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Lincoln’s Northern Opposition

Lincoln’s Northern Opposition

After Sharpsburg in mid-1862, and especially Fredericksburg in late December 1862, the tremendous casualties all but stopped volunteering in the North and Lincoln considered conscription – in reality a whip to encourage enlistments. Northern governors feared electoral defeat at the hands of their constituents, which Lincoln solved by allowing paid substitutes, generous enlistment bounties and captured Southern blacks to meet State quotas.

Horatio Seymour, himself elected governor of New York during the tidal wave of Democratic Party victories in the fall of 1862, rightly felt that a majority of Northerners did not support Lincoln in his prosecution of the war. To combat Northern Democrats who questioned his war, Lincoln, his Republican governors and political generals tarred them with treasonous activities and threats of imprisonment.  Northern newspapermen who editorialized against the war found the latter a reality.

In an early October 1864 speech in Philadelphia, Seymour told his audience that the Northern armies crushing the South would imperil their own liberties, stating that “only then would the deluded people of the North see the full extent of Lincoln’s dictatorial administration – the price of the South’s conquest would be a government by bayonets.

“These victories will only establish military governments at the South, to be upheld at the expense of Northern lives and treasure. They will bring no real peace if they only introduce a system of wild theories, which will waste as war wastes; theories which will bring us to bankruptcy and ruin. The [Lincoln] administration cannot give us union or peace after victories.”

Calling attention to the fact that Senator Charles Sumner would “reduce the Southern States to the condition of colonies” – whereas the President planned to receive them back into the Union whenever one-tenth of the population should declare itself loyal – Seymour foresaw the stubborn conflict which followed the murder of one President and provoked a brazen plan to remove another.

Pointing to the words and acts of members of Congress like Thaddeus Stevens, he declared that “neither Mr. Lincoln nor his Cabinet” now had “control over National affairs.” They were powerless to induce Congress to undo all it had done; the President’s hands were now manacled.”

If the voters returned the Republicans to power, they would learn two bitter lessons: first, that it “is dangerous for a government to have more power than it can exercise wisely and well,” and second, that they could not “trample upon the rights of the people of another state without trampling on [their] own as well.”

Seymour was the Democratic candidate for president in 1868, opposing Grant.  The latter won a close victory by a majority of 300,000 votes out of 5,700,000 cast; historians credit Republican regimes in the South with disenfranchising whites while delivering the 500,000 freedmen votes which lifted Grant to victory.

(See: Horatio Seymour of New York, Harvard University Press, 1938, pp. 374-375)

The Great Glacier of Conservative Thought

Author Clement Eaton wrote that “the decline of the tradition of nationality below he Mason and Dixon line which began in the decade of the 1830’s was one of the great tragedies of our history.” He asserted that despite the secession of the lower South, strong unionism survived in the upper South until Lincoln forced the issue at Fort Sumter. At that point the upper South was forced to either help invade their neighbors, or help defend their neighbors.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Great Glacier of Conservative Thought

“Beyond the wave of emotionalism that took South Carolina and later the other cotton States out of the Union lay a great glacier of conservative thought. From being the most liberal section of the nation in the period of Jefferson and Madison the Southern States had become one of the most conservative areas of civilized life in the world.

Moreover, the leaders of the South regarded this conservatism with pride as an evidence of a superior civilization, forming a balance wheel of the nation, a counterpoise to Northern radicalism.

The American Revolution and the French Revolution were led by radicals and opposed by conservatives. The secession movement of the South, on the other hand, was truly a conservative revolt in that the South would not accept the nineteenth century.

By 1860-1861 many invisible bonds which held the Union together had snapped – one by one. The division of the Methodist and Baptist churches in 1844-1845 . . . was prophetic of a political split. The great Whig party which had upheld the national idea so strongly had disintegrated; Southern students attending Northern colleges had returned home; and Northern magazines and newspapers were being boycotted in the South.

