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“Only Two Parties Now” The Aftermath of Fort Sumter

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The Flag of Fort Sumter

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is the second of two-part installment from my Civil War text. The story follows the secession crisis and the attack on Fort Sumter. I describes the reactions of people in all parts of the country, as well as the Army to those fateful shots. I find that it is remarkable and ironic that Republican lawmakers in South Carolina have introduced a bill that would allow secession if the Federal Government does anything that these legislators perceive as violating the Second Amendment so close to the date that their predecessors opened fire on Fort Sumter, but that is not the subject of today’s article. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

When the Stars and Stripes came down on April 14th 1861 the North was galvanized as never before, and “the clash at Fort Sumter brought forth an outpouring of support for the Union and President Lincoln.” [1]Abner Doubleday wrote “With the first shot fired against Fort Sumter the whole North became united.” [2] Another observer wrote: “The heather is on fire….I never knew what popular excitement can be… The whole population, men, women, and children, seem to be in the streets with Union favors and flags.” [3] The assault on Fort Sumter help to unify the North in ways not thought possible by Southern politicians who did not believe that Northerners had the mettle to go to war against them. But they were wrong, those shots, which Jefferson Davis ordered had the opposite reaction, for Northerners, even opponents of abolition who were not supporters of Lincoln, slavery in the South was one thing, but the attack on a Federal garrison by massed artillery was another; even Senator Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s stalwart opponent of so many campaigns went to the White House for a call to national unity. Returning to Chicago he told a huge crowd just a month before his untimely death:

“There are only two sides to the question. Every man must be for the United States or against it. There can be no neutrals in this war, only patriots – or traitors” [4]

For Frederick Douglass the shots marked a new phase in abolition:

“The first flash of rebel gunpowder and shell upon the starving handful of men at Sumter instantly changed the nation’s whole policy. Until then, the ever hopeful North was dreaming of compromise…

I wrote in my newspaper; “On behalf of our enslaved and bleeding brothers and sisters, thank God! The slaveholders themselves have saved the abolition cause from ruin! The government is aroused, the dead North is alive, and its divided people united. Never was a change so sudden, so universal, and so portentous. The whole North from East to West is in arms…” [5]

Douglas died less than a month later, possibly from cirrhosis of the liver, but his impact on the Democrats in the North was immense, “for a year of more his war spirit lived among most Democrats. “Let our enemies perish by the sword,” was the theme of democratic editorials in the spring of 1861. “All squeamish sentimentality should be discarded, and bloody vengeance wreaked upon the heads of the contemptable traitors who have provoked it by their dastardly impertinence and rebellious acts.” [6]

sickles as brigadier

Dan Sickles

One of these Democrats was New York Congressman Dan Sickles. He was one of many men whose outlook toward the South changed when Sumter was fired upon. Sickles had stridently defended Southerners and Southern states rights just months before, so long as they remained in the Union, and he took the actions of his former friends personally. He then became one of the first of men who were known as Union Democrats who followed Lincoln into the war, and despite his lack of ethics in much of his life it was a cause for which he would remain true, during and after the war.

When the soldiers of South Carolina opened fire on Fort Sumter, Sickles, who had said that no troops would cross through New York to invade the South in 1859 proclaimed “the men of New York would go in untold thousands anywhere to protect the flag of their country and to maintain its legitimate authority.” [7] In one of his last congressional speeches Sickles lambasted the South for its threat to the United States as a whole, and condemned the new Confederacy’s policies in spite of Northern attempts to conciliate them, “has been followed by insults to our flag; by the expulsion of the United States troops and authorities from navy yards and forts and arsenals; by measures to control the vast commerce of the Mississippi and its tributaries….” [8] He also condemned the South for its seizure of U.S. funds in the sub-treasuries and mints in the South as well sending envoys to England and France.

Sickles-Excelsior-Brigade-Headquarters-City-Hall-Park.-Yorktown

After the war Sickles, who had lost his leg in the Battle of Gettysburg fighting for the Union, oversaw the early efforts of reconstruction in North Carolina and for ordering the end to the public whippings of blacks by state officials was fired by President Andrew Johnston for supporting voting rights for African Americans. Congress reinstated him but Sickles who had so earnestly supported the South as late as 1860 no longer could stomach such abuse by those men who at one time his political friends and allies. During the election of 1876 Sickles, a lifelong Democrat labeled his party as “the party of treason.” [9] He joined forces with Republicans and helped to prevent the election of New York Democrat Samuel Tilden through shrewd political electioneering in key battleground states.

