On Racism in the Antebellum North – 3 – Lincoln

lincoln2

Tonight I wrap up a short series of posts dealing with the topic of racism in the Antebellum North. In post 2, I discussed Stephen A. Douglas’ markedly white supremacist views in his debate against Abraham Lincoln in Ottawa, Illinois on August 21, 1858. Such open discussion of racial inequality is admittedly shocking to me, a liberal Midwesterner of another century. And yet this perspective was the norm in the Antebellum North. Even Lincoln, in his response to Douglas during the same debate, revealed a reticence to place the African American on the same level as the white man. He was a man of his times.

“I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.” — Abraham Lincoln

Clearly, and epiphanic for me, northern white Americans in the 19th century considered themselves superior in all respects to African Americans, whether free or slave, and understanding this is critical to understanding the times and events of the Antebellum era.

This discussion makes all the more poignant the events of this day, on which we welcome President Obama.

Read the first post in this series here, the second here.

(1) Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas, “First Debate: Ottawa, Illinois August 21, 1858,” (<http://www.nps.gov/liho/historyculture/debate1.htm> Accessed on 18 Jan. 2009).

On Racism in the Antebellum North – 2 – Douglas

douglasovalI recently had the opportunity to listen to a performance of the first four debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. There is no better example of the Northern Antebellum perception of the black man than in the words of Douglas during the first of those debates held on August 21, 1858 in Ottawa, Illinois. He used the opportunity to mock Lincoln and abolitionists. More importantly, he showed his colors to be that of a true white supremacist. The comments from the crowd are noted in parentheses.

“I do not question Mr. Lincoln’s conscientious belief that the negro was made his equal, and hence is his brother, (laughter,) but for my own part, I do not regard the negro as my equal, and positively deny that he is my brother or any kin to me whatever. (“Never.” “Hit him again,” and cheers.) Lincoln has evidently learned by heart Parson Lovejoy’s catechism. (Laughter and applause.) He can repeat it as well as Farnsworth, and he is worthy of a medal from Father Giddings and Fred Douglass for his Abolitionism. (Laughter.) He holds that the negro was born his equal and yours, and that he was endowed with equality by the Almighty, and that no human law can deprive him of these rights which were guarantied to him by the Supreme ruler of the Universe. Now, I do not believe that the Almighty ever intended the negro to be the equal of the white man. (“Never, never.”) If he did, he has been a long time demonstrating the fact. (Cheers.) For thousands of years the negro has been a race upon the earth, and during all that time, in all latitudes and climates, wherever he has wandered or been taken, he has been inferior to the race which he has there met. He belongs to an inferior race, and must always occupy an inferior position. (“Good,” “that’s so.”)” (1)

Douglas also made a point of repeating in several of his debates with Lincoln the improprieties of an abolitionist who he observed driving a carriage while Fred Douglass lounged in the cab with the driver’s wife. This inflamed sense of impropriety regarding black men and white women was consistent with fear mongering in the South that led to greater controls on slave populations.

Read the first post in this series here.

(1) Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas, “First Debate: Ottawa, Illinois August 21, 1858,” (<http://www.nps.gov/liho/historyculture/debate1.htm> Accessed on 18 Jan. 2009).

"The Rail Splitter and the Railroads"

trainsfeb2009RUN don’t walk to your nearest bookstore or library to read the cover story of the February issue of Trains Magazine, “The Rail Splitter and the Railroads,” by Peter A. Hansen. This terrific article, written by one of the country’s preeminent rail historians, is receiving numerous accolades. Highly recommend for those interested in 19th century America and the Civil War era.

For those of you who are regular Wig Wags Blog readers, you’ll recall that Pete contributed to my  Civil War Railroads series here. If you’re a CBS Sunday Morning fan, and caught the show yesterday, you may have seen Pete interviewed by Rita Braver as a part of the story titled AMERICANA: Trains as Art. Pete took Sunday Morning to Kansas City’s “triple crossing,” as well as to the renovated, grand old Union Station.

New! The Lincoln-Douglas Debates Audiobook

The good folks at BBC Audiobooks America have sent me a review copy of their new audiobook, The Lincoln-Douglas Debates. This production is particularly apropos because we have arrived at the 150th anniversary of these debates. The timing couldn’t be better for me because I am studying Antebellum America this term.

