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Slavery and National Expansion: the Compromise of 1850 or “The Privilege of Belonging to the Superior Race…” Part 3

thomas-sims-marched-into-slavery-nypl

Enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law in Boston 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today the third installment of a three part series  of my work dealing with American Slavery in the ante-bellum period. These next articles deal with the subject of what happens when laws are made that further restrict the liberty of already despised, or enslaved people. In this case the subject is the Compromise of 1850 and its associated laws such as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

This is an uncomfortable period of history for Americans with either a sense of conscience, or those who believe the racist myths surrounding the “Noble South” and “The Lost Cause.”  I hope that you find them interesting, especially in light of current events in the United States.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

Robert Toombs of Georgia was an advocate for the expansion of slavery into the lands conquered during the war. Toombs warned his colleagues in Congress “in the presence of the living God, that if you by your legislation you seek to drive us from the territories of California and New Mexico, purchased by the common blood and treasure of the whole people…thereby attempting to fix a national degradation upon half the states of this Confederacy, I am for disunion.”  [1]

The tensions in the aftermath of the war with Mexico escalated over the issue of slavery in the newly conquered territories brought heated calls by some southerners for secession and disunion. To preserve the Union, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, supported by the new President Millard Fillmore were able to pass the compromise of 1850 solved a number of issues related to the admission of California to the Union and boundary disputes involving Texas and the new territories.  But among the bills that were contained in it was the Fugitive Slave Law, or The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The act was the device of Henry Clay which was meant to sweeten the deal for southerners. The law would “give slaveholders broader powers to stop the flow of runaway slaves northward to the free states, and offered a final resolution denying that Congress had any authority to regulate the interstate slave trade.” [2]

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A Warning to Blacks in Boston regarding the Fugitive Slave Law

For all practical purposes the Compromise of 1850 and its associated legislation nationalized the institution of slavery, even in Free States. It did this by forcing all citizens to assist law enforcement in apprehending fugitive slaves. It also voided state laws in Massachusetts, Vermont, Ohio, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, which barred state officials from aiding in the capture, arrest or imprisonment of fugitive slaves. “Congress’s law had nationalized slavery. No black person was safe on American soil. The old division of free state/slave state had vanished….” [3] If there was any question as to whose “States Rights” the leaders of the South were advocating, it was certainly not those of the states whose laws were voided by the act.

That law required all Federal law enforcement officials, even in non-slave states to arrest fugitive slaves and anyone who assisted them, and threatened law enforcement officials with punishment if they failed to enforce the law. The law stipulated that should “any marshal or deputy marshal refuse to receive such warrant, or other process, when tendered, or to use all proper means diligently to execute the same, he shall, on conviction thereof, be fined in the sum of one thousand dollars.” [4] In effect the law nullified state laws and forced individual citizens and local officials to help escaped slaves regardless of their own convictions, religious views, and state and local laws to the contrary.

Likewise the act compelled citizens in Free states to “aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law, whenever their services may be required….” [5] Penalties were harsh and financial incentives for compliance attractive.

“Anyone caught providing food and shelter to an escaped slave, assuming northern whites could discern who was a runaway, would be subject to a fine of one thousand dollars and six months in prison. The law also suspended habeas corpus and the right to trial by jury for captured blacks. Judges received a hundred dollars for every slave returned to his or her owner, providing a monetary incentive for jurists to rule in favor of slave catchers.” [6]

The law gave no protection for even black freedmen, who simply because of their race were often seized and returned to slavery. The legislation created a new extra-judicial bureaucratic office to decide the fate of blacks. This was the office of Federal Commissioner and it was purposely designed to favorably adjudicate the claims of slaveholders and their agents, and to avoid the normal Federal Court system. There was good reason for the slave power faction to place this in the law, many Federal courts located in Free States often denied the claims of slave holders, and that could not be permitted if slavery was to not only remain, but to grow with the westward expansion of the nation.

When slave owners or their agents went before these new appointed commissioners, they needed little in the way of proof to take a black back into captivity. The only proof or evidence other than the sworn statement by of the owner with an “affidavit from a slave-state court or by the testimony of white witnesses” [7] that a black was or had been his property was required to return any black to slavery. The affidavit was the only evidence required, even if it was false.

runaway

Since blacks could not testify on their own behalf and were denied legal representation before these commissioners, the act created an onerous extrajudicial process that defied imagination. Likewise, the commissioners had a strong a financial incentive to send blacks back to slavery, unlike normal courts the commissioners received a direct financial reward for returning blacks to slave owners. “If the commissioner decided against the claimant he would receive a fee of five dollars; if in favor ten. This provision, supposedly justified by the paper work needed to remand a fugitive to the South, became notorious among abolitionists as a bribe to commissioners.” [8] It was a system rigged to ensure that African Americans had no chance, and it imposed on the citizens of Free states the legal obligation to participate in a system that many wanted nothing to do with.

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Frederick Douglass 

Frederick Douglass wrote about the new law in the most forceful terms:

“By an act of the American Congress…slavery has been nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form. By that act, Mason & Dixon’s line has been obliterated;…and the power to hold, hunt, and sell men, women, and children remains no longer a mere state institution, but is now an institution of the whole United States.” [9]

Douglass was correct as was demonstrated during an incident in Boston in 1854 where an escaped slave named Anthony Burns, who had purchased his freedom, was arrested under the Fugitive Slave Act. The arrest prompted a protest in which, “an urban mob – variously composed of free Negro laborers, radical Unitarian ministers, and others – gathered to free him. They stormed the Federal courthouse, which was surrounded by police and wrapped in protective chains….Amid the melee, one protestor shot and killed a police deputy.” [10] The heated opposition to Burns’ arrest provoked the passions of thousands of Bostonians who protested for his release that caused the Massachusetts governor to deploy two batteries of artillery outside the courthouse to deter any more attacks. When the Federal Fugitive Slave Law commissioner consigned Burns to his Southern owner, the prisoner placed in shackles and was marched down State Street. Tensions were now running extremely high and a “brigade of Massachusetts militia and local police were required to run Burns through a gauntlet and deposit him on the ship that would remand him to Virginia.” [11] Bostonians began to see their city as it was in the early days of the American Revolution, as a place that resisted tyranny. Neither did they did not forget Burns but raised the money to purchase his freedom. William Lloyd Garrison wrote, “the “deed of infamy… demonstrated as nothing else that “only “the military power of the United States” could sustain slavery.” [12] Nevertheless, Boston’s “mercantile elite had vindicated law and order” [13] but in the process they helped move so abolitionists who had been advocates of pacifism and non-violence to physical resistance to the bounty hunting Southerners. “Across the North, prisons were broken into, posses were disrupted, and juries refused to convict.” [14]

Violence between slave hunters and their protectors did break out in September 1851 when “a Maryland slave owner named Edward Gorsuch crossed into Pennsylvania in pursuit of four runaways.” [15] Gorsuch and his armed posse found them in the Quaker town of Christiana, where they were being sheltered by a free black named William Parker and along with about two dozen other black men armed with a collection of farm implements and a few muskets who vowed to resist capture. Several unarmed Quakers intervened and recommended that Gorsuch and his posse leave for their own sake, but Gorsuch told them “I will have my property, or go to hell.” [16] A fight then broke out in which Gorsuch was killed and his son seriously wounded, and the fugitives escaped through the Underground Railroad to Canada.

The Christiana Riot as it is called now became a national story. In the North it was celebrated as an act of resistance while it was decried with threats of secession in the South. President Millard Fillmore sent in troops and arrested a number of Quakers as well as more than thirty black men. “The trial turned into a test between two cultures: Southern versus Northern, slave versus free.”  [17] The men were charged with treason but the trial became a farce as the government’s case came apart. After a deliberation of just fifteen minutes, “the jury acquitted the first defendant, one of the Quakers, the government dropped the remaining indictments and decided not to press other charges.” [18] Southerners were outraged, and one young man whose name is forever linked with infamy never forgot. A teenager named John Wilkes Booth was a childhood friend of Gorsuch’s son Tommy. “The death of Tommy Gorsuch’s father touched the young Booth personally. While he would move on with his life, he would not forget what happened in Christiana.” [19]

The authors of the compromise had not expected such resistance to the laws. On his deathbed Henry Clay, who had worked his entire career to pass compromises in order to preserve the Union, praised the act, of which he wrote “The new fugitive slave law, I believe, kept the South in the Union in ‘fifty and ‘fifty-one. Not only does it deny fugitives trial by jury and the right to testify; it also imposes a fine and imprisonment upon any citizen found guilty of preventing a fugitive’s arrest…” Likewise Clay depreciated the Northern opposition and condemned the attempt to free Anthony Burns, noting “Yes, since the passage of the compromise, the abolitionists and free coloreds of the North have howled in protest and viciously assailed me, and twice in Boston there has been a failure to execute the law, which shocks and astounds me…. But such people belong to the lunatic fringe. The vast majority of Americans, North and South, support our handiwork, the great compromise that pulled the nation back from the brink.” [20] 

While the compromise had “averted a showdown over who would control the new western territories,” [21] it only delayed disunion. In arguing against the compromise South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun realized that for Southerners it did not do enough to support the peculiar institution and that it would inspire Northern abolitionists to redouble their efforts to abolish slavery. Thus, Calhoun argued not just for the measures secured in the compromise legislation, but for the permanent protection of slavery:

“He understood that slavery stood at the heart of southern society, and that without a mechanism to protect it for all time, the Union’s days were numbered.” Almost prophetically he said “I fix its probable [breakup] within twelve years or three presidential terms…. The probability is it will explode in a presidential election.”  [22]

Of course it was Calhoun and not the authors of the compromise who proved correct. The leap into the abyss of disunion and civil war had only been temporarily avoided. However, none of the supporters anticipated what would occur in just six years when a “train of unexpected consequences would throw an entirely new light on the popular sovereignty doctrine, and both it and the Compromise of 1850 would be wreaked with the stroke of a single judicial pen.” [23]

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning pp.62-63

[2] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.68

[3] Ibid. Goldfield  America Aflame p.71

[4] ______________Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 retrieved from the Avalon Project, Yale School of Law http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/fugitive.asp 11 December 2014

[5] Ibid. Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

[6] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.71

[7] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom  p.80

[8] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.80

[9] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.72

[10] Goodheart, Adam 1861: The Civil War Awakening Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York 2011 p.42

[11] Ibid. Varon Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War 1789-1858 p.241

[12] Mayer, Henry All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1998 p.442

[13] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.84

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.73

[15] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.73

[16] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.84

[17] Steers, Edward Jr. Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln The University of Kentucky Press, Lexington 2001 p.33

[18] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.85

[19] Ibid. Steers  Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln p.33

[20] Oates, Stephen B. Editor The Approaching Fury: Voices of the Storm, 1820-1861 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1997 p.94

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.71

[22] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.64

[23] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.71

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Fort Sumter Pt 1: The First Flash of Gunpowder and Shell

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Here is another part one of another two-part installment of my Civil War text. The story follows the implosion of the Democratic Party, the election of Abraham Lincoln, and the secession crisis. It describes who the attack came about and the reactions of people in all parts of the country, as well as the Army to those fateful shots. I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The remaining forts under Federal control in the South were a thorn in the side and a constant reminder to Jefferson Davis of the power of the federal government. As such he attempted to negotiate to obtain the forts, and when that offer was rejected out of hand by both Buchanan and Lincoln he began military preparations to seize them if negotiations failed. His task was complicated in Charleston where the Federal commander, Major Robert Anderson unexpectedly withdrew his entire garrison from the mainland to Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. The move was prompted by President Buchanan’s dithering on the status of the fort and garrison. Anderson was a Southerner who had decided to remain loyal to the Union, his second in command was Captain Abner Doubleday, a strongly committed abolitionist.

Under the cover of darkness the Union officers withdrew their men from old and weak Fort Moultrie in Charleston to Fort Sumter gaining him instant adulation in the North and condemnation in the South. Buchanan wanted to abandon the fort but “when it appeared that Northern public opinion was solidly behind Anderson, Buchanan changed his mind and attempted to persuade the South Carolinians to accept Anderson’s occupation of Fort Sumter as a legitimate exercise of federal authority.” [1] Jefferson Davis, who had not yet resigned from the Senate awaiting Mississippi’s declaration of secession complained that he “pleaded with Buchanan to give up Sumter and avert impending calamity. Once again the old imbecile refused, after his fashion, which is to say that he muttered to himself, nodded and tilted his head as if in agreement, begged leave to say a prayer, and then did nothing at all. Plainly the reins of state were in feeble hands. Had this lame-duck President withdrawn the troops from Sumter, he might have turned away the threatening of civil war.” [2]But Davis was blind to the political realities in the North that secession and seizure of other Federal installations had brought about. A prominent Northern Democrat wrote that “Anderson’s course of action is universally approved and that if he is recalled or if Sumter is surrendered… Northern sentiment will be unanimous in favor of hanging Buchanan….I am not joking – Never have I known the entire people more unanimous on any question. We are ruined if Anderson is disgraced or Sumter given up.” [3] Congressman Dan Sickles who had been such a friend of the South for so many years, even backing peaceful secession, spoke out against the Southern seizure of federal installations, said that the secessionists had committed “a fatal error” and said “it will never do, sir, for them to protest against coercion, and, at the same moment seize all the arms and arsenals and forts and navy yards, and ships that may, through our forbearance, fall within their power. This is not peaceful secession. These acts, whensoever or whomsoever done, are overt acts of war.” [4]

major anderson

Buchanan made a belated attempt to reinforce and resupply the fort and on January 9th 1861, an unarmed civilian ship, the Star of the West entered Charleston harbor. But the operation was bungled, secrecy was broken and the South Carolinians knew the ship was coming, even as Anderson did not get the message about the relief expedition and permission to fire if the Star of the West was fired upon. As a result when Confederate gunners opened fire on the steamer, Anderson, who had instructions to defend himself and not for an instance such as this, did nothing to intervene. “If he opened fire, the United States and South Carolina would be at war…. Major Anderson hesitated, plainly uncertain, an immense weight of responsibility resting on him….” [5] As a result the Star of the West retreated, leaving the garrison unreinforced. But the secessionists “had overplayed their hand. The South Carolina gunners who fired on the Star of the West had, in effect, invited the Federal government to start the war then and there if it wanted a war….” [6] The firing on the Star of the West further inflamed Northerners. Dan Sickles thundered in the House chambers “the authorities of South Carolina, through their military forces, opened fire upon that defenseless ship, and compelled her to retire and abandon the peaceful and legitimate mission in which she was engaged. Now, sir, that was an act of war, unqualified war.” [7]

