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Imagining a Lost Cause

Imagining a Lost Cause

Let us imagine for a moment that the French army and fleet were not present at Yorktown to augment Washington’s army, and that the British prevailed in their war to suppress the rebellion of their subjects populating the American colonies below Canada. As the victorious redcoats swarmed through those colonies they arrested and imprisoned rebel leadership including Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, Madison, et al. All were sure they would swing from sturdy tree limbs for their part in a Lost Cause.

Though the outcry from American Loyalists demanded the execution of rebel leaders, the King decided to not create martyrs and mercifully allowed them to lead peaceful lives after taking a new oath of fealty to the Crown. They would be treated as second-class subjects and forever viewed with suspicion as former rebels.

The official history of that civil war was then written which proclaimed that the rebels fought in defense of African slavery — in short, that the American Revolution was fought to perpetuate slavery and the King fought for the freedom of the black race. Willing court historians suppressed Britain’s deep involvement in the slave trade, and later gate keepers of orthodoxy maintained the fiction to avoid official censure and loss of position.

It is remembered that on November 7, 1775, Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore (John Murray), issued his emancipation proclamation in Norfolk announcing that all able-bodied, male slaves in Virginia who abandoned their masters and took up arms for the King would be free . . . “Negroes and others (appertaining to Rebels) free, that are able to bear arms, they joining his Majesty’s Troops as soon as may be, for the more speedily reducing this Colony to a proper sense of duty to His Majesty’s crown and dignity . . .”

A rebel newspaper correspondent wrote: “Hell itself could not have vomited anything more black than this design of emancipating our slaves.” The proclamation deemed anyone opposing the proclamation as “defending slavery.”

Lord Dunmore afterward was hailed throughout the world as the Great Emancipator and savior of the black race, and that had he not freed the bondsmen from the slave holding colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia, chattel slavery would have continued forever.

The irony of this official history was not lost on those who had witnessed the populating of the American colonies and how the official Royal African Company (RAC) brought slave ship after slave ship to work the plantations that enriched the British Empire. The RAC was established in 1660 by the Stuart family and London merchants, for the purpose of trading along the west coast of Africa – especially for slaves. It was led by the Duke of York (for whom New York City is named), the brother of Charles II.

Additionally, the maritime colonies of Rhode Island and Massachusetts surreptitiously engaged in slaving, with the former colony surpassing Liverpool in 1750 as the center of the lucrative transatlantic slave trade. Thus New England’s maritime ventures and its competition with England was greatly to blame for sparking the rebellion.

Although the British were certainly responsible (along with the Portuguese, French and Spanish) for the presence of African slaves in North America, they were victorious in that civil war and wrote the official histories of the rebellion. Subsequently, all British universities, newspapers and books were in unison denouncing the American rebels as racist white supremacists who refused the black man equality, and any monuments to their dead were simply evidence of glorifying and romanticizing a Lost Cause. Imagine.

Bernhard Thuersam

 

 

The Force Bill Fight in Congress

With Benjamin Harrison in the White House in 1889, the Republican party moved quickly to restore its political hegemony and construct numerous barriers to future Democratic victories. In a two-pronged effort the McKinley Bill would establish high tariff rates to protect northeastern manufacturers from foreign competition and encourage campaign contributions; the Force Bill ostensibly prevented corruption in Federal elections – but in reality gave Federal district judges the power to manipulate congressional elections in the South by shearing as much authority as possible from local election officials.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Force Bill Fight in Congress

“When Congress assembled in December, 1889, the Republicans were in complete control of both branches for the first time in sixteen years. With a great deal of satisfaction, therefore, their leaders revived the partisan measures that a Democratic majority in one house had previously thwarted.

In the opening days of the session they prepared several items of legislation designed to strengthen and lengthen Republican power. Their high tariff supporters were to be rewarded with the McKinley bill with its inflated schedules; the [treasury] surplus was to be obliterated by a veritable orgy of Federal spending; and any subsequent restoration of the Democratic party to power was to be hampered by a set of Federal election laws that would weaken the Solid South with Negro ballots and, if necessary, Northern bayonets.

