Browsing "The United States Constitution"

“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 The General’s answer is comprehensive and abounds in historical references .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 Men of America’s Natural Aristocracy

American political theorist and historian Russell Kirk wrote that the Framers of the United States Constitution were gentlemen-politicians rather than philosophers, “whose perceptions of the human condition came from the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.” Kirk contrasted these learned men who fought to preserve their British heritage with the arrogant French revolutionaries who were drunk on theories and revenge, who opened the way for a self-appointed emperor. The men of America’s natural aristocracy governed the Republic from 1775 to 1825 — their Republic afterward frayed and was pulling apart by 1830. By 1850, constituent States were speaking loudly of withdrawal, and by 1861 it had unraveled completely with an American dictator enthroned.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Men of America’s Natural Aristocracy

“Sometimes the Constitution of the United States is commended as if it had been created out of whole cloth, overnight, from the glowing imagination of the Framers. That notion is far from the truth. Sometimes the Framers themselves are spoken of with the veneration like that accorded to the Hebrew prophets or the mystical founders of Greek cities. But actually the Constitution grew out of centuries of practical experience on either side of the Atlantic, rather than springing from ingenious fine-spun innovating theory.

Truly the Constitution is a bundle of compromises among interests and classes: a principal merit of the Framers was their ready recognition of this electable fact. As Burke said of government generally, it is a contrivance of human wisdom to supply human wants. In the sagacious words of Daniel Boorstin, “The American future was never to be contained in a theory.”

The politicians who framed the Constitution were not an elite of theorists, but an assembly of governors, in the old signification of that word “governor.” They were representatives of a class, in every former colony, that had exercised authority almost from the early years of British settlement in North America; they were drawn from a natural aristocracy.

Experience, education, and wealth, passed on from generation to generation of Americans, tended to develop a continuity of public influence within leading families; while the relatively broad franchises that came to pass in most colonies nevertheless gave provincial and local government a democratic cast.

Broadly speaking, it was the body of men familiar with America’s provincial and local governments who made both the Revolution and the Constitution. This was a class that, far from intending any subversion of the social and moral order in America, took alarm at Shay’s Rebellion and so forged a strong Constitution.

Long participation in provincial and local public affairs shaped this American natural aristocracy; while the French revolutionaries, for the most part, were men previously excluded from any effective exercise of power, and so naïve in great questions of political policy.”

(The Essential Russell Kirk, Selected Essays, George A. Panichas, editor, ISI Books, 2007, excerpts, pp. 452-453)

 

Saving the South for Southerners

The States’ Rights Democratic Party of the mid-1940s had no stronger advocate than Charleston News & Courier editor William Watts Ball.  Also known as the “Dixiecrats,” its platform in 1948 called for strict interpretation of the Constitution, opposed the usurpation of legislative functions by the executive and judicial departments, and condemned “the effort to establish in the United States a police nation that would destroy the last vestige of liberty enjoyed by a citizen.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Saving the South for Southerners

“A full year before the end of Roosevelt’s third term, Ball was again active in attempts to organize a Southern Democratic party. It was the spring of 1944, however, before the movement was underway in earnest. Through public contributions (Ball gave one hundred dollars) the anti-Roosevelt faction hoped to finance an advertising campaign in newspapers and on radio. The independent white Democrats would not present candidates in the primaries, but offer only a ticket of presidential electors pledged not to vote for Roosevelt.

They might back a favorite son for president, or they might better co-operate with the similarly-minded in other States in support of someone like Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia . . . in May anti-Roosevelt Democrats had held their first meeting in Columbia, with nineteen counties represented, and made plans for a State convention. The Southern Democratic Party had been reborn.

[Ball’s] News and Courier continued to urge the election of independent Democratic electors. If eleven to sixteen Southern States withheld their electoral votes, they could assure respect for their political policies.

But in spite of the untiring efforts of The News and Courier, aided principally by the Greenwood Index-Journal, the anti-Roosevelt movement did not develop. Very few people made financial contributions; the Southern Democratic Party could not wage an effective campaign. Once again South Carolina gave solid support to Roosevelt and the Democratic Party.  All the State schools except the Citadel, he charged, were part of the State political machine . . .”

