Browsing "Prescient Warnings"

Delaware the Southern State

In July 1861, Senator James A. Bayard of Delaware spoke in the United States Senate and compared “the language of Lincoln and the Republicans to statements by the British Crown and Parliament during the American Revolution.” He saw it as irrational that after a devastating war between the sections, there would remain no bond to cement the people to one another, and that war would ruin both North and South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Delaware the Southern State

“In 1861, an optimistic Confederate Secretary of State Robert Toombs stated “all fifteen States of the South will have severed the bonds which have bound them to the late Federal Union and will have joined the Confederate States.” This statement is remarkable for two reasons.

First, Toombs expected, as did many Southerners, that every slave State would bond itself to the new southern Confederacy. Second, Delaware was included in Toombs’ fifteen States of the South. Most Southerners do not view Delaware in this light, but based on historical evidence, Delaware was actually more Southern than middle, and positively more Southern than Northern. Delaware, then, is the perfect case study for what Abraham Lincoln called “the fire in the rear.”

She had a large pro-Southern population, a congressional delegation that favored at minimum peaceful separation if not secession, a State government that was split between pro-war Republicans and pro-South Democrats, and Delaware was occupied by the Union army several times during the war. It would be no stretch to say that if not for military occupation and the inability of Delaware to secede, Delaware may have endeavored to cast its lot with the South.

Both United States Senators from Delaware in 1860 – James A. Bayard the younger and Willard Saulsbury, Sr., were Democrats . . . Delawareans had long supported Southern rights in the United States Congress, but by 1860, the State’s geographic position exposed its property and material well-being to the abuses of the federal government, thus forcing its citizens to adopt a more cautious approach to the sectional conflict.

[In the 1860 presidential election, those] candidates who were diametrically opposed to Lincoln received over seventy-six percent of the total popular vote . . . [and] Democrats retained a five to four majority in the State Senate . . .

In March [1861], the [Delaware] Gazette unleashed its harshest condemnation of the federal government with a stinging editorial supporting State’s rights. The paper thought the impending crisis would settle the issue of location of sovereignty in the republic. “If a government has a right to subjugate a State then freedom must mourn until other countries and other peoples establish what we had hoped had been done by Washington and Jefferson and their compeers.”

On 19 July 1861, Bayard rose in the Senate to deliver a two-hour speech entitled “Executive Usurpation” in response to a joint resolution of Congress . . . to “approve and confirm certain act of the President of the United States for suppressing insurrection and rebellion,” most notably the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the raising of troops, and the blockade of Southern ports.

[Bayard stated] “I am attached to the Union as any man who claims a set in this body . . .” But the course of the administration and the Republican Party, Bayard asserted, “was the reduction of the States to “provinces, and the military power to become the dominant power in the representative Republic . . . for the purpose of conquest and subjugation.”

(The Avenger Without Mercy: Delaware Under the Federal Heel; Brion McClanahan; Northern Opposition to Mr. Lincoln’s War, D. Jonathan White, editor, Abbeville Institute Press, 2014, excerpts, pp. 116; 120; 127; 136-137)

Binding Men to the Footstools of Depots

South Carolinian Robert Y. Hayne (1791-1839) followed Jefferson’s admonition that the national debt was not something to be passed on to future generations, and most presidents of his era and until the War endeavored to pay the debts incurred by their administrations before leaving office. In encouraging a perpetual public debt, Daniel Webster promoted the American System of Hamilton and Henry Clay which provided the government a perpetual supply of money with which to buy influence and power.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Binding Men to the Footstools of Despots

“The gentleman from Massachusetts [Webster], in alluding to a remark of mine that before any disposition could be made of the public lands, the national debt (for which they stand pledged) must be first paid, took occasion to intimate [that Southerners desire to pay the national debt] “arises from a disposition to weaken the ties which bind the people to the Union.”

But, adds the gentleman, “so far as the debt may have an effect in binding the debtors to the country, and thereby serving as a link to hold the States together, he would be glad that it should exist forever.”

Surely then, sir, on the gentleman’s own principles, he must be opposed to the payment of the debt. Sir, let me tell that gentleman that the South repudiates the idea that a pecuniary dependence on the Federal Government is one of the legitimate means of holding the States together.

A monied interest in the Government is essentially a base interest . . . it is opposed to all the principles of free government and at war with virtue and patriotism. In a free government, this principle of abject dependence if extended through all the ramifications of society must be fatal to liberty. Already we have made alarming strides in that direction.

