Browsing "Prescient Warnings"

Punished for Seeking Independence

North Carolina rejected the proposed Fourteenth Amendment by a forty-five to one vote in the Senate, and by ninety-three to ten in the House. Although the amendment failed the requisite number of State ratifications, it was hurriedly and unconstitutionally enacted by Radical Republicans to maintain national political hegemony.  

Punished for Seeking Independence

“The question has been asked, and will be asked again, by our children, why the Southern people did not accept the reconstruction measures and ratify the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution? It is impossible, at this day, to comprehend the import of this [amendment’s] language, or its effect upon the people of the South.

It is interesting to read the words of Governor [Jonathan] Worth, in his message to the Legislature of North Carolina, in submitting to them the proposed amendment. After reviewing its provisions he says he was unable to believe that the deliberate judgement of the people of any State would approve the innovation to be wrought by the amendment, and as anxious as he was to see the Union restored, there was nothing in the amendment calculated to perpetuate that Union, but that its tendency was rather to perpetuate sectional alienation and estrangement.

The committee of the Legislature, to which the amendment was referred, recommending its rejection, said:

“What the people of North Carolina have done, they have done in obedience to her own behests. Must she now punish them for obeying her own commands? If penalties have been incurred, and punishments must be inflicted, is it magnanimous, is it reasonable, nay, is it honorable, to require us to become our own executioners? Must we, as a State, be regarded as unfit for fraternal association with our fellow citizens of other States until after we shall have sacrificed our manhood, and banished our honor?

Like a stricken mother, the State now stands leaning in silent grief over the bloody graves of her slain children. The momentoes of her former glory lie in ruins around her. The majesty of sorrow sits enthroned upon her brow. Proud of her sons who have died for her, she cherishes, in her heart of hearts, the loving children who were ready to die for her and she loves them with a warm affection.”

(George Davis Memorial Address, H.G. Conner, Unveiling of the George Davis Statue at Wilmington, NC, April 20, 1911, by the Cape Fear Chapter, UDC)

The Wheel of Fortune’s Revolution

“In the last days of Pope Eugenius the Fourth, two of his servants, the learned Poggius and a friend ascended the Capitoline Hill; reposed themselves among the ruins of columns and temples; and viewed, from that commanding spot, the wide and various prospect of desolation.

The place and the object gave ample scope for moralizing on the vicissitudes of fortune, which spare neither man nor the proudest of his works, which buries empires and cities in a common grave; and it was agreed that in proportion to her former greatness the fall of Rome was the more awful and deplorable.

Her primeval state, such as she might appear in a remote age, when Evander entertained the stranger of Troy, has been delineated by the fancy of Virgil. This Tarpeian rock was then a savage and solitary thicket: in the time of the poet, it was crowned with the golden roofs of a temple: the temple is overthrown, the gold has been pillaged, the wheel of fortune has accomplished her revolution, and the sacred ground is again disfigured with thorns and brambles.

The hill of the Capitol, on which we sit, was formerly the head of the Roman empire, the citadel of the earth, the terror of kings; illustrated by the footsteps of so many triumphs, enriched with the spoils and tributes of so many nations. This spectacle of the world, how it is fallen! How changed! How defaced!

The path of victory is obliterated by vines, and the benches of the senators are concealed by a dunghill. Cast your eyes on the Palatine hill, and seek, among the shapeless and enormous fragments, the marble theater, the obelisks, the colossal statues, the porticoes of Nero’s palace: survey the other hills of the city; the vacant space is interrupted only by ruins and gardens.

The forum of the Roman people, where they assembled to enact their laws and elect their magistrates, is now inclosed for the cultivation of pot-herbs or thrown open for the reception of swine and buffaloes. The public and private edifices, that were founded for eternity, lie prostrate, naked and broken, like the limbs of a mighty giant; and the ruin is more visible, from the stupendous relics that have survived the injuries of time and fortune.”

