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A Mistaken View of Sovereignty

The following was written by John W. Burgess, born in 1844 to Rhode Island parents living in middle Tennessee. Being confirmed nationalist Whigs, his parents raised him to believe the United States government was above the States themselves in political sovereignty. When war came, he committed treason against Tennessee by fleeing to the enemy invaders and waging war against that State.

A Mistaken View of Sovereignty

“Personally, I never had regarded the union under the Constitution of 1787 as a confederation of sovereign States. Even during my boyhood in the South, I had learned from my [Henry] Clay whig father and grandfather to look upon it as a nation holding exclusive sovereignty and exercising government through two sets of organs, each having its own constitutional sphere of action and limitation. I had been taught to consider that this was the advance made in our political system from the [Articles of] Confederation of 1781 to the [Constitution] of 1787.

But I can well remember that this was not the view taken by the vast majority of the people, in rank and file, at the time when I first became cognizant of these questions. The South, by an overwhelming majority, regarded the United States as a confederation of sovereign States; and a very large portion, perhaps a majority, of the people of the North held the like opinion.

The opposition by the New England Federalists to the War of 1812 with England, led by the Federalist [Daniel] Webster, who not only opposed entering upon it, but also opposed to supporting it, and who considered conscription as warranted constitutionally only in resistance to invasion, made the Federalists a State Rights party. One the whole, therefore, the change from Federalism to Republicanism was one which advanced the States Rights doctrine of the Union at the expense of the national doctrine.

[The] slave labor system of the South made it impossible to develop manufacture there and condemned that section to agriculture, chiefly cotton raising, and how the consciousness of this fact by Southern leaders moved them to seek some constitutional principle to defend themselves against the Whig tariff majority. The principle, as Calhoun elaborated it, was nullification, namely, the right of a State to suspend the operation of an act of Congress within its limits until the legislatures of, or conventions in, three-fourths of the States should approve it.

The idea in this doctrine was that the United States government could not determine the extent of its own powers, since that would make its own determinations, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers – in other words, would make it autocratic.”

Despite writing this understanding of the nature of the American political structure, the author wrote of Lincoln’s July 4, 1861, address to a special session of Congress. By this time Lincoln had raised an army and declared war which only Congress can do, he also waged war against States which Article III, Section 3 of the US Constitution defines as treason. He additionally had suspended habeas corpus and arrested political adversaries which overawed any political opposition. Lincoln then absurdly claimed that “The Union is older than any of the States, and in fact, created them as States . . . [and that not] one of them ever having been a State out of the Union.”

After Lincoln and his military were victorious in war in 1865, the States were now mere “provinces of a completely centralized government.”

(Reminiscences of an American Scholar, John W. Burgess, Columbia University Press, 1934; pp. 294-297; 306)

 

Lincoln’s New America

Lincoln’s New America

“The Civil War ennobled no one, except perhaps its central figure, but it brought enormous and probably inevitable changes in the north. Those States actually gained wealth, population and power between 1861 and 1865, during the concurrent destruction of the American Confederacy. War manufactures exploded industrial production, made agriculture prosper, and a flood of immigration from Europe more than replaced the blood and bone buried in the South.

Until 1861, the full effect of the Industrial Revolution had been held in check by the powerful agronomists from Virginia to Texas. With this check removed, the industrial States consolidated their gains swiftly.

While the war itself was moving political power irresistibly toward the federal capital in Washington, money power was centralized in New York through the wartime Currency Acts. And an enormous centralization, through economic expansion, was going on [with] Businesses and enterprises formed that soon transcended the States themselves.

The removal of real power to a national capital was the first necessity for an expanded transportation and industrial complex that lay across many States. The concentration of fiscal power in New York broke the monetary freedom of State legislatures. As business enterprise became more and more national and spread on rails, old boundaries were, and had to be, meaningless. All this would, in quick time, forge a new society.

