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“I am not a tool of any President!” Will a Republican Emulate Stephen A. Douglas?

Stephen A. Douglas

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam something that we are observing up close and personal as President Trump and his administration flounder in a sea of make believe, a cloud cuckoo land of alternative facts, alternative truth, and alternative history:

“Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.”

To be true, the Trump administration is not the first in history, in fact not even in our own country to ignore facts when making decisions. However, it is remarkable in its ability not only to shun facts but to make up its own narrative that depends on denying reality while impugning the character, honesty, and decency of those who present facts and truth that is verifiable. To be sure, competence and prudence are not and probably will never be marks of President Trump, his closest advisors, or his enablers in Congress. My hope is that some Republican in either the House or Senate rises up to confront the ineptitude and folly being demonstrated on a daily basis.

President James Buchanan

In some ways the incompetence and refusal to deal with reality by the Trump administration reminds me of the administration of James Buchanan during the years before the American Civil War. Buchanan’s collusion with Chief Justice Roger Taney regarding the Dred Scott decision before his inauguration stained him from the beginning and poisoned his relationship with Congress by declaring that the Congress never had the right to limit slavery as it had in the Missouri Compromise. Buchanan’s presidency is considered by most historians to be the worst in American history, incompetent, arrogant, and ineffective.

Likewise, Buchanan’s attempt to jam the Lecompton Constitution through Congress as a reward to Southern Democrats blew up in his face. The Lecompton Constitution was a gerrymandered bill which ignored the will of the vast majority of Kansas’s settlers who were anti-slavery. The work of the pro-slavery element in Kansas was so onerous that it brought Republicans and Northern Democrats together for the first time as Southern Democrats threatened secession if Kansas was not admitted as a Slave State. Ignoring warnings that supporting a measure that would open the door to slavery in all the western territories would split his party, Buchanan pushed on. His intransigence on the matter brought Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois to the fore in opposing it. Nicknamed “the Little Giant,” Douglas was the odds on favorite to be the Democratic nominee for the Presidency. Douglas was not against the institution of slavery, and he was a racist, but he had no tolerance for those who would upend carefully crafted compromises to expand it through the whole country. Thus he  took his case to the floor of the Senate and to the President himself.

The Confrontation between the Senator and the President was unparalleled. Douglas recalled, “The Lecompton constitution, I told Buchannan bluntly, was a blatant fraud on the people of Kansas and the process of democracy, I warned him not to recommend acceptance of it. With his head titled forward in that bizarre habit of his, he said that he intended to endorse the constitution and send it to Congress. “If you do,” I thundered, “I’ll denounce it the moment that it is read.” His face turned red with anger. “I’ll make Lecompton a party test,” he said. “I expect every democratic Senator to support it.” I will not, sir!

Angry and offended by the confrontation of Douglas, Buchanan cut the senator off and issued his own threat to Douglas and his political career saying, “I desire you to remember that no Democrat ever yet differed from an administration of his own choice without being crushed….Beware of the fate of Tallmadge and Rives,” two senators who had gone into political oblivion after crossing Andrew Jackson.” The redoubtable Senator from Illinois was undeterred by the President’s threat and fought back, “Douglas riposted: “Mr. President, I wish to remind you that General Jackson is dead, sir.”  It was an unprecedented action by a sitting Senator, to confront a President of one’s own party and threaten to oppose him in Congress was simply not done, but now Douglas was doing it, but doing so to his President’s face, and the consequences for him, his party, and the country would be immense.

Undeterred by facts, Buchanan and Southern Democrats fought for the bill’s passage. When Buchanan’s supporters pushed for Lecompton’s approval and the admission of Kansas as a Slave State, Douglas fired back, warning “You do,” I said, “and it will lead directly to civil war!” I warned the anti-Lecompton Democrats of the North that the President intended to put the knife to the throat of every man who dared to think for himself on this question and carry out principles in good faith. “God forbid,” I said “that I ever surrender my right to differ from a President of the United States for my own choice. I am not a tool of any President!”

Under Douglas the Northern Democrats joined with Republicans for the first time to defeat the admission of Kansas as a Slave State. Douglas recalled the battle:

“After the Christmas recess, the Administration unleashed its heavy horsemen: Davis, Slidell, Hunter, Toombs, and Hammond, all southerners. They damned me as a traitor and demanded that I be stripped of my chairmanship of the Committee on Territories and read out of the Democratic party. Let the fucking bastards threaten, proscribe, and do their worst, I told my followers; it would not cause any honest man to falter. If my course divided the Democratic party, it would not be my fault. We were engaged in a great struggle for principle, I said, and we would defy the Administration to the bitter end.”

Douglas and his supporters did just that, Buchanan and his supporters were outfought and outmaneuvered by Douglas’s Democrats and their Republican allies. The bill was sent back to Kansas where in a new election the people of Kansas voted solidly against the Lecompton Constitution. In the following Congressional elections the thoroughly discredited Democrats lost their majority, their party now hopelessly divided with Southerners determined to destroy Douglas at any cost, even if it meant losing the presidency, the conflict opened the door for the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

I wonder if there will be a Republican in the Congress with the courage that Stephen A. Douglas displayed in confronting the incompetent and vindictive President Buchanan during the Lecompton Crisis. Will there be a Republican with enough courage to stop the insanity of the Trump administration even if it means in the short term to divide the party and doom their political future? Honestly I doubt it, but if Trump’s march of folly is to be stopped, someone in the Republican Senate or House will have to have the courage to stand up and defend the necessity of thinking for themselves, and doing what is right.

Have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Dan Sickles Part Two: Murder in Lafayette Square

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am taking a break over this Thanksgiving weekend and am re-posting some articles from my Gettysburg text dealing with a man that I consider one of the most fascinating , salacious, scandalous, heroic, and incredible figures ever to grace and disgrace American history, Congressman, and Civil War General Daniel E. Sickles.

I hope that you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

philip-barton-key-granger

 

Within a year of his assignment Sickles returned to the United States to help prepare the Democratic nomination for his friend Buchanan who had long desired the office, and return to his lucrative post in New York. In the spring of 1856 Sickles began to work on Buchanan’s nomination for the Presidency and while doing so began his own campaign for New York’s Third District’s Congressional seat. Buchanan won the election of 1856 against an opposition divided between the Know Nothing candidacy of former President Millard Fillmore and the candidate of the new Republican Party, John C. Fremont.

In the election of 1856, Sickles carried the district easily. For Sickles it was a triumph, he was “riding a flood tide of political fortune that might carry him far,” [1] and like any wife Teresa too was delighted with the result. Even so, Teresa must have wondered if her husband would mend his ways now that he was on the national spotlight, or if he would continue his extramarital romps around the nation’s capital. Following the election Dan and Teresa moved to Washington D.C. where they took up a fashionable residence, the Stockton Mansion, on Lafayette Square, not far from the White House and Sickles friend, James Buchanan.

Once he was established in Washington Sickles was in his element, politics at its grandest. It was a different style than of politics than Tammany, where brass knuckled force often ruled, but it suited Sickles, who was “a fixer who knew all the tricks of Tammany at its crookedest but who seems not to have taken graft himself. He had his sights fixed on the presidency, and he was making about as much progress in that direction as a Tammany man can,” [2]   until a strange combination of unrequited love, infidelity, the personal betrayal of a friend, and a murder intervened.

HarpersMagazineMrs.Sickles

Teresa Sickles

While her husband politicked along the Potomac, the new congressman’s wife was adapting to her life in Washington D.C. The wives were expected to entertain and host parties on a regular basis at their residences, but they also knew their share of loneliness and neglect. Since legislators routinely were “busy with night sessions, committee meetings, and plain nocturnal politicking over whiskey punch, that their wives either accepted other escorts or spent lonely evenings at home with fancywork or a book.” thus it was not surprising that Teresa, “should seek the gayety of the capital in her first year there.” [3] In the absence of their husbands it “was not uncommon for available bachelors to act as escorts for married women when their husbands were unavailable.” [4] Since Dan Sickles was frequently unavailable and since Teresa probably still suspected that Dan was still engaged in extramarital affairs, it is not surprising that the young Mediterranean beauty found comfort in another man.

