Browsing "Southern Statesmen"

Yancey’s Prophetic Foresight

Born at Ogeechee Falls, Georgia in 1814, educated at academies in New York and New England, South Carolina and later Alabama editor, William Lowndes Yancey prophetically predicted the rise of the consolidationist Republican party. He foresaw the States becoming “but tributaries to the powers of the General Government,” and their sovereignty enfeebled.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Yancey’s Prophetic Foresight

“. . . Yancey had been an unconditional Unionist . . . But in 1838 disturbing reports, which led him to pause, study the Constitution, and consider the nature of the Union, began to reach his desk. His indignation and fears seem to have been first aroused by the abolitionist petitions which were agitating Congress and the country, and in one of his editorials declared:

“The Vermont resolutions have afforded those deluded fanatics – the Abolitionists – another opportunity for abusing our citizens, and endeavoring to throw firebrands into the South, to gratify a malevolent spirit. They well know that they have no right to . . . meddle with our rights, secured to us by the Constitution; but to gratify the worst of feelings, while at the same time and in many instances, the endanger our safety, they press upon Congress the consideration of this subject.”

This editorial went on to express a fear that there was “a settled determination, on the part of those fanatics, to form themselves into a small band of partisans,” and thereby to gain the balance of power and determine elections.

Yancey’s fears of despotism under the cloak of the Federal Union were intensified by the election of the friends of the United States Bank. He reported a series of resolutions condemning the bank, supporting the President [Jackson] in his fight on it, and approving “well conducted State Banks.” The second resolution [declared]:

“We deem the struggle now going on between the people, and the United States Bank partisans, to be a struggle for pre-eminence between the State-Rights principles of 1798, and Federalism in its rankest state; and that in the triumph of the Bank, if destined to triumph, we would mournfully witness the destruction of the barriers and safeguards of our Liberties.”

In the spring of 1839 Yancey and his brother bought and consolidated the Wetumpka [Alabama] Commercial Advertiser and the Wetumpka Argus. The next spring when Yancey took personal charge of the newspaper, he announced that it would support a policy of strict construction in national politics and a State policy of reform in banking, internal improvements, and public education within reach of every child.

[With the] opening of the presidential campaign of 1840, [Yancey] believed the issue between State rights and consolidation to have been clearly drawn. Twelve years of Jacksonian democracy had destroyed the bank, provided for the extinction of the protective features of the tariff, and checked internal improvements at federal expense. Therefore, if the friends of the bank, the protective tariff, and internal improvements expected to enjoy the beneficence of a paternalistic government, they must gain control of the administration at Washington, and consolidate its powers. Thus to them the selection of a Whig candidate for the presidency was an important question, and from their point of view Henry Clay seemed to be the logical choice.

[Yancey editorialized] to show that the abolitionists, having defeated [Henry] Clay in the convention, now contemplated using their power to defeat Martin Van Buren in the election, disrupt the Democratic party, and absorb the Whigs.

To Yancey it seemed clear that [a] coalition of Whigs and abolitionists would put the South in a minority position . . . that the minority position of the South demanded “of its citizens a strict adherence to the States Rights Creed.”

He declared:

“Once let the will of the majority become the rule of [Constitutional] construction, and hard-featured self-interest will become the presiding genius in our national councils – the riches of our favored lands offering but the greater incentive to political rapacity.”

Furthermore, he foresaw with inexorable logic that once the general government was permitted to exercise powers, not expressly given to it, for subsidies to industry and for the building of roads and canals, it was as reasonable to claim constitutional authority for subsidies for agriculture and labor.

Yancey foretold with prophetic insight the consequences of the application of the consolidationists creed. He said it would result in a “national system of politics, which makes the members of the confederacy but tributaries to the powers of the General Government – enfeebling the sovereign powers of the States – in fact forming us into a great consolidated nation, receiving all its impulses from the Federal Capitol.”

And in strikingly modern language he warned the people that, if the tendencies toward consolidation continued, the Constitution would “have its plainly marked lines obliterated, and its meaning . . . left to be interpreted by interested majorities – thus assembling every hungry and greedy speculator around the Capitol, making the President a King in all but name – and Washington a “St. Petersburg,” – the center of a vast, consolidated domain.”