If the Democrats were to survive the onslaught that the Republicans planned for them, they would require unflagging minority leadership in Congress. Shrewd parliamentary leadership would be needed there to employ effectively the minority’s somewhat limited resources.

The elections bill . . . was designed to appeal to lovers of human, rather than property rights. Its provisions were to be simple, just, and, to all outward appearance, eminently nonpartisan. Those who opposed its passage would place themselves in the position of defending Negro disenfranchisement, unconstitutional usurpation by Southern whites, and downright criminality. To attack the elections bill would be equivalent to a shameless confession of guilt.

Both measures were designed to cripple the Democratic party. The Tariff bill was not simply the negation of avowed Democratic principle; it was both the repayment of Republican campaign debts and the promise of future contributions.

“Fat-frying” had made Republican victories possible in 1888; high tariff schedules would now satisfy old customers and establish a new group of beneficiaries whose financial support might ensure Democratic defeat indefinitely.

The ulterior motives behind the elections bill were equally clear. Pious declarations that it was not a political weapon might assist its passage, but once it became law, the President would be empowered to enforce its provisions with the full support of the Army and Navy.

By this time it was clear to everyone that the Republicans were not motivated by humanitarian impulses in their efforts to protect the Negro in his constitutional rights; they were attempting to restore the political control over the Southern election machinery which they had exercised during the Reconstruction era”

(Arthur Pue Gorman, John R. Lambert, Louisiana State University Press, 1953, excerpts, pp. 145-148; 157)

Grant’s New Kind of War

At Vicksburg, Grant initiated a concept of total war and annihilation against Americans in the South which caused Sherman to worship him. The endless streams of paid substitutes and immigrant recruits sent by Lincoln to fill his constantly depleted ranks far surpassed the small citizen armies of the South who fought with their homes behind them.  Grant may have learned this from British Col. Banastre Tarelton, and saw sheer brutality against soldier and civilian alike as an effective manner in which to subjugate the South. Monitoring both Grant, Sherman and Sheridan destructive campaigns was a young Spanish attache, Captain Varleriano Weyler, who in the mid-1890s became known as “Butcher” Weyler for herding Cuban women and children into concentration camps and burning the countryside.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Grant’s New Kind of War

“What Sherman could not see was that Grant had, in those silent months before Vicksburg, evolved a new psychology for the Federal armies. At [Fort] Donelson the seed of the new idea had started to grow when he had noted that if two fighters were exhausted the first to revive would be the victor.

Lying at the foot of Vicksburg’s cliffs, Grant had come to the irrevocable belief that, in the end, triumph would come to that army which never counted its dead, never licked its wounds, never gave its adversary breathing space, never remembered the past nor shrank from the future – the army which dismissed old rules and ignored rebuffs – the army which held implicit faith in a simple and eternal offensive.

As he prodded his men . . . , Sherman’s eyes began to open, [and] the old military world of West Point [seemed] to spin around beneath him and disappear. This was a new kind of war – and Grant was making his own rules as he went along. Here was an army caring not a whipstitch for a base of supplies. From field, barn, smokehouse, and cellar they were extracting epicurean meals.

When they squatted on their haunches at noon, they fried ham, bacon, pork chops, beefsteak . . . they rolled blankets around bottles of wine and whiskey lifted from baronial sideboards. What was a base of supplies to them? They were not professional soldiers. They were western pioneers – a new generation of pioneers loose in a new country with rifles and axes.  Had their fathers or grandfathers given a damn about a base of supplies when they had crossed the Ohio long ago to enter the wilderness?

While his men built a new bridge over the Big Black River, he lay down in a Negro’s cabin to snatch a few moments of sleep. It was midnight . . . [and] Grant had just ridden up. Twenty-five years later Sherman recalled the scene in detail:

“I rushed out bareheaded and taking him by the hand said, “General Grant, I want to congratulate you on the success of your plan. And it’s your plan, too, by heaven, and nobody else’s. For nobody else believe in it.”

