Aug 19, 2018 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Cotton Profiteering on the Red River

Cotton Profiteering on the Red River

The official intent of the early 1864 Red River Campaign was to forcibly restore the US flag to Texas soil and thus serve as a warning to Louis-Napoleon and Maximilian, though the real motivation was the seizure of vast quantities of Southern cotton needed by New England mills and export to England at high profit. As prior to the war, neither New England mill owners, Manhattan banks nor the British, the latter being firmly responsible for planting African slavery upon American shores, experienced any moral qualms regarding cotton produced by the labor of African bondsmen. In the words of historian E. Merton Coulter: “Business morality reached a very low ebb.”  The C.A. Weed Company below has been described as “either commission merchants or US Treasury agents, acting for several others.” General Banks was reportedly offered a $100,000 bribe to ensure maximum cotton bale acquisition.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Cotton Profiteering on the Red River

“Interest in upper Louisiana cotton and an expedition up the Red River was reignited [in January 1864] by the arrival of three thousand bales of cotton in [occupied] New Orleans from upriver Natchez, Mississippi. Michael Hahn, who would soon be elected governor of the Lincoln-loyal Louisiana State government, wrote the president that the arrival from Natchez “produced such a sensation as to cause a large number of persons to take the oath of allegiance in order to resume their business.”

Within a few months, a US marshal in Louisiana wrote Lincoln, “Commerce is still King. You have it in your power to reduce the price of gold, pacify the clamor for cotton from abroad, make friends for yourself and country and put into the exchequer from this department some $30-$40 million.”

On January 23, 1864, General [Nathaniel] Banks replied to a letter from General in Chief Halleck that [he] had completely accepted Halleck’s view regarding the merits of an advance up the Red River [to seize additional Southern cotton]. Earlier that month, Banks learned that two Confederate officers were willing to be bribed in order to ensure that massive quantities of cotton were not burned ahead of an advancing Union army, as otherwise required by Confederate law.

Banks was an ambitious politician with eyes on the White House. He knew that if he could deliver sizable quantities of cotton to England, powerful politicians would be influenced to look favorably on a Banks candidacy. As described by author Robert Kerby [Kirby Smith’s Confederacy, 1972]:

“[In the Trans-Mississippi theater, whenever] a river steamboat churned from Shreveport or Alexandra, Louisiana, with a cargo of cotton consigned to New Orleans, it was fairly obvious that responsible people were permitting trade across the lines. Rebel customs officials collected the duties due on smuggled shipments . . . while New York financiers openly dealt in shares of Confederate cotton.

Swarms of Northern cotton buyers, bearing licenses signed by Lincoln himself, endured the rude hospitality of Shreveport, while agents dispatched by [General] Kirby Smith . . . became accustomed to the amenities of New Orleans and Washington.

Banks gathered a total of only about four thousand cotton bales, of which twenty-five hundred went to C.A. Weed & Company in New Orleans. Earlier, Weed had been a business partner of General [Benjamin] Butler’s shady older brother, Andrew. [Also, Northern Admiral David] Porter is estimated to have collected over $90,000 before [the US Congress altered cotton seizure protocols].”

As Confederate Major-General Richard Taylor, whose army pursued Banks, remembered: “In [the enemy’s army’s] rapid flight from Grand Ecore to Monette’s Ferry, a distance of forty miles, the Federal burned nearly every house on the road. In pursuit we passed the smoking ruins of homesteads, by which stood weeping women and children.”

(Trading with the Enemy; The Covert Economy During the American Civil War, Philip Leigh, Westholme, 2014, excerpts pp. 112-113; 122)

 

Peaceable Americans Form a More Perfect Union

In President Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address he pointed out that “sovereign States here represented have proceeded to form this Confederacy; and it is an abuse of language that their act has been denominated a revolution. They formed a new alliance, but within each State its government remained.” He added simply, “The agent through which they communicated changed.” Thus there was no “destruction of the Union” as was charged by the North, but merely a reduction in the number of constituent States forming the union of 1787.

Bernhard Thuersam www.Circa1865.org

 

Peaceable Americans Form a More Perfect Union

“On February 15, 1861, before the arrival of Mr. Davis at Montgomery to take the oath of office, the Congress passed a resolution providing “that a commission of three persons be appointed by the President-elect as early as may be convenient after his inauguration and sent to the government of the United States, for the purpose of negotiating friendly relations between that government and the Confederate States of America, and for the settlement of all questions of disagreement between the two governments, upon principles of right, justice, equity and good faith.”