I put this 16 hour performance into the category of primary source in that it uses as script the same verbatim text captured by the scribes who got every word of the debates down uses shorthand so that they could be published in papers across the nation. Text for the production was provided by the Abraham Lincoln Association.

Dr. Allen C. Guelzo, Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and Director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College, provides historical commentary.

Richard Dreyfuss plays Stephen Douglas and David Strathairn, Abraham Lincoln.

Having listened to first two CDs, I can highly recommend!

lincolndouglasdebates

  • ISBN: 978-1-60283-402-6
  • Published on: 2009-01
  • Format: Audiobook (Unabridged)
  • Binding: Audio CD

Lincoln and His Admirals

I’m very pleased to have received a review copy yesterday of Lincoln and His Admirals by Craig L. Symonds from the terrific folks over at Oxford University Press. You can view the book’s listing at OUP here. Being a student of both the American Civil War AND maritime history, I can’t think of a better read. I’m reserving this one for the Christmas holiday. This will also be my first introduction to the work of Craig L. Symonds. More to come on my review.

517zblrtvyl_sl210_

Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 17, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0195310225
ISBN-13: 978-0195310221
Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches

Abraham Lincoln: A Presidential Life

alaplYesterday, I was pleased to receive a review copy of James M. McPherson’s upcoming release, Abraham Lincoln: A Presidential Life from Oxford University Press. It is scheduled to be released on the date marking the 200th year since Lincoln’s birth. While I’ve yet to complete it, I was impressed by Dr. McPherson’s candor in the introduction about his own shift in opinion about Lincoln and his presidency. While initially critical of Lincoln, not unlike the abolitionists of the era of his presidency, McPherson’s years of study brought new appreciation for Lincoln’s skills as an adroit commander-in-chief tasked with challenges of incredible complexity.

Hardcover: 96 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (February 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0195374525
ISBN-13: 978-0195374520
Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.1 x 0.7 inches

New Arrival: GIANTS: the parallel lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln

This week, I received a review copy of John Stauffer’s GIANTS: the parallel lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln from the folks at Twelve Books. You can see their book page here. Professor Stauffer is chair of the History of American Civilization and Professor of English at Harvard University. See his profile and vitae on Harvard’s site here.

Watch for my comments after I complete what looks like a great read.

  • Published on: 2008-11-03
  • 0-446-58009-0/978-0-446-58009-0
  • Original language: English
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • 448 pages

New Arrival – Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief

This week I received a review copy of James M. McPherson’s new work, Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief from the good folks at Penguin Press. Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to diving in as Dr. McPherson’s books on Lincoln remain among my favorites.

He opens the book with the following.

“The insurgent leader…does not attempt to deceive us. He affords us no excuse to deceive ourselves. He can not voluntarily reaccept the Union; we can not voluntarily yield it. Between him and us the issue is distinct, simple, and inflexible. It is an issue which can only be tried by war and decided by victory.”

—Lincoln’s annual message to Congress,
December 6, 1864

Tried by War
Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief

James M. McPherson – Author
Hardcover | 6.14 x 9.25in | 384 pages | ISBN 9781594201912 | 07 Oct 2008 | The Penguin Press

Manet and the ACW – 3: Captain Semmes and the CSS Alabama

Continuing from posts 1 here and 2 here, in this post I begin to examine what authors Juliet Wilson-Bareau and David C. Degener in their book Manet and the American Civil War call “one of the most celebrated naval battles of the American Civil War.”

