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No Southern Terms of Reunion

Unofficial peace overtures of mid-1864 coming through leading citizens of the North to Confederate commissioners in Toronto and Niagara Falls led to much speculation, but all saw that the obstacle to peace was in Lincoln himself. Lincoln would not agree to self-government for the South and continued his war to crush independence for his fellow Americans.  Below, Confederate Commissioner Clement C. Clay reports to Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

No Southern Terms of Reunion

“We never proposed, suggested or intimated any terms of peace, to any person, that did not embrace the independence of the Confederate States. We have not dispelled the fond delusion of most of those with whom we have conversed, that some kind of common government might at some time hereafter be re-established. But we have not induced or encouraged this idea.

On the contrary, when obliged to answer the question – “Will the Southern States consent to reunion?” – I have answered:

“Not now.  You have shed so much of their best blood, have desolated so many homes, inflicted so much injury, caused so much physical and mental agony, and have threatened and attempted such irreparable wrongs, without justification or excuse, as they believe, that they would now prefer extermination to your embraces as friends and fellow citizens of the same government.

You must wait till the blood of our slaughtered people has exhaled from the soil, till the homes which you have destroyed have been rebuilt, till our badges of mourning have been laid aside, and the memorials of our wrongs are no longer visible on every hand, before you propose to rebuild a joint and common government.”

If we can credit the assertions of both peace and war Democrats, uttered to us in person or through the presses of the United States, our correspondence with Mr. [Horace] Greeley has been promotive of our wishes. It has impressed all but fanatical Abolitionists with the opinion that there can be no peace while Mr. Lincoln presides at the head of the Government of the United States.

All concede that we will not accept his terms . . . They see that he can reach peace only through the subjugation of the South . . . through the seas of their own blood as well as ours; through anarchy and moral chaos – all of which is more repulsive and intolerable than even the separation and independence of the South. “

(Correspondence of Confederate State Department, Hon. C.C. Clay, Jr. to Hon. J.P. Benjamin, August 11, 1864; Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume VII, Broadfoot Publishing, 1990, excerpt, pp. 335-336)

Striving to Maintain the Union

The departure of Southern States from the fraternal Union came as no surprise to many, and those like Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia forecast disunion to President James Buchanan if he would not end his warfare with Stephen Douglas. Noting the refusal of Republicans to compromise and not wanting to return to Congress to witness the death of the Union, Stephens returned Georgia to await the unfolding events.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Striving to Maintain the Union

“The [Cincinnati] speech was intended as a solemn warning not only to his constituents and people of the South, but the whole country, that in his opinion the peace and prosperity of the country depended upon a strict and inflexible adherence to the principles of the adjustment measures of 1850 upon the subject of slavery, as carried out and expressed in the Democratic Baltimore platform of 1852, with the additional plank inserted in the Cincinnati Convention of 1856.

It was well known then that Mr. Stephens had serious apprehensions that those principles would be departed from in the next Democratic Convention to be held in Charleston the following year. It was also known that he did not finally determine to withdraw from Congress until after a personal interview with Mr. [James] Buchanan, in which he had urged the President to cease his warfare against Mr. [Stephen] Douglas, and the support of the paper known as his organ in Washington in insisting upon the insertion of a new plank in the next Convention, asserting it to be the duty of Congress to pass acts to protect slavery in the Territories, and not to leave that subject, as the Cincinnati platform had done, with the people of the Territories.

Mr. Stephens most urgently urged the President that if he continued to pursue the line of policy he was then following there would be a burst-up at Charleston, and with that burst-up of the Union – temporary or permanent – “as certainly as he would break his neck if he sprang from that window” [of the reception-room at the White house, in which they were conversing] “or as the sun would set that night.”

Mr. Buchanan seemed surprised at this opinion, but was unshaken in his determination to adhere to the policy he was then following. Mr. Stephens, in taking leave, told the President that his object in seeking the interview was to know if his purpose was as stated, and if that was so, his own intention was, not to be allowed to return to the next Congress.

He had spent sixteen years of life in striving to maintain the Union upon the principles of the Constitution; this he thought could be done for many years to come upon the principles set forth in the Cincinnati platform. The Government administered on these principles he thought the best in the world; but if it was departed from, he saw nothing but ruin ahead. He did not wish to be in at the death; but if disunion should come in consequence of this departure, he should go with the people of his own State.

