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“On Whom Rests the Blame for the Civil War”

The Republican defeat of the Crittenden Compromise and subsequent thirteenth amendment to the Constitution, which Lincoln endorsed, opened the path to war prosecuted by the North. Lincoln let it be known to Republicans that no compromise or peaceful settlement of issues dividing the country would be tolerated before his inauguration, as he put his party above the safety and continuance of the Founders’ Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

“On Whom Rests the Blame for the Civil War”

“From Buffalo, on January 18, 1861, [Horatio Seymour] wrote Senator [John J.] Crittenden of Kentucky in support of his scheme of compromise. It was in his opinion that this “great measure of reconciliation” struck “the popular heart.” James Ford Rhodes fortified one’s belief in the good judgment of Seymour when he studied the defeat of Senator Crittenden’s proposals. In view of the appalling consequences the responsibility of both Lincoln and [William] Seward for that defeat is heavy, if not dark – in spite of all that historians of the inevitable have written of “this best of all possible worlds.”

The committee to which Crittenden’s bill for compromise was referred consisted of thirteen men. Crittenden himself was the most prominent of the three representatives from the Border States. Of three Northern Democrats, [Stephen] Douglas of Illinois, was the leader; of five Republicans, Seward was the moving spirit. Only two men sat from the Cotton States, [Jefferson] Davis and [Robert] Toombs. Commenting on the fateful vote of the committee, Rhodes observed:

“No fact is more clear than that the Republicans in December [1860] defeated the Crittenden compromise; a few historic probabilities have better evidence to support them than the one which asserts that the adoption of this measure would have prevented the secession of the cotton States, other than South Carolina, and the beginning of the civil war in 1861 . . . It is unquestionable, as I have previously shown, that in December the Republicans defeated the Crittenden proposition; and it seems to me likewise clear that, of all the influences tending to this result, the influence of Lincoln was the most potent.”

Two-thirds of each House . . . recommended to the States a compromise thirteenth amendment to the Constitution, as follows: “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.” Conservative Republicans voted with the Democrats to carry this measure of which Lincoln approved in his inaugural address.

“As bearing on the question on whom rests the blame for the Civil War,” observes Rhodes, this proposed thirteenth amendment and its fate is of the “highest importance.”

(Horatio Seymour of New York, Stewart Mitchell, Harvard University Press, 1938, pp. 223-224)

The Importance of a Good Death

Southern historian Shelby Foote explained that “the best historical reading is the source material . . . written by people who saw it.” And he recognized that the people who made up the Confederacy, especially the yeoman farmers, were fiercely independent. “He was not only convinced that he was as good as you were, but if you questioned it, he would shoot you off your horse.” Men like these made for a fearless army few wanted to contend with.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Importance of a Good Death

“You don’t want to overlook something that the [South] did have and that was tremendous courage. I’ve studied and studied hard the charge at Gettysburg, the charge at Franklin, the charge at Gaines Mill, or the Northern charge at Fredericksburg, wave after wave, and I do not know of any force on God’s earth that would have got me in any one of those charges.

It absolutely called for you to go out there and face certain death, practically. Now, I will do any kind of thing like that under the influence of elation and the adrenalin popping; it’s just inconceivable to us nowadays that men would try tactics that were fifty years behind the weapons.

They thought that to mass your fire, you had to mass your men, so they suffered casualties. Some battles ran as high as 30 percent. Now that’s just unbelievable, because 4 or 5 percent is very heavy casualties nowadays. You go into a battle and suffer 30 percent . . . at Pickett’s charge, they suffered 60 percent and it’s inconceivable to us . . . the stupidity of it, again.

Originally, the South had a big advantage. They were used to the castes of society and did not take it as an affront that a man had certain privileges. They didn’t think it made him any better than they were. But those privileges came his way, and they were perfectly willing for him to have them as long he didn’t think he was any better than they were.

But the Northern soldiers, they weren’t putting up with any privileges. A Massachusetts outfit spent its first night in the field and damn near had a revolution because the officers wanted to put their bedrolls out of the line. Well, the Southerners never had that problem. It seemed to them sensible that the officers should be over here, and the men there.

Of course, 99.9 percent of that war was fought by home folks. The fighting men were of very high quality, too. You see, those units were together for four years, many of them, and they became superb fighting machines.

