Browsing "Prescient Warnings"

Seward’s Hot Potato

Samuel Cutler Ward (1814-1884), known as the “King of the Lobby” due to his exemplary success at high-level political persuasion, was the brother of abolitionist Julia Ward, and served as an intermediary between William Seward and Confederate leaders before the war. Ward told Seward in 1862 that the Confederate leaders would not rejoin the Union as he saw in the South “a malignant hatred of the North which rendered” the destruction of the South necessary. Ward understood that “within two years they would have formed entangling free trade and free navigation treaties with Europe and a military power hostile to us.” Seward may have believed that peace might prevail, but Lincoln and his party’s extremists led the way to war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Seward’s Hot Potato

“Seward, who was to be Secretary of State, it had become definite, was in a quandary. As he saw the situation, he faced two necessities: one was to guide the inexperienced Lincoln in shaping the policies of the Administration; and the other was to convince his former associates in the Senate, who now headed the insurrectionary Confederacy in Montgomery, that Washington would initiate no hostilities against them, but would follow a policy of conciliation and friendship.

Seward wanted Jefferson Davis, Judah P. Benjamin, and the others to understand clearly that he would be the chief architect of Administration policy; and further, that they could rely on his assurance that this policy would be one of peace, not provocation. In this, of course, he spoke only for himself, but he was convinced that he would be able to shape Lincoln’s view of the situation; Lincoln, he reasoned, was unversed in statecraft, and would be grateful for expert leading by a thoroughly practiced Secretary of State.

Seward’s sincere conviction was that the problem of secession, like all other human disagreements, could be resolved by reasonable discussion among reasonable men. One wing of the Republican party was howling for the forcible suppression of “treason” in the South; this wing was led by Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, and to them Seward’s conciliatory views were themselves barely removed from Treason, — if removed at all. For him to communicate directly with the men in Montgomery might be construed as “communicating with the enemy.”

If he were to communicate with them at all, he would have to work through an intermediary whom both he and Southern leaders could trust . . . [poet, politician and gourmet] Sam Ward.

When Lincoln slunk into Washington in a distressing pusillanimous manner (or so it seemed), supposedly to foil an assassination plot, Sam was disgusted.

Seward was juggling a hot potato tossed to him by three commissioners whom the Confederacy had sent to Washington to treat for the peaceable surrender of United States forts in Southern territory, principally Fort Sumter at Charleston, and Fort Pickens near Pensacola, Florida. The commissioners . . . were well-known to Sam . . . If [they] go back unacknowledged as [commissioners], President Davis cannot hold back the people from attacking the forts.

[Seward] kept stalling the Southern commissioners with excuses – pressure of patronage demands, the delays attendant [to] departmental routine, and such pretexts. He could not receive the commissioners without recognizing the government behind them; yet he did not wish to send them back to Montgomery in anger.”

(Sam Ward, “King of the Lobby,” Lately Thomas, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965, excerpts pp. 251-253)

The Mine Laid at Washington

Lincoln chose to ignore the advice of the most prescient Cabinet members who could foresee where his aggressive and warlike actions would take him. The inexperienced new president had seen the result of Buchanan’s provocative Star of the West expedition to Sumter in early January 1861, but still rushed headlong into a collision and bloody war which followed. It should also be noted that Southern Unionists who opposed secession were looking to Lincoln for a peaceful settlement of the crisis, and pleaded with him to evacuate Sumter and let time cool the debate.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Mine Laid at Washington

On the 15th of March, 1861, President Lincoln submitted the following request in writing to each member of his Cabinet:

“My Dear Sir, Assuming it to be possible to now provision Fort Sumter, under all the circumstances is it wise to attempt it? Please give your opinion in writing on this question.”

Secretary Cameron wrote that he would advise such an attempt if he “did not believe the attempt to carry it into effect would initiate a bloody and protracted conflict.”

Secretary Welles wrote:

“By sending or attempting to send provisions into Fort Sumter, will not war be precipitated? It may well be impossible to escape it under any course of policy that may be pursued, but I am not prepared to advise a course that would provoke hostilities . . . I do not, therefore, under all the circumstances, think it wise to provision Fort Sumter.”

Secretary Smith wrote:

“The commencement of civil war would be a calamity greatly to be deplored and should be avoided if the just authority of the Government may be maintained without it. If such a conflict should become inevitable, it is much better that it should commence by the resistance of the authorities or people of South Carolina to the legal action of the Government in enforcing the laws of the United States . . . in my opinion it would not be wise, under all the circumstances, to attempt to provision Fort Sumter.”

Attorney General Bates wrote:

“I am unwilling, under all circumstances . . . to do any act which may have the semblance before the world of beginning a civil war, the terrible consequences of which would, I think, find no parallel in modern times . . . upon the whole I do not think it wise now to provision Fort Sumter.”

Postmaster-General Blair and Secretary Chase united in the opinion that it would be wise to make the effort to provision Fort Sumter.

[Secretary Salmon P. Chase] then proceeded to declare that, if such a step would produce civil war, he could not advise in its favor, but that, in his opinion, such a result was highly improbable, especially if accompanied by a proclamation from the President, reiterating the sentiments of his inaugural address. “I, therefore,” concluded Secretary Chase, “return an affirmative answer to the question submitted to me.”

