Browsing "Pleading for Peace"

Great Americans Amid a Great Crisis

While the Republican party reveled in its plurality victory and avoided any compromise in order to maintain party unity, Unionists like Jefferson Davis emulated great American leaders of earlier times in challenging Congress to meet the crisis and save the creation of the Founders. 

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Great Americans Amid a Great Crisis  

“Jefferson Davis, in his farewell address to the United States Senate, expressed the sentiments of Virginia . . . when he said:

“Now sir, we are confusing language very much. Men speak of revolution; and when they say revolution, they mean blood. Our fathers meant nothing of the sort. When they spoke of revolution, they meant the inalienable right.

When they declared as an inalienable right, the power of the people to abrogate and modify their form of government whenever it did not answer the ends for which it was established, they did not mean that they were to sustain that by brute force . . . Are we, in this age of civilization and political progress . . . are we to roll back the whole current of human thought and again return to the mere brute force which prevails between beasts of prey as the only method of settling questions between men?

Is it to be supposed that the men who fought the battles of the Revolution for community independence, terminated their great efforts by transmitting prosperity to a condition in which they could only gain those rights by force?  If so, the blood of the Revolution was shed in vain; no great principles were established; for force was the law of nature before the battles of the Revolution were fought.”

Robert E. Lee, writing on the 23rd of January, 1861, said:

“Secession is nothing but revolution. The framers of our constitution never exhausted so much labor, wisdom and forbearance in its formation and surrounded it with so many guards and securities if it was intended to be broken by every member of the Confederacy at will . . . Still, a Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me. If the Union is dissolved and the Government disrupted, I shall return to my native State and share the miseries of my people — and save in defense (of Virginia) will draw my sword on none.”

George Baylor, speaking on the 1st of March 1861 in the Virginia Convention, said:

“I have said, Mr. President, that I did not believe in the right of secession. But whilst I make that assertion, I also say that I am opposed to coercion on the part of the Federal Government with the view of bringing the seceded States back into the Union . . . I am opposed to it first because I cannot find any authority in the Constitution of the United States delegating that power to the Federal Government, and second, because if the Federal Government had the power it would be wrong to use it.”

John Quincy Adams, speaking before the New York Historical Society in 1839, on the 50th Anniversary of Washington’s inauguration as President of the United States, said:

“To the people alone there is reserved as well the dissolving as the constituent power, and that power can be exercised by them only under the tie of conscience binding them to the retributive justice of Heaven.

With those qualifications we may admit the right as vested in the people of every State of the Union with reference to the General Government which was exercised by the people of the United Colonies with reference to the supreme head of the British Empire of which they formed a part, and under these limitations have the people of each State of the Union a right to secede from the Confederated Union itself.”

(Virginia’s Attitude Toward Secession, Beverley B. Munford, L.H. Jenkins, Richmond, VA, 1909, pp. 294-295)

 

 

Longstreet Finds Adversaries Lacking Honor

Southern commanders like James Longstreet expected their Northern counterparts to embrace the conviction that enemies no less than comrades merited honorable treatment, from officers down to enlisted men. To encourage a Southern soldier to desert was unthinkable; A letter from a Southern woman in 1862 stated that “the black title of tory and deserter will cling to them, disgracing their children’s children.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Longstreet Finds Adversaries Lacking Honor

Letter from General Longstreet to General [J.G.] Foster:

“Headquarters, Confederate Forces, East Tennessee, Jan. 3, 1864:

To the Commanding General, United States Forces, East Tennessee –

Sir – I find the proclamation of President Lincoln, of the 8th of December last, in circulation in handbills among our soldiers. The immediate object of this proclamation seems to be to induce our soldiers to quit our ranks and take the oath of allegiance to the United States government.

I presume, however, that the great object and end in view is to hasten the day of peace. I respectfully suggest, for your consideration, the propriety of communicating any views that your government may have upon this subject through me, rather than by handbills circulated amongst our soldiers.

The few men who may desert under the promise held out in the proclamation, cannot be men of character or standing. If they desert their cause, they disgrace themselves in the eyes of God and man. They can do your cause no good, nor can they injure ours.

As a great nation, you can accept none but an honorable peace. As a noble people, you could have us accept nothing less.

I submit, therefore, whether the mode that I suggest would not be more likely to lead to an honorable end than such a circulation of a partial promise of pardon.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,

J. Longstreet, Lieutenant-General, Commanding

 

Headquarters, Confederate Forces, East Tennessee, Jan. 11, 1864:

“Sir – I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 7th of January, with its inclosures, etc.

The disingenuous manner in which you have misconstrued my letter of the 3d, has disappointed me. Let me remind you, too, that the spirit and tone of my letter were to meet honorable sentiments.