It was as near to hero-worship as Sherman would come in a lifetime that held no heroes.”

(Sherman, Fighting Prophet, Lloyd Lewis, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1932, excerpts pp. 273-274)

Representing the Powers at Washington in South Carolina

South Carolina’s first reconstruction governor was former Northern General Robert K. Scott, a Pennsylvania native who accomplished a tripling of the State debt through corruption and fraudulent bonds; his legislature voted itself a full-time saloon and restaurant at taxpayer expense. Scott’s successor, former Northern army officer Daniel H. Chamberlain was determined “to make his elected position pay,” though feeble attempts were made toward reform and Republican patronage which enraged black Republicans expecting favors for votes delivered.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Representing the Powers at Washington in South Carolina

“There is ample evidence of both black domination and the exercise of controls over black leadership by the white [Republican] leadership. South Carolina was unique among the reconstructed States in that blacks constituted about 60 percent of the population. This population advantage was converted into a substantial numerical advantage in the legislature, where Negroes held a two-to-one majority in the lower house and a clear majority on joint ballot of House and Senate throughout the nine-year period of Reconstruction.

During this same period [black South Carolinians] held the office of secretary of state (from 1868 to 1877), lieutenant-governor and adjutant-general (after 1870), secretary of treasury, Speaker of the House, and president pro tem of the Senate (after 1872).

On the other hand, Negroes never held the governorship, the office of US senator, any of the eight circuit judgeships, the offices of comptroller general, attorney general, superintendent of education, or more than one of the three positions on the State supreme court.

Furthermore, there were recorded instances of black officeholders serving as mere pawns of shrewder white [Republican] colleagues. The northern-born county treasurer of Colleton County boasted to Governor Scott that he “could control every colored man’s vote in St. Paul’s Parish and St. Bartholomew Parish.” The Negro treasurer of Orangeburg County found himself in jail charged with malfeasance in office, while the white mentor who had gotten him the appointment and directed his peculations went free.

On another occasion it was alleged that the white [Republican] political boss of Colleton County engineered the removal from the county auditor’s position of a well-educated Negro political enemy, replacing him with another Negro who was illiterate. The latter was expected to be auditor in name only, while another white crony performed the duties of office.

[The] reactions of historians to [traditional images of racial relationships often betray] more emotion than analysis [and] . . . [WEB] DuBois, for example, accepted the idea of the essential powerlessness of blacks in South Carolina’s Reconstruction government in order to minimize the culpability of blacks for the corruption of that government, even though [this actually] contradicts his thesis of black labor’s control of the government.

However, the key advantage of the white Republicans probably lay in their presumed or real contacts in the North which enabled them to promise and sometimes deliver funds, patronage or protection. White Northerners often passed themselves off as representing the “powers at Washington” in order to secure the political obedience of the Negroes, according to [carpetbagger] ex-Governor [Daniel H.] Chamberlain.

Just after the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, a committee of South Carolina’s Negro political leaders made a secret trip to Washington to confer with Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner about the formation of a political organization.

But many white Republicans continued to advocate efforts to attract native whites into the Republican party and the appointment of northern whites to sensitive positions. This policy reflected their lack of confidence in black officeholders . . . “There is not enough virtue and intelligence among the Blacks to conduct the government in such a way as will promote peace and prosperity” [wrote one Republican].

In other instances, white Republican officeholders urged the governor to replace with whites those black colleagues whom they considered “un-businesslike” or incompetent.”

(Black Over White, Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina during Reconstruction, Thomas Holt, University of Illinois Press, 1977, excerpts, pp. 96-104)

Foreign-Born Tip the 1860 Election

Crucial to the immigrant vote for Lincoln in the 1860 election was Republican Party support for a Homestead bill, the transcontinental railroad, and not allowing black people into western lands — thus reserving those lands for white immigrants. The foreign-born who had already filled up Middle West States were eager for western lands to settle where government property was still available, which also meant clearing those lands of Indians. Future Republican administrations would accomplish that task. With a bare 39% percent of the popular vote, a lower foreign-born vote could have put Stephen Douglas in the White House and avoided war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Foreign-Born Tip the 1860 Election

“Scholars, particularly those interested in the impact of ethnic groups on key national elections, have long been intrigued by Abraham Lincoln’s victory in 1860. Ever since Professor William E. Dodd’s classic article [The Fight for the Northwest, 1860, American Historical Review, XVI, (1910), 786)] it has been axiomatic in the works of historians that the foreign-born of the Old Northwest, voting in solid blocs according to the dictates of their leaders, cast the decisive ballots.

