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Newspapers Fuel the War

As the secession crisis increased in intensity, the Fredericksburg Herald editor wrote in early January 1860: “Newspapers and Telegraphs have ruined the country. Suppress both and the country could be saved now.” The Northern press influenced vast numbers, including newly-landed immigrants; in New York alone the circulation of newspapers and periodicals was triple that in the entire South. And Massachusetts could claim about the same. As those newspapers counseled war against the South, they could also have sought compromise and a peaceful settlement of the issues dividing the country.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Newspapers Fuel the War

“In mid-April 1860, virtually all newspapers of the future Confederate States believed in preserving the Union, provided that Southern “rights,” as they conceived them, could be protected. One year later all but a handful of the same journals had endorsed the Confederacy. During most of the intervening twelve months, the Southern press was divided on the question of secession.

Papers which believed that the Union was salvageable held the upper hand in the pre-election period. But a combination of events – notably the alleged abolitionist conspiracy in Texas, the election of Lincoln, the secession of South Carolina and the lower South, and the failure of compromise – shifted the initiative to the disunion publicists and led to a gradual breakdown of Unionist journalism, until, with few exceptions, the press in eleven States became a unit in favor of withdrawal.

Like their Southern-rights counterparts, Unionist editors feared a Republican administration, though some failed to realize the depth of their fears until after the election. In the days following Lincoln’s triumph at the polls, as some Northern journals taunted and threatened the South and as the States of the lower South took firm, irrevocable steps preparatory to leaving the Union, Southern Unionist papers increasingly found it necessary to decide between the Confederacy and the Union.

Most Southerners regarded the election of a Republican president by Northern votes as a direct, calculated insult to their section. With the South’s honor allegedly at stake, most Southern Unionist editors soon forgot their earlier quarrel with secessionists over the legality of secession.  Moreover, Southerners were convinced that abolition would be but the first in a chain of events that would spell disaster for the South.

A Tennessee journal showed exceptional insight when, at the height of the sectional crisis, it blamed the alienation of the sections upon the newspapers. “. . . [E]ach indulges in constant crimination and labors incessantly to mislead and prejudice the people of the respective sections. And even now, when the country is trembling on the verge of dissolution, the warfare of misrepresentation and abuse is carried on with redoubled violence by the vultures who thrive and fatten on popular prejudice. We would rather be the lowest thing that crawls the earth than rear our children on bread obtained by such means.”

(Editors Make War, Southern Newspapers in the Secession Crisis, Donald E. Reynolds, Vanderbilt University Press, 1966, excerpts pp. 210-217)

Imagine a Different Result at Gettysburg

 

It is early July, 1863 and Lee’s barefoot and ragged Army of Northern Virginia has moved northward into Pennsylvania to acquire needed supplies, food and fodder, plus allow the countryside of Virginia time to heal from two years of unrelenting warfare upon her soil. With Lee is “Stonewall” Jackson, who earlier enveloped the enemy flank at Chancellorsville and drove them in disarray and confusion from the field.

Lee meets the newest savior of the North, Gen. George Meade, at Gettysburg.  While Lee feints with a massed frontal attack, Jackson has penetrated the enemy left flank with full force after which Meade’s invincible army flees in headlong retreat, and then total surrender. The entire North is now seized with mortal fear of invasion, defeat and occupation by Southern armies.

At the same time in the Western Theater, Vicksburg has held valiantly against enemy assault despite its civilian population reduced to eating rats and dogs for survival. General Joseph E. Johnston successfully repulsed costly enemy assaults while Southern cavalry harassed and destroyed Northern supply lines to the South.

Poised to move northward at President Jefferson Davis’s command, Johnston eyes the railroad junction of Chicago after liberating Tennessee and Kentucky from enemy rule, releasing Confederate prisoners, and enlisting many of the Midwest Copperhead faction into his growing force. In the East, Lee threatens the northern capital of Washington and will move toward New York City next.