The debate continued as Buchanan eased out of office and the new Confederate government of Jefferson Davis took ownership of the situation in Charleston. Buchanan did not want to do anything overt to tip the balance in undecided slave states toward secession and Davis did not want South Carolina to act alone and risk a premature attack on the fort. But as both sides waited the balance of power in Charleston shifted, “as local troops day by day strengthened the ring of batteries confronting Sumter’s garrison.” [8] In incoming Lincoln administration debated what to do with some of the incoming cabinet members counseling withdraw and others resistance to Confederate demands. Lincoln gave serious thought to abandoning the fort but could not bring himself to authorize the action. He understood that if he ordered evacuation, “the credibility of his presidency and the Republican administration would be in pieces before either had scarcely begun.” [9]

Instead the new President sought more information and sent three men “down to Charleston to observe the situation and report on what they saw. The first two, both southern-born, were Illinois law associates, both reported reconciliation impossible…. The third, a high-ranking naval observer who secured and interview with Anderson at the fort, returned to declare a relief expedition was feasible.” [10] He also continued to meet with his cabinet members to decide on the appropriate policy to meet the challenge to federal authority in Charleston. “He met with Francis Blair, who, like his son, Monty, believed passionately that the surrender of Sumter “was virtually a surrender of the Union unless under irresistible force – that compounding with treason was treason to the Govt.” [11] On March 29th Lincoln again met with his cabinet and having weighed all of the options, decided to resupply the fort. His decision was to “not send guns or bullets to Sumter, only food and medicine. He would resupply, but not rearm, it. And he would announce the plan in advance so the South could not regard the effort as an act of hostility by an enemy.” [12] If the attempt succeeded “federal authority in South Carolina had been preserved, and Charleston could do little short of war to change it; if it failed, the failure would be due to Charleston’s decision to open fire, and the onus of beginning a civil war would lie on their hands.” [13]

Even as the Confederate moved even more troops and guns into position around the Sumter, more and more people of influence were growing impatient with the delays in gaining Fort Sumter and feared that if something was not done that in some places there might be a call to return to the Union. Jefferson Davis was under great pressure to act, a newspaper in Mobile Alabama editorialized that “If something is not done pretty soon…the whole country will be so disgusted with the sham of independence that the first chance the people get at a popular election the y will turn the whole movement topsy-turvy.” [14] Likewise, “Southern ardor was chafing at the bit anyway, and failure to meet the challenge threatened to undermine the government and weaken Southern resolve.” [15]

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General P.T.G. Beauregard C.S.A.

Knowing from Southern sympathizers still in Washington that a relief expedition was coming, General P.T.G. Beauregard “had already cut off Major Anderson’s purchases in the Charleston market the day before Governor Pickens received Lincoln’s message about the intention to provision Sumter.” [16] Pickens forwarded the message to Davis in Montgomery and Davis was forced to either back down on their threats or fire the first shot of the war, and even worse from a messaging standpoint, “that first shot would be for the immediate purpose of keeping food from hungry men.” [17]

Davis was extremely angry when he went into conference with his cabinet on April 9th upon getting the news of the relief expedition. The debate in the cabinet “ran long and heated. Davis favored proceeding with the bombardment. Charleston’s batteries were ready, and the South Carolinians were more than anxious,” [18] and the majority of the cabinet, with the exception of Robert Toombs concurred. He wrote:

“I summoned the Cabinet and told them that negotiation was now at an end, and that it was time to bombard the fort. Yes, I said, we would now be firing the first shot, but that was not our fault. It was Lincoln who intended war. He and that lying Seward had drawn the sword, and we were responding to them. We were defending our honor.

Toombs, my Secretary of State disagreed. “Sir,” he said to me, “firing at the fort is suicide. It’s unnecessary, it puts us in the wrong, it’s fatal.”

“Sir,” I said, “you are wrong.”

On April tenth, I ordered General Beauregard to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter, and if refused, to reduce it with his guns.” [19]

Beauregard delivered the ultimatum to Anderson, who rejected it noting that “his sense of honor and obligations to his government prevented him his complying; but in conversation with Beauregard’s aides he remarked that in any event, the garrison would be starved out in a few days.” [20] But the fear of the Confederates that the relief force might actually arrive and succeed in its mission prompted them to open fire on the fort at 4:30 a.m. on the morning of the 12th. The relief force was scattered by a gale and could not resupply Anderson. The bombardment lasted thirty-three hours, and while Anderson’s troops resisted but could not man all of their guns and were short on ammunition and powder. With the fort heavily damaged by over 4,000 hits and interior of the fort on fire, a fire that was threatening the powder magazines, Anderson gave the order to surrender. Beauregard allowed the assembled U.S. Navy ships to evacuate the garrison and as a parting gesture the Confederate General allowed Anderson’s troops to fire a last salute to Old Glory. They hauled down the smoke stained and torn Star Spangled Banner and marched to the ship taking them off the island with their drums beating the tune “Yankee Doodle.” Lincoln realized the importance of what had happened all too well. He noted, “They attacked Sumter. It fell and thus did more service than it otherwise would.” [21]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.136

[2] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.367

[3] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.265-266

[4] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.211

[5] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury pp.180-181

[6] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.184

[7] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel pp.211-212

[8] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.544

[9] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.137

[10] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One p.46

[11] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p. 335

[12] Holzer, Harold Lincoln: How Abraham Lincoln Ended Slavery in America Newmarket Press for itbooks an imprint of Harper Collins, New York 2012 p.80

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.137

[14] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.272

[15] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.278

[16] Weigley, Russell F. A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History 1861-1865 Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2000 pp.20-21

[17] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One p.47

[18] Ibid. Davis Jefferson Davis p.323

[19] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.416-417

[20] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.21

[21] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.202

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When Political Parties Implode, Pt 4: The Secession Crisis

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.

I decided to add an afterward to the three part series on the disaster that the Democratic Party made for itself and the country between 1858 and 1860. The third part deals with the after effects of results of the democratic Party split in the election of 1860. This deals with the secession crisis that enveloped the nation as former Southern Democrats led their states into rebellion against the Union and Northern Democrats joined the anti-secession party in the North.

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+

disunion_carolina-blog427

After the election Lincoln tried to reassure the South that he would remain true to his campaign promise not to interfere with slavery where it already existed, but he also refused to give in to threats of secession. Despite his belief that anything that he said would be twisted into the exact opposite by Southerners, Lincoln released a statement through Senator Lyman Trumbull in Springfield saying:

“The states will be left in complete control of their affairs and property within their respective limits as they have under any administration. I regard it as extremely fortunate for the peace of the whole country, that this point, upon which the Republicans have been for so long, as so presently misrepresented, is now brought to a practical test, and placed beyond the possibility of doubt. Disunionists per se, are now in hot haste to get out of the Union, precisely because they perceive they cannot, much longer, maintain apprehension among the southern people that in their homes, and firesides, and lives, are to be endangered by the action of the Federal Government.” [1]

On his way to Washington D.C. the President Elect stopped in New York and gave a speech “promising that he would “never of his own volition “consent to the destruction of this Union,” he qualified this promise with “unless it were that to be that thing for which the Union itself was made.” [2] Two days later Lincoln speaking Independence Hall in Philadelphia Lincoln further detailed what he meant in New York, going back to the premise of the Declaration of Independence in which “he asserted that he “never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration…. I was not the mere matter of separation of the colonies from the mother land; but rather something in that Declaration” that provided “hope for the world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.” [3] It was a thought that he would continue to refine in the Emancipation Proclamation Gettysburg Address, the Thirteenth Amendment and in his Second Inaugural Address.

Stephen A. Douglas tried to reassure the Southern leaders as well even as argued against secession. He reminded Southerners how he had fought against Lincoln and the platform of the Republican Party and stated “that the mere election of any man to the Presidency does not furnish just cause for dissolving the Union.” [4] Addressing Southern concerns in a pragmatic way, the Little Giant tried to diffuse Southern fears by reminding them that the answer to their fears lay in the checks and balances laid out in the Constitution and in the ballot box. Douglas’s next words redound to the present day:

“It is apprehended that the policy of Mr. Lincoln and the principles of his party endanger the peace of the slaveholding states. Is that apprehension founded? No, it is not. Mr. Lincoln and his party lack the power, even if they had the disposition, to disturb or impair the rights and institutions of the South. They certainly cannot harm the South under existing laws. Will they have the power to repeal or change these laws, or to enact others? It is well known that they will be a minority in both houses of Congress, with the Supreme Court against them. Hence no bill can pass either house of Congress impairing or disturbing these rights or institutions of the southern people in any manner whatever, unless a portion of southern senators and representatives absent themselves so as to give an abolition majority in consequence of their actions.

In short, the President will be utterly powerless to do evil…. Four years shall soon pass, when the ballot box will furnish a peaceful, legal, and constitutional remedy for the evils and grievances with which the country might be afflicted.” [5]

An attempt in Congress led by President James Buchanan and Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky to bring about a constitutional compromise to mollify both sides was considered. A committee of thirteen senators was convened to entertain various compromise propositions, however, most of the suggested compromises were heavily weighted toward Southern interests, though it promised to restore the prohibition of slavery north of the line drawn in the Missouri Compromise.

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Abraham Lincoln

A frustrated Lincoln wrote, “I’ll tell you now what bothered me: the compromises measures introduced in Congress required the Republicans to make all the concessions.” [6] Lincoln warned Crittenden that such proposals would not be acceptable: “Entertain no proposition for a compromise in regard to the extension of slavery…. The instant you do they have us under again…. The tug has to come & better now than later.” [7]

Lincoln had seen how for four decades Southerners had pushed for compromises that only benefited them and the extension of slavery, even at the expense of Northern states rights and he was not about to let it happen again. The President Elect wrote:

“The Crittenden plan, I feared, would put the country back on the high road to a slave empire. Whether it was the revival of the Missouri Compromise line or a popular sovereignty, it was all the same. “Let neither be done,” I warned Republicans in Washington, “and immediately filibustering and extending slavery recommences. Within a year, we shall have to take Cuba as a condition on which the South will stay in the Union. Next it will be Mexico, then Central American. On the territorial question, I am inflexible. On that point hold firm as a chain of steel…” [8]

In the South the efforts of staunch Southern Unionists like Alexander Stephens to discourage secession were dismissed as the movement toward secession became a passion filled revolutionary movement, which acted as a cathartic movement for many Southerners. Like Douglas, Stephens had the greatest faith in the checks and balances provided in the Constitution and he pleaded with his fellow Georgians at the state capital of Milledgeville noting that the checks and balances “would render Lincoln “powerless to do any great mischief,” and he warned that “the dissolution of the Union would endanger this “Eden of the world,” that “instead of becoming gods, we shall become demons, and no distant day commence cutting one another’s throats…” [9] While his speech received favorable coverage in the North and even in London, it was met with little enthusiasm at home.

Influential Southern preachers joined in the push for secession and warned of what they saw as the dire consequences of Lincoln’s election. The Baptist clergyman James Furman expressed the outrage and paranoia of many in the South by warning after Lincoln’s election “If you are tame enough to submit, Abolition preachers will be at hand to consummate the marriage of your daughters to black husbands.” [10] Likewise entire southern denominations began to endorse secession, southern Methodists raised “alarms about a Union dominated by abolitionists as they called on the Lord for deliverance from the northern “Egypt.” The division of Israel and Judah (not to mention the nation’s already fractured churches0 became typologies for the American crisis. Just as southern Methodists had once “seceded from a corrupt church,” a Mississippi politician declared, “We must secede from a corrupt nation.” To drive the point home, Georgia Methodists ministers endorsed disunion by an overwhelming 87-9 vote.” [11]

Despite Lincoln and Douglas’s efforts during and after the election to strike a conciliatory tone, it did not take long before Southern states began to secede from the Union. In light of the profoundly sectional nature of Lincoln’s victory “emboldened many Southern politicians and journalists to insist that they would not be bound by the result.” [12] In his final speech before the Senate, Senator Robert Toombs of Georgia lambasted the “black Republicans” and abolitionists, “We want no negro equality, no negro citizenship, we want no negro race to degrade our own; and as one man [we] would meet you upon the border with the sword in one hand and the torch in the other.” [13] Other Senators, many who would become prominent leaders of the Confederacy made their speeches, some, like that of Jefferson Davis tinged with regret while others like Senator Stephen Mallory, and the future Secretary of the Navy for the Confederacy delivered a fiery broadside against his Northern colleagues, “You cannot conquer us. Imbue your hands in our blood and the rains of a century will not wipe away from them stain, while the coming generation will weep for your wickedness and folly.” [14] As these men finished the left the chambers of Congress where many had served for years many left with tears, while some marked their exit with angry words.

220px-Alexander_Stephens

Alexander Stephens

Stephens, still a Unionist at heart lamented the election even as he prepared to leave the Senate before becoming the vice president of the Confederacy, warned that “revolutions are much easier started than controlled, and the men who begin them [often] …themselves become the victims.” [15] Even so the senator noted “If the policy of Mr. Lincoln and his Republican associates be carried out…no man in Georgia will be more willing or ready than myself to defend our rights, interest, and honor at every hazard and to the last extremity.” [16] But as he resigned his office Stephens replied to a friend’s question, “why must we have civil war?”

“Because there are not virtue and patriotism and sense enough left in the country to avoid it. Mark me, when I repeat that in less than twelve months we shall be in the midst of a bloody war. What will become of us then God only knows.” [17]

But Stephens’ warning fell on deaf ears as passionate secessionist commissioners went throughout the South spreading their message of fear. “Thus fanned, mob spirit ran close enough to the surface to intimidate many moderates – the very temperament that inclines men toward moderation is apt to respond timidly when threatened or abused – and to push others closer to the extremist position.” [18] Such was the case with Southern moderates and Unionists as men like Stephens were swept up in the tumult as their states seceded from the Union. Senator Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana wrote, “The prudent and conservative men South… were not able to stem the wild torrent of passion which is carrying everything before it…. It is a revolution…of the most intense character…and it can no more be checked by human effort, for the time, than a prairie fire by a gardener’s watering pot.” [19]

disunion_dec20_secession3-blog427

The Palmetto State of South Carolina was the first state to secede. Its senior senator, James Chesnut launched a fusillade against the North in a speech before the state legislature in which he argued that the South could not wait for another election: He thundered:

“Because of the Yankee puritans’ invasive mentality, incendiary documents would flood our region, Southern Republicans would fill our offices. Enemies would control our mails. The resulting upheaval would make “Lincoln’s election…a decree for emancipation. Slavery cannot survive the four years of an administration whose overwhelming influences” will be “brought to bear against it.” To submit now is to guarantee that before 1865, we must “slay the Negro, or ourselves be slain.” [20]

William Tecumseh Sherman was serving as the President the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy, what is now Louisiana State University. Like many men in the ante-bellum era, Sherman had thought little about the slavery issue, though he was very concerned with the preservation of the Union. He thought secession made no sense, especially for the people of the South. When Sherman read the news of South Carolina’s secession it “cut to the depths of his nationalistic soul.” The future general wept, and told his friend David Boyd “Boyd, you people of the South don’t know what you are doing! You think you can tear to pieces this great union without war…. “The North can make a steam-engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical and determined people on earth…. You are bound to fail. Only in spirit and determination are you prepared for war.” [21] Sherman, the man who later proclaimed that “War is Hell” proved to be a remarkably accurate seer regarding the fate of the Confederacy.

