Posts tagged Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln scholarship scholarship

Let’s compare and contrast.

Here’s Tom DiLorenzo at LewRockwell.com Blog

George Mason University Ph.D. candidate (public policy program) Phil Magness has had this terrific article published in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. It shows that, until his dying day, Dishonest Abe was hard at work trying to organize the colonization (i.e., deportation) of all the freed slaves.

— Tom DiLorenzo, LewRockwell.com Blog (2008-04-08): The Latest Scholarship on Lincoln’s Colonization Fetish

Here’s George Mason University Ph.D. candidate (public policy program) Phil Magness, in this terrific article published in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association:

Constrained by the limitations of written evidence, inquiry into Butler’s account becomes necessarily speculative. Given the general’s probable exaggerations, one conceivable scenario involves the conversation turning to the subjects of racial conflict and colonization, with Lincoln indicating his willingness to receive Butler’s suggestions. Such a conversation would fall short of the specific project Butler describes or Lincoln’s choice of Butler to complete the task, though it indicates the possibility, and perhaps even likelihood, that Lincoln still entertained colonization ideas. Many unlikely parts of the conversation appear in Butler’s quotations of himself, rather than those attributed to Lincoln. The use of black troops to establish a colony, the canal component, and the policy itself are all expressed as ideas of Butler, which I will suggest to you, Mr. President. Lincoln’s only reaction, there is meat in that, General Butler, is far from espousal of the plan’s particulars, though it would indicate a more likely scenario in which Lincoln patiently received and considered Butler’s suggestions.

The present inquiry set out to provide a firmer basis for evaluating Butler’s colonization anecdote by resolving the issue of its reported timeline. Though established in date, the anecdote leaves many additional questions unanswered and provides room for further examination of an underexplored area of Lincoln’s presidency. As the full conversation between Butler and Lincoln was known only to its participants, one of them assassinated only three days later and the other writing of it twice several decades after the fact, a comprehensive and unbiased record of its events is unlikely ever to emerge. What is certain is that a private meeting in 1865 between Butler and Lincoln occurred. The details of this meeting, as conveyed by Butler, exhibit duly acknowledged signs of embellishment and the distorting effects of their distance from the event itself. Beginning with the meeting’s known date though, the two Butler accounts deserve greater attention than they have received. Sufficient evidence exists to merit additional consideration of Lincoln’s colonization views later in life, and tends to caution against the conclusiveness that many scholars have previously attached to the view that Lincoln fully abandoned this position. The Butler anecdote remains an imperfect example, yet some of its more plausible details may indicate that Lincoln retained an interest in colonization, even if limited, as late as 1865.

— Phil Magness, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 29.1 (Winter 2008): Benjamin Butler’s Colonization Testimony Reevaluated

Magness’s article shows nothing like what DiLorenzo claims it to show. Nor does it claim to show anything like what DiLorenzo claims it to show. What it shows (with a great deal of care and interesting detail) is that a common argument, based on problems with Butler’s timeline, for decisively rejecting a particular piece of evidence for the claim that Lincoln continued to advocate deportation and colonization of free blacks after 1863, is ill-founded, because, while Butler could not have met with Lincoln at the time he claimed in his memoirs (published decades after the fact), he did meet privately with Lincoln not long after, and a little-known second account that Butler gave of his meeting with Lincoln helps clarify which parts of the anecdote are more trustworthy and which parts are less trustworthy. Magness says that the evidence leaves open the possibility that Butler is telling the truth, although encrusted with misremembering and possibly deliberate exaggeration. Unfortunately, the facts being what they are, the anecdote leaves many questions about Lincoln’s final views unanswered, and many questions that it may be impossible ever to answer. But it remains possible that Lincoln was still interested in, though apparently not actively working on, small-scale colonization schemes near the end of his life. Scholars who reject the possibility, and Butler’s testimony, out of hand need to reconsider their views, and Butler’s two accounts of the meeting deserve closer attention.