It will be seen . . . that five of the seven members of the Cabinet concurred in the opinion that no attempt should be made to provision or reinforce Fort Sumter, and that such an attempt would in all probability precipitate civil war.

As Mr. Seward expressed it, “We will have inaugurated a civil war by our own act without an adequate object”; or, in the language of Secretary Welles, “By sending or attempting to send provisions into Fort Sumter, will not war be precipitated?” . . . I am not prepared to advise a course that would provoke hostilities.”

If such were the opinions of leading members of President Lincoln’s Cabinet, expressed in confidential communications to their chief, as to the character of the proposed action, can it be deemed unreasonable that the people of Virginia held similar views?

Fourteen days later, the President made a verbal request to his Cabinet for an additional expression of their views on the same subject. Seward and Smith adhered to their former opinions. Chase and Blair were joined by Welles. Bates was noncommittal, and no reply was made by Cameron, so far as records show.

In the light of the facts and arguments presented by the members of the President’s Cabinet, men, not a few, will conclude that, if the explosion occurred at Fort Sumter, the mine was laid at Washington.”

(Virginia’s Attitude Toward Secession, Beverley B. Munford, L.H. Jenkins, Richmond Virginia, 1909, excerpts, pp. 285-289)

 

 

Reverend Chavis’ View of Emancipation

Robert E. Lee remarked that slavery in the South was an evil and would be better solved by time and benevolent Christian influence, and the story of Reverend Chavis related below was a manifestation of that view. Chavis’s experience taught him that emancipation of the African race in his land must be preceded by education; Lincoln’s violent revolution that set black against white was the very opposite of his understanding of racial harmony.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Reverend Chavis’ View of Emancipation

“John Chavis [1763-1838], a free Negro of unmixed blood, preacher and educator, was born near Oxford in the County of Granville, North Carolina. As a free man he was sent to Princeton to study, privately under President Witherspoon of the College of New Jersey — “according to tradition, to demonstrate whether or not a Negro had the capacity to take a college education.”

That the test was successful appears from the record in the manuscript Order Book of Rockbridge County, Virginia, Court of 1802, which certifies to the freedom and character of Reverend John Chavis, a black man, who, as a student at Washington Academy passed successfully “through a regular course of Academical Studies.”

Through the influence of the Reverend Samuel Davies, a Presbyterian divine, Chavis became connected as a licentiate with the Presbyteries of Lexington and Hanover, Virginia. About 1805 he went to North Carolina, where he joined in 1809 the Orange Presbytery, and ministered to whites and blacks in various churches in at least three counties.

He was distinguished for his dignity of manner, purity of diction, and simplicity and orthodoxy in teaching. Familiar with Latin and Greek, he established a classical school, teaching sometimes at night, and prepared for college the sons of prominent whites in several counties, sometimes even boarding them in his family. Among them were Senator Willie P. Mangum, Governor Manly, the sons of Chief Justice Henderson. And others, who became lawyers, doctors, teachers, preachers and politicians. He was respectfully received in the families of his former pupils, whom he visited often.

The letters of Chavis to Senator Mangum show that the Senator treated him as a friend. Curiously, one dated in 1836, was a vigorous protest against the Petition for Emancipation, sent to Congress by the abolitionists, as injurious to the colored race:

April 4, 1836

“I am radically and heartily opposed to the passing of such a Law, a Law which will be fraught with so many mischievous and dangerous consequences. I am already of the opinion that Congress has no more right to pass such a Law than I have to go to your house and take Orange [a slave] and bring him home and keep him as my servant . . . I am clearly of the opinion that immediate emancipation would be to entail the greatest earthly curse upon my brethren according to the flesh that could be conferred upon them especially in a country like ours . . . I believe that there are a part of the abolitionists that have, and do, acting from pure motives but I think they have zeal without knowledge, and are doing more mischief than they expect. There is I think another part that are seeking for loaves and fishes and are an exceedingly dangerous set.”

Chavis died in 1838, aged about seventy-five, a conspicuous example of merit rewarded by slave-holding whites.”

(Universal Education in the South, Volume I, Charles William Dabney, UNC Press, 1936, excerpt, pp. 453-454)

 

 

Richard Henry Lee Rails Against England’s Slave Trade

The responsibility for populating its American colonies with enslaved Africans rests with the British, who needed cheap labor for the plantations producing profit for England. Southern colonists, alarmed at the increasing numbers of black slaves arriving in British and New England hulls, repeatedly called for an end to the cruel trade. As Richard Henry Lee (father of Robert E. Lee) suggests below, any and all demands by Virginians and Carolinians to halt the slave-trade were nullified by the British Crown.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Richard Henry Lee Rails Against England’s Slave Trade

“Massachusetts invalidated the British commercial system, which Virginia resisted from abhorrence of the slave-trade. Never before had England pursued the traffic in Negroes with such eager avarice.

The remonstrances of philanthropy and of the colonies were unheeded, and categorical instructions from the [British] Board of Trade kept every American port open as markets for men.

The Legislature of Virginia had repeatedly showed a disposition to obstruct the commerce; a deeply-seated public opinion began more and more to avow the evils and the injustice of slavery itself; and in 1761, it was proposed to suppress the importation of Africans by a prohibitory duty.

Among those who took part in the long and violent debate was Richard Henry Lee, the representative of Westmoreland. Descended from one of the oldest families in Virginia, he had been educated in England and had returned to his native land familiar with the spirit of Grotius and Cudworth, of Locke and Montesquieu; his first recorded speech was against Negro slavery, in behalf of human freedom.