South Carolina was followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. “A belt of seven states from South Carolina to Texas, embracing nearly one-sixth of the country’s population and nearly one-fifth of the national domain, had proclaimed independence and severed its ties with the Union.” [22] Many of the declarations of causes for secession made it quite clear and explicit that slavery, and fear that the institution was threatened by Northern abolitionists was the root cause. The declaration of South Carolina is typical of these and is instructive of the basic root cause of the war:

“all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.” [23]

Throughout the war slavery loomed large, even though in the beginning of the abolition controversies of the 1830s many northerners “were content to tolerate slavery’s indefinite survival in the South so long as it did not impinge on their own rights and aspirations at home.” [24] Such attitudes were still common in the North during the late 1850s, especially among Democrats.

But it was the continued actions and multiple transgressions of slavery supporters that energized northerners as never before. Their use of the courts to advance their rights and the cause of slavery, by the compromises that had extended slavery to the territories; their use of the courts especially the Dred Scott to allow slaveholders to recover their human property, even in Free States provoked no end of indignation throughout the North, even for those sympathetic to Southern concerns. Those actions demonstrated to Northerners:

“just how fundamental and intractable the differences with Southern political leaders were. Thus educated, most northern voters had decided by 1860 that only an explicitly anti-slavery party could protect their interests.” [25]

The fiery abolitionist and profoundly religious editor of The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison, used biblical imagery in a rather astute analysis of the behavior of Southern leaders after the election of 1860. He wrote of the Southern response to Lincoln’s election:

“Never had the truth of the ancient proverb “Whom the gods intend to destroy, they first make mad” been more signally illustrated than in the condition of southern slaveholders following Lincoln’s election. They were insane from their fears, their guilty forebodings, their lust for power and rule, hatred of free institutions, their merited consciousness of merited judgments; so that they may be properly classed as the inmates of a lunatic asylum. Their dread of Mr. Lincoln, of his Administration, of the Republican Party, demonstrated their insanity. In vain did Mr. Lincoln tell them, “I do not stand pledged to the abolition of slavery where it already exists.” They raved just as fiercely as though he were another John Brown, armed for southern invasion and universal emancipation! In vain did the Republican party present one point of antagonism to slavery – to wit, no more territorial expansion. In vain did that party exhibit the utmost caution not to give offense to any other direction – and make itself hoarse in uttering professions of loyalty to the Constitution and the Union. The South protested that its designs were infernal, and for them was “sleep no more!” Were these not the signs of a demented people?” [26]

But both sides were blind to their actions and with few exceptions, most leaders, especially in the South badly miscalculated the effects of the election of 1860. The leaders in the North did not realize that the election of Lincoln would mean the secession of one or more Southern states, and Southerners “were not able to see that secession would finally mean war” [27] despite the warnings of Alexander Stephens to the contrary. In fact throughout the South it was believed that there would be no war because “they believed that the Yankees were cowards and would not fight”… “Senator James Chesnut of South Carolina offered to drink all the blood shed as a consequence of secession. It became a common saying in the South during the secession winter that “a lady’s thimble will hold all the blood that will be shed.” [28]

Following their secession the five slave states of the lower South: “appointed commissioners to the other slave states, and instructed them to spread the secessionist message across the entire region. These commissioners often explained in detail why their states were exiting the Union, and they did everything in their power to persuade laggard slave states to join the secessionist cause. From December 1860 to April 1861 they carried the gospel of disunion to the far corners of the South.” [29]

The editors of the Philadelphia Press accused the Southern secessionists of being enemies of democracy and wrote:

“should the Cotton States go out in a body, we shall witness the beginning of an experiment to establish, on this continent, a great slaveholding monarchy. With few exceptions, the leaders of the Disunion cabal are men of the most aristocratic pretensions – men who…easily adopt the habits and titles of the European nobility. South Carolina, which is the head of Secession, is almost a monarchy herself. Her representatives in both branches of Congress, for years past, have acted upon the idea that the people of the free states are servile, and Mr. Hammond, the most candid and straightforward of the set, denounced the laboring white masses of the free States as the mudsills of society …” [30]

The mood of the South in the fall of 1860 was “fearful, uncertain, impatient and volatile, eager to adopt the course that best offered hope of deliverance – which was ideally suited for the immediacy and urgency of the radical secessionists.” [31] Using the political machinery of the Democratic Party in the South which they now possessed, the proponents of secession were far better organized than Southern Unionists who had a difficult time putting up a united front in the face of the radicals.

Slavery and the superiority of the white race over blacks were at the heart of the message brought by these commissioners to the legislatures of the yet undecided states. Former Congressman John McQueen of South Carolina wrote to secessionists in Virginia “We, of South Carolina, hope to greet you in a Southern Confederacy, where white men shall rule our destinies, and from which we may transmit our posterity the rights, privileges and honor left us by our ancestors.” [32] In Texas McQueen told the Texas Convention: “Lincoln was elected by a sectional vote, whose platform was that of the Black Republican part and whose policy was to be the abolition of slavery upon this continent and the elevation of our own slaves to an equality with ourselves and our children.” [33] These Southern secessionists were realists, they knew that the election of 1860 was a watershed in terms of the history of slavery in the United States, emancipation was coming, it might take a decade, it might take twenty-five or even fifty years, but they knew that it was coming, and for them secession was the only logical action left that was “consistent with their ideology.” [34] Many of these men now viewed it as an issue of now or never.

In his First Inaugural Address Lincoln cut to the heart of the division in the country: “One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute.” [35] Of course he was right, and his Southern opponents agreed. Jefferson Davis wrote: “The great northern party, thus organized, succeeded in electing to the office of the Presidency a man who openly proclaimed his hatred of slavery, who declared that the government could not endure “half slave and half free.” [36]

As the war began, white Southerners of all types and classes rallied to the call of war against the hated Yankee. The common people, the poor yeomen farmers were often the most stalwart defenders of the South. With the Orwellian slogan “Freedom is not possible without slavery” ringing in their ears, they went to war against the Yankees alongside their slave-owning neighbors to “perpetuate and diffuse the very liberty for which Washington bled, and which the heroes of the Revolution achieved.” [37]

Alexander Stephens, the longtime friend of Lincoln who had been a devout Unionist, who had supported Stephen Douglas until the bitter end, and who had strenuously opposed secession in the months leading to the election of 1860 was now the Vice President of the Confederacy. He had been elected Vice President the same day as Jefferson Davis was elected President by the new Confederate Congress and now went through the South speaking about the nature of the new government. Stephens explained the foundations of the Southern state in his Cornerstone Speech of March 21st 1861, the speech echoed what many Southerners had believed for years regarding slavery and the status of Blacks, namely that Blacks were a lesser order of humanity:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” [38]

Jefferson Davis had issued instructions to cabinet members to downplay slavery as an issue and was infuriated. The new President of the Confederacy wrote: “That speech infuriated me, Oh, what Stephens had said was true, perfectly true, but could anything hurt us more abroad than such impolitic remarks? It was the beginning of a fatal falling out between me and that rebellious and vindictive dwarf, who was hell-bent on forming his own policies and disputing mine with niggardly deviousness.” [39]

The Orwellian definition of slavery as being necessary to liberty and the Confederate leader’s proclamations that they were comparable to the founding fathers was condemned throughout the North. The editors of the New York Evening Post wrote:

“The founders fought to “establish the rights of man… an principles of universal liberty.” The South was rebelling “not in the interest of general humanity, but of a domestic despotism…. Their motto is not liberty, but slavery.” Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence spoke for “Natural Rights against Established Institutions,” added the New York Tribune, while “Mr. Jeff. Davis’s caricature thereof is made in the interest of an unjust, outgrown, decaying institution against the apprehended encroachments of human rights.” It was, in short, not a revolution for liberty but a counterrevolution “reversing the wheels of progress…. to hurl everything backward into deepest darkness… despotism and oppression.” [40]

Secession3

Virginia’s Ordinance of Secession

Secession commissioners from the first seven Confederate States fanned out to the undecided Slave states to spread the message of secession. One of these men was Henry Benning of Georgia. Benning spoke to the secession convention of Virginia, a state that the new Confederacy deemed all-important to its cause and which it had to have on its side in the coming confrontation with the Union. There the Georgia Supreme Court Justice used the time-honored method of racial fear mongering to sway the men of the Virginia House of Delegates, he thundered:

“If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery is be abolished except in Georgia and the other cotton States, and…ultimately in these States also,” Benning insisted. “By the time the North shall have attained the power, the black race will be a large majority, and we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything.” [41]

Not letting up the fiery Georgian told the Virginians that the North would invade the South to end slavery and of the outcome of such an invasion:

“We will be overpowered and our men compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth,” he told his audience, “and for our women, the horrors of their state cannot contemplate in imagination.” This then, was “the fate that Abolition will bring upon the white race….We will be exterminated.” [42]

Virginia’s Governor, John Letcher was “a longtime foe of secession and had wanted to bring slavery to an end in Virginia, but once elected to the governorship he adroitly put all that behind him, and rather like [Robert E.] Lee, he went to work with considerable efficiency for two causes in which he did not believe.” [43] One Unionist delegate to the convention wrote of the proceedings, “The scenes witnessed within the wall of that room…have no parallel in the annals of ancient or modern times. On the morning of the 17th, Mr. Wise rose from his seat and drawing a large Virginia horse-pistol from his bosom laid it before him and proceeded to harangue the body in the most violent and denunciatory manner. He concluded by taking his watch from his pocket and, with glaring eyes and bated breath, declared that events were now transpiring which caused a hush to come over his soul.” [44] Those events were a planned seizure of Federal facilities including the arsenal at Harpers Ferry and the Naval Yard at Norfolk. But not all in Virginia were convinced. The strongly Unionist western counties of the state, where few people owned slaves and those who did held very few, voted heavily against secession. The counties withstood the initial shock of secession and would “in a wholly extra-legal way, abetted by Washington – perform its own act of secession, breaking away from Virginia and clinging to the Union as a bob-tailed but finally acceptable new state.” [45]

Former President John Tyler added his voice to the secession cause in Virginia and “personally drafted a document placing the state’s military force under Jefferson Davis’s direct command.” Shortly thereafter he was “elected to the Confederate Congress – becoming the only former President to win office in a foreign country.” [46] However, before he could take office, the former President, now an intractable enemy of the country that he once led, died in Richmond. Shortly thereafter his portrait was removed from its place of honor in the capital.

Tennessee was another state where secession was problematic. Eastern Tennessee was strongly Unionist and the counties “held a convention, denounced the governor and legislature for making the alliance with the Confederacy, and sent a memorial asking that the eastern counties be allowed to form a new state.” [47] The legislature and governor refused this but the area would prove a problem for Jefferson Davis as well as Lincoln who would have liked to help the Tennessee Unionists, but had no military way to do so.

The highly divided border states of Kentucky and Missouri remained in the Union, but became highly partisan battlegrounds between secessionists and Unionists in which insurgents used terrorist methods against their fellow citizens throughout the war. Kentucky’s pro-secession Governor, Beriah Magoffin called the legislature into convention to decide secession “but the legislature, by a vote of 54 to 36 in the lower house, refused to call one and adjourned on February 11 without taking any decisive action.” [48] Losing that vote, he issued a declaration of neutrality which caused both Lincoln and Jefferson Davis to move with caution in the state. Lincoln understood the strategic importance of Kentucky and said “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game….Kentucky gone, we cannot hold Missouri, nor, as I think, Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us. We may as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of this capital.” [49] Lincoln’s use of caution, diplomacy, and when needed the force of the law, courts, and the military paid strategic military and economic dividends for the North as the Ohio River remained under Union control.

Maryland too remained in the Union as Governor Thomas H. Hicks, with the help of federal troops resisted a call in the legislature for a secession vote, even so as Union volunteers marched to Washington in response to Lincoln’s calls for troops some regiments were attacked in Baltimore. The 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was set upon as a “crowd of southern sympathizers threw bricks and stones and fired into their ranks as they changed trains. They returned the fire, killing twelve citizens and wounding many more, then packed their four dead on ice for shipment north, and came on to Washington, bearing their seventeen wounded on stretchers.” [50]

To Lincoln, the issue of secession as well as territory was “never just about politics. To him it spoke about the nation, even if primarily as a symbol. In his mind the nation must be about freedom, never slavery.” [51] For him the Union was sacred and could not be dissolved for any reason, especially the cause of slavery. In contrast to the secessionists who proclaimed that the states had formed the Federal Government and had the right to dissolve the Union, Lincoln, using the reasoning and arguments of Daniel Webster asserted in his inaugural address that the Union actually predated the Constitution:

“Descending from these general principles, we find the propositions that, in legal contemplation, the Union is perpetual, confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And final, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution, was “to form a more perfect Union.” [52]

In early April 1861, a few days before the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter, a New York Times editorial made a proposition that unveiled the reality of the situation now confronting the divided nation, and which so many had for so long refused to face: “If two sections can no longer live together, they can no longer live apart in quiet until it is determined which is master. No two civilizations ever did, or can, come into contact as the North and South threaten to do, without a trial of strength, in which the weaker goes to the wall…. We must remain master of the occasion and the dominant power on this continent.” [53]

Thus, the American ideological war was born; it had taken decades to reach the point of no return. It had taken years of frustration, and attempts at compromise by politicians who attempted to dodge the moral issues inherent in slavery. Time could not heal the wounds caused by slavery as long as “one section of the country regarded it as a blessing, the other as a curse.” [54] Frederick Douglass observed: “Whatever was done or attempted with a view to the support and secularity of slavery on served to fuel the fire, and heated the furnace of [anti-slavery] agitation to a higher degree than had any before attained.” [55]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.355-356

[2] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p. 310

[3] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p. 310

[4] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.338

[5] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.338-339

[6] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.355

[7] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.134

[8] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.354-355

[9] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.184

[10] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With Sword p.50 These words are little different than the words of many conservative Evangelical Christian pastors, pundits and politicians today in relation to the legalization of Gay marriage.