The entire class of manufacturers, the holders of stocks with their hundreds of millions in capital, are held to the Government by the strong link of pecuniary interests; millions of people, entire sections of the country, interested, or believing themselves to be so, in the public lands and the public treasure, are bound to the Government by the expectation of pecuniary favors.

If this system is carried on much further, no man can fail to see that every generous motive of attachment to the country will be destroyed, and in its place will spring up those low, groveling, base and selfish feelings which bind men to the footstool of despots by bonds as strong and as enduring as those which attach them to free institutions.”

(Speech of Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina, January 25, 1830; The Webster-Hayne Debate on the Nature of the Union, Herman Belz, Editor, Liberty Fund, 2000, pp. 42-43.)

Consolidation Generates Monarchy

To Jefferson, the Revolution meant “not merely independence from British rule but also escape from the British system of government into republicanism.” He also abhorred political parties, or what he called sects,” and saw that all Americans as “federalists” – i.e., supporters of the Constitution and virtually all republicans, i.e., “believers in a republic rather than a monarchy.” And the States were the line of defense against government tendencies to consolidate power around itself.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Consolidation Generates Monarchy

“On the eclipse of federalism, although not its extinction, [New England] leaders got up the Missouri question, under the false front of lessening the measure of slavery, but with the real view of producing geographical division of parties, which might ensure them the next President.

The people of the north went blindfolded into the snare, followed their leaders for awhile with a zeal truly moral and laudable, until they became sensible that they were injuring instead of aiding the real interests of the slaves, that they had been used merely as tools for electioneering purposes; and that trick of hypocrisy then fell as quickly as it had been got up.

To that has now succeeded a distinction, which, like that of republican and federal, or Whig and Tory, being equally intermixed through every State, threatens none of those geographical schisms, which immediately go to a separation.

The line of division now is the preservation of State rights as reserved in the Constitution, or by strained constructions of that instrument, to merge all into consolidated government. The Tories are for strengthening the Executive and General Government; the Whigs cherish the representative branch, and the rights reserved by the States, as the bulwark against consolidation, which must immediately generate monarchy.

Although this division excites, it is well understood, and will be a principle of voting at the ensuing election, with the reflecting men of both parties.”

(Thomas Jefferson, to Marquis Lafayette, November 1823, Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, John P. Foley, editor, Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1900, excerpt, pp. 760)

Guardians of the Constitution

John Taylor of Caroline said that “the great weakness of the Constitution is that its meaning is never unequivocal,” and that its misinterpretation was due to the loss of power by the agrarians.  Though the Constitution was designed to guarantee local self-government for the farmers, “a mode of construction is introduced to advance the interest of mercenary combinations.” The mercenary combinations helped form the Federalist, Whig and Republican parties.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Guardians of the Constitution

“Certainly, the States never intended to give to the Federal Government the power of veto over their own laws. It is absurd to suppose that an agency brought into being by the several States can have exclusive power to construe the instrument which grants its power, for this is equivalent to the assertion that the States can make a constitution but are without power to prevent its infringement.

If the Federal Government has the last word even on the constitutionality of its own laws, then federalism is at an end. If the Supreme Court can dominate State matters, then all the heroic efforts of the Founding Fathers to set up a system of mutual checks and secure wise and responsible State government were futile.

In the event of a controversy between the two spheres [State and federal], the Supreme Court would be an interested party and consequently partial. Such a conflict cannot be settled by a court. The correct remedy, as stated in the Constitution, is amendment by the people. Further, the dispensation of justice is an inherent attribute of sovereignty. Hence, the people of the States, since they are sovereign, can be denied no judicial power over their own affairs.

Nonetheless, the Court is prone to ignore the idea of the sovereignty of the people of the States and to place it instead in the governments of the States or even the in the government of the Union on the hypothesis that the Union is the supreme government of an American Nation. And since the powers reserved to the States far exceed those delegated, this entitles the States to priority in all controversies over fundamental issues of government.

Liberty is lost if the States are deprived of a direct and final voice in the interpretation of the Constitution of their Union. Hence, the sweeping powers assumed by the Supreme Court are a direct violation of the basic liberties of the States and of the people. The idea of a court dictating to the States runs counter to the basic idea of federalism and makes the Constitution a rope of sand. If State powers are limited by any supreme federal department, the situation is like the one that [John] Locke described: “no man has a right to that which another has a right to that which another has a right to take from him.”

