Browsing "Southern Unionists"

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)

 

The Cause of the Great Calamity

The following are excerpts from a letter sent to Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward by Associate Chief Justice John A. Campbell on April 13, 1861. Seward repeatedly led Campbell and the Confederate commissioners to believe his government would peacefully resolve the issue at Fort Sumter. One concludes from the letter that Lincoln deceived his own Secretary as to his intentions at Fort Sumter and setting the war in motion – as well as sending Ward Lamon to Charleston to ascertain South Carolina’s defenses. Many Southern Unionists pleaded with Lincoln’s to disarm the crisis by simply removing federal troops from Sumter, and letting time heal the breach.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Cause of the Great Calamity

“On the 15th of March [1861] I left with Judge Crawford, one of the [peace] commissioners of the Confederate States, a note in writing to the effect:

“I feel entire confidence that Fort Sumter will be evacuated in the next five days. This measure is felt as imposing great responsibility on the Administration. The substance of this statement I communicated to you the same evening by letter. Five days elapsed, and I called with a telegram from General [Pierre] Beauregard to the effect that Sumter was not evacuated, but that Major [Robert] Anderson was at work making repairs.

The 30th of March [1861] arrived, and at that time a telegram came from Governor [Francis] Pickens, inquiring concerning Colonel Lamon, whose visit to Charleston he supposed had a connection with the proposed evacuation of Fort Sumter . . .

On the first of April, I received from you the statement in writing: “I am satisfied the government will not undertake to supply For Sumter without giving notice to Governor Pickens.”

On April 7, I addressed to you a letter on the subject of alarm that the preparations by the government had created, and asked you if the assurances I had given were well-founded. In respect to Sumter your reply was: “Faith as to Sumter fully kept – wait and see.”

In this morning’s paper I read “an authorized messenger from President Lincoln informed Governor Pickens and General Beauregard that provisions will be sent to Fort Sumter peaceably, or otherwise by force.”

This was on [April 8th], at Charleston, the day following your last assurance, and this is the last evidence of the full faith I was to “wait for and see!” . . .

The commissioners who received those communications conclude they have been abused . . . I think no candid man who will read over what I have written, and consider for a moment what is going on at Fort Sumter, but will agree that the equivocating conduct of the administration . . . is the proximate cause of the great calamity.

On April 4, 1861, President [Jefferson] Davis authorized General Beauregard to take any action he deemed necessary about Fort Sumter. Beauregard opened negotiations for the surrender of the Fort, and Major Anderson promised to evacuate within a few days.

Under the pretense of relieving a starving garrison, [Lincoln] sent an expedition . . . “of eleven vessels, with two-hundred and eighty-five guns, and twenty-five hundred men. They were scheduled to arrive at Charleston on the ninth of April, but did not arrive until several days later. The reason Lincoln’s [war initiation] scheme did not work was a tempest, which delayed his fleet.”

Jefferson Davis did everything in his power to prevent civil strife, and the South cannot be blamed for the most terrible Civil War the world has ever witnessed. It is true they did fire the first shot, but the question is, which party first indicated the purpose of hostility? Which made the fatal menace; or which drew, rather than which delivered, the fire at Fort Sumter?

If Jefferson Davis signed the order for the reduction of the Fort, Abraham Lincoln had, before, signed the order to reinforce it.”

(Jefferson Davis, Patriot, a Biography, 1808-1865, Eric Langhein, Vantage Press, 1962, excerpts pp. 54-57)

Convincing Southerners of Republican Hostility

Lincoln’s only attempt at including a Southerner in his cabinet was sounding out North Carolinian and Congressman John Gilmer, who was “wary, mistrustful of Lincoln and reluctant to ally himself with an administration” opposed to the interests of his State and section. Conservatives feared that should Gilmer not accept, Lincoln would select radical hard-liner Montgomery Blair and add fuel to the sectional fire.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Convincing Southerners of Republican Hostility

“[Far from Fort Sumter] the president-elect was still at work composing his cabinet . . . [and] the impossibly tangled party considerations that continued to vex him. As [President James] Buchanan’s advisors planned their reinforcement expedition . . . Lincoln was committing the first major blunder of his administration. It began on Sunday, December 30 . . . when he met with that “greatest of Pennsylvania wirepullers,” Simon Cameron, about a place in the cabinet.