[11] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples pp.38-39

[12] Ibid. Holzer Lincoln and the Power of the Press p.256

[13] Ibid. Goodheart 1861 p.77

[14] Ibid. Goodheart 1861 p.77

[15] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.238

[16] Cooper, William J. We Have the War Upon Us: The Onset of the Civil War November 1860-April 1861 Alfred a Knopf, New York 2012 p.75

[17] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury pp.46-47

[18] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter pp.250-251

[19] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.237

[20] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.398

[21] O’Connell Robert L. Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman Random House, New York 2013 p65

[22] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.248

[23] __________ Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union. Retrieved from The Avalon Project, Yale School of Law http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/csa_scarsec.asp 24 March 2014

[24] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.251

[25] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.253

[26] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.342

[27] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.122

[28] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.238

[29] Ibid. Dew Apostles of Disunion p.18

[30] Ibid. Stampp The Causes of the Civil War p.189

[31] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.250

[32] Ibid. Dew Apostles of Disunion p.48

[33] Ibid. Dew Apostles of Disunion p.48

[34] Ibid. Foner Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men p.145

[35] Lincoln, Abraham First Inaugural Address March 4th 1861 retrieved from www.bartleby.com/124/pres31.html 24 March 2014

[36] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.429

[37] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With Sword pp.50-51

[38] Cleveland, Henry Alexander H. Stevens, in Public and Private: With Letters and Speeches, before, during and since the War, Philadelphia 1886 pp.717-729 retrieved from http://civilwarcauses.org/corner.htm 24 March 2014

[39] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.382

[40] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.244

[41] Ibid. Dew Apostles of Disunion p.66

[42] Ibid. Dew Apostles of Disunion p.67

[43] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.232

[44] Osborne, Charles C. Jubal: The Life and Times of General Jubal A. Earl, CSA Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill NC 1992 p.49

[45] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.365

[46] Goodheart, Adam The Ashen Ruin in The New York Times: Disunion, 106 Articles from the New York Times Opinionator: Modern Historians Revisit and Reconsider the Civil War from Lincoln’s Election to the Emancipation Proclamation Edited by Ted Widmer, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, New York 2013 p.71

[47] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.365

[48] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.510

[49] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville Random House, New York 1963 1958 p.53

[50] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One p.53

[51] Ibid. Cooper We Have the War Upon Us p.80

[52] Ibid. Wills Lincoln at Gettysburg p.130-131

[53] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One p.43

[54] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.143

[55] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.253

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Patrick Cleburne & Failed Confederate Emancipation

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

In light of some of the historical revisionism of parts of the Confederate heritage movement which claim that many blacks fought for the Confederacy. The fact is that this is not true. Though there are account of a few slaves who fought with their masters, the fact is that the Confederacy impressed the labor of slaves to do unarmed non-combat jobs such as cooks, teamsters and laborers while remaining slaves with no promise of freedom.  

This article deals with the reality that until the very end most leaders of the Confederacy fought against emancipation and did not want African Americans, slave or free to fight their battle. One non-slave owning Irish immigrant who rose to become a Confederate General disagreed and urged emancipation and equality for blacks who would fight for the Confederacy. His arguments were rejected and he was killed in action well before any other Confederate even considered emancipation.

The story of Cleburne demonstrates the lie that the leaders of the Confederacy desired nothing else than continued slavery for African Americans. It also demonstrates that there were individual Confederate leaders who saw the future and were pushed aside when they spoke up. Their political power in comparison to the aristocracy of the slave owners, traders and white supremacists was insignificant, and their heretical ideas doomed to failure.

This is another section of my Civil War and Gettysburg Staff Ride Text. I hope that you enjoy. 

Have a nice and thoughtful night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

CleburnePatrick

General Patrick Cleburne 

In the South, politicians and many senior Confederate Officers fought against any allowance for blacks to serve, for they knew if they allowed this, that slavery itself must be swept away. Despite this, a few such as General Patrick Cleburne, an Irish immigrant and a division commander in the Army of Tennessee demonstrated the capacity for forward thinking in terms of race: Cleburne advocated that blacks serve as soldiers should be emancipated.

Cleburne, known as “the Stonewall Jackson of the West” was a bold fighter who put together a comprehensive plan. He noted that the Confederacy was losing the war because it did not have soldiers, the supplies or resources; and most significantly that “slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the beginning of the war, has now become in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness.” [1] Cleburne recommended that “we immediately commence training a large reserve of the most courageous of our slaves, and further that we guarantee freedom within a reasonable time to every slave in the South who shall remain to the confederacy in this war.” [2]

Cleburne’s realism came through in his appeal:

“Ever since the agitation of the subject of slavery commenced the negro has been dreaming of freedom and his vivid imagination has surrounded the condition with so many gratifications that it has become the paradise of his hopes.” It was also shrewd politically: “The measure we propose,” he added, “will strike dead all John Brown fanaticism, and will compel the enemy to draw off altogether or in the eyes of the world to swallow the Declaration of Independence without the sauce and disguise of philanthropy.” [3]

The Irishman’s “logic was military, the goal more men in uniform, but the political vision was radical indeed.” [4] He was asking more from his fellow Southerners than they could risk. He was “asking them to surrender the cornerstone of white racism to preserve their nation” [5] and he presented it in stark terms that few could stomach “As between the loss of independence and the loss of slavery, we can assume that every patriot will freely give up the latter- give up the Negro slave rather than be a slave himself.” [6] Cleburne’s words were those of a heretic, he noted “When we make soldiers of them we must make free men of them beyond all question…and thus enlist their sympathies also.” [7]

In January 1864 General W.H.T Walker obtained a copy of Cleburne’s proposal and sent it to Davis. Walker opposed it and expressed his outrage over it. Cleburne’s proposal went from being a military matter to a political matter and Davis intervened to quash the proposal. “Convinced that the “propagation of such opinions” would cause “discouragements, distraction, and dissension” in the army, Jefferson Davis ordered the Generals to stop discussing the matter…The only consequence of Cleburne’s action seemed to be the denial of promotion to this ablest of the army’s division commanders, who was killed ten months later at the Battle of Franklin.” [8] In fact Cleburne was “passed over for command of an army corps and promotion to lieutenant general” three times in the next eight months, and in “each care less distinguished, less controversial men received the honors.” [9] All copies of Cleburne’s proposal were destroyed by the order of Davis.

Cleburne was not the only military man to advocate the formation of Negro units or even emancipation. Robert E. Lee was one of the chief proponents of this. Lee said after the war that he had told Davis “often and early in the war that the slaves should be emancipated, that it was the only way to remove a weakness at home and to get sympathy abroad, and divide our enemies, but Davis would not hear of it.” [10]

Ten months later Davis raised the issue of arming slaves, as he now believed that military necessity left him little choice. On November 7th 1864 he made his views known to the Confederate Congress, and they were a radical departure from the hitherto political orthodoxy of slavery. In light of the manpower needs of the South as well as the inability to achieve foreign recognition Davis asked their “consideration…of a radical modification in the theory of law” of slavery…” and he noted that the Confederacy “might have to hold out “his emancipation …as a reward for faithful service.” [11]

This drew the opposition of previously faithful supporters. Davis was now opposed by some of his closest political allies including Howell Cobb who warned “The day that you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution. If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” [12] Lee wrote to a member of Virginia’s legislature “we must decide whether slavery shall be extinguished by our enemies and the slaves used against us, or use them ourselves at the risk of the effects which may be produced on our social institutions…” and he pointed out that “any act for the enrolling of slaves as soldiers must contain a “well digested plan of gradual and general emancipation”: the slaves could not be expected to fight well if their service was not rewarded with freedom.” [13]

The debate began in earnest in the fall of 1864 and revealed a sharp divide in the Confederacy between those who supported the measure and those against it. Cabinet members such as Judah Benjamin and a few governors “generally supported arming the slaves.” [14] The Southern proponents of limited emancipation were opposed by the powerful governors of Georgia and North Carolina, Joe Brown and Zebulon Vance, and by the President pro-tem of the Confederate Senate R.M.T. Hunter, who forcibly opposed the measure. Led by Governor “Extra Billy” Smith, Virginia’s General Assembly finally approved a law in 1865 “to permit the arming of slaves but included no provision for emancipation, either before or after military service.” [15]

Finally in March of 1865 the Confederate Congress passed by one vote a watered down measure to allow for the recruitment of slaves. It stipulated that “the recruits must all be volunteers” [16] and those who volunteered must also have “the approbation of his master by a written instrument conferring, as far as he may, the rights of a freed man.” [17] While this in itself was a radical proposition for a nation which had went to war to maintain slavery, the fact was that the slave’s service and freedom were granted not by the government, but by his owner, and even at this stage of the war, few owners were willing to part with their property. It was understood by many that giving freedom to a few was a means of saving the “particular institution.” The Richmond Sentinel noted during the November debate: “If the emancipation of a part is the means of saving the rest, this partial emancipation is eminently a pro-slavery measure.” [18] Thus the law made “no mention of emancipation as a reward of military service” [19] and in deference to “state’s rights, the bill did not mandate freedom for slave soldiers.” [20]

But diehards opposed even the watered down measure. Robert Kean, who headed the Bureau of War and should have understood the stark reality of the Confederacy’s strategic situation, note in his diary, that the law:

“was passed by a panic in the Congress and the Virginia Legislature, under all the pressure the President indirectly, and General Lee directly, could bring to bear. My own judgment of the whole thing is that it is a colossal blunder, a dislocation of the foundations of society from which no practical results will be reaped by us.” [21]

It was Lee’s prestige alone that allowed the measure to pass, but even that caused some to question Lee’s patriotism. The Richmond Examiner dared to express a doubt whether Lee was “a ‘good Southerner’: that is, whether he is thoroughly satisfied of the justice and beneficence of negro slavery.” [22] Robert Toombs of Georgia stated that “the worst calamity that could befall us would be to gain our independence by the valor of our slaves” [23] and a Mississippi congressman stated, “Victory itself would be robbed of its glory if shared with slaves.” [24] On March 23rd 1865 the War Office issued General Order Number 14, which authorized the call up and recruitment of slaves to the Confederate cause and on March 25th two companies were formed for drill in Richmond’s Capitol Square and as they did so to the sounds of fifes and drums, “Small boys jeered and threw rocks” [25] at them. None of those few volunteers would see action as within a week the Confederate government had fled Richmond.

But some would see that history was moving, and attitudes were beginning to change. It took time, and the process is still ongoing. As imperfect as emancipation was and though discrimination and racism remained, African Americans had reached “levels that none had ever dreamed possible before the war.” [26] In April 1865 as Jefferson Davis and his government fled Richmond, with Davis proclaiming, “again and again we shall return, until the baffled and exhausted enemy shall abandon in despair his endless and impossible task of making slaves of a people resolved to be free.” [27]

The irony in Davis’s empty vow was stunning. Within a week Lee had surrendered and in a month Davis himself would be in a Federal prison. The Federal troops who led the army into Richmond came from General Godfrey Weitzel’s Twenty-fifth Corps, of Ord’s Army of the James. The Every black regiment in the Army of the James was consolidated in Weitzel’s Corps, along with Ferrero’s former division that had suffered so badly at the Battle of the Crater. “Two years earlier in New Orleans, Weitzel had protested that he did not believe in colored troops and did not want to command them, and now he sat at the gates of Richmond in command of many thousands of them, and when the citadel fell he would lead them in and share with them the glory of occupying the Rebel capital.” [28] Among Weitzel’s units were regiments of black “cavalrymen and infantrymen. Many were former slaves; their presence showed their resolve to be free.” [29]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[2] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[3] Winik, Jay April 1865: The Month that Saved America Perennial an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers New York 2002 p.53

[4] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[6] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[7] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

[8] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.833

[9] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[10] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War p.47

[11] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.335

[12] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[13] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.643

[14] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.293

[15] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three pp.754-755

[16] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three p. 755

[17] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.296

[18] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[19] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.755

[20] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.837

[21] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[22] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.837

[23] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[24] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.835

[25] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[26] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 386

[27] Levine, Bruce Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War Revised Edition, Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York 1992 and 1995 p.241

[28] Catton, Bruce Grant Takes Command Little, Brown and Company Boston, Toronto and London 1968 p.411

[29] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.241-242

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Regulars, Volunteers and Conscripts: Civil War Mobilization

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

A bit of a break from the past few days of confronting the civil rights issues and racism at work in the aftermath of the Emmanuel A.M.E. church massacre. I’m sure that I will be doing more to follow that up in the near future, but it looks like the most prominent symbol of the ideological and sometimes religious hatred that has been at the heart of American racism since the Civil War is beginning to come down, even in the South as people finally begin to face up to the evil for which that flag stood.

This is another part of my Civil War and Gettysburg text on the formation of the armies that fought the Civil War. 

When one thinks of our all-volunteer force today it is hard to imagine forming armies of this size and scope around such small regular forces. The story of how North and South raised their armies, and the stories of the volunteers of the first part of the war is amazing. I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

MenBrooklyn

 

The Secession Crisis, Mobilization, and Volunteer Armies

The American Civil War was the first American war fought by massed armies of mobilized citizens. All previous wars had been fought by small numbers of Regular Army troops supported by various numbers of mobilized State Militia formations or volunteer formations raised for the particular war; “The fighting force of the 1860s was a conglomerate of diverse units, each with its own degree of importance, pride, proficiency, and jealousy. Whether of North or South, an army began as little more than a loosely organized mob actuated by more enthusiasm than by experience. Its composition ran the full gauntlet of humankind.” [1]

In 1860 the Regular Army numbered 16,000 troops at the beginning of the war. These included some 1105 officers, and were organized into “ten regiments of infantry, four of artillery, and five of cavalry (including dragoons and mounted riflemen)” [2] These regiments were broken up into small units and they and their soldiers were scattered about in far flung isolated posts around the country and in the new western territories. The units primarily fought Indians and performed what best could be described as constabulary duties. Others, mostly from artillery units manned the coastal defense fortifications that protected American’s key ports and entrances to key waterways along the eastern seaboard. Even so, after the War with Mexico “three quarters army’s artillery had been scrapped” and most of the army’s artillerymen and their units were “made to serve as infantry or cavalry, thus destroying almost completely their efficacy as artillery.” [3]

The secession crisis and the outbreak of the war fractured the army, particularly the officer corps. The officer corps was heavily Southern and many Northern officers had some sympathy with their Southern brothers in arms. It has to be said that of the men holding positions of high command from 1849 to 1861 that many were Southerners:

“all of the secretaries of war were Southerners, as were the general in chief, two of the three brigadier generals, all but one of the army’s geographical departments on the eve of the Civil War, the authors of the two manuals on infantry tactics, and the artillery manual used at West Point, and the professor who taught tactics and strategy at the military academy.” [4]