DiLorenzo would have us believe an entirely different claim — that this article decisively demonstrates that not that a particular piece of evidence should not be rejected out of hand, but rather that a particular conclusion on Lincoln’s views must be accepted, and that it decisively demonstrates not merely that it’s possible that Lincoln idly believed in colonization and patiently received and considered plans for small-scale projects while doing nothing to further them, but that he was actively pursuing colonization schemes up to the end of his life. None of these claims are anywhere to be found in the article.

There are already plenty of certain reasons to condemn Abraham Lincoln as a shameless opportunist, a dictatorial warlord, and, yes, a white supremacist and segregationist. There is no need to jump on any and every opportunity to manufacture new reasons, or to distort scholars’ claims so as to depict the case as being much stronger than the facts warrant, not to mention much stronger than the scholar in question ever claimed it to be. This mad-dog polemical style and partisan misrepresentation of arguments serve nobody.

Further reading:

Official national hero types

(Via Gene Expression 2008-04-04.)

Here’s the Danny Bonaduce of the Blogosphere, marking the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr., to reflect on the comforting lies about Dr. King, which the New Class political-intellectual complex has spent the last 40 years manufacturing and promoting:

Kai Wright has an excellent piece on the forgotten radicalism of Martin Luther King, Jr. — always a point worth making in a day and age when conservatives would like you to think they would have been standing right beside King when he marched on Washington.

That said, to some extent I think the creation of the King Myth and the displacement of the more authentic radical King is a good thing. A country doesn’t get official national hero types without mythologizing and sanitizing them to a large extent, and it’s a good thing, at the end of the day, that King has moved into national hero status.

— Matt Yglesias, The Atlantic (2008-04-04): MLK’s Radicalism

Really.

It seems to me that if the only way you can get official national hero types is by oversimplifying, lying, and thus eviscerating the substance of a world-changing life of work and body of thought, then official national hero types are worth less than nothing. What interest do they serve, and what are we supposed to need them for?

Certainly not the interest of honesty, or truth, and it seems to me that in these times those are coins far rarer — and therefore far more dear — than the pompous deliveries of the cosseted clique of power-tripping politicians and professional blowhards, who have convinced themselves that their collective in-jokes, shibboleths and taboos constitute the public life of a nation. I don’t give much of a damn, in the end, whether or not King gets ritualistically name-checked by men and women who were or would have been his mortal enemies to make stentorian speeches supposedly on his behalf. What I give a damn about is what the man, for all his many faults, actually cared about, fought for, and died for: the struggle of ordinary men and women for their own freedom, which meant their struggle to defy, resist, or simply bypass the consolidated violence of the belligerent power-mongers and the worse-than-useless moderate hand-wringers who made their living peddling excuses, apologetics, and the endless counsel of wait, wait.

This, not public-school pageants and official national hero types, is what the vast majority of us, who get no profit from the fortunes of the political-intellectual complex and its pantheon, need:

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.

… All the while the people read our leaflets and received the regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs.

So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.

What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?

We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation’s only noncommunist revolutionary political force, the unified Buddhist Church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men.

Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness. Soon the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call fortified hamlets. The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these. Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These, too, are our brothers.

… These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

… A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, This way of settling differences is not just. This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love.

— Martin Luther King, Jr. (1967-04-04): Beyond Vietnam

And also this:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was well timed, according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the words Wait! It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This Wait has almost always meant Never. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that justice too long delayed is justice denied.

We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, Wait. But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading white and colored; when your first name becomes nigger, your middle name becomes boy (however old you are) and your last name becomes John, and your wife and mother are never given the respected title Mrs.; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of nobodiness; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask: How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just and there are unjust laws. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that An unjust law is no law at all. … So I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action; who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a more convenient season. Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and that when they fail to do this they become dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is merely a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, where the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substance-filled positive peace, where all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured. …

… You spoke of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of the extremist. … But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist for love — Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you. Was not Amos an extremist for justice — Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ — I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Was not Martin Luther an extremist — Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God. Was not John Bunyan an extremist — I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience. Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist — This nation cannot survive half slave and half free. Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist — We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice—or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

— Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

For anybody other than a self-appointed public intellectual, honest appraisal and serious engagement with the real life, virtues, foibles, questions, and struggles of a creative extremist like King are things more profound, more beautiful, more powerful, more passionate, and ultimately more useful than all the combined hagiographies and bed-time stories of the canonized saints of American theo-nationalism.