[Lincoln] knew it would be a controversial appointment. For one thing, Cameron’s easy movements from the [Democrats] to the Know Nothings to the Republicans had gained him a reputation as an unprincipled opportunist.

More damaging was the taint of corruption that surrounded him. Known to his critics as “the Great Winnebago Chief” for his mishandling of Indian funds in the 1830s, Cameron was also charged with manipulation elections and legislatures through bribery. Yet so many recommendations poured into Springfield that Lincoln could hardly see how not to appoint him.

It was one of the first important choices Lincoln had made for himself since the election, and he immediately had cause to regret foregoing his usual process of passing his decisions by [Lyman] Trumbull and [Hannibal] Hamlin . . . word of the selection [of Cameron] provoked a flood of outraged letters and visits from Republican leaders.

Displaying an indecision that was characteristic in those early months, Lincoln immediately reversed himself . . . [and] addressed a short, private note to Cameron rescinding his offer . . . [but] the imbroglio . . . exploded into what one historian has called “a mighty battle of Republican factions.” For the next several weeks Republican managers throughout the North appeared considerably more concerned with the patronage than with secession.

Placing [Salmon P.] Chase at the head of the Treasury Department [would reconcile] the powerful New York radicals to [William] Seward’s appointment [as Secretary of State].

[But] Lincoln was aware of the predicament of Southern unionists and the damage Republican rigidity [against compromise] might do to their cause. Nominating Chase, a long-acknowledged leader of the radicals, would give secessionists a powerful weapon in their fight to convince Southerners of Republican hostility.”

(Lincoln and the Decision for War, the Northern Response to Secession, Russell McClintock, UNC Press, 2008, excerpts pp. 123-125)

 

 

 

“Who Then is Responsible for the War?”

At war’s end, Southern Unionists who looked in vain for Northern compromise to avert war rightly expected fair treatment at Washington. They were disappointed as Radical policy was treatment of the South as “conquered territory to be plundered and exploited.” General Robert E. Lee had been swept along with Virginia in 1861 and viewed the Old South as dear as what existed in 1865. He wrote that “Never, for a moment, have I regretted my course in joining the Confederacy . . . If it were to do over again, I would do just as I did before.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“Who Then is Responsible for the War?”

“Occasionally someone from the North would write and ask the General’s opinion about Southern affairs. [A former Illinois] Captain, having expressed feelings of kindness and friendship, asked General Lee to set forth the reasons which influenced him to take part with the Confederate States.

Lee replied that he had no other guide and no other object than the defense of those principles of American liberty upon which the constitutions of the several States were originally founded. “Unless they are strictly observed,” he added, “I fear there will be an end to republican government in this country.”

In this letter Lee showed a grasp of the situation. He felt he had no influence in national affairs and whatever was done must be accomplished by those who controlled the councils of the country. Only the Northern people themselves could exercise a beneficial influence.

[Lee did not view the right of secession as legitimate, and] admitted that the Southern people generally believed in the right, but, as for himself, he did not. [British historian Herbert C. Saunders wrote after interviewing Lee that] “This right he told me he always held a constitutional right . . . As to the policy of Secession on the part of the South, he was at first distinctly opposed to it and not until Lincoln issued a proclamation for 75,000 men to invade the South, which he deemed so clearly unconstitutional, that he had then no longer any doubt what course his loyalty to the Constitution and to his State required him to take.”

[A few months later], Lord Acton, wrote Lee and asked his opinion on the questions at issue. The General’s answer is comprehensive and abounds in historical references . . . It calls attention to the [secession] attitude of New England in 1814 and to the Harford Convention.

“The South has contended only for the supremacy of the Constitution,” the Acton letter reads, “and the just administration of the laws made in pursuance of it. Virginia, to the last, made great effort to save the Union, and urged harmony and compromise.” After quoting [Stephen A.] Douglas, to the effect that the Southern members would have accepted the Crittenden Compromise, in order to avert civil strife, but that the Republican party refused this offer, the letter asks, “Who then is responsible for the war?”