You take an outfit like the Twenty-third Virginia: after four years and large numbers of casualties great battles, it becomes a very skillful military instrument. They never went home. Very few furloughs were given – some during the winter months to a few people.

The Civil War was an interesting time. It was very important to make what was called a “good death.” When you are dying, the doctor says you are dying, he [says] you will die about 9 o’clock tonight. You assemble your family around you and sing hymns, and you are brave and stalwart and tell the little woman that she has been good to you and not to cry. And you tell your children to be good and mind their mother. Daddy’s fixing to go away.

That was called a good death, and it was important. It was of tremendous importance.”

(Conversations with Shelby Foote, William C. Carter, editor, University Press of Mississippi, 1989, excerpts pp. 29-31)

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)

The Impassable Breach in 1850

The idea of States withdrawing from the Union was not new in 1860, the first being New England’s desire for independence once the Louisiana Purchase was contemplated, and afterward during the War of 1812, and as other territories were added. It is said that John C. Calhoun learned his concept of secession from the New Englanders. In 1850, as described below, the withdrawal of the South from the Union was well along and only a matter of time.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Impassable Breach in 1850

“[Silver Bluff], 17 March 1850

“The Session of Congress has been stormy and thus far nothing has been done but to debate Slavery and the Union. The South has threatened dissolution through many Representatives, in doing which [Robert] Toombs of [Georgia] and [Thomas] Clingman of [North Carolina], both Whigs, have taken the lead. [South Carolina] rather silent.

In the Senate [Jeremiah] Clemens of [Alabama], [Solomon] Downs of [Louisiana], [Henry] Foote and [Jefferson] Davis of [Mississippi have been the most violent. Many calculations have been paraded showing the advantage of disunion to the South. On the other hand threats of coercion have been made freely by minor men. There have been some terrible scenes in the House.

The North has given up the Wilmot proviso for the present, on the avowed ground that that Slavery is naturally excluded from the newly acquired Territories. The main question is on the admission of California as a State – the adventurers there having without any of the usual forms, made a Constitution, excluding Slavery, and asked for admission into the Union.

[Henry] Clay has brought in a long string of what he calls compromise resolutions, which surrender everything in issue to the North. He has denounced the South bitterly and prophesied, if not threatened, Civil war and coercion.

The South contends that the admission of California [as a free State] destroys her equality in the Senate – already merely nominal there, for Delaware belongs to the North. That deprived of equality there [in the number of slave vs. free States] and already in a vast minority in the House and Electoral College, she will be undone.

Mr. [John C.] Calhoun has made an admirable speech, showing that the equilibrium between the North and South is utterly annihilated, and must be restored or we must separate. As such a restoration is well known to be an impossibility – his proposition is plainly – Disunion.

Webster followed with a most eloquent speech, denouncing the free-soil and anti-fugitive [slave] movements, but denouncing slavery and yielding nothing. At this moment, however, my impression is that they will enter into another fatal truce and stave off the difficulty for the present.

I have had drawn up for a month . . . many resolutions which I had intended to proposed there, if I could get backing. They are short and to the effect that Conventions should be immediately called in the Slave States to send Delegates to a General Congress, empowered to dissolve the Union, form a new Constitution, and organize a new Government, and in the meantime appoint a Provisional Government until the Constitution could go into operation.”

(Secret and Sacred, the Diaries of James Henry Hammond, a Southern Slaveholder; Carol Bleser, editor, Oxford University Press, 1988, excerpts pp. 197-198)

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)

 

“Let the Histories Revere the Truth”

Both the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy were determined to present their view of the conflict to their children and not stand idle while Northern textbooks taught their children a different tale.  Gen. Samuel G. French, a Southern general born in New Jersey, directed Southern women to teach the young about their fathers’ patriotism, or Northerners will convince them their fathers were traitors.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Report of the History Committee [United Sons of Confederate Veterans]:

“Is there any real need of undertaking such work as has been delegated to this committee? We answer that a deplorable condition, and not a theory, confronts us. We know that tens of thousands of boys and girls are growing up into manhood and womanhood throughout the South, with improper ideas concerning the struggle between the States, and with distorted conceptions concerning the causes that led up to that tremendous conflict; that this state of affairs ought to be remedied, and will be if our Confederation does its duty.