I have read your order announcing the favorable terms on which deserters will be received. Step by step you have gone on in violation of the laws of honorable warfare. Our farms have been destroyed, our women and children have been robbed, and our houses have been pillaged and burnt. You have laid your plans and worked diligently to produce wholesale murder by servile insurrection. And now, the most ignoble of all, you propose to degrade the human race by inducing soldiers to dishonor and forswear themselves.

Soldiers who have met your own on so many honorable fields, who have breasted the storm of battle in defence of their honor, their families, and their homes, for three long years, have a right to expect more of honor, even in their adversaries. I beg leave to return the copies of the proclamation, and your order.

I have the honor to renew to you the assurance of great respect, your obedient servant,

J. Longstreet, Lieutenant-General, Commanding.”

(Lee and His Generals, Profiles of Robert E. Lee and Seventeen other Generals of the Confederacy, Captain William P. Snow, Gramercy Books, 1867/1996, pp. 333-334)

A Doctrine Utterly Subversive of the Constitution

Former Vice President and later Kentucky Senator John C. Breckinridge tried vainly to stop the Republican party’s war upon the South in mid-1861. Returning home after the mid-year legislative session, he witnessed Federal officers assembling and training volunteers at Lexington, a forced political alignment with Lincoln’s government, and arrest by Northern military officers.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

A Doctrine Utterly Subversive of the Constitution

“[In January 1860, John C. Breckinridge] . . . still had more than a year to serve as Vice President of the United States. Within the month past the General Assembly of Kentucky by an overwhelming majority had elected him to the Senate of the United States for the six years beginning March 4, 1861.

Neutrality caught the fancy of most Kentuckians, though the Southern Rights element was at first reluctant to accept it. In succession, however, the House of Representatives on May 16 (1861), the governor on May 20, and finally the Senate [on May 24] . . . assented to that policy.

For himself, he took the position that he was making a record of protest against the unconstitutional measures with which the majority party was fighting an unconstitutional war. Certain it is that had the Republicans accepted his criticisms as valid they would have been forced to abandon the conflict.

During the [legislative] session he made four principal speeches. On July 16 he spoke vigorously against the joint resolution “to approve and confirm” various “acts, extraordinary proclamations and orders” performed or issued by the President since March 4 “for suppressing insurrection and rebellion.” Breckinridge urged that if Congress had the “power to cure a breach of the Constitution or to indemnify the President against violations of the Constitution and the laws,” it might in effect “alter the Constitution in a manner not provided by that instrument.”

He attacked the specific acts of the President [as unconstitutional such as] the establishment of a blockade of Southern coasts, the authorization of the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus by various military commanders, the waging of war and raising armies without any act of Congress, arbitrary interference with freedom of the press, and the arbitrary imprisonment of private citizens.

Looking for a justification of the President’s acts, Breckinridge assumed that it would be found in the necessities of the case. He denied indeed that there was any genuine necessity for the acts of which he complained, but, more fundamentally, he argued that the “doctrine [of necessity] is utterly subversive of the Constitution . . . [and] of all written limitations of government. Thus he concluded that only the powers actually granted in the Constitution may be exercised by the government, whatever the emergency.

Expanding an argument which he had used at Frankfort on April 2, he predicted that unless current tendencies were checked, the result would be “to change radically our frame and character of Government” by establishing a centralized regime without any effective limitation upon its powers. [He argued] that he and many other conservative men counted “the Union not an end, but a means – a means by which, under the terms of the Constitution, liberty may be maintained, property and personal rights protected, and general happiness secured.”

When asked, near the end of the session, what he would do [with] a hostile army encamped but a few miles from the national capital, Breckinridge declared flatly that he would abandon the war; that he did “not hold that constitutional liberty . . . is not bound up in this fratricidal, devastating and horrible contest.

Upon the contrary, I fear it will find a grave in it . . . Sir, I would prefer to see these States all reunited upon true constitutional principles to any other object that could be offered me in life; . . . But I infinitely prefer to see a peaceful separation of these States, than to see endless, aimless, devastating war, at the end of which I see the grave of public liberty and of person freedom.”

(Breckinridge in the Crisis of 1860-1861, Frank H. Heck, Journal of Southern History, Volume XXII, Number 3, August, 1955, pp. 338-341)

British and French Mediation Considered

Rarely mentioned as a decisive deterrent to Anglo-French recognition of Southern independence was the presence of Russian fleets in San Francisco and New York from September 1863 through March 1864. The British and French were both stood puzzled as the Czar and Lincoln emancipated serfs and slaves while at the same time crushing independence movements in Poland and the American South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

British and French Mediation Considered

“Ultimately the South’s hopes for independence marched with its armies, and indeed when the Army of Northern Virginia invaded Maryland in the fall of 1862, [British Lords] Palmerston and [John] Russell became convinced of the depth and potential of Southern separation.