But at that moment, the “second Reconstruction” was already underway . . . [and] emerging forces combined to force open the entire [racial] issue. The Negro migration northward had begun in earnest with World War I. By 1940, a small Negro professional and white-collar class resided in a number of northern cities and it used its growing political power to win greater equality of treatment there.

Because New Deal programs were designed to advance employment security, including that of Negroes, most northern Negroes abandoned their historic allegiance to the Republican Party. In cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Cleveland, the Democratic political machine depended heavily upon the Negro vote.

But already an earnest and vital independent political movement was underway [in 1948], in protest against the civil rights program of the Truman administration and the attitudes of the liberal court. Of 531 electoral votes, 140 were in the South; yet the North, East and West treated the South as a slave province. Other papers joined Ball in the demand for action; the [Columbia] State, like the News and Courier, called for a Southern third party.

On January 19th, in the State Democratic Party’s biennial convention, Governor Strom Thurmond was nominated for the office of president of the United States. The State’s national convention votes were to be withheld from Harry S. Truman. If Truman were nominated, South Carolina would not support the national party in the electoral college.

The State had not spoken so sharply since 1860; it would bolt rather than accept Truman. At the same time Governor Fielding L. Wright of Mississippi issued the call to revolt at the western end of the Deep South. The Southern governors’ conference . . . named its own political action committee, headed by Thurmond, which was to go to Washington . . . to demand concessions . . . from President Truman.

About two weeks later a delegation of governors met with Howard McGrath, National Chairman of the Democratic Party. When McGrath gave a flat “No” to their request that Truman’s anti-discrimination proposals be withdrawn, the governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas, and Arkansas called on Democrats to join a revolt against Truman. The South, they announced, was not “in the bag” anymore.

If the South united behind Thurmond, Truman would lose all its electoral votes and the election might be thrown to the House of Representatives, where with the votes of the South and the West, a man such as Thurmond would have a real chance. Whatever the outcome, the national parties would learn a lesson they would not soon forget — the “Solid South” would no longer be a dependable political factor.

“In the electoral college,” Ball advised, “lies the only chance to save the South for Southerners.”

(Damned Upcountryman, William Watts Ball, John D. Starke, Duke Press, 1968, excerpts, pp. 201-233)

 

Sacrificing the Substance of Individual Liberty

James D. Bulloch, born in Savannah and descended from Scottish forbears, was the foremost planner of naval affairs for the new American nation in 1861. His grandfather, Archibald Bulloch (1730-1777), guided Georgia’s Liberty Party in actions against oppressive British colonial measures and later served as a colonel in the Revolution. James remained in England after the war and died there in exile in 1901. It is said that Bulloch was encouraged to write his memoirs by nephew Theodore Roosevelt in the early 1880’s, which inspired Teddy’s later book on the War of 1812. Roosevelt praised his uncle and other Southern patriots for following their duty to fight for independence.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sacrificing the Substance of Individual Liberty

“In 1861 the disintegrating forces prevailed, and eleven of the Constituent Republics withdrew from the Union on the plea that the original conditions of Union had been broken by the others, and they formed a fresh confederation among themselves. The remaining States or Republics resisted that act of separation, and affirmed that the people of the whole United States were, or should be fused into, one nation, and that the division of the Union into States had, or should hereafter have, no greater political significance than the division of the several States into counties.

The Union of 1787 was dissolved in 1861 by the action of ten of the constituent republics. A new Union was formed in 1865 by the military power of the majority of States, compelling the minority to accept their view of the national compact. The former Union was a confederation of States, and was of course a Federal Republic; the latter Union is founded upon a fusion of the people into one nation, with a supreme centralized executive and administrative Government at Washington, and can no longer be called a Federal Republic; it has become an Imperial Republic.

The latter name gives some promise of greater strength and cohesion of the former, but the duration of the restored Union will depend very much on whether the people of the whole country fully realize, and are really reconciled to, the new dogma that each State is only an aggregate of counties, and that its political functions are only to consist in regulating such purely domestic concerns as the central authority in Washington may leave to its discretion.