(William L. Yancey’s Transition from Unionism to State Rights, Austin L. Venable, Journal of Southern History, Volume X, Number 1, February 1944, pp. 336-342)

You Called These Men to the Colors

Thomas Dixon is less known for his time spent in the North Carolina Legislature, and far better known for his books “The Leopard Spots” and “The Clansman,” and also his silent movie “Birth of a Nation.” Below, Dixon appeals to his progressive fellow legislators to not forget those crippled patriots they had earlier called to defend the State.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

You Called These Men to the Colors

“Early in the [North Carolina legislative] session I met Walter Hines Page, reporting for his Daily Chronicle. He asked me to drop into his office and see him often. I did, and we formed a friendship which lasted through life.

The big occasion on which I decided to deliver my maiden speech was my report from the Finance Committee (Way and Means) of the bill to pension the poor disabled soldiers of the State who had fought in the Confederate army. The first measure to pension Confederate soldiers any man had dared to introduce into a Southern legislature. The discussion of the bill by the press during the hearings had stirred the State. When I spoke to a crowded House and packed galleries I was in dead earnest, never more so in life. I read the speech today, fifty years later, with a sense of satisfaction.

“I am aware, gentlemen of the House, that this bill, small as the pittance given by it to our crippled veterans, means in the long run at least a million dollars in taxes to be borne by our people. I am aware that a new spirit is abroad in the Old Commonwealth. Progress is the watchword of the hour. We have started an industrial expansion after twenty years of struggle against starvation. We must and will give the full force of our energy to this development.

But while we are on the road to prosperity, I must ask you to remember that back in the rear of your marching people, amid the dirt and dust and misery of the direst poverty there comes painfully struggling along, a band of your wounded comrades, forgotten in their distress.

I am talking now to the sovereign State of North Carolina in its representative body assembled. You called these men to the colors. They answered as citizens of the State, not as delegates of the Confederate Government. They fought as citizens of North Carolina. Their bodies are mangled today because you sent them to the front. I speak in the name of humanity whose cries have been neglected until they echo at God’s bar crying for justice against you and me. And if there be a God — which none of you doubt — you will hear these cries before you enter the prosperity toward which you now so eagerly look.

Remember, gentlemen, that these crippled soldiers marched under the same blue flag of your State whose silken folds now flash above your council chambers. On a hundred fields of blood they bared their breasts until a bullet came that sent them to a surgeon’s tent. Some of you who hear me in this House limp across its floor on one leg. You remember the scene. The blockade had closed our drug stores. There was no chloroform or ether.

In trembling, piteous tones you heard them begging the young surgeon for God’s sake to spare their limbs. Heard until sick at heart you closed your ears with hands pressed tightly against them. The knife severs the flesh while the victim screams, the arteries are tied, the saw grates through the bone, it’s over, and a wretch is carried out, hope and spirit broken, the light of the world gone out. [These men] in the morning of life, in the glory of [their] youth, stood shoulder to shoulder with your heroic dead who charged over our historic fields and made records of your army immortal.

On May 10th, we cover the graves of our dead with flowers. A pious beautiful ceremony. Let it never be forgotten. Should we forget their mangled comrades who in bitterness of soul have cursed God and envied the lot of those who sleep in peace beneath your tears and flowers?

(Southern Horizons, Autobiography of Thomas Dixon, IWV Publishing, 1984, pp. 177-179)

Idle Talk of Preserving the Republic

With his deep understanding of the strict constitutional limitations on the federal agent in Washington, John Tyler deserves to be ranked as one of the greatest American presidents, along with Jefferson Davis.  He rightly saw the result of Andrew Jackson’s threatened coercion of South Carolina as a threat to the Union itself.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Idle Talk of Preserving a Republic

“Shortly after the election of 1832 [John] Tyler broke with the [Jackson] Administration. The occasion of the breach was the nullification crisis. But up to this time he was regarded as a Democrat in good if not regular standing. Jackson’s policy toward South Carolina was so objectionable to him that he aligned himself with the anti-Administration forces, and finally left the Democratic party. To support or even acquiesce in the President’s measures would be, as he considered, to sacrifice his State’ rights principles — a sacrifice which at no time during his entire career was he willing to make.

In writing to Governor John Floyd, of Virginia [January 16, 1833], he declared that “if South Carolina be put down, then may each of the States yield all pretensions to sovereignty. We have a consolidated government, and a master will soon arise. This is inevitable. How idle to talk of preserving a republic for any length of time with an uncontrolled power over the military, exercised at pleasure by the President.”