As Carl Russell Fish has observed, “The Democratic party, the Roman Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church, the American Medical Association, and the Constitution were among the few ties that had not snapped.”

The tensions between the North and the South had become so great that the admirable art of compromise, which had hitherto preserved the American experiment of democratic government, failed to function in 186-1861. Only in the border States was there a strong movement for conciliation. The evidence indicates that Lincoln and the Republican party leaders entertained serious misconceptions about the strength and nature of Union sentiment in the South. They were not disposed therefore to appeasement.

The leaders of secession in the lower South also were in no mood for compromise. Representative David Clopton of Alabama, for example, wrote . . . “Many and various efforts are being made to compromise existing difficulties and patch up the rotten concern. They will all be futile.” He declared that the general impression in Congress among all parties was that the dissolution of the Union was inevitable.

Nevertheless, there was much conservative sentiment in the lower South as well as in the border States which would have welcomed a compromise to preserve the Union . . . In the election of 1860 Georgia and Louisiana, as well as the States of the upper South, had given a majority of their popular vote to [John] Bell and [Stephen] Douglas, the Union candidates – a fact which indicated that the people of these States had no desire to follow the lead of the fire-eaters.

Undoubtedly man of those who voted for [John] Breckinridge, the candidate of Southern extremists although he himself was a Unionist, desired to remain in the Union if a settlement protecting Southern rights could be secured [from the Republicans].

Whatever chance there may have been for a compromise was frustrated . . . [as] The Republican members [of the Senate Committee of Thirteen] voted against . . . concession [regarding the Crittenden Compromise]. Perhaps the best avenue toward a compromise would have been a national convention [of States] which was proposed by President [James] Buchanan and others; but it was not seriously considered.

Some modern students of the Civil War have emphasized economic factors as the most important factors as the most important reason for secession and the subsequent outbreak of war. Charles A. Beard minimizes slavery as a cause of the conflict and interprets the Civil War as produced by the struggle between rival industrial and agricultural societies to control the Federal government for their selfish economic ends.”

(A History of the Southern Confederacy, Clement Eaton, Macmillan Company, 1954, excerpts, pp. 11- 17)

War with Mexico and a Million Dead Gringos

As it did before and during the war several times, the South promoted compromise to maintain peace between the sections – and had the new Republican Party been interested in true compromise and saving the Union, there might have been a Compromise of 1861. The author below traces the thread that led to war, though secession of the American South did not cause war – it did cause the North to choose war and conquest.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

War with Mexico and a Million Dead Gringos

“Even before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had been ratified, the Texas legislature on March 14, 1848, created Santa Fe County, which included almost all of New Mexico east of the Rio Grande. Military and civil officials in New Mexico were anxious to prevent the region from coming under Texas jurisdiction.

[Newly-elected President Zachary Taylor] was forthright in his statements regarding the Texas claim . . . and issued orders to the army to prevent county organization of New Mexico by the Texans. Southerners became so incensed that they were threatening to join the Lone Star State in secession if New Mexico east of the Rio Grande was not given to Texas.

Governor Peter H. Bell of Texas convened the legislature there in special session in August 1850 . . . and told [them] that they must meet the federal impediment “boldly, and fearlessly and determined. Not by further supplications or discussion . . .; not by renewed appeals to their generosity and sympathy . . . but by action . . . at all hazards and to the last extremity.”

This attitude was seconded by other Southerners; Alexander Stephens of Georgia declared in a speech before the House of Representatives that the first federal gun fired on Texas officials would be a signal for “free men” from the Delaware [River] to the Rio Grande to rise up against the Union. Taylor remained adamant, however; to such talk he crisply replied, “Disunion is treason.”

Fortunately for the nation the “Old Giants” were still active in Congress: Clay, Calhoun and Webster. Clay called for a compromise in a speech on January 29, 1850. California would enter as a free State; New Mexico would be given separate territorial status; Texas would be paid $10,000,000 for ceding its claim to New Mexico, thereby allowing it to pay its debts; and Utah would be given territorial status. Clay’s proposal met bitter debate, perhaps the most bitter in the history of Congress.