If the majority who have effected the change in the conditions of the American Union are content to leave the management of public affairs to the professional politicians, the “caucuses,” and the “wire-pullers,” they will have fought in vain, and will find that to secure the semblance of a strictly national Union they have sacrificed the substance of individual liberty.”

(The Secret Service of the Confederate States in Europe, James D. Bulloch, Sagamore Press, 1959, excerpts, pp. 14-16)

The Original Confederacy

The Original Confederacy

The original governing document after the British colonies seceded from England was titled the Articles of Confederation, adopted on November 15, 1777, but not formally ratified by all thirteen States until March, 1781. Hence, the original American government was “Confederated,” the people (and their military arm) referred to as “Confederates,” and the flag they flew was a Confederate flag.

Interestingly, many of the Revolutionary leaders who formed this confederated government were not advocates of what they then knew as “democracy,” and they were unwilling to accept the idea that the Articles of Confederation were an expression of any eighteenth century democratic philosophy.

These leaders and creators of the Articles created a “separation of powers” which is often equated with today’s view of democracy and liberty. To James Madison and John Adams the purpose of such an instrument was to give both men of property and those without a voice in government as well as a check upon one another. Their fear was, that without this check, society could not prevent the exploitation which would probably ensue if either one got control of the government.

Also, the Articles were considered to be the constitutional expression of the philosophy of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, and what was considered to be “democracy” was written into the revolutionary State constitutions regarding legislative supremacy, governors and the judiciary subservient to legislatures, and churches losing their past privileges.

John Adams wrote in 1817 of those romanticizing the Revolution and forgetting the mighty political battles that took place then and afterward. “There is,” he wrote, “an overweening fondness for representing this country as the scene of liberty, equality, fraternity, union, harmony and benevolence. But let not your sons or mine deceive themselves. This country, like all others, has been a theater of parties and feuds for near two hundred years.”

That Revolutionary generation of English colonists had experienced the rule of the Mother Country for all their lives, and the newspapers of 1775-76 were rife with essays distrusting office-holders, insisting on annual elections, rotation in office and constitutional restrictions on holding political office. Americans of that time were lectured upon that men in power naturally lusted for more power and that restraints were needed on officeholders lest the peoples’ liberties be put in danger.

In 1787’s convention Edmund Randolph pointed out that the authors of the Articles of Confederation were wise and great men, but that “human rights were the chief knowledge of the time.” He followed this by stating that our chief danger arises from the democratic parts of our constitutions . . . that the powers of government exercised by the people swallows up the other branches . . . [and that none] of the [State] constitutions have provided sufficient checks against the democracy.”

As the governing document, or “constitution” of the United States from 1781 to 1789, the Articles simply dissolved (though deemed “perpetual” when ratified) in the latter year as 11 States then bound to it voluntarily seceded and formed a more perfect union – but initially without Rhode Island and North Carolina whose people were suspicious of the new constitution’s grant of additional power to the central government in Washington.

After those two States withdrew from the Articles and joined the other eleven, this new Constitution passed through serious ruptures such as New England’s threats of secession in 1814 and serious tariff crises, until finally collapsing in war between North and South in 1861.”

Bernhard Thuersam

The Revolution of 1787 Ends the Founders Union

Several attempts were made to revise or replace the original founding document, the Articles of Confederation, after their ratification in 1781. By the fall of 1786, a majority of Congress thought an amendment necessary to grant Congress the power to regulate trade, though members warned that a proposed constitutional convention might grant unlimited powers to a national government, and that such a convention would be dangerous to the liberties of the people. Two of New York’s three delegates to the convention were selected because of their opposition to any fundamental reform of the Articles; Virginia included in its delegation Richard Henry Lee (father of Robert E. Lee) and Patrick Henry, both of whom were outspoken opponents of centralized political power.  The nine States (of 13) that ratified the new Constitution seceded from the Articles of Confederation.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Revolution of 1787 Ends the Founders’ Union

“In proposing a second constitutional convention, [Elbridge] Gerry, [George] Mason and [Edmund] Randolph embraced the revolutionary decision of the convention to bypass the amendment procedures of the Article of Confederation. The convention delegates merely asked the members of the Confederation Congress to forward the Constitution to the States with a recommendation that the State legislatures call special conventions to assent to and ratify the Constitution. As soon as nine States had ratified the Constitution it would become operable among those [nine] States.

