Browsing "Withdrawing from the Union"

To hold that African slavery was central to the South’s move to independence is far too simplistic and superficial; one could better conclude that the political partnership of two vastly different people and regions begun during the Revolution had fully unraveled after 80-some years. The constant agitation of violent slave insurrection in the South by fanatic abolitionists led to Southern secession, and the secession of the South caused the North to initiate war, invade and conquer the South, and then treat it as a subject economic colony.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Unionism and Secession in the South

One further caveat in thinking about Southern Unionism. Virtually all historians, including this one, are agreed today on the centrality of slavery in explaining the road to secession. Yet if we would understand the nature of Southern Unionism we cannot stop there in accounting for the abandonment of Unionist by sufficient Southerners to create the Confederacy. Human motivation and loyalties are more complex than that. A concern about the future of slavery was more often in the background than in the forefront of Southerners’ thinking about the Union.

Certainly it is difficult to show a clear causal line between direct involvement with slavery and attitudes toward secession. For one thing, too many unconditional Unionists . . . were slaveholders. For such persons the ownership of slaves was not sufficient reason for supporting secession. For another, most of the Southerners who made up the Confederacy were not directly connected with slavery at all. The majority of white Southerners, after all, did not own a single slave. Their concern for the institution of slavery could at best have been only an indirect motive for supporting secession and later the Confederacy.

It makes much more sense to see slavery as a shaper of Southern civilization and values than as an interest. The anxiety about the future of slavery was there because the future of the South was intimately tied up with the institution. But the role of slavery in moving individual Southerners from Unionism to secession was neither simple nor obvious. Precisely at what point an individual Southerner decided that he or she could no longer support the Union when it came into conflict with region depended upon many things, not only upon his or her immediate relationship to slavery.”

(The Other South, Southern Dissenters in the Nineteenth Century, Carl N. Degler, Harper & Row, 1974, page 122)

 

If War Must Come, I Prefer to Be With My Own People

In 1866, war governor of North Carolina Zebulon B. Vance addressed the Andrew Post, No. 15 of the Grand Army of the Republic and described his patriotic actions in April 1861. A prewar Unionist, Vance instructed the audience that Lincoln and his party offered no reasonable compromise or peaceful alternatives to the South peacefully withdrawing and seeking a more perfect Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

If War Must Come, I Prefer To Be With My Own People

“. . . [T]he people of North Carolina, more perhaps than those of any of the eleven seceding States, were devoted to the Union. They had always regarded it with sincerest reverence and affection, and they left it slowly and with sorrow. They were actuated by an honest conviction . . . that their constitutional rights were endangered, not be the mere election of Mr. Lincoln, as others did, but by the course which subsequent events were compelled to take in consequence of the ideas which were behind him.

The Union men of the State, of whom I was one, whatever may have been their doubts of the propriety of secession, were unanimous in the opinion that it was neither right nor safe to permit the general government to coerce a State. But when Fort Sumter was fired upon, immediately followed by Mr. Lincoln’s call for “volunteers to suppress the insurrection,” the whole situation was changed instantly.

The Union men had every prop knocked from under them, and by stress of their own position were plunged into a secession movement. I immediately, with altered voice and manner, called upon the assembled multitude to volunteer, not to fight against but for South Carolina. I said, if war must come I prefer to be with my own people. If we had to shed blood, I preferred to shed Northern rather than Southern blood.

If we had to slay, I had rather slay strangers than my own kindred and neighbors; and that it was better, whether right or wrong, that communities and States should go together and face the horrors of war in a body — sharing a common fate, rather than endure the unspeakable calamities of internecine strife.

To those at all acquainted with the atrocities which have been inflicted upon the divided communities of Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee, the humanity of my action will be apparent. I went and shared the fate of the people of my native State, having first done all I could to preserve the peace and secure the unanimity of the people to avert, as much as possible, the calamities of war.

I do not regret that course. I do not believe there is an honorable man within my hearing to-night who, under the same circumstances, would not have done as I did . . .”

