Browsing "Southern Conservatives"

Flight to Exile and Freedom in the Confederacy

Former Vice President John C. Breckinridge sat in the US Senate as a representative of Kentucky in July 1861. He denounced Lincoln’s concentration of power in Washington as an act “which, in every age of the world, has been the very definition of despotism.” He also saw the Republican party using the war to change the very character of our government, and the reduction of the resisting State’s into territories governed by Lincoln’s appointees.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Flight to Exile and Freedom in the Confederacy

“On September 18 [1861], the Kentucky legislature formally ended neutrality and took the side of the Union. The arrests began the same night, and among the first to be taken was former Governor [Charles] Morehead of Louisville. At the same time, the pro-Southern Louisville Courier was suppressed. That same day several men throughout the nation advised Washington authorities that Breckinridge should be arrested.

The Republican Cassius Clay, who believed that “John C. Breckinridge . . . was never at heart a Secessionist.” Even a bearded little Union general, U.S. Grant, sympathized with the senator in some degree. “He was among the last to go over to the South,” Grant would say, “and was rather dragged into the position.”

He had fought for compromise and failed; he had sought peace and moderation and found only bitterness; and had proclaimed his devotion to the Union to the best of his ability . . . He was an innocent man, but he would be taken, denied his rights, and like Morehead, spirited away to a prison deep in the North to sit for months without hope.

On October 8, 1861, from Bowling Green, he issued his last address as a statesman, and his first as a Confederate. He returned the trust given him to represent Kentucky in the Senate, he said. He could no longer keep it. He had tried to stand for the State’s wishes in Washington, he had opposed Lincoln’s war policy at every step, even to refusing Kentucky’s men and money . . . ”I resign,” he said, “because there is no place left where a Southern Senator may sit in council with the Senators of the North. In truth, there is no longer a Senate of the United States within the meaning and spirit of the Constitution.”

The Union no longer existed, he continued, Lincoln had assumed dictatorial powers. The rights of person and property were being flagrantly violated every day. Unlawful arrests were the rule. The subjugation and conquest of the South were the rallying cries in the Federal Congress.

As for Kentucky, her rights of neutrality had been violated repeatedly, arms secretly supplied to Federal sympathizers, troops unlawfully raised within her borders, the legislature intimidated and packed with the minions of Washington, freedoms of speech, press, and assembly, restricted, and hundreds forced to flee their homes for safety. He explained his own flight to avoid arrest, saying he would have welcomed it if he had any assurance that it would have been followed by a trial of judge and jury, but he knew that would not be.

Would Kentucky stand by while all of this went on? Would she consent to the usurpations of Lincoln and his hirelings; would she suffer her children to be imprisoned and exiled by the “German mercenaries” that the Union was enlisting to fights its war? Never, he said.

Whatever might be the future relations of the two nations, the old Union could never again be reunited as it once was. He wanted peace between the them lest one conquer the other and the result be military despotism. To defend his own birthright and that of his fellow Kentuckians who had been denied the protection due them, and were forced to choose between arrest, exile, or resistance, he now exchanged the “with proud satisfaction, a term of six years in the Senate of the United States for the musket of a soldier.” As one of those forced to make that choice, he said, “I intend to resist.”

(Breckinridge, Statesman, Soldier, Symbol, William C. Davis, LSU Press, 1974, pp. 287- 290)

The Confederate Soldier in the Civil War

Major-General Fitzhugh Lee simply and methodically described why the Southern soldier fought in 1861, and under what privations and suffering these Americans fought outnumbered by 5 to 1 odds for four years — and came close to success. He sums up why the war and reasons for it will not go away. He prophesied that the time would come when the world would recognize that the failure of the Confederacy was a great misfortune to humanity.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The Confederate Soldier in the Civil War

“An impartial study of the early history of the American republic from the period of a band of patriots, following on the wave of Washington’s sword, transferred power from king to people, will demonstrate that when Colonies were transformed into States, the latter delegated, in a written Constitution, the powers to be conferred on the United States, but all powers not so delegated were reserved to the States themselves, because they had never parted from them. Hence, sovereign power belonged to a State, while only derivative, and not primitive, power was possessed by the general government.

The States did not confer upon the Government they were then forming a right to coerce one of their number for any purpose, for it is not natural that the creator should create either executive, judicial or legislative authority anywhere which should be potent to destroy its life or diminish or alter the power it had reserved for its own purposes. A State speaks through its representative bodies, and the majority of delegates in a convention direct its course.

The people of the original thirteen States believed in State sovereignty, and Pennsylvania and the New England States are upon record as primarily holding such opinions. The Southern people were educated in the belief that the allegiance of the citizen was first due to his State, and that in any conflict between his Commonwealth and the United States, or other country, his place was at her side — at her feet he should kneel and at her foe his gun should be pointed.

This is the only explanation of the great and enthusiastic response by the masses of the people to the actions of their State Conventions, when they decided their States should no longer be members of the Federal Union, but, resuming their original independence, be free afterward to make such other alliances they might deem best to protect their rights and promote their growth and glory.