We have asked each member of our committee to urge upon each Camp in his State the importance of gathering reliable data for the use of the future historian. This is a sacred duty to that we owe to the living and to the dead and to those who are yet unborn. If we wait until the last Confederate shall have gone to join the silent majority, many statements will be in dispute forever.

The establishment of truth is never wrong. When we realize, as all of us must, that from the gloom of overwhelming defeat at the hands of superior numbers a righteous cause arises and appeals to posterity to render a verdict in accordance with the truth, loyalty to the memories of our dead, patriotism, and self-respect all urge us to go forward in our work till we are amply repaid for all of our labors by a glorious consummation of our undertaking.

Your committee has made an earnest effort to ascertain what United States histories are used in the schools of this republic. We have, so far, not found a single Southern history north of the Ohio and Potomac Rivers. In the South, thousands of schools use Northern histories. We do not condemn any work solely on the ground that it is a Northern publication . . . What we desire placed in the hands of the millions of American youth is a work that metes out exact justice to both sections of our great country; a work that tells the truth, and nothing but the truth. That is all we should desire.

“Do our text-books impress the fact that slavery existed in many of the Northern States also in the early years of the century?, that it was New England votes, combined with those of the extreme South, that prolonged the slave trade twenty years, against the protest of the middle South? Do our school children realize that secession was boldly and widely advocated in New England in 1814? Do they think of the southern leaders as high-minded, noble, devout men, who fought with consummate bravery? Are we clearly taught than many of those leaders were in favor of the gradual abolition of slavery?

The resolution recently introduced into the meeting of the Grand Army of the Republic is altogether praiseworthy. It recommends that school histories use some designation like the “War Between the States,” instead of the “War of the Rebellion,” thus avoiding needless irritation of Southern feeling.”

Let the histories our children study revere the truth, and we shall be satisfied . . . [T]hat the South fought honestly and fearlessly, and that when its banner was furled upon its folds not a stain was there to mar its beauty.”

(Confederate Veteran Magazine, January 1900, pp. 19-20)

Neither Revolted Provinces nor Rebellious Subjects

The following is excerpted from a letter written to Confederate diplomat James M. Mason by Secretary of State, R.M.T. Hunter, explaining the American Confederacy’s reasons for seeking independence and a more perfect Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Neither Revolted Provinces nor Rebellious Subjects

“Department of State

Richmond, September 23, 1861

Sir — The President desires that you should . . . in presenting the case once more to the British Government, you ought again to explain the true position in which we appear before the world. We are not to be viewed as revolted provinces or rebellious subjects, seeking to overthrow the lawful authority of a common sovereign.

Neither are we warring for rights of a doubtful character, or such as are to be ascertained only be implication. On the contrary, the Union from which we have withdrawn was founded on the express stipulations of a written instrument which established a government whose powers were to be exercised for certain declared purposes and restricted within well-defined limits.

When a sectional majority persistently violated the covenants and conditions of that compact, those States whose safety and well-being depended upon the performance of these covenants were justly absolved from all moral obligation to remain in such a Union.

Such were the causes which led the Confederate States to form a new Union, to be composed of more homogenous materials and interests.

The authority of our Government itself was denied [by Washington], its people denounced as rebels, and a war was waged against them, which, if carried on in the spirit it was proclaimed, must be the most sanguinary and barbarous which has been known for centuries among civilized people.

The Confederate States have thus been forced to take up arms in defense of their right of self-government, and in the name of that sacred right they have appealed to the nations of the earth, not for material aid or alliances, offensive and defensive, but for the moral weight which they would derive from holding a recognized place as a free and independent people.”

(Instructions to Hon. James M. Mason, Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume VII, January-December 1879, Rev. J. William Jones, Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1990, excerpts pp. 231-233)

 

The Genius of Eli Whitney

Eli Whitney was a mechanically-talented Massachusetts farm boy who graduated from Yale and ventured South in 1792 to teach school in South Carolina. As he watched plantation slaves working laboriously to pick “the fuzzy, stubborn seeds from “vegetable wool,” at an average rate of two pounds per day,” he quit his teaching position to concentrate on the invention to speed the chore. Cotton production soared from 10,000 bales in 1793 to double that in 1796, and 180,000 by 1810 – Whitney can be said to have single-handedly perpetuated slavery.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Genius of Eli Whitney

“The Agricultural Society of South Carolina, second of its kind in the United States, came into being in 1785 “for promoting and improving agriculture and other rural concerns.” Its high-minded purposes were defined by Thomas Heyward, Jr., its first president, who expounded: “After having gloriously succeeded . . . in terminating a war . . . it is incumbent upon us equally to endeavor to promote and enjoy the blessings of peace. Agriculture was one of the first employments of mankind . . . [and] one of the most innocent and at the same time the most pleasing and beneficial of any . . .”