Hence, the States, not the justices of the Supreme Court, are the guardians and guarantors of the Constitution. A jury composed of the parties that originally contracted to form the Union is better qualified to perform the task of maintaining it than the federal justices whose power extends merely to cases in law and equity involving individual and private affairs, not to issues that affect any of the departments or spheres of the government of the United States.”

The Social Philosophy of John Taylor of Caroline, A Study in Jeffersonian Democracy, Eugene T. Mudge, Columbia University Press, 1939, excerpts, pp. 133-135)

Liberator and Imperial Protector

What General Enoch Crowder warned of below was reminiscent of Reconstruction’s political control in the South, as Washington-recognized Northern carpetbag governors and legislators gained official recognition and were free to engage in fraudulent political methods and elections to remain in power. Under Lincoln and the Republican Radicals, the US government became “a blind instrument for fastening an undesirable or fraudulent government upon a people” – 50 years later the Cuban people were assured of fraudulent government fastened by Washington.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Liberator and Imperial Protector

“The conditions imposed on Cuban independence at the end of the American military occupation in 1902 had effectively subjected Cuban sovereignty to U.S. supervision. “The Government of Cuba,” Article III of the Platt Amendment stipulated, “consents that the United States may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the preservation of life, property and individual liberty, and for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the Treaty of Paris on the United States.

By virtue of the Platt Amendment, Washington assumed ultimate responsibility for underwriting the solvency of national administration. The very conduct of [Cuban] national politics emerged as a source of policy concern in Washington. The American presence in Cuba loomed pervasively, functioning always as the understood coefficient of all political strategies.

Specifically, the Platt Amendment, as the understood basis of U.S. Cuban policy, encouraged outright an incumbent party, assured of American support, to embark on a course of partisan excesses, including reelection through illegal, if ostensibly constitutional, methods.

As early as 1912, General Enoch H. Crowder, the U.S. legal advisor during the second intervention, caution Washington against becoming captive to the political maneuvers of any single faction in Cuba. With a sober understanding of . . . U.S. – Cuban treaty relations, Crowder warned:

“Having once gained the official recognition of this government, and so become “the duly constituted authority,” . . . it could by fraudulent practices as was undoubtedly done in the last election for President prior to the election of 1906, secure its apparent reelection, and if the protest became too violent to overcome, such government would only have to notify the President of the United States and request assistance. The right of a people to change their rulers, and in fact change their form of government when it becomes subversive of the principle for which it is instituted . . . is essential to the preservation of a free government . . . Provision should be made that the United States will not be made the blind instrument for fastening an undesirable or fraudulent government upon a people whom we profess to be preserving a free government.”

Crowder’s plea went unheeded. On the contrary, within a year, Woodrow Wilson proclaimed constitutionality as the cornerstone of US Latin American policy . . . “We are the friends of constitutional government in America, Wilson averred, “We are more than its friends, we are its champions.”

(Intervention, Revolution and Politics in Cuba, 1913-1921; Louis A. Perez, Jr., University of Pittsburgh Press, 1978, excerpts pp. 11-12)

Striving to Maintain the Union

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

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Striving to Maintain the Union

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Corporate Tricks and Devices

Few, if any, Gilded Age tycoons were expert economists – but all understood theories of supply and demand, the law of diminishing returns, and assumed that every man was motivated by the selfish love of gain. Most also believed in unfettered competition, theoretically, unless bribed government officials could be used to handicap competitors. U.S. Grant’s notorious administration of corrupt and bought politicians helped pave the way into the Gilded Age – the predictable outcome of Lincoln’s revolution.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Corporate Tricks and Devices

“Nobody expounded the folly of tampering with the laws of economics more eloquently than Yale’s great teacher of political economy, the dynamic William Graham Sumner. In his book What Social Classes Owe to Each Other, published in 1883, he had put the reformers to rout.

“The yearning after equality,” he had written, “”is the offspring of envy and covetousness, and there is no possible plan for satisfying that yearning which do aught else than rob A to give to B; consequently all such plans nourish some of the meanest vices of human nature, waste capital, and overthrow civilization.”

