Browsing "Recurring Southern Conservatism"

The High Functionary’s War

President Jefferson Davis’ message to the Third Session of the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States at Richmond, Virginia, July 20, 1861 (excerpts):

“Commencing in March last, with an affectation of ignoring the secession of the seven States which first organized this Government; persisting in April in the idle and absurd assumption of the existence of a riot which was to be dispersed by a posse comitatus; continuing in successive months the false representation that these States intended offensive war, in spite of conclusive evidence to the contrary . . . the President of the United States and his advisors have succeeded in deceiving the people of those States into the belief that the purpose of [the Confederate] Government was not peace at home, but conquest abroad; not the defense of its own liberties, but the subversion of those of the people of the United States.”

Under cover of [an] unfounded pretense that the Confederate States are the assailants, that high functionary, after expressing his concern that some foreign nations “had so shaped their action as if they supposed the early destruction of our National Union was probable,” abandons all further disguise, and proposes “to make this conflict a short and decisive one,” by placing at the control of the Government for the work at least 400,000 men and $400,000,000. The Congress, concurring in the doubt thus intimated as to the sufficiency of the force demanded, has increased it to a half a million of men.

These enormous preparations in men and money, for the conduct of a war on a scale more gigantic than any which the world has ever witnessed, is a distinct avowal, in the eyes of civilized man, that the United States are engaged in a conflict with a great and powerful nation; they are at last compelled to abandon the pretense of being engaged in dispersing rioters and suppressing insurrections . . . and are driven to the acknowledgement that the ancient Union has been dissolved.

In 1781 Great Britain, when invading her revolted colonies, took possession of the very district of country near Fortress Monroe, now occupied by troops of the United States. The houses then inhabited by the people, after being respected and protected by avowed invaders, are now pillaged and destroyed by men who pretend that the victims are their fellow-citizens.

Mankind will shudder to hear the tales of outrage committed on defenseless females by soldiers of the United States now invading our homes; yet these outrages are prompted by inflamed passions and the madness of intoxication. But who shall depict the horror with which they will regard the cool and deliberate malignity which, under pretext of suppressing an insurrection, said by themselves to be upheld by a minority only of our people, makes special war on the sick, including the women and the children, by carefully devised measures to prevent their obtaining the medicines necessary for their cure.

The sacred claims of humanity, respected even during the fury of actual battle, by careful diversion of attack from the hospitals containing wounded enemies, are outraged in cold blood by a government and people that pretend to desire a continuance of fraternal connections . . . The humanity of our [Southern] people would shrink instinctively from the bare idea of waging a like war upon the sick, the women, and the children of the enemy.”

(Messages and Papers of the Confederacy, 1861-1865, Volume I, James D. Richardson, editor, US Publishing Company, 1906, excerpts, pp. 118-120)

Gibbon’s Long-Haired Barbarian

Admiral Raphael Semmes (1809- 1877) was a Naval Academy graduate, prewar lawyer and remarkable naval strategist who quite-nearly destroyed the US merchant marine with his devastating commerce raiding tactics. A frequent critic of the New England mind and character, he saw the Yankee as “ambitious, restless, scheming, energetic, and has no inconvenient moral nature to restrain him from the pursuit of his interests, be the path ever so crooked. In the development of material wealth he is unsurpassed.” Below, he describes President Jefferson Davis’ path after departing Richmond in 1865.

Gibbon’s Long-Haired Barbarian

“[President Davis] moved soon to Charlotte, in North Carolina, and in a few weeks afterward he fell into the hands of the enemy. The reader knows the rest of his history; how the enemy gloated over his captivity; how he was reviled, and insulted, by the coarse and brutal men into whose power he had fallen; how lies were invented as to the circumstances of his capture, to please and amuse the Northern multitudes, eager for his blood; and finally, how he was degraded by imprisonment, and the manacles of a felon!

His captors and he were of different races – of different blood. They had nothing in common. He was the “Cavalier,” endowed by nature with the instincts and refinement of the gentleman. They were of the race of Roundheads, to whom all such instincts and refinements were offensive.  God has created men in different moulds, as he has created the animals. It was as natural that the Yankees should hate Jefferson Davis, as that the cat should arch its back, and roughen its fur, upon the approach of the dog.