This interest in diversified agriculture was further evidence that the institution of slavery – a national rather than sectional cancer – was well on its way to extinction before the American Revolution. Jefferson was strongly opposed to it; his original draft of the Declaration of Independence contained a denunciation of it. Early attempts along these lines were thwarted by the British crown.

To Virginia goes the honor and distinction of being the first American State to prohibit the importation of slaves, having passed a law to this effect during the very first session of its existence under the republican government (1778). Maryland followed suit in 1783.

The tobacco planters, slavery’s principal eighteenth-century exponents, were learning slavery’s folly and coupling it with old guilts of moral shame.

So firm was the resolve and so positive was the action that there can be no doubt as to the demise of the slave during the early years of the nineteenth century, had it not been for the “sudden apparition of the great cotton crop, conjured by the genius of Eli Whitney” and dwarfing all other Southern resources by the “instant employment of the half-idle slaves, whose presence had begun to be felt as a burden.”

Without an economical means to separate the lint from the seed, cotton could not have become the ruthless king that it was. Without King Cotton, slavery would have withered and died. Without the emotionally packed issue of slavery, the newly-formed States would have arrived at a peaceable solution to their differences, because their quarrels centered around cotton and the tariff.”

(This is the South, Robert West Howard, editor, Rand McNally & Company, 1959, excerpts pp. 136-138)

Another Casualty of the War

It is written that “despite the changes which the catastrophe of 1865 made inevitable, the distinctive culture of the region was never destroyed.” Both races had to return to living together in the same land, but social relations deteriorated with the political machinations of the carpetbaggers and the Republican Party’s Union League. For simple political opportunism and lasting hegemony over the defeated South, the latter taught the black man to hate his lifelong white neighbor and vote for the Northern party which impoverished the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Another Casualty of the War

“Since the Civil War, there has been a decline in what the ante-bellum traveler Frederick Law Olmsted called “the close habitation and association between black and white.” Immediately after the war the two races separated in churches, and for the cultural give and take of the plantation was substituted a dual school system which sealed off the children of one race from another.

Gradually it became impossible for a white person to teach in a Negro school without losing caste. When the courts forced the attendance of Negroes in white schools, no genuine interracial fraternity developed. No longer did the two races have what William Faulkner calls “the same parties: the identical music from identical instruments, crude fiddles and guitars, now in the big house with candles and silk dresses and champagne, now in the dirt-floored cabins with smoking pine knots and calico and water sweetened with molasses.”

The whites have been able to implement a growing aversion to intimate contact with the blacks through the use of labor-saving devices and through the spread of progressive notions concerning the dignity of labor. Despite Supreme Court decisions, immutable social custom makes for increased residential segregation, especially in the newer sections of the cities.

One of the most persistent beliefs about the South is that the Negro is in a constant state of revolt against the social pattern of the section. Despite a vast literature to the contrary, the facts of history refute this assumption.

As a slave the black man never attempted general insurrection and did not run away often. “The slaves,” says a historian of the Confederacy, Robert Cotterill, “supported the Confederacy (albeit somewhat involuntarily).” It is now proved that outside compulsions rather than inner ambitions prompted the political insubordinations of Reconstruction. Their artificial character is proved by the fact that they were not accompanied by much social insubordinations and by the fact that they disappeared as soon as the outside compulsions were removed.

Indicative of the willingness of the rank and file blacks to accept the status quo are the words of a conservative demagogue who knew the Negro well. “If the election of the governor of South Carolina were left “entirely to the Negro vote,” declared Cole L. Blease in 1913, “I would receive without trouble 75 to 90 percent.”

(The Everlasting South, Francis Butler Simkins, LSU Press, 1963, excerpts pp. 48-49)

“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)

 

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