Browsing "Southern Statesmen"

Destruction and Desolation Rather than Peace

By the spring of 1864, war weariness and long casualty lists at the North were bringing hope to the possibility of peace negotiations through an emerging Northern peace party. Though several previous peace initiatives had failed due to Lincoln’s intransigence, President Jefferson Davis again sought opportunities to end the bloodshed.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Destruction and Desolation Rather than Peace

“The cause of the South could no longer be submitted, to the arbitrament of battle unaided [by foreign intervention]. The opening campaign of the spring of 1864 was deemed a favorable conjuncture for the employment of the resources of diplomacy.

To approach the Federal government directly would be in vain. Repeated efforts had already demonstrated its inflexible purpose not to negotiate with the Confederate authorities.

A commission of three gentlemen was appointed by the President to visit Canada with the aim of negotiating with such persons at the North as might be relied upon to facilitate the attainment of peace.

The Confederate commissioners, Messieurs Clay of Alabama, Holcombe of Virginia, and Thompson, of Mississippi, sailed from Wilmington, North Carolina [in April, 1864], and arrived within a few weeks on the Canadian frontier in the execution of their mission. A correspondence with Mister Horace Greeley commenced on the twelfth day of July, 1864.

Through Mister Greeley the commissioners sought a safe conduct to the Federal capital. For a few days Lincoln appeared to favor an interview with the commissioners, but finally rejected their application, on the ground that they were not authorized to treat for peace. The attempted negotiation was a failure, and peace was impossible.

In the meantime President Lincoln had called, for three years’ service, another 500,000 men to start on March 10, an additional 200,000 for March 14, and 500,000 volunteers for July 18, 1864. Mr. Lincoln’s subsequent re-election dashed all hopes in the South for a peaceful settlement.

Meanwhile the war raged without a sign of abatement. Generals Grant and Meade attacked General Lee at Wilderness, Virginia, on May 5-6, and at Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia, from the 10th to the 12th of May. General Sherman attacked General J.E. Johnston’s army at Resaca on May 14; Butler attacked Beauregard at Drewry’s Bluff, Virginia, on the 16th of May; Grant and Lee fought at Cold Harbor on June 3 . . . and General Sherman occupied Atlanta, Georgia, on September 2, 1864.

The South began to read its fate when it saw that the North converted warfare into universal destruction and desolation. Long before the close of winter, popular feeling assumed a phase of sullen indifference which, while yet adverse to unconditional submission to the North, manifestly despaired of ultimate success. The people viewed additional sacrifices as hopeless, and anticipated the worst.”

(Jefferson Davis, Patriot, a Biography, 1808-1865, Eric Langhein, Vantage Press, 1962, excerpts pp. 75-77)

A Postwar Conversation with Mr. Davis

A Postwar Conversation with Mr. Davis

“Mr. Davis once talked to me long and earnestly on the [postwar] condition of the South. Among other things he said:

“There is no question that the white people of the South are better off for the abolition of slavery. It is an equally patent fact that the colored people are not. If the colored people shall develop a proper degree of thrift, and get a degree of education to keep pace with any advancement they may make, they may become a tenantry which will enable the South to rebuild the waste places and become immensely wealthy.

The colored people have many good traits, and many of them are religious. Indeed, the 4,000,000 in the South when the War began were Christianized from barbarism. In that respect the South has been a greater practical missionary than all the society missionaries in the world.”

War was not necessary to the abolition of slavery, continued Mr. Davis. “Years before the agitation began at the North and the menacing acts to the institution, there was a growing feeling all over the South for its abolition.

But the Abolitionists of the North, both by publications and speech, cemented the South and crushed the feeling in favor of emancipation. Slavery could have been blotted out without the sacrifice of brave men and without the strain which revolution always makes upon established forms of government.

I see it stated that I uttered the sentiment, or indorsed it, that, “slavery is the cornerstone of the Confederacy.” That is not my utterance.”

