Browsing "Southern Conservatives"

“Forecasts of Good Times a-Coming”

Since the war, Americans have believed, or led to believe, that national unity is the ultimate goal of all Americans – the South has been portrayed as evil given its distinction of unsuccessfully withdrawing from the Union. Southern historian Francis Butler Simkins notes that even Southern-friendly historians seem to get “inspiration from William T. Sherman who felt justified in imposing a cruel punishment upon the South because it tried to destroy the national unity.” In reality, the South’s withdrawal did not destroy the Union, it simply reduced the numerical constituency of the Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“Forecasts of Good Times a-Coming”

“The reputation of the region of the United States below the Potomac today suffers from the same forces from which the Middle Ages suffered at the hands of historians during the Enlightenment. Chroniclers of Southern history often do not grasp the most elementary concept of sound historiography: the ability to appraise the past by standards other than those of the present.

They accept a fanatical nationalism which leaves little room for sectional variations, a faith in Darwinian progress which leaves no room for static contentment, and a faith in the American dream of human equality which leaves little room for one person to get ahead of another except in making money.

In theory at least, our historians refuse to tolerate a concept of “all sorts and conditions of men” of which The Book of Common Prayer speaks.

Growing out of the uncritical acceptance by historians of the South of this creed of contemporary Americans are certain concrete dogmas: the church and state should be separate, but not the school and state; school but not church attendance should be compulsory; universal education is better than folk culture; political democracy is better than aristocratic rule; freedom is better than slavery; nationalism is better than provincialism; urban standards are better than rural ones; small farms are better than plantations; the larger the number of voters the better for the commonwealth; and the two-party system is better than the harmony of one party.

The historians who are friendly to the region and who accept the ideal of human equality seem ashamed of the degree to which the South has not attained this ideal. Their faith in the benefits of two political parties has led them to predict, for the past ten decades, the breakup of the Solid South and the coming of a state of rectitude like that of New York or Illinois.

They are apologetic over the existence in the South of the sharpest social distinction in all America: that between the white man and the Negro. They hail breaks on the color line as forecasts of the good times a-coming.”

(The Everlasting South, Francis Butler Simkins, LSU Press, 1965, excerpts pp. 4-5)

 

Igniting the Flame at Fort Sumter

President James Buchanan’s vacillation and failure to seek conciliation during the Fort Sumter crisis burdened the inexperienced Lincoln with something he was ill-prepared to handle. Buchanan had underway a secret negotiation with the president-elect “to obtain his backing for a national constitutional convention, and he expected an answer from Lincoln at any hour.” Though Buchanan tried to engage conservative Republicans to endorse some conciliatory measures to defuse the crisis, none were forthcoming.  Jefferson Davis, in his efforts to save the Union, encouraged his fellow congressmen and the president to seek peaceful solutions to the crisis.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Igniting the Flame at Fort Sumter

[South Carolina-born, American diplomat] William H. Trescott, acting as a go-between, scheduled a procedural meeting [with Buchanan] for December 27. On the morning of that fateful day news arrived [in Washington] which created wild excitement. Major [Robert] Anderson had just spiked the guns of Moultrie and had moved his entire command into Fort Sumter under cover of darkness . . .

The South Carolina commissioners cancelled their visit to [President] Buchanan and waited for more information. Trescott hurried to [Secretary of War John B.] Floyd’s office and obtained from him a promise that he would promptly order Anderson back to Moultrie as soon as he received official confirmation of the reports.

Floyd immediately telegraphed Anderson that he did not believe the news, “because there is no order for any such movement,” but Anderson replied, “The telegram is correct.”

While messages sped back and forth, the Southern leaders in Washington headed for the White House. Jefferson Davis arrived first and broke the news to Buchanan. “Now, Mr. President,” he said, “you are surrounded with blood and dishonor on all sides.”

“[Buchanan exclaimed]: I call God to witness, you gentlemen more than anybody know that this is not only without but against my orders. It is against my policy.”

Senators Hunter, Lane, Yulee, even Slidell called and bore down on Buchanan to order Anderson out of Sumter or face general secession and war. Buchanan paced nervously, telling his excited callers to keep calm and trust him. He gave evidence of sympathizing with their position for it seemed to him at the moment that if Anderson had ruptured the “gentlemen’s agreement” [to maintain the status quo in Charleston harbor]. It was certainly a move the president had not anticipated. But for all his soothing words, he gave the Southerners no promise.