(Robert E. Lee, a Biography, Robert W. Winston, William Morrow & Company, 1934, excerpts pp. 390-394)

The Southern Confederacy’s Objective

If we are true to the English language and its usage, what is referred to as the American Revolution was in reality a civil war as opposing sides fought for control of the governance of the American Colonies.  The 1861-1865 war was not a civil war as several Southern States had withdrawn from their voluntary political compact with other States, and formed their own voluntary Union.  The South, then, had no interest in governing the North and truly fought in self-defense; the North, then, truly fought the war for conquest.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lincoln’s War

“Matthew Forney Steele in his 1951 American Campaigns points out that the American Civil War was unusual for a civil war in having a purely sectional bias. Allegiance in this civil war was decided by one’s geographic location rather than class, religion, political allegiance, ethnicity or other factors that usually set the battling factions in a civil war apart from each other.  This meant, in practical terms, that in the American Civil War the sides fought not among themselves but arrayed against each other.

The Southern Confederacy’s objective was simply to be left alone.  The Union’s determination was to deny them that forbearance.  Thus, an “invasion” of the Southern portion of the country, in Abraham Lincoln’s blandly legal phraseology, to “subdue combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings,” became the war’s inevitable strategy.”

(Maps and Mapmakers of the Civil War, Earl B. McElfresh, H.N. Abrams Publishers, 1990, excerpt, pg. 20)

The Mine Laid at Washington

Lincoln chose to ignore the advice of the most prescient Cabinet members who could foresee where his aggressive and warlike actions would take him. The inexperienced new president had seen the result of Buchanan’s provocative Star of the West expedition to Sumter in early January 1861, but still rushed headlong into a collision and bloody war which followed. It should also be noted that Southern Unionists who opposed secession were looking to Lincoln for a peaceful settlement of the crisis, and pleaded with him to evacuate Sumter and let time cool the debate.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Mine Laid at Washington

On the 15th of March, 1861, President Lincoln submitted the following request in writing to each member of his Cabinet:

“My Dear Sir, Assuming it to be possible to now provision Fort Sumter, under all the circumstances is it wise to attempt it? Please give your opinion in writing on this question.”

Secretary Cameron wrote that he would advise such an attempt if he “did not believe the attempt to carry it into effect would initiate a bloody and protracted conflict.”

Secretary Welles wrote:

“By sending or attempting to send provisions into Fort Sumter, will not war be precipitated? It may well be impossible to escape it under any course of policy that may be pursued, but I am not prepared to advise a course that would provoke hostilities . . . I do not, therefore, under all the circumstances, think it wise to provision Fort Sumter.”

Secretary Smith wrote:

“The commencement of civil war would be a calamity greatly to be deplored and should be avoided if the just authority of the Government may be maintained without it. If such a conflict should become inevitable, it is much better that it should commence by the resistance of the authorities or people of South Carolina to the legal action of the Government in enforcing the laws of the United States . . . in my opinion it would not be wise, under all the circumstances, to attempt to provision Fort Sumter.”

Attorney General Bates wrote:

“I am unwilling, under all circumstances . . . to do any act which may have the semblance before the world of beginning a civil war, the terrible consequences of which would, I think, find no parallel in modern times . . . upon the whole I do not think it wise now to provision Fort Sumter.”

Postmaster-General Blair and Secretary Chase united in the opinion that it would be wise to make the effort to provision Fort Sumter.

[Secretary Salmon P. Chase] then proceeded to declare that, if such a step would produce civil war, he could not advise in its favor, but that, in his opinion, such a result was highly improbable, especially if accompanied by a proclamation from the President, reiterating the sentiments of his inaugural address. “I, therefore,” concluded Secretary Chase, “return an affirmative answer to the question submitted to me.”

It will be seen . . . that five of the seven members of the Cabinet concurred in the opinion that no attempt should be made to provision or reinforce Fort Sumter, and that such an attempt would in all probability precipitate civil war.

As Mr. Seward expressed it, “We will have inaugurated a civil war by our own act without an adequate object”; or, in the language of Secretary Welles, “By sending or attempting to send provisions into Fort Sumter, will not war be precipitated?” . . . I am not prepared to advise a course that would provoke hostilities.”

If such were the opinions of leading members of President Lincoln’s Cabinet, expressed in confidential communications to their chief, as to the character of the proposed action, can it be deemed unreasonable that the people of Virginia held similar views?

Fourteen days later, the President made a verbal request to his Cabinet for an additional expression of their views on the same subject. Seward and Smith adhered to their former opinions. Chase and Blair were joined by Welles. Bates was noncommittal, and no reply was made by Cameron, so far as records show.

In the light of the facts and arguments presented by the members of the President’s Cabinet, men, not a few, will conclude that, if the explosion occurred at Fort Sumter, the mine was laid at Washington.”