Lincoln could not have won the presidency, Dodd suggested, “but for the loyal support of the Germans and other foreign citizens led by Carl Shurz, Gustav Keorner, and the editors of the Staatzeitung of Chicago.”

A decade later . . . Donnal V. Smith scrutinized the immigrant vote in 1860 and confidently declared that “without the vote of the foreign-born, Lincoln could not have carried the Northwest, and without the Northwest . . . he would have been defeated.”

Smith’s statistics also confirmed the premise that the social solidarity characteristic of ethnic groups invariably translated itself into political solidarity, and that because of the language barrier the immigrants needed leaders to formulate the political issues for them.

“The leaders who were so trusted,” Smith maintained, “were in a splendid to control the political strength of the foreign-born.” And in the election of 1860, he continued, even to the “casual observer” the ethnic leaders of the Middle West were solidly Republican . . . [and] except for isolated, insignificant minorities, the foreign-born of the Old Northwest voted Republican.

Foreign language newspapers generally carried the Lincoln-Hamlin banner of their mastheads; prominent immigrants campaigned actively for Old Abe and played key roles at the Chicago convention.”

(The Ethnic Voter and the First Lincoln Election, Robert P. Swierenga, Civil War History, Volume 11, No. 1, March 1965, excerpts, pp. 27-28)

New Yorker’s Resist Conscription

The resistance to Lincoln’s conscription law became violent on July 13, 1863 as mobs fought New York City police and soldiers in the streets. With that State having predominantly Democratic voters, Lincoln seemed to levy a higher draft quota there and poor Irish immigrants would bear the brunt of forced military service — and feared freed blacks flooding North and taking all laboring jobs held by Irish. The author below relates that “Negroes had been hunted down all day, as though they were so many wild beasts, and one, after dark, was caught, and after being severely beaten and hanged to a tree, left suspended there until [police took] the body down. Many [blacks] had sought refuge in police stations and elsewhere, and all were filled with terror.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

New Yorker’s Resist Conscription

“The ostensible cause of the riots of 1863 was hostility to the draft, because it was a tyrannical, despotic and unjust measure – an act which has distinguished tyrants the world over, and should never be tolerated by a free people. Open hostility to oppression was more than once hinted in a portion of the press – as not only a right, but a duty.

Even the London Times said: “It would have been strange, indeed, if the American people had submitted to a measure which is a distinctive mark of the most despotic governments of the Continent.”

It might as well be said, that because settling national difficulties by an appeal to arms has always been a distinctive feature of despotic governments, therefore the American people should refuse to sustain the government by declaring or prosecuting any war; or that because it has always been a distinctive feature of despotic governments to have naval and military schools, to train men to the art of war, therefore the American people should not submit to either.

[If troops] enough can be raised on a reasonable bounty, it is more expedient to do so; but the moment the bounty becomes so exorbitant as to tempt the cupidity of those in whom neither patriotism nor sense of duty have any power, volunteering becomes an evil. We found it so in our recent war.

The bounty was a little fortune to a certain class, the benefit of which they had no idea of losing by being shot, and hence they deserted or shammed sickness, so that scarce half the men ever got to the front, while those who did being influenced by no higher motive than cupidity, became worthless soldiers.

If a well-known name, [or] that of a man of wealth, was among the number [conscripted], it only increased the exasperation, for the law exempted every one drawn who would pay three hundred dollars towards a substitute. This was taking practically the whole number of soldiers called for out of the laboring classes.