The years of 1857 and 1858 would be a tumultuous time for the nation as well as the Sickles. Buchanan had been elected because of his stability and moderation in an age of pro and anti-slavery radicalism. However, over the next year his presidency, and his would be overwhelmed by events and Buchanan’s decisions supporting the expansion of slavery. While Sickles was neither a slave owner, nor himself fond of the institution, it was part of life, and many of his friends in Washington D.C. and in Congress were slave holders. Buchanan had schemed before his inauguration with Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney in the Dred Scott decision, which was handed down in the days following Buchanan’s inauguration, followed by the fiasco over the Lecompton constitution and the attempted admission of Kansas as a Slave State, an event which split the Democratic party in the 1860 election, ensuring Abraham Lincoln’s defeat of Buchanan’s Lecompton foe in the Senate, Senator Stephen A. Douglas who would have been the prohibitive favorite in the election had the split not occurred.

Likewise, Sickles and his beautiful young wife would become part of one of the most sensational trials of American history, rivaling the Lindbergh kidnapping trial, the trial of O.J. Simpson, the Scopes Monkey Trial, and the Impeachment of President Bill Clinton in its captivation of America. As in London, Teresa became popular and she and Dan were much sought after and their home “became the scene of a gradual number of and entertainments,” [5] and even as Sickles continued his robust politicking and philandering Teresa became the object of another’s affection, the District of Attorney for the District of Columbia, Philip Barton Key, the son Francis Scott key, the writer of the Star Spangled Banner. Interestingly enough it was Sickles who had helped Key the troubled man to be reappointed to his office in early 1857 after Key had helped Sickles overcome legal and financial difficulties to secure Sickles in the Stockton Mansion and the two men developed a warm friendship.

Philip Key was extraordinarily handsome, especially when outfitted in his green and gold militia uniform of the Montgomery Guards, and was considered one of the most desirable men in Washington. An accomplished horsemen he rode about town on his “horse Lucifer – a nobly bred, dapple gray hunter.”[6] When he gained Sickles’ friendship many of his well to do political and society friends became frequent visitors to the Sickles household. After Sickles had helped Key to be reappointed to his office, Key was instrumental in helping make the arrangements for Sickles to rent the Stockton Mansion.

During his first term in office Key was not known for being a particularly good District Attorney and spent much time away from the office complaining about his allegedly poor health. But his health did not keep him away from Washington’s party scene and “One hostess called him “the handsomest man in all Washington… he was a prominent figure at all the principle functions; a graceful dancer, her was a favorite of every hostess of the day.” [7] When he met Teresa, the dashing bachelor took an intense interest in the wife of the man who had helped him retain his job. The two were soon attending many functions together that Sickles, due to his work schedule could seldom attend.

Within weeks Key became a frequent guest at the Sickles home and few were surprised at this, as most observers knew that Sickles was responsible for Key’s reappointment. With Sickles now fully engaged in the dramatic political battles of late 1857, Teresa and Key began to spend much more time together. The two were seen together at the “theater, at teas, at hops. But most of all they went riding together.” [8] The frequency of these visits was noted and became the source of much gossip but Sickles was unaware of it and entertained no suspicions that his new friend was becoming deeply involved with his wife, and that Key had rented a room where the two could intimate.

That was until a young man equally smitten by Teresa had a few drinks with a colleague and the colleague shared the information with a loyal Sickles ally who then told Sickles. Sickles was shocked and called for a meeting with Key, however, after a brief conversation, Key convinced Sickles that there was nothing to the rumors, and Sickles was satisfied.

Though Sickles had been satisfied by the explanation, “despite his own well-publicized moral lapses, Daniel Sickles was a man of intense personal pride who would not countenance the breath of scandal attaching to his wife.” [9] He took the time to warn her to make sure that she was not involved in any other indiscretions, and left the subject. However, Key and Teresa continued to see each other, and “she and Barton thought that they were taking more care, and being less observed by people than they were.” [10] Yet as they pursued one another their affair became increasingly public, and seen by too many people not to go unnoticed. The two were seen together in at the Congressional Cemetery, and frequently at a house at “385 15th Street where he would enter the by the front door – and she the back.” [11] When a mutual friend expressed his concerns, Key shrugged off the warning, and “with the bravado of a proud weakling, he still held his course. And Teresa, ductile, enamored, blindly followed his lead.” [12] Another friend of Key suggested to him that he could be in danger, but Key “bridled and patted the breast of his coat. “I am prepared for any emergency,” he snapped. Key was a crack pistol shot and his friend believed that Key was preparing for a possible confrontation. [13]

Like so many people young spouses who find their needs unfulfilled at home, and who suspect their spouse of infidelity, , “Teresa did not see this love affair as tragic and dangerous. She lived within it as a secret fantasy, as in a virtual and time-consuming experience that lacked any power to inflict damage on other areas of her life.” [14] She became less discreet, Key would signal to her from across the street to confirm their dalliances and despite their insipidly inept attempt to hide the affair it became clear to Sickles’ coachman and household maids that the two were engaged in sexual encounters in the Sickles carriage and in the Stockton Mansion itself.

The situation finally came to a head in February 1859 following Sickles reelection and return to Washington. “Made more reckless than ever by their recent separation, Barton and Teresa now again were seen everywhere together.” [15] The couple were now making clandestine liaisons on a nearly daily basis, and eventually, one of the observers decided to tell Sickles. The anonymous source, using the initials of R.P.G. sent Sickles a letter detailing the affair. Sickles received the letter from a butler on the night of Thursday February 24th as he was leaving the usual dinner party at his house for the traditional hop that followed at the Willard Hotel.

Sickles did not read the letter until after the couple returned home and Teresa had gone to bed. Sickles was stunned and at first did not believe the contents as he placed little stock in anonymous messages. So he had George Wooldridge, a longtime friend and congressional clerk investigate, and on Saturday February 26th Wooldridge confirmed Sickles worst fears. That evening at their home Sickles confronted Teresa about the letter and as he stormed about angrily in their bedroom she confessed, after which Sickles had her write out her confession detailing everything. He may have been desolate and angry, but he was a lawyer, and he got his written proof.

But scandal was the last thing that Sickles wanted, as he had higher aspirations in politics, so he immediately called his friends for counsel and by Sunday morning several, including Wooldridge and Samuel Butterworth were at the Stockton Mansion with Sickles. As always, Sickles’ “first thoughts were for himself, and he melodramatically”[16] exclaimed to Butterworth, “I am a dishonored and ruined man…I cannot look you in the face.” [17]

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Murder

His friends “were profoundly touched by the depth of his feeling, and were convinced that he needed to be saved from a severe derangement of his senses; from lunacy, that is.” [18] his friends attempts to calm him, Sickles was beside himself with anger, and his anger now swirled around his marriage and what he believed was the scandal that would cost hi his career. That afternoon, Key again tempted fate, this time, for the last time. He had been tipped off by an anonymous letter that the affair was public, but he was determined to see Teresa. He made several passes by the house, each time signaling with a handkerchief, until Sickles observed him. Sickles called out to Butterworth “That villain has just passed my house! My God, this is horrible!” [19]

Butterworth left the house first and met Key at the southeast corner of Lafayette Square across from the White House. Allegedly not knowing Sickles intended any harm, Butterworth walked with Key to for a few minutes and then left. The exchange delayed Key and gave Sickles, who had armed himself with a single shot large caliber Derringer, and a muzzle-loading Colt revolver, enough time to catch up with Key near the Club House on Madison on the east side of the square. Sickles was raving but Dan’s fury transcended reality,” [20] as at least a dozen witnesses were nearby as he screamed, “Key, you scoundrel, … you have dishonored my bed – and you must die!” [21] Sickles pulled out the revolver, the first shot from which grazed Key, and the second which misfired. A brief scuffle ensued as Key lunged at his assailant, but Sickles flung him to the ground, and drew the Derringer as Key threw the opera glasses that he viewed Teresa at Dan. A third shot hit Key in the groin and he slumped to the ground screaming “Murder! Murder!… Don’t shoot!” [22]

If there was a chance for Sickles to prove that he acted in self-defense it was now, but he could not control himself. He fired the revolver yet again and it misfired. He placed the weapon in his pocket and drew the Derringer, and fired a shot which hit Key in the Liver. As Key writhed on the ground Sickles tossed the Derringer to the ground and he again drew the Colt. As the stunned witnesses to the attack looked on, Sickles advanced toward the fallen Key and placed the gun at his head and pulled the trigger, but again the weapon misfired. As Sickles attempted to place another cap in the pistol, a number of witnesses began to intervene. One man, “a member of the club, running up, stopped him. Mr. sickles – for God’s sake!” And Butterworth, coming forward, took Dan by the arm. Without a word, they walked away together.” [23] Witnesses took the mortally wounded Key away to the Club, where he expired.

