Browsing "Lincoln’s Revolutionary Legacy"

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)

 

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)

Lincoln & Seward’s Military Coup

In 1863 Republican Senator John Sherman recalled that it was William H. Seward rather than Lincoln who ordered the seizure of Maryland’s legislators in 1861, that “the high-handed proceeding was the work of Mr. Seward, of his own mere motion, without the knowledge of Lincoln.” Seward later told a British official that the arrests had been made to influence coming Maryland elections as well. Frederick (below) was Seward’s son.

Lincoln & Seward’s Military Coup

“The Lincoln administration believed, according to Frederick Seward, that “a disunion majority” in the Maryland State house would pass an ordinance to withdraw from the Union in September 1861. Lincoln had resolved to keep that from happening. Seward recalled: “[The military was] instructed to carefully watch the movements of members of the [Maryland] Legislature . . . Loyal Union members would not be interfered with . . . but “disunion” members would be turned back toward their homes and would not reach Frederick City at all. The views of each member were well-known . . . so there would be little difficulty, as Mr. Lincoln remarked, in “separating the sheep from the goats.”

[Seward continued]: “When the time arrived . . . it was found that not only was no secession ordinance likely to be adopted, but that there seemed to be no Secessionists to present one. The two generals had carried out their instructions faithfully, and with tact and discretion . . . No ordinance was adopted, Baltimore remained quiet, and Maryland stayed in the Union.”

Many arrests of northerners at that time involved freedom of speech and freedom of the press with Seward’s State Department records citing “treasonable language, “Southern sympathizer,” secessionist” and “disloyalty” as standard reasons for arrest and confinement. Additionally, even more serious-sounding arrest reasons were vague and sometimes denoted offensive words rather than deeds: “aiding and abetting the enemy,” threatening Unionists,” or “inducing desertion,” for example. A man in Cincinnati was arrested for selling envelopes and stationery with Confederate mottoes printed on them.

When an old associate of Seward came to Washington to plead for the release of a political prisoner from Kentucky held in Fort Lafayette, the secretary of state readily admitted that no charges were on file against the prisoner. When asked whether he intended to keep citizens imprisoned against whom no charge had been made, Seward apparently answered: “I don’t care a d—n whether they are guilty or innocent. I saved Maryland by similar arrests, and so I mean to hold Kentucky.”

(The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties. Mark E. Neely, Jr. Oxford University Press. 1991, pp. 15-16; 27-30)

The North’s War Against Free Trade

The unbridled pursuit of financial gain in America was no surprise to Englishmen and simply “a distasteful feature of democracy.” The British noted the widespread corruption in American political life and the rise of low men to power, while those better educated and unwilling to play the demagogue were not sought out. The British saw, especially in Northern States, an unwholesome tyranny of the democratic mob which eventually would break apart and replaced with an aristocracy or monarchy of better men.

The North’s War Against Free Trade

“The United States Senate, after fourteen Southern members had withdrawn (as their States had withdrawn from the United States), passed with a majority of eleven votes the almost prohibitive Morrill Tariff; the Confederate States adopted a constitution forbidding any tariff except for revenue – a denial, that is, of the principle of protection (for select industries).

From the economic point of view, which to some students of history is the only point of view, a major issue became perfectly clear. The North stood for protection, the South for free trade.

And for Englishmen . . . certain conclusions were obvious. “This [tariff] was the first use the North made of its victory [in the Senate]”, said one Englishman in a pamphlet . . .” The contrast between North and South was real and unambiguous, and so too were England’s free-trade convictions.

With those convictions and after these events, it was natural that many Englishmen . . . should readily embrace the theory of the South’s seceding because of economic oppression – since there had to be a reason for secession and both sides agreed that slavery was not the reason. As one of the ablest of the “Southern” Englishmen, James Spence, said, the South had long been convinced “that the Union was worked to the profit of the North and their own loss. [And] consider that the immediate cause of the revolt of those 13 colonies from this country was a duty of 3d. per pound on tea . . .”

The Confederate States were well aware of the appeal of economic facts. Their Secretary of State instructed James Mason on his mission to England to stress the free trade commitment of his government, as well as the British people’s “deep political and commercial interest in the establishment of the independence of the Confederate States.”