I have said that the American war had its origins in money, and that it was carried on throughout, “for a consideration.” It ended in the same way.

The “long-haired barbarian” – see Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” – who laid his huge paw on Jefferson Davis, to make him a prisoner, was paid in money for the gallant deed.  A President of the United States had degraded his high office, by falsely charging Mr. Davis with being an accomplice in the murder of President Lincoln, and offered a reward for his apprehension; thus gratifying his malignant nature, by holding him up to the world as a common felon.”

(Memoirs of Service Afloat During the War Between the States, Raphael Semmes, LSU Press, 1996 (Original 1868) excerpt pp. 817-818)

An American Chamber of Horrors

In an effort to forestall a Republican “Force Bill” designed to bring reconstruction horrors back to the postwar South, fourteen spokesmen that included Zebulon Vance, Robert Stiles and Bernard J. Sage undertook to explain the Solid South to what may be termed the New North. In April 1890 they published a symposium “Why the Solid South? Or Reconstruction and its Results,” designed to appeal to the self-interest of the North’s business class and a very clear recapitulation of what Reconstruction thus far “had cost in money, public morale and cultural retardation.”

An American Chamber of Horrors

“Hilary Herbert of Alabama, who served as editor, expressed . . . in a preface: “Its object is to show to the public, and more especially to the businessmen of the North, who have made investments in the South, or who have trade relations with their Southern fellow citizens, the consequences which once followed an interference in the domestic affairs of certain States by those, who either did not understand the situation or were reckless of results.”

There followed factual histories of Reconstruction in each of the ex-Confederate States, including West Virginia and Missouri, which also had suffered from the fraud, repression and vicious partisanship of the postwar settlement. All in all, it is one of the most dismal stories ever told, unrelieved by a single ray of light, unless a revelation of how much people can endure and how they will struggle to attain their hopes even in extremis be such.

Governor Vance of North Carolina in a particularly mild and philosophic chapter pointed out that during what was supposed to be a moral and political rebirth “the criminals sat in the law-making chamber, on the bench and in the jury-box, instead of standing in the dock.” It has become the fashion nowadays to regard Reconstruction as a kind of chamber of horrors into which no good American would care to look, but Governor Vance reminded his readers that no portion of our history better deserves study “by every considerate patriot.”

From the comparatively uneventful story of North Carolina’s experience, the chronicle moves on to the wild saturnalia of South Carolina, where amid riotous spending of public funds the State House was turned into a combination of saloon and brothel. Yet the ordeal of South Carolina was matched by that of Louisiana, where in four years’ time the incredible Warmoth regime squandered an amount equal to half the wealth of the State.

“Corruption is the fashion,” Governor Warmoth, an ex-soldier who had been dishonorably discharged from the Federal army, remarked with laudable candor. “I do not pretend to be honest, but only as honest as anybody in politics.”

(The Southern Tradition at Bay: A History of Postbellum Thought, Richard M. Weaver, George Core/M.E. Bradford, editors, Regnery Publishing, 1989, excerpts pp. 330-332)

Paying Tribute to the North

The prewar national dominance of the North eventually gave rise to those who thought that economic and political measures were not sufficient to put the South on a par with the North. They saw that the only way the South could rid itself of subservience to the North was to leave the Union, and do so with the Founders’ Constitution.  The South’s attempts to reduce tariffs had been increased in 1842, and in 1846 with the help of a Southern president and secretary of the treasury, forced through Congress the Walker Tariff which was so low as to be practically revenue only.  Additionally, President John Tyler’s vetoes of a national bank were upheld by Southern votes in Congress.

Northern commercial interests were determined to reclaim their government subsidies and establish national banking, with Lincoln and his new party a convenient vehicle to permanent national dominance.