A great proportion of these being Irish, it naturally became an Irish question, and eventually an Irish riot. It was in their eyes the game of hated England over again – oppression of Irishmen.”

(The Great Riots of New York, 1712 to 1873; Joel Tyler Headley, editor, Dover Publications, 1971, excerpts, pp. 137; 139; 149. Original published by E.B. Treat in 1873)

Self-Preservation Compelled Secession

Foremost in the minds of Southerners by 1860 was the incessant abolitionist agitation that had wrought Nat Turner’s murderous rampage in 1831, and most recently then, John Brown’s in 1859. The memory of brutal slave uprisings and massacres in Santo Domingo and what may lay ahead for them had much to do with separating the South from the North. Rather than work toward a practical and peaceful compromise to end the labor system inherited from Britain, the abolitionists and Lincoln himself allowed the drift to war and the end of the republic.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Self-Preservation Compelled Secession

“What mighty force lay back of this Southern movement, which by the beginning of February, 1861, had swept seven States out of the Union?

An explanation early accepted and long held by the North made it simply the South’s desire to protect slavery. Forty years of wrangling over this subject, fortified by many statements Southerners had made about it . . . [and] South Carolina in her secession declaration had made the North’s interference with slavery her greatest grievance, and the subject appeared equally large in other seceding States.

Yet simple answers are never very satisfying, and in this case it was too simple to say that Southerners seceded and fought a four-year war for the surface reason of merely protecting their property in slaves. Had not the South spurned the Corwin Amendment, which guaranteed slavery in the States against all interference by Congress? And what happened to the subject of slavery in the territories, which had loomed so big in the 1850’s? Now it was forgotten by both the North and the South.

Slavery was undoubtedly a potent cause; but more powerful than slavery was the Negro himself. It was the fear of what would ultimately happen to the South if the Negro should be freed by the North, as the abolitionists seemed so intent on doing – and Southerners considered Republicans and abolitionists the same.

This fear had worried [John C.] Calhoun when he wrote in 1849 “The Address of Southern Delegates in Congress to their Constituents.” It was not the loss of property in slaves that the South feared so much as the danger of the South becoming another Santo Domingo, should a Republican regime free the slaves.

And it is no argument to say that Lincoln would never have tried to do this. The South believed his party would force him to it if he did not do so of his own volition. If he were not himself an abolitionist, he had got his position by abolition votes. A friend of Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, told him that the South’s knowledge of what happened in Santo Domingo and “Self-preservation had compelled secession.”

(A History of the South, Volume VII, The Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, E. Merton Coulter, LSU Press, 1950, excerpts, pp. 8-10)

Jun 4, 2017 - Foreign Viewpoints, Hatred of the American South, Lincoln Revealed, Myth of Saving the Union, Northern Culture Laid Bare, Race and the North    Comments Off on Seward Declares the War Not Over Slavery

Seward Declares the War Not Over Slavery

Observers in Europe saw the North’s war upon the South as nothing more than conquest from the beginning, and especially as the Republican Party expressed its intention of only saving the Union. When Lincoln announced his proclamation regarding slavery in 1863, it was seen as simply a newer version of Lord Dunmore’s proclamation in November 1775, and Sir Alexander Cochrane’s in 1814 – all desperate actions with the intention of inciting race war in the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Seward Declares the War Not Over Slavery

“For years the Old South had been close to Great Britain in both business and society, and it was easy to see in the Southern planters an equivalent of the English gentry. British aristocrats like the Marquis of Lothian, the Marquis of Bath, Lord Robert Cecil, and Lord Wharncliffe thought that the success of the Confederacy would give a much-needed check to democracy, both in America and in Europe.

More liberal Englishmen, too, could favor the South, supposing its desire to escape Northern “tyranny” was something comparable to the fulfillment of Italian and German national aspirations. The character of the leaders of the Southern Confederacy inspired respect abroad, and the chivalric bearing of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson enlisted the Englishman’s deepest admiration.