For Stephen Douglas the attack on Fort Sumter meant the end of his efforts to bring about some kind of reconciliation to reunite the country and restore the Union. When the Little Giant heard the news of the attack and reports of the statements of Confederate leaders he rushed to Lincoln to offer his support. Douglas wrote of the meeting:

“I heartily approve of your proclamation calling up 75,000 militia,” I told him. “Except that I would make it 200,000. You don’t know the dishonest purposes of these southern men as well as I do.” After a review of the strategic situation with the President Douglas continued, “Mr. President,” I said. “Let me speak plainly. I remain unalterably opposed to your Administration on purely its political issues. Yet I’m prepared to sustain you in the exercise of all your constitutional functions to preserve the Union, maintain the government, and defend the capital. A firm policy and prompt action are necessary. The capital of our country is in danger, and must be defended at all hazards, and at any expense of men and money. I speak of the present and future without reference to the past.

He shook my hand, hard. “We need more patriots like you, Douglas,” he said as he walked me to the door.

“I depreciate war,” I said in parting, “but if it must come, I’m with my country and for my country, under all circumstances and in every contingency.” [10]

Douglas then went to his fellow Democrats in Washington and told them: “We must fight for our country and forget all differences. There can be only two parties now – the party of patriots and the party of traitors. We belong to the first.” [11]

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Richard Ewell

Army officers were conflicted between the Army that they had served, often for many years, the flag that they had fought under, longstanding friendships, and loyalty to their states and families. Richard Ewell who would rise to corps command in the Army of Northern Virginia, described the feelings of many officers in the ante-bellum Army: “Officers generally are very much adverse to any thing like civil war, though some of the younger ones are a bit warlike. The truth is in the army there are no sectional feelings and many from extreme ends of the Union are the most intimate friends.” [12] In California a number of those friends and their families bade tearful farewells as they parted ways. Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston and Captains Winfield Scott Hancock and Lewis Armistead gathered one last time. Hancock had already, who had great sympathy for his Southern friends, made his views known had previously announced “I shall fight not upon the principle of state-rights, but for the Union, whole and undivided.” [13] His commander, Johnston, and dear friend Armistead were departing to serve the Confederacy and the parting was painful. Almira Hancock wrote of the final night together in Los Angeles:

“The most crushed was Major Armistead, who with tears, which were contagious, streaming down his face, put his hands upon Mr. Hancock’s shoulders, while looking him steadily in the eye, said, “Hancock, good-bye; you can never know what this has cost me; and I hope God will strike me dead if I am ever induced to leave my native soil, should worse come to worst….” [14]

Colonel Robert E. Lee of Virginia looked askance at secession, but he had made the decision that no matter what he would not lead armies against the South. In fact it was clear when he left Texas to come east where his sentiments lay. He told a friend “If Virginia stands by the old Union, so will I. But if she secedes (though I do believe in secession as a constitutional right, nor that there is sufficient cause for revolution), then I will follow my native State with my sword, and if need be, with my life.” [15]When he returned to Washington D.C. he accepted a promotion to Colonel in the Regular Army less than a month before he was offered command of the Union armies by Abraham Lincoln, a position that he turned down. In his final interview with General Winfield Scott to announce his decision, he admitted that “the struggle had been hard. He did not believe in secession, he said, and if he owned every slave in the South he would free them all to bring peace; but to fight against Virginia was not in him.” [16] When Virginia seceded Lee submitted his resignation from the Army for a cause that he did not really believe was constitutional or necessary, noting in his letter:

“With all my devotion to the Union and feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore, resigned my commission in the Army, and save in the defense of my native State…I hope I may never be called upon to draw my sword.” [17]

Within days Lee was appointed as a General and commander of the military forces of Virginia. When he arrived at the State House and “before he had much time to ruminate, he found himself being presented with George Washington’s sword, and hailed as a hero in a powerful tribute by the president of the convention.” [18] Even so, Lee’s decision was assailed by much of his Unionist oriented family, and many of them went on to serve the Union with distinction during the war. One relative wrote of Lee’s decision, “I feel no exalted respect for a man who takes part in a movement in which he says he can see nothing but ‘anarchy and ruin’… and yet very utterance scare passed Robt Lees lips… when he starts off with delegates to treat traitors.” [19]

Lee’s future right hand man and chief lieutenant, Thomas Jackson, the soon to be “Stonewall” Jackson was then a professor at the Virginia Military Institute. The often grim and serious Jackson saw the issue of secession as he did all of life through the prism of his Evangelical Protestant Calvinistic faith. For him it disunion was a matter of Divine Providence. When secession came and Jackson heard a minister friend in Lexington lamenting the nation’s troubles he noted:

“Why should Christians be at all disturbed about the dissolution of the Union? It can only come by God’s permission, and only will be permitted, if it is for his people’s good, for does he not say that all things shall work together for the good to them that love God?” [20]

In San Francisco Lieutenant James McPherson of the Corps of Engineers attempted to convince Lieutenant Porter Alexander from going home and joining the cause of the Confederacy. He bluntly spoke the facts of what would happen to the South in coming the war to the future Confederate artillery general:

“The population of the seceding states is only eight million while the North has twenty million. Of your 8 million over 3 million are slaves & may pose a dangerous element. You have no army, no navy, no treasury, no organization & practically none of the manufacturers – the machine shops, coal & iron mines & such things – which are necessary for the support of armies & carrying on war on a large scale.