President Buchanan was almost immediately told of the murder by a White House page boy, was aware of the implications of the scandal, Sickles was a friend and political ally with much promise. Buchanan told the boy leave town and gave him a sum of money to facilitate his departure. Soon after Sickles and Butterworth went by carriage “to the home of Attorney General Black, where the Congressman formally surrenders himself to the silver-haired Cabinet member who had regarded him as a protégé.” [24]He declined bail in favor of a speedy trial, was allowed to go home where he told Teresa that he had killed her lover, retrieved some personal items and then went to the District jail, “a foul hole, swarming with vermin, destitute of sewage, bath, water, ventilation, and so inadequate to its purpose that often a dozen or more prisoners were herded into a single narrow cell.” [25] When he arrived he reportedly asked the jailer if they were the best accommodations available, to which the jailer responded “this is the best place you members of Congress have afforded us.” [26] Dejected, but undeterred Sickles sent a message to the public, “In doing what I had to do I have broken the law. Therefore I place myself behind bars. It is for you to set me free.” [27] The stage was now set for the one of the most unbelievable and storied trials in American history.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.4

[2] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.151

[3] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.15

[4] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.8

[5] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.16

[6] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.74

[7] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.9

[8] ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.20

[9] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.25

[10] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.92

[11] Ibid. Wilson and Clair They Also Served p.99

[12] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.94

[13] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.44

[14] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.92

[15] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.93

[16] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.10

[17] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.53

[18] Ibid Keneally American Scoundrel p.121

[19] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.10

[20] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.127

[21] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.54

[22] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.11

[23] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.112

[24] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.55

[25] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.114

[26] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.135

[27] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.114

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When Political Parties Implode: “I refused to unite with a bunch of traitors and disunionists…” The 1860 Election

election-results-1860-map

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Instead of making direct comments regarding the developments in the current 2016 Presidential campaign, especially the repeated charges by Donald Trump that the election is rigged and continuing threats of violence coming from many of his supporters I have decided to push on with the series that I began last Friday which is excerpted from my draft book “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era. The past three articles dealt with the breakup of the Whig and Democratic Parties and this one deals with the final break in the Democrats during the election of 1860. I took the title from what Stephen Douglas, the leader of the Northern Democrats and one of the two Democrat Presidential nominees said when Southern Democrats asked him to drop out of the race. I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The crisis continued to fester and when Lincoln was elected to the Presidency in November 1860, with no southern states voting Republican, the long festering volcano erupted. The various crises of the 1850s had brought the political emotions nation to a fever pitch and 1860 election season saw a dramatic rise in the overtly racial invective of the pro-slavery Democrats, including many in the North. It was also the election that “marked the crystallization of two fully sectionalized parties,” [1] neither of which could find a place of compromise in order to save the Union. A Mississippian observed that “the minds of the people are aroused to a pitch of excitement probably unparalleled in the history of our country.” [2]

Like the present time where the rise of the internet, social media and other platforms allows people, including radical ideologues of various stripes an unparalleled opportunity to spew hate, the changing nature of technology made the campaign one of the most merciless in American history. “Cheap printing and the telegraph made it easier and easier for the shrillest of ideologues to find audiences, even national ones.” [3] As such the campaign prefigured those of the present time. The newspapers and the ideologues may not have changed many the minds of many voters, most of whom were by now hardened in their position, but “they likely helped spur a gigantic voter turnout – some 80 percent of eligible white males nationwide – which was deemed crucial to Republican success in swing states like Indiana and Pennsylvania.” [4]

Lincoln had run a masterful campaign, rising from a comparatively unknown to a national figure due to his debates with Stephen Douglas during the 1858 Illinois Senate campaign. The Republican Party that he represented was a “coalition of old Democrats, former Whigs, and members of the nativist American Party.” [5] Lincoln defeated the odds on favorite to win the Republican nomination, Senator William Seward, as well as Senator Salmon Chase and Missouri’s elder statesman Edward Bates. Lincoln took the nomination on the third ballot and then went on to defeat a fractured opposition which was composed of three different tickets, those of the Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas, the Southern Democrat John C. Breckenridge, and the third, a fusion Constitutional Union Party ticket of John C. Bell and Edward Everett.

The split in the Democrat ticket won the election for Lincoln and was in part the idea of fire-eaters in the South, especially those in South Carolina who could not abide the candidacy of Douglas. These Southern Democrats envisioned “the destruction of the national Democratic Party – and its powerful contingent of moderates in the state – as a visible vehicle for protecting slavery in the Union.” [6]   These men hated Douglas, a man that they once cheered, for his opposition to the Lecompton Constitution and the admission of Kansas as a Slave state.  When the Democratic national convention met to nominate a presidential candidate the delegates especially the leaders of the Gulf state delegations “redoubled their sworn efforts to keep the nomination away from Douglas.” Douglas and his team of advisors attempted to work out a deal to secure the nomination with them, but they met with a stubborn refusal to cede the nomination to Douglas. The result was “an open party rupture” [7] which destroyed any chance of defeating Lincoln and the Republicans. The ever pragmatic Unionist Alexander Stephens “who stood with Douglas to the last, despaired, not only for his party but for his country: “There is a tendency everywhere, not only in the North, but the South, to strife, dissention, disorder, and anarchy.” [8]

Opponents of Lincoln turned the election to a referendum on race. The New York Herald, which was a strongly Democrat paper and had the largest circulation of any paper in the nation was typical of papers that used race to attack the Republicans. The Herald served up “a patented blend of sarcasm and sensationalism. The Herald’s editorial page cracked wise almost every day about “the Eternal nigger,” the “Almighty nigger,” the “Irrepressible nigger” and the “nigger-loving black republicans.” [9] In both the North and South opponents of Lincoln and the Republicans conjured up the fear of a future black president in order to further stoke the flames of racial hatred and division.

During the campaign Lincoln was careful to not to go beyond the printed words of his published speeches and he refused to issue any statements to mollify the conspiracy theory hysteria that was enveloping the South. “What is it I should say to quiet alarm?” he asked in October. “Is it that no interference by the government, with slaves or slavery within the states, is intended? I have said this so often already, that a repetition of it is but mockery, bearing an appearance of weakness.” [10] To be frank, Lincoln and other Republicans misread the true feelings of the South and “considered the movement South as sort of a political game of bluff, gotten up by politicians, and meant solely to frighten the North. He believed that when the leaders saw their efforts in that direction unavailing, the tumult would subside.” [11] William Seward equated the Southern threats to cries of “wolf” which had little meaning and told a gathering in New York, “For ten, aye twenty years, these threats have been renewed in the same language and in the same form, about the first day of November every four years. I do not doubt that these Southern statesmen and politicians think that they are going to dissolve the Union, but I think that they are going to do no such thing.” [12]  The editor of a Tennessee paper admitted “the cry of disunion had been raised so often that few had taken it seriously in the campaign. Evidently, the ‘Northern sectionalists’ had believed it to be ‘all talk’… while most intelligent Southerners had assumed that it was ‘an idle menace, made to sway Northern sentiment.’” [13]

The Republican Party itself was a coalition of individuals who often held opposing views, and Lincoln understood that the election, as nearly every election tends to be, was not going to be about one issue alone and even the Republican doctrine of Free Soil was seen by them more as “an economic policy than an anti-slave policy.” [14] As important as abolition was to the founding of the Republican Party, other interests had to be taken into account. These included protective tariffs, infrastructure and railroads, and homestead legislation. Thus he could not go too far in any direction that might deviate from the party platform without risking a fracture in his own party He noted: “It would be both impudent, and contrary to the reasonable expectation of friends for me to write, or speak anything upon doctrinal points right now. Besides this my published speeches contain nearly all I could willingly say.” [15]

The Presidential campaign of 1860 was unique since it had four different tickets vying for the office and it unfolded into “three distinct campaigns: Douglas against Lincoln in the North; Breckinridge versus Bell in the South; and Douglas contesting Bell in the border states, with Lincoln and Breckinridge hoping for some support there as well.” [16] As purely sectional candidates Breckinridge had no hope of winning in the North and Lincoln no chance of winning in the South.