(Virginia’s Attitude Toward Secession, Beverley B. Munford, L.H. Jenkins, Richmond Virginia, 1909, excerpts, pp. 285-289)

 

 

A Symbol of Heroism to Both North and South

Though indicted for treason, Jefferson Davis’s enemies feared his trial as they recognized him as one of the ablest constitutional scholars in America.  After his death in 1889, his wife Varina could not maintain their home in Mississippi and moved to New York to earn a living as a writer. There she wrote a lengthy biography of her husband, and Davis admirer Joseph Pulitzer gave her a weekly column in the New York Sunday World with an annual salary of $1500. When she passed in 1906, Varina Howell Davis was given a heroine’s military funeral and placed beside her husband in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Symbol of Heroism to Both North and South

“The saddest lot of all was that of the symbol of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. Benjamin, Mason and Slidell were hateful to the North, but they were beyond the law’s long arm. Davis had to bear the brunt of Yankee wrath – which included becoming the scapegoat for the assassination of Lincoln. The popular song with the refrain “We’ll hang Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree” was almost euphemistic; the most horrible forms of Oriental torture were what the South’s enemies had in mind.

The indignities began when Davis was captured by federal troops . . . [and] the humiliation was no worse than the physical rigors that followed. The Davises were thrown into a dark prison van. Their belongings, from gold to baby clothes, were looted and Northern troops snatched away food intended for the Davis children. The soldiers exposed themselves to Varina Davis.

En route to prison, the Davises received one touching gesture while locked in a hotel room in Savannah. The black waiter who brought their food tray hid, under the cover, a bunch of beautiful red roses and tearfully expressed his sorrow at what had happened to the Davises and to the South.

While the family remained in the hotel, Davis was taken incommunicado to Fort Monroe in Virginia, a stronghold known as the Gibralter of the Chesapeake. Not wanting to take any chances, the federal commander there surrounded Davis with an entire garrison of troops and locked him in heavy chains in a viewless, tiny cell.

His only furniture was an iron cot, his only utensil a wooden spoon, his only rations unchewable boiled beef, stale bread, and water. Squeaky-shoed soldiers marched around him twenty-four hours a day; we was never allowed a private moment. Guards even stood around him when he used the portable toilet that was brought into his cell. Davis’s only company was a mouse he made his pet.

Davis, always a sick man, nearly wasted away. He had been indicted for treason, but was never brought to trial. Habeas corpus and all other basic rights were denied, and he was left to languish in the darkness.

Davis was the only Confederate leader who remained incarcerated – he was doing penance for the entire South. In 1868, after even Northern sentiment was outraged at his unusual punishment, he was freed and reunited with his family. For his dignity under the most horrid of conditions, he won a martyr’s reputation throughout the South, giving inspiration to the thousands suffering through the abject poverty of the postbellum period; any stigma of having lost the war was lost.

Their sons all died, the first in an accidental fall from a balcony, another of diphtheria, and the third of yellow fever. Their daughter, Varina Anne, or “Winnie,” had been crowned by Southern war veterans as the “daughter of the Confederacy.” However, she alienated the entire South when she fell in love with a Harvard-trained Syracuse attorney whose grandfather had been a prominent abolitionist. The affair killed her father in 1889, and nearly 15,000 thronged to his funeral. Davis had outlived nearly all his enemies and had become a symbol of heroism to both North and South.

Out of respect, Winnie called the marriage off and never wed.”

(A Class By Themselves; the Untold Story of the Great Southern Families, William Stadiem, Crown Publishers, 1980, excerpts, pp. 130-132)

Power and Politics over Country

The months between Lincoln’s election and his inauguration are seen as the most critical in American history as the historical record shows that he revealed little in those four months that might have averted war. Many people journeyed to Springfield, Illinois to better understand his positions though he “wished neither to articulate unrealistic solutions nor hinder ongoing negotiations,” and his Republican allies in Congress convinced him to follow a strategy of silence. His later claims that he wanted to avert war are difficult to explain, and the Founders would not have understood how a mere president could decide whether a State legislature could convene.