On September 14, Palmerston wrote to Russell about Anglo-French mediation and “an arrangement upon the basis of separation.” Russell responded, “I agree with you that the time has come for offering mediation to the United States Government, with a view of the recognition of the Independence of the Confederates – I agree further that in case of failure, we ought ourselves to recognize the Southern States, as an independent State.”

In accord with these convictions, Russell informally approached his counterpart in Paris, Antoine Edouard Trouvenel, and discussed with Palmerston a date for a meeting of the cabinet to approve the mediation scheme. Russell was still firm in this policy on October 4, when he wrote Palmerston, “I think unless some miracle takes place this will be the very time for offering Mediation.”

And on October 7, Chancellor of the Exchequer William Gladstone let the cat out of the bag. Speaking at Newcastle, Gladstone affirmed, that, “Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South have made an army; they are making, it appears, a navy; and they have made what is more than either, they have made a nation.”

Then, just a quickly as the mediation enthusiasm had developed in England, it evaporated. [Though as important as the Sharpsburg battle and Lincoln’s abolition proclamation] were, other considerations contributed to England’s return to nonintervention. Mediation was attractive to free-traders who resented the Federal blockade, to liberals who supported self-determination, to conservatives who felt a kinship with landed aristocrats in the South, and to some varieties of nationalists who looked with favor upon the dissolution of the United States.

But these attractions were essentially abstract. In the end British statesmen had to face the hard reality of what might follow an unsuccessful offer of mediation and subsequent recognition of the confederacy: they had to ponder the consequences of a North American war. And if the British should be drawn into an American war, they wanted to support the winning side. In this regard, [Sharpsburg] and abolition] were indecisive; neither event broke the American impasse to reveal a victor.”

(The Confederate Nation, 1861-1865, Emory M. Thomas, Henry Steele Commager & Richard B. Morris, editors, Harper & Row, 1979, pp. 179-180)

Nov 5, 2014 - Pleading for Peace    No Comments

Jefferson Davis, Last of the Senate Giants

Jefferson Davis was a Unionist and struggled to his last days as a Mississippi Senator to push Congress toward a peaceful solution to the sectional crisis. He belonged to the Calhoun school which saw preserving the rights of the South in the federal Union as paramount; he viewed secession as a last resort of the States in order to preserve their sovereignty and liberties, should the Constitution ratified voluntarily in 1787, and its federal agent, became destructive of those rights.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa 1865

 

Jefferson Davis, Last of the Senate Giants

“The theory of State Rights and the belief in secession had been understood in both sections equally, when advantage dictated understanding: as late as 1846 the State government of Massachusetts had been willing to secede, had passed resolutions to that end, in opposition to the Mexican War.

The North alone now repudiated State sovereignty because it had no interest to serve with its support. After the Republican senators had rejected the Crittenden Compromise, which gave to them every eventual advantage and to the South nothing in the end, they would not listen to a proposal of a convention of the States; they were then challenged for a compromise proposal of their own, but not a Republican replied.

At this distance it is certain that the deadlock exactly suited the North, for its purpose was to subdue the South at all costs; in a policy that conceded nothing and demanded everything, the North meant to “ride over the South rough-shod.”

The South was willing at this time to accept any measure that guaranteed it even less than its Constitutional rights in the territories; but the North no longer desired equality of sectional power; the North was bent on domination. By refusing to budge from this position, the North forced the South to act for its preservation, and by means of the slavery issue the shrewdness of the Yankee succeeded, as always, of putting his enemy in the wrong.

There was probably not a single phase of the conflict that Mr. Davis failed, in a sense, to understand; and yet, in the end, he could not see why men would not follow the law, or why the inflamed sections would not abide by compromises.  Men sometimes act reasonably, but never logically; this was a distinction that Mr. Davis, being logical, could not grasp.

[After his final speech and resignation from the United States Senate after Mississippi had seceded, Davis] painfully moved through the crowded Senate chamber out into the street, [and for him] the old Constitutional republic came . . . to a dramatic end. There would no longer be a Union in the exact sense of that word; there would be a uniformity; for one of the two types of American civilization must absolutely prevail.  Davis left the Senate smaller; it would never be so large again; he was the last of the Senate giants.

All the night of January 21 he suffered, sleepless; the nervous strain of the last six months had broken him down. His neuralgia had spread film over one iris; he was almost blind in that eye.  Mrs. Davis, anxious in the next room, heard him say, again and again, in a tone of agony:

“May God have us in His Holy keeping, and grant that before it is too late peaceful councils may prevail.”

(Jefferson Davis, His Rise and Fall, Allen Tate, Minton, Balch & Company, 1929, pp. 12-13)

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