In the South politicians, preachers and newspaper editors sounded the alarm at the possibility of a Lincoln presidency which bordered on outright paranoid hysteria. Conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods about Negro atrocities were flouted as truth in the South, whipping up passions and stoking rampant fear, “R.S. Holt, a wealthy Mississippi planter and brother of the U.S. postmaster general, reported that “we have constantly a foretaste of what Northern-brotherhood means, in almost daily conflagrations & in discovery of poison, knives & pistols distributed among our slaves by the emissaries sent out for that purpose…. There cannot be found in all the planting States a territory ten miles square in which the footprints of these miscreants have not been discovered.” [17]

One of the most consistent defenders of slavery and long term proponents of secession, Virginia Edmund Ruffin wrote to Yancey that “a Republican victory was obviously coming and that it would be “a clear and unmistakable indication of future & fixed domination of the Northern section & its abolition party over the Southern states & their institutions, & the speedy progress to the extermination of Negro slavery & and the consequent ruin of the South.” [18] A newspaper editorial in Georgia warned “Let the consequences be what they may – whether the Potomac is crimsoned in human gore, and Pennsylvania Avenue is paved ten fathoms deep with mangled bodies…the South will never submit to such humiliation and degradation as the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln.” [19]

Prominent Southern ministers, though more cautious than the newspapermen and politicians sounded the alarm. Evangelical “proslavery had popularized the South’s unique approach to the Bible and the founding of the nation. The bible supported slaveholding; God supported the South. The formula was clear. Right made might. The South had to triumph.” [20] A Presbyterian editor counseled prayer to deal with the crisis but added: “An agitation that perpetually sends dread and disturbance in to every hamlet, and to every home and fireside in the land is intolerable. No people can abide it long. They will prefer the hazard of any convulsion, the perils of any terrible adventure, to a life of anxiety and disquiet. The instincts of nature will drive them to seek relief by any, even the most dangerous means.” [21]  A prominent Southern journal remarked “In religious sentiment the South stands as a unit. Its pure doctrines are linked insuperably, though not by legal constraint, with the laws of the land. No isms and schism rankle our hearts. Christ is acknowledged as the common bond of union.” [22] Prominent church leaders like Leonidas Polk Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana made outright demands for secession if the Lincoln won. As it had so many times in the past two decades, religious sentiment helped fuel the Southern fire.

The only hope for the Democrats was for a “fusion” of the three opposition in key northern states to deny Lincoln their electoral votes and throw the election into the House.” [23] But this was not to be as there was far too much bad blood between the Buchanan faction headed by Breckinridge and Douglas, as well as distrust of the Bell ticket due to its connections with the earlier Know Nothing Party and movement. Jefferson Davis, long a proponent of secession went to Douglas to try to sway him from dropping out of the race in favor of a fusion ticket that could unite the Southern vote. Douglas recalled the conversation “If the Democrats run two candidates,” he said, “the Black Republicans will win the election. In that event the slave states will secede…” [24] Davis tried to convince Douglas to drop out saying that Breckinridge and Bell had agreed to if he would, and Douglas, who had a long standing enmity with the Mississippian wrote:

“This was strange talk from Davis, and I was damned suspicious that it might be a trap. It was all I could do to control my hatred for the Goddamned bastard. “The plan is impractical I said coldly. “If I withdraw, my friends in the North will go over to Lincoln. I’m in the hands of my friends and they won’t accept this proposition.

“Then I’ve done all that I can,” he said, rose and walked out.

Why the Goddamned hell should I withdraw? I asked my aides. I was a matter of honor with me. I had won my nomination fairly, on the basis of the party’s time honored principles. I refused to unite with a bunch of traitors and disunionists…

Others pressed me to unite with the “vandals,” as we called the Breckinridge party, but I answered with a thundering no. “I’m utterly opposed to fusing with any man or party who’ll not enforce the laws, maintain the Constitution, and preserve the Union in all contingencies,” I said. I wish to God Old Hickory was still alive, so that he could hang northern and southern traitors from the same gallows.” [25]

The split in the Democratic Party was irrevocable. While all factions of the party had some measure of responsibility for the party’s implosion in 1860, it was the old Southern leaders whose actions doomed the party. Bruce Catton wrote:

“Primary responsibility for the Democratic split in 1860 – the act that ensured a Republican triumph and left the South no cohesive national institution through which it could hope to share or regain power – belongs to those respected Southern leaders whose threats of party rupture and secession as political tactics, in the vain hope that a majority in the party and nation would fall in behind them before the tactic got out of hand. Because they would not adjust to circumstances they were engulfed by them – all without understanding that they were the leading architects of their disaster.”  [26]

Despite the cleavage in the Democratic Party, the election of 1860 enthralled the nation as candidates and their surrogates made the cases for each.  “Americans everywhere – North and South, men and women, slave and free – took an active part in the four-way campaign of 1860. Issues, platforms, speeches, and candidates were reviewed and debated in corn fields and cotton fields, workshops and markets, family gatherings, churches, picnics, races, sewing circles, family gathering, schoolhouses, slave quarters, taverns and beer gardens.” [27]

Unlike now when all states vote the same day for President, the elections of 1860 consisted of votes over a two month period of time in the different states. When Lincoln began to win early contests in the Northern states Douglas took his campaign south where he did not mince words and defied secessionists in his stated desire to preserve the Union. He told his secretary “That does it…Lincoln is the next President. We must try to preserve the Union. I’ll go to the Deep South where the secession spirit is strongest.” [28] In the South the Little Giant was met with scorn.

When all was said and done “some 4,700,000 Americans – well over two thirds of the electorate – marched to the polls and cast their ballots. By the early hours of November 7th it was clear that Lincoln had won, and when the final results were tallied it was clear that he had won rather decisively,” [29] at least in the Electoral College. Douglas received twenty-nine percent of the national vote, Breckinridge eighteen percent, and Bell thirteen. “Lincoln carried seventeen free states and no slave states; Breckinridge, eleven slave states and no free states, Bell three slave states and no free states.” [30] Douglas only won the embattled state of Missouri despite having more of the national popular vote than either Bell or Breckinridge. Lincoln captured forty percent but took 180 electoral votes, far more than the minimum of 152 needed to elect. Lincoln’s gains among former Whigs who were attracted to him by economic versus anti-slavery policies allowed Lincoln to sweep the Northern states and secure the electoral majority. When Douglas heard the final results he was in Mobile Alabama. He told his friend John Forsyth, “Well, John, I am beaten, I said hoarsely. “Lincoln will win by a big margin in the Electoral College. Even if Breckinridge, Bell, and I had withdrawn and united behind a single Democratic candidate, Lincoln would still have won a majority of electoral votes.” [31]

For decades “Southerners had shown how minorities dominate majoritarian processes. The overwhelmingly anti-Slave Power North had now shown how an awakened majority routs a minority.” [32] Even so by November the new President elect realized that the South was not bluffing in terms of secession. “The election had clarified nothing. It simply meant that a nation which had spent a long generation arguing about slavery had grown tired of talk and wanted something done – without specifying what that something might be.” [33] The process “of sectional polarization was almost complete, and it remained to see what the response would come from the section that was at the losing end of the axis.” [34] The answer was not long in coming, in the South those who had talked threatened secession for years now put their words into action as the leaders of states of the Lower South met to plan their exit from the Union.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.447

[2] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.229

[3] Ibid. Goodheart 1861 p.45

[4] Holzer, Harold Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War For Public Opinion Simon and Schuster, New York 2014 p.255

[5] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p. 267

[6] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.44

[7] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.202

[8] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.168

[9] Ibid. Goodheart 1861 p.45

[10] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.231

[11] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.432

[12] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.95

[13] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals pp.274-275

[14] Ibid. Egnal Clash of Extremes p.255

[15] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p. 266

[16] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.168

[17] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.229

[18] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.97

[19] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.230

[20] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.135

[21] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples pp.34-35

[22] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.135

[23] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.232

[24] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.329

[25] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.329-330

[26] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.211

[27] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.223

[28] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.331

[29] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.243

[30] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.447

[31] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.337

[32] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II pp.338-339

[33] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.119

[34] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.447

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When Political Parties Implode: “The Party is Split Forever…”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been writing for some time about the coming demise of the Republican Party and the past few days I have been republishing sections of my draft text “Mine Eyes have Seen the Glory” Race, Religion, Ideology and Politics in the Civil War Era to show how the Whig and Democratic Parties imploded between 1850 and 1860.