Queen Victoria 1861

The authors adeptly set the scene by providing the reasons why an American Civil War naval battle would take place in European waters and capture the imagination of artist Edouard Manet. They chronicle the debate that led to “Lincoln’s blockade” of the south contending that the very word “blockade” ultimately gave the “Confederate organization” the status of a “quasi government” which would have “a position among nations.” [i] This ultimately led to both Queen Victoria (see bio here) of Great Britain (May 13, 1861) and Emperor Napoleon III of France (June 11, 1861) declaring the neutrality of their respective countries. “The evolving rules and policies of neutrality would eventually play a large role in determining the circumstances under which, in June 1864, U.S.S. Kearsarge – a ship originally built to enforce Lincoln’s blockade – engaged and sank the Confederate raider Alabama off the coast of France…” [ii]

CSS Alabama Captain, Raphael Semmes
Captain Raphael Semmes on the CSS Alabama
Captain Semmes on the deck of the CSS Alabama

The Alabama, a six screw steamer, was built in Great Britain by John Laird Sons and Company and found its way into Confederate hands because the “British customs agents, port authorities, prosecutors, judges, and courts found ways of understanding England’s Foreign Enlistment Act and the Queen’s declaration of neutrality.” [iii] Enacted during the reign of George III, the Act “prohibited the outfitting of, or aid to, vessels that would be used to commit hostilities against a nation with which England was not currently at war.” [iv} But in a clandestine series of events surrounding the vessels shake down cruise, the ship, known initially as simply No. 290, was acquired by Confederate agent James Dunwoody Bulloch (1823 – 1901) [a fascinating fellow who deserves a post of his own] who saw it supplied and crewed sufficiently to sail to the Azores where its new captain, Southern “son” Raphael Semmes (1809 – 1877), would christen it the CSS Alabama on August 24, 1862. The “enterprising” and “abrasive” Semmes would become a celebrity for his raiding of Federal ships. His exploits would be enthusiastically covered by the London media, indicative of Great Britain’s sympathy for the “Confederate cause for almost the entire duration of the American Civil War.” [v]

"The Pirate 'Alabama,' Alias '290,' Certified to be correct by Captain Hagar of the 'Brilliant'"

[i – v] Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).

May Civil War and Military History Book Acquisitions – II

Continuing with my May book acquisitions which illustrate, as said by Civil War Interactive’s comments on my blog this week, why bank robbery may be needed to support my book-buying habits…

How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War
  • ISBN-10: 0061129801
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Collins; Reprint edition (January 22, 2008)   
  • This looks like a great read. Author Tom Wheeler, an accomplished man by any measure, has a terrific website here with more about his book and research. This has moved to the top of my list of reading for between terms.

    The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864 (Civil War America)
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (April 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807829315
  •  

    Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign (Civil War America)
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (September 5, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807831549
  • I have DISCOVERED Dr. Hess and the growing list of terrific titles he has published on the Civil War. No doubt his other books will show up in my library before long. Dr. Hess, who has impressive academic credentials, has a website here. His book, Pickett’s Charge: The Last Attack at Gettysburg, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

    Union Military Policy toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; New edition (February 28, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521599415
  • I’ve been intending to pick this up. Authored by military history professor and fellow blogger Mark Grimsley, it too is at the top of my reading list. Dr. Grimsley’s OSU webpage is here. His blog is here.

    Confederate Strategy Reconsidered (American Crisis Series)
    Retreat to Victory?: Confederate Strategy Reconsidered (American Crisis Series)
    By Robert G. Tanner
  • Paperback: 162 pages
  • Publisher: SR Books (January 28, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 084202882X
  • My post, “Fabian Strategy and the American Civil War” here, lead me to this book. One of my readers recommended it and suggests that it proves that the Confederacy could not have used the Fabian strategy effectively. I’m looking forward to this one.

    The European Inheritance
  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas; New Ed edition
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0700603794
  • Jav Luvaas is another prolific writer of military history and my collection of his books is growing. I first discovered his work while taking the course, Great Military Philosopers (see “The Courses” page here for details. I picked up his titles: Napoleon on the Art of War and Frederick the Great on the Art of War.

    I’ll be adding these authors to my “The Historians” page shortly.

    Stewards of Civil War Railroads – Part III

    This post completes the series, Stewards of Civil War Railroads. Read Part I here and Part II here.