This emphatically did not mean that Sumner was opposed to a better life for everybody. On the contrary, as a man of high and generous principle – he had begun his working life as a clergyman – he was heartily in favor of it. But he believed in the wider extension of opportunity, not in changing the rules under which business was conducted. He argued that:

“[Instead] of endeavoring to redistribute acquisitions which have been made between the existing classes, our aim should be to increase, multiply, and extend the chances. Such is the work of civilization. Every improvement in education, science, art or government expands the chances of man on earth. Such expansion is no guarantee of equality. On the contrary, if there be liberty, some will profit by the chances eagerly and some will neglect them altogether. Therefore, the greater the chances, the more unequal will be the fortune of these two sets of men. So it ought to be, in all justice and right reason.”

Sumner would not have argued that there were not some ways in which legislation could protect the economically helpless. But he thought that most reform legislation was conceived in ignorance and drafted in folly.

“You need not think it necessary,” he would tell his Yale classes, “to have Washington exercise a political providence over the country. God has done that a good deal better by the laws of political economy.”

The irony of the situation lay in the fact that for generations men have been tinkering with economic law to their own advantage, and in the process had produced institutions which were emphatically not God’s work – as most of Sumner’s hearers presumably supposed them to be – but man’s.

The corporation, for instance, was not an invention of God’s. It was an invention of man’s. It was a creature of the state . . . [and] one of the great inventions of the nineteenth century . . . Yet be taking adroit advantage of the legislative acts which defined its privileges, one could play extraordinary tricks with it. Corporate devices could be used to permit A to rob B – or, let us say, more charitably, to permit A to drain off all the gravy in sight and leave none for B.

It was largely as a result of the discovery of tricks that could be played with corporations, and particularly with their capital stock, that the wealth produced in such a tremendous spate at the turn of the century flowed in large proportion into a few well-placed hands.”

(The Big Change, America Transforms Itself, 1900-1950, Frederick Lewis Allen, Harper & Brothers, 1952, pp. 67-69)

 

Sumner’s Rendezvous With a Gutta-Percha

After South Carolina Congressman Preston S. Brooks administered a lesson to Charles Sumner, senator from the slave-trading State of Massachusetts, Brooks received new canes from all over the South. The canes were accompanied by emphatic suggestions that he promptly deliver additional beatings on Sumner for the insults toward his uncle and distinguished Senator Andrew P. Butler. Sumner feigned injury to attract sympathy from abolitionist newspapers.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sumner’s Rendezvous With a Gutta-Percha

“From the moment he took his seat in the Senate, Sumner’s conscience was always on parade. [And] according to Sumner, the Constitution did not sanction slavery, and since slavery was a monstrous evil it should be eliminated at once.

Freedom was national whereas slavery was only sectional.  In the official view of the South, which incidentally coincided with that of the Garrisonians, the founding fathers had expressly guaranteed slavery along with other forms of personal property.  Far from being a national evil, it was a national benefit, to the Negro as much as to the white man.

Sumner seized upon the controversy over Kansas, whether the territory was to come into the Union as a free or as a slave State, to pronounce what he called “the most thoroughgoing philippic ever uttered in a legislative body.”  It was an elaborate speech and it took five hours to deliver.

For those who expected an accurate presentation of the facts about Kansas it was a disappointment, but Sumner’s conscience was never concerned with facts unless the facts bore on the depravity of slaveholders. Sumner’s conscience directed him to pour more oil on the fire rather than water.

He began by assuming the truth of every charge made against the slave power in Kansas, and ignoring all the evidence on the other side. Major John Sedgewick, who was stationed in Kansas at the time . . . thought that most of the atrocities had been committed by the [Northern] Free Soil party, but any such evidence, even if it had come his way, Sumner would have brushed aside as the ravings of a lunatic.  He had prepared his speech with infinite pains, committed it to memory, practiced it before the glass, and nothing would induce him to alter it.

The crime against Kansas was nothing less than “the rape of virgin territory compelling it to the hateful embrace of slavery.” The criminal (slave power) has “an audacity beyond that of Verres, a subtlety beyond that of Machiavelli, a meanness beyond that of Bacon, and an ability beyond that of Hastings.”

The long string of erudite insults reached their climax in an attack upon the much beloved Senator Butler of South Carolina who, said Sumner, “has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows and who, although ugly to others, is always lovely to him; although polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight — I mean the harlot, Slavery.”