The afternoon Cabinet meeting ran over into the night. Black, Holt and Stanton aggressively defended Anderson’s action. “Good,” said Black. “It is in precise accordance with his orders.” “It is not,” said Floyd.

Buchanan believed that Anderson’s orders justified his maneuver. The Cabinet had assigned the major “military discretion” and had authorized him to take defensive action in the face of “tangible evidence of a design to attack him.” His report of a few days before had offered such evidence, though no hint that he intended to transfer the troops.

Buchanan said he would not order Anderson to return to Moultrie, but he expressed deep concern over the settlement of the question of responsibility. Neither the President nor Secretary of War had commanded the transfer . . .

Buchanan agreed to see the South Carolinians “only as private gentlemen.” At their interview, the only one which was to be held, they informed the president excitedly and with asperity that they would not negotiate with him until he ordered all federal troops out of the Charleston area. Buchanan replied that he could issue no such order.

The commissioners then withdrew and that night prepared a letter . . . It suggested that South Carolina had made a serious mistake “to trust your honor rather than its own power,” and warned that unless the troops were withdrawn, affairs would speedily come to a “bloody issue.”

(President James Buchanan, a Biography, Philip S. Klein, American Political Biography Press, 1962, excerpts pp. 378-379)

“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)

A Constitution Inadequate to the Conduct of the War

As General Samuel G. French suggests below, presidential expedients not found in the United States Constitution were invented for initiating war against the South, and for the prosecution of that war. French believed that the New England-armed men in Kansas were responsible for firing the first shot of the war; others have postulated that the war began when the Star of the West left its New York moorings in early January 1861, carrying armed men below decks to South Carolina – when Fort Sumter’s guns were turned against the Americans it was built to protect.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Constitution Inadequate to the Conduct of the War

“Sherman — the fell destroyer — had burned the city of Jackson, Mississippi, and the ruins reminded me of Pompeii. In walking one of the streets I passed a canvas shanty, from which I was hailed by an Israelite with “Good morning General; come in.” He had been in the army and knew me; he had some goods and groceries for sale. When I was leaving, he asked: “General, cant I do something for you? Here are fifty dollars, just take them; maybe you can pay me back sometime.”

I thought the angel of mercy was smiling down on us . . . I thanked him kindly, and the day came when I had the pleasure of repaying the debt. The servants I had in Columbus had been nominally “confiscated” and set free; so they came to me, almost daily, begging me to take them back to the plantation in Mississippi. As I was not able to do this, I applied to some “bureau,” that had charge of the “refugees,” for transportation of these Negroes, and to my surprise it was granted. As soon as possible they were put on the cars and started for the plantation.

When we reached home we found most of the old servants there awaiting our arrival. To feed and clothe about a hundred of these people, and to plant a crop of cotton in the spring, clothing, provisions, mules, wagons, implements, harness, etc., had to be procured. To obtain funds to purchase the articles enumerated — to commence again — I went to Philadelphia and New York (by special permission of the government) in November.

. . . War is the most uncertain of all undertakings of a nation, and, like the tempest, cannot be controlled, and seldom or never ends as predicted. The North proclaimed that this “little rebellion” would end in sixty days!

It lasted four years, and ended as no one had foreseen. It had to suppress rebellions caused by people who entertained Southern opinions in New York, Chicago, Cincinnati and other cities; muzzle the press, prohibit free speech, banish prominent individuals, arrest men without warrant, and imprison them without charges made known to them; and violated nearly every resolution and pledge made in the beginning relating to the South; they cast aside constitutional law, and substituted martial law, under which the South became a scene of desolation and starvation.

My own opinion is that the first gun was fired, at the instigation of a number of prominent men North, by John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, and for which he was apotheosized and numbered among the saints.

Mr. Lincoln said: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. Our case is new. We must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save the country.”

These words indicate that the powers of the Constitution were inadequate to the conduct of the war, and henceforth the war must be conducted as occasion deemed expedient. In other words, the executive must be declared greater than the power that made it, or the creature greater than the Creator, and with dictatorial methods the war was conducted. Avaunt, Constitution, avaunt! We are fighting for the Union, for dominion over the Southern territory again, and so the Constitution was folded up, etc.”

