direct costs of the Northern war effort 1861-1865 is estimated at $2.3 billion; when indirect costs such as outright destruction and soldier pensions are included the estimate rises to $8 billion. “[The] Union’s expenditures on the war were equivalent to more than 70% of the North’s share of the 1859 gross domestic product. Lincoln’s war economy enabled Philip Amour to make $2 million selling pork to the Northern army; Clement Studebaker amassed a fortune providing wagons to Northern forces, and Andrew Carnegie grew rich as an iron merchant.

Lincoln’s Broad Economic Revolution

“First . . . the [Northern] citizenry remained passionately resistant to any form of federal income tax. A second option was to turn to borrowing. The great advantage of this choice was that it would pass some of the cost of the war on to future generations (in the form of interest and debt). A final choice was to print money and declare it legal tender – a policy not without cost. The printing of currency not backed by specie would raise prices, thus financing the war through inflation.

As soon as the war began, President Lincoln ordered Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase to begin taking steps to fund the war. Chase faced an economy that had barely recovered from the Panic of 1857 before being thrown into recession by the secession crisis. Chase initially turned to increase import fees, excise taxes and the sale of government land, but he soon shifted his attention to the sale of [war] bonds [hoping] to fund its war effort through a form of borrowing.

Congress [passed] the revolutionary Legal Tender Act [in] February 1862 [which] provided for the issuance of $150 million in non-interest bearing notes. Although not backed by gold or silver, these “greenbacks” were legal tender for all debts except import duties and interest on government loans. By issuing notes without the backing of specie, the government risked serious inflation.

In August 1861 Congress passed a 3 percent tax on incomes of more than eight hundred dollars, but it was a year before those funds were collects. The following July a new revenue measure expanded income taxes and added an assortment of other levies.

In late summer 1862 bond sales had dwindled [and] Secretary Chase turned to Philadelphia broker Jay Cooke to orchestrate a massive campaign to stimulate them. This strategy [of 2500 agents nationwide] anticipated the patriotic war bond drives of World Wars I and II. [Roughly] one in four Northern families [purchased them,] Yet it appears most war bonds ended up in the hands of banks and wealthy investors.

The final piece of Chase’s financial program did not fall into place until midway through the war. The National Banking Act of February 1863 (and legislation of June 1864) established a new system of banks. Finally, in March 1865, Congress passed a 10 percent tax on all notes issued by State banks [which was sufficient to] drive most State banks into the new banking system.

When all was said and done bond sales funded two-thirds of the North’s military expenses. Various forms of wartime taxation funded 21 percent of the war’s cost, and the remaining costs were financed through inflation. By printing greenbacks the federal government caused an increase in prices, which had a measurable impact on the Northern economy. At their peak, prices rose to 80 percent above antebellum levels.

The funding legislation passed by the war Congress raises a broader issue. How did wartime measures reshape the American economy?

One long-standing interpretation is that the war was a triumph of industrial capitalism. With for decades the intellectual heirs of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton had battled over the constitutionality of federal measures to assist economic development.

With the [Southern] congressmen safely out of the way [in 1861] – so the interpretation goes – Republicans were free to pursue an agenda which features protective tariffs and strong banking legislation. The Civil War provide the perfect excuse for imposing a broad economic revolution.”

(The North Fights the Civil War: The Homefront, J. Matthew Gallman, Ivan R. Dee, 1993, excerpts pp. 96-99)

Fears of Negro Immigration

The suppressed fear in the North was that blacks would flock to their cities and work for lower wages than white laborers. This would have pleased Northern capital’s understanding of free labor as workers were paid wages, but were responsible for themselves, for food, housing and medical care, when not in the factory. Northern capitalists were assured by abolitionists that the new black farmers would have much disposable income with which to purchase products from Northern manufacturers. It should be kept in mind that after their plantation homes and crops were burned by Northern troops, the black family had no alternative but to follow the invader for scraps of food and menial work. Also, as black men were taken into the US Colored Troops organization, they served under white officers, while Southern units were integrated.

Fears of Negro Immigration

“History will record,” William Bickham wrote from the Peninsula, “the only friends of the Union found by this army in Eastern Virginia [were] Negro slaves.” So eager were the fugitives to do their bit, according to a New York Post correspondent in Louisiana, that when a thousand of them were asked, at one camp, if they would work their old plantations for pay, the show of hands was unanimous.