(Life of Zebulon B. Vance, Clement Dowd, Observer Publishing and Printing House, 1897, pp. 439-442)

 

“They Have Made a Nation”

Lincoln appointed no men to his cabinet who were familiar with Southern sentiment or sensitivities – an act which might have avoided a collision and perhaps have truly “saved the Union.” The Republican Party won the contest and would not be denied the fruits of victory no matter the cost. Charles Francis Adams was appointed minister at London by Lincoln, somewhat appropriate as Adam’s grandfather himself viewed the presidency as monarchical. More important, Adams was a Republican politician with little regard for the American South and put party above the welfare of the country.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“They Have Made a Nation”

“For the post at London Lincoln had made one of his best appointments. As a boy [Charles Francis Adams] had witnessed stirring events in Europe; in the company of his mother he had taken the long and arduous winter journey by carriage from St. Petersburg to Paris to join his father John Quincy Adams. Passing through the Allied lines, he reached Paris after Napoleon’s return from Elba.

By 1861 he had served as legislator in Massachusetts, had become prominent as a leader of the “conscience” Whigs and the Free-Soilers, and had achieved the position of an influential leader of the national House of Representatives where his main contribution was as a moderate Republican earnestly engaged in the work of avoiding war.

Though depressed at the nomination of Lincoln, whom he never fully admired, he accepted appointment as minister to England and gave of his best as a loyal servant of the Lincoln administration.

Through all the diplomatic maneuvers there ran the central question of recognition of the Confederacy and the related questions of mediation, intervention and the demand for an armistice. Had the South won on any of these points, victory would have been well-nigh assured. By September of 1862 [Lord] Palmerston and Russell’s deliberations had reached the point where, in view of the failures of McClellan and Pope and the prospects of Lee’s offensive, Palmerston suggested “an arrangement upon the basis of separation” (i.e., Southern victory); while Russell, the foreign minister, wrote in answer that his opinion the time had come “for offering mediation . . . with a view to the recognition of the independence of the Confederates.”

[Just] at this juncture there came a bombshell in the speech of the chancellor of the exchequer, W.E. Gladstone, at Newcastle (October 7) in which he said:

“Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South have made an army; they are making, it appears, a navy; and they have made what is more important than either, — they have made a nation . . . We may anticipate with certainty the success of the Southern States so far as regards their separation from the North.”

(The Civil War and Reconstruction, James G. Randall, D.C. Heath & Company, 1937, pp. 461-462; 468-469)

Vichy Rule in North Carolina

The victorious North installed a native proconsul in 1865 to rule North Carolina, who acceded to the various constitutional fictions emanating from the radical Northern Congress. That proconsul acted as if no military overthrow of free government had taken place in his own State, and committed treason by adhering to the enemy. North Carolina and the South were ruled by “Vichy” regimes emanating from Washington, as France later be ruled from Berlin.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Vichy Rule in North Carolina

“In obedience to the proclamation of Provisional Governor [William] Holden, the State Convention met at noon on Monday, the 2nd instant [2 October 1865]. The permanent President is Honorable E.G. Reade, of Person County. He is regarded as one of the best jurists in the State, was a Whig and an opponent of secession and State rights, and is now provisional judge of the eighth circuit by appointment of the Governor.

The Governor’s message came in on the second day. He takes it for granted that the Convention will recognize the abolition of slavery, provide that it shall not be re-established, and submit the amended Constitution to a vote of the people. [Governor Holden stated:]

“North Carolina attempted, in May 1861, to separate herself from the Federal Union. This attempt involved her, with other slaveholding States, in a protracted and disastrous war, the result of which was a vast expenditure of blood and treasure on her part, and the practical abolition of domestic slavery. She entered the Rebellion a slaveholding State, and emerged from it a non-slaveholding State. In other respects, so far as her existence as a State and her rights as a State are concerned, she has undergone no change.

Allow me to congratulate you, gentlemen, upon the favorable circumstances which surround you, while engaged in this great work of restoring the State to her former and natural position. It is my firm belief that the policy of the President in this respect, which is broad, as liberal, and as just as the Constitution itself, will be approved by the great body of the people of the United States . . . our State will enjoy, in common with the other States, the protection of just laws under the Constitution of our fathers.”