Most of the Army remained loyal to the Union, “except for 313 officers who resigned their commissions.” [5] Those who remained loyal to the Union included the General in Chief, Winfield Scott, as well as the professor who had taught so many of those now leaving to serve the Confederacy, Dennis Hart Mahan. However, of the others brigadier generals William Harney, David Twiggs and Joseph E. Johnston, Brevet Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston, and the army’s Adjutant General, Colonel Samuel Cooper, and the newly promoted Colonel Robert E. Lee all went south. “Even so, 40 to 50 per cent of the Southern West Point graduates on active duty in 1860 held to their posts and remained loyal to the Union.” [6]

A Political Backlash against West Point and the Officer Corps

The exodus of these officers created a backlash against West Point and the professional officers who remained in service of the Union, especially those who were Democrats and to radical Republicans were soft on slavery. Some Republican members of Congress including Senator Ben Wade of Ohio, “figured that political apostasy had been taught at West Point as well, and he didn’t know which sin was worse – it or treason.” [7] The fact that the leaders of the Union forces defeated at Bull run were West Point graduates added incompetence to the list of the crimes, real and imagined committed by the officers of the Regular Army. When Congress reconvened in 1861 Wade said:

I cannot help thinking…that there is something wrong with this whole institution. I do not believe that in the history of the world you can find so many men who have proved themselves utterly faithless to their oaths, ungrateful to the Government that supported them, guilty of treason and a deliberate intention to overthrow that Government which educated them and given them support, as have emanated from this institution…I believe from the idleness of these military educated gentlemen this great treason was hatched.” [8]

Wade did not mention in his blanket his condemnation of the “traitors” that many “West Pointers from the Southern States – 162 of them – had withstood the pull of birth and kin to remain with the Union.” [9]

Wade’s fellow radical Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan urged Congress to dissolve the Military Academy. The academy, he said “has produced more traitors within the last fifty years than all the institutions of learning and education that have existed since Judas Iscariot’s time.” [10] Despite the words and accusations of the radical fire-eaters like Wade and Chandler and other like them, more level headed men prevailed and reminded the nation that there had been many other traitors. Senator James Nesmith of Oregon said: “Treason was hatched and incubated at these very decks around me.” [11]

Politicians and Professionals: Building Volunteer Armies

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Many of the officers who left the army to serve the Confederacy were among the Army’s best and brightest, and many of them later rose to prominence and fame in their service to the Confederacy. In contrast to the officers who remained loyal to the Union, those that many in Congress despised and “pushed aside and passed over” in favor of “officers called back into service or directly appointed from civil life, the “South welcomed its professionals and capitalized on their talents. Sixty-four per cent of the Regular Army officers who went South became generals; less than 30 per cent of those who stayed with the Union achieved that rank.” [12]

The Union had a small Regular Army, which did undergo a significant expansion during the war, and the Confederacy did not even have that. During the war the “Confederacy established a regular army that attained an authorized strength of 15,000” [13] but few men ever enlisted in it. This was in large part due to the same distrust of the central government in Richmond that had been exhibited to Washington before the war.

Thus both sides fell back on the British tradition of calling up volunteers. The British had “invented volunteer system during the Napoleonic Wars, also to save themselves from the expense of permanent expansions of their army, and the United States had taken over the example in the Mexican War…” [14] The volunteer system was different from the militias which were completely under the control of their State and only given to the service of the national government for very limited amounts of time. The volunteers were makeshift organizations operating in a place somewhere between the Regular Army and the State militias and like the British system they saved “Congress the expense of permanently commissioning officers and mustering men into a dramatically expanded Federal service.” [15] As such the volunteer regiments that were raised by the States “were recruited by the states, marched under state-appointed officers carrying their state flag as well as the Stars and Stripes.” [16]

President Lincoln’s call for volunteers appealed “to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our Northern Union, and the perpetuity of the popular government; and to redress the wrongs already long enough endured.” [17] The Boston Herald proclaimed “In order to preserve this glorious heritage, vouchsafed to us by the fathers of the Republic, it is essential that every man perform his whole duty in a crisis like the present.” [18] The legislature of the State of Mississippi sated its arguments a bit differently and asserted, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest in the world.” Texas explained that it had joined the Union “as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery – the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits.” [19] A newspaper correspondent wrote:

“All, all of every name and every age to arms! To arms! My father go, my son go, my brother go, your country calls you.” He called out to Southern women as well, “mothers, wives and daughters buckle on the armor of loved ones, the correspondent urged, “bid them with Roman fairness, advance and never return until victory perches on their banner.” [20]

Those who went off to war left their homes and families. Young Rhode Island volunteer Robert Hunt Rhodes wrote that is mother told him “in the spirit worth of a Spartan mother of old said: “My son, other mothers must make sacrifices and why should not I?” [21] The bulk of the soldiers that enlisted on both sides in 1861 were single their median age “was twenty-four. Only one in seven enlistees that first year was eighteen or younger, and fewer than a third were twenty-one or younger.” [22]

Illustrious regiments such as the 1st Minnesota Volunteers, the 20th Maine Volunteers, the 69th New York Volunteer Infantry, and the African American 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry were just a few of the many regiments mustered into Union service under this system. As the war went on and the initial regiments were decimated by losses in combat and to disease, Northern governors “preferred to organize new regiments rather than to replenish old ones whittled down by battle and sickness. Fresh units swelled a state’s contributions, and the provided governors an opportunity to win more political favors by appointing more regimental officers.” [23] This practice produced “an army of shadow units” as “it was up to the regimental commanding officer to keep up a supply of new enlistments from back home for his own regiment, but most commanders could ill afford to detail their precious supply of junior officers for recruiting duty behind the lines.” [24]

Even before secession many Southern states began to prepare for war by building up their militias, both in numbers as well as by sending agents to arms suppliers in the North, as was done by Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown who “sent an official north to purchase arms, ammunition and accouterments.” [25] After the bombardment of Fort Sumter both sides raced to build up their militaries. Jefferson Davis, the new President of the Confederacy who was a West Point graduate and former Secretary of War called for volunteers. On March 6th 1861 the new Provisional Confederate Congress in Montgomery authorized Davis to “call out the militia for six months and to accept 100,000 twelve-month volunteers.” [26] Within weeks they had passed additional legislation allowing for the calling up of volunteers for six months, twelve months and long-term volunteers up to any length of time. “Virginia’s troops were mustered en masse on July 1, 1861, by which time the state had 41,885 volunteers on its payroll.” [27]

poster

With the legislation in hand Davis rapidly called up over 60,000 troops to the Confederate Cause, and this was before Virginia and North Carolina seceded from the Union. A mixture of former Regular Army officers commanded these men, most of whom occupied the senior leadership positions in the army, volunteer officers, made up the bulk of the Confederate officer corps. “Well over 700 former students at Virginia Military Institute served as officers in the war, most in the Virginia Theater….” [28]Among these men was Robert Rodes who became one of Robert E. Lee’s finest division commanders.

In the North Abraham Lincoln was in a quandary. Congress was out of session, so relying on the Militia Act of 1795 called out 75,000 three-month militiamen to support the Union cause. The legislatures of the Northern States so well that the over-recruited and in this first call up the government “accepted 9,816 men, but governors clamored for the War Department to take still more troops.” [29] Dan Sickles, a rather infamous Democrat politician was one of these men. Sickles had been a Democratic Congressman representing the district of New York City that was in the control of Tammany Hall. In 1859 Sickles stood trial for the murder of Barton Key, the District Attorney for Washington D.C. and the nephew of Francis Scott Key. Key had been conducting an affair with Sickles’ young wife Maria and in a fit of anger Sickles confronted Key, who had been spotted attempting a liaison with Maria and shot him dead near Lafayette Square and the White House. Sickles was acquitted on the basis of temporary insanity becoming the first man in the United States to have that distinction.

The ambitious Sickles, “almost overnight, using flag-waving oratory, organizational skills, and promissory notes, had his regiment, the 70th New York Volunteers, well in hand.” [30] Not content with a regiment and knowing that a brigade would bring him his star as a brigadier general, he quickly the Excelsior Brigade in New York.

Daniel_Edgar_Sickles

Major General Dan Sickles

Within weeks Sickles had raised over 3000 men, a full forty companies and the New York Newspapers praised Sickles’ efforts. But partisan politics was at play. To Governor Edward Morgan, the fact that a Tammany Hall Democrat “was getting too far out ahead in the state’s race to supply manpower to the endangered Union” [31] was embarrassing and the Governor ordered Sickles to “disband all but eight of his forty companies.” [32] The incredulous, yet ambitious Sickles, knowing that Lincoln needed Democratic support to prosecute the war, traveled to Washington where after seeking an audience with the President. Lincoln was hesitant to infringe on any governor’s control of state units, but he was loath to lose the services of any soldiers. Lincoln discussed the matter with Secretary of War Simon Cameron and they ordered that Sickles “keep his men together until they could be inducted by United States officers.” [33] That process took two moths but in July Sickles was able to have the brigade sworn into service as a brigade of United States Volunteers.

For Sickles and most officers, volunteer and regular alike a regiment was a large military formation Likewise, a brigade massive and for most of these men divisions and corps on the scale of those found in Europe were almost unthinkable, but war was changing and this would be the scope of the coming war.

More troops were needed and with Congress out of session, President Lincoln acted “without legal authority…and increased the Regular Army by 22,714 men and the Navy by 18,000 and called for 42,034 three-year volunteers.” [34] On July 4th 1861 Lincoln “asked sanction for his extralegal action and for authority to raise at least another 400,000 three-year volunteers.” [35] Congress approved both of the President’s requests, retroactively, and in fact, “greatly expanded the numbers of volunteer recruitments, up to a million men – nothing more than the 1795 statute authorized either of these follow-up calls, and Lincoln would later have to justify his actions on the admittedly rather vague basis of the “war powers of the government.” [36]

In the North “the war department was staggered by the task of finding competent officers for an already numbering nearly half a million.” [37] There were so few professional officers available to either side that vast numbers of volunteer officers of often dubious character and ability were appointed to command the large number of volunteer regiments and brigades which were being rapidly mustered into service. Within months of the secession crisis the Regular Army of the United States, minus the officers who resigned to serve the Confederacy, “was swamped by a Union war army that reached about 500,000 within four months of the firing on Fort Sumter.” [38]

The Regular Army officers who remained loyal to the Union as well as those who left the army and joined the newly formed Confederacy were joined by a host of volunteer officers. Some of these officers, men like Ulysses Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, George McClellan, Braxton Bragg, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Jubal Early, and many others had left the army for any number of reasons only to return to the colors of the Union or the Confederacy during the secession crisis or at the outbreak of the war. Some of these men like George Sears Greene and Isaac Trimble Many were West Point graduates who had left the army decades before the war and almost to a man “nearly all of them displayed an old regular’s distrust of any general who had risen by political means.” [39] The hold of West Point and the teachings of Dennis Hart Mahan regarding professionalism had left a lasting imprint on these men.

2nd michigan

Another issue faced by all of the officers now commanding large formations in the Civil War was their inexperience in dealing with such large numbers of troops. When the war began, the officers educated at West Point, as well as others who had been directly appointed had previously only commanded small units. Even regimental commanders such as Joseph Johnston, Albert Sidney Johnston, and Robert E. Lee seldom had more than a few companies of their regiments with them at any given time for any given operation. Likewise, the men who had campaigned and fought in Mexico who had some experience in handling larger formations had for the most part left the service. The senior officers who had served in Mexico and that remained on active duty were handicapped because the Mexican war was still very much a limited Napoleonic War fought with Napoleonic era weapons against a more numerous but poorly equipped and trained enemy.

Other volunteer officers had little or no military experience or training and owed their appointments as officers to their political connections, business acumen or their ability to raise troops. It was not atypical for a volunteer officer to gain his rank and appointment based on the number of that he brought into the army, “if he recruited a regiment he became a colonel, while if he brought in a brigade he was rewarded with the shining star of a brigadier general.” [40] This led to a type of general “appointed for their political influence or – at least in the North with its more heterogeneous population – their leadership of ethnic groups.” [41] Despite the dangers of their inexperience, both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis had to appoint such men in order to maintain political support for the war.

Some of these men proved disastrous as commanders and their ineptness cost many lives. Henry Wager Halleck, wrote “It seems but little better than murder to give important commands to such men as Banks, Butler, McClernand, Sigel, and Lew Wallace…yet it seems impossible to prevent it.” [42] That being said some of the volunteer politically appointed generals proved to be exceptional learners of the art of war and impressive commanders in the own right.

Among the officers appointed for political considerations by Abraham Lincoln were the prominent Democratic politicians “Benjamin F. Butler, Daniel E. Sickles, John A. McClernand, John A. Logan.” [43] Among those commissioned to enlist immigrant support were Major General Carl Schurz and Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelpfennig who helped mobilize German immigrants to the Union cause. Both men were refugees from the failed revolution of 1848. Likewise, Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher, a survivor of the 1848 revolt in Ireland, who had escaped imprisonment in Australia helped to recruit and then commanded the famous Irish Brigade, whose regiments of Irish immigrants marched under the colors of the United States and the Green flag with the Harp of Erin.

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The Irish and the German soldiers volunteered in large part because they saw the Union as the hope of their people that had given them refuge from tyranny in Europe. The Irish, under the religious, political and economic thumb of Britain fled to the United States, many the victims of famine. The Irish were not sympathetic as a whole to the plight of slave and many sympathized with the South, their desire to save the Union was greater and they volunteered in overwhelming numbers. One Irish Sergeant wrote his family in Ireland who did not understand why he fought for the Union:

“Destroy this republic and her hopes are blasted If Irland is ever ever [sic] free the means to accomplish it must come from the shore of America…When we are fighting for America we are fighting for the intrest of Irland striking a double blow cutting with a two edged sword For while we strike in defense of the rights of Irishmen here we are striking a blow at Irlands enemy and oppressor England hates this country because of its growing power and greatness She hates it for its republican liberty and she hates it because Irishmen have a home and government here and a voice in the counsels of the nation that is growing stronger every day which bodes no good for her.” [44]

Thus for many Irishmen fighting for the Union had a twofold purpose, seeing the war as Americans as well as Irishmen, they were fighting for Ireland as much as they were fighting for the Union. Some too believed that the war would be a training ground for Irishmen who would someday return home to drive the English from their homeland. Thomas Meagher the commander of the Irish Brigade explained,

“It is a moral certainty that many of our countrymen who enlist in this struggle for the maintenance of the Union will fall in the contest. But, even so; I hold that if only one in ten of us come back when this war is over, the military experience gained by that one will be of more service in the fight for Ireland’s freedom than would that of the entire ten as they are now.” [45]

Many Germans and others were driven from their homeland in the wake of the failed revolutions of 1848. Having been long under autocratic and oligarchic rule in the old country many of the German, Polish and other volunteers who fled after the failed revolutions of 1848 “felt that not only was the safety of the great Republic, the home of their exiled race, at stake, but also the great principle of democracy were at issue with the aristocratic doctrines of monarchism. Should the latter prevail, there was no longer any hope for the struggling nationalities of the Old World.” [46] These immigrant soldiers saw the preservation of the Union in a profoundly universal way, as the last hope of the oppressed everywhere. Eventually the Germans became “the most numerous foreign nationality in the Union armies. Some 200,000 of them wore the blue. The 9th Wisconsin was an all-German regiment. The 46th New York was one of ten Empire State units almost totally German in makeup.” [47]

In the North a parallel system “composed of three kinds of military organizations” developed as calls for “militia, volunteers and an expanded regular army” went out. [48] A number of regular army officers were allowed to command State regiments or brigades formed of State units, but this was the exception rather than the rule. One of these men was John Gibbon who commanded the legendary Iron Brigade at the beginning of its existence through its first year of combat.