The Southern masses were the private soldiers of the armies; they may not have understood all the public questions involved, or the gravity of secession, or the importance of pending issues as thoroughly as the statesmen of the period, but they must have been thoroughly impressed in a conscious manner with the right of secession and with a fidelity and loyalty to the commands of their respective States.

It has been said that the man is under no circumstances so independent as he is when the next step is for life or death. The men who were to be enrolled as the soldiers of the new Confederacy of States, to battle for its existence, knew they were taking a step which might bring to them a hostile bullet and a soldier’s grave.

The existence of the slightest doubt as to the justice of the course of their States, or the presence of the smallest suspicion that their bayonets would glisten with treason, would have surely brought that independence of action spoken of, against which the pleading eloquence of their leaders would recoil as the waters are dashed back from a great rock.

No earthly mandate can compel men to leave their firesides, families and friends, and embrace death with rapture, unless their God-given consciences stamp with approval the motives which control their conduct.

With a free, fair and honest ballot, undisturbed by extraneous influences, and untouched by the modern methods of bribery and corruption, the masses of the people, from which came the unbroken ranks of gallant men, voted with practical unanimity to ratify the decision of their State Conventions. The movement to change the map of North America and make two republics grow where only one grew before, was enthusiastically received by the great body of the Southern people.

When I see the battle-scarred soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy, with uncovered head and profoundest reverence I bow before those dauntless heroes, feeling that if the greatest suffering with the least reward is worthy of the highest honor, these deserve to stand shoulder to shoulder with their greatest army commanders in the brotherhood of glory.

It was a wonderful exhibition of courage, constancy, and suffering, which no disaster could diminish, no defeat darken. The soldiers went to battle from a sense of duty, and were not lured into the ranks by bounties or kept there by the hope of pension. The records show 600,000 Southern men were enlisted during the whole war, while 2,700,000 represent the total enlistments of their opponents during the same period.

“It would be difficult to convince the world,” General Lee would often say, “of the numerical superiority of our opponents.” And yet, for four years success trembled in the balance, though fate denied the Confederate soldiers the final victory, it “clothed them with glorious immortality.”

There was no “passion-swept mob rising in mad rebellion against constituted authority,” but armies whose ranks were filled by men whose convictions were honest, and whose loyalty to the Southern cause was without fear and without reproach — men who remained faithful to military duty in the conflict between fidelity to the Confederate banners or adherence to the trust assumed in the marriage vow, who resisted the pressures of letters from home, and whose heart-strings were breaking from the sad tale of starvation and despair at the family homestead.

As the hostile invasion swept over more territory the more frequent the appeals came, marked by the pathos and power which agony inspires,  until at last the long silence told the soldier his home was within his enemies’ lines, and the fate of his family was concealed from his view.

Under such conditions the private soldier of the South promptly fell into line. If saved from the dangers of the contest, his reward was the commendation of his immediate commanding officers and the conscientiousness of duty faithfully performed. If drowned amid the hail of shot and shell, his hastily buried body filled a nameless grave, without military honors and without religious ceremonies.

No pages of history recounted in lofty language his courage on the field or his devotion to his country, or described how, like a soldier, he fell in the forefront of battle. His battle picture, ever near the flashing of the guns, should be framed in the memory of all who admire true heroism, whether found at the cannon’s mouth, or in the blade of the cavalry, or along the blazing barrels of the infantry.

There he stood with the old, torn slouch hat, the bright eye, the cheek colored by exposure and painted by excitement, the face stained with powder, with jacket rent, trousers torn and the blanket in shreds, printing in the dust of battle the tracks of his shoeless feet. No monument can be built high enough to commemorate the memory of a typical representative private soldier of the South.

Very truly yours,

Fitzhugh Lee”

(The Confederate Soldier in the Civil War, Major-General Fitzhugh Lee, Ben La Bree, 1895, excerpts, pp. 7-8)

 

Endlessly Contemplating the Past on the Front Porch

The years after 1865 saw the family as the core of Southern society and “within its bounds everything worthwhile took place.” Even in the early twentieth century Southerners working in exile up North imported corn meal and cured hams, and missed the North Carolina home where “Aunt Nancy still measures by hand and taste,” and where “the art of cooking famous old dishes lives on.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Endlessly Contemplating the Past on the Front Porch

“The governing families [of the South] . . . possessed modesty and good breeding in ample measure; much informal geniality without familiarity; a marked social distinction that was neither deliberate nor self-conscious. Indeed, the best families in the South were the most delightful segment of the American elite.

Southern charm reached its culmination in the Southern lady, a creature who, like her plantation grandmother, could be feminine and decorative without sacrificing any privileges except the masculine prerogative to hold public office. Count Hermann Keyserling in 1929 was impressed by “that lovely type of woman called “The Southern Girl,” who, in his opinion, possessed the subtle virtues of the French lady.

What at times appeared to be ignorance, vanity or hypocrisy, frequently turned out to be the innate politeness of the Southerner who sought to put others at ease.