Lee dispatches Jackson with 35,000 men to capture Harrisburg while he encircles and captures Washington; General JEB Stuart’s cavalry has destroyed enemy communications and supply trains, and Lee intends to split their army in classic Napoleonic style — defeating them in detail.

Washington is soon overwhelmed and occupied – Stuart has captured and imprisoned numerous Northern leaders to include Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, William Seward, Benjamin Wade, Simon Cameron, Salmon Chase, Stanton, Halleck and Lincoln. Lee himself had to intervene lest his soldiers summarily hang Lincoln and his conspirators for the crime of igniting the conflict and warring upon Southern civilians.

Fear of the scaffold has sent the radical abolitionists fleeing to Europe for asylum.

With the Northern government imprisoned, President Davis has commanded the armies in blue to immediately lay down their weapons, return to their homes to lead peaceful lives, and take an ironclad oath to never again take up arms against the Confederate States of America.

The Confederate Congress creates several military districts overseen by Southern general officers, who preside over State governments writing new constitutions. These will prohibit anyone who had taken up arms against the Confederate States of America, or was an officer in the United States Army 1861-1865, or was a member of the Republican Party, from voting and holding political office.

The Confederate Congress has determined that it will consider the former United States as a conquered territory, with former individual Northern States, which had committed suicide, admitted to the Confederate States of America at the pleasure of Congress.

Congress directs that each Northern State which contributed troops to the Lincoln regime are required to pay financial reparations to those Southern States suffering depredations and destruction by those troops.

Further, all former officers of the Northern military who engaged in terror and atrocities against civilians during the war will be tried for war crimes along with Lincoln. Lincoln and his conspirators will be tried for treason as they waged war against the States, in violation of Article 3, Section 3, of the United States Constitution.

To set a proper example to follow, the Confederate Congress requires all Northern mill and factory owners to provide adequate food, medical and old age care for their employees, who previously were turned out to starve when unable to work. They and other Northern industries are directed to hire black freedmen who emigrate northward in search of employment, which will spur emancipation in the South.

And finally, Southern authors will write the history of the war against the South, and the causes of it.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Radical Errors of the Public Mind

On the subject of naturalization of citizens, Congress derives its limited authority through Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution: “To establish [a] uniform rule of Naturalization . . .” and there was no intention to create a separate citizenry “of the United States.” The individual States determine who will become a citizen, and who is entitled to vote. Alexander H. Stephens expounds on this below.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Radical Errors of the Public Mind

“P.M. – The article on naturalization in the cyclopedia attracted my attention. It is strange what errors have crept into vogue and pass without scrutiny or question; especially on naturalization and its sequence, citizenship of the United States. The subject is treated as if Congress were empowered by the Constitution to confer upon aliens citizenship of the United States distinct from citizenship of particular States and Territories.

The truth is, Congress has no power to naturalize or to confer citizenship of the United States. Its only power is to establish a uniform rule to be pursued by the respective States and Territories on admitting aliens to their own citizenship.

Before the Constitution was adopted, each State possessed the right as an Independent Sovereign Power to admit to citizenship whom she pleased, and on such terms as she pleased.

All that the States did on this point in accepting the Constitution, was to delegate to Congress the power to establish a uniform rule so that an alien might not be permitted to become a citizen of one State on different terms from what might be required in another; especially, as in one part of the Constitution it is stipulated that the citizens of each shall be entitled in all the rest to the rights and privileges of their citizens.

But no clause of the Constitution provides for or contemplates citizenship of the United States as distinct from citizenship of some particular State or Territory. When any person is a citizen of any one of the States united, he thereby, and thereby only, becomes and can be considered a citizen of the United States.

Errors in the public mind on this question are radical and fundamental, and have the same source as many others equally striking.”

(Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens, His Diary, Myrta Lockett Avary, LSU Press, 1998 (original 1910), excerpts pp. 312-313)

 

The Grant Era’s Comprehensive Rascality

Hamilton Fish, Secretary of State in US Grant’s second term, was said to be “the representative of a sterner, simpler American age,” and one who “took a just pride in his old-fashioned conceptions of integrity and morals.” He was certainly appalled by the corruption and endless scandals that dogged Grant’s presidency, and most certainly contemplated in quiet moments just what the true outcome of the South’s defeat portended for the United States. Grant’s impeached secretary of war, William Belknap, accompanied Sherman in 1864-65 on the Georgia-Carolinas looting expedition.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Grant Era’s Comprehensive Rascality

“The festering corruptions of the post-war period sprang up in every part of America and in almost every department of national life. Other loose and scandalous times . . . had been repellent enough; but the Grant era stands unique in the comprehensiveness of its rascality.

President Grant is chargeable with a heavy responsibility for some scandals of the day; just how heavy [Secretary of States Hamilton] Fish soon saw, and subsequent pages based upon his diary and letters will show.

Honest as to money himself, [Grant] was the source of more dishonesty than any other American president. His responsiveness to such great moneyed interests as Jay Cooke represented was a national calamity. But when we look at the scandals, his responsibility was for the most part general, not specific; indirect, not direct. At some points he cannot be defended.

The role he played in crippling the Whiskey Ring prosecutions and the impeachment of [Grant’s Secretary of War, William] Belknap offers the darkest single page in the history of the Presidency. For this and for his arbitrary acts in the South, he was far more worthy of impeachment than Andrew Johnson. But with most scandals of the time he obviously had nothing to do. The Credit Mobilier affair can as little be laid at his door as the [Boss] Tweed Ring thefts.

The American people always derives much of its tone from its President. It is strenuous under a Theodore Roosevelt, idealistic under a Wilson, slothful under a Coolidge. Lowell was correct in these years in writing, “a strong nation begets strong citizens, and a weak one weak.”

Plainly, Grant’s administration was one in which almost anything might happen. More and more, it carried about it an atmosphere of stratagems and spoils. Uneasiness, in fact, henceforth haunted [Fish]. What if [Grant’s] backdoor clique really took control of the government? But Fish was of a religious temperament; and he may have heard of Bismarck’s statement that a special Providence existed for fools, drunkards and the United States.”

(Hamilton Fish, the Inner History of the Grant Administration, Allan Nevins, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1937, excerpts pp. 641-642; 666)

“Visiting Statesmen” in Florida

The South acquiesced to the inauguration of “His Fraudulency,” Rutherford B. Hayes, in the notorious national election of 1876 with the withdrawal of Northern troops from the South as well as promises of federal aid to Southern railroads. This election was a continuation of Republican election fraud in the South which herded freedmen to the polls while intimidating white Democratic voters. In order to win elections, the Democratic Party was to become as corrupt as their even worse political adversaries.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“Visiting Statesmen” in Florida

“The smallest tadpole in the dirty pool of Secession,” as the New York Herald had described Florida in the war, had become something very different to The New York Times in 1876. Early in the morning after the election, that strong Republican paper, after accounting politically for every State in the Union but Florida, announced: “This leaves Florida alone still in doubt. If the Republicans have carried that State, as they claim, they will have 185 votes, a majority of one.”

The situation was not quite that simple, but Florida’s vote was that important. “Visiting statesmen” of both parties hastened to Tallahassee. Local partisans were active too. Some of the Republicans who came were . . . Governor Edward F. Noyes, of Ohio, who presented the Republican case and was said to have made some remarkable Republican promises . . .

Lew Wallace, the politician and novelist . . . described the Florida situation in a letter to his wife: “It is terrible to see the extent to which all classes go in their determination to win. Conscience offers no restraint. Nothing is so common as the resort to perjury . . . Money, intimidation can obtain the oath of white men as well as black to any required statement . . . if we [Republicans] win, our methods are subject to impeachment for possible fraud.

Fraud was national. It applied to the Presidency as well as railroad bonds. “Visiting statesmen” who came late showed no more scruples that carpetbaggers who came early or the scalawags whom they found.