By September 5 all the measures proposed by Clay had been passed. Lumped together, these measures were called the Compromise of 1850 [and without] a doubt they preserved the Union and postponed civil war for a decade. But they killed the Whig Party . . . made . . . war almost inevitable [and led to the doctrine of popular sovereignty just four years later when the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed.

Perhaps it is cold comfort to dismembered Mexico, but the “Mexican Cession” led in the next two decades to the death of a million gringos, as well as to sectional hatreds that persist to the present.”

(North America Divided, The Mexican War, 1846-1848, Seymour V. Conner & Odie B. Faulk, Oxford University Press, 1971, excerpts, pp. 173-176)

To Stay the Tide of Bloodshed

At least six efforts were made, most of Southern origin, to settle the political differences with the North peacefully. From the Crittenden Compromise of late 1860, the Washington Peace Conference led by former President John Tyler, the Confederate commissioners being sent to Washington in March 1861, to the Hampton Roads Conference of February 1865, the South tried to avert war and end the needless bloodshed. It was clear that one side wanted peace, the other wanted war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

To Stay the Tide of Bloodshed

“Carl Schurz, a notorious agitator and disunionist from Wisconsin, telegraphed to the governor of that State: “Appoint commissioners to Washington conference – myself one – to strengthen our side. By “our side” he meant those who were opposed to any peace measures to save the country from war and preserve the Union.

The Republicans wanted to make as wide as possible the gulf between the North and the South. This peace Conference, therefore, was a failure, because the abolitionists were determined there should be no peace.

In the Senate, Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, made an urgent appeal to the Republicans “to assure the people of the South that you do intend to calmly consider all propositions which they may make, and to recognize their rights which the Union was established to secure.” But the Republican Senators remained mute.

Mr. Davis held that if the Crittenden Resolutions were adopted, the Southern States would recede their secession. He also said that the South had never asked nor desired that the Union founded by its forefathers should be torn asunder, but that the government as was organized should be administers in “purity and truth.” Senator Davis, with mildness and dignity of voice, also said, “There will be peace if you so will it; and you may bring disaster upon the whole country if you thus will have it. And if you will have it thus . . . we will vindicate and defend the rights we claim.”

As the year of 1860 was going out, all reasonable hope of reconciliation for the South departed. The Southern leaders then called a conference. What was to be done? All their proposals of compromise, looking for peace within the Union, had failed. It was evident that the Republican party in Congress was to wait until Mr. Lincoln came in on March 4th. But efforts for peace were not given up, even after the war began, but were earnestly continued in an effort to stay the tide of bloodshed.

(Efforts for Peace in the Sixties, essay by Mrs. John H. Anderson of Raleigh, Confederate Veteran Magazine, August 1931, page 299)

Keeping the Loyal States in Harness

In mid-1864 General Ulysses S. Grant was greatly concerned about massive draft resistance and the need to send troops northward despite outnumbering General Robert E. Lee at least four to one in Virginia. President Davis in April 1864 sent three commissioners and agents to Canada for the purpose of opening a northern front on the border after freeing Southern prisoners – in hopes of a negotiated peace and independence for the South. It is reported that Lincoln feared losing reelection to a Democrat, and spending the rest of his life in prison for repeated violations of the United States Constitution.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Keeping the Loyal States in Harness

“The slow and bloody progress through Virginia to the James [River], the failure of the first assaults on Lee’s lines around Petersburg, the appearance of [General Jubal] Early before the gates of [Washington, DC], produced a greater sense of disillusionment and of disappointment than had followed Burnside’s [1862] repulse at Fredericksburg or Hooker’s [1863] failure at Chancellorsville. The New York World, which had been exceptionally friendly to the commander in chief, asked on July 11:

“Who shall revive the withered hopes that bloomed on the opening of Grant’s campaign?”