To a greater degree than other Americans, Southerners practiced what may be regarded as the essence of good manners: the idea that the outward form of inherited or imposed ideals should be maintained regardless of what went on behind the scenes. Southern ideals were more extensive and inflexible than those prevailing elsewhere in America. To the rigid code of plantation days was added, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the repressions of puritanism imposed by the Protestant clergy, who demanded that the fiddle be silenced and strong drink eschewed “on pain of ruin in this world and damnation in the next.”

Although Southerners were among the hardest drinkers in America, one reason they voted for Al Smith in 1928 was because he openly defended drinking. Many critics called this attitude hypocrisy, even deceit; the Southerners, however, insisted upon making the distinction between hedonistic tendencies and long-established ideals. If such evasiveness did not create a perfect code of morals, at least it helped to repress the indecent.

The home in the twentieth century remained the core of a social conservatism fundamentally Southern, still harboring “the tenacious clan loyalty that was so mighty a cohesive force in colonial society.” A living symbol of the prevailing domestic stability was the front porch where, in the leisure of the rocking chair, the Southerner endlessly contemplated the past. Here nothing important had happened since the Civil War, except that the screen of trees and banisters had grown more protective.

The most obvious indication of the tenacity of home life was the survival of the Southern style of cooking. Assaults upon it came from the outside, with scientists claiming that monotony and lack of balance in the eating habits of millions resulted in such diseases as pellagra.

National advertising imposed Northern food products upon those Southerners who would heed. Federal subsidies after 1914 enabled home economics to carry the new science of nutrition into Southern communities and schools. Yet no revolution in diet took place. Possibly, the . . . teachers overstepped . . . when they sought to introduce the culinary customs of Battle Creek and Boston. Their attempted revolution failed for the same reason as that of the Yankee schoolma’ams during Reconstruction.”

(The South Old and New, A History 1820-1947, Francis Butler Simkins, Alfred A. Knopf, excerpts pp. 292-295)

A Doctrine Utterly Subversive of the Constitution

Former Vice President and later Kentucky Senator John C. Breckinridge tried vainly to stop the Republican party’s war upon the South in mid-1861. Returning home after the mid-year legislative session, he witnessed Federal officers assembling and training volunteers at Lexington, a forced political alignment with Lincoln’s government, and arrest by Northern military officers.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

A Doctrine Utterly Subversive of the Constitution

“[In January 1860, John C. Breckinridge] . . . still had more than a year to serve as Vice President of the United States. Within the month past the General Assembly of Kentucky by an overwhelming majority had elected him to the Senate of the United States for the six years beginning March 4, 1861.

Neutrality caught the fancy of most Kentuckians, though the Southern Rights element was at first reluctant to accept it. In succession, however, the House of Representatives on May 16 (1861), the governor on May 20, and finally the Senate [on May 24] . . . assented to that policy.

For himself, he took the position that he was making a record of protest against the unconstitutional measures with which the majority party was fighting an unconstitutional war. Certain it is that had the Republicans accepted his criticisms as valid they would have been forced to abandon the conflict.

During the [legislative] session he made four principal speeches. On July 16 he spoke vigorously against the joint resolution “to approve and confirm” various “acts, extraordinary proclamations and orders” performed or issued by the President since March 4 “for suppressing insurrection and rebellion.” Breckinridge urged that if Congress had the “power to cure a breach of the Constitution or to indemnify the President against violations of the Constitution and the laws,” it might in effect “alter the Constitution in a manner not provided by that instrument.”

He attacked the specific acts of the President [as unconstitutional such as] the establishment of a blockade of Southern coasts, the authorization of the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus by various military commanders, the waging of war and raising armies without any act of Congress, arbitrary interference with freedom of the press, and the arbitrary imprisonment of private citizens.

Looking for a justification of the President’s acts, Breckinridge assumed that it would be found in the necessities of the case. He denied indeed that there was any genuine necessity for the acts of which he complained, but, more fundamentally, he argued that the “doctrine [of necessity] is utterly subversive of the Constitution . . . [and] of all written limitations of government. Thus he concluded that only the powers actually granted in the Constitution may be exercised by the government, whatever the emergency.

Expanding an argument which he had used at Frankfort on April 2, he predicted that unless current tendencies were checked, the result would be “to change radically our frame and character of Government” by establishing a centralized regime without any effective limitation upon its powers. [He argued] that he and many other conservative men counted “the Union not an end, but a means – a means by which, under the terms of the Constitution, liberty may be maintained, property and personal rights protected, and general happiness secured.”

When asked, near the end of the session, what he would do [with] a hostile army encamped but a few miles from the national capital, Breckinridge declared flatly that he would abandon the war; that he did “not hold that constitutional liberty . . . is not bound up in this fratricidal, devastating and horrible contest.

Upon the contrary, I fear it will find a grave in it . . . Sir, I would prefer to see these States all reunited upon true constitutional principles to any other object that could be offered me in life; . . . But I infinitely prefer to see a peaceful separation of these States, than to see endless, aimless, devastating war, at the end of which I see the grave of public liberty and of person freedom.”

(Breckinridge in the Crisis of 1860-1861, Frank H. Heck, Journal of Southern History, Volume XXII, Number 3, August, 1955, pp. 338-341)