At first it seemed that the North muffed every opportunity to enlist British support. Already fearful of Northern economic competition, which threatened the supremacy of the British merchant marine and challenged the pre-eminence of British manufactures, the English middle classes were alienated when the Republicans adopted the Morrill tariff of 1861.

Northern appeals to British idealism were undercut when [Secretary of State William] Seward, early in the war, explicitly declared that the conflict was not being waged over slavery and would not disturb the South’s peculiar institution.

Even a staunch friend of the Union like the Duke of Argyll was obliged to conclude “that the North is not entitled to claim all the sympathy which belongs to a cause which they do not avow; and which is promoted only as an indirect consequence of a contest which (on their side at least) is waged for other objects, and on other grounds.”

(The Civil War and Reconstruction, James G. Randall, D.C. Heath and Company, 1969, pp. 356-357)

Veritable Social Revolution in the South

FDR’s Secretary of Labor, Francis Perkins, belief that more Southerners wearing shoes would spark a consumer tsunami, is on par with New England’s early wartime belief that much good would come from giving former slaves land to cultivate on occupied Hilton Head and the Sea Islands. The logic was that the new-found wealth of the freedmen would be spent on Yankee notions and manufactured goods, and Northern industry would benefit.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Veritable Social Revolution in the South

“Some years ago Secretary of Labor Francis Perkins raised the temperature of many Southerners to fever height by suggesting that if the people of that section could be persuaded to wear shoes a veritable “social revolution” would result. The mass-production system of the United States, the secretary told a welfare council in May, 1933, depends upon purchasing power, the proper development of which would lead to prosperity beyond anything we “have ever dared to dream of.”

If the wages of the millworkers of the South could be raised to such a level that they could afford shoes, a great demand for footwear would result. Indeed, said the secretary, when it is realized that “the whole South is an untapped market for shoes” it becomes clear that great “social benefits” and “social good” would inevitably come from the development of our “mass-production system” to meet this latent consuming power.

Southern editors and speakers indignantly denied the canard that Southerners bought no shoes and retorted that such comments were only what might have been expected from a woman, especially one who knew nothing about the South.

It was even suggested that should all the inhabitants of the South suddenly wake to wearing shoes the resultant wear and tear on streets, sidewalks, and hotel carpets might cause grave financial loss to the area.

That was in 1933 . . . [and it was maintained that] Markets can only exist where there is demand; demand comes close upon the heels of knowledge. Knowledge, or education in the ways of the West, has therefore been considered essential if “backward” peoples are to be induced to purchase western goods. [Henry M.] Stanley, the African explorer, in an address before the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, published in 1884 [asserted] that if Christian missionaries should clothe naked Negroes of the Congo, even in one dress for use on the Sabbath, “320,000,000 yards of Manchester cotton cloth” would be required . . . Should they become sufficiently educated in the European moral code to feel the necessity for a change of clothing every day, cloth to the value of [26 million pounds] a year would be necessary.

When the natives have been educated they would abandon their idleness and sloth, [John Williams, missionary to Tahiti said in 1817], and become industrious workers. Then, he asserted, they will apply to our merchants for goods . . . “

[When FDR called for a New Deal in the South] He certainly must have been aware of the implications of the thesis that the poorly housed, undernourished, and ill-clad Southerner must be given greatly increased purchasing power to enable him to better his economic condition, thus strengthening the demand for manufacture products and consequently improving the economy of the nation as a whole.

It is also certain that the concern which Secretary Perkins felt for the shoeless Southerner was not without precedent. When the armies of Grant and Sherman liberated the Southern Negro, the economic implications were not lost on the people of the victorious section. Following in the wake of the Union armies a host of teachers and missionaries flocked to the South, determined to Christianize and educate the freed Negro . . . with a decidedly abolitionist tinge, to be sure.

[These] people, their robes of self-righteousness wrapped firmly around them . . . carried with them the New England school, complete with curriculum, texts and method, but they also took with them the attitudes and beliefs of the social reformer and, specifically, the militant abolitionist. Politically, the teachers and missionaries became the tools of the [Republican] Radicals in their program of reconstruction . . .