Truly, as Mr. [Alexander] Stephens, of Georgia, one of the delegates to this Montgomery Congress, says . . . “[the Confederate Congress] were no such men as revolutions or civil commotions usually bring to the surface . . . Their object was not to tear down, so much as it was to build up with the greater security and permanency.” And we may add that they meant to build up, if so permitted, peaceably.

In this spirit of amity and justice, the first act of the Louisiana State convention, after passing the ordinance of secession [from union with the United States], was to adopt, unanimously, a resolution recognizing the right to free navigation of the Mississippi River (which flows down from Northern States of the great inland basin and empties into the sea within the confines of Louisiana), and further recognizing the right of egress at that river’s mouth and looking to the guaranteeing of these rights.

President Davis’ inaugural address, delivered February 18, 1861, breathe the same spirit of friendship toward our brothers of the North. He said in part:

“Our present political situation . . . illustrates the American idea that governments rest on the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to abolish them at will whenever they become destructive of the ends for which they were established.”

(Living Confederate Principles, Lloyd T. Everett, Southern Historical Society Papers, No. II, Volume XL, September 1915; Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1991, excerpts pp. 24-25)

 

The Second War on the Liberties of American Citizens

In September 1864, the New York World editorialized “for the simple reason that, after [peace candidate George B. McClellan’s] inauguration, the character of the war will have so changed that the Southern people will no longer have a sufficient motive to stand out.” Despite a critical New York press, Lincoln barely won the State’s 212 electoral votes in November 1864 against McClellan, the manipulated soldier vote assisting greatly in the .92% margin of victory. After Lincoln’s assassination in mid-April 1865, the Yonkers Herald-Gazette condemned it as “the darkest crime” but added that “it might have been a wise move at the beginning of the war during the darker days of the struggle.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Second War on the Liberties of American Citizens

“For the Democrats of Westchester County [New York], the presidential contest of 1864 appears as the last opportunity for opposition to Lincoln, his policies, and the future course of the war. This time, they could rally around a single candidate, George B. McClellan.

For Mary Lydig Daly, having Lincoln as president once again was a repulsive thought. [She] wrote in her diary . . . “We are at present ruled by New England, which was never a gentle or tolerant mistress, and my Dutch and German obstinate blood begins to feel heated to see how arrogantly she dictates and would force her ideas down our throats, even with the bayonet.”

In 1864, McClellan made it clear he would continue the war to its successful conclusion, that is, the restoration of the Union as it was. He did not advocate “peace at any price,” in spite of the sentiments of some members of his party.

Should he have won the presidency in 1864, he would have dismantled the repressive aspects of Lincoln’s policies against civil liberties and civilians. He would have undone the Republican experiments in social engineering, especially emancipation.

When his Northern solders commented on the evils of slavery (many of them having seen the institution for the first time), what they were really seeing were the consequences and disorder of emancipation. The Reconstruction Era presented a clear picture of what that was like, resulting in “nothing but freedom” for the ex-slaves.

When Lincoln was nominated that June [1864], the Yonkers Herald-Gazette . . . commented “Another four years of “Honest old Abe” would leave nothing but the shadow of a Republic on the American continent. The Republican papers in the county, such as the rival Yonkers Statesman, trotted out their familiar epithet of “disloyalty” against this paper and other Democratic sheets . . .

The Yonkers Herald-Gazette retorted: “We confess to the smallest possible amount of respect for the Republican professions of “loyalty,” or Republican charges of “disloyalty.” The word is not American, nor Republican even – here it originally expressed the treasonable attachment of the loyal Tories to George the Third, in his wanton war against American liberty; and as now used, it general means partisan devotion to Abraham Lincoln, not in resistance to a Southern Rebellion, but in a would-be second war on the liberties of American citizens.”

