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“Not Since Hermann Destroyed the Roman Legions”

The Wilderness battle was fought July 1-3, 1864: 104,000 Union troops versus 61,000 Southern. Once again the carnage was appalling and once again Lincoln had the opportunity to end the struggle against the South’s independence as the British did some eighty years earlier with the colonies. Several peace conferences committed to saving the lives of soldiers and civilians alike would end in failure as Lincoln stood firm in his conviction to rule all the American States, and nearly half in subjugation.

“Not Since Hermann Destroyed the Roman Legions”

“Before the close of the day Grant’s army was on the south side [of the Rapidan], four thousand wagons filled with forage and ammunition, beef-cattle, cavalry, artillery and infantry. This feat was so pleasing that Grant regarded it as a great success and “undoubtedly a surprise to Lee.” The ensuing night the Union army entrenched and camped in the Wilderness, that tangled forest in which Hooker had come to grief.

Now that Grant was busy with his operations, Lee had not been idle. He had observed the movements of the enemy from every angle and had made a report to his government. Yet the crushing numbers of the enemy gave him concern. He made no excuses, raised no questions and expressed no doubts, but he must have more troops.

By April 30 the federal plans had been foreseen by Lee, precisely as they had been worked out by General Grant, and he had prepared his line of defense. In the Wilderness, he would attack Grant’s army on its left flank and throw it back on the Rapidan. He would make a strategic offensive and concentrate his forces and shut Grant up in that dense jungle.

Of this strategy of Lee’s it must be said it was one of his boldest and most skillful. His proposed plan, experts declare, broke all modern precedent – it was to be a duel in the dark. Such an engagement had not been fought since Hermann destroyed the Roman legions in the forest of Teutoburg.

But Lee was not bound by rule. He practiced his own theory of the art of war and, in the coming campaign, was to furnish such an example of the use of natural features to neutralize a superior force as will always be a model. Grant’s telegraph lines were to be rendered useless, his artillery rendered useless, his artillery wholly ruled out, the guns, three hundred of them, to stand silent. Cavalry was to be still more useless.

Five times the federal charge was made and five times it failed. [The last days’ assault] lasted but sixty minutes, yet it was one of the most disastrous Union defeats of the war. Six thousand Union soldiers were killed or wounded in an hour, and Cold Harbor passed into history with Fredericksburg. The fatality among the Union officers was astounding; they literally went forward and led their men into battle and death.  The loss to Lee’s army was slight.”

(Robert E. Lee: A Biography, Robert W. Winston, William Morrow & Co., 1934, excerpts pp. 291-292; 306-307)

President Buchanan’s Last Annual Message

President James Buchanan’s last annual message of December 3, 1860, placed the blame for the country’s sectional divide squarely upon the Republican party and its adherents. Below, the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Patriot and Union cited and commented upon the message in its December 6, 1860 issue.

President Buchanan’s Last Annual Message

“At no previous period of our national history has the message of the President of the United States been looked for with more solicitude than was the last annual message of Mr. Buchanan; for it was felt that upon his recommendation might depend the future of the country, and that the issues of peace or civil war were, to a great extent, in his hands.

If any man in the country has the right to speak with authority to the South it is JAMES BUCHANAN, as President of the United States and head of the Democratic party; for in his official capacity he has ever been faithful to all his constitutional obligations, and as a party leader has endeavored to bring about those just concessions which, had they been granted, would have saved the country from the perils that now environ it.

The President traces our present difficulties to their true source when he attributes them to the persistent agitation of years against the system of Negro slavery as it exists in the Southern States, and to the alarming sense of insecurity growing out of that agitation . . . growing and extending, until it culminated in the formation of a sectional Northern party, thoroughly imbued and entirely controlled by hostility to the institutions of the Southern States.

It is true that the platforms and creeds of the Republican party profess loyalty to the spirit of the Constitution, and disclaim any intention of interfering with the domestic institutions of the Southern States. But professions weigh nothing when contrasted with facts.