(The South Since the War: As Shown by Fourteen Weeks of Travel and Observation in Georgia and the Carolinas, Sidney Andrews, Ticknor and Fields, 1866, pp. 133-134)

Virginians Choose Self-Determination

Virginians in 1861 deliberated on continuing their voluntary relationship with the federal government created by the States, remembering Jefferson’s words his Kentucky Resolutions of 1798:

” . . . reserving, each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government; and that whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force: that to this compact each State acceded as a State, and is an integral party, its co-States forming, as to itself, the other party: that the government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among powers having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Virginian’s Choose Self-Determination

“James W. Sheffey, speaking five days before President Lincoln’s inauguration said:

“We love the Union, but we cannot se it maintained by force. They say the Union must be preserved — she can only be preserved through fraternal affection. We must take our place — we cannot remain neutral. If it comes to this and they put the question of trying force on the States which have seceded, we must go out . . . We are waiting to see what will be defined coercion. We wait to see what action the new President will take.”

Thomas Branch, speaking the day after President Lincoln’s inaugural address said:

“My heart had been saddened and every patriotic heart should be saddened, and every Christian voice raised to Heaven in this time of our trial. After the reception of Mr. Lincoln’s inaugural, I saw gentlemen rejoicing in the hotels. Rejoicing for what sir? For plunging ourselves and our families, our wives and children in civil war? I pray that I may never rejoice at such a state of things. But I came here to defend the rights of Virginia and I mean to do it at all hazards; and if we must go to meet our enemies, I wish to go with the same deliberation, and with the same solemnity that I would bend the knee in prayer before God Almighty.”

George W. Brent, speaking on the 8th of March said:

“Abolitionism in the North, trained in the school of Garrison and Phillips, and affecting to regard the Constitution as “a league with Hell and a covenant with death,” has with a steady and untiring hate sought a disruption of this Union . . . Recognizing as I have always done, the right of a State to secede, to judge of the violation of its rights and to appeal to its own mode for redress, I could not uphold the Federal Government in any attempt to coerce the seceded States to bring them back in the Union.”

(Virginia’s Attitude Toward Slavery and Secession, Beverley Munford, L.H. Jenkins Printer, 1909, pp. 265-267)

The War Against Reason

The War Against Reason

“June 7 [1861], Crawfordville [Georgia]:

From present indications it would seem that we did not cut loose from the North too soon. They will go into anarchy or despotism, The only hope for constitutional liberty on this continent is now with us; and whether we shall successfully pass through the ordeal in store for us time alone can determine.”

September 3 [1861]:

“I see no end to the war – not the slightest prospect of peace. So far from it, all the signs of a protracted conflict are more portentous to me than they have even been. The war on the part of the North is founded on no rational principle. It is against principles, against interest, and against reason; and with nations it is as with individuals when they act against reason, there is no accounting for their conduct or calculating upon it on any rational principles.

This is but the beginning. The guillotine, or its substitute, will soon follow. The reign of terror there has not yet fully commenced. The mob, or “wide-awake” spirit, has not the control there yet, but it will have before the end. All the present leaders will be swept from the board. They will be deposed or hung to make way for worse men who are yet to figure in this great American drama . . . We have a great conflict before us, and it will require all our energy, our resources, and patriotism, under a favoring Providence, to bear us safely through it.”

(Life of Alexander H. Stephens, Richard M. Johnston & William H. Browne, J.B. Lippincott & Company, 1883, page 407)

Betrayed by Yankees Perverting the Constitution

The presidential messages of Jefferson Davis were filled with assertions of the South’s legal right to secede and form a more perfect union, and determine its own form of government to the letter of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. Not losing sight of this, even in early 1865, one Confederate congressman stated that “This is a war for the Constitution, it is a constitutional war.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Betrayed by Yankees Perverting the Constitution

“Contributors to Confederate periodicals explored parallels between the Confederacy and other fledgling nations or independence movements – the Dutch republic, the “young kingdom of Italy,” and the Polish and Greek rebellions.

But the authors were careful to dissociate the South from genuinely radical movements; it was the conservative European nationalism of the post-1848 period with which the Confederacy could identify most enthusiastically. The Dutch struggle, an essayist in the July, 1862, issue of the Southern Presbyterian Review explained approvingly, was like the Confederate, for in both situations, “not we, but our foes, are the revolutionists.”