(The Last Ditch of Opposition: The Election of 1864 and Beyond; Yankees & Yorkers: Opposition to Lincoln’s Policies in Westchester County, New York, and the Greater Hudson Valley, Richard T. Valentine; Northern Opposition to Mr. Lincoln’s War, D. Jonathan White, editor, Abbeville Institute Press, 2014, excerpts pp. 204-206)

Awful Sacrifices and Doomed Assaults

Northern General George Meade knew the futility of massed charges of men against a strongly entrenched opponent, the latter was his position at Gettysburg versus Lee. Though Meade was characterized as “failed, maladroit and weak-willed,” his subordinates praised their superior’s courage in ordering withdrawals in the face of strong Southern positions. They were painfully aware that “Meade had only snap his fingers” and there would have been “ten thousand wretched, mangled creatures” lying on the valley slopes. By the end of 1863, “courage” to some had become the will to renounce the charge; Lincoln and the Radicals desired relentless assaults and mass-carnage.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Awful Sacrifices and Doomed Assaults

“Even before the assault at Cold Harbor, [Northern] soldiers entering their fourth year of war understood perfectly what the result would be. They knew that the Confederates had had thirty-six hours in which to prepare their positions and that by that stage of the war any attack under such circumstances was doomed.

Charles Wainwright thought it absurd that Grant should simply repeat here the order “which has been given at all such times on this campaign, viz: “to attack along the whole line.”

On the eve of battle, Union soldiers who had glimpsed some part of the Southern defenses or heard them described by the “news-gatherers” were, Wilkinson reported, depressed: “Some of the men were sad, some indifferent; some so tired of the strain on their nerves that they wished they were dead and their troubles over . . . and though they had resolved to do their best, there was no eagerness for the fray, and the impression among the intelligent soldiers was that the task cut out for them was more than men could accomplish.”

Indeed, numbers of soldiers wrote their names on small pieces of paper and pinned them to their coats, in a hope, signaling hopelessness, that their bodies would not go unidentified.

On June 15, 1864, when Grant’s army finally reached the James [River] at a cost of 60,000 casualties, a number equivalent to the size of Lee’s army at the outset of the campaign, the Union regular Augustus Meyers felt the “gloomy and depressing effect” of such “awful sacrifices without any advantages.”

When the Twenty-seventh Maine’s tour of duty was about to expire just prior to the battle of Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln authorized the award of the Medal of Honor to each soldier who would reenlist. Three hundred agreed to remain on duty as “emergency troops,” but medals were issued in error to all 864 members of the regiment. The Twenty-seventh Maine had seen no battle before Gettysburg; its remnant played no role at Gettysburg.

Similarly, so many brevet (i.e., honorary) promotions were awarded, Augustus Meyers complained, that they “seemed to lose dignity” and became objects of ridicule. His friends in the ranks began to refer to mules as “brevet horses” and to camp followers as “brevet soldiers.” Such awards, moreover, seemed seldom to recognize battlefield bravery.

On November 28, Meade probed Lee’s position [at Mine Run] and prepared for a large-scale assault. Meanwhile, Federal rank and file had an opportunity to judge for themselves the strength of the defense. “All felt it would be madness to assault,” Robert Carter of the Twenty-second Massachusetts said. “I felt death in my very bones all day.” George Bicknell of the Fifth Maine wrote that there was not “a man in our command who did not realize his position. Not one who . . . did not see the letters [of] death before his vision . . . [N]ever before nor since had such a universal fate seemed to hang over a command.

[Meade] canceled the assault and on December 1 ordered his army back across the Rapidan, a retreat into winter quarters.”

(Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War, Gerald F. Linderman, The Free Press, 1987, excerpts, pp. 161; 163-164)

George Davis’s Last Public Address

Renowned Wilmington, North Carolina attorney and statesman George Davis served as the last attorney general of the Confederate States of America, 1864-1865. He was selected as a North Carolina delegate to the Washington Peace Conference of February 1861, and was elected to the North Carolina Senate before becoming Attorney General. His eminent bronze statue stands in downtown Wilmington, erected and dedicated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1911.  Davis was said to have little toleration for new ideas and did not believe in popular education – it was a heresy with him. He was a Cavalier, not a Puritan, and stated that “this thing you boys are advocating, called progress, and the introduction of new notions is wrong. It is but synonym for graft and rascality.” Read more about Davis at www.cfhi.net.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

George Davis’ Last Public Address

George Davis’s last public address was a memorial of his former chief, President Jefferson Davis, in December 1889, on which occasion he spoke without notes in Wilmington’s famous Thalian Hall Opera House. Already in feeble health, George Davis spoke of his fallen President being a “high-souled, true-hearted Christian gentleman, and if our poor humanity has any higher form than that, I know not what it is.”  Davis ended his last oration with:

“My public life was long since over; my ambition went down with the banner of the South, and, like it, never rose again. I have had abundant time in all these quiet years, and it has been my favorite occupation to review the occurences of that time, and recall over the history of that tremendous struggle; to remember with love and admiration the great men who bore their parts in its events. 