In the South too men without little or no military training and experience raised companies and regiments for the Confederate cause. Like Lincoln Jefferson Davis had to satisfy political faction as well as some prominent politicians aspirations for military glory. Thus Davis “named such men as Robert A. Toombs of Georgia and John B. Floyd and Henry A. Wise of Virginia as generals.” [49] These men were not alone; many more politicians would receive appointments from Davis and the Confederate Congress.

Some of these men were gifted in recruiting but were sadly deficient as commanders. Men like John Brockenbrough and Edward O’Neal were capable of raising troops but in combat proved to be so inept that they got their men slaughtered and were removed from the army of Northern Virginia by Robert E. Lee. But others including South Carolina’s Wade Hampton, Georgia’s John Gordon and Virginia’s William “Little Billy” Mahone, none of who had any appreciable military experience proved to be among the best division commanders in Lee’s army. By 1864 Gordon was serving as an acting Corps commander and Hampton had succeeded the legendary J.E.B. Stuart as commander of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Lower ranking officers in the regiments formed by the states on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, were most often elected by their units. During the war, some of these lower ranking officers rapidly progressed up the ranks and rose to command regiments and brigades, mostly due to their natural leadership abilities. That being said the volunteer system in which units elected their officers often to be fraught with problems. “Officers who might be popular as good fellows but who knew neither how to give orders and to get them obeyed nor even what kind of orders to give….At his worst, the volunteer officer could be as fully ignorant and irresponsible as the men he was supposed to command.” [50] Such officers proved to be a source of repeated concern for the professional officers who served alongside them.

John Reynolds, fresh from his assignment as Commandant of Cadets at West Point noted of the Pennsylvania volunteers that he commanded, “They do not any of them, officers or men, seem to have the least idea of the solemn duty they have imposed on themselves in becoming soldiers. Soldiers they are not in any sense of the word.” [51] In time both the Federal and Confederate armies instituted systems of qualifying exams for commissioned officers in order to weed out the worst of the incompetent officers.

Given the limitations of the volunteer officers who made up the bulk of the men commanding companies, battalions and regiments, “for the average soldier was that drill became his training for the realities of actual battlefield fighting.” This was helpful in getting “large and unwieldy bodies of men to the battlefield itself, but it generally turned out to be useless one the shooting started, especially as units lost cohesion and started to take casualties.” [52] This was much in evidence on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg when Brigadier General Joseph Davis’s untested brigade got caught in the Railroad Cut and was decimated by Union troops.

These men, the regulars and the volunteers, were now faced with the task of organizing, training and employing large armies made up primarily of militia units and volunteers. Most had little experience commanding such units and their experience with militia and volunteer formations during the Mexican War did not increase the appreciation of Regulars for them or for their leaders. J.F.C Fuller noted that at the beginning of the war “the Federal soldier was semiregular and the Confederate semiguerilla. The one strove after discipline, the other unleashed initiative. In battle the Confederate fought like a berserker, but out of battle he ceased to be a soldier.” [53] Both required certain kinds of leadership and Regular officers serving in both the Union and Confederate armies “embedded with the volunteers to give them some professional stiffening privately regarded them as uncontrollable adolescents who kicked off every back-home restraint the moment they were on campaign.” [54] Over the course of time this did change as the units of both armies learned to be professional soldiers.

At the beginning of the war General George McClellan successful fought the break-up of the Regular United States Army, “which some argued should be split up to train volunteer brigades” [55] as had his predecessor General Winfield Scott. He and Scott helped keep it separate from the militia units organized by the States, “keeping it intact as the nucleus of an expandable army.” [56] This preserved a professional core in a time where the new volunteer units were learning their craft, but McClellan did approve of a measure to have regular officers command some of the new volunteer brigades.

Regular Army units were formed for the duration of the war and were exclusively under the control of the Federal government. While comparatively few in number, they often held the line and kept the Army of the Potomac intact during some early battles where volunteer units collapsed. Volunteer regiments, often officered by regulars or former regulars “remained state-based, and they signed up for two- or three- year periods, after which they returned to civilian life and their evaporated without any further fiscal obligations.” [57] Some of the volunteer regiments were formed from various state militia units, but since few states had effective militia systems, militia units “were usually employed only on emergency rear-echelon duties, to free up the volunteers and regulars.” [58]

railroad_cut

The Confederacy faced a similar situation to the Union, but it did not have a Regular Army and all of its units were raised by the various states. “In early 1861 the Confederate Congress authorized the creation of a provisional army of 100,000 men. To get these troops [the first Confederate Secretary of War Leroy Pope] Walker asked state governors to raise regiments and transfer them to the national army. The War Office provided generals and staff officers and, in theory at least, could employ the troops and their officers in any way it pleased once they mustered the provisional army.” [59] Some states were quite cooperative but others were not and the tension between the central government in Richmond in regard to military policy and some states would continue throughout the war. The quality of these units varied widely, mostly based on the leadership provided by their officers. That being said, many of the regiments mustered into service early in the war proved tough and resilient serving with distinction throughout the war.

Like the Federal forces, Southern units were officered by a collection of professionals from the ante-bellum Army, militia officers, political appointees or anyone with enough money to raise a unit. However command of divisional sized units and above was nearly always reserved to former professional soldiers from the old Army, most being graduates of West Point. At Gettysburg only one officer commanding a division or above in the Army of Northern Virginia was a non-academy graduate. This was the young and dashing Robert Rodes, who was a graduate of VMI. The quality of these officers varied greatly, as some of the old regulars failed miserably in combat and some of the volunteers such as John Gordon were remarkably successful as leaders of troops in combat.

As in the North, Southern militia and home guard units remained to free up the volunteer regiments and brigades fighting with the field armies. However, due to the South was always wrestling with the intense independence of every state government, each of which often held back units from service with the field armies in order to ensure their own states’ defense.

The withholding of troops and manpower by the states hindered Confederate war efforts, even though “the draft had been “eminently successful” in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, but less so in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.[60] In the latter states, especially Georgia some Confederate Governors used militia appointments to protect men from the draft, classifying them as key civil servants in defiance of the needs of Richmond and the field armies for troops to fight the war.

The Changing Character of the Armies and Society: From All-Volunteer to Conscription: The Beginning of the Draft

Gettysburg was the last battle where the original volunteer armies predominated as the nature of both armies was changed by the war. Initially both sides sought to fight the war with volunteers but the increasingly costly battles which consumed vast numbers of men necessitated conscription and the creation of draft laws and bureaus.

The in April 1862 Confederate Congress passed the Conscription Act of 1862 which stated that “all persons residing in the Confederate States, between the ages of 18 and 35 years, and rightfully subject to military duty, shall be held to be in the military service of the Confederate States, and that a plain and simple method be adopted for their prompt enrollment and organization.” [61] The act was highly controversial, often resisted and the Confederate Congress issued a large number of class exemptions. Despite the exemptions “many Southerners resisted the draft or assisted evasion by others” [62] The main purpose of the conscription act was “to stimulate volunteering rather than by its actual use” [63] and while it did help increase the number of soldiers in Confederate service by the end of 1862 it was decidedly unpopular among soldiers, chafing at an exemption for “owners or overseers of twenty or more slaves” [64] who referred to the war as a “rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight.” [65]

Some governors who espoused state’s rights viewpoints “utilized their state forces to challenge Richmond’s centralized authority, hindering efficient manpower mobilization.” [66] Some, most notably Georgia’s governor Joseph Brown “denounced the draft as “a most dangerous usurpation by Congress of the rights of the States…at war with all principles for which Georgia entered the revolution.” [67] Governor Brown and a number of other governors, including Zebulon Vance of North Carolina fought the law in the courts but when overruled resisted it through the many exemption loopholes, especially that which they could grant to civil servants.

In Georgia, Governor Brown “insisted that militia officers were included in this category, and proceeded to appoint hundreds of new officers.” [68] Due to the problems with the Conscription Act of 1862 and the abuses by the governors, Jefferson Davis lobbied Congress to pass the Conscription Act of 1864. This act was designed to correct problems related to exemptions and “severely limited the number of draft exemption categories and expanded military age limits from eighteen to forty-five and seventeen to fifty. The most significant feature of the new act, however, was the vast prerogatives it gave to the President and War Department to control the South’s labor pool.” [69] Despite these problems the Confederacy eventually “mobilized 75 to 80 percent of its available draft age military population.” [70]

The Congress of the United States authorized conscription in 1863 as the Union Army had reached an impasse as in terms of the vast number of men motivated to serve “for patriotic reasons or peer group pressure were already in the army” while “War weariness and the grim realities of army life discouraged further volunteering” and “the booming war economy had shrunk the number of unemployed men to the vanishing point.” [71] Like the Confederate legislation it was also tremendously unpopular and ridden with exemptions and abuses. The Federal draft was conducted by lottery in each congressional district with each district being assigned a quota to meet by the War Department. Under one third of the men drafted actually were inducted into the army, “more than one-fifth (161,000 of 776,000) “failed to report” and about 300,000 “were exempted for physical or mental disability or because they convinced the inducting officer that they were the sole means of support for a widow, an orphan sibling, a motherless child, or an indigent parent.” [72]

There was also a provision in the Federal draft law that allowed well off men to purchase a substitute who they would pay other men to take their place. Some 26,000 men paid for this privilege, including future President Grover Cleveland. Another “50,000 Northerners escaped service by another provision in the Enrollment Act known as “commutation,” which allowed draftees to bay $300 as an exemption fee to escape the draft.” [73] Many people found the notion that the rich could buy their way out of war found the provision repulsive to the point that violence ensued in a number of large cities.

The Union draft law provoked great resentment, not because people were unwilling to serve, but from the way that it was administered, for it “brought the naked power of military government into play on the home front and went much against the national grain.[74] Open clashes and violence erupted in several cities and President Lincoln was forced to use Union Soldiers, recently victorious at Gettysburg to end the rioting and violence taking place in New York where protestors involved in a three day riot, many of whom were Irish immigrants urged on by Democratic Tammany Hall politicians, “soon degenerated into violence for its own sake” [75] wrecking the draft office, seizing the Second Avenue armory, attacking police and soldiers on the streets. Soon “the mob had undisputed control of the city.” [76] These rioters also took out their anger on blacks, and during their rampage the rioters “had lynched black people and burned the Colored Orphan Asylum.” [77] The newly arrived veteran Union troops quickly and violently put down the insurrection and “poured volleys into the ranks of protestors with the same deadly effect they had produced against the rebels at Gettysburg two weeks earlier.” [78] Republican newspapers which supported abolition and emancipation were quick to point out the moral of the riots; “that black men who fought for the Union deserved more respect than white men who fought against it.” [79]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.19

[2] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.141

[3] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.141

[4] McPherson, James M. Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1996 pp.17-18

[5] Ibid. Weigley, American Strategy from Its Beginnings through the First World War in Makers of Modern Strategy, from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age p.419

[6] Ibid. Huntington The Soldier and the State p.213

[7] Ibid Waugh The Class of 1846, p. 513

[8] Ibid Waugh The Class of 1846, pp. 512-513

[9] Ibid Waugh The Class of 1846, p. 513

[10] Ibid Waugh The Class of 1846, p. 513

[11] Ibid Waugh The Class of 1846, p. 513

[12] Ibid. Huntington The Soldier and the State p.213

[13] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, revised and expanded edition The Free Press, New York 1994 p.175

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.143

[15] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.143

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.142

[17] Moe, Richard The Last Full Measure: The Life and Death of the 1st Minnesota Volunteers Minnesota Historical Society Press, St Paul MN 1993 p.13

[18] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.6

[19] Glatthaar, Joseph T. General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse The Free Press, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2008 p.15

[20] McCurry, Stephanie Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South Harvard University Press, Cambridge and London 2010 pp. 82-83

[21] Rhodes, Robert Hunt ed. All for the Union: The Civil War Diaries and Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes, Vintage Civil War Library, Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 1985 p.4

[22] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.18

[23] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.24

[24] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.263

[25] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.15

[26] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defensep.165

[27] Sheehan-Dean, Aaron Confederate Enlistment in Civil War Virginia in Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction, Third Edition edited by Michael Perman and Amy Murrell Taylor Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.189

[28] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.26

[29] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defensep.165

[30] Sears, Stephen W. Controversies and Commanders Mariner Books, Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1999 p.201

[31] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.201

[32] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the Incredible copyright by the author 1958 and 1984 Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1991 p.117

[33] Keneally, Thomas American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil War General Dan Sickles Anchor Books a Division of Random House 2003 p.222

[34] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defensep.165

[35] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defensep.165

[36] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.142

[37] Nichols, Edward J. Toward Gettysburg: A Biography of John Fulton Reynolds Pennsylvania State University Press, Philadelphia 1958. Reprinted by Old Soldier Books, Gaithersburg MD 1987 p.78

[38] Ibid. Weigley, American Strategy from Its Beginnings through the First World War in Makers of Modern Strategy, from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age p.419

[39] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.202

[40] Ibid. Swanberg, Sickles the Incredible p.117

[41] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defensep.172

[42] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.328

[43] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.328

[44] Bruce, Susannah Ural The Harp and the Flag: Irish American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861-1865 New York University Press, New York and London 2006 pp.54-55

[45] Ibid. Bruce The Harp and the Flag p55

[46] Gallagher, Gary W. The Union War Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 2011

[47] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.28

[48] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.143

[49] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.328

[50] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.245

[51] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg p.79

[52] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.246

[53] Fuller, J.F.C. Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2007 copyright 1942 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals p.182

[54] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.12

[55] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.37

[56] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.38

[57] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.143

[58] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.143

[59] Thomas, Emory The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 Harper Perennial, New York and London 1979 p.74

[60] Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism and Military Strategy Could not Stave Off Defeat Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1999 p.34

[61] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.152

[62] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.152

[63] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p. 432

[64] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.154

[65] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.431

[66] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States The Free Press a Division of Macmillan Inc. New York, 1984 p.166

[67] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.433

[68] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.431

[69] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.261

[70] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War p.28

[71] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.600

[72] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.601

[73] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.460

[74] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.635

[75] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.636

[76] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.637

[77] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

[78] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.610

[79] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

 

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Slavery, Economics & Politics: The Compromise of 1850

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been sharing parts of my Civil War and Gettysburg Staff Ride text here for some time. We often don’t like to admit it but all to often racism and other forms of prejudice, intolerance and hate line up perfectly with some peoples and groups political and economic agenda. The Compromise of 1850 shows how in American history that confluence of hatred, racism, political power and economic gain  come together to create the perfect storm of oppression. 