Since the organization of the Republican party the Abolitionists have ceased to exist in this latitude as a separate party, because they merged themselves in the Republicans, deeming that the best means of promoting their ultimate objects.

Every form and degree of Abolitionism has flourished and developed under the fostering care of this Republican party, which, when confronted with the fruits of its own teaching, meekly points to its platform, and says, “we mean no harm to the Southern States.”—Turning from fair words to foul deeds, the Southern people find that the consequences of Republicanism are—the encouragement of Abolitionism, which does not hesitate to avow hostility to slavery wherever it exists; the enactment of unconstitutional laws by Republican Legislatures to nullify the fugitive slave law; the circulation of incendiary publications throughout the South, calculated, if not designed, to encourage servile insurrections, and endanger the lives of the Southern people; the promotion of John Brown raids, and the subjection of the Southern States and people to a position of inferiority.

These are unmistakably indicated as the consequences of the existence of the Republican party, which, however moderate its professions, cannot escape direct responsibility for what it promotes or encourages, and is naturally judged by the Southern people from its fruits, and not from its platforms.

The President shows conclusively that secession is not a remedy conferred upon any State by the Constitution against the encroachments of the General Government, but that it would be a revolutionary step, only justifiable “as the last desperate remedy of a despairing people, after every other constitutional means of conciliation has been exhausted.”

Notwithstanding that the message takes grounds against the constitutional right of any State to secede from the Union, the position is maintained that the Constitution has delegated to Congress no power to coerce a State into submission; and this doctrine is fortified with powerful arguments. We do not see how they can be controverted.

The proceedings of the Convention that framed the Constitution—the very highest authority—show that “Mr. Edmund Randolph’s plan, which was the ground work of the Constitution, contained a clause to authorize the coercion of any delinquent State. But this clause was struck out at the suggestion of Madison, who showed that a State could be coerced only by military force; that the use of military force against a State as such would be in the nature of a declaration of war; and that a state of war might be regarded as operating the abrogation or dissolution of all pre-existing ties between the belligerent parties, and it would be of itself the dissolution of the Union.” Thus it appears that the idea of coercing disobedient States was proposed in the Constitutional Convention and rejected.

But the President advances one step further in the argument. Suppose a State can be coerced, how are we to govern it afterwards? Shall we invite the people to elect Senators and Representatives after they are subdued and conquered? Or shall we hold them as subjects, and not as equals? How can we subdue the unconquerable will? And how can we practically annul the maxim that all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed? Such a process would undermine the foundations of the government and destroy the principles upon which it is reared more certainly than to admit the want of coercive power in the general government.

The President concludes that portion of the message relating to our domestic troubles by suggesting that they may be settled by amending the Constitution, in the way provided by that instrument, so as to secure to the South the rights for which she contends.

Let the South pause before striking the last fatal blow at the Union, and await the time when a returning sense of justice shall induce the North to concede all her just demands . . . Let the North cease its unmanly aggressions—repeal its unconstitutional statutes—stop its reckless agitation against an institution for which it is not responsible and over which it has no control—overthrow any man or party that seeks to perpetuate strife—and the Union may yet be preserved, and even made stronger and more enduring by reason of the shock it has endured.

But without this spirit of concession and mutual forbearance, there is nothing to hope for in the immediate future but contention and disunion.”

(The President’s Message: Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Daily Patriot and Union, December 6, 1860)

 

A Political Party Dangerous to Peace

Stephen R. Mallory succeeded David Yulee as Florida Senator in 1851, after a highly-contested campaign. Yulee vigorously opposed the Compromise of 1850, holding “that the North had violated the Missouri Compromise by proposing the Wilmot Proviso.” Mallory’s Catholic faith disturbed Yulee supporter and future Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who later “ruled that Lincoln’s assassination had been a Catholic plot.” It is also understood that the hanging of Mrs. Surratt “has been charged to her Roman faith.” Below, Senator Mallory addresses the United States Senate regarding the John Brown insurrection in Virginia.