You are but scattered agricultural communities & will be isolated from the world by blockades.

It is not possible for your cause to succeed in the end…” [21]

But Alexander, like so many Southern officers realized “that a crisis in my life was at hand. But I felt helpless to avert it or even debate the question what I should do. I could not doubt or controvert one of McPherson’s statements or arguments…” [22]

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John Buford

However, many Southern born officers serving in the Army did not leave. Close to half of the “Southern West Point graduates on active duty in 1860 held to their posts and remained loyal to the Union.” [23] One was Kentucky’s John Buford who would gain immortal fame at the Battle of Gettysburg. Since Buford’s family had longstanding ties to Kentucky, the pro-secession governor of Kentucky, Beriah Magoffin offered Buford a commission in that states’ militia. At the time Kentucky was still an “undeclared border slave state” and Buford loyal to his oath refused the governor’s offer. He wrote a brief letter to Magoffin and told his comrades that “I sent him word that I was a Captain in the United States Army and I intend to remain one.” [24] Around the same time the new provisional government of the Confederacy “offered Buford a general officer’s commission, which reached him by mail at Fort Crittenden.” [25] According to Buford’s biographer Edward Longacre “a well-known anecdote has him wadding up the letter while angrily announcing that whatever future had in store he would “live and die under the flag of the Union.” [26] A starker contrast could not be drawn.

Close to forty-percent of the Virginians serving on active-duty in the army remained faithful to the Union, including the Commander of the Army, General Winfield Scott and Robert E. Lee’s friend George Thomas and both were ostracized in the Old Dominion. “Thomas’s family never again communicated with him except to ask him to change his name. A young Virginian just out of West Point, acknowledged that by retaining his commission he had been shunned by all of his Southern associates; yet he still derided those who would hold their obligations so lightly as to abandon the nation when it most needed them.” [27]

But throughout the South, most people were less than circumspect and openly rejoiced at the surrender of Fort Sumter. In Richmond the night following the surrender “bonfires and fireworks of every description were illuminating in every direction- the whole city was a scene of joy owing to [the] surrender of Fort Sumter” – and Virginia wasn’t even part of the Confederacy.” [28] John Gordon, the future Confederate General was leading his Georgia volunteers to the new Confederate capital and “found the line of march an unbroken celebration: fires lighted the hilltops; fife-and-drum corps shrilled and thumped; cannons exploded their welcome.” [29]

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Ulysses Grant

Far to the north in Bangor Maine a little known professor at Bowdin College named Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain read the news “could not abide the thought of a divided nation; the Founding Fathers “did not vote themselves into a people; they recognized and declared that they were a people” whose bonds out not to be severed by political, social, or economic grievances.” [30] The professor “was seized with anger that “the flag of the Nation had been insulted” and “the integrity and existence of the people of the United States had been assailed in open and bitter war.” [31] In Illinois, a former struggling former Regular Army officer and veteran of the War with Mexico, Ulysses S. Grant whose in-laws were sympathetic to the Southern cause who had volunteered to lead a regiment of Illinois volunteers, wrote “Whatever may have been my opinions before, I have but one sentiment now. That is to have a Government, and laws and a flag and they all must be sustained….There are but two parties now, Traitors and Patriots and I want hereafter to be ranked with the latter.” [32]

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Even in cities that had often leaned toward the South like Cincinnati, people rushed to proclaim their patriotism and support of the Union. George Ticknor told an English friend “The whole population, men, women, and children, seem to be in the streets with Union favours and flags…. Civil war is freely accepted everywhere… by all, anarchy being the obvious, and perhaps the only alternative.” Pacifists who had rejected violence, even in support of righteous causes, turned bellicose. Ralph Waldo Emerson enthused, “Sometimes gunpowder smells good.” [33] As the Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry marched through the streets of New York on their way to Washington were greeted with cheers from thousands of New Yorkers. The New York Times reported the event:

“Flags were displayed at all the hotels on the route, and waving handkerchiefs from the balconies and windows signified the warm greetings of the fair sex to the brave Bay State soldiers. Opposite the New York Hotel a gray-haired old man mounted a stoop and addressing the soldiers and people, said that he had fought under the Stars and Stripes in the War of 1812 against a foreign power, and now that the flag was spit upon by those who should be its defenders. He closed his remarks by a “God bless our flag,” and left the crowd with tears streaming down his wrinkled cheeks.” [34]

The Rubicon had been crossed and there was now no going back for either side. Poet Walt Whitman wrote:

War! An arm’d race is advancing! The welcome for battle, no turning away;

War! Be it weeks, months, or years, an arm’d race is advancing to welcome it.” [35]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Cooper We Have the War Upon Us p.270