The old American of a huge farming, small holder class with a tiny mercantile and professional elite was not gone; vast islands of it remained. But it was submerged in flooding money and roaring steam.

If the men and interests behind the rise of the new industrial America did not realize fully where they were going, they understood their basic imperatives well enough. They needed certain things from government: high tariffs on industrial products; business subsidies and the diversion of public finances to railroads; centralized money control; continued massive immigration to curb native workers and create a labor pool; and a hard money policy, without which a solid financial-industrial complex was difficult to build.

The political instrument of this new force was the new Republican party . . . [where] refugees from Whiggery found a home. As virtually all foreign observers have seen, the erection of the immense American politico-industrial-financial machine in 1861 was not pure destiny; it took a certain kind of genius.

[But] the new wealth was more monstrously maldistributed than it had ever been. Millions of northern workers were little better off, in grimy tenements and working long, tedious days, than Texas slaves; many, in fact, were cared for worse. Native-born workers, who had enjoyed decades of scarcity and demand, begged for a limit to flooding immigration as they were drowned.  In the 19th century they were hardly sustained by the 20th century illusion that they rose on each succeeding wave.”

(Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans. T.R. Fehrenbach. Collier Books, pp. 403-405)

The Key to a Successful Post-Civil War Peace

Colonel Benjamin Harrison’s “boys in blue” were the 70th Indiana Regiment and part of Sherman’s army which waged war upon defenseless women, children and old men in Georgia. Sent to Tennessee to temporarily command a brigade of northerners in 1864, he found them “quite unfit for duty in the field” – some hardly recovered from wounds, others just back from sick leave, and a large number of raw recruits, including many European immigrants unable to speak English.”

The mortal fear of New Yorker Horatio Seymour as president in 1868 and Democrat opposition to generous Union soldier benefits and pensions, Republicans quickly enfranchised 500,000 black men. This would give Grant his slim 300,000 margin of victory and thus assured “truly loyal governments in the South.”

Key to a Successful Post-Civil War Peace

“Harrison and . . . other northerners were determined that at the war’s such carnage had bought not merely a surcease from fighting but a true and lasting peace. Southern rebels, they believed, should willingly accept the new political and social order that emancipation and defeat had wrought.

White Southerners were determined to salvage as much of their old order as possible. As early as August 1865, Harrison warned an audience of returning soldiers in Indianapolis that their Southern foes were “just as wily, mean, impudent and devilish as they ever were . . . Beaten by the sword, they will now fall back on ‘the resources of statesmanship,’”

Politics would now be the new battleground where ex-rebels and their sympathizers in the northern Democratic party would strive to undo what Lincoln, Grant and Sherman, as well as Harrison and the Hoosier boys in blue, had accomplished.

Harrison did not advocate the immediate enfranchisement of the former slaves, but if white Southerners remained recalcitrant, he thought that the adoption of black suffrage offered the only way to produce truly loyal governments in the South. The key to a successful peace was to keep the rebels and “their northern allies out of power. If you don’t,” Harrison warned, “they will steal away, in the halls of Congress, the fruits won from them at the point of a glistening bayonet.”

To prevent that loss of the peace became the cardinal purpose of Harrison and most other Republicans in the immediate postwar years.”

(Benjamin Harrison. Charles W. Calhoun. Henry Holt and Company, 2005, pp. 26-27)

May 26, 2024 - Aftermath: Despotism, America Transformed, Enemies of the Republic, Lincoln Revealed, Myth of Saving the Union, Newspapers, Prisons for Americans    Comments Off on Francis Key Howard’s “Middle Passage”

Francis Key Howard’s “Middle Passage”

By 1863, Congress had sanctioned Lincoln’s illegal suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and absolved him of the northern Democrats charge of “usurpation.” The latter charged that his “suspension of the writ justifies arrests without warrant, without oath, and even without suspicion of treason or other crime.” Howard, below, was editor of Baltimore’s Daily Exchange which was supportive of the South’s decision for political independence.