In the continued importation of slaves, he foreboded danger to the political and moral interests of the Old Dominion; an increase of the free Anglo-Saxons he argued, would foster arts and varied agriculture, while a race doomed to abject bondage was of necessity an enemy to social happiness. He painted from ancient history the horrors of servile insurrections. He deprecated the barbarous atrocity of the trade with Africa, and its violation of the equal rights of men created like ourselves in the image of God.

“Christianity,” thus he spoke in conclusion, “by introducing into Europe the truest principles of universal benevolence and brotherly love, happily abolished civil slavery. Let us who profess the same religion practice its precepts, and by agreeing to this duty, pay a proper regard to our rue interests and to the dictates of justice and humanity.”

The tax for which Lee raised his voice was carried through the Assembly of Virginia by a majority of one; but from England a negative followed with certainty every colonial act tending to diminish the [British] slave-trade. South Carolina, also appalled by the great increase of its black population, endeavored by its own laws to restrain the importation of slaves, and in like manner came into collision with the same British policy.”

(History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent, Volume IV; George Bancroft, Brown, Little and Company, 1856, excerpts, pp. 421-422)

Acts of Oppression Made in the Name of Liberty

From the Russian Embassy at Washington, diplomat Baron Edouard de Stoeckl monitored the Lincoln administration and reported his observations in detail to St. Petersburg. He concluded, as other observers did, that Lincoln’s apparent goal was to maintain the territorial union by force, with slavery intact and confined to the existing geographic limits of the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Acts of Oppression Made in the Name of Liberty

“If the reign of the demagogues continues for a long time, General [John] Fremont is destined to play an important role. He is already the standard-bearer of the radical [Republican] party, and he will become the head of the party because of his superiority over the other leaders, among whom are only mediocre men and not a single leader of talent and energy.

Continuing his analysis of the “deplorable situation,” Stoeckl discussed in some detail the efforts of the radicals to gain control of affairs.

“General Fremont acted without authorization of [President Lincoln] and even contrary to his instructions, which forbid him to act in regard to the slave States of the west where Unionists are still fairly numerous. So the President was greatly astonished to learn about the [emancipation] proclamation of General Fremont. He regarded is as an act of insubordination.

For awhile there was consideration of dismissal [of Fremont], but after all [Lincoln] did nothing and did not even dare to reprimand him. The radicals, emboldened by this triumph, demand today that the edicts laid down by General Fremont in Missouri shall be applied everywhere. In other words, they demand that the government should convert the present struggle into a war of extermination.

What the radical party fears most is a reaction which would bring its ruin. So it takes advantage of the hold it has on the administration in order to drive it to extreme measures. The government has forbidden postmasters to carry newspapers in the mails which advocate conciliation and compromise. The result has been that the majority of newspapers which were opposed to war have had to suspend publication.

In several towns the extremists have gone even further. They have stirred up the populace, which has smashed the plants of the moderate newspapers. Conditions are such that mere denunciation by a general is sufficient for a person to be arrested and imprisoned. The act of habeas corpus and all the guarantees which the Americans have appeared to prize so much, have vanished and given way to martial law, which . . . is being enforced throughout the North.

We are not far from a reign of terror such as existed during the great French Revolution, and what makes the resemblance more striking is that all these acts of oppression are made in the name of liberty.”

Stoeckl wrote that the people of the North were being misled into believing that these drastic measures would hasten the peaceful restoration of the Union. But he did not believe the deception could persist:

“People will not be duped long by their political leaders. The reaction will necessarily take place. But unfortunately it will come too late to repair the harm that the demagogues have done to the country. It will be necessary finally to revolutionize the political and administrative institutions . . . which have been weakened upon the first rock against which the nation has been hurled.

In the North and in the South they will have to reconstruct the edifice which the founders of the Republic have had so much trouble in building . . . The present war is only the prelude of the political convulsions which this country will have to pass through.”

(Lincoln and the Radicals, Albert A. Woldman, World Publishing Company, 1952, excerpts, pp. 80-83)

The Beginning of the End of the United States

Chaos reigned in 1919 America as Woodrow Wilson labored for his League of Nations while anarchist immigrants advocated domestic labor strikes – and newly-created police unions demanded pay increases comparable to the labor unions. In Boston, most of the predominantly Irish police force walked off the job and looting began in earnest as “professional criminals arrived by the trainload from New York and other cities to get a share of the swag.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Beginning of the End of the United States

“On the floor of Congress, Representative James Byrnes of South Carolina made an incendiary speech, accusing the Bolsheviks of influencing black Americans to turn against their country. He blamed the reds for the recent riots in Washington, DC and Chicago. A Department of Justice investigation of the role of radicals in racial unrest confirmed this accusation.

[Attorney-General A. Mitchell Palmer] estimated that there were 60,000 Bolshevik plotters loose in the United States. Virtually confirming this estimate for the jittery public, in Centralia, Washington, a gunfight broke out when the newly-founded American Legion, marching in its first Armistice Day parade, detoured to clean out an IWW [International Workers of the World] union hall with baseball bats and pistols. On November 7, 1919 . . . Palmer ordered federal agents to raid organizations suspected of Bolshevik ties in eleven cities.