(The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III, Edward Gibbon, Modern Library, 1995, excerpt pp. 2426-2427)

The Fatal Precedent

The origins of the Mexican War are far more complex than usually presented in modern textbooks, with England figuring prominently into the reasons behind a hurried annexation. A need to preserve Texas as a reliable supplier of cotton, while limiting American expansionism, propelled Britain into mediating Mexican-Texan difficulties. While New Englanders opposed annexation on supposedly moral grounds, they coveted California which would give them a port more convenient for whaling and their opium traffic with India – the latter creating severe addiction problems in China.

John C. Calhoun opposed James Polk’s war with Mexico with a plea “that America never take one foot of territory by an aggressive war.” He added, “If fight we must, let us fight a defensive war.” He dismissed Polk’s assertion of “war exists with Mexico” as a “palpable falsehood.”

The Fatal Precedent

“The way Polk got the [Mexican] war started ensured that it would be vehemently protested in certain quarters. Shortly after Texas was annexed (December 29, 1845), Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor, commander of the army in Louisiana, to move to Texas to protect its southern flank on the Rio Grande.

In reality, the southern flank was the Neuces, 150 miles to the north; Mexico claimed the area between the two rivers, and the pretensions of Texas and the United States was without foundation. An American reconnoitering party of sixty-three men encountered a Mexican force near the Rio Grande and was attacked. Eleven were killed, five wounded and the rest captured.

When Polk received the news, he asked Congress to appropriate funds to support Taylor, declared that the Mexicans had invaded the United States and “shed American blood on the American soil,” and requested not a declaration of war but a recognition that “war exists” by virtue of Mexico’s action.

The Democratic majority in the House limited debate to two hours, read but a few of the documents Polk had submitted, and passed a bill calling for volunteers and appropriating $10 million. Just sixteen congressmen voted against the bill.

Among the few in Congress who spoke against the action was John C. Calhoun. Unlike northern opponents of the war, he had strongly favored the annexation of Texas, but he thought the war was avoidable, set a dangerous precedent . . . The passage of the appropriations bill with its “war exists” preamble in effect transferred to the presidency Congress’s power to declare war, for the president as commander in chief could order troops anywhere, provoke a fight, and present Congress with was a fait accompli.  

The precedent could prove fatal, Calhoun insisted, for it “will enable all future presidents to bring about a state of things, in which Congress shall be forced, without deliberation or reflection, to declare war, however opposed to its convictions of justice or expediency. The precedent would, indeed, be applied to Calhoun’s own State fifteen years later.”

(States’ Rights and the Union: Imperium in Imperio, Forrest MacDonald, University of Kansas Pres, 2000, excerpts pp. 150-151)

Southern Abolition Societies

Southern colonists were greatly alarmed at the great influx of African slaves being transported into their midst by British and New England ships by the mid-1700s. Both Virginia and North Carolina taxed the importation of slaves to discourage the practice, only to be overruled by the King who sought productive colonial plantations.

By 1750, Rhode Island was the center of the transatlantic slave trade, which continued to at least 1859. When discussing the antebellum period it is more accurate to speak of all the States as free, and the Northern States properly referred to as former slaveholding States, along with some being former slave trading States.

Southern Abolition Societies

“Slavery continued to be recognized within the South as a grave social problem. Perhaps Southerners were less concerned about it than they had been in the Revolutionary period, but during the course of the Missouri debate, responsible Southern spokesmen openly admitted that slavery was evil; and ten years later there occurred the greatest and most searching discussion of the nature and problem of slavery that was ever held in the South, the debate in the Virginia legislature in 1832.

Several antislavery journals appeared in the slave States: The Emancipator, founded in East Tennessee in 1820; The Genius of Universal Emancipation, which was moved to Tennessee from Ohio in 1821 and was later moved to Baltimore; and the Abolition Intelligencer, founded in Kentucky in 1822.