The Daily Richmond Enquirer was even more explicit about the Poles:

“There is nothing whatever in this movement of a revolutionary, radical or Red Republican character. It is the natural, necessary protest and revolt of, not a class or order, but an ancient and glorious nation, against that crushing, killing union with another nationality and form of society. It is . . . the aristocratic and high-bred national pride of Poland revolting against the coarse brute power of Russian imperialism . . . At bottom, the cause of Poland is the same cause for which the Confederates are now fighting.”

The Southern government welcomed a Spanish analogy between Napoleon’s invasion of Spain and northern advances across the Potomac. British recognition of the new Italian state encouraged [Robert] Toombs to see parallels there, as well. “Reasons no less grave and valid than those which actuated the people of Sicily and Naples,” he explained, had prompted the Confederacy to seek its independence.

But the nationalist movement with which the Confederates most frequently identified was . . . the American War of Independence. A central contention of Confederate nationalism, as it emerged in 1861, was that the South’s effort represented a continuation of the struggle of 1776. The South, Confederates insisted, was the legitimate heir of American revolutionary tradition. Betrayed by Yankees who had perverted the true meaning of the Constitution, the revolutionary heritage could be preserved only by secession. Southerners portrayed their independence as the fulfillment of American nationalism.

Secession represented continuity, not discontinuity; the Confederacy was the consummation, not the dissolution, of the American dream. A sermon preached in South Carolina explained that “The doctrines of the original Puritans were, and are, the doctrines of the Bible . . . but the descendants of the Puritans have gone far astray from the creed of their forefathers.”

[Southerners strived] to avoid the dangerous “isms” – feminism, socialism, abolitionism – that had emerged from Northern efforts at social betterment. But the logic of Confederate nationalism . . . was to prescribe significant shifts in the Southern definition of Christian duty. Secession thus became an act of purification, a separation from the pollutions of decaying Northern society, that “monstrous mass of moral disease,” as the Mobile Evening News so vividly described it.”

(The Creation of Confederate Nationalism, Drew Gilpin Faust, LSU Press, 1988, pp. 13-14, 27, 29-30)

The War of Conquest

The War of Conquest

“The only proper title of our war is “the war of conquest.” I always speak of it so. To call it a civil war is to acknowledge that the States, which are now merely counties of a government at Washington, were not the sovereignties they were until 1865.

Then we had a “Union” based on “the consent of the governed”; now we have a “nation,” founded on force like the monarchies of Europe. “Civil war,” therefore, does not express the truth. If England and France go to war . . . would it be called a “civil war?” Nor the war between the sovereign States of the North against the Confederate States.

Neither let us speak of the “Union troops” and the “ex-Confederates.” Are we not now just as much Confederate as ever? I don’t like the “ex.” “X” is an unknown quantity; and the world knows our quality and found out how small was our quantity when it was discovered that with only six hundred thousand men, all told, we kept out of Richmond for four years twenty-five hundred thousand men of the other nation. Let our war be known as what it was in reality, the “war of conquest.”

(Rev. P.G. Robert, Chaplain, Thirty-fourth Virginia Infantry, Confederate Veteran, November, 1898, page 520)

“The Argument is Exhausted . . .”

Those in South Carolina with Unionist views in late 1860 realized that the revolutionary Republicans of the North would agree to no compromise, and a secession convention received wide support among them. This encouragement for South Carolina’s independent action was exemplified by Charlestonian Richard Yeadon stating on November 15 that he had been “amongst those rather noted for their devotion to the Union,” but that “he worshipped at that shrine no longer.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“The Argument is Exhausted . . .”

“In the December 6 election of delegates to the secession convention voting in most places was light, a fact that has sometimes been interpreted as indicating a strong reaction from the secession enthusiasm so manifest at the time of the passage of the convention bill. Actually the light vote must be explained by the absence, in most places, of a contest.

When the secession convention met December 17, South Carolina was confident that her action would soon be followed by other States. Governor Gist, in his message to the legislature at the end of November, had stated that there was not the least doubt that Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Texas and Arkansas would immediately follow, and eventually all the South. Several days before the convention assembled, John A. Elmore and Charles E. Hooker, commissioners from Alabama and Mississippi respectively, arrived in Columbia. They interviewed practically every member of the legislature and the assembling convention, and positively guaranteed secession in their States.