Paying Tribute to the North

“There were other methods by which the profits from the cotton crop found their way into Northern pockets. Since two-thirds of the cotton crop went to England, the freight charges on its transportation across the sea amounted to a large sum.  Although the river boats of the South were generally Southern-owned and Southern- built, the South never engaged in the building or operating of ocean-going ships, principally because capital could more profitably employed in agriculture.

Most of the cotton sold was carried on coastwise ships to New York, and the great part transshipped from that place to England. All the coastwise ships and most of the ocean-going shipping was Northern-owned and consequently the freight charges went into Northern pockets. In 1843 this amounted to nearly a million dollars. In addition the insurance costs while the cotton was in transit were generally paid to Northern firms.

Not only did the cotton growers pay “tribute” to the North through their exports, but through their imports as well. The imports to the South came through Northern ports; the exports of the South amounted to two-thirds the total of the United States but her direct imports were less than one-tenth. The freight charges to New York and Boston, the tariff duties, and the cost of transportation on coastwise vessels to the South all added to the cost of merchandise.

In the hard times of the forties, Southern economists were prone to find the explanation for their distress in the “tribute” paid to the North. They came to believe that the economic progress of the North depended on this “tribute,” and epitomized their opinion in the phrase “Southern wealth and Northern profits.”

By the phrase “operation of the federal government” the South meant bounties to New England fisheries, internal improvements in the North such as harbors, roads, canals, and public buildings, tariff duties, and deposits of government funds.”

(The Old South: The Geographic, Economic, Social, Political and Cultural Expansion, Institutions and Nationalism of the Antebellum South, R.S. Cotterill, Arthur H. Clark Company, 1939, excerpts pp. 192-199)

Virginia’s Effort to Abolish the Slave Trade

In the first Congress under the United States  Constitution, Josiah Parker of Virginia attempted to insert a clause in the Tariff Bill to levy a ten dollar tax on every slave brought into this country on foreign ships, and especially those of New England.  Parker was supported in this by two other Virginians, Theodoric Bland and James Madison.  In a March 1790 Virginia petition to Congress, the slave trade was denounced as “an outrageous violation of one of the most essential rights of human nature.”

In an unclean bargain to extend the slave trade until 1808, the commercial interests of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut allied with South Carolina and Georgia rice planters – while Virginia strenuously protested. The slave traders of New England continued their nefarious traffic until the eve of the Civil War.

Virginia’s Efforts to Abolish the Slave Trade

“Despite Virginia’s failure to secure the immediate suppression of the foreign slave trade, her sons were active in their efforts to restrict its growth and at the earliest possible moment to drive the slave ships from the seas.

“ . . . James Madison [declared] . . . By expressing a national disapprobation of that trade it is hoped we may destroy it, and so save ourselves from reproaches and our posterity from the imbecility ever attendant on a country filled with slaves.”

In his message to Congress, at its session 1806-07, Mr. Jefferson, then President, brought to the attention of that body the fact that under the Constitution the time was at hand when the African slave trade could be abolished, and urged a speedy enactment of such a law. He said:

I congratulate you, fellow-citizens, on the approach of a period at which you may interpose your authority constitutionally to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have so long been continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation and the best interests of our country have long been eager to proscribe.”

[Later], In his message to Congress, December 5, 1810, President [James] Madison declares: “Among the commercial abuses still committed under the American flag . . . it appears that American citizens are instrumental in carrying on the traffic in enslaved Africans, equally in violation of the laws of humanity and in defiance of those of their own country.”

(Virginia’s Attitude Toward Slavery and Secession, Beverly Munford, L.H. Jenkins, 1909, excerpts pp. 33-35)

 

“Going South”

The US Marine Corps in 1861 had a total strength of 1,775, including 63 officers. Nineteen of these went South in 1861 to join the newly established Confederate States Marine Corps, and all were very well-informed on the Constitution they had sworn an oath to defend against enemies both foreign and domestic, especially the latter. The following are taken from the resignation letters of three officers: one Marine and two Navy.