(Life and Death of Jefferson Davis, A.C. Bancroft, editor, Crown Rights Books, 1999 (original 1889), excerpts pp. 152-154)

 

The Fierce Yell First Heard at Manassas

The extended trial of Jefferson Davis and his growing support from many Northern men of influence brought the prosecution to the realization that he could never be convicted of treason. “It only requires one dissident juror to defeat the Government and give Jefferson Davis and his favorers a triumph,” argued [US attorney William] Evarts in a carefully planned letter to President [Andrew] Johnson; and he strongly advised that no trial should be allowed.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Fierce Yell First Heard at Manassas

“Jefferson Davis, broken in health and greatly enfeebled by his confinement, came to Richmond [in May 1867] for his anticipated trial in the custody of General Henry S. Burton, commandant of Fortress Monroe, and stopped at the Spottswood Hotel, Eighth and Main Streets. A huge crowd filled the street in front of the hotel and in the vicinity of the customhouse where the [charge of treason] was to be heard.

He was represented by a remarkable array of eminent Northern attorneys, who had come to the conclusion that he was being treated with great injustice and offered their services. The list included Charles O’Conor of New York, probably the leader of the American bar; George Shea of New York; and William Read of Philadelphia. John Randolph Tucker, who had served as attorney general of Virginia, also was one of the defense counsel, together with Judge Robert Ould and James Lyon, both of Richmond.

O’Conor requested that the trial begin at once, but the government declared that this was impossible. [Presiding] Judge [John C.] Underwood, perhaps impressed by the fact that Davis was represented by such distinguished Northern counsel, said the defendant would be admitted to bail in the sum of $100,000.

The bail bond was promptly signed by such onetime foes of the Confederate President as Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, and Gerrit Smith, New York reformer and foe of slavery. Another New Yorker who signed was Cornelius Vanderbilt.

As soon as the court announced that Davis would be admitted to bail, someone ran to a window and shouted to the crowd below on Main Street, “The President is bailed!” A mighty roar of applause greeted the news.

When the formalities were completed and Davis was released from custody, he was escorted to his carriage on Bank Street by Charles O’Conor and Judge Ould. As the three men emerged from the building, they were greeted with “that fierce yell which was first heard at Manassas, and had been the note of victory at Cold Harbor, at Chancellorsville, the Wilderness and wherever battle was fiercest. The “rebel yell” reverberated again as the carriage passed along Main Street to the Spottswood.

Silence fell upon the crowd as the vehicle stopped at the hotel door. Then, as Davis rose from his seat to alight, a deep voice boomed the order, “Hats off, Virginians!” Thousands of men uncovered, as a gesture of respect for the brave man who had led them through four years of desperate conflict and then had suffered two more years in prison.

Jefferson Davis was never tried by the Federal authorities.”

(Richmond: the Story of a City, Virginius Dabney, Doubleday & Company, 1976, excerpts pp. 206-207)

“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)

A Great Intellectual Silence

The message sent to us today when reading the biography and accomplishments of Jefferson Davis of Mississippi include the following: West Point graduate, married to Sarah Knox Taylor, daughter of General and President Zachary Taylor, colonel of Mississippi Volunteers in the Mexican War, served in both the United States House and Senate, Secretary of War, pleaded for peace between North and South in 1860-61 as a Unionist, and served as president of the Confederate States of America, 1861-65. Few Americans exhibited as distinguished a career as Davis.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

A Great Intellectual Silence

“So the anti-Confederate backlash has come to Dallas . . . but, then, maybe not. Maybe that isn’t fundamentally what happened when the Dallas school board, in June [1999], voted to rename mostly black and Hispanic Jefferson Davis Elementary School for Barbara Jordan, the late Houston congresswoman.

Here, likely, is what happened: Within the community at large, a failure of nerve occurred, a moral power outage, leaving residents plunged in darkness. The same failure of nerve afflicted New Orleans over a year ago, when the name of infamous slaveowner George Washington was removed from an elementary school, to be replaced with – I don’t recall and don’t care to; Sojourner Truth or some like luminary.