Early in December a caucus of twenty-six Southern congressmen from eight States met and unanimously decided that immediate action by South Carolina was desirable. Soon thereafter the very encouraging address of the Southern congressmen to their constituents appeared:

“The argument is exhausted. All hope of relief in the Union through the agency of committees, Congressional legislation, or constitutional amendment, is extinguished, and we trust the South will not be deceived by appearances or the pretense of new guarantees. In our judgment the Republicans are resolute in the purpose to grant nothing that will or ought to satisfy the South. We are satisfied the honor, safety, and independence of the Southern People require the organization of a Southern Confederacy – a result to be obtained only by separate State secession.”

Assembling at the Baptist church in Columbia December 17, the convention called D.F. Jamison, delegate from Barnwell. If elections meant anything, he said, the State should secede as quickly as possible. The greatest honor of his life, he said, would be to sign as chairman of the convention an ordinance of secession.”

(South Carolina Goes to War, 1860-1865, Charles Edward Cauthen, UNC Press, 1950, pp. 63-68)

Lee’s Loyalty and Interest

The New England philosopher Josiah Royce wrote in his “Philosophy of Loyalty” that it “seems clear that the correctness of one’s judgment is not the test of loyalty,” and that “one who makes a decision, after due care and investigation, and remains steadfast, therefore constitutes loyalty. Thus did he select Robert E. “Lee as an example of the loyal man.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lee’s Loyalty and Interest

“[Royce] maintains that Lee fairly considered and honestly decided the question at issue between Virginia and the United States and was steadfast therein. Charles Francis Adams came to the same conclusion. “As to Robert E. Lee individually,” says Adams, “I can only repeat . . . [that] I hope I should have been filial and unselfish enough to have done as Lee did.”

Now it must be conceded that every man in the seceding States, whether he would or no, had to decide whether he would adhere to his State or to the Nation, and if he decided honestly and put self-interest behind him, he decided right.

With Lee it was not a question of the constitutional right of Virginia to withdraw from the Union; a more trying ordeal confronted him: What should be his action after Virginia actually withdrew? In this situation Lee had no misgivings; his allegiance was to Virginia.

But, in arriving at this decision, he was not dogmatic, for he realized that there might be two sides to the question. In a letter of April 20 to his cousin, Roger Jones, of the United States Army, he stated that he entirely agreed with him in his notions of allegiance, but he could not advise him. “I merely tell you what I have done that you may do better.”

This sentence has been subjected to criticism, yet it is characteristic of the style of Lee and of Southern conservatives generally. Though it is not self-deprecating it is not an admission of error. It does not affirm that there is something better, but that if there is the young man should do it. The sentence is susceptible of another construction: Lee was quietly boasting and implied that there was nothing better! But the context leads to the opposite conclusion. Such under-statements mark the cultured Southerner of the period.

Lee did not complain of Southern officers who felt it their duty to remain in the Union – other might choose this course but he could not. No more could have laid violent hands on Virginia than on his own father. If to fight against the Union caused him to shed tears of blood, to have fought against Virginia would have caused him to lose self-respect.

[George H.] Thomas, a Virginian, remained true to the Union; so did [Montgomery] Meigs of Georgia, and [Winfield Scott . . . That these men were loyal Lee did not doubt. When Thomas was asked how he could fight against Virginia, he replied, “I have educated myself not to feel.”

As to Scott, he was an old man and had no local ties; he was as much at home in London as in Richmond. [Lee’s cousin] Admiral Samuel P.] Lee was once asked the question propounded to Thomas and answered, “When I find the word Virginia in my commission I will join the Confederacy.” This reply seems technical.

If Washington had so concluded, when he read the King’s Commission, he would not have led the Continentals against the Crown. And what Washington did, Lee did. “For,” as Lee declared, “Washington found no inconsistency in fighting, at one time, with the English against the French and, at another, with the French against the English.”

Lee, indeed, saw an analogy between the Revolution of 1776 and the Revolution of 1861. Colonists threw off the yoke of Great Britain, in ’61 eleven Southern States threw off the yoke of the North. In each the act was one of revolution. Lee maintained that a government held together by coercion – such as Lincoln’s call for troops would create – was but the semblance of a government. He remembered that Washington himself had declared, “There is nothing that binds one country or one State to another but interest.”

(Robert E. Lee, a Biography, Robert W. Winston, William Morrow & Company, 1934, pp 94-96)

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