Further reading:

Disobedience Day

I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. … I say it as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen. … In spite of my shattered dreams of the past, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause, and with deep moral concern, serve as the channel through which our just grievances would get to the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed. I have heard numerous religious leaders of the South call upon their worshippers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers say, follow this decree because integration is morally right and the Negro is your brother. In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.

— Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was well timed, according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the words Wait! It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This Wait has almost always meant Never. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that justice too long delayed is justice denied.

We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, Wait. But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading white and colored; when your first name becomes nigger, your middle name becomes boy (however old you are) and your last name becomes John, and your wife and mother are never given the respected title Mrs.; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of nobodiness; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask: How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just and there are unjust laws. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that An unjust law is no law at all. … So I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action; who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a more convenient season. Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and that when they fail to do this they become dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is merely a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, where the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substance-filled positive peace, where all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured. …

… You spoke of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of the extremist. … But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist for love — Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you. Was not Amos an extremist for justice — Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ — I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Was not Martin Luther an extremist — Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God. Was not John Bunyan an extremist — I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience. Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist — This nation cannot survive half slave and half free. Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist — We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice—or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

— Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

Further reading:

Refuge of oppression #3: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Here is a piece of correspondence that I actually received quite a long time ago, but which I just noticed recently as I was cleaning old out e-mail. The letter is apparently in response to my remarks in GT 2005-01-03: Robert E. Lee owned slaves and defended slavery. I suppose that it’s better late than never, when it comes to reprinting such valiant efforts to clear the name of such a great man and great American.

From: Todd
Subject: Hero
Date: 11 May 2006

General Lee is and will ever be my hero. Despite Slavery. He was a Great American. One can look with hind sight and say things, but we are careful about this. Never damning such people as Washington, or Jefferson. My point is we make our history to meet the PC thought of the day.

Lee was a loyal patriot, that had history provided a different out come, would be the model of every young person of every race.

The one thing I don’t like about America is we dismiss the brave heroes of our past because they don’t fit the PC world of today. We have a rich history, of which we should be proud. Men like Lee should be praised along side others like Washington, Lincoln, F.D.R. and so on.. They are part of what made us American.

I have traveled to the former USSR many times, and the subject of Gen Lee came up with ex Soviet Army Vets. All knew him as a great General. They had studied his tactics. When I told them that Americans were ashamed and renamed schools which once bore his name, they always laughed, saying you Americans have become weak, and cant honor your own This was hurtful words, but true words.

Slavery was an evil, one we should always remember, but something more important we should know , it still exist. In the heart of Africa it is there, why don’t we do something ? The only answerer I can provide myself is that, it isn’t PC. If it were P.C. every Hollywood actor, and Liberal Political would be screaming from roof tops. Dear Lord, it would be the biggest political thing in 150 years.Because we don’t here about it leaves me to wonder about the legitimate cry over the history American Slavery. It is just an agenda of the left. Because if they really cared they would do something to help the people around the world still enslaved. I don’t think they really care, but blaming men like Robert E. Lee makes them feel better.

For the record, I would like to admit that I have been convinced, in spite of the seditious libel spread throughout the P.C. world of today, that Robert E. Lee should indeed be praised about as much as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and whichever of their own nationalist heroes as may be honored by the proud veterans of the Red Army.