You could say, and I wouldn’t argue the point, that on both occasions the antebellum South received deliberate kicks in the groin, and that this form of reprisal was unfortunate and unjust. Davis, Washington: prisoners in a kangaroo court, due to peripheral association with the peculiar institution of slavery. Malarkey!

Also, you can bet your bottom dollar this species of malarkey is sure to spread, two large Southern cities having capitulated so cravenly.

Now, to begin with, we’re talking here about education. Well, about public schools at least. You might expect, in the context of a controversy over the naming of a school, some attention to historical accuracy. Ah, no.

“The name sends a very bad message,” says Se-Gwyn Tyler, who represents the city council district in which ex-Jefferson Davis Elementary is located. Well, ma’am, do you really know that?

Ever read a biography of Davis? Know where he lived, what posts he held before the war? How historians evaluate him? If this is the standard of knowledge regnant at the decision-making level in Dallas, how can one be sure the Davis critics are right that Barbara Jordan is the ideal role model?

Are we to sit quietly while a dead man is vilified and misrepresented? While history itself is distorted? We’re not to utter a peep or reproach? Not so much as a civil objection? That would seem the case.

The major fault in the Davis matter, it seems to me, doesn’t attach to those who sought a name change. The major fault attaches to those who sat through the name-change procedure with eyes and mouths resolutely closed, believing apparently that expiation was a larger public good than truth. Failure of nerve indeed! Cowardice on the half-shell. Hush, we mustn’t offend.

Well, actually, it’s all right to offend those who retain some reverence for the dead; we just mustn’t offend members of cultures and subgroups arguing for affirmation.

A great intellectual silence descends over modern society. We can’t talk about everything; we certainly can’t talk in a spirit of honesty. And we know it. This is what rankles: We know we can’t, and we pass it off as of no great or immediate consequence. Failure of nerve.”

(Roll, Jordan, Roll; Letter from Texas, William Murchison, Chronicles, October 1999, excerpts pg. 37)

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)

 

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)

 

State Allegiance and Obedience

American Statesmen like John Tyler were well-aware of the formation and character of the Union over which they presided. His belief was that sovereignty resided in the individual States, and not the federate Union. Additionally, he stresses that the Constitution was not ratified by a mass of people, but by people acting as individual and sovereign States. A clash between South Carolina and the federal government came when the former, acting through a State convention, declared the tariff laws of 1828 and 1832 unconstitutional, and therefore null and void. The following excerpts are from Tyler’s February 6, 1833 speech opposing Andrew Jackson’s plan to use force against South Carolina.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

State Allegiance and Obedience

“The government was created by the States, is amenable [to] the States, is preserved by the States, and may be destroyed by the States.”

The Federal government holds its “existence at the pleasure of these States.”

“They may strike you [the Federal government] out of existence by a word; demolish the Constitution, and scatter its fragments to the winds.”

The true state of the case is this: It is because I owe allegiance to the State of Virginia that I owe obedience to the laws of this federal government. My State requires me to render such obedience. She has entered into a compact, which, while it continues, is binding on all her people. So would it be if she had formed a treaty with a foreign power. I should be bound to obey the stipulations of such a treaty, because she willed it . . . it is because I owe allegiance there, that I owe obedience here . . .”

“I owe no responsibility, politically speaking, elsewhere than to my State.”

“A redress of grievances and not force is the proper remedy in this [Nullification] crisis. It is an argument of pride to say that the government should not yield while South Carolina is showing a spirit of revolt. It was just such an argument that was used against the American colonies by the British government . . . Civil war is imminent, and to prevent is a resort to force should be deprecated.”

But is it a bad mode of settling disputes to make soldiers your ambassadors, and to point to the halter and the gallows as your ultimatum.”

(John Tyler, Champion of the Old South, Oliver Perry Chitwood, American Political Biography Press, 2006, (AHA, 1939), excerpts pp. 116-117)

 

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)

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