    Group of the Construction Corps U.S. Military Railroads with working tools, etc., Chattanooga, Tennessee

    Above: Group of the Construction Corps U.S. Mil. R. Rds., with working tools, etc., Chattanooga, Tennessee
    Courtesy of Library of Congress: LC-USZ62-62364

    Millett and Maslowski posit that President Abraham Lincoln did not have Jefferson Davis’ sensitivity about government interference with railroads. The evidence supports the point and also suggests that Davis’ hands-off approach expanded to other areas under his purview including signals and communications. Whether he was afflicted with chronic indecisiveness or was bowing to the perceived whims of a public unreceptive to “big government” is open for discussion but as in many things, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. Regardless, it is clear that rational military considerations were not the sole concern in shaping the South’s military policies and programs. Had they been so, military needs would have received higher priority and the events of the war may have flowed differently.

    Above: Lincoln and McClellan

    The impact of the decision making processes in the Lincoln and Davis administrations and the respective Congresses as regards those issues impacting the military is indeed a fascinating one and worthy of continued analysis and review. Clearly the social, economic, and political nuances of the North versus the South had much to do with the directions taken within each section. But one is left to wonder whether the leadership qualities of Lincoln and Davis, including the ability to be decisive, allowed the North to more frequently follow a path guided by rational military reason.

    The engine

    Above: The engine “Firefly” on a trestle of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.
     

    Stewards of Civil War Railroads – Part I Lincoln

    The decisions made by leaders of the North and South regarding the dispensations of their respective railroads, could arguably be some of the most impactful of the war. Armies on both sides considered railroads critical. But Lincoln and Davis approached the control and stewardship of these vital resources differently. The resulting policies did not equally reflect rational military consideration.

    United States Military Railroad 4-4-0 locomotive W.H. Whiton (built by William Mason in 1862) in January 1865 with Abraham Lincoln's presidential car, which later was used as his funeral car.

    Above: United States Military Railroad 4-4-0 locomotive W.H. Whiton (built by William Mason in 1862) in January 1865 with Abraham Lincoln’s presidential car, which later was used as his funeral car.
    Source: WikicommonsAbraham Lincoln

    The need for oversight of the rails came early in the war. Edward Hagerman highlights Federal Quartermaster General Meigs’ complaints in the opening months of the war over the problems of coordination that arose “from civilian control of the railroads.” [i]  In January of 1862, Congress gave Lincoln the authority he needed “to take control whenever public safety warranted it.” [ii]  Lincoln moved decisively, appointing within thirty days Daniel C. McCallum (below) as director of the United States Military Railroads (USMRR).

    Daniel C. McCallum (1815 – 1878)’
    Photo Source: Wikicommons, Public Domain

    Daniel Craig McCallum

    In May of 1862, Abraham Lincoln “took formal possession of all railroads.” General McCallum recruited Herman Haupt (below), a “brilliant railroad engineer,” to assume duties as Military Director and Superintendent of the United States Military Railroad. Haupt was given the rank of Colonel and Lincoln gave him broad, albeit frequently challenged, powers.

    Henry Haupt (1817 – 1905)
    Military Director and Superintendent of the united States Military Railroad

    Henry Haupt

    In the next post, the action of the South.

    You may also be interested in two of my previous posts on Civil War Railroads:

  • Were the North and South Evenly Matched on the Rails?
  • Railroad Generalship (Profiles Herman Haupt)
  • [i] Edward Hagerman, The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 63.
    [ii] Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 165.

    Book Report: George Bancroft

    I realize this won’t be for everyone but I wanted to post the academic book review I finished yesterday on the paperback version of Russel Blaine Nye’s 1945 Pulitzer Prize winning biography George Bancroft: Brahmin Rebel. Sadly this book is out-of-print and available only via library or used book markets. It is a fascinating work filled with insights into an uncommon man who was once this country’s most revered historian – but whom most of us have no memory. It also provides considerable information about our country – and indeed the world – in the period leading up to, during and after the Civil War.

    It was enlightening to put this post together in that I discovered some great sources of information about many of the people, places and times in which Bancroft lived. Kudos to http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org for their information on important persons in that university’s history.

    George Bancroft Phototgraphy by Mathew Brady (Credit: Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.)