Have a great day,

Peace,

padre Steve+

democrat condenders

The fight over Lecompton was a watershed in American politics that those who wrote the Constitution of the United States could not have imagined. The deeply partisan fight served to illuminate how easily “minuscule minorities’ initial concerns ballooned into unmanageable majoritarian crises. The tiny fraction of Missouri slaveholders who lived near the Kansas border, comprising a tinier fraction of the South and a still tinier fraction of the Union, had demanded their chance to protect the southern hinterlands.” [1] The crisis that Kansas Democrats provoked drew in the majority of Southern Democrats who came to their aid in Congress and President Buchanan. This provoked Northerner, including Democrats to condemn the Southern minority, which they believed was disenfranchising the majority of people in the territory in order to expand slavery there and to other territories in the west.

The issue of Lecompton crisis galvanized the political parties of the North and demolished any sense of national unity among the Democrats. The split in the Democratic Party mirrored the national divide and the party split into hostile Northern and Southern factions, which doomed it as a national party for the foreseeable future.

Following Lecompton the intra-party Democrat divide widened as “Pro-Douglas and pro-Buchanan Democrats openly warred on one another for the next two years; an unacknowledged but real split had taken place.” [2]

tearing1-500x353

The battle over the Lecompton Constitution also marked the first time that a coalition Northern Democrats sided with anti-slavery forces to defeat pro-slavery legislation in congress. Though the measure to admit Kansas as a slave state was defeated it was a narrow victory; the “Republicans and anti-Lecompton Douglas Democrats, Congress had barely turned back a gigantic Slave Power Conspiracy to bend white men’s majoritarianism to slavemaster’s dictatorial needs, first in Kansas, then in Congress.”  [3]

The political impact of the Lecompton crisis on the Democratic Party was an unmitigated disaster. The party suffered a major election defeat in the 1858 mid-term elections and lost its majority in the House of Representatives even though it barely maintained a slim majority in the Senate. While the victorious Republicans had won the election, they made little legislative headway since the Democrats still controlled the Senate and James Buchanan remained President. In a sense “there were two Democratic parties: one northern, on southern (but with patronage allies in the north); one having its center of power in the northern electorate and in the quadrennial party convention… the other with its center of power in Congress; one intent on broadening the basis of support to attract moderate Republicans, the other more concerned to preserve a doctrinal defense of slavery even if it meant driving heretics out of the party.” [4] Democratic Party divide fulfilled what Lincoln had said about the country, as the Democratic Party had “became increasingly a house divided against itself.” [5]

Douglas’s courageous opposition to the fraud of Lecompton would be the chief reason for the 1860 split in the Democratic Party as Southern Democrats turned with a vengeance on the man who had been their standard bearer during the 1856 Democratic primary. “Most southern Democrats went to Charleston with one overriding goal: to destroy Douglas.” [6] The party decided to meet in the Charleston to decide on their platform and the man who would be their standard bearer in the election of 1860. When the convention met in April 1860 it rapidly descended into a nightmare for the Democrats as “Southern delegates were much more intent on making a point than on nominating a presidential candidate.” [7] The “Southern delegates demanded a promise of federal protection of slavery in all the territories and a de facto veto in the selection of the party’s presidential candidate” [8] in order to block the nomination of Douglas. Southern radicals “led by William Lowndes Yancey of Alabama stood for seven days agitating for a pro-slavery platform.” [9]

democratic convnetion

Ohio Democrat George A. Pugh responded to the Southern fire-eaters and said that “Northern Democrats had worn themselves out defending Southern interests – and he declared that the Northern Democrats like himself were now being ordered to hide their faces and eat dirt.” [10] Georgia Senator Alexander Stephens who had moderated his position and was supporting Douglas wrote that the radicals “strategy was to “rule or ruin.” [11] When their attempts to place the pro-slavery measures into the party platform were defeated by Northern delegates, it prompted “a walkout by delegates from Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.” [12] This deprived Douglass of the necessary two thirds majority needed for the nomination and “the shattered convention adjourned, to reconvene in Baltimore on June 18,”  [13] the “incendiary rhetoric left the Democratic Party in ashes.” [14] A friend of Alexander Stephens suggested that the party might patch things up in Baltimore, but Stephens dismissed the suggestion and told his friend, “The party is split forever. The only hope was in Charleston.” [15]

Old line former Whigs who feared the disintegration of the country led by Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden formed their own convention, the Constitutional Union Party and declared a pox on both the Buchanan and Douglas factions of the Democratic Party. They nominated a rather cold and uninspiring moderate slave owner, the sixty-four year old John Bell of Tennessee as their candidate for Constitutional Union Party President and “then chose a man who overshadowed him, Edward Everett of Massachusetts, aged sixty-seven, as the vice-presidential nominee.” [16] But this ticket had no chance of success, Bell “stood for moderation and the middle road in a country that just now was not listening to moderates, and the professional operators were not with him.” [17]

When the Democratic Party convention reconvened the results were as Stephens predicted. Another walk out by Southern delegates resulted in another and this time a final split. “Rival delegations from the Lower South States arrived in Baltimore, one side pledged to Douglas and the other to obstruction. When the convention voted for the Douglas delegations, the spurned delegates walked out, this time joined by colleagues from the Upper South.” [18] Though Douglas did not have the two-thirds majority, the convention “adopted a resolution declaring Douglas unanimously nominated.” [19]  A day later the radicalized Southern delegates nominated their own candidate, the current Vice President, John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky as their candidate “for president on a slave-code platform.” [20] 

There were now four presidential tickets, three composed of Democrats and former Whigs, “each supported by men who felt that they were following the only possible path to salvation. A Republican victory was almost certain, and the Democrats, who had the most to lose from such a victory, were blindly and with a fated stubbornness doing everything they could to bring that victory to pass.” [21]

The Democratic Party had imploded and doomed the candidacies of Douglas and Breckinridge. The Augusta Daily Chronic and Sentinel editorialized, “It is an utterly futile and hopeless task to re-organize, re-unite and harmonize the disintegrated Democratic party unless this is to be done by a total abandonment of principle… No, sensible people might as well make up their minds to the fact that the Democratic party is dissolved forever, that new organizations must take its place.”  [22]    

Notes

[1] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.140

[2] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.213

[3] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.142

[4] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.394

[5] Fehrenbacher, Don E. Kansas, Republicanism, and the Crisis of the Union in The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition edited by Michael Perman and Amy Murrell Taylor Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.94

[6] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.213

[7] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.167

[8] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.216

[9] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.121

[10] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.32

[11] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.215

[12] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.167

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.121

[14] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.167

[15] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.46

[16] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.417

[17] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.46

[18] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.168

[19] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.413

[20] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.216

[21] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.69

[22] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.121

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When Political Parties Implode: “Mr. President I Wish to Remind You that General Jackson is Dead”

lecompton-2

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been writing about the coming collapse of the Republican Party and have decided to republish some of my writings dealing with what happened to the Whig and Democratic Parties between 1854 and 1860. Today an article about the epic battle between President James Buchanan and Senator Stephen A. Douglas from draft text “Mine Eyes have seen the Glory” Race, Religion, Ideology and Politics in the Civil War Era.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Kansas was politically divided between two competing legislatures, each which claimed to be the voice of the people. The population of Kansas was heavily anti-slavery, in fact slaveholders and their supporters were a minuscule minority in the territory, but they were both load, and often used violence and intimidation to achieve power. As such many citizens felt disenfranchised by the official legislature, which was “a pro-slavery body elected by fraud in 1855.” [1] This body met in the city of Lecompton. In 1857 the Lecompton legislature sensed the opportunity to have Kansas admitted to the Union as a Slave State. To ease the way for this to happen over the will of the majority this legislature elected slavery supporters to be members of a constitutional convention, the goal of which was to draft a constitution which would be submitted to Congress for the admission of the Kansas Territory to the Union as a Slave State.