Another fact connected with the retirement of Mr. Stephens from Congress may be noted here. When leaving Washington, with a number of other Southern members, on the beautiful morning of the 5th of March, 1859, he stood at the stern of the boat for some minutes, gazing back at the Capitol, when someone jocularly said, “I suppose you are thinking of coming back to those halls as a Senator.” (It was known that he had announced his intention not to return as a Representative.)

Mr. Stephens replied, with some emotion, “No; I never expect to see Washington again, unless I am brought here as a prisoner of war.” This was literally fulfilled in the latter part of October 1865, when he passed through Washington on his way to his home as a paroled prisoner from Fort Warren.”

(Life of Alexander H. Stephens, R.M. Johnston & W.H. Brown, J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1883, excerpts, pp. 347-348)

 

 

Grecian Horses into the Southern Troy

Jefferson Davis served as both a United States Representative and Senator from Mississippi, Secretary of War, 1853-1857 under President Franklin Pierce, and President of the Confederate States, 1861-1865. He was a staunch Southern Unionist who strived to find peaceful solutions to the sectional controversies that would lead to secession of the Southern States.  The “Know-Nothingism” mentioned below was a Northern nativist political party of the late 1840s and 1850s which opposed the immigration of Irish and German Catholics — Nathaniel P. Banks of Massachusetts and New Yorker Millard Fillmore were leaders of the party.  The following is excerpted from Jefferson Davis’ address of October 2, 1857 at Mississippi City.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Grecian Horses into the Southern Troy

“Colonel Davis rose . . . and referred to various events in the early history of Mississippi . . . that she had never violated the compact of our Union, and unresistingly borne disproportionate burthens for the support of the general government in peace . . . [and] at the first call for soldiers to maintain the honor of the national flag, had, like a Spartan mother, girded the sword upon her sons, who knew well they could never return to the maternal embrace unless they came covered with honorable fame or wrapped in the shroud of death.

[Regarding incessant Northern aggressions borne by the South, were] we to have more compromises to gather further disappointment, and sink still lower from the equality which our Fathers maintained, and transmitted to us? Fraternity and mutual alliance for the interests of each was the motive and purpose for which the Union was formed.

Preparation in the South to maintain her rights in any contingency which the future might and was likely to bring forth, would best serve to strengthen her Northern allies, if they remained true; and would best enable her to dispense with their services, if they should desert.

It was not upon mere party relation that his hopes were founded; it was upon the elevating, purifying power of the doctrine of State rights and strict construction [of the United States Constitution] – the Shibboleth which none but Democrats can pronounce.

In the earlier, and might well be said, in the purer days of the Republic, Mr. Jefferson pronounced the Northern Democracy the neutral allies of the South, and if that alliance was broken there was surely no other on which to rely.

From the foundation of the Government, the party opposed to the Democracy, under its various names and issues had always evinced its tendency to centralization by the latitudinous construction of the powers delegated to the Federal Government.

As examples, he cited the charter of the United States Bank, the enactment of a tariff for protection, a system of internal improvements, a genera distribution of public lands and of public treasure, and last, lowest in tone, and, as its name implied, in intelligence, Know-Nothingism, with its purpose to concede to the Federal Government the power to prescribe the terms on which naturalized citizens should be invested with the right of suffrage in the States.

He said that he considered every departure from strict construction of grants to the Federal Government, as the introduction of another Grecian horse into our Southern Troy, and he invoked every Mississippian to united and vigilant resistance to every such measure.

The South, as a minority section, can alone be secure in her rights by resolutely maintaining the equality and independence of the States, and thus alone could we hope to make our Union perpetual and effective for the great purposes for which it was ordained and established.

He then urged the necessity of home education, of normal schools, and Southern school-books, as the next step after the mother’s pious training in the formation of that character which was essential to progress toward that high destiny to which his anticipation pointed.

If, as was sometimes asserted, Governments contain within themselves the elements of their own destruction, as animate beings have their growth, their maturity to decay; if ours, the last, best hope of civil liberty was, like the many experiments which preceded it, to be engulfed in the sea of time . . . [he hoped] Mississippi would stand conspicuous for all that was virtuous and noble; that through the waves of fanaticism, anarchy and civil strife, her sons would be the Levites who would bear the ark of the Constitution, and when unable to save it from wreck, that in the pile of its sacred timbers their bones would be found mingled.”

(Speech at Mississippi City; The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 6, 1856-1860, L. Crist/M. Dix, editors, LSU Press, 1989, excerpts, pp. 138-139; 153-155)

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)

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