The Republicans secured the vote of Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina. But the Florida vote remains more significant in view of Dr, Vann Woodward’s statement that the consensus of recent historical scholarship is that “Hayes was probably entitled to the electoral votes of South Carolina and Louisiana, and that Tilden was entitled to the four votes of Florida, and that Tilden was therefore elected by a vote of 188 to 181.”

(The Prince of Carpetbaggers, Jonathan Daniels, J.B. Lippincott Company, 1958, excerpts pp. 282-283)

The Last Election Held Under the Union

Hamilton Fish (1808-1893) was a prewar governor and senator from New York and served as secretary of state under Grant, 1869-1877. A wealthy man before the war, Fish was pragmatic and foresaw the destructive nature of the new Republican Party forming in the mid-1850s. He saw it as the duty of every man, North and South, to discourage unnecessary discussion of the slavery question which would only lead to the end of the Union. Fish, like other prominent Whigs who feared sectional parties, refused to join the Republicans and agreed with the view of Charles Sumner as vulgar, arrogant and deserving of caning. In 1860, only four years after fielding its first presidential candidate, the Republican Party had driven the first Southern State out of the Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Last Election Held Under the Union

“[In] 1855, the Republican Party advanced with rapid strides to the destruction of [the Whig Party]. News of violence was beginning to come from Kansas; fresh incidents were proving the Fugitive Slave Act unenforceable; in New York [Thurlow] Weed and [William] Seward were gravitating to the new organization.

Disunion was coming, D.D. Barnard sadly wrote Fish in July. The Fugitive Slave Law did something, and the Nebraska Bill has done everything, to stir up the anti-slavery sentiment of the North to a fever-heat. Fanaticism, meanwhile, makes a jubilee of the occasion, and demagogues, great and little, rush in to swell the commotion and make the most of the dreadful mischief. It is Massachusetts now, not South Carolina, which enters on a career of nullification . . .

A Northern party is loudly called for, with no principle to stand on but the eternal hatred and eternal war against the South on account of slavery. A Presidential election conducted by sectional parties, with nothing but slave issues between them – if such a thing were practicable—would be the last election held under the Union.

But Fish watched with grave disquiet. To Edward Ketchum he wrote that the Whig organization had ever been a national body, and he deplored its obliteration by sectional party. He also disliked the fanaticism, the intolerance of everything Southern, which stamped the prominent men among the Republicans.

At a recent meeting one [Republican] speaker had declared, “You are here to dethrone American slavery” . . . did [the speaker] know that such talk inflamed the South and placed the Union in peril?

To James Hamilton he wrote still more emphatically. The Republican State platform “has not an element of nationality”; it is “covered all over with the wildest sectional agitation.” His love of peace and the Union would not permit him to accept it.

[Fish] concluded:

“For myself I cannot consent to be made an Abolitionist, or to become an “Agitator” of the slavery question. I cannot close my eyes to the fact that history shews, that every physical revolution (of governments) is preceded by a moral revolution; that the discussion of questions on which the sections are united among themselves but differ the one from the other, leads to estrangement first, and next to hostility and hatred which end inevitably in separation. The separation of this country from Great Britain was not the result of the War of the Revolution, or even the Declaration of Independence. The discussions and controversies which had preceded the latter event caused and effected the separation which was only formally proclaimed by the Declaration, and forcibly maintained by the war.”

(Hamilton Fish, the Inner History of the Grant Administration, Allan Nevins, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1937, excerpts pp. 54-56)

Northern Prosperity at the South’s Expense

By 1860, the immigrant floods which spread westward in the 1840s and 1850s had changed the United States into two distinct cultures and political views. The South maintained its ties to the 1776 generation and its republican political character; the North had become a conglomerate of immigrant ethnic groups controlled by machine politicians eager for power and beholden to industrialists eager for cheap labor. Immigrant voters, wholly unfamiliar with American political concepts and traditions, were easily led by demagogues and money.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Northern Prosperity at the South’s Expense

“The festering corruptions of the post-war period sprang up in every part of America and in almost every department of national life. Other loose and scandalous times – in [James] Buchanan’s day, in [Mark] Hanna’s, in [Warren] Harding’s – have been repellent enough; but the Grant era stands unique in the comprehensiveness of its rascality.