A good number of conservative orators were frightening laboring audiences [in the North] with the warning that the Negroes were all too willing to work. If set free, the argument ran, they would drift northward and crowd white men out of jobs.

An army correspondent of the Chicago Tribune stepped into the breach with the answer to that . . . [and] assured his readers that the Negroes “did not wish to remove to the cold frigid North. This climate is more genial, and here is their home. Only give them a fair remuneration for their labor, and strike off their shackles, and the good people of Illinois need not trouble themselves at the prospect of Negro immigration.

As a matter of fact, many [Northern] officers and men were genuinely opposed to releasing “contrabands” from camp on practical as well as political or sentimental grounds. Three war correspondents, sweating through the siege of Corinth, Mississippi, in mid-1862, had domestic arrangements typical of many members of the expedition.

They shared the services of Bob and Johnny, two black youths who blacked boots, pressed clothes, cooked, ran errands and more or less gentled their employers’ condition for monthly wages totaling six and twelve dollars.

Charles Coffin and Albert Richardson [of the Boston Journal], at the same locale, made joint use of a tent an “African factotum” who awoke them . . . each morning with a call of “Breakfast ready.” Newspapermen at Ben Butler’s headquarters [were under] the care of a black chef.”

(Reporters for the Union, Bernard Weisberger, Little, Brown and Company, 1953, excerpts pp. 242-244)

Feb 13, 2019 - Lincoln's Patriots, Northern Culture Laid Bare, Republican Party    Comments Off on The Anti-Catholic Party

The Anti-Catholic Party

In the postwar Rutherford B. Hayes was twice-governor of Ohio and retired to private life after his second term. In early 1875 Republicans encouraged the vain Hayes to run again for a third term, assuring him that it would not require him to give up his private business – and that he would be the most prominent candidate for president in 1876. Hayes viewed anti-Catholicism as a shrewd campaign strategy and it is interesting to note that the Republicans depended greatly upon German Protestants in their war against the South, with their anti-Catholicism being a plus. Also, the Republican party had absorbed the anti-Catholic Know Nothing party in 1854.

The Anti-Catholic Party

“The day after his nomination [for governor, Hayes] wrote of the approaching contest: “The interesting point is to rebuke the [Democrats] by a defeat for subserviency to Roman Catholic demands.” It need not be thought that Hayes himself was necessarily a bigot; but he certainly intended to exploit the bigotry of others.

Earlier in the year the Democratic legislature had adopted the so-called Geghan bill to permit Catholic priests to minister to the spiritual needs of inmates of the Ohio Penitentiary and other State institutions, whereas previously only the officially appointed chaplains, Protestants always, had possessed the privilege. Hayes proposed to capitalize on the situation by refocusing that fear onto an institution much closer to home than the State prison.

The strategy of the campaign was really quite simple. An ambitious lawyer in Canton, Ohio, named William McKinley, explained it best: “We have here a large Catholic population which is thoroughly Democratic, a large German element that hitherto have been mainly Democratic, they hate the Catholics – their votes we must get.”

Throughout the campaign Hayes adjured his supporters: “We must not let the Catholic question drop out of sight. If they do not speak of it, we must attack them for their silence. If they discuss it, refer to it, they can’t help getting into trouble.” Hayes personally supervised the preparation of leaflets on the subject.

Hayes was elected by a plurality of about five thousand votes out of half a million cast. The professional politicians of the Republican party promptly discovered the “Catholic question” in Pennsylvania and other northern States.

Just as his friends had prophesied, the new governor of Ohio was immediately spoken of as a presidential candidate.

(The Politics of Inertia: The Election of 1876 and the End of Reconstruction, Keith Ian Polakoff, LSU Press, 1973, excerpts pp. 34-36)

Party Above Country

The scramble to organize the Republican party in the conquered States in 1867-68 was critical to maintain party ascendancy – the black man was to be enfranchised and told that voting Democratic would return them to the chains of slavery – their Republican friends would keep them free with Grant elected in 1868. Thus the freedmen were turned against their friends and neighbors by the infamous Union League in return for minor patronage positions for those delivering the black vote to the Republican party. Grant won the presidency against Horatio Seymour of New York by only 300,000 votes – a narrow victory achieved with 500,000 black votes.

Party Above Country

“Immediately after the war there a brief period of uncertainty [in Republican ranks] about the course to follow in reconstruction the Union. However, when several of the lately seceded States refused to accept in complete good faith Andrew Johnson’s plan of restoration, the Republicans were all but unanimous in imposing a much more stringent set of terms designed to remake the entire electoral system of the South. Purely political considerations were undoubtedly a factor.