“Going South”

After reading Lincoln’s inaugural address, Captain Robert Tansill, USMC explained his resignation from the US Marine Corps:

“In entering the public service, I took an oath to support the Constitution, which necessarily gives me the right to interpret it. Our institutions, according to my understanding, are founded upon the principle and right of self-government. The States, in forming the Confederacy [in 1789] did not relinquish that right, and I believe each State has a clear and unquestionable right to secede whenever the people thereof think proper, and the Federal Government has no legal or moral authority to use physical force to keep them in the Union. Entertaining these views, I cannot conscientiously join in a war against any of the States which have already seceded or may hereafter secede, either North or South, for the purpose of coercing them back into the Union . . .”

Officers of the highest rank were also dismissed summarily, particularly if they, like Captain Isaac Mayo, took the trouble to attack the Lincoln administration. Writing from his Maryland estate on May 1, he asserted:

“It was the hope of my old age that I might die, as I had lived, an officer in the Navy of a free Government. This hope has been taken from me. In adopting the policy of coercion, you have denied to millions of freemen the rights of the Constitution and in its stead you have placed the will of a sectional Party. What a spectacle to intelligent minds . . . I cannot fight against the Constitution while pretending to fight for it. You will therefore oblige me by accepting my resignation.”

Less high-minded and more sentimental was the resignation letter sent by Lieutenant James J. Waddell who was serving aboard the USS John Adams and who wrote from the island of St. Helena the following lines:

“The people of the State of North Carolina having withdrawn their allegiance to the Government of the late Confederacy of the United States . . . I return to ‘His Excellency the President of the United States,’ the Commission which appointed me a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy . . . In thus separating myself from association which I have cherished for twenty years, I wish it to be known that no doctrine of the rights of secession, nor wish for disunion of the States impel me, but simply because my home is the home of my people in the South, and I could not bear arms against them.”

(Going South: US Navy Officer Resignations & Dismissals On the Eve of the Civil War, Naval Historical Foundation Publications, Series II, Number 27, Fall 1981, pp. 21-22)

Who is Encircling Whom?

The following exchange between Senator William J. Fulbright and General James M. Gavin occurred during Foreign Relations Committee hearings in early February 1966.  A scholar as well as a US Senator representing Arkansas, Fulbright’s deep knowledge of history and the political past set an example few have emulated, and to our country’s detriment.  Fulbright no doubt understood Lee’s postwar statement regarding Northern victory, that “the consolidation of the States into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of the ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.”

Who is Encircling Whom?

“Every night for the past week or so, Fulbright had been reading with a growing fascination the classic works on China, its history and culture in anticipation of the forthcoming Committee hearings on China with the top American scholars. Out of this reading was emerging a view somewhat different than the standard clichés.

So he asked General Gavin, “In what respect are [the Chinese] aggressive, contrasting what they say with what they do?”

The General answered him, “I have been exposed to the filmed reports coming out of China of their militancy, of their training their youth and their industrial workers and their people in the use of arms, in the military tactics and so on.”

“Do you consider that aggressive necessarily?” Fulbright insisted. “The training of their troops in China, is that an act of aggression?”

“No, no.”

“Is there evidence that they moved troops into Vietnam?”

“There is not at this time.”

“I understand they have made many threats,” Fulbright said, pursuing this, “Normally we use the word ‘aggression’ very loosely.

The Senator spoke of a “very interesting article” by a New York Times correspondent from Hong Kong. “The whole purport is that the Chinese are alleging they are being encircled,” he remarked.

General Gavin replied, “I would be inclined to agree that the Chinese think they are being pretty well hemmed in” [referring to American military bases and nuclear submarines girding China in an arc from Thailand through South Vietnam, the Philippines, the China Seas, Taiwan, Okinawa, South Korea and Japan].

“Is it a fact, do you think, that relatively speaking they are more encircled today than we are?” Fulbright pressed.

“There is no question about that.”

[Fulbright] asked the leading question, “You know a great deal about both military and political history. Have the Chinese as a nation over the last one hundred or two hundred years been especially aggressive? I use that word to mean military, overt aggression on their neighbors?”

“No. They haven’t been to my knowledge.”

“Who aggressed whom during the last century? Was it China attacking the Western nations or vice versa?”