A Political Party Dangerous to Peace

 “On December 7, 1859, in discussing the Harper’s Ferry invasion resolution, he said:

“In this case the cause of Virginia is the cause of the South. We feel proud of her attitude, proud of her high tone, proud of the legal and constitutional manner in which her executive and people have met this outbreak; and we expect to stand by her in any issue that she may make.

Now, Sir, are not the Southern people justified in looking to the North to quiet public opinion? Are they not justified in the excitement which is felt there, though it is not manifested in words or acts – deeply as it underlies the current of society?

I might appeal to Northern gentlemen for the justification. I might tell them, Sir, that the popular pulpit throughout the North, that the light literature of the North, that the separation of the churches between the North and the South, that the laws upon her statute books, the speeches in her Legislatures, the messages of her Governors, all have tended to produce the fruits which now stare us in the face.

Gentlemen get up here frankly and disavow, in terms more or less explicit, all knowledge or concurrence with, or approval of, the acts of this simple murderer, midnight assassin, and traitor. They could do no less . . .

The speaker went on to call attention to the threat of the Republican party to [the peace of the country, and] to the “meetings of sympathy condolence and compassion . . . for a man who deserves the severest condemnation throughout the whole world. Bells are tolled; in Albany [New York] one hundred guns are fired . . . [in his honor]”

(Stephen Russell Mallory, Occie Clubbs, Florida Historical Quarterly, Volume XXVI, Number 1, July 1947)

Lacking Faith in the Government

A powerful and skillful debater, James A. Seddon of Virginia was the self-appointed manager of the Washington Peace Conference, chaired by former President John Tyler.  It is said he matched John Randolph’s contempt of all forms of Northern life, “from the statesmen of New England to the sheep that fed on her hillsides.” The irony of the North’s “hatred of slavery” is that the black man usually arrived in the America’s in the filthy holds of New England slavers, being sold by their own brethren for New England rum and Yankee notions. After the war began, Seddon became Secretary of War of the Confederate States.  

Representative Preston King of New York, below, seemed unaware that his State’s ratification of the 1789 Constitution reserved to itself secession should it so desire; in assuming his office, he swore to uphold the Constitution rather than the federal government.

It is true that States to not have a “right” to secede: being sovereign entities since the 1783 Treaty of Paris with England, and only granting the federal agent specific enumerated authority in the Articles of Confederation and later Constitution, each State holds the ability to withdraw and form a more perfect union at its pleasure.

Kentucky’s James Guthrie, below, argued in the Peace Convention that New England had threatened secession several times in the past as it lost faith in the federal government to protect its interests, and that the South in 1861 was following the same path. It is said that John C. Calhoun absorbed the secessionist teachings of New Englanders.       

Lacking Faith in the Government

“[Seddon] declared that the object of the dominant party of the North . . . desired that the national and practical institutions of the South should be surrounded by a cordon of twenty free States and in the end extinguished.  

Seddon [emphasized] that the slaves had benefited by being brought to America and civilized. The South had done nothing wrong to the race; yet the South was assailed, attacked by the North, from the cradle to the grave, and the children of the free States had been educated to regard the people of the South as monsters of lust by the abolitionist societies and their doctrines and by their support for John Brown, and asked whether this was not a sufficient reason for suspicion and grave apprehension on the part of the South.

He contended that the moral aspect was by itself dangerous enough, and when combined with politics it was made much worse.

Seddon commented on the acquisitive spirit of the North, its ambitions for office, power, and control over government, which would permit it soon to control the South.  He re-emphasized that Virginia and the Border States would not remain in the Union without added guarantees. His personal opinion was that “the purpose of Virginia to resist coercion is unchanged and unchangeable.”

James C. Smith of New York . . . pointed out that the federal government held all territory in trust for the people. John G. Goodrich of Massachusetts essentially agreed. Seddon rose to reassert the Southern point of view. He declared that in the debate two new principles had been introduced: that [Southern people had restricted access to new territories], and that governmental action would be [Northern-influenced].

This was exactly what the Southern States feared, Seddon declared, and it was the principal cause of secession. This was his interpretation of the 1860 election. These policies were, in his view, not in accordance with the Constitution.