We are not alone in this, such has been the case in many other cultures and in many other nations for millennia and continue to be today. 

The lesson of this should be taken to heart as anyone seeks political and economic aggrandizement on the backs of other people and sadly it happens all too often here in the United States and Western Europe. 

I do plan on weighing in on the issue of the Confederate flag either tonight or tomorrow. But until then have a great as well as a thoughtful night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

fugitive-slave-act-1850-granger-1

Slavery and National Expansion: The Compromise of 1850

The Ante-Bellum South was an agrarian society that depended on the free labor provided by slaves. In a socio-political sense the South was an oligarchy that offered no freedom to slaves, openly discriminated against free blacks and provided little hope of social or economic advancement for poor and middle class whites. However, despite this, even poor whites supported it. Many Southern Yeoman farmers were willing to tolerate their second class status because they: “feared the fall from independent producer to dependent proletarian, a status he equated with enslavement” [1] more than remaining subservient to planters and plantation owners. In fact, for them slavery was the one institution that kept them above the despised black.

While all Northern states had abolished slavery, or were in the process of gradual abolition in the after independence and the Civil War and had moved to an economic concept of free labor, the South had tied its economy and society to the institution of slavery. The contrast was well said by the members of an Alabama agricultural society, which noted in 1846:

“Our condition is quite different from that of the non-slaveholding section of the United States. With them their only property consists of lands, cattle and planting implements. Their laborers are merely hirelings, while with us our laborers are our property.” [2]

Northerners on the other hand, even in states where the last vestiges of slavery held on, nearly universally ascribed to the understanding that there was a dignity to labor and that free labor was essential if people were to have a better life. It undergirded their understanding of human dignity and that “labor was the source of all value.” [3]

That understanding of the intrinsic value of free labor continued to gain ground in the North in the decades preceding the Civil War and found much of its support in the Calvinist theology that predominated in most Protestant Northern denominations. Labor was intrinsic to one’s calling as a Christian and a human being, slave labor, at least in the eyes of many Northerners undercut that idea. Success in one’s calling glorified God and provided earthly evidence that a person was among the elect. For many Northern Christians, “the pursuit of wealth thus became a way of serving God on earth, and labor, which had been imposed on fallen man as a curse, was transmuted into a religious value, a Christian calling.” [4] Such ideas found their way into Republican political thought even when not directly related to religion. William Evarts said in 1856 “Labor gentlemen, we of the free States acknowledge to be the source of all of our wealth, of all our progress, of all our dignity and value.” [5] Abraham Lincoln noted that “the free labor system…opens the way for all, and energy and progress, and improvement in condition for all,” [6] and noted something inherent in the economic theory of Adam Smith that Labor is prior to, and independent of capital…in fact, capital is the fruit of labor.” [7]

However, the South by the 1830s had completely wedded itself to slavery and southern advocates of slavery deplored the free-labor movement as wage slavery and extolled the virtue of slavery. James H. Hammond condemned the free-labor movement in his King Cotton speech to the Senate in 1858:

“In all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life…. It constitutes the very mudsill of society….Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other that leads to progress, civilization and refinement….Your whole hireling class of manual laborers and ‘operatives,’ as you call them, are essentially slaves. The difference between us is, that our slaves are hired for life and well compensated…yours are hired by the day, not cared for, and scantily compensated.” [8]

Even so, the fact that the slave barons “were forced at every election to solicit the votes of “ignorant, slovenly, white trash in the country” with “frequent treats that disgrace our elections,” [9] rankled and humiliated many members of the Southern aristocracy. It was a marriage of two disparate parties linked by their membership in a superior race, something that only the continued existence of slavery ensured.

Lincoln extolled the virtues of free-labor, noting his own experiences after his election: “I am not ashamed to confess that twenty five years ago I was a hired laborer, mauling rails, at work on a flat boat – just what might happen to any poor man’s son.” [10] Other Northerners lauded free-labor as the basis of upward mobility, and the New York Times noted that “Our paupers to-day, thanks to free labor, are our yeomen and merchants of tomorrow.” [11]

But whites in the South held labor in contempt due to the system of slavery, and the divergent views of each side were noted by Thomas Ewing who noted that labor “is held honorable by all on one side of the line because it is the vocation of freedmen – degrading in the eyes of some on the other side because it is the task of slaves.” [12] Of course with labor being the task of African slaves for southerners, the issue was entwined with race, and “Even if slavery was wrong, its wrongs were cancelled out for nonslaveholders by the more monstrous specter of racial equity.” [13]

Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown emphasized the threat to whites in that blacks would be their social equals and competitors. The racial component assured poor southern whites that they were superior to blacks and an Alabama lawyer wrote “The privilege of belonging to the superior race and being free was a bond that tied all Southern whites together… and it seemed from a Southern stand-point, to have for its purpose the leveling of all distinctions between the white man and the slave hard by.” [14] But poor white workers who remained in the South “repeatedly complained about having to compete with slaves as well as poorly paid free blacks” [15] leading many to seek a new livelihood in either Free States or the new territories.

For Southern politicians and slaveholders, the expansion of slavery was essential to its continued maintenance in the states where it was already legal. “Because of the need to maintain a balance in the Senate, check unruly slaves, and cultivate fertile soils, many planters and small plantation owners- particularly those living in the southern districts of the cotton states- asserted that their survival depended on new territory.” [16] In those decades “a huge involuntary migration took place. Between 800,000 and 1 million slaves were moved westward….” [17]

The need for slaves caused prices to soar, largely due to the ban on the import of slaves from Africa. This made the interregional trade much more important and linked the upper and lower south as well as the new slave-holding territories into “a regionwide slave market that tied together all of the various slaveowning interests into a common economic concern.” [18] In some older states like Virginia where fewer slaves were required, the exportation of slaves became a major industry:

“male slaves were marched in coffles of forty or fifty, handcuffed to each other in pairs, with a long chain through the handcuffs passing down the column to keep it together, closely guarded by mounted slave traders followed by an equal number of female slaves and their children. Most of them were taken to Wheeling, Virginia, the “busiest slave port” in the United States, and from there they were transported by steamboat to New Orleans, Natchez, and Memphis.” [19]

Economic Effects of the Compromise

The interregional slave trade guaranteed slave owners of a source of slaves even if they were cut off from the international trade and it was an immense part of not just the Southern economy but the American economy. Slave owners “hitched their future to slavery; a single cash crop and fresh land,” [20] and refused to take an interest in manufacturing or diversifying their agricultural production outside of King Cotton. Slave prices tripled between 1800 and 1860 making human property one of the most lucrative markets for investment. The price of a “prime male field hand in New Orleans began at around $500 in 1800 and rose as high as $1,800 by the time of the Civil War.” [21] The result was that slave owners and those who benefitted from the interregional slave trade had a vested interest in not only seeing slavery preserved, but expanded.

This resulted in two significant trends in the South, first was that slave owners grew significantly richer as the value of the slave population increased. Using even a conservative number of $750 dollars as the value of a single slave in 1860 the amount of value in this human property was significantly more than almost any other investment in the nation. It was enormous. Steven Deyle notes that:

“It was roughly three times greater than the total amount of all capital invested in manufacturing in the North and in the South combined, three times the amount invested in railroads, and seven times the amount invested in banks. It was about equal to about seven times the value of all currency in circulation in the country three times the value of the entire livestock population, twelve times the value of the entire U.S. cotton crop, and forty-eight times the expenditures of the federal government that year. ….”by 1860, in fact in the slaveowning states alone, slave property had surpassed the assessed value of real estate.” [22]

The rise in slave values and the increasing wealth of slave owners had a depreciating effect on poor southern whites by ensuring that there was no middle class, which “blocked any hope of social advancement for the mass of poor whites, for it was all but impossible for a non-slaveholder to rise in the southern aristocracy.” [23] The impoverishment of southern whites created some worry for those astute enough to take an interest in such matters. “In 1850, about 40 percent of the South’s white farmers owned real estate at all. There was thus, worried the Southern Cultivator in 1856, “a large number at the South who have no legal right or interest in the soil [and] no homes of their own.” The editor of a South Carolina newspaper that year framed the matter in less sympathetic terms: “There is in this State,” he wrote, “as impoverished and ignorant as white population as can be found in any other in the Union.” [24]

Some Southerners recognized the growing issue that the south was falling behind the north in terms of real economic advancement and that slavery was the culprit. Hinton Helper, a non-slave owning North Carolinian who had made his fortune in the California Gold Rush of 1849 and returned home to become disillusioned with what he saw wrote a book that had a major impact in the North among Republican politicians, but which was either banned or restricted in much of the South. That book “The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It (1857) was “a book on the debilitating impact of slavery on the South in general and on southern whites in particular.” [25] Helper’s attack on the slavery system was as devastating as that of any abolitionist, and since he was a southerner the effects of his words helped further anti-slavery sentiment in the North and would be used by the Republican party in an abridged form as a campaign tool that they printed and distributed during the build up to the election n of 1860. Helper wrote that:

Slavery lies at the root of all the shame, poverty, tyranny and imbecility of the South.” Echoing the free-soil argument Helper maintained that slavery degraded all labor to the level of bond labor. Planters looked down their noses at nonslaveholders and refused to tax themselves to provide a decent school system. “Slavery is hostile to general education…Its very life, is in the ignorance and stolidity of the masses.” [26]

Many southern leaders saw Helper’s book as a danger and worried that should Helper and others like him speak freely long enough “that they will have an Abolition party in the South, of Southern men.” When that happened, “the contest for slavery will no longer be one between the North and the South. It will be in the South between the people of the South.” [27] That was something that the landed gentry of the slave owning oligarchy could never tolerate for if the non-slave holding whites rejected slavery, the institution would die. Thus, Helper, who was no fan of black people and held many violently racist attitudes, was denounced “as a traitor, a renegade, an apostate, a “dishonest, degraded and disgraced man.” [28]

In the years the before the war, the North embraced the Industrial Revolution leading to advances which gave it a marked economic advantage over the South in which through its “commitment to the use of slave labor inhibited economic diversification and industrialization and strengthened the tyranny of King Cotton.” [29] The population of the North also expanded at a clip that far outpaced the South as European immigrants swelled the population.

The divide was not helped by the various compromises worked out between northern and southern legislators. After the Missouri Compromise Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.” [30]

The trigger for the increase in tensions was the war with Mexico in which the United States annexed nearly half of Mexico. The new territories were viewed by those who advocated the expansion of slavery as fresh and fertile ground for its spread. Ulysses S Grant, who served in the war, noted the effects of the war with Mexico in his memoirs:

“In taking military possession of Texas after annexation, the army of occupation, under General [Zachary] Taylor, was directed to occupy the disputed territory.  The army did not stop at the Nueces and offer to negotiate for a settlement of the boundary question, but went beyond, apparently in order to force Mexico to initiate war….To us it was an empire and of incalculable value; but it might have been obtained by other means.  The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war.” [31]

Robert Toombs of Georgia was an advocate for the expansion of slavery into the lands conquered during the war. Toombs warned his colleagues in Congress “in the presence of the living God, that if you by your legislation you seek to drive us from the territories of California and New Mexico, purchased by the common blood and treasure of the whole people…thereby attempting to fix a national degradation upon half the states of this Confederacy, I am for disunion.” [32]

The tensions in the aftermath of the war with Mexico escalated over the issue of slavery in the newly conquered territories brought heated calls by some southerners for secession and disunion. To preserve the Union, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, supported by the new President Millard Fillmore were able to pass the compromise of 1850 solved a number of issues related to the admission of California to the Union and boundary disputes involving Texas and the new territories. But among the bills that were contained in it was the Fugitive Slave Law, or The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The act was the device of Henry Clay which was meant to sweeten the deal for southerners. The law would “give slaveholders broader powers to stop the flow of runaway slaves northward to the free states, and offered a final resolution denying that Congress had any authority to regulate the interstate slave trade.” [33]

For all practical purposes the Compromise of 1850 and its associated legislation nationalized the institution of slavery, even in Free States. It did this by forcing all citizens to assist law enforcement in apprehending fugitive slaves. It also voided state laws in Massachusetts, Vermont, Ohio, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, which barred state officials from aiding in the capture, arrest or imprisonment of fugitive slaves. “Congress’s law had nationalized slavery. No black person was safe on American soil. The old division of free state/slave state had vanished….” [34] If there was any question as to whose “States Rights” the leaders of the South were advocating, it was certainly not those of the states whose laws were voided by the act.

That law required all Federal law enforcement officials, even in non-slave states to arrest fugitive slaves and anyone who assisted them, and threatened law enforcement officials with punishment if they failed to enforce the law. The law stipulated that should “any marshal or deputy marshal refuse to receive such warrant, or other process, when tendered, or to use all proper means diligently to execute the same, he shall, on conviction thereof, be fined in the sum of one thousand dollars.” [35]

Likewise the act compelled citizens in Free states to “aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law, whenever their services may be required….” [36] Penalties were harsh and financial incentives for compliance attractive.

“Anyone caught providing food and shelter to an escaped slave, assuming northern whites could discern who was a runaway, would be subject to a fine of one thousand dollars and six months in prison. The law also suspended habeas corpus and the right to trial by jury for captured blacks. Judges received a hundred dollars for every slave returned to his or her owner, providing a monetary incentive for jurists to rule in favor of slave catchers.” [37]

The law gave no protection for even black freedmen. The legislation created a new extra-judicial bureaucratic office to decide the fate of blacks. This was the office of Federal Commissioner and it was purposely designed to adjudicate the claims of slaveholders and their agents, and to avoid the normal Federal Court system where often those claims were denied.

When slave owners or their agents went before these commissioners, they needed little in the way of proof to take a black back into captivity. The only proof or evidence other than the sworn statement by of the owner with an “affidavit from a slave-state court or by the testimony of white witnesses” [38] that a black was or had been his property was required to return any black to slavery. Since blacks could not testify on their own behalf and were denied representation the act created an onerous extrajudicial process that defied imagination. Likewise, these commissioners had a strong financial incentive to send blacks back to slavery. “If the commissioner decided against the claimant he would receive a fee of five dollars; if in favor ten. This provision, supposedly justified by the paper work needed to remand a fugitive to the South, became notorious among abolitionists as a bribe to commissioners.” [39] It was a system rigged to ensure that African Americans had no chance, and it imposed on the citizens of free states the legal obligation to participate in a system that many wanted nothing to do with.