(John Tyler, Champion of the Old South, American Political Biography Press, 1939/2006, pp. 112-113)

The South Against a Seceding North

Though South Carolina had been threatened with invasion over nullifying federal law in the early 1830s, no such threats were made to Northern States in the 1850s as they instituted personal liberty laws which nullified federal law and obstructed federal officers. Had Lincoln not won his plurality in 1860, the secession of the North might have been the case.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The South Against a Seceding North

“There was strong opposition to secession, not only in the Upper South, but also in some parts of the Lower South, the very heart land of the future Confederacy. In every convention except South Carolina’s there were votes against secession, and in Alabama and Georgia the opposition was considerable. In Georgia, Alexander H. Stephens, Herschel V. Johnson, and Benjamin H. Hill gave up their fight for the Union only after their State had seceded and threatened to leave them behind.

In their campaign to save the nation, the [Southern] Unionists resorted both to argument and to delaying tactics. They played on national sentiments; the Revolution and its heroes . . . the Constitution, which largely Southerners had made and was sufficient for all needs if properly interpreted and enforced. Up to this time the South had generally dominated the government, either through Southern-born presidents or . . . Northern men with Southern principles. Most of the Supreme Court had been Southerners, and the court at this time was dominated by the South.

In fact, the whole idea of secession was illogical and wrong, it was argued. The process should be reversed. The North should do the seceding, for the South represented more truly the nation which the forefathers had set up in 1789. Therefore the South should not allow itself to be driven out of its own home.

Henry A. Wise of Virginia was especially vigorous in arguing this point of view. “Logically the Union belongs to those who have kept, not those who have broken, its covenants,” he declared. If he ever had to fight he hoped it would be against a seceding North, “with the star-spangled banner still in one hand and my musket in the other.”

(A History of the South, Volume VII, The Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, E. Merton Coulter, LSU Press, 1950, pp. 3-5)

 

Eminent and Unmatched Virginians

Senator George F. Hoar of Massachusetts seemed unaware of his State’s deep involvement in the transatlantic slave trade as he arraigns the South for an absence of morals. Senator John Critcher below served during the war as a lieutenant-colonel of the Fifteenth Virginia cavalry.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Eminent and Unmatched Virginians

“In the debate on Education in the House of Representatives, Mr. Hoar, of Massachusetts remarked that slavery in the South was not so observable in the degradation of the slave as in the depravity of the master.

Mr. Critcher, of Virginia replied:

“Reminding the gentleman from Massachusetts that every signer of the Declaration of Independence, except those from his State, and perhaps one or two others, were slave-owners, he would venture to make a bold assertion; he would venture to say that he could name more eminent men from the parish of his residence, than the gentleman could name from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He would proceed to name them, and yield the floor to the gentleman to match them if he could.

On one side of his estate is Wakefield, the birthplace of Washington. On the other side is Stratford, the residence of Light Horse Harry Lee, of glorious Revolutionary memory.

Adjoining Stratford is Chantilly, the residence of Richard Henry Lee, the mover of the Declaration of Independence, and the Cicero of the American Revolution. There lived Francis Lightfoot Lee, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Charles Lee, at one time Washington’s Attorney General; and Arthur Lee, the accomplished negotiator of the treaty of commerce and alliance between the Colonies and France in 1777.

Returning, as said before, you come first to the birthplace of Washington; another hour’s drive will bring you to the birthplace of Monroe; another hour’s drive to the birthplace of Madison, and if the gentleman supposes that the present generation is unworthy of their illustrious ancestors, he has but to stand on the same estate to see the massive chimneys of the baronial mansion that witnessed the birth of Robert E. Lee.

These are some of the eminent men from the parish of his residence, and he yielded the floor that the gentleman might match them, if he could, from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

(Degrading Influence of Slavery, Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 12, Barefoot Publishing, pg. 59)

 

Here Lies an American Hero

The first commander-in-chief of the United Confederate Veterans, General John B. Gordon of Georgia, tried repeatedly to retire from his high office, “but his comrades would not consent.” Below, he spoke in 1890 of the necessity of maintaining unblemished the nobility, heroism, sacrifices, suffering and glorious memory of the American soldiers in grey.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Here Lies and American Hero

“[The United Confederate Veterans] was created on high lines, and its first commander was the gallant soldier, General John B. Gordon, at the time governor of Georgia, and later was United States senator. General Gordon was continued as commander-in-chief until his death.