Gerry, Mason and Randolph accepted the basic outlines of that plan but wanted to allow the States to propose amendments to “be submitted to and finally decided on by another general convention” before the Constitution would finally become the law of the land [in nine States].

Under both proposals the Confederation Congress was being asked to act as an agent in its own destruction and the State legislatures, hitherto bastions of hostility to centralized power, to vest State conventions with the authority to adopt a new form of government that materially restricted their own powers.

Despite the enormity of these requests there was a considerable likelihood they would be approved . . . In addition, the membership of the [constitutional] convention and Congress overlapped significantly. Richard Henry Lee complained that this overlap was so great that “it is easy to see that Congress could have little opinion [of its own] upon the subject.”

Finally, the Federalists, as the proponents of the new Constitution chose to call themselves, seized the initiative. They had a concrete proposal and a clear-cut plan of action. The revolution of 1787 was well underway.

(The Politics of Opposition, Antifederalists and the Acceptance of the Constitution, Stephen R. Boyd, KTO Press, 1979, excerpt, pg. 15)

Monuments to Timeless Virtue and Infamy

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) formed after the war and quickly became a powerful organization whose political might led historians to see it as a pension lobby or “bloody-shirt” Republican club. The membership sustained the postwar Republican Party and Glided Age political corruption that followed the war, and no Northern politician’s campaign was complete unless he received the blessing of the GAR. The organization maintained the view that they saved the Union and that the South was guilty of treason, though the Constitution clearly states in Article III, Section 1: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only of levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” “Them” means the States comprising the United States.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Monuments to Timeless Virtue and Infamy

“A . . . theme that emerged from GAR memorializations of the 1880s was that the war had broad meaning, not to say a moral, that transcended individual combat experiences. With occasional exceptions . . . the authors of the personal war experiences left the moral unstated. But in campfire speeches and war lectures, the repeated lesson was one of national salvation: the war had maintained the Union.

Prewar social and economic differences between the sections, issues of free labor and political power in the West, and especially the questions of blacks and slavery received scant mention in celebrations of the war’s outcome. Instead, the grand achievement of the Northern armies had been to rescue the indivisible nation as it had existed before . . . The war was a mission accomplished; the nation, something maintained intact rather than something greatly changed. It was a rhetoric pf preservation.

Both Civil War armies invoked republican traditions; both pointed to the same Revolutionary symbols. The other great influence on popular historical thinking during the antebellum years was evangelicalism . . . in the North, evangelical crusades against sin, culminating in the antislavery movement, drew on images of battles and the Apocalypse.

Yankee reformers pictured it as the crossroads of history. Armageddon, a climatic struggle from which the nation would emerge redeemed. Hymns urged patriots to march; ministers spoke of millennial change. No longer was the Republic seen as an entity formed at the beginning; it needed to be actively saved, not passively preserved. History was to be shaped, not studied, for examples of virtue.

At the same time, the overwhelming importance of the Republic’s preservation required permanent and public commemoration. Veterans proclaimed the message of national preservation in Congress, where on pension questions they drew pointed inferences regarding the duty of the nation to its saviors. And in city after city, new monuments refuted in stone any notion of the Civil War’s “pastness.”

As long as ex-Confederates did not question the moral lesson of the war, they were treated cordially – in fact, they were sometimes contrasted favorably with “loyal” noncombatants. Especially after 1880, [GAR] posts and encampments occasionally socialized with veterans from the other side.

[In 1894], white Northerners and white Southerners were engaged in a veritable love feast of reconciliation, complete with Blue-Grey reunions, Lost Cause nostalgia, and Confederate war monuments (including the first to be permitted at Gettysburg).

When it came to drumming the lessons of the war into the next generation, however, the ex-Confederates were doomed forever to play the heavy, always on the side of error, always vanquished by the hosts of the righteous. In the words of GAR commander William Warner, “we were eternally right and . . . they were eternally wrong.”