Further reading:

Over My Shoulder #31: J.R. Hummel on the occupation and the insurgency in the border states during the American Civil War

Welcome to a special President’s Day edition of Over My Shoulder! The Ministry of Culture in this secessionist republic of one does not recognize President’s Day as a national holiday, but our Foreign Service thought that it might make interesting reading for our American neighbors. Anyway, here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is from Chapter 5 of J. R. Hummel’s excellent history of the American Civil War, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men (ISBN 0-8126-9312-4). Hummel’s book has the advantage of being perhaps the only comprehensive historical overview of the Civil War that avoids counterhistorical nostalgia for the marble men of either the North or the South. (If anything, the dominant trend in Civil War historiography has been counterhistorical nostalgia for both.) Here’s a bit about how the slave lords of the South and the Great Emancipator waged their war in the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Maryland. Observers of modern-day Deciders and insurgents may find some interesting points to note.

Holding Maryland and Missouri

Four slave states on the border remained to be heard from: Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri. Only tiny Delaware was unquestionably loyal. In Maryland popular sentiment was bitterly divided. The governor was timidly pro-Union, whereas the majority of the legislature leaned toward secession. Maryland, however, was vital to the Lincoln Administration. It not only contained Baltimore, the country’s third largest city; the state also isolated the nation’s capital, itself a southern town, from the free states further north. No sizable regular army units were on hand for Washington’s defense, and with Confederate flags already visible across the Potomac River to the south, Lincoln feared he might have to flee.

The arrival of the first regiment to answer Lincoln’s call, the 6th Massachusetts, did nothing to dispel the panic. A mob had attacked the troops in Baltimore as they shuttled between train stations. In the ensuing melee shots were exchanged. Four soldiers and at least nine civilians died, with many more injured. While the 6th Massachusetts limped into Washington, Baltimore officials burned the railroad bridges and cut the telegraph wires.

Not until more regiments began pouring into the beleaguered capital a week later was it truly secure. Lincoln then suspended the writ of habeas corpus along the military line between Philadelphia and the District of Columbia and clamped a military occupation down upon Maryland. The governor convened the legislature in the northwest part of the state, where unionism was strong. Although the legislature rejected secession, it came out for the peaceful and immediate recognition of the independence of the Confederate States; the state hereby gives her cordial consent thereunto, as a member of the Union. The legislature also denounced the present military occupation of Maryland as a flagrant violation of the Constitution.

The military authorities soon began imprisoning prominent secessionists without trial. The writ of habeas corpus was a constitutional safeguard to prevent such imprisonments without sufficient legal cause, and one of the incarcerated Marylanders, John Merryman, attempted an appeal on that basis. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, sitting as a circuit judge, ordered Merryman released, but federal officials, acting under Lincoln’s orders, refused. The aging Chief Justice, just three years from death’s door, thereupon issued a blistering opinion holding that only Congress had the constitutional right to suspend habeas corpus. The President certainly does not faithfully execute the laws, if he takes upon himself legislative power, by suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and judicial power also, by arresting and imprisoning a person without due process of law, declared Taney. If Lincoln’s action was allowed to stand, then the people of the United States are no longer living under a Government of laws, but every citizen holds life, liberty and property at the will and pleasure of the army officer in whose military district he may happen to be found.

Lincoln simply ignored Taney’s opinion. He also wrote standing orders for the Chief Justice’s arrest, although these were never served. The President did not ignore, however, the increasingly outspoken Maryland legislature when it lodged a sharp protest with Congress. Rather, Secretary of State Seward ordered a lightning statewide raid that jailed thirty-one legislators, the mayor of Baltimore, one of the state’s Congressmen, and key anti-Administration publishers and editors. At the state’s next election in the fall of 1861, federal provost marshals stood guard at the polls and arrested any disunionists who attempted to vote. The outcome was further rigged by granting special three-day furloughs to Marylanders who had joined the Union army so that they could go home and vote. Unsurprisingly, the new legislature was solidly behind the war.

Events in Maryland inspired the words to one of the Confederacy’s favorite marching songs, Maryland, My Maryland. Written by James Ryder Randall, they were adapted to the music of O Tannenbaum:

The despot’s heel is on thy shore,
Maryland!
His torch is at thy temple door,
Maryland!
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!

I hear the distant thunder-hum,
Maryland!
The Old Line’s bugle, fife, and drum,
Maryland!
She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb—
Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
She breathes! she burns! she’ll come! she’ll come!
Maryland! My Maryland!

