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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)

Believing the Cheerful Myth

“Nearly everyone believes the cheerful myth that nothing has changed since 1789.”

“As for the Electoral College, it is indeed an anachronism that serves no real purpose. It certainly doesn’t do what is was supposed to do: elect presidents who are, in Alexander Hamilton’s words, “pre-eminent for ability and virtue.” So wrote Hamilton, as “Publius,” in Federalist No. 68.

For what it’s worth, the Framers of the Constitution didn’t want the president elected by direct popular vote. Simple majority rule was alien and abhorrent to them, as the present two-party duopoly and the popular election of senators would have been; as Hamilton put it, direct election of presidents would produce “tumult and disorder.”

They prescribed that the people of each State should elect a body of presumably incorrupt and disinterested electors, men who possessed the requisite “information and discernment” to choose among candidates for the presidency. Those electors, in Hamilton’s words, should be “men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station [of the presidency]. They should not be officeholders, who might have “too great [a] devotion” to the incumbent president; their number would be a safeguard against corruption.” But if no winner emerged, the election would fall to the House of Representatives, where each State delegation would cast a single vote.

Subsequent generations, missing its inner spirit, have ruined it, like a vain fool daubing new streaks on an old masterpiece in the conviction he is improving it when it’s no longer even recognizable. Modern democracy has destroyed the essence of the thing; yet it flatters itself that it has preserved the Constitution, only because it has preserved its words while ignoring, or willfully forgetting, their import.

[The] original Senate no longer exists. The Seventeenth Amendment virtually abolished it by requiring the popular election of senators; before that, senators were chosen by State legislatures, because the Senate was supposed to represent the interests of State governments and to prevent usurpation of their powers. The House was to speak for the people, the Senate for the States.

When the Senate was converted to a popular body too, it lost its rationale and became as superfluous as the Electoral College now is, imperfectly duplicating functions better performed by the House: instead of representing the States equally, it represents the people unequally. The States, meanwhile, have been reduced to mere administrative subdivisions of a monolithic nation-state. They have lost the defining mark of a true State, which is sovereignty, and such powers that they retain are held not by right, but by the sufferance of the federal government.

But not one American in a hundred (and perhaps not one senator in a hundred) understands all this. Nearly everyone believes the cheerful myth that nothing has changed since 1789.

But everything has changed. No American should read the Constitution without a sense of loss. We would all be much freer if the US government played by its own rules. But there is no way to force it to do so as long as Americans remain ignorant of their own political heritage.”

(A Weird Election, Joseph Sobran, Sobran’s Real News of the Month, March 2001, Volume 8, Number 3, excerpts pp. 3-4)

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)

No Union Saved

No Union Saved

“The notion that Lincoln “saved the Union” is as naïve as the notion that he “freed the slaves.” The Union he saved was not the one he set out to save. The Civil War destroyed the “balance or powers” between the States and the federal government which he had promised to protect in his 1861 inaugural address.

This was not Lincoln’s intention, but it is the reason many of his champions praise him. James McPherson celebrates Lincoln’s “second American Revolution”; Gary Wills exults that Lincoln “changed America” with the Gettysburg Address, which he admits was a “swindle” (albeit a benign one).

In other words, Lincoln’s war destroyed the original constitutional relation between the States and the federal government. His own defenders say so – in spite of his explicit, clear and consistent professed intent to “preserve” that relation.

The Civil War wasn’t just a victory of North over South; it was a victory for centralized government over the States and federalism. It destroyed the ability of the States to protect themselves against the destruction of their reserved powers.

Must we all be happy about this? Lincoln himself – the real Lincoln, that is, – would have deprecated the unintended results of the war. Though he sometimes resorted to dictatorial methods, he never meant to create a totalitarian state.

It’s tragic that slavery was intertwined with a good cause, and scandalous that those who defend that cause today should be smeared as partisans of slavery. But the verdict of history must not be left to the simple-minded and the demagogic.”

(Slavery, No; Secession, Yes, Joseph Sobran, Sobran’s Real News of the Month, March 2001, Volume 8, Number 3, excerpts pg. 9)

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)

The South Forced to Obey the New Union

The war of 1861-1865 created a new union of the North and a forced South, with the mercantile former dictating terms, policies and allegiance to the latter as an economic colony. The Republican party oligarchy then ushered in the Gilded Age of political bosses, bought politicians and a vote-rigging press. The Founders’ Union of equal and sovereign States was but a distant memory.

The South Forced to Obey the New Union

“Remember money breeds money, which in turn brings more,” said Benjamin Franklin. “Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God,” wrote Thomas Jefferson.

If these two attitudes may be considered the respective mainstream philosophies of the North and the South, then it becomes obvious there can be no way to blend the two into a single national spirit ant more than Cain could live by Abel’s side. “We the people,” as famous a phrase as it may be, is a dupery.

Understanding it as such seems to me the key to the history of the United States both before and after 1865.

When the American colonists started debating their merging into a single political unit, the obviously central issue was that of States’ rights – i.e., what sovereignty would be left to the States once a federal power, endowed with a sovereignty of its own, had been established.

Since none of their representatives appears to have called for the States to forfeit their sovereignty entirely, it seems obvious that the new union, it tighter than the one obtaining under the Articles of Confederation, was nevertheless to be that of a federation in which the federal power was rigorously construed, strictly limited, and States’ rights sternly asserted. Such a view was never unanimous.

The Federalists, men of the North already, opposed it immediately, (hence the Tenth Amendment) and never relented until they overcame at the price of open war. In between they had constantly waged one by other means, kindling the fires of conflict with self-interested issues (internal improvements, tariffs, a central bank), the last of which was the rather contrived issue of slavery. (The South ended up fighting as one man while the only a fourth of Southern households actually owned slaves . . . As for the Yankees, once victorious they abandoned the freed slaves to a rather dubious fate.)