The cities, half of which had their counterparts in [New York’s Boss] Tweed; the legislatures, with their rings, lobbyists and bribe-takers; the South, prey of unscrupulous Carpetbaggers and Scalawags; the West, sacked by railway and mining corporations; Congress with its Credit Moblier’ [scandal], its salary-grab, its tools pf predatory business; the executive departments, honeycombed with thievery; private finance and trade, with greedy figures like Jay Cooke and Collis P. Huntington honored and typical – everywhere the scene was the same. Why?

The war explained much: its terrible strain upon all Ten Commandments; the moral exhaustion it produced; the waste and jobbery which it bred; its creation of vast new Federal responsibilities. Washington became an irresistible lodestone for crooked men.

The fecund war contracts, the tariffs, the subsidies, and [enlistment] bounties, huge appropriations for speculators and [pension] claim-agents, the opportunities for theft in both collecting and spending the swollen Federal revenues, drew them as honey draws flies.

The South was ruined, and the fine principles and traditions of its aristocracy were engulfed. The industrial revolution in the North wrought the roughest, most aggressive business elements to the front. As the West was settled with amazing rapidity, a more extensive and influential frontier than ever before gave manners a cruder cast.

Cities were filling up with immigrant communities, subservient to machine politicians. Everywhere tested standards, restraints of public opinion, the cake of custom, were broken down. Co0nditions of the day produced a new and flashier political leadership. They brought demagogues and pushing brigadiers into office; generals like Ben Butler and “Black Jack” Logan, vote getters like Oliver P. Morton and Zach Chandler, speculators like Oakes Ames.

But one fact must be emphasized. Contemporaneous with this corruption, geared to it as a motor is geared to the conglomerate machinery of a factory, was the tremendous industrial boom which followed the war. For eight years Northern business rollicked amid a flush prosperity.

With money easy, with fortunes rising on every hand, with the temptation to speculate irresistible, the whole tendency of American life conduced to greed.”

(Hamilton Fish, the Inner History of the Grant Administration, Allan Nevins, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1937, excerpts pp. 638-639)

“Casus Belli”

As the majority of the South, and Northern men trained at West Point in the years prior to the war, were educated to believe withdrawing from the Union was a proper remedy to which a State might peaceably resort to if its people determined in was in their best interest to do so. The war’s result determined that secession was not improper as a redress, but that superior military power could conquer and subjugate any State or States who resort to such obvious constitutional measures for redress. Excerpts from a mid-August 1879 address regarding secession by General J.R. Chalmers follows.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“Casus Belli”

“All we ask is an impartial statement in history of our cause, as we understood it; and it devolves on the survivors of the struggle to correct whatever we believe to be erroneous statements in regard to it, whenever and wherever they are made.

“The right to judge of infractions of the Constitution and the mode and measure of redress,” were no new questions in our politics. They were discussed in the conventions which formed the Constitution, and subsequently whenever the General Government was supposed, by usurpation of power, to infringe on rights reserved to the people of the States united.

Massachusetts threatened secession in the War of 1812, when her commerce was crippled; South Carolina threatened nullification in 1832, when a high protective tariff discriminated heavily against her interest.

Every State of the North practiced nullification against the fugitive slave laws as fast as they came under the control of the Republican party.

Eleven States of the South attempted to practice secession when the General Government fell into the hands of the Republican party, whose leaders had denounced the Constitution as “a covenant with the devil,” and the Union as a “league with hell.”

No honorable man can read the last speech of Jefferson Davis, in the United States Senate, or the letters of Sidney Johnston and Robert E. Lee, when about to resign their commissions in the United States army, and say that the Confederate leaders left the Union “from choice or on light occasion.”