Benjamin Lundy, editor of the Genius of Universal Emancipation, estimated in 1827 that there were 106 antislavery societies with 5,150 members in the slave States whereas there were only 24 such societies with 1,475 members in the free States, not counting 10 or 12 in Illinois about which he could get no information.

But these facts by no means indicate that Southerners generally were conscience-stricken over slavery . . . [and] the hostility of some Southerners to slavery was founded on something very different from sympathy for the oppressed. When Governor David Holmes of Mississippi warned that “The evils arising from this odious practice [the slave trade] are constantly . . . increasing,” and there would be serious results “unless the traffic is wholly prohibited,” his concern was for the welfare of the Mississippi white man.

Governor [Thomas Mann] Randolph of Virginia put the matter very bluntly. He deplored the “error of our ancestors in copying a civil institution from savage Africa,” because as he reasoned, “The want of moral motives and a defect of intelligence, the too common absence of settled character, that marks the race [degraded] by slavery, if not by nature,” was injurious to the State of Virginia.

There was much support throughout the South in the 1820s for plans to deport Negroes . . . Haiti, Africa and unsettled parts of the western territories of the United States were suggested as possible places to which Negroes could be sent, but the only serious effort that came out of the discussion was the organization in Washington in 1817, of the American Colonization Society.”

(The Development of Southern Sectionalism, 1819-1848, Volume V, A History of the South, Charles S. Sydnor, LSU Press, 1948, excerpts pp. 95-96)

Only Congress May Draw the Sword

Alexander H. Stephen’s criticism of President James Polk sending American troops to the Rio Grande in July 1845 and threatening Mexico, inspired his arraignment of Lincoln in 1861 for leading the country into an avoidable war.

In Lincoln’s case, his party’s governors provided the troops for his unconstitutional actions and invasion of Southern States, and subjugated a free people with an “oath of allegiance administered at the point of a bayonet.” Stephens foresaw the treatment the South would receive.

Only Congress May Draw the Sword

“From [his] first speech in Congress to his last before the war, his straight line of endeavor was to preserve the Union under the Constitution. His opposition to Texan annexation was not pleasing to the South . . . and the first to bring him into national prominence, contained the oft-quoted sentences which revived against him at the South the charges of abolitionism while at the North he was accused of laboring for slavery extension:

“My reason for wishing it [the slavery limit] settled in the beginning, I do not hesitate to make known. I fear the excitement growing out of the agitation hereafter may endanger the harmony and even existence of our present Union . . . I am no defender of slavery in the abstract. I would rejoice to see all the sons of Adam’s family in the enjoyment of those rights set forth in the Declaration of Independence as natural and inalienable . . .”

The right of the Union to “acquire territory” and the wisdom of doing so were questioned. He declared for expansion but against imperialism: “This [annexation] is an important step settling the principle of our future extension. We are reminded of the growth of the Roman Empire which fell of its own weight; and of England, who is hardly able to keep together her extensive parts. Rome extended her dominions by conquest, she compelled provinces to bear the yoke; England extends hers upon the principle of colonization; her distant dependencies are subject to her laws but are deprived of the rights of representation.

With us, a new system has commenced, characteristic of the age. It is a system of a Republic formed by the union of separate independent States, yielding so much of their sovereign powers as are necessary for national and foreign purposes, and retaining all others for local and domestic objects. Who shall undertake to say how far this system may not go?”

He said, speaking of Mexican territory:

“No principle is more dangerous than that of compelling other people to adopt our form of government. It is not only wrong in itself, but contrary to the whole spirit and genius of liberty we enjoy.”

Asking if the Mexican war was waged for conquest:

“If so, I protest . . . I am no enemy to the extension of our domain . . . but it is not to be accomplished by the sword. We can only properly enlarge by voluntary accessions.”