[2] Doubleday, Abner From Moultrie to Sumter in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume I Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.48

[3] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.274

[4] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.274

[5] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.423

[6] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.274-275

[7] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.212

[8] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.214

[9] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.525

[10] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.421-422

[11] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.422

[12] Pfanz, Donald. Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1998 p.120

[13] Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1988 p.33

[14] Hancock, Almira Reminiscences of Winfield Scott Hancock Charles L Webster and Company, New York 1887 pp.69-70

[15] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 p.187

[16] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.335

[17] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.85

[18] Pryor, Elizabeth Brown. Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters Penguin Books, New York and London 2007 p.295

[19] Ibid. Pryor Reading the Man p.295

[20] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.38

[21] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.24

[22] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.25

[23] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957

[24] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.121

[25] Longacre, Edward G. John Buford: A Military Biography Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA p.70

[26] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.70

[27] Pryor, Elizabeth Brown. Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters Penguin Books, New York and London 2007 p.292

[28] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.140

[29] Smith, Jean Edward. Grant Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2001 p.99

[30] Longacre, Edward G. Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the ManCombined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 pp.49-50

[31] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.139

[32] Ibid. Smith Grant p.103

[33] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.205

[34] Holzer, Harold and Symonds, Craig L. Editors, The New York Times Complete Civil War 1861-1865 Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, New York 2010 p.75

[35] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.205

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Murder in Lafayette Square, Dan Sickles: Part Two

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

I hope that you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

philip-barton-key-granger

 

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

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

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

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Teresa Sickles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Murder

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

[6] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.74

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

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

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

[10] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.92

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

[12] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.94

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

[14] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.92

[15] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.93

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

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

[18] Ibid Keneally American Scoundrel p.121

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

[20] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.127

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

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

[23] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.112

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

[25] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.114

[26] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.135

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

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“The Time for All Good Men Not to go to the Aid of Their Party, But to Come to the Aid of Their Country” Flake, Douglas, and McCarthy: Profiles In Senatorial Courage

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’m up late tonight because of a snowstorm that is allowing me to go in to work late in the morning. But that allowed me to spend more time putting this article together and that is not a bad thing.

Yesterday Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona made a speech on the Senate floor. I do not think that I have seen one like it since Stephen A. Douglas opposed President James Buchanan in 1858 regarding the LeCompton Constitution. I am trying to remember the last time I have seen a sitting U.S. Senator compare a President of his own party one of the worst dictators in the history of the world. I both watched it and read it and honestly I don’t think that I have seen anything close to it since Senator Eugene McCarthy destroyed Lyndon Johnson’s hopes for a second term in 1968.

Stephen_A_Douglas_by_Vannerson,_1859

In 1858 Douglas warned his fellow Democrats about Buchanan, saying:

“I warned the anti-Lecompton Democrats of the North that the President intended to put the knife to the throat of every man who dared to think for himself on this question and carry out principles in good faith. “God forbid,” I said “that I ever surrender my right to differ from a President of the United States for my own choice. I am not a tool of any President!”

Events like this are truly rare, they don’t happen often and when they do they are quite remarkable and are portents of bigger things to come. Douglas’s opposition ushered in a split in the Democratic Party and helped elect Abraham Lincoln who through his courage helped to overthrow the institution of slavery that Buchanan had sought to expand. McCarthy’s opposition to Johnson helped to not only torpedo Johnson’s hopes for a second term but helped to galvanize the nation against the Vietnam War, fracture the Democratic Party, and elect Richard Nixon.

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McCarthy was equally courageous. He noted: “This is, I say, the time for all good men not to go to the aid of their party, but to come to the aid of their country.”

Senator Flake’s speech was a real watershed, try as they might to shun Flake his Republican opponents like Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi who said: “I don’t think that sort of speech is helpful, I disagree with those quotes and I don’t know why it’s helpful. … I don’t see any need to further stir that pot.” Richard Shelby of Alabama noted: “He’s certainly crossed the Rubicon with Trump. Strife is not productive.” Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma railed against Flake “He hates him. He doesn’t like the president, I can’t imagine anyone questioning that. As it gets closer to the end of his time here, I think he’s going to accelerate his wrath against the president.” Senator John McCain defended his colleague from Arizona.

In previous times both Douglas and McCarthy were attacked by members of their own Party, McCarthy by men who would later become Republicans answering Nixon’s call to a Southern Strategy, Douglas by those who led the drive for secession and Civil War in 1860 and 1861.

Flake, for all of his flaws, and yes he does have them has been pretty much a loyal Republican voting with the GOP on Trump’s legislation the majority of the time, just like Douglas did with much of Buchanan’s legislation and McCarthy with Johnson’s. But all of them as loyal as they had been to their President and parties found something that they had to stand against.