Sensing in the alphabet and the book the key to the white man’s position of dominance, the open-sesame which would unlock the magic door of equality and wealth, the Negro, like the Polynesian, flocked to the church and the school. As one observer wrote, the “spelling book and primer” seemed to them Alladin’s [sic] lamp, which will command over all the riches and glory of the world. In brief, they believed that education was “the white man’s fetish,” which would guarantee wealth, power, and social position.

Some of the teachers [and missionaries] understood the inevitable result of the extension of freedom, Christianity, and education to the Negro – the development of a vast new market for northern goods, which would result in great profits to northern mills.”

(Northern Interest in the Shoeless Southerner, Henry L. Swint; Journal of Southern History, Volume XVI, Number 4, November 1950, excerpts, pp. 457-462)

Chinese Labor for the Central Pacific Railroad

The “Big Four” of Central Pacific Railroad fame included Charles Crocker and Leland Stanford, both of New York. While the War Between the States raged in the East, they made a fortune through generous government subsidies usually obtained by bribery or special treatment for Republican Party donors. While that party claimed to be waging war against the American South to eradicate slavery, the government-supported railroad companies used virtual slave labor for construction crews. The railroad crews used white supervisors of Chinese laborers in the same manner as Northern regiments of colored troops were led by white officers.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Chinese Labor for the Central Pacific Railroad    

“Early in January 1865 Crocker’s agents scoured Sacramento, Stockton, and San Francisco for laborers . . . [but many] quit when they had earned enough money to pay stage fare to Virginia City. But children, too, were scarce in the foothills and for months the labor shortage remained acute. In the company’s new San Francisco office [Leland] Stanford . . . petitioned the War Department to send out five thousand Rebel prisoners to be put to work under the guard of a few companies of Union soldiers. But the war ended and the scheme had to be shelved.

A plan of importing, under contract, thousands of peons from Sonora and other Mexican states never got beyond the discussion stage . . . [but another] dubious possibility remained – the lowly Chinese. There were already thousands of them on the Coast . . . crowded into the wretched warrens of a score of “Chinatowns.”

A threatened strike of his white crews proved the deciding point. [Fifty] Chinese were herded on freight cars in the Sacramento yards and hauled to the end of the track. By sunrise they went to work with picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows. At the end of their first twelve hours of prodding industry Crocker and his engineers viewed the result with gratified astonishment.

Another gang of fifty was hired at once, then a third. Finally all doubt vanished and the Chinatowns of the state were searched for every able-bodied male who could be tempted by the bait of steady work and forty dollars a month.

Of course the white laborers of the Coast resented the affront. To counteract this injury, railroad spokesmen were presently referring to the Chinese as “the Asiatic contingent of the Grand Army of Civilization,” and Stanford was incorporating into company reports long defense for them . . . To charges that the Chinese were held in a state of virtual serfdom by the labor contractors with whom the company dealt, Stanford stated: “No system similar to slavery . . . prevails . . . Their wages . . . Paid in coin at the end of each month, are divided among them by their agents . . . in proportion to the labor done by each . . . These agents are generally American or Chinese merchants, who furnish them with supplies of food, the value of which they deduct monthly . . .”

By the end of 1865 the company was committed to the use of Chinese for most of their labor, and Stanford was hopeful that the force might be increased to fifteen thousand during the coming year. Of course no such supply was available in California . . . [but accordingly] boats from Canton were presently tying up at San Francisco piers, their rails swarming with yellow faces, while labor leaders predicted economic ruin for the Coast and threatened reprisals.

The advent of the Chinese relieved white men of pick and shovel work; many became gang foremen, others were promoted to teamsters, powdermen, or stone-workers. Moreover, the Chinese lived in their own camps, cooked their own meals, and knew their place. Thus the superiority of the Caucasian was undiminished, his dignity enhanced. Harmony reigned in the Sierra canyons and real progress began to be made.”

(The Big Four, The Story of the Building of the Central Pacific, Oscar Lewis, Borzoi Books, 1938, excerpts, pp. 69-72)

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