(The Glittering Illusion: English Sympathy for the Southern Confederacy. Sheldon Vanauken. Regnery Gateway, 1989. pp. 48-49)

British Sympathy for American Independence

Though unofficial Southern support in England was evident through most of the war, by mid-1864 Lincoln’s unofficial alliance with the British-hating Czar along with coming Alabama claims caused postwar British official opinion to take a northward turn. The Russian sale of Alaska in 1867 was to ensure that it did not fall into British hands, and the victorious North threatened an invasion of Canada and seizure of Greenland with its 2-million-man army in blue. This would have been punishment for expressing Southern sympathy.

British Sympathy for American Independence

“But in the course of the war, between 1861 and 1865, James Mason, Confederate States Commissioner to England, wrote confidentially to his Secretary of State in Richmond, Virginia, that “there can be no mistake that with all classes in England which have an opinion, their entire sympathy is with us.”

Captain James Bulloch, C.S.N., wrote that “personal observation, confirmed by the testimony of every other agent of the Confederate States Government whose duties compelled him to reside in England . . . , convinced me that the great majority of the people in Gret Britain – at least among the classes a traveler, or a man of business, or a frequenter of the clubs, would be likely to meet – were on the Southern side.”

Lest this be supposed but Southern optimism, the United States Consul at Liverpool wrote: “It was evident from the commencement [of war] that the South . . . had the sympathy of the people of England . . . I speak now of the great mass of the English people.” Henry Adams, the son and secretary of the United States minister in London, wrote: “As for this country, the simple fact is that it is unanimously against us and becomes more firmly set every day.”

An English partisan of the North wrote to a member of the opposite camp about the Southern supporters: “I fear you do not overstate your constituency when you put it at three-fourths of educated Englishmen.”

After a debate in the House of Commons on recognition of the Confederacy, the Manchester Guardian said that the debate “should not be thought to have anything to do with the sentiments and sympathies of the English people, for these were entirely with the South.” The manager of The Times wrote to a strongly pro-Southern correspondent: “Your views are entirely in accordance with those of this paper & I believe of the majority in this country.” The pro-Northern Spectator said: “The educated million in England, with here and there an exception, have become unmistakably Southern.”

(The Glittering Illusion: English Sympathy for the Southern Confederacy. Sheldon Vanauken. Regnery Gateway, 1989. pp. 1-2)

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)

Conquest, Not Union

On April 12, 1864, Fort Pillow, located north of Memphis on the Mississippi River, was surrounded by some 1,500 troops under Gen’s. Nathan Bedford Forrest and James Chalmers. After sending an ultimatum to surrender or suffer “no quarter” and the enemy rejecting capitulation, Forrest’s men attacked and caused most of the enemy’s 600 soldiers to flee into the river. As northern colored troops were half of the fort’s garrison, they suffered great loss along with their white counterparts, and the usual cries of “massacre” were heard from northern reporters anxious to sell newspapers to a gullible public. The Radical Republicans were also quick to establish a congressional committee to investigate Fort Pillow for political purposes.

This pattern was repeated late in the war as the northern public was fed atrocity stories of Georgia’s Andersonville prison stockade. Missing from the stories were the pleas of President Davis and other Southern leaders for prisoner exchanges, including safe passage for medical supplies and food to sustain the inmates. These were all refused by Grant, with Lincoln’s approval.

Conquest, Not Union

“What exactly did the [Committee on the Conduct of the War] uncover and how objective was its investigation? Critics have assumed that the committee deliberately exaggerated Southern atrocities to smear Forrest’s reputation, inflame public sentiments, and serve its own narrow partisan agenda.

The committee’s most thorough historian, T. Harry Williams, for instance, argues that Benjamin Wade used this investigation, as well as previous atrocity reports, as a means to create a consensus for an even more radical reconstruction. By deliberately exaggerating Rebel brutalities, he would cause the public to support a reconstruction policy that would treat the South as a conquered territory.

There is little doubt that the issue of reconstruction was on the minds of committee members and other Republicans during the Fort Pillow investigation. George Julian, chairman of the House Committee on Public Lands, was already busy sponsoring legislation to confiscate the large holdings of Rebel planters and redistribute them to veterans of the Union armies, both white and black.