The song with only minor changes eventually became the state’s official anthem, but Maryland was never able to come to the Confederacy.

Farther west, the border state of Missouri contained a larger population than any other slave state outside of Virginia. A special convention chosen by the people had rejected secession before the attack on Fort Sumter. But the state’s newly elected governor, Claiborne Jackson, a former border ruffian, favored the Confederacy and refused Lincoln’s call for troops. The governor controlled the state militia, which was in spring encampment near St. Louis. The local Union commander, the impetuous and intolerant Captain Nathaniel Lyon, precipitated open hostilities by surrounding the militia encampment with his own force of regulars and hastily recruited German immigrants. The militia laid down their arms, but a crowd gathered that was not so peaceful. The raw Union recruits fired indiscriminately, killing twenty-eight mostly innocent bystanders.

This provocation converted many Union sympathizers into secessionists. One delegate to the state convention, who had voted against Missouri’s secession, announced his change of heart to a city crowd. If Unionism means such atrocious deeds as have been witnessed in St. Louis, I am no longer a Union man. The Lincoln Administration’s heavy-handed ineptitude had managed to provoke open hostilities within a state that had not formally seceded. The legislature rallied behind Governor Jackson and granted him dictatorial powers, but Federal troops chased them all out of the state capital. Missouri ended up with two shadow governments, one in the Union, the other in the Confederacy. Declaring the governorship vacant and the legislature abolished, the anti-secessionist members of the state convention operated without elections as a provisional government loyal to the Union for the next three years. The remnant of the legislature, meanwhile, joined the deposed governor in aligning with the Confederacy.

The real power in Missouri was the Federal military, which gained nominal control over most of the state. A ferocious guerrilla war devastated the countryside, however. John C. Frémont, who assumed command of the Union’s Western Department, imposed martial law at the end of August. Circumstances, in my judgment, of sufficient urgency render it necessary that the commanding general of this department should assume the administrative powers of the State. On his own authority, Frémont freed the slaves of those in rebellion and confiscated all their other real and personal property. He also proclaimed the death penalty for any captured guerrillas. All persons who shall be taken with arms in their hands within these lines shall be tried by court-martial, and if found guilty will be shot. … All persons who shall be proven to have destroyed, after the publication of this order, railroad tracks, bridges, or telegraphs shall suffer the extreme penalty of the law.

The President countermanded the precipitate emancipation and replaced Frémont in order to placate what loyal sentiment was left in the various border states. But Missouri remained under martial law. The internecine warfare was further aggravated as Kansas jayhawkers crossed the border and took revenge for the earlier efforts of the Missouri border ruffians to extend slavery into Kansas. What one historian has called a maelstrom of retaliation and counter-retaliation built to a howling crescendo. During the war’s second summer, the most notorious band of Confederate partisans, lead by William C. Quantrill, descended upon Lawrence, Kansas, burned the business district to the ground, and murdered in cold blood every male inhabitant they could locate—183 in all.

Union commanders responded with such harsh measures as General Order No. 11, which forcibly relocated nearly all the residents of four western counties in Missouri, destroyed their crops, and razed their homes and barns. The relocation made no effort to distinguish between citizens loyal to the Union and those disloyal. Only six hundred persons were left in Cass County, which before the war had a population of ten thousand. After observing a boat that was crowded full of deportees, one Federal colonel expressed the bitterness widespread among Union soldiers toward a populace that had spanwed Bushwackers. God knows where they are all going for I don[‘]t nor do I care, he wrote his wife. I think if we get rid of the women then it will not be hard to get rid of [the Bushwackers]. This legacy of hatred, dating back six years before Fort Sumter, would continue to plague Kansas and Missouri long after the rest of the country attained peace. Many of the desperate young boys whose families were banished and who rode with Quantrill, such as seventeen-year-old Jesse James, would not abandon their violent grudges until they reached the grave.