With Douglas is was Buchanan’s assault on the Constitution and law, McCarthy it was the lies of the Johnson administration about Vietnam. Today it is Jeff Flake comparing President Trump to Josef Stalin. In fact one of his GOP critics pointed out how often that Flake had voted with Trump and asked if he would have done that with Stalin. It is a good question for anyone who ignores so much about a President so long that the legislation that they like gets approved, but that being said what Flake did was big and it demonstrated a moral courage that most politicians of both parties are lacking when they vote for legislation solely based on political expediency. So in the case of Senator Flake I say better late than never.

What the Arizona Senator was big and it is an ominous portent of the future regardless of what happens next. I say that very dispassionately as a historian.

If you have not read it or watched it here is what Senator Flake said:

Mr. President, near the beginning of the document that made us free, our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” So, from our very beginnings, our freedom has been predicated on truth. The founders were visionary in this regard, understanding well that good faith and shared facts between the governed and the government would be the very basis of this ongoing idea of America.

As the distinguished former member of this body, Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, famously said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” During the past year, I am alarmed to say that Senator Moynihan’s proposition has likely been tested more severely than at any time in our history.

It is for that reason that I rise today, to talk about the truth, and its relationship to democracy. For without truth, and a principled fidelity to truth and to shared facts, Mr. President, our democracy will not last.

2017 was a year which saw the truth — objective, empirical, evidence-based truth — more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government. It was a year which saw the White House enshrine “alternative facts” into the American lexicon, as justification for what used to be known simply as good old-fashioned falsehoods. It was the year in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally-protected free press was launched by that same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. “The enemy of the people,” was what the president of the United States called the free press in 2017.

Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase “enemy of the people,” that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of “annihilating such individuals” who disagreed with the supreme leader.

This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president’s party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements. And, of course, the president has it precisely backward – despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him “fake news,” it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.

I dare say that anyone who has the privilege and awesome responsibility to serve in this chamber knows that these reflexive slurs of “fake news” are dubious, at best. Those of us who travel overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas around the globe, encounter members of U.S. based media who risk their lives, and sometimes lose their lives, reporting on the truth. To dismiss their work as fake news is an affront to their commitment and their sacrifice.

According to the International Federation of Journalists, 80 journalists were killed in 2017, and a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists documents that the number of journalists imprisoned around the world has reached 262, which is a new record. This total includes 21 reporters who are being held on “false news” charges.

Mr. President, so powerful is the presidency that the damage done by the sustained attack on the truth will not be confined to the president’s time in office. Here in America, we do not pay obeisance to the powerful – in fact, we question the powerful most ardently – to do so is our birthright and a requirement of our citizenship — and so, we know well that no matter how powerful, no president will ever have dominion over objective reality.

No politician will ever get to tell us what the truth is and is not. And anyone who presumes to try to attack or manipulate the truth to his own purposes should be made to realize the mistake and be held to account. That is our job here. And that is just as Madison, Hamilton, and Jay would have it.

Of course, a major difference between politicians and the free press is that the press usually corrects itself when it gets something wrong. Politicians don’t.

No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions. And Mr. President, an American president who cannot take criticism – who must constantly deflect and distort and distract – who must find someone else to blame — is charting a very dangerous path. And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to the danger.

Now, we are told via Twitter that today the president intends to announce his choice for the “most corrupt and dishonest” media awards. It beggars belief that an American president would engage in such a spectacle. But here we are.

And so, 2018 must be the year in which the truth takes a stand against power that would weaken it. In this effort, the choice is quite simple. And in this effort, the truth needs as many allies as possible. Together, my colleagues, we are powerful. Together, we have it within us to turn back these attacks, right these wrongs, repair this damage, restore reverence for our institutions, and prevent further moral vandalism.

Together, united in the purpose to do our jobs under the Constitution, without regard to party or party loyalty, let us resolve to be allies of the truth — and not partners in its destruction.

It is not my purpose here to inventory all of the official untruths of the past year. But a brief survey is in order. Some untruths are trivial – such as the bizarre contention regarding the crowd size at last year’s inaugural.

But many untruths are not at all trivial – such as the seminal untruth of the president’s political career – the oft-repeated conspiracy about the birthplace of President Obama. Also not trivial are the equally pernicious fantasies about rigged elections and massive voter fraud, which are as destructive as they are inaccurate – to the effort to undermine confidence in the federal courts, federal law enforcement, the intelligence community and the free press, to perhaps the most vexing untruth of all – the supposed “hoax” at the heart of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

To be very clear, to call the Russia matter a “hoax” – as the president has many times – is a falsehood. We know that the attacks orchestrated by the Russian government during the election were real and constitute a grave threat to both American sovereignty and to our national security. It is in the interest of every American to get to the bottom of this matter, wherever the investigation leads.

Ignoring or denying the truth about hostile Russian intentions toward the United States leaves us vulnerable to further attacks. We are told by our intelligence agencies that those attacks are ongoing, yet it has recently been reported that there has not been a single cabinet-level meeting regarding Russian interference and how to defend America against these attacks. Not one. What might seem like a casual and routine untruth – so casual and routine that it has by now become the white noise of Washington – is in fact a serious lapse in the defense of our country.