During the fall [of 1919], paranoia about Soviet Russia had similarly replaced paranoia about Germany. The Bolsheviks were blamed for terrorist bombs and the ongoing epidemic of strikes. The US Army patrolled the streets of IWW strongholds, such as Bisbee, Arizona, and Butte, Montana.

When workers went on strike in the steel mills of Gary, Indiana; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and other cities, army military intelligence agents worked closely with local police to arrest hundreds of suspected Bolsheviks. On October 16, 1919, the Pittsburgh Post wrote . . . “every third man on the streets . . . seems to be a government official.”

In late December, 249 aliens seized . . . in roundups were marched to the aging troopship Buford and deported to Russia. Newspapers dubbed the ship “the Soviet Ark” and gave the story reams of publicity. As the ship got under way, one of the most outspoken radicals, Emma Goldman, shouted, “This is the beginning of the end of the United States.”

[J. Edgar] Hoover, backed by 250 armed soldiers, personally supervised the departure. The State Department said the deportees were “obnoxious” and a “menace to law and order” as well as to “decency and justice.” They were therefore being “sent from whence they came.”

Liberals were aghast that their former hero, Woodrow Wilson, apparently countenanced Palmer, J. Edgar Hoover and the operations of the military intelligence agents.”

(The Illusion of Victory, America in World War One, Thomas Fleming, Basic Books, 2003, excerpts pp. 425-426; 438-439)

Sacrificing the Substance of Individual Liberty

James D. Bulloch, born in Savannah and descended from Scottish forbears, was the foremost planner of naval affairs for the new American nation in 1861. His grandfather, Archibald Bulloch (1730-1777), guided Georgia’s Liberty Party in actions against oppressive British colonial measures and later served as a colonel in the Revolution. James remained in England after the war and died there in exile in 1901. It is said that Bulloch was encouraged to write his memoirs by nephew Theodore Roosevelt in the early 1880’s, which inspired Teddy’s later book on the War of 1812. Roosevelt praised his uncle and other Southern patriots for following their duty to fight for independence.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sacrificing the Substance of Individual Liberty

“In 1861 the disintegrating forces prevailed, and eleven of the Constituent Republics withdrew from the Union on the plea that the original conditions of Union had been broken by the others, and they formed a fresh confederation among themselves. The remaining States or Republics resisted that act of separation, and affirmed that the people of the whole United States were, or should be fused into, one nation, and that the division of the Union into States had, or should hereafter have, no greater political significance than the division of the several States into counties.

The Union of 1787 was dissolved in 1861 by the action of ten of the constituent republics. A new Union was formed in 1865 by the military power of the majority of States, compelling the minority to accept their view of the national compact. The former Union was a confederation of States, and was of course a Federal Republic; the latter Union is founded upon a fusion of the people into one nation, with a supreme centralized executive and administrative Government at Washington, and can no longer be called a Federal Republic; it has become an Imperial Republic.

The latter name gives some promise of greater strength and cohesion of the former, but the duration of the restored Union will depend very much on whether the people of the whole country fully realize, and are really reconciled to, the new dogma that each State is only an aggregate of counties, and that its political functions are only to consist in regulating such purely domestic concerns as the central authority in Washington may leave to its discretion.

If the majority who have effected the change in the conditions of the American Union are content to leave the management of public affairs to the professional politicians, the “caucuses,” and the “wire-pullers,” they will have fought in vain, and will find that to secure the semblance of a strictly national Union they have sacrificed the substance of individual liberty.”

(The Secret Service of the Confederate States in Europe, James D. Bulloch, Sagamore Press, 1959, excerpts, pp. 14-16)

Nat Turner’s 1831 Massacre

The following is a very graphic and long account Nat Turner’s massacre of innocents in Southampton County, Virginia in August 1831, during which he and his followers brutally murdered over sixty white citizens: women, children and old men. This tragic event led to severe restrictions on slaves, free blacks, and the ongoing emancipation of slaves that had been common in the South before 1831.  The South laid blame for the murders on Northern abolitionists who incited the slaves to such actions, and led to the South seriously reconsidering the value of political union with the North.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Nat Turner’s 1831 Massacre

“With no large plantations, there were no large slaveholders, and [Southampton] county typified older communities where slavery was passing by personal manumission; the slaves and freed Negroes outnumbered the whites to make a potentially dangerous problem. To 6500 whites, there were 7700 slaves and 1500 freed Negroes. Slave and free, all Negroes lived in intimate proximity to the whites, a situation which did not exist on large plantations where overseers came between the masters and field hands. Field hands in that sense scarcely existed in Southampton County.

The most successful plantations were operated avocationally by professional men, doctors and lawyers, since the plantation represented the aspiration of everyone. In the same way, many of the plantation-conscious farmers supplemented their agricultural incomes by working as artisans in small enterprises. Such a man was Joseph Travis, the honest coach-maker.

He had apprenticed to him a sixteen-year-old boy, who shared the bedroom of Mr. Travis’ foster son, Putnam Moore. Mrs. Travis, whose first husband had died, had a baby by Joseph Travis. This small family had no house servants as such. The few colored families of slaves lived in a single cluster of buildings around the farmyard and there was no distinction between house people and field hands. There the whites and blacks, working together and virtually living together, shared an hourly and constant companionship, and knew one another with the casual intimacy of members of the same family. Though everybody worked hard, the slaves were held to a fairly rigid schedule.