Free State partisans in Kansas feared that that if they participated in the election that they would be “gerrymandered, and simply counted out by stuffed ballots,” and most decided to sit out of the election. As a result it was “a quiet election, with many proslavery candidates unopposed and only 2,200 out of 9,000 registered voters going to the polls, a large majority of extreme proslavery men won election as delegates to the constitutional convention in September.” [2] But the result of the election was untenable, for “Two thousand voters in a territory with 24,000 eligible for the franchise had elected a body of delegates whom no one seriously regarded as representative of the majority opinion in Kansas.” [3]

The Lecompton legislature passed the proslavery constitution, but it was vetoed by the outgoing governor, John W. Geary. Geary accused “the pro-slavery legislature of attempting to stampede a rush to statehood on pro-slavery terms,” but his veto was overridden. The constitution had several provisions that most of the population found unacceptable. It protected owners of “the 200 slaves in Kansas, banned free blacks from the state, and prohibited any amendments to the constitution for seven years.” [4] In response the pro-Free State legislature in Topeka issued a referendum in which people voted “10,226 votes to 162 votes” [5] against the pro-slavery measures contained in the Lecompton Constitution. The newly appointed governor of the territory, Robert J. Walker opposed the measure and denounced it “as a vile fraud, a bare counterfeit.” [6] Walker demanded a new, fair, referendum, which the newly elected president James Buchanan, also backed. In response many Southerners in Congress “threatened to secede unless the administration fired Walker and backed down on the referendum issue.” [7] The threat of secession by Southerners in support of the radical minority in Lecompton led to chaos in the Democratic Party which controlled the House, the Senate and held the Presidency.

james-buchanan

James Buchanan

James Buchanan was a pro-slavery Pennsylvania Democrat who had rode into office on the votes of the South. He was now pressured by Southern legislators to change his position on the Lecompton Constitution. Buchanan’s cabinet, which was heavily Southern, and pro-slavery expansion also used its influence to pressure the president into supporting the plan to admit Kansas as a Slave State. In response to the pressure, Buchanan reversed his previous stance in regard to Kansas and endorsed the bill, and he “called on Congress admit Kansas as a slave state with a constitution (drafted by the proslavery territorial government at Lecompton) that was never approved by Kansas voters and obviously opposed by a majority of them.” [8] The decision by Buchanan tossed aside the doctrine of popular sovereignty which had been key to engineering earlier compromises and in response some Northern Democrats opposed Buchanan.

Buchanan’s patently obvious move to placate the slave states and overturn the restrictions on the expansion of slavery contained in the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, provoked a new outcry, this time from Northern members of the Democratic Party. Many Northern Democrats were outraged by Buchanan’s flip-flop and the threats of secession emanating from the South if the measure was not approved. Most of the Northern Democrats were willing to accept and even defend slavery where it existed, but they were opposed to the expansion of slavery. His announcement to the House of Representatives “touched off a twelve-hour donnybrook in February 1858” and “about 50 congressmen in various states of inebriation tangled with each other on the House floor… The rumble subsided only when Mississippi congressman William Barksdale tackled an unidentified assailant as the latter snatched his toupee and waved it about like a captured flag. Barksdale finally retrieved his scalp and plopped it on his head wrong side out, the absurdity of the scene giving the combatant’s pause.” [9] Many Northern Democrats felt betrayed by their president’s actions and rose in opposition to the bill that would admit Kansas as a Slave State. Even so Buchanan was a “skilled political infighter swung a remarkable percentage of Northern Democratic members of the House of Representatives, fully 60 percent, behind the Lecompton Constitution,” [10] but he did not contend with the charismatic power of Stephen Douglas in the Senate.

These Democrats were led by the formidable Senator Stephen A. Douglas. Known as the Little Giant Douglas had skillfully crafted the Compromise of 1850 using the principle of popular sovereignty, led these Democrats in their fight against Buchanan’s acceptance and endorsement of Lecompton. Douglas’s previous actions to support the rights of Slave States had made him a hero in much of the South and his stature in both the North and the South made him the frontrunner to win the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1860.

But Douglas, who had worked so hard to build compromises that would hold the Union together could not countenance the actions and tactics of the Southern members of his party. Douglas was a political realist and not an ideologue. He was very sympathetic to slave holders and was certainly no supporter of emancipation, in fact the Little Giant was an avowed racist. He was completely convinced “of the inferiority of the Negro, and he had a habit of stating it with brutal bluntness, “I do not believe that the Negro is any kin of mine at all…. I believe that this government of ours was founded, and wisely founded upon white basis. It was made by white men, for the benefit of white men and their posterity, to be executed and managed by white men.” [11] But despite his own racist beliefs Douglas understood the danger that the pro-slavery extremists supporting Lecompton were to the Democratic Party and the nation. Douglas understood that if the bill to admit Kansas as a slave state was passed that it would destroy the unity of the Democratic Party and quite possibly the Union itself.

Stephen-Douglas-in-1858

Stephen Douglas

The Illinois Senator found out about the President Buchanan’s new support of the measure when he read the newspaper. He was outraged when he saw the news in the Washington Union that Buchanan had decided to support Lecompton. He was infuriated and the fury showed when he wrote with characteristic honesty:

“This left no doubt were the old bastard stood. “Can you believe his Goddamned arrogance?” I told a friend. “I run the Committee on Territories. He should have consulted me before approving the Lecompton fraud. He’ll pay for that. By God, sir, I made Mr. James Buchanan, and by God, sir, I’ll unmake him.” [12]

As such, the Little Giant threw caution to the wind and stormed to the White House “to confront Buchanan on the “trickery and juggling of the Lecompton constitution.” He warned the president of that his actions in support of the Lecompton party would “destroy the Democratic party in the North,” and we warned that “if Buchanan insisted on going through with it, Douglas swore to oppose him in Congress.” [13]

It was an epic confrontation. Douglas recalled, “The Lecompton constitution, I told Buchannan bluntly, was a blatant fraud on the people of Kansas and the process of democracy, I warned him not to recommend acceptance of it. With his head titled forward in that bizarre habit of his, he said that he intended to endorse the constitution and send it to Congress. “If you do,” I thundered, “I’ll denounce it the moment that it is read.” His face turned red with anger. “I’ll make Lecompton a party test,” he said. “I expect every democratic Senator to support it.” I will not, sir![14]

Angry and offended by the confrontation of Douglas, Buchanan cut the senator off and issued his own threat to Douglas and his political career saying, “I desire you to remember that no Democrat ever yet differed from an administration of his own choice without being crushed….Beware of the fate of Tallmadge and Rives,” two senators who had gone into political oblivion after crossing Andrew Jackson.” The redoubtable Senator from Illinois was undeterred by the President’s threat and fought back, “Douglas riposted: “Mr. President, I wish to remind you that General Jackson is dead, sir.” [15] It was an unprecedented action by a sitting Senator, to confront a President of one’s own party and threaten to oppose him in Congress was simply not done, but now Douglas was doing it, but doing so to his President’s face, and the consequences for him, his party, and the country would be immense.

Following his confrontation with Buchanan, Douglas was even more determined to defeat the Lecompton party and their brazen attempt to admit Kansas as a slave state over the will of the non-slave majority. In a display of righteous anger Douglas did what few politicians would consider doing in our day and age and “took his political life into his own hands and assailed the Lecompton Constitution on the floor of the Senate as a mockery of the popular sovereignty principle.” [16] President Buchanan and his allies in Congress fought back viciously, so much so that the two sides sometimes came into physical confrontation with each other in the chambers of Congress.

When Buchanan’s supporters pushed for Lecompton’s approval and the admission of Kansas as a Slave State, Douglas fired back, warning “You do,” I said, “and it will lead directly to civil war!” I warned the anti-Lecompton Democrats of the North that the President intended to put the knife to the throat of every man who dared to think for himself on this question and carry out principles in good faith. “God forbid,” I said “that I ever surrender my right to differ from a President of the United States for my own choice. I am not a tool of any President!” [17]

Under Douglas the Northern Democrats joined with Republicans for the first time to defeat the admission of Kansas as a Slave State. Douglas recalled the battle:

“After the Christmas recess, the Administration unleashed its heavy horsemen: Davis, Slidell, Hunter, Toombs, and Hammond, all southerners. They damned me as a traitor and demanded that I be stripped of my chairmanship of the Committee on Territories and read out of the Democratic party. Let the fucking bastards threaten, proscribe, and do their worst, I told my followers; it would not cause any honest man to falter. If my course divided the Democratic party, it would not be my fault. We were engaged in a great struggle for principle, I said, and we would defy the Administration to the bitter end.” [18]