And nine days before Congress had invited the President to appoint a day for national prayer and humiliation. Horace Greeley attempted to open negotiations for peace by meeting Confederate commissioners at Niagara [Falls], and in the middle of July two other semi-official seekers of peace, James F. Jacques and J.R. Gilmore, had gone to Richmond, only to be told by the Southern President:

“If your papers tell the truth, it is your capital that is in danger, not ours . . . in a military view I should certainly say our position is better than yours.”

Greeley, despite the failure of his journey to Niagara, resumed his efforts to end the war, and on August 9, wrote to the President:

“Nine-tenths of the Whole American people, North and South, are anxious for peace – peace on almost any terms – and utterly sick of human slaughter and devastation. I beg you, implore you, to inaugurate or invite proposals for peace forthwith. And, in case peace cannot now be made, consent to an armistice of one year, each party to retain unmolested all it now holds, but the rebel ports to be opened.”

Not only was there this pressure from outside; there was discord within. [Secretary Salmon P.] Chase had resigned, a presidential election was drawing near, and there were outspoken predictions of a Republican defeat. The North was feeling as it had never felt before the strain of prolonged conflict . . . the rumblings of opposition to the draft, which had just become law, were growing daily louder [and] surely Lincoln would have been justified in [opening negotiations] in August, 1864. But what happened?

Early in August the grumblings against the draft had alarmed [General Henry] Halleck, and on the eleventh of that month he told Grant: “Pretty strong evidence is accumulating . . . to make forcible resistance to the draft in New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, and perhaps some of the other States. The draft must be enforced for otherwise the army cannot be kept up. But to enforce it, it may require the withdrawal of a considerable number of troops from the field . . . ”

Four days later, on the evening of August 15, Grant answered . . . ”If there is any danger of an uprising in the North to resist the draft . . . our loyal governors ought to organize the militia at once to resist it. If we are to draw troops from the field to keep the loyal States in harness, it will prove difficult to suppress the rebellion in the disloyal States. My withdrawal from the James River would mean the defeat of Sherman.”

(A Southern View of the Invasion of the Southern States and War of 1861-65, Capt. S. A. Ashe, Raleigh, NC, 1935 pp. 66-67)

 

Trying to Save the Union

North Carolina’s James C. Dobbin served as a delegate to the convention at Baltimore to nominate Democratic candidates for president and vice-president in 1856. He was elected chairman of the North Carolina delegation and saw Franklin Pierce as the best choice to maintain sectional harmony in the Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Trying To Save the Union

“It was apprehended that the convention would adjourn in confusion, and without any nomination. At this crisis Mr. Dobbin arose, and in a modest, unobstrusive manner, and with matchless eloquence, spoke as follows:

“Mr. President: Pardon me for obtruding one word before North Carolina casts her vote. We came to pander to no factions artifices here, to enlist under no man’s banner at the hazard of principle; to embark in no crusade to prostrate any aspirant for the sake of sectional or personal triumph. We came here to select one of the army of noble spirits in our ranks to be our leader and champion in the glorious struggle for the great principles of democracy.

Again, and again, have we tendered the banner to the North, Save our happy Union, guard well the rights of the States, say we, and you can have the honor of the standard bearer. Zealously and sincerely have we presented the name of [President James] Buchanan, the noble son of the Key Stone State, around whom the affections of our hearts have so long clustered.

We have turned to the Empire State, New York, and sought to honor one of her distinguished sons. We now feel that in the midst of discord and destruction, the olive branch, if tendered once more, cannot be refused. We feel the hour now has come when the spirit of strife must be banished, and the mild, gentler and holier spirit of patriotism reign in its stead!

Come then, Mr. President, let us go to the altar and make sacrifices for our beloved country. We now propose, with other friends, the name of one who was in the field just long enough to prove himself a gallant soldier, and who was long enough in the councils of the nation to demonstrate that he is a statesman of the strong mind and honest heart; who has exhibited in the career of legislation, that he knew the rights of the South, while he respected those of the North, as well as of the East and the West; whose principles of democracy are as solid and enduring as the granite hills of his own New Hampshire native land — General Franklin Pierce.