Francis Key Howard’s “Middle Passage”

“Frances Key Howard, grandson of Francis Scott Key, author of the Star-Spangled Banner, had been among the Baltimoreans arrested in September of 1861. By December 1862, he had finished a manuscript about his prison experiences, and the little book made its appearance in print early in 1863.

Like others in this genre of protest writing, Howard’s work made a special point “to show . . . how men, who were guiltless . . ., were treated in this age, and in this country” and stressed the crowded conditions and spartan hardships of prison life.

In a protest letter written to President Lincoln and reprinted in Howard’s book, he and other prisoners of state likened the conditions at Fort Lafayette to those on “a slave ship, on the middle passage.”

(The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties. Mark E. Neely, Jr. Oxford University Press. 1991, p195)

Lincoln’s Dark Days

Many European observers saw Lincoln’s early proclamation of September 1862 as simply imitating the actions of Virginia’s Royal Governor Lord Dunmore eighty-six years earlier. In the face of “insurrection,” Dunmore demanded loyalty oaths from colonists while proclaiming African slaves “free.” A desperate Lincoln did the same.

Lincoln’s Dark Days

“The war had indeed approached a crisis in late July [1861]. There had been little encouraging news from the Western theater since April, when the victory at Shiloh had been followed by the occupation of New Orleans. These victories were disappointing in that they seemed to be leading nowhere. The high hopes accompanying McClellan’s advance up the peninsula below Richmond had been cruelly dashed.

Waiting for victories, [Lincoln’s] Cabinet received news in late August of the most humiliating defeat of the entire war. General John Pope allowed his army to be trapped at Manassas, Virginia, practically on the doorstep of the Capitol, between the armies of Longstreet and Jackson; it was hurled back toward Washington in a retreat that was actually a rout.

When the full impact of this latest disaster was at last known in the North, a real desperation gripped the public. “That we are in serious danger of being whipped cannot be denied” wrote Edward Atkinson, “and there is scarce a man now in Boston, who would not thank God to hear of a serious insurrection among the slaves, such a change has this disaster wrought.”

Dr. Milton Hawks, perhaps the most fanatical missionary at Port Royal [South Carolina], repeated his belief that, unless emancipation were the goal of the war, the South would establish her independence. “The greatest kindness that a man could do this government today,” he wrote furiously, “would be to assassinate Pres. Lincoln – He stands directly in the way.”

Lincoln’s course was mysterious to the general public [but after the dubious victory at Antietam], the President seized the slim occasion for his [preliminary emancipation] Proclamation . . .”

(Rehearsal for Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment. Willie Lee Rose. Oxford University Press, 1964, pp. 184-185)

Martial Law is the Absence of Law

Martial Law is the Absence of Law

A review of the martial law imposed upon the island of Key West 1861-1865 was recently presented by a local college history teacher, and as a part of the North’s comprehensive military strategy during the Civil War. The audience was a local Civil War Roundtable (CWRT) group.

The lecturer noted the military takeover of the civilian government on the island in mid-January 1861 as the local commander, Capt. James Brannan surreptitiously barricaded his 44 men in the nearly completed Fort Zachary Taylor and turned its guns on the town. Overnight, the US military’s local friends and neighbors became an enemy to be treated with suspicion and contempt. Now fearing bombardment of their homes from the nearby fort, the residents became prisoners in their homes.

The reason cited for Brannan’s warlike action was overhearing “secession” talk among the residents as well as Florida’s recent decision to formally withdraw from the United States federation and become an independent State. Florida was to remain independent until it formally voted to join the Confederate States of America on April 22, 1861.

The arrival in March 1861 of more Northern troops increased armed patrols roaming the town and surveilling citizens. Arbitrary arrests were common, and Fort Taylor became an American bastille to hold prisoners of conscience. Locals, especially merchants with inventories to sell, sought favor with the military as willing informants, reporting on anyone complaining of military rule. Elected officials who disagreed with the military faced arrest and confinement, and new elections of approved candidates were held under armed supervision. Those considered “dangerous secessionists” were deported to the mainland.