Working five days a week from roughly sunup until sundown, they had Saturday afternoons and Sundays off. They were encouraged to grow garden crops for themselves on allotted plots of ground, either to fill out their diets according to personal tastes or for use in trade or barter. Skills were taught them and, as in other families like the Travis’ who could not afford to free their lifetime investment, sometimes a Negro worked out his freedom at a trade.

Great attention was given to their religious education. They went to the whites’ churches, where the Methodist and Baptist preachers of the peoples’ religion evoked fiery and wondrous images, and they developed their own preachers, who supplanted the whites’. Such a Negro preacher acted as Joseph Travis’ “overseer.”

The overseer of this little family plantation, bearing not even unintentional similarity to Simon Legree, merely acted for the owner with the few Negroes who worked on the farm. With Joseph Travis busy at his coach-making, somebody had to be in charge of the work, though The Preacher extended his leadership over the total lives of the three families in the Travis farmyard, and exerted considerable influence over other Negroes in the scattered community.

He always said that Mr. Travis was a very kind man, maybe even too indulgent with his people, and Mr. Travis regarded The Preacher as something of a privileged character. He had been born in the county of an African mother and a slave father, who ran away when The Preacher was a child. He had been raised by his grandmother, who worked on his religious education, and by his mother, who was deeply impressed with the child’s gift of second sight.

When the owners’ attention was called to his precociousness, they encouraged him to read and gave him a Bible. He culled the Bible for predictions and prophesies which he used to impose his visions on his fellow slaves. He found portents in the sun and moon, portentous hieroglyphics in leaves and suchlike, and in general created of himself a mysterious figure of supernatural gifts.

The Preacher did not regard himself as a humbug in imposing on his fellows. He actually believed he could read signs in the sky. “Behold me in the heavens,” the Holy Spirit said to him, and he beheld and he knew. He knew the signs were directing him toward a holy mission. In the spring of 1828, he heard a loud noise in the heavens and, he said, “The spirit instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it in and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be the last and the last should be free.”

The twenty-first of August was a Sunday, in the season when the white people spent the day away at camp meetings. In The Preacher’s cabin, his wife was fixing Sunday dinner for their child. In the woods below the fields, six of The Preacher’s disciples were gathered in the glen, where to a Sunday feast they added some of the apple brandy which was always handy to acquire. Only one of them belonged to Mr. Travis – Hark Travis, a magnificently and powerfully built black man. Two others, Sam and the ferocious Will Francis, belonged to one of Mrs. Travis’ brothers. As farms were relatively few in the sparsely settled and wooded country, all the Negroes were intimately acquainted.

The Preacher, after his custom of keeping himself aloof, joined the frolic in the middle of the afternoon, when several hours of feasting and drinking had his followers in receptive humor. From then until full night he coached them in the details of his predestined mission in which they were to be allowed to participate.

At ten o’clock they left the woods and silently approached the dark farmyard of the Travis house. All lights were out in the house where the family, tired from their trip to the camp-meeting, were asleep. In the farmyard stood a Negro named Austin, who joined them, and brought The Preacher’s band to eight.

The seven followers went to the unlocked cider press while The Preacher studied the situation. When the silent man returned, The Preacher directed Hark, the Apollo, to set a tall ladder against an upper story window sill. The Preacher climbed the ladder, stepped through the open window, and tiptoed through the familiar house down to the front door. When he opened it, his disciples crept in. The fearsome Will Francis held a broadax and one of the men gave The Preacher a hatchet. Without any other weapons, the eight men crept into the master bedroom, where Mr. & Mrs. Travis were asleep.

When The Preacher stood over them, he paused, looking on the face of the kindly man who had given him so many privileges. The other Negroes told him the leader must strike the first blow. After another pause, The Preacher struck suddenly and awkwardly down at the sleeping man.

The hatchet glanced off, giving a blow to the side of the head. Mr. Travis, startled into wakefulness, struggled out of bed, sleepily calling for his wife. When his bare feet touched the floor, Will Francis, with no confusion of purpose, brought the broadax down on his head in a single long stroke. Without another sound, Mr. Travis fell dead to the floor. Whirling, Will came down with the broadax again, and Mrs. Travis died in her bed without ever coming fully awake.

The sounds had not aroused the two sixteen-year-old boys – Mrs. Travis’ son, Putnam Moore, and the apprentice, Joel Westbrook – asleep in the same bed in a room in another part of the house. They were killed before they were awakened.

Last, The Preacher went into the baby’s room. He had often played with the child and fondled it, and the baby smiled at him when he woke up. The Preacher backed out, unable to touch the child, and sent in Will and another follower to knock the baby’s brains out against the brick fireplace.

With the house theirs, they took four shotguns, several muskets, powder and shot, and exchanged their clothes for garments of the dead men. To give a dash to their new costumes, they got some of the red cloth with which the top of the gig was lined and tore that into sashes to go around their waists and shoulders. The material gave out and they made other strips from sheets, which they dyed in the freely flowing blood. The Preacher felt that this unit was now ready to serve as the nucleus around which all the slaves of the county would rally.

With some of the force mounted on Travis’ horses, they went to the small farm owned by Mrs. Travis’ brother, who was also the brother of the owner of Sam and Will. This younger Mr. Francis, a bachelor who lived with his one slave in a single-room house, came to the door when Will and Sam called to him that they had a message from his brother.