Preston King of New York declared that all owed allegiance to the Constitution above and beyond all other political duties and obligations. In contrast to Seddon, he considered the Union to be a confederation of States under the Constitution with all citizens owing primary allegiance to the Federal Government.

[Reverdy] Johnson of Maryland, who took the Southern point of view on most questions, doubted that a State had a right to secede, although he agreed with Madison’s point in the Federalist Number 42 that the right of self-preservation and revolution was above the Constitution as an integral part of the law of nature.

Even Seddon was restrained on this point, merely observing that Virginia was debating whether or not to remain in the Union because she feared for her safety under present conditions.

Seddon contended that what the South really wanted was security from the North and its dominant political party. [James] Guthrie [of Kentucky] observed that the North once contemplated destruction of the Union because of a feeling that the federal government was antagonistic to Northern interests. The South, he said, had the same feeling now and lacked faith in the government.”  

(Sectionalism in the Peace Convention of 1861, Jesse L. Keene, Florida Historical Quarterly, Volume XL, Number 1, July 1961, excerpt pp. 60-61; 69-70; 74-75)

Placing Party Above Peace

President James Buchanan well understood the limits of his authority and knew Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution – that waging war against any of the States united, and adhering to their enemies –constituted treason. As a former diplomat, he further saw the solution to the crisis in a Constitutional Convention of the States to properly settle differences between them. The Republican party, a purely sectional party which in no way represented Americans in the South, was now in power and sought to destroy Southern political and economic power by any means, including war.

Placing Party Above Peace

“On January 8, Buchanan sent to Congress a special message concerning relations with South Carolina. “The prospect of a bloodless settlement fades away,” he warned . . . “my province is to execute, not to make, the laws.” “We are in the midst of a great revolution . . . the Union must and shall be preserved by all constitutional means.”

Buchanan appealed again for the question to be “transferred from political assemblies to the ballot box” where the people would soon achieve a solution. “But in Heavens name, let the trial be made before we plunge into armed conflict upon the mere assumption that there is no other alternative.” From the beginning, concluded the president, no act of his should commence it, “nor even  . . . furnish an excuse for it by any act of this government.”

The inactivity of Congress convinced Buchanan that although the Republicans agreed with his policy and had nothing different to propose, they nonetheless did not wish a solution of the crisis during a Democratic Administration. He presumed that they would proceed with the same program once they came to power and thus take credit for a triumphant result, which, if Buchanan had achieved it, would annihilate their party. Lincoln’s repudiation of the use of armed force indicated that the new Administration would not pursue a course of coercion.

When on January 16 the Senate was asked to consider the least controversial point in the Crittenden plan, whether to initiate a constitutional convention, every Republican voted against letting the question even come to the floor.

Baron Stoeckl, Russian Minister in Washington, commented that the great Congressional leaders of the past had been replaced “by men undistinguished either by ability or reputation. Totally lacking in patriotism, they have but one purpose: the increase of the anti-slavery agitation . . . they preach war against the South and demand the extirpation of slavery by fire and iron.”

(President James Buchanan, A Biography, Philip S. Klein, American Political Biography Press, 1962, excerpt pp. 391-392)

Exercising All the War Powers of Congress

The Founders were wary of a standing army and gave only to Congress the power to raise troops and declare war. Should a sitting president venture to call for troops at his whim, as did Lincoln, the republic of those Founders was at an end.

Lincoln and the governors of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York who supplied him with troops for the purpose of waging war against other States and adhering to their enemies, were all were guilty of treason according to Article III, Section 3 of the United States Constitution.

There was a peaceful alternative which was not pursued by Lincoln and his party, and Southern Unionists pleas for peaceful diplomacy and compromise were ignored in favor of intentional duplicity at Charleston.

Exercising All the War Powers of Congress

“The day after Fort Sumter surrendered President Lincoln called on the several States for seventy-five thousand militia for ninety days service. The troops were to suppress “combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the Marshals by law, a curiously legalistic phraseology probably adopted in an attempt to bring the proclamation under the Acts of 1795 and 1807 governing the calling out of the posse comitatus.