I have often thought what was it that the Southern people had to be most proud of in all the proud things of their record?  Not the achievement of our arms!  No man is more proud of them than I, no man rejoices more in Manassas, Chancellorsville and in Richmond; but all the nations have had their victories.

There is something, I think, better than that, and it was this, that through all the bitterness of that time, and throughout all the heat of that fierce contest, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee never spoke a word, never wrote a line that the whole neutral world did not accept as the very indisputable truth.

Aye, truth was the guiding star of both of them, and that is the grand thing to remember; upon that my memory rests more proudly than upon anything else. It is a monument better than marble, more durable than brass. Teach it to your children, that they may be proud to remember Jefferson Davis.”

 

Un-American Union of Force

The party of Seward and Lincoln fielded its first presidential candidate in 1854; in the space of another seven years this party succeeded in alienating nearly half the country, waged bloody war in Kansas, forced a State to peacefully withdraw from the Union, and plunged the country into a bloody and destructive war that led to the deaths of a million people.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Un-American Union of Force

“Finally, a new party was formed, with its primary object, as professed, the exclusion of the South from the common territories that had been acquired by the common blood and the common treasure of the South and the North.

And, significantly, early in its history, or as soon (1860) as it had acquired material growth and substantial prestige, this new political party, already thus avowedly sectional in its principles, made a sectional “protective” tariff one of its demands.

And when it had elected a president (by a sectional and a minority popular vote, be it remembered), and so caused a disruption of the union of States, “protection” was a primary means employed to support the war that followed – a war of aggression and conquest waged by this party to secure both its own continued supremacy and the new consolidated and un-American union of force in place of the pristine confederated union of choice which itself had had done so much to destroy; a war in which Negro emancipation “in parts of the Southern States” was incidentally proclaimed as a “military measure,” the thirteenth amendment coming later to extend and validate this unconstitutional proceeding.

“Un-American union of force,” I said; we must remember that widespread opposition to the war of conquest against the South manifested itself in the North, and that the myriads of immigrants from centralist, “blood and iron” Germany had much to do with turning the scale in the North in support of Lincoln’s and Seward’s war.

In these aliens there had arisen “a new king which knew not Joseph,” who had no inconvenient recollections of ’76 to hold him in check.”

(Living Confederate Principles, Lloyd T. Everett, Southern Historical Society Papers, No. II, Volume XL, September 1915; Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1991, excerpts pp. 22-23)

Aug 14, 2018 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on The Milk of the Cocoanut

The Milk of the Cocoanut

Between 1808 and 1832, tariff protection for New England shipping interests was the most important economic debate in the country. Though by 1860 constant resistance by the Southern States had kept rates relatively in check — and this was the primary income of the federal government — after sufficient States had seceded, the new Northern congressional majority raised tariff rates to near 50 percent. Once the new Confederate States Congress voted a virtual free tariff in early March, 1861, the “slave-importing shippers” of New England decided upon war against the South. The following was delivered by Lloyd T. Everett of the Washington [DC] Camp of the United Confederate Veterans on February 10, 1914.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Milk of the Cocoanut

“Mark well this fact: In the debates in Congress on the tariff dispute of 1833, John Quincy Adams, ex-President of the United States and then a member of the House of Representatives, uttered this significant remark from the floor of the House:

“But protection might be extended in different forms to different interests . . . In the Southern and Southwestern portion of the union, there exists a certain interest [by which Adams meant Negro slavery] which enjoys under the Constitution and the laws of the United States an especial protection, peculiar to itself” [i.e., return of fugitive slaves escaping from one State to another].

He referred to the slaves of the Southern States as “machinery,” and added: “If they [the Southern States] must withdraw protection from the free white labor of the North [the protection of a high tariff, Adams meant], then it ought to be withdrawn from the machinery of the South.”

Ah – here we have the milk in the cocoanut . . . In the framing of the Constitution, the North and the South – rather, New England and the far Southern States – arranged a quid pro quo, by which the shipping interests of New England obtained control, and permanent control, of commercial regulations by a mere majority vote, instead of a two-thirds majority vote, in the Congress, and the South (together with the slave-importing shippers of this same New England) defeated the possibility of prohibition of the continued importation of Negroes, temporarily, or for some nineteen years.