When he opened the door they grabbed him. He was a strong man and he fought, calling to his loyal slave for his gun. One of The Preacher’s men shot Mr. Francis’s slave, Nelson, who managed to stagger to the back door and escape in the darkness to the woods. He started out to give the alarm to his master’s brother, the owner of Will and Sam, but he didn’t make it that far. Mr. Francis was finished off before Nelson had reached the woods, going down under repeated blows from the hatchet.

From there The Preacher’s band walked on through the night to the home of Mrs. Harris, a widow with several children and grandchildren. Unbeknownst to themselves as they slept, this family was spared through the agency of their slave, Joe, who joined The Preacher on the condition that his people be spared.

With their first recruit, the band descended on the home of the widow Reese, whose front door was unlocked. They killed her in her sleep, her son as he awakened, caught the white farm manager who tried to escape in the darkness. He got off with his life by feigning death, though he was forever after crippled.

By then other slaves, too frightened to defend the whites but unwilling to join the insurgents, had fled before the band, and nearby plantations were warned. Not willing to risk losing any of his eight followers, The Preacher changed his course.

At sunrise on Monday morning they reached the substantial home of the widow Turner…Mrs. Turner’s manager was already at work at the distillery beside the lane to the house. He was shot and stripped, his clothes going to the last recruit, the Joe who had saved his own people. Mrs. Turner and a kinswoman were awakened by the shot and came downstairs to bolt the door. The fearsome will battered the door down with several strokes of his ax, and the two women were grabbed in the hallway.

While they pleaded for their lives, Will went about his skillful work of execution on Mrs. Turner, and The Preacher pulled Mrs. Newsom, trembling violently, out of the door. He kept striking her over the head with a sword he had acquired. The edge was too blunt to kill the screaming woman and Will, turning from the corpse of Mrs. Turner, methodically finished off The Preacher’s victim with his ax.

They got silver there and more decoration for their costumes, and when they left the silent plantation at full daylight their number had spread to fifteen. They divided, those on foot under The Preacher swinging by the Bryant’s, where they paused to kill the couple, their child, and Mrs. Bryant’s mother, before joining the mounted force at the pleasant establishment of Mrs. Whitehead.

When The Preacher’s force got there, Mrs. Whitehead’s grown son had already been hacked to death in a cotton patch while his own slaves looked on. Inside the house three daughters and a child, being bathed by his grandmother were dead. Will was dragging the mother of the family out into the yard, where he decapitated her, and a young girl who had hidden was running for the woods. The Preacher caught her and, his sword failing him again, beat her to death with a fence rail. Another daughter, the only member of the family to survive, had made it to the woods where she was hidden by a house slave.

When they left the seven dead and mutilated bodies at the Whitehead’s, The Preacher’s band had grown and acquired more weapons and horses. They had also drunk more cider and brandy, and they moved boldly ahead to continue the massacre although they knew that the alarm was out by then. Several of the next small plantations in their line of march were deserted. The band divided again, with Will the executioner leading the mounted force toward the house of his own master, Nathaniel Francis, the brother of The Preacher’s Mrs. Travis and of the bachelor whose slave, Nelson, had been among the first to give the warning.

Though the warning had not reached the Francis plantation, a Negro boy had told Mr. Francis a wild tale of the slaughter of his sister’s family. Having heard nothing of The Preacher’s band, Mr. Francis and his mother were on their way to investigate the grisly scene awaiting them at the Travis household.

Two of Mr. Francis’ nephews, eight- and three year-old boys, were playing in the lane as the Negroes rode silently toward them. The three-year-old, seeing the familiar Will, asked for a ride as he had many times before. Will picked him up on the horse, cut off his head, and dropped the body in the lane. The other boy screamed and tried to hide, but they were too fast for him.

Henry Doyle, the overseer, seeing this, ran to warn Mrs. Francis. He was shot dead in the doorway of the house, but not before he had warned Mrs. Francis. A house slave hid her between the plastering and the roof in one of the “jump” rooms, and kept The Preacher’s band away from her hiding place by pretending to hunt for her. When the Negroes had gone on, the house slave of necessity among them, Mrs. Francis came down to find the other house women dividing her clothes, including her wedding dress. One attacked her with a dirk and another defended her. She escaped to join her husband and be taken to safety.

When the band left the Francis plantation, the alarm by then was general and the Negroes were beginning to get drunk. They headed for the road to the county seat. They found more deserted houses, where faithful slaves had left to hide their masters, and met other slaves who had waited to join the insurrectionists. At young Captain Barrow’s the warning had been received and the overseer had escaped, but Mrs. Barrow, a woman of beauty, had delayed to arrange her toilet before appearing abroad. She tarried so long that the Negroes reached the house before she left. Her husband called to her to run out the back door while he fought from the front.

In leaving, Mrs. Barrow had the same experience with her house slaves as had Mrs. Francis. A younger one tried to hold her for the mob, while an older one freed her and held the young Negro woman while her mistress escaped. In front, Captain Barrow emptied a pistol, a single-shot rifle, and a shotgun, and fought with the butt of the gun across the porch, through the hall, and into the front room. He was holding them off when a Negro on the outside reached through the window sill and, from behind, sliced his throat with a razor.

The Preacher’s men had great respect for Captain Barrow’s bravery. They drank his blood and spared his corpse mutilation. Instead, they laid him out in a bed quilt and placed a plug of tobacco on his breast.