They loved the Union formed of States united by the Constitution; they feared a Union consolidated in the hands of men who denounced the Constitution.

Mr. Lincoln and two-thirds of his party in Congress then denied any purpose to destroy slavery, but every Republican leader now shamelessly boast that this was the great object of the war.

The very fact that there was a war growing out of a question of constitutional rights, should be a source of pride, as evidence that no large body of our people will ignobly submit to what they believe to be a violation of their rights.”

(Forrest and his Campaigns, Gen. J.R. Chalmers, Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume VII, Broadfoot Publishing, 1990, excerpts pp. 451-452)

Lincoln and Peace in 1864

As the year 1864 wore on, and despite increased Southern territory being overrun by Northern armies, the Northern people were war-weary and appalled at Lincoln and Grant’s mounting casualty numbers. Lincoln’s re-election platform called for the unconditional surrender of the South, and an unpopular constitutional amendment to abolish slavery – referred to as Lincoln’s “rescript” of war aims. Lincoln’s narrow election victory was attributed not only to mass army furloughs of men sent home to police the polls, but also that Assistant Secretary of War “Charles A. Dana testifies that the whole power of the War Department was used to secure Lincoln’s reelection in 1864.” Clement C. Clay, Jr., below, was one of three Confederate Commissioners sent to Canada in April 1864 to find a means to spark a Northern front, draw enemy troops from the South, and nurture the growing peace movement in the North.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lincoln and Peace in 1864

Saint Catherine’s, Canada West, September 12, 1864.

To: Hon. J.P. Benjamin, Secretary of State, Richmond Virginia, C.S.A.

“Sir – I addressed you on the 11th August last in explanation of the circumstance inducing, attending and following the correspondence of Mr. [James P.] Holcombe and myself with Hon. Horace Greeley. Subsequent events have confirmed my opinion that we lost nothing and gained much by that correspondence. It has, at least, formed an issue between Lincoln and the South, in which all her people should join with all their might and means.

All of the many intelligent men from the United States with whom I have conversed, agreed in declaring that it had given a stronger impetus to the peace party of the North than all other causes combined, and had greatly reduced the strength of the war party.

Indeed, Judge [Jeremiah] Black [of Pennsylvania], stated to us that [Secretary of War Edwin] Stanton admitted to him that it was a grave blunder, and would defeat Lincoln [in 1864] unless he could . . . [demonstrate his] willingness to accept other terms – in other words, to restore the Union as it was.

Judge Black wished to know if Mr. [Jacob] Thompson would go to Washington to discuss the terms of peace, and proceed thence to Richmond; saying that Stanton desired him to do so, and would send him safe conduct for that purpose. I doubt not that Judge Black came at the instance of Mr. Stanton.

You may have remarked that the New York Times maintains, as by authority, that the rescript declares one mode of making peace, but not the only one. The abler organs of the Administration seize this suggestion and hold it up in vindication of Lincoln from the charge that he is waging war to abolish slavery, and will not agree to peace until that end is achieved.

Mr. [William] Seward, too, in his late speech at Auburn [New York], intimates that slavery is no longer an issue of the war, and that it will not be interfered with after peace is declared. These and other facts indicate that Lincoln is dissatisfied with the issue he has made with the South and fears its decision.

I am told that [Lincoln’s] purpose is to try to show that the Confederate Government will not entertain a proposition for peace that does not embrace a distinct recognition of the Confederate States, thereby expecting to change the issue from war for abolition to war for the Union.

It is well enough to let the North and European nations believe that reconstruction is not impossible. It will inflame the spirit of peace in the North and will encourage the disposition of England and France to recognize and treat with us.

At all events, [Lincoln’s opponent, Democrat George McClellan] is committed by the platform to cease hostilities and to try negotiations. An armistice will inevitably result in peace – the war cannot be renewed if once stopped, even for a short time. The North is satisfied that war cannot restore the Union, and will destroy their own liberties and independence if prosecuted much longer.