(Two Wars, Samuel G. French, Confederate Veteran Press, 1901, excerpts, pp. 320-327)

 

Maunsel White, Irish Immigrant

When the orphaned and penniless Maunsel White arrived in New Orleans in 1801 from his native Ireland, it was a small town controlled by Spain. Only thirteen, he clerked in a counting-house for sixteen dollars a month, half of which he paid to a French teacher to learn the language. He later explained his son that “I had a proud spirit” and let no obstacle stand in his way. That son later wrote of his deceased father that as a great merchant, “he first made a name & his name made the money – none stood higher for integrity – his word was inviolable as an oath.” White was proud of his sugar plantations and purchased the best machinery from New York manufacturers, and envisioned strong political and commercial ties between the South and the developing West, a union Northern which northern political interests could not abide.  White did not live to see the devastation and defeat of the South,  passing peacefully at his Deer Range Plantation on December 17, 1863.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Maunsel White, Irish Immigrant

“Behind the highest pile of oyster shells of any of the patrons of the old Gem Restaurant in New Orleans could frequently be found the great merchant, Maunsel White. With the gourmet’s taste for oysters, he concocted a peppery sauce which his Negro servant carried with his when the entered his favorite restaurant. Called the “Maunsel White Sauce,” it later received the name of tabasco sauce.

Gradually Maunsel White established himself as a reliable and successful factor in selling crops of the planters and forwarding plantation supplies to them. An important step in this was to secure the cotton business of Andrew Jackson. Jackson had become acquainted with the young merchant when White served as the captain of a volunteer company under him at the Battle of New Orleans.

To the task of superintending his four plantations, White brought a keen sense of business and great energy. “I am up at [3 to 4 o’clock] in the morning, and all day at the Sugar House or Field,” he wrote during the grinding season of 1847 when he was sixty-four years old.

When one of his female slaves died from an accident at the sugar mill which crushed her hand and arm, he wrote to the Northern manufacturer of the mill, “this melancholy accident has caused myself and family the most sincere sorrow, as we view our Slaves almost in the same light as we do our children.” Although he bought many slaves, he refused to sell any of his own servants, explaining, “I have made myself a solemn promise never to sell a Negro – it is a traffic I have never done, I had rather give them their liberty than sell them.”

While his fortune was intact, White made generous gifts to the recently founded University of Louisiana at New Orleans . . . [and] was elected a member of its first board of administrators. In September 1847 he announced that he would donate to the infant university and endowment of lands to provide an income of one thousand dollars a year.

He became one of the early advocates of home education for Southern youths and the opponent of sending them to schools and colleges in the North, where they would be exposed to [alien doctrines].

White advised his son [Maunsel, Jr.] not to think about becoming a politician, because he questioned the happiness of politicians. He was particularly incensed by the Wilmot Proviso, which he thought was calculated “to do more injury & make a wider breach between the North & the South than any other subject ever brought forth in our political strife.” Although he declared himself to be a Democrat, White also stated that he would never sell himself to any party.

When he invested money in a cotton mill at Cannelton, Indiana, in 1849, he wrote that he wished to see the interests of the South and West united so that nothing on earth might separate them. Though he affirmed his attachment to “the perpetuity of the glorious union,” he said it must be “a Union of equals, jealous of their own & each other’s rights and submitting to no infractions of the constitutional compact as it was framed by our Republican Fathers.”

He developed a strong prejudice against Yankees as a result of sectional strife . . . On May 16, 1848, he wrote to his Richmond factor that he suspected that the Yankee captains of the ship which carried his molasses and sugar were dishonest, adding “Curse the Whole Race of Yankee Captains.” He advised his factor in Philadelphia to who he consigned his sugar crop to watch the captain of the ship carefully, for he was a shrewd Yankee.”