What Capt. Brannan accomplished with his unilateral action, and unfortunately not pointed out by the lecturer, was to wage war against a State which is the very definition of treason in the US Constitution – Article III, Section 3. Though Brannan was applauded by his fellow officers and eventually promoted for his act, this does not absolve him of treason.

It was highly likely that Brannan was emulating Major Robert Anderson at Charleston as news of the Fort Sumter seizure could have reached him at Key West in early January. As Anderson suffered no adverse consequences for his fort seizure, Brannan perhaps saw a green light to do the same but should have been more circumspect as he certainly was aware that John Brown was hung in 1858 for waging war against Virginia – the crime being treason. Noteworthy is that Brown was tried and convicted in Virginia, where he committed his crime.

Though this speaker outlined how the island was placed under military rule, no adequate or honest discussion was provided regarding how or why military rule had suddenly materialized, how it was justified under American law, or who specifically ordered it. Martial law is generally considered to be the absence of law with arrests and detentions made at the discretion of the military commander, or those commanded by him. Missing was any explanation of how easily Northern commanders could ignore habeas corpus which was so deeply rooted in Anglo-American jurisprudence. But importantly, as Lincoln ignored the Constitution and approved the repressive actions of those like Brannan, it only encouraged more violations of the law.

The seizure of Fort Taylor came at the whim of a local military commander who was sworn to uphold the United States Constitution – and who should have clearly understood the definition of treason. Though simplistically following orders to protect the fort he was charged with commanding, the withdrawal of the State of Florida and its relationship with the United States government at Washington took precedence. After being officially advised of Florida’s decision to formally declare independence, and lacking any reason to remain on the island, which was no longer part of the United States, Capt. Brannan should have sought Florida officials to provide him with receipts for all equipment left behind before departing with his command. Though he likely would have been court-martialed for doing this, he would have been true to his oath to support the United States Constitution.

The above indicates that there is more than one viewpoint regarding this particular topic, and a more well-versed history teacher should have been able to present all credible perspectives beyond their own. In this particular case, the audience deserved a far better explanation of how military rule quickly overwhelmed a peaceful American town. The listeners were unfortunately left with a partial and limited view of this important and most revealing topic.

(For more information on this topic, see: “Key West’s Civil War: Rather Unsafe for a Southern Man to Live Here.” John Bernhard Thuersam – Shotwell Publishing and available on Amazon)

The War Against the States

“[The] fact remains that that the Civil War was a political and constitutional watershed in United States history. Although the Civil War draft was primarily an inducement to volunteering [with ample financial incentives], the arbitrary arrests [of civilians] and first use of [a clearly unconstitutional] national conscription established important precedents. Economically, power shifted toward the industrialized North.  Moreover, at war’s end the very concept of State sovereignty established by the Founders had little meaning.

As Professor William B. Hesseltine said many years later, it was a “war against the States, both North and South. Within half a century after Appomattox, the federal government began to regulate certain businesses and introduced a graduated income tax. These innovations would have been inconceivable prior to 1860.” Larry Gara, Wilmington College.

(Review of “The North Fights the Civil War: The Home Front,” J. Matthew Gallman (Dee Publishing, 1994. Published in Civil War History – A Journal of the Middle Period, Vol. 42, No. 3. September 1996).

Sherman’s Final Solution

The following is excerpted from a review of author Michael Fellman’s “Citizen Sherman: A Life of William Tecumseh Sherman (Random House, 1995). The reviewer is John Y. Simon of the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, 1996.