Amid immense enthusiasm, the established militia regiments in the eastern cities moved at once. Pennsylvania troops, a few companies, reached Washington the next day; Massachusetts troops came within four days, in spite of the violent resistance to the transfer of the regiment across Baltimore between the railroad stations; New York’s first regiment was but a day behind Massachusetts.

The Governors of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri sharply declined to honor the President’s requisition for troops to be used against the seven States of the Confederacy. The Governor of Delaware reported that he had no authority for raising troops.

Neither, for that matter, had President Lincoln, under strict construction of the laws. In his first proclamation he called Congress into special session, but not to meet until the Fourth of July, more than two and a half months later.

In the meanwhile, free from interference, he drove ahead to organize his war, making laws or breaking them as he had need to, creating armies, enlarging the Navy, declaring blockades, exercising all the war powers of Congress.

Before the guns spoke at Sumter and the President answered with his call for troops, there was everywhere, in the North, in the Border States unhappily torn between loyalties, and even in those States which had seceded, a strong party for peace. The fire of Sumter swept away all that in the North; the call of Lincoln for troops, in the South.

The New Orleans True Delta, which had opposed secession and sought peace, “spurned the compact with them who would enforce its free conditions with blood” — an attitude that was general among those who were not original secessionists.”

(The Story of the Confederacy, Robert Selph Henry, Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1931, excerpts pp. 34-35)

Conservative Southern Democrats of 1917

Washington’s warning regarding foreign entanglements, as well as John Quincy Adam’s belief that America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy, were forgotten by Woodrow Wilson’s reign. In the latter’s time there were those in Congress who saw that Britain was a preferred creditor of American business interests and thus had to be bailed out with American lives and fortune.

The question must be asked: Had Britain been left on its own to seek an armistice with Germany, and Kaiser Wilhelm remaining on the throne, would a German nationalist rising out of American intervention and German defeat have occurred?

Conservative Southern Democrats of 1917

“[In] the period of neutrality of the First World War more Southerners opposed intervention and Wilson’s foreign policies than they did intervention and [FDR’s] foreign policies in the period of neutrality of the Second World War.

In an editorial of March 11, 1917, the Greensboro Daily News said the rich and the heads of corporate industry wanted war, not the great, silent masses. It was persuaded by its readers’ letters, it said, “that the masses of people of this section have little desire to take a hand in Europe’s slaughter and confusion.”

Several Southerners in Congress, such as Claude Kitchin of North Carolina, majority leader in the House of Representatives, and Senator James K. Vardaman of Mississippi, opposed Wilson’s foreign policy and upheld traditional isolationist views. Vardaman belonged to that “little band of willful men” who in February 1917 successfully filibustered against Wilson’s Armed Neutrality bill and was one of the six senators who voted against war with Germany.

In his opposition speech of April 8, 1917, to Wilson’s request for war, Kitchin insisted that the President’s foreign policy had been pro-British from the outbreak of hostilities. “We are to make their quarrel, right or wrong, our quarrel,” Kitchin said. “We are to fight out, with all the resources in men, money and credit of the Government and its people a difference between the belligerents of Europe to which we were and are utter strangers.” This was a view many isolationists, North and South, could accept.

Kitchin and the South resented, among other things, Britain’s blockade because of its adverse effect on cotton and tobacco growers . . . [as] in the first two years of the war, the South suffered more from the blockade than any other section. The possibility that the Southerners in Congress might join with the German-American and Irish-American elements to force a retaliatory arms embargo against the British for suppression of the cotton trade with Central Europe appeared in 1915 as a grave threat to Anglo-American relations.

“The cotton producers of North Carolina and the entire South are aroused over the action of Great Britain in declaring cotton contraband,” Claude Kitchin announced, according the Greensboro Daily News of August 27, 1915, “and they want the Administration to be as emphatic in dealing with England on this score as it has been dealing with Germany over others.”

Throughout the South there was a widespread campaign for retaliation against the British government.