The note . . . struck in the constitution of the United Confederate Veterans were reechoed in the opening speech of the first commander-in-chief. General Gordon, addressing the Veterans and the public, said:

“Comrades, no argument is needed to secure for those objects your enthusiastic endorsement. They have burdened your thoughts for many years. You have cherished them in sorrow, poverty and humiliation. In the face of misconstruction, you have held them in your hearts with the strength of religious convictions.

No misjudgments can defeat your peaceful purposes for the future. Your aspirations have been lifted by the mere force and urgency of surrounding conditions to a plane far above the paltry considerations of partisan triumphs.

The honor of the American Government, the just powers of the Federal Government, the equal rights of States, the integrity of the Constitutional Union, the sanctions of law, and the enforcement of order have no class of defenders more true and devoted than the ex-soldiers of the South and their worthy descendants. But you realize the great truth that a people without the memories of heroic suffering or sacrifice are a people without history.

To cherish such memories and recall such a past, whether crowned with success or consecrated in defeat, is to idealize principle and strengthen character, intensify love of country, and convert defeat and disaster into pillars of support for future manhood and noble womanhood.

Whether the Southern people, under their changed conditions, may ever hope to witness another civilization which shall equal that which began with their Washington and ended with their Lee, it is certainly true that devotion to their glorious past is not only the surest guarantee of future progress and the holiest bond of unity, but is also the strongest claim they can present to the confidence and respect of the other sections of the Union.

It is political in no sense, except so far as the word “political” is a synonym for the word “patriotic.” [It will] cherish the past glories of the dead Confederacy and transmute them into living inspirations for future service to the living Republic; of truth, because it will seek to gather and preserve, as witness to history, the unimpeachable facts which shall doom falsehood to die that truth may live; of justice, because it will cultivate . . . that broader and higher and nobler sentiment which would write on the grave of every soldier who fell on our side, “Here lies an American hero, a martyr to the right as his conscience conceived it.”

(The Photographic History of The Civil War, Vol. 5, Robert S. Lanier, editor, Blue & Grey Press, 1987, pp. 298-299)

 

Truth, the Chief Good

Henry Lee’s Letter to Son Carter Lee, September 30, 1816

“Important as it is to understand nature in its range and bearing, it is more so to be prepared for usefulness, and to render ourselves pleasing by understanding well the religious and moral knowledge of right and wrong, to investigate thoroughly the history of mankind, and to be familiar with those examples which show the loveliness of truth, and demonstrate the reasonableness of our opinions by past events.

Read therefore the best poets, the best orators, and the best historians; as from them you draw principles of moral truth, axioms of prudence and material for conversation. This was the opinion of the great Socrates. He labored in Athens to turn philosophy from the study of nature to the study of life. He justly thought man’s great business was to learn how to do good, and to avoid evil. Be a steady, ardent disciple of Socrates; and regard virtue, whose temple is built upon truth, as the chief good.

[But] virtue and wisdom are not opponents; they are friends and coalesce in a few characters such as [Washington]. A foolish notion often springs up with young men as they enter life, namely, that the opinion of the world is not to be regarded; whereas, it is the true criterion, generally speaking, of all things that terminate in human life. To despise its sentence, if possible, is not just; and if just, is not possible. H. Lee.”

(Life of General Henry Lee, Revolutionary War Memoirs, R.E. Lee, editor, DaCapo, 1998, page 60)

Healing the Victims of the Avarice of Others

Major Joseph A. Engelhard served in the Thirty-third North Carolina Regiment in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. He was elected North Carolina Secretary of State in 1876, and in 1878 encouraged young Southern men at the University of North Carolina to be proud of their forefathers, and the country and constitution they created. Engelhard died in office in 1879.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Healing the Victims of the Avarice of Others

“If in any part of the United States there exists moral deformity, or outrage, or unseemly appearance of social or political evil, you can say that no portion of it can be traced to our door. It is true, we have been charged with the error and evil of Slavery, but history and the verdict of all men must be that slavery was introduced here against our will, first by the Dutch and afterwards by the Slave Merchants of the North.

Upon the garments of the South there is no stain of the “Slave Trade.” Those infamies and the profits of that traffic alike, belong to others.