It was ten o’clock Monday morning when they left there, and the two bands soon converged. They then numbered about fifty. The Preacher’s vision of a mass insurrection was coming true. White men were trying to form a force ahead of the band but some of the men, on seeing the bleeding and mutilated bodies of women, hurried back to their farms to hide their own wives and children. Hundreds of women and children were gathering in the county seat at Jerusalem, unaware that the band’s winding course was directed there.

On the way The Preacher’s formidable force passed more deserted places, but got its biggest haul at Walker’s country corner. A children’s boarding school was there and a large distillery, a blacksmith shop, and the wheelwright, and it had taken some time to gather all the people in the neighborhood. Before they could start for Jerusalem, the Negroes were on them. Some escaped to the screams of those being chased and butchered. More than ten were killed there, mostly children.

From the Walker massacre, the band headed directly for Jerusalem. By then eighteen white men had gathered with arms at some distance from the town, where four hundred unarmed people had collected. The Preacher’s band of sixty would have reached the town first except that his lieutenants overruled him when they passed the famous brandy cellar at Parker’s deserted plantation, three miles from town. They tarried there to quench their thirsts.

The eighteen white men came on them in Parker’s field and opened fire. In a short, pitched battle the boldest Negroes, leading a charge, fell, and most of the insurrectionists fled. The Preacher escaped with twenty of his most faithful followers, and headed for the Carolina border.

He was seeking new recruits then. They were slow coming in and victims were getting scarce. Late in the afternoon The Preacher, still supported by the Apollo-like Hark and Will with his broadax, allowed a single armed planter to hold off his band from a lady with two children. That planter’s family had already escaped to safety.

[After camping that night,] . . . at dawn, The Preacher started for the large and handsome home of Dr. Blunt, one of the county’s few plantations of the legend, and on the edge of the district of yesterday’s triumph. Not seeking victims then, The Preacher wanted fresh supplies and recruits to put heart and strength back into the insurrection.

He reached the Blunts’ yard fence just before daylight. A precautionary shot was fired to see if the darkened house was deserted, as expected. Then the powerful Hark broke down the gate, and the group advanced toward the house, looking for salves to join them. The band was within twenty yards of the house when firing broke out from the front porch. Hark Travis, one of the original conspirators . . . fell wounded in the first volley. When The Preacher, shaken but grown desperate, tried to rally his force for an attack, another volley dropped two more. His men broke. At that moment, Dr. Blunt’s slaves came swarming out of hiding places, armed with grub hoes, and rushed the insurrectionists. The Preacher fled with his men, Dr. Blunt’s slaves rounded up several prisoners, including the wounded Hark, crawling toward a cotton patch.

Dr. Blunt, his fifteen-year-old son, and his manager had done the firing, while the women loaded single-shot rifles and shotguns. Before The Preacher’s men arrived, Dr. Blunt had given his own slaves the choice of fighting with his family or leaving. They chose unanimously to fight.

More in desperation than purpose [The Preacher] led the dozen remaining followers to retrace their triumphant steps of the day before. At the first plantation the Greenville County cavalry militia rode them down. They killed will, the ax-executioner, and killed or captured all except The Preacher and two others. The insurrection was over then, though the alarmed neighbors did not know it.

Following the Greenville cavalry, other militia units poured into the county during the next two days, and US Marines from Norfolk. The two men who had escaped with The Preacher were captured. Many who had followed the leader during the successful stages of Monday had returned to their homes. They were hunted down, some killed and others taken to jail. But The Preacher eluded them until the beginning of October.

While changing hiding places on another Sunday, he encountered a poor farmer in some woods. Like his neighbors, this Mr. Phipps was carrying a gun when he came upon the ragged, emaciated, and wretched-looking Preacher, who immediately surrendered.

No demonstration was made against The Preacher when he was brought to jail or when he and fifty-two others were brought to trial. Of these, seventeen were hanged and twelve transported. Of five free Negroes among them, one was acquitted, the others went to Superior Court, where one more was acquitted and three convicted. The Preacher confessed fully to his leadership and to the details of the murder of more than fifty white people.

With The Preacher’s execution, the case was closed and entered the record books as Nat Turner’s Rebellion.

In history, the unelaborated reference to “Nat Turner’s Rebellion” has been made so casually for so long that the tag has no association with the terror and horror of mass murder. Also, to the population of the United States today the slave insurrection in Haiti is a remote thing, part of the inevitable and the just march of events. But to the South, where white refugees had fled – at least one to Southampton County – the Haiti massacre was the dread reminder of what could happen to them. With Nat Turner, it had happened. The deep fear of the blacks’ uprising against them had been implemented. It was never to leave.”

(The Land they Fought For, Clifford Dowdey, Doubleday & Company, 1955, excerpts, pp. 14-22)

 

A Fearful Danger and Political Menace

The electoral college system erected by the Founders worked best when limited to two candidates, but became what was described as a “fearful danger” when multiple candidates emerged in 1860. New Yorker Samuel Tilden’s dark prophesy of a purely sectional candidate becoming president was realized in 1860; when the Gulf States began to go out of the Union he stated that “The situation was unprecedented, and it is worse than idle, it is presumptuous, to rail at [President James] Buchanan for his failure to act.” The latter is scapegoated for failure, though the Founder’s failed to foresee such a calamity.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Fearful Danger and Political Menace in 1860

“The election of Abraham Lincoln has been studied from every angle. It is well to disregard the providential aspect of the outcome. Seventeen years ago, Mary Scrugham made a careful examination of the returns. Her “Peaceable Americans of 1860-1861” shows how ridiculously the machinery of the electoral college misrepresented American opinion in this critical campaign.