The British, to pacify the South, finally made a secret agreement with the American government to buy enough cotton to stabilize the price at ten cents a pound. British buying . . . soon drove up cotton prices and the crisis passed.”

(The South and Isolationism, Alexander Deconde; The South and the Sectional Image, The Sectional Theme Since Reconstruction, Dewey W. Grantham, editor, Harper & Row, 1967, excerpts pp. 120-121)

General Scott’s Fearful Foreboding

General Winfield Scott’s (1786-1866) view of peacefully allowing the American South pursue independence aligns with that of Thomas Jefferson’s regarding State sovereignty and newer States formed out of Louisiana.

In a letter to John C. Breckinridge in August 1803, Jefferson wrote: “[We] see their happiness in the union, and we wish it. Events may prove otherwise . . . God bless [both old and new States], and keep them in union, if it be for their good, but separate them, if it be better.”

Scott’s war cost estimates below were very low. The direct financial cost of the war’s operation was about $8 billion, which, eventually increased to $30 billion factoring in the destruction of property, derangement of the labor power, the Northern pension system and other economic losses. In human cost: one soldier, North and South, died for every six slaves freed and for every ten white Southerners saved for Lincoln’s union.

In addition, “The money spent to field the two armies would have purchased the liberty of the four million slaves five times over. (Tombee, Portrait of a Cotton Planter, Theodore Rosengarten, Morrow & Company, 1986, page 212.)

General Scott’s Fearful Forebodings

“[Scott’s] opinion on the 3rd of March [1861 was sent by letter] to Secretary [William] Seward. In this he exclaims: “Conquer the seceded [cotton] States by invading armies. No doubt this might be done in two or three years by a young and able general – a Wolfe, a Dessaix, a Hoche, with three hundred thousand disciplined men, estimating a third for garrisons, the loss of yet a greater number by skirmishes, sieges, battles and Southern fevers.

The destruction of life and property on the other side would be frightful, however perfect the moral disciple of the invaders. The conquest completed, at that enormous waste of human life to the North and the Northwest, with at least $250,000,000 added thereto, and cui bono [who benefits]?

Fifteen devastated provinces! [Not] to be brought into harmony with their conquerors, but to be held for generations by heavy garrisons, at an expense quadruple the net duties or taxes it would be possible to extort from them, followed by a protector or emperor.” In view of these fearful forebodings, we are not surprised that he should have despaired of the Union, and been willing to say to the cotton States, “Wayward sisters, depart in peace.”

Nor that he should have fallen back on his opinion in the “Views” (29 October 1860), that “a smaller evil [than such a civil war] would be to allow the fragments of the great Republic to form themselves into new Confederacies.” [Scott] advises Mr. Lincoln’s administration “to throw off the old [sectional Republican party] and assume a new designation – the Union party; adopt the conciliatory measures proposed by Mr. Crittenden, or the Peace Convention, and my life upon it, we shall have no new cases of secession, but, on the contrary, an early return of many if not all of the States which have already broken off from the Union.”

(Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of Rebellion, James Buchanan, D. Appleton and Company, 1866, excerpts pp. 172-173)

Rough Language & Peace Democrats in Pennsylvania

General Clement A. Evans was born in Stewart County, Georgia in 1833, 100 years after the colony had been founded by Oglethorpe, and during the nullification crisis. He was wounded five times during the war and commanded Lee’s rearguard during the evacuation of Petersburg in April 1865. During Lee’s advance toward Gettysburg in mid-1863, he wrote of “coarse” Pennsylvania women “evidently accustomed to labor,” and that “people say that volunteering for Lincoln’s army is over with and that young men will hide from the draft.”

Rough Language & Peace Democrats in Pennsylvania

“June 24 [1863] Wednesday –

Marched from Waynesboro toward Chambersburg [Pennsylvania] passing through Quincy, Funkstown & other small villages. Encamped near Greenwood, on the Baltimore and Chambersburg turnpike. The class of Pennsylvanians met on this route do not impress one favorably. We find them generally living in pretty good style, but coarse, uneducated and apparently having little knowledge of the outside world. Some of them have never seen a cannon and expressed great anxiety to see the big guns.