Southern Democrats in Congress fought back furiously. As the battle continued their acrimony towards Douglas grew into apocalyptic proportions and their rhetoric against the Little Giant became more heated. According to his opponents Douglas was “at the head of the Black column…stained with the dishonor of treachery without parallel…patent double dealing…detestable heresies…filth of his defiant recreancy…a Dead Cock in the Pit…away with him to the tomb which he is digging for his political corpse.” [19]

But Douglas was undeterred by the threats to his career made by Buchanan, his congressional opponents and the press. He believed that he was in the right, and though he was in agreement with the philosophy of his opponents regarding slavery as an institution to be protected in the South, he realized that appeasing the South was not an option in regard to Lecompton, since that measure undermined the entire concept of popular sovereignty. He wrote:

“My forces in the House fought a brilliant delaying action while I worked to win over wavering Democrats. When we introduced a substitute bill, Buchannan called a dozen congressmen to the White House and exhorted them not to forsake the administration. He was cursing and in tears. He had reason to be: on April first, a coalition of ninety-two Republicans, twenty-two anti-Lecompton Democrats, and six Know-Nothings sent Lecompton down to defeat by passing the substitute bill. This bill provided for a popular vote on the Lecompton constitution and for a new convention if the people rejected that document, as they surely would.” [20]

The substitute bill was passed by the Senate as well and sent back to Kansas for a popular vote. When the Lecompton Constitution was resubmitted to the people of Kansas for a vote, the results of the referendum were devastating to the pro-slave faction, and  “to the hideous embarrassment of Buchanan, the voters of Kansas turned on August 30th and rejected Lecompton by a vote of 11,812 to 1,926.” [21] The ever colorful and blunt Little Giant wroteThe agony is over,” cried one of my aides, “and thank God that the right has triumphed. Poor old Buck! Poor old Buck had just had his face rubbed in shit. By our “indomitable courage, “ as another aide put it, we’d whipped this “powerful and proscriptive” Administration and forced the Black Republicans to support a substitute measure which fully embodied the great principles of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.” [22] The victory of Douglas and his faction over the Buchanan faction in the Lecompton fight “ended a political battle which had convulsed the country and virtually destroyed two administrations, but the full consequences of the prolonged struggle had yet to become evident.” [23]

Pro-slavery Southerners were outraged and Buchanan used every measure that he could to crush the anti-Lecompton Democrats, but he had lost “one of the most vicious struggles in the history of Congress, Southern Democrats had seriously damaged the patience of their Northern counterparts, and Buchanan loyalists in the North were unseated wholesale by upstart Republicans in the 1858 congressional elections.” [24] Buchanan’s Presidency was discredited, his party divided, its majority in congress lost, and the South moving closer to secession. Southerners considered Douglas a traitor and accused him of betraying them. “A South Carolinian lamented that “this defection of Douglas has done more than all else to shake my confidence in Northern men on the slavery issue, for I have long regarded him as one of our safest and most reliable friends.” [25]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.81

[2] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.300

[3] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.314

[4] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.115

[5] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.138

[6] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.165

[7] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.164

[8] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.211

[9] Ibid. Goldfield  America Aflame p.144

[10] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.138

[11] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.340

[12] Ibid, Oates The Approaching Fury p.208

[13] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.166

[14] Ibid, Oates The Approaching Fury p.208

[15] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.166

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.115

[17] Ibid, Oates The Approaching Fury p.210

[18] Ibid, Oates The Approaching Fury pp.212-213

[19] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.168

[20] Ibid, Oates The Approaching Fury pp.215-216

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.116

[22] Ibid, Oates The Approaching Fury p.216

[23] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.325

[24] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.116

[25] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.167

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The “Unshackled” Trump Turns Against the GOP

Ayn Rand, Russian-born American novelist, is shown in Manhattan with the Grand Central Terminal building in background in 1962. (AP Photo)

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

With his poll numbers in freefall and dozens of GOP leaders fleeing his toxic fascism, Donald Trump has gone on the attack. Trump bragged that he is now “unshackled” from the GOP and yes while he is attacking Hillary Clinton and threatening in a typical banana republic fascist dictator sort of way that he is going to jail her if he is elected, even more importantly he is now gone nuclear on the GOP and the firestorm has just begun. His attacks against any and all GOP leaders who oppose him or are critical of him are creating a scorched earth situation which will scar the GOP and it is largely the fault of GOP leaders for creating the moral and ideological toxic waste dump from which he emerged. Today, after a firestorm of tweets directed at Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, in which he tweeted: Our very weak and ineffective leader, Paul Ryan, had a bad conference call where his members went wild at his disloyalty. Trump tweeted:

Disloyal R’s are far more difficult than Crooked Hillary. They come at you from all sides. They don’t know how to win – I will teach them!

It is the beginning of the end for the GOP and I have been predicting this for almost a year, often using the comparison of the meltdown that happened to the Democratic Party between 1858 and 1860. The bitterness and divisiveness of that collapse kept the Democrats out of the White House for 25 years and the trend would not be fully reversed until Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected in 1932.

But even so there was something very different about that collapse than what is happening today in the GOP. In 1858-1860 the meltdown was centered on the expansion of slavery into the new territories, and Northern Democrats who were in favor of allowing the Southern States to keep their slaves were opposed to slavery’s expansion. That divide blew up in 1858 and 1859 with the attempt of Southerners to get Kansas admitted into the Union as a Slave State when the vast majority of Kansans opposed slavery. Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, a man who most people expected to win the Presidency in 1860, led the opposition and fought his fellow Democrat, President James Buchanan to the bitter end to stop the attempt and in the process infuriated Southern Democrats so much that they would not support him and ran a Southern Democratic ticket against him in 1860. The result was that Abraham Lincoln won the election with a plurality of the vote. When the South seceded Douglas rallied Northern Democrats around the Union as Southern Democrats led their States into the Confederacy.

If you are interested you can see the first article that I wrote about it here:

When Political Parties Implode: The Battle over the Lecompton Constitution and its Relevance Today

I later revised and expanded that article into a five part series in March of this year.

But as I said, today’s situation in the GOP is different. It is not about policy. It is about a cult of personality centered on a Presidential nominee who demands absolute loyalty to himself and tolerates no dissent. It is about a man and a cult that sees no problem in trashing the Constitution, of banning reporters and news organizations that it disagrees with from their rallies, a leader and a cult that has no problem using physical violence against opponents, a leader and a cult that revels in xenophobia, which has hijacked the Christian faith, which supports the actions of a Russian leader who has relentlessly worked to subvert the United States and its allies, a man who brags about his ability to avoid paying taxes, who mocks the disabled, calls POWs and wounded warriors “losers”, demeans the military and its leadership at every opportunity, and views women as objects who should be sexually assaulted. I’m sorry, the man and his cult are deplorable. Conservative columnist George Will described the vapid world of Trump’s supporters in a column that was published yesterday. He noted:

“Trump is a marvelously efficient acid bath, stripping away his supporters’ surfaces, exposing their skeletal essences. Consider Mike Pence, a favorite of what Republicans devoutly praise as America’s “faith community.” Some of its representatives, their crucifixes glittering in the television lights, are still earnestly explaining the urgency of giving to Trump, who agreed that his daughter is “a piece of ass,” the task of improving America’s coarsened culture.” 

To watch Pence, Pat Robertson, Robert Jefferess and other right wing religious hacks masquerading as ministers praise and defend Trump after his comments about assaulting women was to watch the old guard of the Religious Right throw themselves into the abyss. No wonder people are fleeing the church.

It is about a man who based on his actions as a businessman which crushed investors as well small business owners, who sues anyone that attempts to expose him, as well as his threats as a politician against his opponents, including those in his own party would be quickly establish himself as a dictator if elected. Sadly, it seems that many of his supporters want just that.

So now the Civil War in the GOP that I predicted months ago is erupting in full view of all. It is going to be a disaster for the party, a party that I belonged to for 32 years. I left the GOP in 2008 after I returned from Iraq, but that does not mean that I don’t have a certain amount of grief in watching the unfolding disaster. While it is too early to say what the final result will be, it is not too early to say that this will have a major impact in American politics and quite possibly hand the Democrats the reins of government for decades, but this is the fault of the GOP. For decades its leaders have basked in the support of unprincipled ideologues, talk radio hosts, and unscrupulous Christian religious leaders who have done nothing but sown the wind of hatred and division and now are reaping the whirlwind. As I said at the top, they created the moral and ideological toxic waste dump from which Trump emerged and they will have to own the result.