The three-fifths clause of the Constitution having become a dead letter with the abolition of slavery, the Southern States stood to gain thirteen seats in the House of Representatives and thirteen votes in the Electoral College. Were the “solid South” to join just two Northern States – New York and Indiana – voting Democratic, the party of [Stephen] Douglas, [James] Buchanan and Jefferson Davis would recapture the presidency and resume control of the nation’s destiny.

It was an appalling prospect for any sincere Republican to contemplate; so the party had no choice but to follow the lead of Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens on the questions of Reconstruction.

[Conservatives] within the party, who in no way shared the Radicals concern with equal political rights for Negroes, accepted black suffrage in 1867 and 1869 because the exigencies of the situation seemed to demand it [if Republicans were to maintain political dominance].”

(The Politics of Inertia: The Election of 1876 and the End of Reconstruction, Keith Ian Polakoff, LSU Press, 1973, excerpts pp. 14-15)

Lincoln Versus “20 Millions of Secesh”

Republican opposition to compromise efforts brought forth by Democrats thwarted attempts to truly “save the Union.” Ohio Democrats Samuel S. Cox and John A. Crittenden formed a committee in late December 1860 to craft compromises more palatable to Lincoln and his Republican cohorts. By February 4, 1861, Republican party intransigence triumphed over peace as the Crittenden Compromise emitted a dying gasp. It was then clear which party was “disloyal” to the Union and Constitution, and who was to blame for bringing on a war destined to kill a million Americans.

Lincoln Versus “20 Millions of Secesh”

“If what the abolition disunionists say be true [that] no power on earth can prevent its success, and let us see why. They declare that all who vote the Democratic ticket are disloyal to our Government – “sympathizers” with the rebellion, etc. If this be true, let us see how strong the rebels are. The vote of 1860 developed about seven inhabitants to every voter in the land.

Now, there are in the loyal States the following numbers that vote the Democratic ticket, which will not probably vary 5,000 either way – near enough to meet the argument: 1,685,000.

Here, then, right in the loyal States, are one million, six hundred and eighty-five thousand votes that “sympathize with the rebellion,” according to Abolition say-so. Multiply this by seven, and you have 11,795,000 persons here at the North who are in “open sympathy with the rebels.”

Add this vast number to the 10,000,000 in the rebel States, and its gives 21,795,000 “traitors,” which, subtracted from the 30,000,000 of the entire white population of the whole Union, and it leaves only 8,205,000 “loyal” people to contend against over twenty millions of “secesh.”

This argument is not ours. It is only the presentation of the Abolition “argument,” and the bare statement shows the malicious absurdity of the Abolition asservation. Let the Administration once throw out the “copperhead” element, and it will find itself in a woefully decimated dilemma.”

(Miscellaneous Facts and Figures, The Logic of History, Five Hundred Political Texts, Chapter XXXVII, Stephen D. Carpenter, 1864, S.D. Carpenter, Publisher, excerpts pp. 305-306)

Republican Rule in Indiana

Though Lincoln initially acted unilaterally to launch his war against Americans in the South, he did seek absolution when Congress convened in July 1861 – though the threat of arrest and imprisonment became common for those who opposed his will. In his treatment of what he or his minions believed to be “disloyal” practices, Lincoln carried his authority far beyond the normal restraints of civil justice, and in violation of fundamental concepts of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence.

Republican Tyranny in Indiana

“Before Abraham Lincoln ordered a national draft, which would cause insurrections throughout the North, the President put into law the involuntary call-up of each State’s militia. Indiana inducted 3,090 men into the national army this way, but this caused a major backlash of violent resistance. More significantly, the Democrats won substantial victories in both houses of the Indiana Assembly in the fall of 1862.

With the loss of Republican power, [Governor] Oliver P. Morton became more emotionally unbalanced. He saw treason everywhere, and expected a revolution at any moment. At the beginning of 1863, Indiana’s Democrats voted for peace negotiations with the Confederacy. Simultaneously, many Republican army officers, appointed by Morton, resigned their commissions over Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and the governor’s support of this radical document, which would destroy State sovereignty. Army recruitment stagnated and desertions increased.

[Morton] blamed “organized conspirators” — meaning Democrats. Under his orders, Indiana soldiers threatened Senator Thomas Hendricks and Daniel Voorhees, both leading Democrats. Then these troops destroyed Democratic newspapers in Rockport and Terre Haute.