In remarks to the House of Representatives shortly after Fort Pillow, Julian castigated the Confederates as “devils” and argued that the [alleged] massacre provided additional reasons to support the program of confiscating [Southern property].

Even before the war, there were many in the North who viewed the South as backward and in need of radical reordering along the outline of Northern free labor institutions. The war accelerated such beliefs. “The war is quickly drawing to an end,” the Continental Monthly predicted in the summer of 1862, “but a greater and nobler task lies before the soldiers and free men of America – the extending of civilization into the South.”

In formulating its Fort Pillow findings, the committee reflected Northern opinion as much as it sought to shape it.”

(“These Devils Are Not Fit to Live on God’s Earth”: War Crimes and the Committee on the Conduct of the War, 1864-1865”. Bruce Tap. Civil War History – A Journal of the Middle Period, John Hubbell, ed. Kent State University Press, June 1996, Vol. XLII, No. 2, pp. 121-122)

Thomas Jefferson’s “Rupture”

Author Roger Lowenstein writes that on Christmas Eve, 1825, “Thomas Jefferson let out an anguished cry. The government of the country he had helped to found, half a century earlier, was causing him great distress. It was assuming vast powers, specifically the right to construct canals and roads, and to effect other improvements. Jefferson thought of the federal government in the most restrictive terms: as a “compact” or a “confederated fabric” – that is, a loose affiliation of practically sovereign States.”

Thomas Jefferson’s “Rupture”

“He was roused at the age of eighty-two to issue a “Solemn Declaration and Protest” against what he termed the “usurpation” of power by the federal branch. Jefferson was so agitated that he declared that the “rupture” of the United States would be, although a calamity, not the greatest calamity. Even worse, reckoned the sage of Monticello, would be “submission to a government of unlimited powers.”

Though Federalists led by Alexander Hamilton had sought to establish a strong central government, Jeffersonians adamantly objected. No fewer than six of President Jefferson’s successors vetoed or thwarted federal legislation to build roads and canals, improve harbors and riverways, maintain a national bank, [and] fund education . . .”

Had Jefferson survived until 1860, the federal government of that day would not have displeased him. Its main vocation was operating the postal service and collecting customs duties at ports, [and] its army consisted of merely sixteen thousand troops scattered mostly among a series of isolated forts west of the Mississippi. The federal payroll was modest . . . the civilian bureaucracy in Washington consisted of a mere two thousand employees.

The modest federal purse was supported by tariff duties and a smattering of land sales. Federal taxes (an unpleasant reminder of the English Parliament) were reflexively scorned. Then came the “rupture.”

The Republicans – [Lincoln elected in November 1860] – vastly enlarged the federal government . . . [and] accomplished a revolution that has been largely overlooked.”

(Ways and Means: Lincoln and His Cabinet and the Financing of the Civil War. Roger Lowenstein, Penguin Books, 2022. pp. 1-2)

Antebellum Race Relations

Antebellum Race Relations

Clifton Rodes Breckinridge (1846-1932) was the son of former US Congressman, Vice President and Major-General John C. Breckinridge (1821-1875). Clifton served in the war under his father and in the CS Navy; was elected to the House of Representatives from Arkansas and served as US Minister to Russia.

The following is excerpted from his early May 1900 address to the Southern Society for the Promotion of the Study of Race Conditions and Problems in the South,” held in Montgomery, Alabama.

“Take the period of slavery. For generations, and under conditions generally considered the most trying, the races lived together in peace. If we had reason to believe that, with the great and permanent racial differences which exist, the nature of the races, or the nature of either of them, were truculent, then, indeed, would the future be dark.

But during all that period the relations of the races were not only peaceful, but, in the main, they were most kindly. Side by side with the assured power of the law, there were the associations of childhood, the sports and domestic service of later life, the care of sickness and old age, uniform consideration for good character of old age, and the respect and fidelity which were fit reflections of the manly honor, womanly care and refined and elevated rule which generally marked the domestic authority of the times.

All had their influence. All were developed under and enlightened construction of the Christian religion, and the aggravated crimes of later days were absolutely unknown.”

(Published in the Negro Universities Press, 1969, pp. 171-172)

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).

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