That Sumner honestly thought he was serving the cause of freedom by such language is hard to believe. Senator Cass of Michigan, a devoted Union man and not a slaveholder, delivered the official rebuke: “Such a speech — the most un-American and un-patriotic that ever grated on the ears of the members of this high body — I hope never to hear again here or elsewhere.”

While Senators were shaking their heads . . . Sumner was suddenly transfigured into a national hero, a martyr for freedom. The man responsible for this . . . was a Southerner, Congressman Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina, a nephew and a devoted admirer of Senator Butler.

[And] Brooks had made up his mind that the only suitable answer to Sumner was severe corporeal punishment. Accordingly, while Sumner was sitting at his desk after the Senate had adjourned, Brooks strode up to him and . . . struck him over the head with a gutta-percha cane.

How severely Sumner was injured has always been a matter of dispute, but by the time Brooks had finished his chastisement Sumner was lying on the floor unconscious. Southerners accused Sumner of shamming.

The doctor who attended him took four stitches in his scalp and declared him ready to return to duty after a few days of rest. [Sumner] complained of perpetual headache and nervous prostration, but Southerners pointed out that during a trip to Europe to recover his health he indulged in a continuous round of social entertainments that might well have reduced any traveler to a state of exhaustion.”

(No Compromise!, Arnold Whitridge, Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1960, pp. 125-127)

Grecian Horses into the Southern Troy

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

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Grecian Horses into the Southern Troy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Origins of the Conflict: The Tallmadge Amendment

The words “disunion” and “civil war” were heard in the halls of Congress in early 1819 as Representative James Tallmadge of New York introduced his amendment to restrict slavery in the proposed State of Missouri. Though Tallmadge thought the action would help end slavery within a generation, Howell Cobb of Georgia said he had kindled a fire “which only seas of blood could extinguish.” The Missouri Compromise of 1820 did not include the amendment, but did prohibit slavery above the 36-30 parallel of the Louisiana Purchase, the southern boundary of Missouri.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Origins of the Conflict: The Tallmadge Amendment

“In 1812 the Territory of Orleans became the State of Louisiana, but meantime the District of Louisiana had been repeatedly reorganized [and by 1819] . . . the population of Missouri closely approximated sixty thousand which, according to precedents set in the Old Northwest, made a territory eligible for Statehood.

Successive Missouri legislatures petitioned Congress on the subject, and in 1819 the House Committee on Territories reported favorably a bill enabling Missouri . . . to draw up a constitution and make ready for Statehood.

It was at this juncture that Representative James Tallmadge of New York raised the question of setting limits to the expansion of slavery in the Louisiana Purchase. He proposed to amend the bill reported from committee by providing that the further introduction of slavery into Missouri should be forbidden, and that all children born of slave parents after the admission of the State should be free upon reaching the age of twenty-five years.

Until the introduction of the Tallmadge amendment, the slavery question had played little part in national politics. The problem of how slaves should be counted when apportioning representatives in Congress or assessing direct taxes on the States had been satisfactorily settled in the federal convention by the three-fifths compromise. Also, an earlier Congress had exercised its constitutional authority to pass a fugitive slave act, and the administration of this measure had so far provoked little criticism.

Moreover, slavery had long been regarded as a dying institution. The founders of the American nation had almost unanimously so considered it, Southerners no less than Northerners. Many of them were eager to speed the day when slavery should cease to exist throughout the whole country.

Washington emancipated his slaves by his will; Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin were prominent in the work of emancipation societies; Thomas Jefferson’s anti-slavery views were written into the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Almost by common consent the slave trade was forbidden in 1808, the earliest possible date under the Constitution.

Hostility to slavery during these early days of the republic was firmly grounded on the fact that the institution had ceased to be economically profitable. For this reason, even before the American Revolution, many of the colonies would have taken some anti slavery action had not the British government been so insistent on protecting the profits of British merchants engaged in the slave trade.

As soon as independence became a fact, one State after another took action against slavery . . . [but] the chief obstacle to abolition in the South, where slaves were far more numerous than in the North, was the perplexity felt about what to do with the freed slaves, but Southern emancipation societies were deeply concerned about this problem and were hopeful of finding a solution.

The discovery that cotton could be grown profitably by means of slave labor [with the cotton gin of Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney, and] served to revive the institution of slavery just at the time when it had seemed destined to disappear.

(The Federal Union, History of the United States to 1865, John D. Hicks, Houghton Mifflin, 1948, excerpts, pp. 354-356)

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