Mr. President, let us be clear. The impulses underlying the dissemination of such untruths are not benign. They have the effect of eroding trust in our vital institutions and conditioning the public to no longer trust them. The destructive effect of this kind of behavior on our democracy cannot be overstated.

Mr. President, every word that a president utters projects American values around the world. The values of free expression and a reverence for the free press have been our global hallmark, for it is our ability to freely air the truth that keeps our government honest and keeps a people free. Between the mighty and the modest, truth is the great leveler. And so, respect for freedom of the press has always been one of our most important exports.

But a recent report published in our free press should raise an alarm. Reading from the story:
“In February…Syrian President Bashar Assad brushed off an Amnesty International report that some 13,000 people had been killed at one of his military prisons by saying, “You can forge anything these days, we are living in a fake news era.”

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has complained of being “demonized” by “fake news.” Last month, the report continues, with our President, quote “laughing by his side” Duterte called reporters “spies.”

In July, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro complained to the Russian propaganda outlet, that the world media had “spread lots of false versions, lots of lies” about his country, adding, “This is what we call ‘fake news’ today, isn’t it?”

There are more:

A state official in Myanmar recently said, “There is no such thing as Rohingya. It is fake news,” referring to the persecuted ethnic group.

Leaders in Singapore, a country known for restricting free speech, have promised “fake news” legislation in the new year.”

And on and on. This feedback loop is disgraceful, Mr. President. Not only has the past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, but it seems he has in turn inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language. This is reprehensible.

We are not in a “fake news” era, as Bashar Assad says. We are, rather, in an era in which the authoritarian impulse is reasserting itself, to challenge free people and free societies, everywhere.

In our own country, from the trivial to the truly dangerous, it is the range and regularity of the untruths we see that should be cause for profound alarm, and spur to action. Add to that the by-now predictable habit of calling true things false, and false things true, and we have a recipe for disaster. As George Orwell warned, “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.”

Any of us who have spent time in public life have endured news coverage we felt was jaded or unfair. But in our positions, to employ even idle threats to use laws or regulations to stifle criticism is corrosive to our democratic institutions. Simply put: it is the press’s obligation to uncover the truth about power. It is the people’s right to criticize their government. And it is our job to take it.

What is the goal of laying siege to the truth? President John F. Kennedy, in a stirring speech on the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America, was eloquent in answer to that question: “We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”

Mr. President, the question of why the truth is now under such assault may well be for historians to determine. But for those who cherish American constitutional democracy, what matters is the effect on America and her people and her standing in an increasingly unstable world — made all the more unstable by these very fabrications. What matters is the daily disassembling of our democratic institutions.

We are a mature democracy – it is well past time that we stop excusing or ignoring – or worse, endorsing — these attacks on the truth. For if we compromise the truth for the sake of our politics, we are lost.

I sincerely thank my colleagues for their indulgence today. I will close by borrowing the words of an early adherent to my faith that I find has special resonance at this moment. His name was John Jacques, and as a young missionary in England he contemplated the question: “What is truth?” His search was expressed in poetry and ultimately in a hymn that I grew up with, titled “Oh Say, What is Truth.” It ends as follows:

Then say, what is truth? ‘Tis the last and the first,
For the limits of time it steps o’er.
Tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst.
Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,
Eternal… unchanged… evermore.

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.

Senator Flake’s words reminded me a bit of the closing section of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Beyond Vietnam speech in which he said:

As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:

Once to every man and nation comes a moment do decide,
In the strife of truth and Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ‘tis truth alone is strong
Though her portions be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. 

That being said I wish that Flake would be much more like Douglas and fight to remain in the Senate and not retire. Douglas noted about his fight with Buchanan:

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

I wish more Republicans had the courage of Flake and even more Douglas who sacrificed his ambitions as the presumed front-runner for the 1860 Presidential election. His opposition to Buchanan and the Slave Power Southern Democrats ensured his defeat. When his opponents led the South to secede Douglas remained with the Union rallying Northern Democrats to the cause. Likewise despite a lot of popular support McCarthy was opposed by the party establishment and lost his bid to be the Democratic nominee in 1968. But he said something about the office of the Presidency that every American should support and defend:

“We do not need presidents who are bigger than the country, but rather ones who speak for it and support it.”

What is going on today is as big if not bigger than the crises that led loyal party men like Douglas and McCarthy to defy their President and Party.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under History, laws and legislation, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary

Telling the Truth is Neither Disloyal nor Treasonous 

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I find it both interesting and troubling to listen to many supporters of President Trump castigate anyone for any criticism offered about the President, sometimes going as far to say that critics are being “unfair,” “disrespectful,”or most disturbing, “disloyal” or “treasonous.” Even the President tweets out those kind of accusations on a whim.