“The other way around. The Western nations attacking China.”

“Was this to a very great extent?” [asked Fulbright]

“Yes. I remember quite well reading about the moving from Tientsin in the Boxer Rebellion, and reviewing the life of Gordon and the British occupation of major segments of China as well as that of other European nations.”

“As a matter of fact, various Western nations practically occupied and humiliated and decimated China throughout almost a century, did they not?”

“That is absolutely true.”

“Don’t you think that might not be a significant element in our present situation?”

“Indeed, surely.”

(Senator Fulbright: Portrait of a Public Philosopher, Tristam Coffin, E.P. Dutton & Company, 1966, excerpt, pp. 284-285)

Escorting President Davis

Thomas Goode Jones (1844-1914), was a boy of fifteen when he enrolled in Virginia Military Institute in 1860, and served under then-Major Thomas J. Jackson as drillmaster of troops in Richmond. Jones was wounded in battle, complimented for bravery, and with the rank of Major, led his men in the last charge at Appomattox. On April 9, 1865, he physically carried the flag of truce on his sword to enemy lines for General Lee. Major Jones’ ancestors were of Welsh extraction, the most famous being Pocahontas and John Jones of the Virginia Militia during the first War of Independence. He was elected Governor of Alabama in 1890.

Escorting Jefferson Davis

“As a conservative, Thomas Goode Jones seems to have accepted institutions as they existed. Growing up in a slave-holding family amid a slave-holding society, he never seems to have questioned the institution of slavery while he was growing up or while he served the Confederacy. And yet . . . his family treated their slaves well.

While Jones was serving as reporter for the Alabama Supreme Court at the time when it was dominated by Reconstruction Republicans, the Justices agreed to march in a 4th of July procession of “carpetbaggers” and blacks, and Jones agreed to ride with them. Twenty years later, this was used against him in his race for Governor.

[At] the 1901 [Alabama Constitutional] Convention, the issue of race relations arose several times, and on each occasion [Governor] Jones emerged as the spokesman for moderation. [He argued for the militia to be comprised of both white and black men, stating] “I remember well, Mr. President, in the dark days, when the sun of the Confederacy was setting around us . . . that the Confederate Congress, under the inspiration of Robert E. Lee, passed an act authorizing the employment of Negroes in the Confederate army.”

[Jones continues] “Mr. President, on one occasion I had the honor to command the escort for President Jefferson Davis in his last tour through Alabama and Georgia. We came to the little town of Albany in Georgia. While we were there, a Negro captain of a Negro company came up and asked to have the privilege of escorting the carriage of Mr. Davis.

I said to him that I would refer his request to Mr. Davis, and I did so. Mr. Davis said he would be glad to have him, “he was glad to see that spirit exhibited on their part towards him and the whites, and he wanted to encourage it.”

If Jefferson Davis could take that position, surely it is not a matter of reproach to myself or [former Governor] William C. Oates that we are of the same opinion.”

(Warrior, Statesman, Jurist for the South: The Life, Legacy and Law of Thomas Goode Jones, John A. Eidsmoe, Sprinkle Publications, 2003, excerpts pp. 189; 196)

The Mainspring of Human Conduct

Address of Judge John A. Campbell, Decoration of Confederate Graves, May 1, 1874

“It is well for us to recur to the principle underlying the Confederate movement. Never was a cause apparently less understood or more maligned. The history of the world furnishes many instances of revolutions, rebellions and wars for insufficient causes. The maintenance of the claims of an individual or family to supreme authority, trivial complaints, trifling affronts, desire for aggrandizement, pride and ambition, have been prolific causes of popular uprisings or national contests. But none of these actuated our movement.

It sprang from a spirit of independence, which is hereditary and part of our being; a belief in the right and a sublime determination to maintain it. If successful, it would have been pronounced right. Failure don’t make it wrong.

The impelling cause was far greater and more justifiable than led to the American Revolution, and the different result can’t change the dictates of justice and the decision of right reason. The spirit which has ever animated and will ever inspire the resisters of oppression, impelled the Southern people. To judge fairly and determine justly, their action must be estimated from their standpoint.