And now, her darling of sectional customs “protection” in danger from South Carolina’s firm stand, through John Adams as her spokesman, gave warning, in 1833, that tariff “protection,” although not guaranteed by the Constitution, and slavery protection, which was expressly guaranteed by that instrument, must be held as twin special interests, to stand or fall together.

In this light, then, these remarks of Adams, of Massachusetts, should be carefully marked and constantly borne in mind in connection with the subsequent growth and course of anti-Southern agitation, under the guise of an anti-slavery crusade, from the time – this time South Carolina’s Nullification stand and the resultant tariff reduction of 1833 – that a definite check was placed upon high tariff, North-favoring legislation.”

(Living Confederate Principles, Lloyd T. Everett, Southern Historical Society Papers, No. II, Volume XL, September 1915; Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1991, excerpts pp. 21-22)

American Attilla

On the 18th of December1864 Lincoln’s general-in-chief Henry Halleck wrote Sherman: “Should you capture Charleston, I hope that by some accident the place may be destroyed; and if a little salt should be sown upon its site, it may prevent the growth of future crops of nullification and secession.” Ironically, secession was first threatened by New England at the time of the Louisiana Purchase and in its 1814 Hartford convention; nullification of federal law was the very basis of the North’s prewar Personal Liberty Laws. In late 1864 and early 1865, Sherman’s 65,000 man army triumphantly plundered and destroyed Georgia and South Carolina with virtually no opponents except old men, women and children. General Joe Wheeler had 5,000 cavalry to merely harass Sherman with. The following was reprinted from a May 1873 article in Southern Magazine.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

American Attilla

“To [Halleck’s letter] General Sherman replies, December 24: “This war differs from European wars in this particular – we are not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people; and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war, as well as their organized armies.

I will bear in mind your hint as to Charleston, and don’t think “salt” will be necessary. The truth is, the whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreak vengeance on South Carolina. I almost tremble for her fate, but feel that she deserves all that seems to be in store for her.”

On the 23rd he writes to General Kilpatrick: “Let the whole people know the war is now against them, because their armies flee before us and do not defend their country or frontier as they should. It is pretty nonsense for Wheeler and Beauregard and such vain heroes to talk of our warring against women and children. If they claim to be men, they should defend their women and children and prevent us reaching their homes.”

If, therefore, an army defending their country can prevent invaders from reaching their homes and families, the latter have a right to that protection; but if the invaders can break through and reach these homes, [they] are justified in destroying women and children. Certainly this is a great advance on the doctrine and practice of the Dark Ages.

Is it any wonder that after reading [this] we fervently echo General Sherman’s devout aspiration: “I do wish the fine race of men that people our Northern States should rule and determine the future destiny of America?”

(Gleanings from General Sherman’s Dispatches, Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume XIII, William Jones, editor, 1885, Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1990, excerpts pp. 446-448)

Profiteering in Arkansas

With Lincoln’s approval, former Illinois Congressman William Kellogg advanced a cotton-trading scheme at Northern occupied Helena, Arkansas, which would reap millions for himself and provide slave-produced cotton for hungry Northern mills. Though Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase opposed the idea, Kellogg was later appointed chief justice of the Nebraska Territory in early 1865 for his patriotic efforts.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Profiteering in Arkansas

“Upon occupying Helena, Arkansas, in mid-July 1862, Union General Samuel Curtis complained that his camp was “infested with Jews, secessionists and spies.” By issuing orders that restricted trade to a few people he could control under military law as sutlers, Curtis adopted a policy that made him vulnerable to charges of improper monopolization.

Shortly, a steady stream of rumored abuses percolated up to Chicago and the department headquarters for Curtis’s army at St. Louis. Illinois Senator Orville Browning’s diary records Chicago rumors that Curtis deposited $150,000 with a Chicago financier less than three months after occupying Helena. By October 1862, [an] officer said, Curtis had already seized several million dollars worth of [cotton] and “converted it to his own use.”

Later, Curtis wrote Lincoln directly to explain that the complaints originated out of envy from unsavory characters who were unworthy of trade privileges. Nonetheless, within a few months, the general was transferred to St. Louis to become the new department commander, and rumors of his possible fraud trailed along.