Kentucky and West Virginia

The Union handling of Kentucky, birthplace of both Lincoln and Davis, was initially more tactful than its handling of either Missouri or Maryland. Fear that this border state would join the Confederacy was one of the major reasons that Lincoln had revoked Frémont’s emancipation proclamation. The Kentucky Legislature would not budge till that proclamation was modified, he confided in private correspondence. I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we can not hold Missouri, nor, as I think, Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us. We would as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of this capitol.

Although Kentucky’s governor favored secession and refused to supply Lincoln with militia, the state’s unionists were numerous enough to get the legislature to declare neutrality. This kept Kentucky free from either side’s armies for four months. When Confederate troop movements violated the neutrality, the legislature invited Union forces to expel the invaders. Many individual Kentuckians, however, had already enlisted in the Confederate ranks. They elected a convention that passed an ordinance of secession and set up an alternative state government. Thus Kentucky, like Missouri, was represented in both the Confederacy and the Union.

The Confederate military never could consolidate control over Kentucky, and the Union embrace squeezed tighter as the war heated up. Federal authorities declared martial law; required loyalty oaths before people could trade or engage in many other daily activities; censored books, journals, sermons, and sheet music; and crowded the jails with Rebel sympathizers. By 1862 the military was interfering with elections, preventing candidates from running, and dispersing the Democratic convention at bayonet point. The net result was that the people of Kentucky felt greater solidarity with the rest of the South at the war’s end than at its beginning.

The Lincoln Administration carved still another border state out of the mountains of northwestern Virginia. Owning very few slaves, the regions residents had long been disaffected from Virginia’s tidewater oligarchy. Moreover, the strategically crucial Baltimore and Ohio Railroad ran through the region. Confederate guerrillas cut the railroad within the first month after Sumter. But General George Brinton McClellan led about 20,000 Ohio volunteers into western Virginia in one of the war’s earliest campaigns. By the end of July he had reopened the railroad and driven out enemy formations.

McClellan was a short, dapper man, of only thirty-five, with a natural military bearing. His conciliatory proclamation to the local populace stood in marked contrast to Frémont’s policy in Missouri. To the Union Men of Western Virginia: … I have ordered troops to cross the river, McClellan announced. But they come as your friends and your brothers—as enemies only to the armed rebels who are preying upon you. Your homes, your families, and your property are safe under our protection. All your rights shall be religiously respected. This included property in slaves, notwithstanding all that has been said by the traitors to induce you to believe that our advent among you will be signalized by interference with your slaves. Indeed, not only will we abstain from all such interference, but we will, on the contrary, with an iron hand, crush any attempt at [slave] insurrection. Future campaigns would convert McClellan’s west Virginia success into a minor skirmish by comparison. But at this early date, it gained him a fawning reputation in northern newspapers as the Young Napoleon.

Virginia’s northwestern counties, however, could not yet legally establish a separate state, because the United States Constitution requires permission from the parent state. So instead, the Lincoln Administration organized the loyal residents of the western counties into a pro-Union government for the entire state. The legislature of this bogus Virginia government then authorized the separation of the northwestern counties in May 1862. When West Virginia entered the Union in 1863, the new state encompassed not only unionist counties but also many that would rather have remained part of Confederate Virginia.

The Confederate government made its own attempt in the far west to do the same as the Union did in Virginia. Settlers in the southern and western parts of the New Mexico territory were sympathetic to the South, so in early 1862 they formed the new territory of Arizona and attached themselves to the Confederacy. This separation did not last long, however. Federal troops recovered these settlements later that summer.

The Civil War experience throughout the entire borderland, in short, comprised variations on a single pattern. While military occupation maintained formal Union sovereignty, popular feelings were torn, setting neighbor against neighbor and sometimes brother against brother. Kentucky, home to the now deceased Henry Clay, sent three of the Great Pacificator’s grandsons to fight for the North and four to fight for the South. From Maryland, Missouri, Kentucky, and West Virginia together, about 185,000 white men served in the Union armies, while 103,000 served in the Confederate armies. Occasionally opposing units from the same border state would engage each other on a battlefield. Nowhere was the designation Civil War more apt.

— Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War (1996), pp. 141–148.