The line dividing cordiality from hostility ran between those actions (such as lecture invitations) that implied only sociability between former foes and those (such as the erection of Confederate monuments and waving the Confederate flag) that seemed to be aimed at subverting the message of national salvation.

Union veterans commonly expressed the division by saying that while the former rebels might be fine fellows, their principles were, and always would be, wrong. In 1874 [a Massachusetts veteran] . . . objected to the decoration of Confederate graves on Memorial Day by saying “he had nothing but the kindest feelings toward those who fought against us . . . but . . . let it be understood that we distinguish between loyalty and disloyalty; the latter is the treason against which we fought, and the former we pay respect and tribute to.”

In 1891, [GAR CIC] John Palmer allowed that the Confederates had been gallant and said the GAR was willing to accept them as fellows “on the broad grounds of American citizenship and unconditional loyalty.” But he went on to denounce several GAR men who had marched in Atlanta parade that included the Confederate flag. In New York a GAR member was dishonorably discharged for toasting Jefferson Davis at a Southern banquet.

In general, Grand Army posts objected most strenuously to those behaviors or symbols that implied honor to the Confederate cause – a flag, a monument, a toast to a president, flowers on a grave. Nor was it with the proper exegesis of battles, for those conflicts were by definition one-time only events. The worry was not so much about the lauding of individual Confederates (unless they were symbolic individuals such as Davis), for they would die eventually.

Instead, GAR posts worried about transmitting the moral of the war to the next generation intact. If monuments were to call forth “public valor and virtue in all coming time,” the lessons of war could not be subject to historical change. And if the virtue of the Union was to be timeless, so must be the infamy of the Confederacy.”

(Glorious Contentment, the Grand Army of the Republic, 1865-1900; Stuart McConnell, UNC Press, 1992, excerpts, pp. 181; 186-188-190-192)

The Seductive Promises of Demagogues

The late M.E. Bradford understood that the centrality of freedom was the core of Southerners’ insistence on their right to govern their private and local affairs in their own way, and was the same for citizens of all other States. He held that “the only equality Americans can universally approve is accidental, a corollary of liberty or simple equality before the law with limited scope.” Bradford made his readers painfully aware of Lenin’s belief that the only way to make men equal is to treat them unequally.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Seductive Promises of Demagogues

“The wrath [Bradford] directed against Lincoln, like the wrath he directed against Julia Ward Howe, the authors of the Reconstruction amendments, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and all those who had imposed the teleological will of an instrumental government and judiciary upon an unsuspecting nation, had little to do with personal animosity.

It stemmed from his indignation against people he viewed as so intellectually blind as to be incapable of understanding the enormity they had wrought or so morally blind as not to care, provided only that they accomplished their immediate ends. Such attitudes, for Bradford, embodied the reverse – indeed the repudiation – of the obligations of stewardship and amounted to the despoiling of the children as well as the desecration of the fathers.

Bradford refused to apologize for the severity of his message – that the Northern victory had extracted a terrible cost from the country and its culture. Rejecting the cult of equality as the opiate of the intellectuals, Bradford rejected the fashionable identification of the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution, referring to “the Great Divide of the War Between the States.”

He explained: “it has been more and more the habit of our historians, jurists, and political scientists to read the Continental Enlightenment, and the Age of Revolution that was its political consequence, back into the beginnings of our national beginnings by way of an anachronistic gloss upon the Declaration of Independence.”

He constantly reminds his readers that the Constitution, not the Declaration, embodies the country’s law, which it exists to articulate and protect. Thus, he argues in an uncharacteristically optimistic vein, the “Constitution makes it difficult or even impossible for us to alter our political identity on whim or when momentarily carried away by the adjuration of demagogues.”

By the time Bradford died [in 1993], he had reason to know that the American political identity he cherished was under formidable assault, primarily at the hands of the Supreme Court justices – those supposed custodians and interpreters of the Constitution itself.