(The Mind of the Old South, Clement Eaton, LSU Press, 1964, excerpts pp. 69-73; 75-77; 80-84; 87 )

Lee the Specimen of True Manhood

The greatest of American military men, indeed a “cavalier, soldier and citizen, Robert E. Lee “effaced self, refused gifts and high place, overcame the bufferings of fate, and in defeat was as calm as in victory.” The author Robert Winston relates a story of a young girl whose father was a diplomat in Rome during the second reign of Grover Cleveland. After seeing a portrait of Lee on her father’s office wall, she asked why a picture of a rebel was so prominently displayed. “Ah, my child,” the father replied, “you are yet too young to understand but someday you will – and so will the world.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lee the Specimen of True Manhood

“During his imprisonment Jefferson Davis became a martyr for [the South] . . . Southerners saw in his imprisonment and the manacles and the other indignities a Christ-like figure suffering for their sins, and in the long years after his release. Davis’s struggle to regain his personal and financial fortunes mirrored those of all.

In 1870, when Lee died, [former vice president John] Breckinridge broke his resolution not to speak in public again by delivering a eulogy during memorial services in Louisville. “He failed,” the Kentuckian said of Lee. “The result is in the future. It may be better or for worse. We hope for the better.”

But failure alone did not define a man, or for that matter a cause. Lesser men often met with great worldly success, “but it is disaster alone that reveals the qualities of true greatness.”

While the world applauded those who erected memorials to their achievements, he thought there was another kind of triumph that went beyond the material and transient triumphs of men.

“Is not that man successful also who by his valor, moderation and courage, with all their associate virtues, presents to the world such a specimen of true manhood as his children and his children’s children will be proud to imitate?” he asked.

“In this sense he was not a failure.”

(An Honorable Defeat, the Last Days of the Confederate Government, William C. Davis, Harcourt, Inc., 2001, excerpt, pp. 396-397)

The Dimensions of Southern Identity

The fundamental reason for the 1860-1861 withdrawal of Southern States from the 1787 Union was to achieve political independence, and distance themselves from the changed and radicalizing Northern States which had become increasingly populated by immigrants fully unfamiliar with the United States Constitution. That North was seen as a threat to the safety and liberty of the Southern people and therefore a separation was inevitable. The following piece on “Southern Identity” is an excerpt from the Fall 2017 newsletter of the Abbeville Institute — the only pro-Southern “think-tank” and an invaluable online educational resource.

Please consider a generous contribution to this organization, which is tax-deductible and can be made through PayPal at the www.abbevilleinstitute.org website.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Dimensions of Southern Identity

“Southern identity is not a mere regional identity such as being a Midwesterner or a New Englander. The South was an independent country, and fought one of the bloodiest wars of the nineteenth century to maintain its independence. No group of Americans in any war have fought so hard and suffered so much for a cause.

That historic memory as well, as resistance to the unfounded charge of “treason,” is built into the Southern identity. The South seceded to continue enjoying the founding decentralized America that had dominated from 1776 to 1861. We may call it “Jeffersonian America” because it sprang from both the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson’s election which was called “the Revolution of 1800.”

This founding “Jeffersonian America” was largely created and sustained by Southern leadership. In the first 67 years only 16 saw the election of Northern presidents. In the first 72 years, five Southern presidents served two terms. No Northern president served two terms.

The Republican Party was a revolutionary “sectional party” determined to purge America of Southern leadership and transform America into a centralized regime under Northern control.

When Southerners seceded, they took the founding “Jeffersonian America” with them. The Confederate Constitution is merely the original U.S. instrument except for a few changes to block crony capitalism and prevent runaway centralization.

Part of Southern identity is its persistent loyalty to the image of decentralized Jeffersonian America. To be sure, libertarians and others outside the South have a theoretical commitment to decentralization, but none have the historical experience of suffering to preserve the founding Jeffersonian America.

But the deepest dimension of Southern identity is found in Flannery O’Conner’s statement that Southern identity in its full extent is a “mystery known only to God,” and is best approached through poetry and fiction. The humiliation of defeat and the rape of the region by its conquerors have given Southerners a clarity about the limits of political action, the reality of sin, and the need of God’s grace.”

(Abbeville: The Newsletter of the Abbeville Institute, Fall 2017, excerpts pp. 1-3)

“The Party of Our Fathers’ is Dead”

Strom Thurmond’s break with the Democratic Party was symbolized by his absence at the 1964 Democratic Party Convention. He admired Barry Goldwater’s vote against Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Bill, his strong military stance, strict interpretation of the Constitution, and his ardent anti-communism.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“The Party of Our Fathers’ is Dead”

“[Meeting on September 12, 1964, Strom Thurmond] wasted no time, telling Goldwater, “I have three choices open to me. I can keep quiet [as a Democrat], I can come out for you and remain a Democrat, or I can come out for you and go all the way to the Republican Party. I’ll do what will help you most.”