Our lot has been to civilize, to humanize, to Christianize the victims of the avarice of others. Like men we fought for the institution, not, however, for its sake, but because through it all our sacred rights were assailed. The men who proclaimed victory at Mecklenburg; the men who fought seven years for it afterwards; the men who built the country’s strongest entrenchments in the Constitution; who extended most widely its area; who illustrated it with most honor in the National Councils, and who exposed and lost all to defend every approach of danger to it, never – never could be truly charged with the responsibility for human Slavery.

One thing all men must say of us, that the Southern people in two hundred years did more to elevate and render good and happy the African than all the world in all time ever did. And upon that record we stand.”

(Address of the Hon. Joseph A. Engelhard, Before the Philanthropic and Dialectic Societies of the University of North Carolina, June 1878, Edwards & Broughton & Co., 1879, pp. 11-12)

Spending the Money of Future Generations

Robert Hayne of South Carolina followed Jefferson’s admonition that the national debt was not something to be passed on to future generations; it was considered immoral for a president not to pay the debts incurred under their administrations before leaving office. In encouraging an unending public debt, Daniel Webster, on the other hand, Webster was promoting the American System of Whig politician Henry Clay which would give the government an endless supply of money with which to buy influence and power.  

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Spending the Money of Future Generations

“The gentleman from Massachusetts [Webster], in alluding to a remark of mine that before any disposition could be made of the public lands, the national debt (for which they stand pledged) must be first paid, took occasion to intimate (that Southerners desire to pay the national debt) “arises from a disposition to weaken the ties which bind the people to the Union.”  

But, adds he gentleman, “so far as the debt may have an effect in binding the debtors to the country, and thereby serving as a link to hold the States together, he would be glad that it should exist forever.” Surely then, sir, on the gentleman’s own principles, he must be opposed to the payment of the debt.

Sir, let me tell that gentleman that the South repudiates the idea that a pecuniary dependence on the Federal Government is one of the legitimate means of holding the States together. A monied interest in the Government is essentially a base interest . . . it is opposed to all the principles of free government and at war with virtue and patriotism. In a free government, this principle of abject dependence if extended through all the ramifications of society must be fatal to liberty. Already we have made alarming strides in that direction.

The entire class of manufacturers, the holders of stocks with their hundreds of millions in capital, are held to the Government by the strong link of pecuniary interests; millions of people, entire sections of the country, interested, or believing themselves to be so, in the public lands and the public treasure, are bound to the Government by the expectation of pecuniary favors.

If this system is carried on much further, no man can fail to see that every generous motive of attachment to the country will be destroyed, and in its place will spring up those low, groveling, base and selfish feelings which bind men to the footstool of despots by bonds as strong and as enduring as those which attach them to free institutions. 

(The Webster-Hayne Debate on the Nature of the Union, Herman Belz, Editor, Liberty Fund, 2000, pp. 42-43. Speech of Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina, January 25, 1830) 

 

Harvard’s Southern Club

Seventy-one Harvard alumni served in the Confederate military 1861-65 yet are not recognized today in that institution’s Memorial Hall. In late January 1922 two donation checks were received for the Lee-Memorial Chapel at Lexington, Virginia – one from Boston Herald editor Robert L. O’Brien and a Harvard professor who had “asked the privilege of contributing to this fund.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Harvard’s Southern Club

“One of the most pleasant literary occasions of my experience was a dinner in Boston given by the Southern Club of Harvard in honor of Thomas Nelson Page and Hopkinson Smith, who were then on a tour giving readings from their own works. At this dinner the honored guests held the center of the stage.

At the Southern Club I met many undergraduates; these acquaintances introduced me to others on the outside, who in turn sometimes took me to their clubs, the most interesting perhaps being the Hasty Pudding with its large collection of things theatrical.

Many of the law students ate at Memorial Hall . . . I recall . . . Bart Gatlin[g] of Raleigh, son of the inventor of the Gatlin[g] Gun; [and] John C. Breckinridge, grandson and namesake of a vice-president of the United States.

At my own table sat a student prematurely bald whom we called “the bald-headed infidel” because he was fond of spouting his atheistic ideas, who in turn took delight in speaking of the Southern Club as “the Secesh Club.”

(Son of Carolina, Augustus White Long, Duke University Press, 1939, pp. 196-199)