Experience and history taught Bradford, as he believed they had taught the Framers, that in politics one must conjoin the “caution of David Hume and the pessimism of Saint Paul,” especially with respect to the seductive promises of demagogues. In the time of the Framers, as in our own, he insisted, caution and pessimism should lead to a deep mistrust of the myths of equality with which demagogues love to seduce the more gullible of the citizenry, and he approvingly quoted Rufus King of Massachusetts, “the unnatural Genius of Equality [is] the arch Enemy of the moral world.”

(M.E. Bradford’s Historical Vision, EF & ED Genovese; A Defender of Southern Conservatism, M.E. Bradford and His Achievements, Clyde N. Wilson, editor, University of Missouri Press, 1999, pp. 79-82)

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)

Financing the War with Inflation

As Lincoln was unable to finance his war with the traditional tax and customs revenue sources, he turned to paper fiat money to be printed as needed, though the Constitution permits only gold and silver as legal tender. The predictable speculation in the value of greenbacks versus gold prices caused murky markets to emerge. In New York’s “Gold Room,” decisions were guided not so much by patriotic motives as the desire for profit. It was said that “Sectional feeling often entered largely into bull and bear contests in the Gold Room, and Union men and rebel sympathizers fought their battles sometimes, as much to gratify this as to make money.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Financing the War with Inflation

“To help finance the Civil War, the federal government began issuing “demand notes” in July 1861. These government obligations were not a legal tender currency and were freely convertible into gold upon presentation to a federal depository. During the course of 1861, the Union’s financial condition deteriorated, and in December the Treasury issues a very bleak report on the budgetary situation.

In the face of such news, bankers concluded that investors would lose confidence in the demand notes and the banks would soon experience a massive outflow of gold. On December 30, the banks suspended specie payments of gold [for greenbacks]. The government followed suit almost immediately.

Soon thereafter, in February 1862, Congress passed the first of the Legal Tender Acts. These acts authorized the government to issue “greenbacks” – a currency that was to be legal tender for both public and private debts. Of course, since demand notes were no longer convertible into gold, neither were greenbacks . . . [though] all available evidence indicates that the public believed that at some future date convertibility would be reinstated and all greenbacks would be redeemed in gold.

[Because Lincoln] was unable to finance the war with the available tax revenues . . . Greenbacks were a way of using inflation to pay for the war. Speculators knew that the degree to which the Union would have to rely on future greenback issues depended on just how much the war would ultimately cost. A long, expensive war would require more greenback issues and make it less likely that greenbacks would ever be exchanged for gold dollars on a one-for-one basis.

Not surprisingly, a formal market for buyers and sellers to trade gold came into existence within two weeks of the suspension of convertibility. The first organized dealings took place at the New York Stock Exchange on January 13, 1862. At about the same time a second market formed . . . in New York City . . . known as the Gold Room.

An important question for our purposes is how the gold market used the [political and war] information coming to it. Did the financial market react quickly to news that was available, or did it take several days to digest it? A closely related question is whether news of battles . . . reached all participants at the same time.

In a report on the burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, on July 31, 1864, the New York Herald explicitly noted that the government frequently withheld information from the public to minimize alarm and protect intelligence and sources.

The daily registry of the Gold Room was a quicker messenger of successes and defeats than the tardier telegrams of the Associated Press. A private secretary of a high official, with no capital at all to save his position, which gave him authentic information of every shaping of the chess game of war a full twenty hours in advance of the public, simply flashed to the words “sell, buy” across the wires, and trusted the honor of his broker for the rest.

If there was a sufficiently large number of “insiders” competing with each other, then the market would quickly transform war news into changes in the price of greenbacks, despite the fact that the news was not coming through published sources.

The observation of [New York Herald writer] Kinahan Cornwallis are consistent with this notion: “Almost every individual speculator in the Gold Room, whose transactions were large enough to make it of consequence, had a correspondent in the national capital, who sent him a telegraphic dispatch as occasion required . . .”

(Greenback Prices as Commentary on the Union Prospects, Guinnane, Rosen and Willard, Civil War History, The Journal of the Middle Period, Kent State University Press, December 1995, Volume XLI, No. 4, excerpts, pp. 315-318)