An investigating Treasury agent concluded that Helena’s trade “diverted soldiers to become agents and brokers of cotton buying [and had] thrown thousands of dollars into the hands of our enemies.” Corruption flourished at Helena, where the army had little to do during twelve months of idle occupation before invading central Arkansas in late summer of 1863.

Federal soldiers even purchased cotton from slaves with counterfeit Confederate money.

Lincoln’s military governor of Arkansas complained late in 1862 that the idle troops at Helena were principally engaged in profiting from cotton trade. They raided neighboring plantations to confiscate whatever cotton they could get. As an afterthought, they would often destroy the plantation homestead.

Helena’s steady occupation led to deplorable sanitary conditions, particularly among the freed slaves . . . [and] disease, malnutrition, and lack of clothes and shelter took a toll on the blacks who sought refuge in the town.

Before the end of 1862, the inland navy began to get involved. [Admiral David Dixon Porter’s] crews became covetous of cotton as a prize of war . . . [and] 50 percent of a captured cargo was subject to a reward for the crew of the ship making the capture. By the end of the war, Porter had become so aggressive at stealing cotton . . . [he was dubbed] “Thief of the Mississippi.”

His sailors would seize bales and stencil “C.S.A” on them, thereby falsely representing the cotton as property of the Confederate government and therefore subject to prize law.”

(Trading With the Enemy: The Covert Economy During the American Civil War, Philip Leigh, Westholme Publishing, 2014, excerpts pp. 65-66)

A Minority Party Blunders into War

William H. Seward lost the Republican presidential nomination to a political novice from Illinois, and was quietly licking his wounds while that novice was ignoring the secession crisis in Springfield. As Seward was the creation and protégé of New York newspaperman Thurlow Weed, he might have exerted party leadership to bring on a constitutional convention of the States to properly settle the issues. Weed was no friend of secession, but saw signs that the conservative South was open to negotiation – as the Crittenden Compromise offered. Seward deferred to Lincoln, and Lincoln stumbled into war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

A Minority Party Blunders into War

“Aside from misconceiving the importance of the secession movement, the Republicans were also placed at a great disadvantage by their lack of experience as a majority party and their lack of a leader to chart their course for them. The crisis overtook them before they could remedy these defects.

It demanded that they produce a formula to save the Union, and made this demand at a time when they had never even borne the responsibility of appointing a postmaster. They were yet a minority party, not destined to assume office for three months to come.

They had never been anything other than a minority party, skilled in opposition tactics, steeped in opposition psychology, unused to responsibility, unaccustomed to the formulation of policy. Unprepared as they were to cope with a crisis, they clung to their nominal position as a minority group and shrank from taking affirmative action. The future belonged to them; they alone could pledge it; and consequently they alone could wield the initiative.

This handicap might have been overcome by clear-cut and decisive leadership. But in the moment when an unexpected crisis and unfamiliar responsibility fell simultaneously upon Republican congressmen, they found themselves with no unquestioned leader. Abraham Lincoln was, of course, the elected chief, but he had been silent for more than half a year.

Mr. Lincoln was, in the eyes of many simply an ex-congressman from Illinois, now President-elect . . . Certainly they gave no sincere allegiance to the unknown quantity from Springfield, and if anyone held the position of leadership it was Lincoln’s rival, William H. Seward. Seward had been the leader of the Republican party, and especially of the Republicans in Congress, for nearly six years . . . and probably the most intelligent member on the Republican side of the Senate.

The moral grandeur of “lost causes” held little appeal for him. Consequently, he became a superb politician, a master of artifice, equivocation, and silence. With Lincoln silent in Springfield, the public gaze turned upon Seward, the leader in Congress, and, as rumor had it, the next Secretary of State.

Had Seward been prepared to act vigorously at this juncture, he might have exerted an enormous influence. But he was, himself, inhibited at this critical moment by his reticence in assuming leadership so soon after his defeat for the [presidential] nomination, by his underestimate of the crisis, and by his anxiety not to take any step that would impair his prospective influence with the new administration.

Amid this welter of confusion [in Republican ranks], Congress at last convened [in] joint session [to hear President James Buchanan] set forth his belief that the States cannot legally secede, but that the Federal government could not legally restrain them; in it he recommended that Congress call a constitutional convention . . .”

(Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis, David M. Potter, Yale University Press, 1942, excerpts pp. 80-82)

 

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