Lincoln’s friend Duff Green (1791-1875) was a Kentucky-born politician and businessman who had served under General William H. Harrison in the War of 1812. He later practiced law in Missouri where he also served in the legislature and served as a diplomat under Presidents John Tyler and Zachary Taylor. During the war he manufactured iron for the South and operated the Dalton Arms Factory.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Power and Politics over Country

“Green and Lincoln did meet one more time. On April 5, 1865, Lincoln was stationed off the Virginia shore on the USS Malvern trying to decide whether to allow a Virginia legislature to convene since that State had no other government. As it happened, Duff Green was in Richmond at the same time . . . [and] asked for and was granted an audience with the president. The two old friends enjoyed an amiable discussion . . . Green recalled that Lincoln received him “with great kindness.”

The two men discussed the terms of peace and reconstruction. Lincoln said that all the Southern States had to do was “acknowledge the authority of the United States.”

Lincoln remembered their Springfield meeting four years earlier. The president told Green that he went to Washington “resolved to carry out in good faith” those same pledges that he gave when they met in Illinois. Lincoln insisted that he had been willing to sign a constitutional amendment prohibiting Congress from interfering with slavery in the States, a policy similar to what he communicated to Green in Springfield.

Green later contended that if Lincoln “had come to Washington in December, 1860, as I urged him to do, and had then exerted the like influence in favor of Mr. Crittenden’s resolution, extending the Missouri compromise line to the Pacific . . . who can doubt his influence . . . would have prevented the war?

Green believed Lincoln had wanted to avert a war. He alleged, however, that Lincoln’s conciliatory attitude “was carefully kept from the knowledge of the Southern people.” Green stated that if “any pains had been taken” to explain Lincoln’s position to the South, the hostilities may have ended. He blamed the Radical Republicans for deceiving both Lincoln and the Southern public. He believed the president sought peace but was overwhelmed by his party who initiated war in order to control the patronage and powers of the federal government.”

(Lincoln, Green and the Trumbull Letters, David E. Woodard; Civil War History, the Journal of the Middle Period, John T. Hubbell, editor, Kent State University, Vol. XLII, No. 3, September 1996, excerpts pp. -219)

Heroes for All Americans

The mid-1970s pardons of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis were only symbolic gestures that had little impact beyond political posturing, though the outpouring of respect and veneration of these great American leaders showed an America still exhibiting historical perspective. This was the same era that historian Emil Eisenschiml revisited the long-overlooked plot of Edwin Stanton’s Radical Republican’s plotting Lincoln’s death.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Heroes for All Americans

“In August 1975, President Gerald Ford signed Senate Joint Resolution 23 restoring full citizenship rights to Robert E. Lee. Three years later, President Jimmy Carter approved congressional action extending similar amnesty to Jefferson Davis.

A generation following Appomattox, “Marse Robert” had eclipsed all other Confederate rivals, becoming the region’s most celebrated hero. Theodore Roosevelt praised the Confederacy’s greatest general as a hero for all Americans. In the mid-1920s Congress heartily endorsed the refurbishing of the Custis-Lee mansion, naming the home a national shrine. Author Douglas Hall] Freeman painted a portrait of Lee as an individual beyond reproach in all respects of his public and private life.

After World War II . . . A host of symbolic measures indicated his status as a national hero: Virginia’s placement of a statue of the general in the Capitol building; the hanging of Lee’s portrait in the main reading room of the West Point Library; the christening of the nuclear-powered submarine the Robert E. Lee; and the opening of America’s centennial celebration of the Civil War with separate ceremonies at Grant’s and Lee’s tombs.

[The] intensity with which the general was venerated, especially in the South, made any criticism of him risky business. President Dwight Eisenhower learned this fact the hard way. In May, 1957, Ike visited the Gettysburg battlefield in the company of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. After their tour, the World War II heroes told reporters that both Meade and Lee deserved to be sacked for the errors they had committed at Gettysburg.

Senator Olin Johnson of South Carolina indignantly responded to Ike’s blasphemy” “It is offensive to my people to listen to a general who had at his disposal in his day the most wealth, men, materials of war, and the largest army, navy and air force in history, and hear him criticize a great Confederate general who, despite poverty, starvation, a ragged army, and practically no navy or munitions, managed to hold off and even invade the territory of the industrialized, wealthy, well-fed Yankees.”

Senator Harry Byrd, Sr. of Virginia . . . observed that “Lee needs no defense . . . his glorious record, his noble character, and his moral leadership give him a place in world history that no one can impair.” An editorial in the Washington Evening Star called the president’s post-tour comments a major setback for Republican efforts to woo votes in Dixie . . . “

[Senator Hubert] Humphrey of Minnesota melodramatically seconded a pardon: “I know I am what one would call a Yankee, but I am more than that: I am an American. One great American was Robert E. Lee.”