“Come, friends and brothers, let us strike hands now; now for harmony and conciliation, and save our cherished principles and our beloved country.”

(Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians, John H. Wheeler, www.docsouth.unc.edu)

Nothing Less Than a War of Conquest

Lincoln, controlled by a disjointed Republican party, was unable to recognize that he was waging war upon free Americans who followed the very words of Jefferson’s Declaration. Former Governor William A. Graham, in his Hillsboro, North Carolina speech of April 27, 1861 and nearly a month before his State seceded, explains the logical and peaceful course Lincoln could have taken to defuse the crisis and thereby saved the lives of a million Americans, the Constitution and as well as the Union he claimed to be saving.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Nothing Less Than a War of Conquest

“We are in the midst of great events. For months past our political skies have been dark and lowering. The country has stood in anxious suspense on the perilous edge of civil war. It is well known that I among others, have insisted, that the election of Mr. Lincoln . . . obnoxious as were his own avowals of sentiment in relation to slavery in the South, and still more obnoxious as was the spirit of hostility to us, which animated the mass of his party followers, was not a sufficient cause for a dismemberment of this Government, and the destruction of the Union . . .

The seven States, however, stretching from our Southern frontier to the confines of Mexico, one by one in rapid succession have declared themselves separated from the Government of the United States, and formed a new confederation.

They found in the election which had taken place sufficient cause of occasion, in their estimation, for this hitherto untried course of proceeding, and levied armies to defend it by force. The authorities of the United States denied the right of secession claimed by these States, and the danger became great of a collision of arms.

The issue was made, but evaded under the administration of [President James] Buchanan. Its solution by Mr. Lincoln has been a matter of anxious contemplation to the people of the country since his accession to power. Whatever may be the true construction of the Constitution, or the President’s idea of his duty to enforce the laws, a wise statesmanship cannot close its eyes to the facts.

It is impossible to treat so extensive a revolution like a petty rebellion; for if suppressed by force, it would be at the expense of desolation and ruin to the country. He should have dealt with it . . . [and] yielded to the necessities by which he was surrounded, and adjusted by arrangement what he found impossible to control by force, or if possible, only at a sacrifice to the nation itself never to be repaired.

Had Mr. Lincoln risen to the height of the great occasion, promptly withdrawn his troops from fortifications which he could not defend; convened Congress in extra session; recommended and procured the passage of a law, or amendment to the Constitution, acknowledging the independence of the seceded States . . . he might yet have maintained a Union of twenty-seven contented States . . . And after an experiment of a few years, there might, and in my opinion probably would have been, a re-annexation of the seceded States themselves.

But instead of this bold and magnanimous policy, his action has been vacillating. His inaugural address in equivocal, interpreted by some, on its first appearance as portending force, assurances are thrown out that his intentions are only peaceful. And when the public mind in all the eight [Southern States] that had not seceded, was settling down in the conviction that the forts were to be evacuated and repose was to be allowed, so favorable to conciliation and harmony, a Proclamation suddenly bursts upon the country announcing a determination on coercion, and calling for a militia force so great as to endanger the safety of more than the seceded States.

Careless of any terms of conciliation, or adjustments of differences with the border States, he resolves, but not till after his own adherents have been demoralized by his hesitation and professions of peace, on the application of force to maintain the authority of the Government in the States which have withdrawn, and requires us to cooperate as instruments in their subjugation.

The sober sense of the people of North Carolina had met this question, and for themselves have settled it. Ardent in their attachment to the Constitution and the Union, they had condemned separate State secession as rash and precipitate . . . as long as there was hope of an adjustment of sectional differences, they were unwilling to part with the Government . . . But the President gives to the question new alternatives.

These are, on the one hand, to join with him in a war of conquest, for it is nothing less, against our brethren of the seceding States, or, on the other, resistance to and throwing off the obligations of the Federal Constitution. Of the two, we do not hesitate to accept the latter.