Admittedly some forms of criticism cross boundaries and are personally insulting and disrespectful of the President. In my writings I try, even when being very critical of his policies, words, or actions, to refrain from personal insults that could be considered disrespectful to the President because I am still on active duty.  As my readers know I am a historian as well as an theologian/ethicist and when I do write about the actions of the President and his administration I do so based on careful study and comparison with historical, ethical, or legal precedents. My views are likewise informed by my education and and belief in the principles of the Enlightenment, my belief in human rights as set out in the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the French Rights of Man and the Citizen, as well as my understanding of the Anglican Christian tradition of “Scripture, Tradition, and Reason” being the foundations of faith.

But it is not disloyal or treasonous to offer criticism of policies, legislative proposals, executive orders, or actions and words of the President or his advisers that could endanger the security of the United States, its citizens, and its alliances, or potentially be unlawful.

Even so I am occasionally criticized for offering historical examples that compare the President and his most ardent supporters in an unfair way, some even calling those disrespectful. I find their double standards and lack of appreciation of irony quite fascinating as most of these people have spent the last eight years or more disparaging and disrespecting President Obama with some of the most racist, vile, contemptible, and false accusations ever made against a sitting President, while at the same time condemning others for simply repeating what the President himself has said.

I found out this week that I had a couple of students criticize some of my teaching at Gettysburg when comparing the anti-immigrant Know Nothings of the 1830s-1850s to current anti-immigrant Trump supporters and some Trump Administration Civil Rights proposals to be a throwback to Jim Crow. That is not insulting nor disrespectful, but simply valid historical criticism, but some Trump supporters are so thin-skinned that they cannot abide any criticism.

Theodore Roosevelt had to defend himself in 1918 from such criticism from the supporters of President Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt was criticizing the Wilson administration because of how badly he thought they were pursuing the war effort against Germany. For this people were castigating him. People said that newspapers should not print what Roosevelt had to say as well as “He should stand by the President” and “He should be stood before a stone wall and shot.” Roosevelt ended up writing an op-ed in the Kansas City Star in which he noted:

“The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.” 

This is exactly how I base any criticism I offer of the President, his policies, words, and actions. I heartily agree with the words of Senator Stephen A. Douglas when he battled President James Buchanan over the pro-slavery attempt to have Kansas admitted to the Union as a Slave State in 1858. Douglas said of his encounter with Buchanan: “God forbid,” I said “that I ever surrender my right to differ from a President of the United States for my own choice. I am not a tool of any President!”

Now there is a difference, I am not a Senator or elected Representative, I am an officer and must carry out the orders of the President. However, if I ever come to believe that I cannot in good conscience carry them out, or if I believe that they are un-Constitutional I will retire from the military in order to allow myself the freedom to speak out more openly. General Ludwig Beck resigned as head of the German Army in 1938 over Hitler’s aggression and his plan to attack Czechoslovakia. He noted:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.” 

That is my belief as well. So have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, History, Military, Political Commentary

President Trump, I Wish to Remind You that General Jackson is Dead

President Trump, President Andrew Jackson, and President James Buchanan 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am never surprised when President Trump demonstrates his ignorance of American History or our Constitution as he when he discussed how the Civil War could have been avoided in only a dealmaker like Andrew Jackson been around to stop it. During an interview with the Washington Examiner’s Selina Zito, the President explained:

“I mean had Andrew Jackson been a little later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said, “There’s no reason for this.” People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

The President’s remarks were so bumblingly inaccurate that it was painful to listen to. First in his comments about President Jackson, a man whose “big heart” caused him to defy the Supreme Court to order the mass resettlement of the Native American tribes of the Southeast in the midst of winter which led to thousands of deaths in the what is known now as the Trail of Tears. Likewise, the one time Jackson opposed the secession of a state, that of South Carolina during the Nullification Crisis of 1828-1832 it had to deal with tariffs and not slaves, which the President owned. Likewise Jackson never uttered “There’s no reason for this” because Jackson was dead and buried long before the Civil War, and even years before the threats of secession to preserve and expand slavery were proposed in the early 1850s.

Senator Stephen Douglas

There was no deal to be made. Slavery and its expansion were the issues at hand. In 1858 a minority of slave holders in Kansas attempted through election fraud to get a pro-slavery constitution passed in order for the state to be admitted to the Union as a Slave State, a move the President James Buchanan fully supported and fought an unsuccessful battle with Congress to pass. The measure would have set precedent to open every territory of the Union to slavery, but Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois stood his ground and organized bi-partisan opposition to the measure which was supported by Southern Democrats.