Shortly after Carter’s election, Senator Mark Hatfield [of Oregon] introduced in the Senate a bill “to restore Posthumously Citizenship to Jefferson F. Davis.” In lengthy remarks, Hatfield [stated that] the Confederate leader was “an honest public servant of principle the like of which is all too rare in these days when expedience is more ardently practiced than conviction defended.” Hatfield claimed that his resolution would “correct a grave injustice inflicted upon Davis by a vindictive conqueror.”

(Reconstruction in the Wake of Vietnam; The Pardoning of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, Francis MacDonnell, Civil War History, Vol. XL, 1994, Kent State University Press, excerpts, pp. 127-130)

Readmission a Legal Impossibility

In the following mid-1864 letter to Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, General E.W. Gantt of Arkansas questions the revolutionary logic of the radical Republicans in Congress who claimed sovereign States had become mere territories after unsuccessfully seeking political independence — he expected the North to live up to its alleged aim of preserving the Union as it was. Gantt was a Confederate brigadier who decided by 1863 that Arkansas could not achieve independence and should return to the Union — he became the only Southern general to commit treason.  Historian Bruce S. Allardice suggests that Gantt’s behavior was the result of insobriety, cowardice, opportunism or immorality.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Readmission a Legal Impossibility

Secession and Readmission; Letter to Hon. Charles Sumner from Gen. E. W. Gantt, of Arkansas.

FIFTH-AVENUE HOTEL, June 1, 1864.

Hon. Chas. Sumner:

SIR: But for your resolution and action in reference to Arkansas politics, I feel sure that I should not have appeared before the public again. The subject which calls forth this letter being entirely of a public character, induces me to address you through the columns of the New-York TIMES.

Upon the application of the State of Arkansas to resume her relations — temporarily disturbed — with the National Government, by sending her constitutionally-chosen representatives for that purpose, you have seen fit to introduce the following resolution, to wit:

Resolved, That a State pretending to secede from the Union, and battling against the National Government to maintain their position, must be regarded as a rebel State, subject to military occupation, and without representation on this floor, until it has been readmitted by a vote of both Houses of Congress; and the Senate will decline to entertain any application from any such rebel State until after such a vote of both Houses.

From this I infer that you intend to oppose our peace offering, and to break up, if possible, our loyal State organization, effected as it has been at immense personal hazard, and wonderful exertions and determination upon the part of our loyal people.

When you say that a “State pretending to secede” must be “readmitted” by a vote of both Houses of Congress, what are we to understand you to mean? Do you mean that the State really did secede? That is, that it got out of the “compact?” If that be so does it not occur to you that it went out as a State and became a separate sovereignty? If this be so, “readmission,” it strikes me, is a legal impossibility. The Sovereign Government of Arkansas should apply for “annexation” and not “readmission.” But do you mean that it only pretended it was out, while in point of fact it was in the Union? Then how could you “readmit” that which never was out? It would place the Government in the awkward attitude, it seems to me, of fighting against the people of a State because they “pretended to secede,” and yet had not, and at the same time declaring that they did go out and must be “readmitted.”

But do you mean that the secession ordinances passed by certain legislatures and conventions reduced the States in which the same were passed to Territories? If so, how? If the ordinances referred to put the States out, why they went out as States. It won’t do to say they had just enough sovereignty to scramble out of the Government, and that then they rumbled into Territories.

The sovereignty reserved that could take them out, could hold them up as States. As such, they could form compacts with other Governments, or new combinations of their own. They could not possibly work their way out of the Government, and being out, fall back to the Government as a part of its territory — no more than they could merge into the Russian possessions. A doctrine so dangerous might destroy the Government in a month. Secession ordinances passed by twenty States, reducing them to Territories, would stop the wheels of Government.

But you may intend this as a punishment because our State “pretended to secede.” If so, we are already punished enough. But why discriminate? Missouri pretended to secede, and so did Kentucky. There was no question raised over them. And Mr. BOULINEY, of Louisiana, remained in the Congress of the United States more than one year after Louisiana pretended to secede.

But, then, your opposition may arise from want of regularity in the reorganization. That it was without precedent I admit. That the people, groaning under anarchy, oppression and despair, wrought out a government from the wreck around them, with no beaten path to follow, is true.”

(New York Times, June 3, 1864)

 

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