And withal, we cannot exclude from our contemplation the idea, that when [the seceded States] shall be subdued upon the issues involved in the contest, our turn will come next; our only exemption above theirs being, like the victims of Cyclops, we shall be last to be devoured.”

(The Papers of William A. Graham, Volume V, 1857-1863, J.G. Hamilton, Max Williams, editors, NCAH, 1973, excerpts, pp. 244-247)

Virginia Seeks Peace, Radicals Seek War

No initiatives for peaceful compromise, nor peaceful and practical solution to African slavery were forthcoming from either Abraham Lincoln or the Republican party. Their policy since Lincoln’s election was steadfast resistance to any measures that would resolve the sectional differences. Congress was by February 1861 dominated by Northern politicians after the departure of several Southern States and had free reign over legislation which would have averted war between Americans.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Virginia Seeks Peace, Radicals Seek War

“[T]he Old Dominion, true to her traditional policy of taking the initiative in times of crisis, assumed the role of peacemaker. The legislature passed joint resolutions on January 19 calling for a peace convention to be held in Washington. An invitation was extended to the other States to appoint commissioners to meet in Washington on February 4 “to consider and, if practical, agree upon some suitable adjustment.” The opinion was expressed that the Crittenden Compromise, then pending in the Senate, would with some modification serve as a basis for adjustment.

These resolutions provided for the appointment of [former President] John Tyler as commissioner to the President of the United States and Judge John Robertson commissioner to the seceded States. They were instructed respectively to request the President . . . and the authorities of the seceded States to abstain, pending the action of the proposed peace convention, from “all acts calculated to produce a collision of arms between the States and the Government of the United States.”

Congress, however, paid no attention to the Virginia resolutions. In neither House were they printed or referred to a committee. They were soon allowed to lie on a table unnoticed.

Tyler left Washington on January 29 with the expectation of returning for the Peace Convention . . . On the day before leaving, he sent another letter to President Buchanan [which] expressed appreciation for the courtesies that had been shown him and pleasure of hearing the President’s message read in the Senate. He spoke of a rumor to the effect that at Fortress Monroe the cannon had been put on the land side and pointed inland.

His comment on this report was “that when Virginia is making every possible effort to redeem and save the Union, it is seemingly ungenerous to have cannon leveled at her bosom.” To this letter Buchanan sent a very courteous reply, stating that he would inquire into the rumors with reference to Fortress Monroe.”

(John Tyler, Champion of the Old South, Oliver Perry Chitwood, American Historical Association, 1939, pp. 436-438)

The South was the Conservative Party

To many the abolition crusade recalls brave Northerners standing tall for the liberty of African slaves and the Rights of Man. Upon closer inspection the North was a region unfriendly to both the black man and abolitionists – the latter evident with the mob-murder of Elijah Lovejoy in antebellum Illinois. Daniel Webster saw these sectionalists for what they were, and what evil they might accomplish.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The South Was the Conservative Party

“The story of Daniel Webster and his great speech in 1850 has been told at some length because it is instructive. The historians who have set themselves to the task of upholding the idea that it was the aggressiveness of the South, during the controversy over slavery, and not that of the North, that brought on secession and war, could not make good their contention while Daniel Webster and his speech for “the Constitution and Union” stood in their way. They, therefore, wrote the great statesman “down and out” as they conceived.

But Webster and that speech still stand as beacon lights in the history of that crusade. The attack came from the North. The South, standing for its constitutional rights in the Union, was the conservative party. Southern leaders, it is true, were, during the controversy over slavery, often aggressive, but they were on the defensive—aggressive, just as Lee was when he made his campaign into Pennsylvania for the purpose of stopping the invasion of his own land.

Mr. Webster in his great speech for “the Constitution and the Union,” as became a great statesman, pleading for conciliation, measured the terms in which he condemned “personal liberty” laws and Abolitionism. But afterward, irritated by the attacks made upon him, he naturally spoke out more emphatically.