In his denunciation of [President James] Polk’s abuse of power . . . :

“Only Congress can constitutionally draw the sword. The President cannot. The war was brought upon us while Congress was in session and without our knowledge. The new and strange doctrine is put forth that Congress has nothing to do with the conduct of the war; that the President is entitled to uncontrolled management; that we can do nothing but vote men and money to whatever extent his folly and caprice may dictate.

Neighboring States may be subjugated, extensive territories annexed, provincial governments erected, the rights of conscience violated, and the oath of allegiance administered at the point of the bayonet . . .”

(Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens, Myrta L. Avary, editor, LSU Press, 1998, excerpts pp. 31-32)

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)

America’s Slide Toward Totalism

Robert A. Taft, son of William Howard Taft, was the last prominent Republican who might be considered a classical liberal and conservative Republican. Another would not appear until Barry Goldwater in the mid-1960s, and no more to this day. For the 1952 presidential election, he was cast aside by the Republican Party to make way for Dwight Eisenhower, a career military man with no political ideals or experience.

Though a constant critic of Roosevelt’s assumption of powers not granted to the executive, it is difficult to understand how Taft could state that he was an admirer of Abraham Lincoln, who began in earnest the erosion of constitutional principles and whom FDR emulated.

America’s Slide Toward Totalism

“By the time Bob Taft was elected to Congress, the New Dealers’ admiration for the Soviet experiment had diminished markedly, yet there remained the possibility that the United States might slide, almost unwittingly, toward totalist politics.

The maintenance of ordered freedom being the root of Taft’s politics, he never ceased to warn the American public against the erosion of constitutional principles, and he never was deterred by ridicule.

“The trend of thought on forms of government throughout the entire world,” Taft insisted, “has been pushing all peoples consciously or unconsciously away from democracy to different forms of totalitarianism. In Europe, democratic ideals were crushed between the dynamic dogmas of Communism and Fascism.

In the United States, we often lose sight of the real nature of the principles on which freedom depends, in our desire to remake our world according to the popular method of the day – methods formulated for the most part by European socialists.”

The American people had perceived by 1938, he said, that this tendency was most perilous; but the coming of the war diverted public attention from such fundamental concerns. So in speech upon speech, during the Second World War, Taft prodded Americans into vigilance against the encroachment of collectivist ideas and measures at home. Some of the basic principles of American politics already had been damaged, he declared in 1941:

“We have seen during the past twelve years a steady increase in government regulation of business and of the individual, and we have seen, through courts which are hardly independent of the executive, a constant tendency to increase the powers of the federal government over the States, and the powers of the Executive over the individual.”

He saw his prediction[s] fulfilled:

“In our efforts to protect the freedom of this country against aggression from without, we are in a situation today where we must constantly be on guard against the suppression of freedom in the United States itself . . . Unfortunately the [Roosevelt] administration, more than any other in the history of the country, is utterly unscrupulous in its demand for more power . . .”

(The Political Principles of Robert Taft, Russell Kirk and James McClellan, Fleet Press Corporation, 1967, excerpts pp. 62-64)

The Emergence of the Radical

John C. Calhoun witnessed the rise of Northern radicalism and his keen political insight saw a problematic future for the American South. He did not live to see the secession crisis fully develop, but his countrymen later anticipated “that Lincoln’s election was only the first step” toward the eventual destruction of their political liberty and the Union of their fathers.

Calhoun accurately predicted that the North would monopolize the new federal territories and acquire a three-fourths majority in Congress to force a restructuring of the Union. Once the South’s freedmen were admitted to the franchise by the North’s radical Congress, Republican political hegemony was virtually uninterrupted until 1913.

The Emergence of the Radical

“In the 1830’s . . . the North had become a prolific seedbed of radical thought. The rural South, on the other hand, showed little tolerance for radicals. The hostility to the proponents of revolutionary ideas seems at first inconsistent with the individualism which Southerners generally displayed. The Southern brand of individualism, however, was of manners and character rather than of the mind.