To question the constitutionality of Lincoln’s election is absurd, but to criticize the system by which one of four candidates could carry the electoral college decisively with a large third of the popular vote is pertinent.

At the first two meetings of the electoral college, Washington was chosen without contest. Thereafter, as everyone knows, the growth of parties put an end to the deliberative character of the body, for each political organization put up its own list of electors in every State – where the legislatures did not choose them. Reporting the popular result became automatic.

Polling not a vote in almost one-third of the States, obtaining not a single elector from the South, and receiving a noticeable minority of the popular suffrage, a sectional candidate was chosen President of the United States – and all this according to the Constitution. What may happen in the future can only be imagined – should this dangerous system survive.

Miss Scrugham’s analysis of the election of 1860 should open our eyes. Lincoln had no votes in ten States of the Union; while [Vice President John] Breckinridge received more that 6,000 in Maine, 2,000 in Vermont, and 14,000 in Connecticut.   According to the “acid test of geographical membership,” the Republican was the only “out and out sectional party.”

Some accused the Southern Democrats of splitting their party for the sake of forcing the election of Lincoln and thus finding a compelling excuse for secession.

If the entire opposition to Lincoln, however, had been united on one candidate, the electoral college would still have given him the presidency “regardless of the fact that popular vote against him was a million more than that for him.”

In 1860, then, according to the returns, it would have been impossible for a majority of the American people to choose a president even if they had been united on a single hypothetical candidate.

In the face of the vote which both [Stephen] Douglas and [John] Bell received in the Southern States, “it is folly to assert,” continues Miss Scrugham, that the South was “aggressively pro-slavery and bent on maintaining slavery” even at the cost of the Union.”

[New York Governor Samuel] Tilden saw the fearful danger of the victory of Lincoln before it had occurred. Laying his finger on the political menace of any man’s being made President without one electoral vote from the South, he urged his fellow citizens to defeat [Lincoln] by any means possible.”

(Horatio Seymour of New York, Stewart Mitchell, Harvard University Press, 1938, excerpts, pp. 219-220)

Isolationism and America

In his address on the Fourth of July, 1821, President John Adams reiterated the foundation-stone of American foreign policy with: “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion only of her own. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication . . . [and in doing so] She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Isolationism and America

“[President George Washington said]: Put not your trust in allies, especially those who are stronger than you. At worst they will betray or disappoint you; at best they will make you the pawn in their games. Trust instead in the Lord and yourselves in your dealings with aliens, and cast not away the protection conferred by a generous Providence.

The second great tradition of US foreign policy is habitually dubbed “isolationism.” This, despite dogged efforts by some diplomatic historians to instruct us that no such principle ever informed American government, and that the word came into general use only in the 1930s.

In the post-Civil War decades the word “isolation” up more often, but as an echo of Victorian Britain’s slogan of Splendid Isolation. What brought “isolation” to the consciousness of the American public was the propaganda of navalists like Captain A.T. Mahan, who sought to pin on their anti-imperialist critics a tag that implied they were old-fashioned curmudgeons.

Thus the Washington Post proclaimed at the time of the Spanish-American War that “the policy of isolation is dead,” and the Oxford English Dictionary first made reference to the concept in 1901: “Hence, Isolationist, one who favors or advocates isolation. In US politics, one who thinks the Republic ought to pursue a policy of political isolation.”

The Encyclopaedia Britannica never made “isolation” a rubric, and only after World War II did its articles on diplomacy refer to the phenomenon. Most telling of all, not even the “isolationists” of the 1930s had any use for the term, preferring to call themselves neutralists or nationalists. So, our vaunted tradition of “isolationism” is no tradition at all, but a dirty word that interventionists, especially since Pearl Harbor, hurl at anyone who questions their policies.

Let us dispense with the term altogether and substitute for it a word that really describes the second great tradition in American foreign relations: Unilateralism. It was a natural, even inevitable corollary of the first American tradition, for if the essence of Exceptionalism was liberty at home, the essence of Unilateralism was to be at liberty to make foreign policy independent of the “toils of European ambition.”

Unilateralism never meant that the United States should, or for that matter could, sequester itself or pursue an ostrich-like policy toward all foreign countries. It simply meant, as Hamilton and Jefferson both underscored, that the self-evident course for the United States was to avoid permanent, entangling alliances and to remain neutral in Europe’s wars except when our Liberty – the first hallowed tradition – was at risk.

[And] if the United States became enmeshed in war and imperialism on the European model, it would have to raise large armies and navies, tax and conscript its people, and generally compromise domestic freedom, the [American] Republic’s raison d’etre.

[And if] it became enmeshed in foreign conflicts, the European powers would compete for Americans’ affections, corrupt their politics with propaganda and bribes, and split them into factions. And finally, if the United States joined in Europe’s rivalries, the arenas of battle would surely include America’s own lands and waters, as they had for over a century.”

(Promised Land, Crusader State, Walter A. McDougall, Houghton-Mifflin, 1997, excerpts, pp. 39-40; 42)

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