Frederick Douglass said:

“By an act of the American Congress…slavery has been nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form. By that act, Mason & Dixon’s line has been obliterated;…and the power to hold, hunt, and sell men, women, and children remains no longer a mere state institution, but is now an institution of the whole United States.” [40]

On his deathbed Henry Clay praised the act, which he wrote “The new fugitive slave law, I believe, kept the South in the Union in ‘fifty and ‘fifty-one. Not only does it deny fugitives trial by jury and the right to testify; it also imposes a fine and imprisonment upon any citizen found guilty of preventing a fugitive’s arrest…” Likewise Clay depreciated the opposition noting “Yes, since the passage of the compromise, the abolitionists and free coloreds of the North have howled in protest and viciously assailed me, and twice in Boston there has been a failure to execute the law, which shocks and astounds me…. But such people belong to the lunatic fringe. The vast majority of Americans, North and South, support our handiwork, the great compromise that pulled the nation back from the brink.” [41]

The compromise had “averted a showdown over who would control the new western territories” [42] but it only delayed disunion. In arguing against the compromise South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun realized that for Southerners it did not do enough and that it would inspire abolitionists to greater efforts in their cause. He argued for permanent protection of slavery:

“He understood that slavery stood at the heart of southern society, and that without a mechanism to protect it for all time, the Union’s days were numbered.” Almost prophetically he said “I fix its probable [breakup] within twelve years or three presidential terms…. The probability is it will explode in a presidential election.” [43]

Of course it was Calhoun and not the authors of the compromise who proved correct. The leap into the abyss of disunion and civil war had only been temporarily avoided. However, none of the supporters anticipated what would occur in just six years when a “train of unexpected consequences would throw an entirely new light on the popular sovereignty doctrine, and both it and the Compromise of 1850 would be wreaked with the stroke of a single judicial pen.” [44]

Notes

[1] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With Sword p.50

[2] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.19

[3] Foner, Eric Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1970 and 1995 p.7

[4] Ibid. Foner Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men pp.12-13

[5] Ibid. Foner Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men p.12

[6] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.28

[7] Ibid. Foner Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men p.12

[8] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.196

[9] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.38

[10] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.28

[11] Ibid. Foner Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men p.16

[12] Ibid. Foner Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men p.16

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.38

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.39

[15] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.44

[16] Ibid. Egnal Clash of Extremes pp.125-126

[17] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.203

[18] Deyle, Steven The Domestic Slave Trade in Major Problems 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.53

[19] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.203

[20] Ibid. Egnal Clash of Extremes p.10

[21] Ibid. Deyle The Domestic Slave Trade p.53 Deyle’s numbers come from the 1860 census.

[22] Ibid. Egnal Clash of Extremes p.54

[23] Ibid. Foner Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men p.48

[24] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.37

[25] Goldfield, David America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation Bloomsbury Press, New York, London New Delhi and Sidney 2011 p.177

[26] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.199

[27] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.235

[28] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.397

[29] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.42

[30] Jefferson, Thomas Letter to John Holmes dated April 22nd 1824 retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/159.html 24 March 2014

[31] U.S. Grant, Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant New York 1885 pp.243-245

[32] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp.62-63

[33] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.68

[34] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.71

[35] ______________Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 retrieved from the Avalon Project, Yale School of Law http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/fugitive.asp 11 December 2014

[36] Ibid. Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

[37] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.71

[38] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.80

[39] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.80

[40] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.72

[41] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.94

[42] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.71

[43] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.64

[44] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.71

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Freedom for the Few: the Curse of Racism 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World 

I have been posting portions of my Civil War and Gettysburg Staff Ride text and in light of the act of terrorism committed in Charleston last Wednesday and the subsequent controversy surrounding the Confederate Battle Flag flying at full staff on the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol while both the United States and South Carolina flags flew at half-staff. I do plan on addressing the issue of the Confederate flag in a separate article but so often that flag is flow or displayed by people who proclaim the historical revisionism of the tradition of the Lost Cause. which asserts that the Civil War was about everything but slavery as truth. 

This section of the chapter on religion and ideology is important because it addresses the issue in a forthright manner. It is important to tell the truth about the key issue that brought about the Civil War, and why the display of the Confederate Battle Flag only serves to propagate myth and instill a false sense of pride for a system and a war which cost more American lives than any other. 

If you take the time to read the article you will also notice that a number of the defenses of slavery are being used today to deny voting rights and other civil rights to American citizens by people who honestly believe that freedom is for the few. Many Right Wing pundits, politicians and preachers openly advocate this and even attempt to make voting and other civil functions which all citizens have the right are made more difficult or denied entirely. 

If you are curious as to where these people get their ideology look no further than the ante-bellum South. 

Have a thoughtful and reflective day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

slavescars

The Impact of Slavery on the Growing Divide between North and South

Slavery was the key issue that permeated all aspects of the Civil War to include the cultural, the economic and the ideological. David M. Potter summed up this understanding of the connection between the ideological, cultural and economic aspects of the conflict and just how the issue of slavery connected all three realms in the American Civil War:

“These three explanations – cultural, economic and ideological – have long been the standard formulas for explaining the sectional conflict. Each has been defended as though it were necessarily incompatible with the other two. But culture, economic interest, and values may all reflect the same fundamental forces at work in a society, in which case each will appear as an aspect of the other. Diversity of culture may produce both diversity of interests and diversity of values. Further, the differences between a slaveholding and a nonslaveholding society would be reflected in all three aspects. Slavery represented an inescapable ethical question which precipitated a sharp conflict of values.” [1]

The political ends of the Civil War grew out of the growing cultural, economic, ideological and religious differences between the North and South that had been widening since the 1830s. However, slavery was the one issue which helped produce this conflict in values and it was “basic to the cultural divergence of the North and South, because it was inextricably fused into the key elements of southern life – the staple crop of the plantation system, the social and political ascendency of the planter class, the authoritarian system of social control.” [2] Without slavery and the Southern commitment to an economy based on slave labor, the southern economy would have most likely undergone a similar transformation as what happened in the North; thus the economic divergence between North and South would “been less clear cut, and would have not met in such head-on collision.” [3] But slavery was much more than an economic policy for Southerners; it was a key component of their religious, racial and philosophic worldview.

Freedom for the Few

The issue of slavery even divided the ante-bellum United States on what the words freedom and liberty meant. The dispute can be seen in the writings of many before the war, with each side emphasizing their particular understanding of these concepts. In the South, freedom was reserved for those who occupied the positions of economic power; slavery was key to that from not only an economic point of view but as a social philosophy. The concept of human equality, which was so much a part of the Declaration of Independence was downplayed George Fitzhugh, a planter and slave owner in eastern Virginia commented that that concept “is practically impossible, and directly conflicts with all government, all separate property, and all social existence.” [4]

The political philosophy such as Fitzhugh’s, which was quite common, was buttressed by a profound religious belief that it was the South’s God ordained mission to maintain and expand slavery. One Methodist preacher in his justification of slavery wrote, “God as he is infinitely wise, just and holy never could authorize the practice of moral evil. But God has authorized the practice of slavery, not only by bare permission of his providence, but by the express permission of his word.” [5] Buttressed by such scriptural arguments Southerners increasingly felt that they were the only people following God. The Northern abolitionists as well as those who advocated for the concept of human equality and free labor were heretics to be damned. As such the “South’s ideological isolation within an increasingly antislavery world was not a stigma or a source of guilt but a badge of righteousness and a foundation for national identity and pride.” [6]

Speaking of the necessity for slavery, as well as limitations on the equality of human beings no matter what their race or sex, Fitzhugh penned words that explained that human relationships were not to be seen in terms of individual liberty, “but in relations of strict domination and subordination. Successful societies were those whose members acknowledged their places within that hierarchy.” [7]

Fitzhugh was quite caustic when he discussed the real implications of his philosophy:

“We conclude that about nineteen out of twenty individuals have “a natural and inalienable right” to be taken care of and protected, to have guardians, trustees, husbands or masters; in other words they have a natural and inalienable right to be slaves. The one in twenty are clearly born or educated in some way fitted for command and liberty.” [8]

Fitzhugh’s chilling conclusion was summarized in the words “Liberty for the few – slavery in every form, for the mass.” [9]

But many Southerners, including many poor whites, especially the Yeoman farmers who were the backbone of the Southern populace did not see or understand the limitations that were placed on their own liberty by the slavery system and instead saw slavery as the guarantee of their economic freedom. John C. Calhoun said to the Senate in 1848 that “With us, the two great divisions of society are not the rich and poor, but white and black; and all of the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.” [10] Calhoun’s racial distinction is important if we are to understand why poor whites would fight and die for a social and economic idea that did not benefit them or their families.

But it was Abraham Lincoln, who cut to the heart of the matter when he noted the difference between his understanding of liberty and that of Calhoun and others in the South who defended slavery and the privileges of the Southern oligarchs:

“We all declare for liberty” but “in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men and the product of other men’s labor.” [11]

The growing economic disparity between the Slave and Free states became more about the expansion of slavery in federal territories as disunion and war approached; for a number of often competing reasons. These differences, amplified by the issue of slavery led to the substitution of stereotypes of each other and had the “effect of changing men’s attitudes toward the disagreements which are always certain to arise in politics: ordinary, resolvable disputes were converted into questions of principle, involving rigid, unnegotiable dogma.” [12] The Charleston Mercury noted in 1858 “on the subject of slavery…the North and the South…are not only two peoples, but they are rival, hostile peoples.” [13]

This was driven both by the South’s insistence on both maintaining slavery where it was already legal and expanding it into new territories which was set against the vocal abolitionist movement. But Southern exponents of expanding slavery were fighting an even more powerful enemy than the abolitionists, who despite their vocal protests were not yet in a position to influence policy. They were now fighting Northern industrialists who were not as idealistic as the abolitionists who were much more concerned with “economic policy designed to secure Northern domination of Western lands than the initial step in a broad plan to end slavery.” [14]

This competition between the regions not only affected politics, it affected religion and culture. In the South it produced a growing culture of victimhood, which was manifest in the words of Robert Toombs who authored Georgia’s declaration of causes for secession:

“For twenty years past, the Abolitionists and their allies in the Northern states, have been engaged in constant efforts to subvert our institutions, and to excite insurrection and servile war among us…” whose “avowed purpose is to subject our society, subject us, not only to the loss of our property but the destruction of ourselves, our wives and our children, and the dissolution of our homes, our altars, and our firesides.” [15]

As the social, economic, cultural and religious differences between the two regions grew wider and the people of the South became ever more closed off from the North. “More than other Americans, Southerners developed a sectional identity outside the national mainstream. The Southern life style tended to contradict the national norm in ways that life styles of other sections did not.” [16]

The complex relationship of Southern society where “Southern bodies social, economic, intellectual, and political were decidedly commingled” [17] came to embrace the need for slavery and its importance to Southern society. This occurred despite the fact that the system did not benefit poor whites in the South and actually harmed them economically. The Southern: “system of subordination reached out still further to require a certain kind of society, one in which certain questions were not publically discussed. It must give blacks no hope of cultivating dissention among the whites. It must commit non slaveholders to the unquestioning support of racial subordination…. In short, the South became increasingly a closed society, distrustful of isms from outside and unsympathetic to dissenters. Such were the pervasive consequences of giving top priority to the maintenance of a system of racial subordination.” [18]

Silencing the Critics of Slavery 

Southern planters declared war on all critics of their “particular institution” beginning in the 1820s. As Northern abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and his newspaper The Liberator grew in its distribution and began to appear in the South various elected officials throughout the South “suppressed antislavery books, newspapers, lectures, and sermons and strove generally to deny critics of bondage access to any public forum.[19] Despite this resistance, abolitionists continued to use the U.S. Mail service to send their literature south provoking even more drastic action from Southern legislators.

In response to the proliferation of abolitionist literature in the South, John C. Calhoun proposed that Congress pass a law to prosecute “any postmaster who would “knowingly receive or put into the mail any pamphlet, newspaper, handbill, or any printed, written, or pictorial representation touching the subject of slavery.” [20] Calhoun was not alone as other members of Congress as well as state legislatures worked to restrict the import of what they considered subversive and dangerous literature.

Beginning in 1836 the House of Representatives, led by Southern members of Congress passed a “gag rule” for its members which “banned all petitions, memorials, resolutions, propositions, or papers related in any way or to any extent whatever to the subject of slavery.” [21] Former President John Quincy Adams challenged the gag-rule in 1842, as did a number of others. The pressure was such that finally in 1844 the House voted to rescind it.

However, Southern politicians were unhappy with this measure and “began to spout demands that the federal government and the Northern states issue assurances that the abolitionists would never be allowed to tamper with what John Calhoun had described as the South’s “peculiar domestic institution.” [22] As tensions grew between the regions, the issue of slavery more than any other issue “transformed political action from a process of accommodation to a mode of combat.” [23]

Around the same time as the gag rule was played out in Congress the Supreme Court had ruled that the Federal government alone “had jurisdiction where escaped slaves were concerned” which resulted in several states enacting “personal liberty laws” to “forbid their own elected officials from those pursuing fugitives.” Southern politicians at the federal and state levels reacted strongly to these moves, which they believed to be an assault on their institutions and their rights to their human property. Virginia legislators said these laws were a “disgusting and revolting exhibition of faithless and unconstitutional legislation.” [24]

The issue of slavery shaped political debate and “structured and polarized many random, unoriented points of conflict on which sectional interest diverged.” [25] As the divide grew leaders and people in both the North and the South began to react to the most distorted images of each other imaginable- “the North to an image of a southern world of lascivious and sadistic slave drivers; the South to the image of a northern world of cunning Yankee traders and radical abolitionists plotting slave insurrections.[26]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.41

[2] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.42

[3] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.42

[4] Levine, Bruce Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War Revised Edition, Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York 1992 and 1995 p.140

[5] Daly, John Patrick When Slavery Was Called Freedom: Evangelicalism, Proslavery, and the Causes of the Civil War The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington KY 2002 pp.63-64

[6] Faust, Drew Gilpin The Creation of Confederate Nationalism: Ideology and Identity in the Civil War South Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge and London p.61

[7] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.140

[8] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.140

[9] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.141

[10] McPherson, James M. Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1996 p.50

[11] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.122

[12] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

[13] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.16

[14] Egnal, Marc Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War Hill and Wang a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York 2009 p.6

[15] Dew, Charles B. Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville and London 2001 p.12

[16] Thomas, Emory The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 Harper Perennial, New York and London 1979 p.5

[17] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.5

[18] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis pp.457-458

[19] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.166

[20] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp.50-51

[21] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.169-170

[22] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp.51-52

[23] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

[24] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.169-170

[25] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

[26] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

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