McMaster quotes several expressions from his speeches and letters replying to these assaults, and says: “His hatred of Abolitionists and Free-Soilers grew stronger and stronger. To him these men were a “band of sectionalists, narrow of mind, wanting in patriotism, without a spark of national feeling, and quite ready to see the Union go to pieces if heir own selfish ends were gained.” Such, if this was a fair summing up of his views, was Webster’s final opinion of those who were carrying on the great anti-slavery crusade.”

(The Abolition Crusade and its Consequences, Hilary A. Herbert, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912, pp. 125-126)

 

 

Common-Sense Agrarian

Tom Watson of Georgia was old enough in 1863 to see Yankee prisoners on trains, and his father and two uncles served in defense of the American Confederacy. He remembered his grandfather’s plantation as belonging to another world, “a complete social and industrial organization, almost wholly sufficient unto itself,” and the old agrarian traditions of his childhood held sway for all his days.  He attacked those wanting to increase military appropriations for being “Afraid of your own proletariat. You are afraid of the dissatisfied workman, thrown of work by these soulless, these heartless, these insatiable trusts and combinations of capital . . .”

Watson was elected senator from Georgia in September 1920, and fought tirelessly against Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Common-Sense Agrarian

“The first subject on which the new Senator delivered himself at any length was the proposed treaty with Columbia, intended to conciliate that country for the Panama affair by the payment of $25,000,000. Republican senators, rallying to the defense of [Theodore] Roosevelt, had opposed the treaty as proposed by the Wilson administration.

Now that Roosevelt was dead . . . even [Henry Cabot] Lodge had reversed himself to support the treaty . . . [and] let the cat out of the bag by his statement: “We must not only enlarge our trade, but we must enlarge our source of supply of oil wherever it is possible to do so, and we cannot do it if we take the position that it is a sin for Americans to make money and that those who are engages in foreign investment and foreign commerce are to be punished instead of sustained.”

“Mr. President, are we the agents of Standard Oil Company – that and nothing more?” asked Watson. “When did that infant, protected in all its roots and branches, need our assistance in securing access to foreign oil fields?” He intimated that all the fine talk about Pan-American brotherhood turned his stomach. “Let us confess what we are doing – that we are here to buy property for the Standard Oil Company.”

If the country was in such need of oil, why did we cut ourselves off from the richest oil fields in the world – those of Soviet Russia.? “Because we did not like their form of government.” Did the senators like the form of government in Columbia any better? “What is it, by the way? “Despotism tempered by assassination.”

[Senators] who professed to be horrified at Red atrocities met with his ridicule. “Where is the consistency,” he asked, “of staying in a state of war, or at least non-intercourse, with a great nation which has always been our friend and at the same time handing out food to them as objects of charity? First we destroy their commerce and then try to replace it by gifts, by doles of food.” We had no more right to dictate Russia’s form of government than we had to dictate Germany’s.

He quoted a speech of [Daniel] Webster’s advocating recognition of Greece. “Let us not affect too much saintliness,” he admonished. “Are our skirts entirely clear of wrong in Hawaii, the Philippines, and in Santo Domingo?”

In a different connection, but in the same trend, he said: “We are hereditary revolutionists. We are so from instinct, history and tradition. We are so by sentiment.” Whence, then, all this outcry against revolutionists.”

[On questions of foreign policy Watson opposed] anything that remotely smacked of the [Woodrow Wilson’s] League of Nations, which, he said, was as much like the Holy Alliance of the nineteenth century “as two black cats are like one another.”

His most conspicuous fight was waged against the ratification of the Four-Power Treaty upon insular affairs in the Pacific. He denounced it as in reality an alliance with the dominant imperialist powers, designed to promote imperialism, and to draw the United States into the web of foreign rivalries, if not into the League itself.”

(Tom Watson, Agrarian Rebel, C. Vann Woodward, Oxford University Press, 1979, pp. 477-479

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