On January 8, 1863, amidst military failures and malignant partisanship, the Indiana legislature began its bi-annual session. Morton telegraphed Secretary of War [Edwin] Stanton that the legislature intended to recognize the Confederacy, implying that the federal army’s interference was required to arrest the “traitors” in the Assembly, as had been done in Maryland [in April 1861].

The Republican members determined to withdraw from the House . . . thus the legislature came to an end . . . [and] Morton would administer the State all alone. His first problem was to secure the money to rule as a tyrant for the next two years [and] with the President’s approval collected $90,000 “for ammunition for the State arsenal.” The Republican Indiana State Journal triumphantly announced that this money would really be used to carry on the functions of government.

Governor Morton quickly exhausted these funds. Once again he met with . . . Lincoln . . . An appropriation of 2.3 million dollars had need made by Congress in July 1862, to be expended by the President “to loyal citizens in States threatened with rebellion,” and in organizing such citizens for their own protection against domestic insurrection.

When Stanton placed [Lincoln’s] order in Morton’s hands, both men appreciated the great risk they were incurring. “If the cause fails, we shall both be covered in prosecutions,” Morton said. Stanton replied, “if the cause fails, I do not wish to live.”

(Northern Opposition to Mr. Lincoln’s War, D. Jonathan White, editor, Abbeville Institute Press, 2014, excerpts pp. 217-221)

Lincoln the Tragic Hero

Lincoln the Tragic Hero

“[Lincoln’s] favorite play was Macbeth. He had read it often, he wrote to the actor James Hackett, “perhaps as frequently as any unprofessional reader . . . I think nothing equals Macbeth. It is wonderful.” He had seen Booth in that role too.

Lincoln’s fascination with this play is itself interesting. He knew that much of the country saw him as a Macbeth – a tyrant, a usurper, a murderer, and his conscience may have promoted him to ask whether he could reasonably be seen in that light. He had expected a quick end to the “rebellion,” but the war had dragged on for years, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives.

Many Northerners clamored for a peace settlement. If the war was not justified, Lincoln had much to answer for, infinitely more than he could have imagined at the beginning.

Apart from the scale of violence against the South, including its civilian population and their property, Lincoln aroused angry opposition in the North. “Saving the Union” had required him to transgress against the Constitution and civil liberties; he acted as a dictator, assuming both legislative and executive powers.

An Illinois newspaper accused him of “seeking to inaugurate a reign of terror in the loyal States by military arrests . . . of citizens without a trial, to browbeat all opposition by villainous and false charges of disloyalty against whole classes of patriotic citizens, to destroy all constitutional guarantees of free speech, a free press, and the writ of habeas corpus.”

His biographer David Donald notes: “Editors feared that they might be locked up in Fort Lafayette or in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington if they voiced their criticisms too freely, and even writers of private letters began to guard their language.”

As the ghastly war continued inconclusively, Lincoln must have pondered Macbeth’s words:

“I am in blood

Stepp’d in so far, that should I wade no more

Returning were as tedious as go o’er”

In scale of character, in eloquence, and in impact on his country, Lincoln had the dimensions of a Shakespearean tragic hero. Aristotle wrote in his Poetics that tragic action must have “magnitude”; and Lincoln’s action certainly had that quality. He also displayed the tragic flaw of rash judgment; despite his deliberation, he had ignored the advice of his cabinet by launching war over Fort Sumter, failing to foresee the madly disproportionate violence that would ensue from a legalistic dispute over secession.

The tragic hero is neither saint, villain, nor passive victim: he is the cause of his own and his society’s ruin, in spite of his own intention. As Aristotle says, the ruin of a purely innocent man is not tragic, it is injustice. That of a purely evil man is not tragedy, but justice.

Lincoln was driven to meditate on the events he had set in motion. By the fall of 1862 he was reflecting: “In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party.” In 1864 he wrote: “I claim not to have controlled events, but plainly confess that events have controlled me.”

Was he trying to disclaim responsibility? He always insisted that the South “began” the war, which, even if true, would not necessarily mean that the South bore the guilt for what the war became. Perhaps sensing this, he referred the problem to Providence, which had allowed the war to continue and spread.”

(America’s Tragic Hero, Joseph Sobran, Sobran’s Real News of the Month, March 2001, Volume 8, Number 3, excerpts pp. 4-5)

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