There are some who are now speculating that Trump is no longer trying to win the election and has ulterior motives. I have seen a number of commentators who think that he is going to use this to attempt to build a new media empire with the help of Breitbart’s Steve Bannon and former Fox News chief Roger Ailes. But I think that there is another good possibility, the possibility that Trump will take his supporters, especially frustrated Tea Party and Religious Right types and form a new party built around him. If that happens I believe that the rump of what is left of the GOP will struggle to survive after the election.

The GOP Civil War has broken out and while Trump’s supporters in Breitbart say that he has already won it, the fact is there is only one thing that is for certain, for the GOP there will be no winners.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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When Political Parties Implode, Pt 2: The 1860 Democratic Convention

democratic convnetion

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Over the past six months or so I have alluded to events in the Republican Party that make it appear that it is about to implode. I am a historian, and there is precedent in American history for the collapse of a national political party. This happened before in the 1854 collapse of the Whig Party, the 1912 division in the republican Party, but more importantly during the 1858 through 1860 collapse of the Democratic Party. Now I am not a person to say that history repeats itself. there are similarities and trends, but nothing is ever exactly the same as to why different parties collapse.  

While the issues of each day may be different there are common threads of humanity, hubris and hatred that unite to destroy political parties. I think that this is happening now in the Republican Party, and that it is possible that something similar may occur with the Democratic Party in the coming years. So it is important to look at history whenever possible to see how different political leaders responded in times of intense ideological, economic, social, national, and sectional division.

This is a three part series on the disaster that the Democratic Party made for itself and the country between 1858 and 1860. This second part deals with the after effects of the Lecompton Constitution fiasco during the 1860 Democratic Party Conventions in Charleston and Baltimore.

This is a section of one of the chapters of my Civil War and Gettysburg text and I hope that you will find it interesting and thought provoking.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

The fight over Lecompton was a watershed in American politics that those who wrote the Constitution of the United States could not have imagined. The deeply partisan fight served to illuminate how easily “minuscule minorities’ initial concerns ballooned into unmanageable majoritarian crises. The tiny fraction of Missouri slaveholders who lived near the Kansas border, comprising a tinier fraction of the South and a still tinier fraction of the Union, had demanded their chance to protect the southern hinterlands.” [1] The crisis that Kansas Democrats provoked drew in the majority of Southern Democrats who came to their aid in Congress and President Buchanan. This provoked Northerner, including Democrats to condemn the Southern minority, which they believed was disenfranchising the majority of people in the territory in order to expand slavery there and to other territories in the west.

The issue of Lecompton crisis galvanized the political parties of the North and demolished any sense of national unity among the Democrats. The split in the Democratic Party mirrored the national divide and the party split into hostile Northern and Southern factions, which doomed it as a national party for the foreseeable future.

Following Lecompton the intra-party Democrat divide widened as “Pro-Douglas and pro-Buchanan Democrats openly warred on one another for the next two years; an unacknowledged but real split had taken place.” [2]

The battle over the Lecompton Constitution also marked the first time that a coalition Northern Democrats sided with anti-slavery forces to defeat pro-slavery legislation in congress. Though the measure to admit Kansas as a slave state was defeated it was a narrow victory; the “Republicans and anti-Lecompton Douglas Democrats, Congress had barely turned back a gigantic Slave Power Conspiracy to bend white men’s majoritarianism to slavemaster’s dictatorial needs, first in Kansas, then in Congress.” [3]

The political impact of the Lecompton crisis on the Democratic Party was an unmitigated disaster. The party suffered a major election defeat in the 1858 mid-term elections and lost its majority in the House of Representatives even though it barely maintained a slim majority in the Senate. While the victorious Republicans had won the election, they made little legislative headway since the Democrats still controlled the Senate and James Buchanan remained President. In a sense “there were two Democratic parties: one northern, on southern (but with patronage allies in the north); one having its center of power in the northern electorate and in the quadrennial party convention… the other with its center of power in Congress; one intent on broadening the basis of support to attract moderate Republicans, the other more concerned to preserve a doctrinal defense of slavery even if it meant driving heretics out of the party.” [4] Democratic Party divide fulfilled what Lincoln had said about the country, as the Democratic Party had “became increasingly a house divided against itself.” [5]

democrat condenders

Douglas’s courageous opposition to the fraud of Lecompton would be the chief reason for the 1860 split in the Democratic Party as Southern Democrats turned with a vengeance on the man who had been their standard bearer during the 1856 Democratic primary. “Most southern Democrats went to Charleston with one overriding goal: to destroy Douglas.” [6] The party decided to meet in the Charleston to decide on their platform and the man who would be their standard bearer in the election of 1860. When the convention met in April 1860 it rapidly descended into a nightmare for the Democrats as “Southern delegates were much more intent on making a point than on nominating a presidential candidate.” [7] The “Southern delegates demanded a promise of federal protection of slavery in all the territories and a de facto veto in the selection of the party’s presidential candidate” [8] in order to block the nomination of Douglas. Southern radicals “led by William Lowndes Yancey of Alabama stood for seven days agitating for a pro-slavery platform.” [9]

Ohio Democrat George A. Pugh responded to the Southern fire-eaters and said that “Northern Democrats had worn themselves out defending Southern interests – and he declared that the Northern Democrats like himself were now being ordered to hide their faces and eat dirt.” [10] Georgia Senator Alexander Stephens who had moderated his position and was supporting Douglas wrote that the radicals “strategy was to “rule or ruin.” [11] When their attempts to place the pro-slavery measures into the party platform were defeated by Northern delegates, it prompted “a walkout by delegates from Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.” [12] This deprived Douglass of the necessary two thirds majority needed for the nomination and “the shattered convention adjourned, to reconvene in Baltimore on June 18,” [13] the “incendiary rhetoric left the Democratic Party in ashes.” [14] A friend of Alexander Stephens suggested that the party might patch things up in Baltimore, but Stephens dismissed the suggestion and told his friend, “The party is split forever. The only hope was in Charleston.” [15]

Old line former Whigs who feared the disintegration of the country led by Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden formed their own convention, the Constitutional Union Party and declared a pox on both the Buchanan and Douglas factions of the Democratic Party. They nominated a rather cold and uninspiring moderate slave owner, the sixty-four year old John Bell of Tennessee as their candidate for President and “then chose a man who overshadowed him, Edward Everett of Massachusetts, aged sixty-seven, as the vice-presidential nominee.” [16] But this ticket had no chance of success, as Bell “stood for moderation and the middle road in a country that just now was not listening to moderates, and the professional operators were not with him.” [17]

When the Democratic Party convention reconvened the results were as Stephens predicted. Another walk out by Southern delegates resulted in another and this time a final split. “Rival delegations from the Lower South States arrived in Baltimore, one side pledged to Douglas and the other to obstruction. When the convention voted for the Douglas delegations, the spurned delegates walked out, this time joined by colleagues from the Upper South.” [18] Though Douglas did not have the two-thirds majority, the convention “adopted a resolution declaring Douglas unanimously nominated.” [19] A day later the radicalized Southern delegates nominated their own candidate, the current Vice President, John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky as their candidate “for president on a slave-code platform.” [20]

There were now four presidential tickets, three composed of Democrats and former Whigs, “each supported by men who felt that they were following the only possible path to salvation. A Republican victory was almost certain, and the Democrats, who had the most to lose from such a victory, were blindly and with a fated stubbornness doing everything they could to bring that victory to pass.” [21]

The Democratic Party had imploded and doomed the candidacies of Douglas and Breckinridge. The Augusta Daily Chronic and Sentinel editorialized, “It is an utterly futile and hopeless task to re-organize, re-unite and harmonize the disintegrated Democratic party unless this is to be done by a total abandonment of principle… No, sensible people might as well make up their minds to the fact that the Democratic party is dissolved forever, that new organizations must take its place.” [22]    

Notes

[1] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.140

[2] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.213

[3] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.142

[4] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.394

[5] Fehrenbacher, Don E. Kansas, Republicanism, and the Crisis of the Union in The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition edited by Michael Perman and Amy Murrell Taylor Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.94

[6] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.213

[7] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.167

[8] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.216

[9] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.121

[10] Catton, Bruce The Coming Fury Phoenix Press, London 1961 p.32

[11] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.215

[12] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.167

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.121

[14] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.167

[15] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.46

[16] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.417

[17] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.46

[18] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.168

[19] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.413

[20] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.216

[21] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.69

[22] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.121

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