When Buchanan threatened him Douglas stood his ground:

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

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

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

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

Angry and offended by the confrontation of Douglas, Buchanan cut the senator off and issued his own threat to Douglas and his political career saying, “I desire you to remember that no Democrat ever yet differed from an administration of his own choice without being crushed….Beware of the fate of Tallmadge and Rives,” two senators who had gone into political oblivion after crossing Andrew Jackson.” The redoubtable Senator from Illinois was undeterred by the President’s threat and fought back,“Douglas riposted: “Mr. President, I wish to remind you that General Jackson is dead, sir.” It was an unprecedented action by a sitting Senator, to confront a President of one’s own party and threaten to oppose him in Congress was simply not done, but now Douglas was doing it, but doing so to his President’s face, and the consequences for him, his party, and the country would be immense. (You can find my full article about the Lecompton Constitution at https://padresteve.com/2016/10/16/when-political-parties-implode-mr-president-i-wish-to-remind-you-that-general-jackson-is-dead/)

Every State that seceded from the Union included the preservation and expansion of slavery as the primary reason of secession. There were no deals to be made to avoid the Civil War except for the Northern Free states to submit to becoming Slave states again and African Americans to be forever subordinated to the less than human state of being mere property.

President Trump may actually believe what he said, in fact I think that he does, which is why I think is why that he habitually demonstrates such supreme ignorance of American History and the Constitution.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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

Stephen A. Douglas

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

President James Buchanan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“It is More Important to Tell the Truth” Teddy Roosevelt and the Freedom to Criticize a President

db_theodore_roosevelt_rough_rider9

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have seen a lot of people, especially conservative Christians demanding that critics of our soon to be President Trump to stop criticizing him and fully support him. It is actually fascinating to watch and listen to as for the past eight years neither the President Elect or most of his supporters have stopped questioning the legitimacy of President Obama. My God, for the past eight plus years his policies have not only been criticized, but his very person has been defamed by the very people who now say that criticizing or failing to support the President is “unpatriotic,” “un-American,” and even “treasonable.” I’ve also seen not so subtle threats made against critics of President-Elect Trump, even before he was elected.

Of course that is bullshit. One of the fundamental rights that all of us have as Americans is the right to freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion. It’s called the First Amendment of the Constitution. Our founders were terrified that some nutcase might get the idea to become a tyrant and that the people would let them. That’s why we have all the checks and balances between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of the Federal government, and that is why that freedom of speech has been the cornerstone of the American experiment.

But not anymore. I am not going to say a word about President-Elect Trump or my opinion about him or his possible policies. Instead I am going to note what one of my favorite President’s said about criticizing the President or a Presidential administration. That man was Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt, if you recall was no Nansy Pansy. The man volunteered for combat and led troops up San Juan Hill in the face of a fusillade of enemy fire, he sent the Great White Fleet around the World, he helped to end child labor, and he created the National Park system. What he wrote in 1918 is important. The United States was at war having joined Britain and France to fight Imperial Germany.

Roosevelt said this when it came to criticizing the President:

“The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.” The Kansas City Star, 18 May 1918

That being said criticism must be based on fact. Roosevelt was criticizing the Wilson administration because of how badly he thought they were pursuing the war effort against Germany. For this people were castigating him. People said that newspapers should not print what Roosevelt had to say as well as “He should stand by the President” and “He should be stood before a stone wall and shot.” So I guess things haven’t changed too much, but I digress…

The point is that criticism of a President should not be considered unpatriotic nor criminal. If we are to believe Theodore Roosevelt; reasoned, respectful, and truthful criticism of our elected officials, up to and including the President is not only necessary, but it is patriotic. Stephen A. Douglas, who later ran against Abraham Lincoln for President destroyed his own chances of becoming President by opposing James A. Buchanan’s deceitful and illegal attempt to make Kansas a Slave state in 1858. Buchanan said that he would destroy him if he opposed the measure. Douglas stood his ground and he told his congressional colleagues: “God forbid,” I said “that I ever surrender my right to differ from a President of the United States for my own choice. I am not a tool of any President!”

None of us should be regardless of who the President is or what our political beliefs. Principled support, or if need be, opposition, to a President, is both necessary and patriotic. Blind obedience, selling out ones principles, or knuckling under to threats is not. Likewise, those who demand respect, support, and obedience for the person that they voted for without giving it to the other side is not only a hypocrite, but a supporter of tyranny.

This is important, especially when the President-Elect has a long history of lying, cheating small business owners who he contracted with, falsifying, and hiding the truth. His statements in terms of civil liberties, our allies and foreign policy, his questionable relationship with the leader of a hostile foreign power, his manifold conflicts of interest related to his businesses, and his unhinged tirades on social media against any and all critics are all reason to question what he says and does. Those statements are all verifiable, they are not innuendo nor slanderous. They are facts that make a reasonable person question what he says he will do.

Of course, as an American I want President-Elect Trump to do well for all of us and the world. The stakes are too high for me not to care about that. However, to surrender the moral and and Constitutional responsibility to speak out is something that none of us should be prepared to surrender, and those who suggest anyone do should be ashamed of themselves, if they have any sense of shame.

So anyway, until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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