So the fateful war was fought, and union proclaimed to have been restored.

A scurrilous claim: It is symbolic that the South could be reinstated as a member of the Union only after a team of Northern generals had razed it. The new union, instead of resulting from the regulated intercourse of political bodies, was forced down the throats of half of them, and the unity prevailing between Americans became that which obtains between colonizers and colonized.

Lincoln showed himself to be a faithful disciple of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s method for regenerating France: “to prevent the union from being an empty word, it must be disposed that whoever is rebellious to the people’s will must be forced to obey it, which only means forcing him to be free. From such deviousness was born a new type of nation, indeed.”

(1865: The True American Revolution, Claude Polin, Chronicles, April 2015, excerpts pg. 14; www.chroniclesmagazine.org)

Lincoln’s War Against the People

Lincoln’s War Against the People

“Did not Jefferson Davis have a better grasp of the Revolution when he said that Southerners were simply imitating their forebears, and that the Confederacy “illustrates the American idea that government rests upon the consent of the governed?

The desire for [centralized government] “consolidation on the part of some Americans, perhaps not a majority, had reached a point that the observations made by [Alexis de] Tocqueville and [James Fennimore] Cooper were no longer relevant. Lincoln could launch war against a very substantial part of the people. To this end he was willing to kill 300,000 Southern soldiers and civilians and even more of his native and immigrant proletariat.

The crackpot realist General Sherman said it well: We are in the enemy’s country, and I act accordingly . . . The war will soon assume a turn to extermination, not of soldiers alone, that is the least part of the trouble, but the people.” Clearly, the government, the machinery controlled by the politicians in Washington, who had been chosen by two-fifths of the people, now had supremacy over the life and institutions of Americans.”

(Society Precedes Government: Two Counterrevolutions, Clyde N. Wilson, Chronicles, April 2015, excerpts pg. 18) www.chroniclesmagazine.org

Evidence of the Northern Conspiracy

After an abolitionist mob disrupted an 1854 Chicago speech by Stephen A. Douglas, the New York Herald wrote: “Here we find the members of [the Republican] party which has inscribed on its banners the motto “free speech – free labor – free men,” uniting to put down the exercise of a right guaranteed by the Constitution, and adopted as one of their own cardinal points of faith.” The Illinois State Register had already noted that the mob disruptions at Douglas speaking events as “characteristic of abolitionism,” and “It is but natural that men who deny who deny the people of the Territories privileges which they claim for themselves, should deny, by mob action, the privilege of free speech to those who differ with them in matters of public policy.” As Douglas prophesied below, the Republicans did get rid of the Southern States and held a near permanent majority until Woodrow Wilson, with only Grover Cleveland interrupting their political dominance.

Evidence of the Northern Conspiracy

“Stephen A. Douglas understood the secret designs of the leading Republicans, as well as any other living man, and he thus gave utterance to his honest convictions, in the United States Senate, December 25, 1860: “The fact can no longer be disguised that many of the Republican Senators desire war and disunion, under pretext of saving the Union.

They wish to get rid of the Southern States, in order to have a majority in the Senate to confirm the appointments, and many of them think they can hold a permanent Republican majority in the Northern States, but not in the whole Union; for partisan reasons they are anxious to dissolve the Union, if it can be done without holding them responsible before the people.”

(Progress and Evidence of the Northern Conspiracy, The Logic of History, Five Hundred Political Texts, Chapter XI, Stephen D. Carpenter, 1864, S.D. Carpenter, Publisher, pg. 53)

An Understanding of Eighteenth Century Government

The author below writes that the Founders, to include men such as John Adams and James Madison, saw the purpose of a separation of powers in the new government as necessary to give both “property” and “the people” – the aristocracy and the workers – a voice in government with a check upon one another. He adds that those who think of government as a science and formal political structures have difficulty understanding the men of long ago who looked upon government as an instrument for resolving tensions among social classes, or “interests,” which was the term commonly used in the eighteenth century. The social interests remain today, as well as the social tensions.

Eighteenth Century Understanding of Government

“Those who bent their efforts, and a considerable amount of history along with them, to prove the constitutionality of the New Deal denied the fact of “State sovereignty” under the Article of Confederation. They asserted the old doctrine that the union came before the States and was therefore all-powerful: State sovereignty never existed. From this doctrine they deduced that New Deal measures could not be invalidated by the Supreme Court, which turned to “States’ rights” notions and a strict interpretation of the Constitution of 1787.

In doing so it was obvious the majority of the Court were motivated by political and economic predilections rather than concern for the true nature of the Constitution. The opponents of the Court, likewise, in their fervor to attain necessary ends, cited many analogies, the falsity of which they did not recognize. To them the argument of States’ rights used to defeat national regulation of business enterprise was specious and unfounded in history.

What they did not see was that the eighteenth-century counterparts of nineteenth-century vested interests likewise rejected the doctrine of State sovereignty. For them the only escape from a democracy which found expression in unchecked State governments was the creation of a national government which would limit if not destroy the sovereignty of the States. Despite the theorizing of later days, the fact remains that State sovereignty was a grim reality for those who objected to majority rule.

[Those] . . . who say or imply that democracy was not an issue in the Revolutionary era . . . do not face the fact that some of the Revolutionary leaders who became the folk heroes of later generations were actually opposed to what they believed to be, and what they called, “democracy.” Therefore they are unwilling to accept the idea that the Articles of Confederation were an expression of the democratic philosophy of the eighteenth century and that the Constitution of 1787 was the culmination of an anti-democratic crusade.

(The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774-1781, Merrill Jensen, University of Wisconsin Press, 1963, excerpts pp. viii-ix)

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