The Southerner vigorously resisted the pressure of outside government, he was cavalier in the observance of the laws; the planter on his semi-feudal estate was a law unto himself. The yeomen, too, living largely on land that they owned and regarding themselves as “the sovereign people,” were among the freest and most independent of Americans.

[In the 1840s and 1850s], editors, preachers, and politicians launched a vigorous propaganda campaign against Southern youth attending Northern schools and colleges. In the minds of conservative Southerners public education now became associated with the “isms” of the North – abolitionism, feminism, pacifism, Fourierism, Grahamism. Thus Southerners tended to regard the great majority of Northern people as sympathetic to the wilds visions and schemes of reform advocated by the northern extremists.

For many years Yankee professors and teachers had staffed Southern colleges and schools to a large extent, but in the last two decades of the antebellum period a pronounced hostility arose against the employment of educators from the North.

When [University of North Carolina] President David L. Swain defended the appointment [of a Northern teacher, he cited] earlier examples [of] employing foreign professors, the highly influential [Fayetteville News & Observer] editor, E.J. Hale replied: “In [two Southern] institutions, filled with foreigners and Northern men, there have been most deplorable outbreaks & riots and rows. Both have been noted for the prevalence and propagation of infidel notions to religion.”

(The Mind of the Old South, Clement Eaton, LSU Press, 1964, pp. 110; 305-306)

Southern Fears of Northern Interests

Patrick Henry of Virginia was one of the most vocal opponents of the constitution which eventually would supersede the Articles of Confederation. He predicted that members of Congress would become a new aristocracy and vote themselves large salaries; that national control over State militia was dangerous to freedom; that Northern commercial interests would menace the South. James Madison could only reply that the “Constitution was not perfect, but as good as might have been made.”

Southern Fears of Northern Interests

“The Virginia delegates returning from Philadelphia had hardly reached their firesides when a long campaign began against the Constitution. In letters, pamphlets and speeches there poured forth almost every conceivable argument against it. It contained no bill of rights, and its adoption would lead to the destruction of personal liberties; it would bring back monarchy; it would create a ruling aristocracy; and it protected the abominable slave trade.

But above all, the Constitution was a dagger aimed at the South, and its point must be blunted or avoided. It must be amended to protect against all these evils. Were it not possible to secure changes, Virginia must think of creating a Southern federation in which the rights of person, republicanism, and Southern interests would be effectively defended.

One of the more moderate enemies of the Constitution was Richard Henry Lee . . . [writing that] “the Constitution threatened Southern interests; and he emphatically declared that Congressional authority to regulate commerce was a menace to the South. Said he:

“In this congressional legislature a bare majority can enact commercial laws, so that the representatives of seven Northern States, as they will have a majority, can, by law, create the most oppressive monopolies upon the five Southern States, whose circumstances and productions are essentially different from theirs, although not a single man of their voters are the representatives of, or amenable to, the people of the Southern States . . . it is supposed that the policy of the Southern States will prevent such abuses! But how feeble, sir, is policy when opposed to interest among trading people.”

Far more forthcoming in denunciation was Benjamin Harrison, who wrote to Washington: “If the constitution is carried into effect, the States south of the [Potomac], will be little more than appendages to those northward of it. . . . In the nature of things they must sooner or later, establish a tyranny, not inferior to the triumvirate or centum viri of Rome.”

Equally vigorous language was used by George Mason [who] wanted amendments protecting both personal and States’ rights. He feared the Constitution would bring either oligarchy or monarchy and Northern dominion.

[Patrick] Henry . . . aroused the fears of men indebted to British merchants: those grasping enemy creditors who would make use of the Federal courts-to-be . . . [and that] the Northerners would control that government, and they would discriminate grievously against the Southern people whenever they could secure gain for themselves.”

(The First South, John Richard Allen, LSU Press, 1961, excerpts pp. 111-114)

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)

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