Sherman’s Final Solution

“In 1875, a fellow officer reported to [General] Sherman that Indians in Florida were receiving training as soldiers and might eventually return to police their tribes [out West]. Sherman wrote in response that this experiment, if successful, might present a “final solution to the Indian problem.” (pg. 260). Sherman could write that that some Indians were “more to be pitied than dreaded” and others deserved pursuit with “vindictive earnestness” to the point of “extermination, men, women and children.” (pg. 264).

“This Country Splitting Business”

After the Japanese capitulation in 1945 the US government stymied an already-existing pan-Korean government, albeit leftist, in favor of installing Syngman Rhee, who ruled the south as a virtual dictator. The latter used former Japanese soldiers as police and government officials, with the support of the Americans. The 1950 war, which many believe was initiated by Rhee, cost the lives of a million Koreans and virtually leveled the country with bombing. Today, North Korea is the real Korea and ruled by Koreans; and South Korea remains a US-controlled colony.

“This Country Splitting Business”

“Senator Stuart Symington: ‘We go into this country splitting business . . . First, we split Germany. Then we split China. We stay with billions and billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of people in the case of Germany; China we stay with billions and billions of dollars and thousands of people. Then we split Korea and stay there with billions of dollars and tens of thousands of military [troops], all at heavy cost to the American taxpayer. Then we split Vietnam . . . now we split Laos . . . Do you know of any other country we plan to split pretty soon?

Mr. [William J.] Porter (US Ambassador to South Korea): No sir.

Senator Symington: This has been quite an interesting policy, hasn’t it, over the years? Our allies don’t do [this], nor do our possible enemies. We do it all over the world . . . ‘

(Hearings before the Subcommittee on US Security Agreements and Commitments Abroad of the Committee on Foreign Relations, US Senate, 91st Congress, 2nd Session, 1970, pp. 1579-82)

 

The War Secretary’s Government

The public mind of the North from April through the summer of 1865 was one of vengeance, blood and death to the “rebels.” The South was roundly blamed for “treason” as well as the horrors of Andersonville, though it was Grant – with Lincoln’s approval – who refused Southern offers of food, medicines and medical care for Northern prisoners.

The War Secretary’s Government

“The secret papers of the Lincoln administration had been kept sealed at the request of his heirs until certain persons named therein were dead. It is difficult to understand why Lincoln’s family wished to protect those at whom the finger of suspicion would have pointed by disclosure of these papers after his murder. For the papers indicated that Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, had prior knowledge of the reported plot of John Wilkes Booth and others at Mrs. Surratt’s boarding house in Washington, but had failed to either warn Lincoln or give him special protection.

It was obvious to observers at the time that the real beneficiary, should the plot have succeeded in killing the Vice-President and Secretary of State also would have been the Secretary of War – Stanton himself – who would have been next in line for the Presidency. Moreover, the Radical Republicans had refused to support Lincoln at the 1864 party convention, and this was the faction supported by and supporting Stanton in the disputes following Andrew Johnson’s accession.

Immediately following Lincoln’s assassination, Stanton was in full control of the government through martial law and was in charge of the trials of the so-called conspirators. While the hanging of so many persons without a civil trial did not arouse much comment abroad, the execution of Mrs. Surratt, because Booth had lodged at her house, was the subject of considerable discussion.

It is revealed in official testimony that Mrs. Surratt was offered her life if her son would give himself up. An effort was made by high members of the US government, including members of Congress, to obtain a civil trial for her. But the War Secretary refused on grounds that the executions were necessary to avert panic among the populace. This would indicate, of course, that the outcome of the military trial was predetermined.

Newspapers in France and Mexico began to refer to the Washington government as the “murderers of Mrs. Surratt.” The North’s bitterness against her son, Johnny Surratt, was heightened by the rumor that he was one of the leaders in the Confederate raid on St. Albans, Vermont, from Canada. A reward of $50,000 was offered for his apprehension but was never collected.”

(The Saga of Felix Senac: Legend and Life of a Confederate Agent in Europe. Regina Rapier, Bulletin of Art & History, No. 1, 1972. pp. 182-183)

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