[Thurmond would publicly castigate] the Democrats as an evil group who no longer represented “the people.” In addressing “My Fellow South Carolinians” that Wednesday night, Thurmond said:

“The Democratic Party has abandoned the people . . . It has repudiated the Constitution of the United States. It is leading the evolution of our nation to a socialist dictatorship. The Democratic Party has forsaken the people to become the party of minority groups, power-hungry union leaders, political bosses, and big businessmen looking for government contracts and favors . . . The Democratic Party has invaded the private lives of the people by using the powers of government for coercion and intimidation of individuals.

The Democratic Party has rammed through Congress unconstitutional, impractical, unworkable, and oppressive legislation which invades inalienable personal and property rights of the individual . . . The Democratic Party has encouraged, supported and protected the Supreme Courts in a reign of judicial tyranny . . .

The [Democrat] party of our fathers is dead. Those who took its name are engaged in another reconstruction, this time not only of the South, but of the entire nation. If the American people permit the Democratic Party to return to power, freedom as we have known it in this country is doomed, and individuals will be destined to lives of regulation, control, coercion, intimidation, and subservience to a power elite who shall rule from Washington . . .”

(Ol’ Strom, an Unauthorized Biography of Strom Thurmond, Jack Bass & Marilyn W. Thompson, Longstreet Press, 1999, excerpts pp. 200-205)

No Treason in Resisting Oppression

The early United States was an agricultural country with import tariffs at a low 5%. As Northern industrialism grew by 1808, the next 24 years saw the protective tariff as the most contentious debate in Congress. Anti-tariff leaders argued that protective duties were ultimately paid by consumers in the form of higher prices for manufactured products, and thus more oppressive for Southern consumers, who received no compensating benefits, than for northern consumers, who enjoyed higher incomes.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

No Treason in Resisting Oppression

“Jackson and Calhoun differed almost as much on governmental policies as on constitutional principles. In 1828 the Vice-President was vehemently against the protective tariff and mildly in favor of the national bank. The President, as did [Martin] Van Buren, mildly approved of the tariff and detested the bank.

Calhoun considered the tariff a crucial issue because he regarded the conflict between North and South as the overriding national problem. But Jackson was more disturbed by the monster bank because he was distressed about the capitalists and stock jobbers who supposedly made profits by spewing forth paper money instead of producing a material product. The President was determined to stop rich, moneyed interests from using government funds to secure paper profits at the expense of the people.

The early ideological differences between Calhoun and Jackson became particularly evident on the question of distributing the federal surplus to the States after the national debt was paid. Jackson vigorously favored distribution; Calhoun adamantly opposed it.

For Jackson, retiring the debt, and thereby stopping the moneyed interests from employing the peoples’ funds, was an important end in itself. For Calhoun, on the other hand, retiring the debt was only a means of lowering the tariff. Once the debt was repaid, expanding federal surpluses would force the government to cut taxes. But if the surplus was distributed, the federal government would retain an excuse for high tariffs. Distribution would destroy the reason for repayment.

To Jackson, equal division [of the surplus] meant division according to population. But Calhoun considered distribution according to population completely unequal. The majority North would continue to drain away the wealth of the minority South. Jackson’s distribution would institutionalize the worst evils of Adams’ nationalism.

The increasing tension between Calhoun and Jackson became blatantly public at the April 13, 1830, Jefferson Day dinner. Glaring at Calhoun, signaling the boisterous crowd to rise, the President toasted “Our Federal Union – It must be preserved!” [Calhoun’s] reply, when it came, was an anticlimax: “The Union – Next to our liberties most dear.”

Moments later, George McDuffie was more blunt: “The memory of Patrick Henry: the first American statesman who had the soul to feel, and the courage to declare, in the face of armed tyranny, that there is no treason in resisting oppression.”

(Prelude to War, the Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816-1836; William W. Freehling, Harper & Row, 1965, excerpts pp. 190-192)

 

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