The Republican papers now urge Lincoln to employ all of his navy, if necessary, to seal up the port of Wilmington, which they say will cut us off from all foreign supplies and soon exhaust our means for carrying on the war . . . I do not doubt, whether we could support an army for six months after the port of Wilmington was sealed.

[The North] will not consent to peace without reunion while they believe they can subjugate us. Lincoln will exert his utmost power to sustain Sherman and Grant in their present positions, in order to insure his reelection. He knows that a great disaster to either of them would defeat him.

I have the honor to be, &c., &c.,

C. C. Clay, Jr.”

(Correspondence, Confederate State Department; Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume VII, Rev. J. W. Jones, Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1990, excerpts pp. 338-340; 342)

The Republicans Bloody Shirt

Thomas Wentworth Higginson was a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts who identified with disunion and militant abolitionism during the 1840s and 1850s. He was deeply involved with the funding and arming of John Brown, was jubilant when Lincoln invaded the South, and became colonel of a black regiment of slaves taken from Southern plantations overrun and burned by Northern troops. In the postwar, Higginson came to realize what his prewar revolutionary zeal had unleashed, and to the chagrin of the Radical Republicans whose power then depended primarily on the freedmen’s ballot.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Republicans Bloody Shirt

“During the [1884] Massachusetts campaign Republicans frequently denounced the [Southern] Bourbons. [Senator George F.] Hoar stressed that his party was the true friends of the South. Republicans had sponsored bills to educate the section’s illiterates, had passed tariffs to protect its infant industries, and had adopted the war amendments to free all Southerners from the shackles of slavery . . . In a like tone Henry Cabot Lodge argued that the highest Republican duty was to preserve “the freedom and purity of the ballot box.”

In an open letter on “The Suppressed Negro Vote,” Higginson explained that he and other abolitionists . . . had studied “the Southern question apart from the bias of politics” and had come to the conclusion that colored men neither needed nor desired Northern aid.

After having corresponded with and talked to many of the South Carolina, Georgia and Florida Negroes who had served in his Civil War regiment . . . most of them admitted that they did not vote simply because they were uninformed and not interested in politics.

Higginson even condoned the enactment of complicated Southern election laws designed to confuse illiterate Negroes, such as the Eight-Box act requiring separate ballots and receptacles for each office being voted upon. Since only educated men could comprehend involved methods, these measure amounted to a literacy test and achieved what many Northern States decreed directly.

“The Massachusetts way,” Higginson went on, “is more honorable, no doubt; but suppose an attempt were made to import our system into South Carolina, it would at once be denounced as an outrage almost worthy of Mississippi.”

To Republicans, this reasoning was detestable. Former Governor John D. Long of Massachusetts had little use for “Col. Higginson and the Boston Advertiser [who] say “education should be on top.”

Asked why it so vigorously opposed the use of the war issues [to denounce the South], the New York Evening Post answered it was because Northern politicians had “never discoursed upon the suppression of the suffrage at the South, except as an argument for keeping themselves in power, and as a reason why the country should not be disgusted by the gross abuses in administration which the Republican party practiced, permitted and connived at.”

In the 1870’s [Republican party] Stalwarts had employed the theme “to reconcile us to the whiskey thieves and the knavish Cabinet officers of the Grant administration, and to the general corruption of the party in power.”

Under [Rutherford B.] Hayes, they had invoked it “to reconcile us next . . . to the abandonment by that statesman of even the slightest attempt to reform the civil service with which he began his Administration.”

Though last not least, [John] Blaine had stressed sectionalism during his 1884 campaign. “In short,” the Post announced, “during a period of fully fifteen years, whenever the Republican party was called to account for any shortcoming,” its sole answer was the bloody shirt.”

(Farewell to the Bloody Shirt: Northern Republicans and the Southern Negro, 1877-1912, Stanley P. Hirschson, Indiana University Press, 1962, excerpts pp. 132-134)