The Southern troops were considerably surprised at the rough and profane language of the Pennsylvania belles. To us who never heard a rough word from the lips of a Southern lady, it sounds very strange to hear these Northern women curse – Considerable alarm is manifested at our approach. In some instance citizens leave their houses to our mercy, but I am glad to write that generally the orders have been observed.

The citizens supply our troops too liberally with the article of whiskey. Certainly they can ruin our army by the liberality of that sort unless the orders are enforced. In Quincy, the merchants were selling their goods to our soldiers, taking Confederate money freely.

The country we have passed through resembles the Valley of Virginia. But we have reached a much poorer region, settled by poorer people.

June 25. Thursday –

Went with the picket to their posts and took dinner with a Pennsylvania Dutch Lady. Talked to some of the peace Democrats. They appear to be very hostile to the Abolitionists & in favor of Peace. They hope for a restoration of the Union by a peace policy.

The soldiers are behaving well. These people who have been unaccustomed to an army think that the loss of a beehive or a dozen poultry quite a hardship. They ought to see the Virginia farms despoiled, houses burned, Negroes run off, women and children turned out of doors – then they would not complain.”

(Intrepid Warrior, Clement Anselm Evans: Confederate General from Georgia, Life, Letters and Diaries, Robert G. Stephens, editor, Morningside House, 1992, excerpts pp. 213-214; 218)

A Party Quite Revolutionary

The Republican Party, even after subjugating Americans in the South in 1865 and holding the North under virtual martial law during the war, “maintained its power by force and fraud, known as Reconstruction.”

The author below asserts that it “would have been far better to allow the American Union to dissolve at the will of the people” . . . as there was “nothing whatever in the legacy of the founders or in the theory of self-government to prevent this, or that argues against it.”

A Party Quite Revolutionary

“Though it is not widely known, the Confederacy had commissioners in Washington ready to make honorable arrangements – to pay for the federal property in the South, assume their share of the national debt, and negotiate all other questions. Lincoln would not deal with these delegates directly. Instead, he deceived them into thinking that Fort Sumter would not be reinforced – thus precipitating reaction when reinforcement was attempted. Even so, the bombardment of Fort Sumter was largely symbolic. There were no casualties, and, remember, almost all other forts in the South had already peacefully been handed over.

Sumter itself did not necessarily justify all-out civil war; it was simply the occasion Lincoln was waiting for. Even after the War progressed it would have been possible, with a Northern government on traditional principles, to have made peace short of the destruction that ensued.

Or it would have been possible, as millions of Northerners wanted, to have sustained a war for the Union, a gentlemen’s disagreement over the matter of secession that was far less destructive and revolutionary than the War turned out to be. Many Northerners favored this and supported the War reluctantly and only on such grounds – a suppressed part of American history. A great deal of death and destruction, as well as the maiming of the Constitution, might have been avoided by this approach.

This did not happen. Why?

Because, in fact, for Lincoln and his followers it was the revolution that was the point. Throughout the War and Reconstruction, the Republican Party behaved as a revolutionary party – though sometimes using conservative rhetoric – a Jacobin party, bent on ruling no matter what, on maintaining its power at any cost. At times they even hampered the Northern war effort for party advantage. It is very hard to doubt this for anyone who has closely studied the behavior of the Republicans during this period rather than simply picking out a few of Lincoln’s prettier speeches to quote.

Lord Acton, the great English historian of liberty, wrote: “The calamity . . . was brought on . . . by the rise of the republican party – a party in its aims and principles quite revolutionary.” And when it was all over, Acton remarked that Appomattox had been a greater setback for the cause of constitutional liberty than Waterloo had been a victory. James McPherson, the leading contemporary historian of the Civil War, though he approves rather than deplores the revolution that was carried out, agrees that it was a revolution.”

(Defending Dixie: Essays in Southern History and Culture, Clyde N. Wilson, Foundation for American Education, 2006, excerpts pp. 138-139)

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