This is the rule applied to individuals and applicable to masses. We must transport ourselves to their situation, circumstances and surroundings, see as they saw it, believe as they believed, feel as they felt, and consider the justice and reasonableness of their apprehensions from what they saw and felt.

Doing this, it is discovered that the movement sprang from the principle of self-preservation – the mainspring of human conduct, innate in the soul. For many years a bitter contest of words had been waged between North and South, originating in conscience and sentiment, gathering force as it progressed, and quickened into a fervid zeal by union and party efforts, until it culminated in party triumph in the election of a president on a platform of hostility to an overshadowing interest of Southern society.

The determination was to seek safety by withdrawing from a union, which it was thought was about to be made an engine for the destruction of our rights. There was nothing unnatural or unprecedented in this; there was no hostility to the people of the North; there was no dissatisfaction with the Constitution; war was not desired nor sought by us, but was deprecated, and tried by every means to be averted.

War resulted; a long, a fierce and terrible war, waged by the United States for subjugation and by the Confederate States for existence.

[The] Confederate flag was furled, and in its folds were enclosed the hopes of millions who had proudly gazed upon its stars and bars and fondly hoped that it would wave forever, an emblem of the right of self-government – the banner of a free people.

No national standard was ever raised more justly nor rallied to by a nobler band of brave hearts; no contest was ever maintained more gallantly; choicer spirits were never sacrificed at any shrine; fairer hands never toiled for any object; sweeter voices never were heard in prayer for any effort; purer hearts were never enlisted in any cause. But it still failed.

It devolves on the survivors of the Confederate period to preserve the truth of their history, and hand down, from generation to generation, a correct account of the impelling cause of the unfortunate struggle, in order that the cruelty of injustice to our motives shall not be added to the pangs of defeat.”

(The Lost Cause, Address by Judge J. A. P. Campbell, Delivered at Canton, May 1, 1874, on the Occasion of the Decoration of the Graves of Confederate Soldiers; Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume XVI, January-December, 1888, pp. 232-236)

 

Assuming Puritanical Attitudes

Born at sea while his family sailed from Ireland to America, John Newland Mafffitt was destined for a life on the water. Having just relinquished command of the USS Crusader at New York on March 1, 1861, after several years capturing New England-captained and financed slavers off Cuba, the country he had left had become something different.

Soon to become one of the most famed of blockade runners and privateers, he had, by his account, in the first three of his four captures of slavers, rescued 789 Africans from their cramped holds.

The Wilmington Daily Journal of 25 September 1863 remarked, “It is a curious fact, for those who maintain the civil war in America is founded upon the slave question, that [Maffitt] should be the very man who has distinguished himself actively against the slave trade.”  

Though describing himself as a “slave holder” due to a modest interest in land he had inherited from his wife’s family, Maffitt found the newly-rediscovered morality of New Englanders disingenuous.

Assuming Puritanical Attitudes

“The news of Fort Sumter reached Washington in the early evening of April 13, causing intense excitement within the city. Maffitt now faced his terrible decision of allegiance. He could hear the tramp of soldiers and the roll of artillery wagons day and night outside his house. Southern families departed daily; resignations were announced “in language of gall and bitterness.” Maffitt’s relatives were in the South. His property was partly in the North – his Washington home with its valuable furnishings and fine library; and partly in the South interest in land he inherited . . .

He recoiled against a people who sold slaves to Southerners and then became puritanical in their attitudes:

‘I fancied that New England, with her well-developed secession proclivities, would offer no material objection to the course of the South. In truth it was natural to presume that fanatical abolitionism would hail with joy the departure of the un-Godly, slaveholding section of the country from her unwelcome participation in the Union. But material interest gave zest to patriotism, and her war course would lead the world to suppose that she never contemplated a severance from the Union and forming a Northern Confederation.”

(High Seas Confederate: The Life and Times of John Newland Maffitt, Royce Shingleton, University of South Carolina Press, 1994, excerpts pp. 30; 32-33)  

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