    George Bancroft

    By Russel B. Nye. New York
    (Washington Square Press, Inc.). Pp. 212. 1964. $.60

    If biographies written in the twenty-first century tend toward tomes, Russel Nye’s work on George Bancroft, easily the most acclaimed American historian of the nineteenth century, demonstrates how to impress with a modicum of words. Bancroft’s life spanned a period of epic change in the fledgling American nation. Nye skillfully paints a portrait of the man against the sweeping landscape of the United State’s passage from fledgling country at the turn of 18thcentury to a battle-scarred nation ninety years later. Bancroft helped to make American history as politician and statesman. He also became one of the country’s most gifted historiographers and the first popular historian, a title that was, by the end of the century, not unlike his literary writing style, considered “passé.”

    George Bancroft came from a legacy of northeastern conservatism. Bred squarely into the center of the American Calvinistic farming culture of Worcester, Massachusetts, his grandfather Samuel Bancroft was both strict Calvinist and independent of mind. Bancroft’s father, Aaron Bancroft, had a noteworthy career as one of the first leaders of the Unitarian movement. This step toward liberalism directed him to the pastorship of a small Second Congregational Church of Worcester and modest means to support his growing family. But it also positioned him with the intellectual elite of New England. The Bancroft home was a place where books were plenty and reading and discussion encouraged. Independent reason was also valued. Aaron Bancroft authored one of the more popular biographies of George Washington, a man who young George Bancroft would eventually count as among the most influential hero-leaders of the country.

    George stood out among his siblings and opportunities were given to him to attend preparatory school at a young age even though it caused strain on his father’s finances. He excelled and passed entrance exams to Harvard College at the Göttingenage of 13. Bancroft graduated Harvard at 17 and, with the assistance of college president John Thornton Kirkland (pictured right and papers here), wkirkland.jpgas provided both financial support and the necessary letters of introduction to follow a select few Harvard graduates to Göttingen, one of the top universities in Germany (brief history of the town and university here). His goal was to follow his father into the ministry. He began a rigorous course of study including a self-imposed schedule of sixteen hour days. By the age of twenty, Bancroft had a Göttingen doctorate and the respect of some of Germany’s most noted professors. But he had also developed a considerable interest in philosophy, history and literature and began to doubt whether a career in the ministry remained his passion. He continued with post doctorate studies in Berlin and by the end of his four years in Europe had met many of its influential writers, artists and academics. Bancroft returned home filled with ideas about educational reform and exhibiting mannerisms and dress inspired by his time abroad.

    Bancroft spent the next several years trying to find his calling. Trained in philology (the study of languages) as well as theology, he tried on the role of Greek tutor at Harvard but became frustrated with the college’s lack of interest in adopting the new educational techniques he brought from abroad. He was also unpopular as a teacher, which is not to say that he was a bad teacher; rather a demanding one. By mutual consent, he left Harvard after a year and with fellow Harvard and Göttingen graduate Joseph Cogswell, opened the Round Hill School for boys near Northampton, Massachusetts in 1823. It became a phenomenon of sorts due to the melding of the latest methods of European educational reform with those of American boarding school. “It was one of the earliest and most successful efforts of the nineteenth century to raise the level of American secondary education by absorbing the new European experimentation, and served as a powerful influence in the diffusion of new ideas on discipline, individual attention, and stimulation of student interest” (45). A student was treated as an individual with unique learning patterns and cooperated as an equal with his teacher rather than as an inferior with his master. Despite the demanding program, the elite of New England clamored to enroll their sons. With Bancroft as the primary teacher and Cogswell managing administration, the school grew in both size and reputation.

    It was at Round Hill School that Bancroft met his wife, Sarah Dwight. Her status as the daughter of a wealthy New England family would ensure his financial independence. Bancroft also continued to work on his poetry (he had published Poems while at Harvard) and found opportunity for preaching. But he was successful at neither. His poetry was labeled amateurish and his oration at the pulpit “too consciously learned, too pretentiously oratorical” (5). Interestingly, Bancroft would become a gifted literary critic. A man of many interests, he became bored with the life of a country school teacher and bowed out of the venture in 1831. The Round Hill School failed three years later.

    Bancroft discovered while at Round Hill a growing interest in politics. He began to write for prominent journals and even spoke in a political forum in Northampton at the behest of town leaders. In 1830 he was nominated for the Massachusetts’s senate by the Workingmen’s party. Although he declined, his voice as a political philosopher began to emerge. It was firmly centered on the premise that the will of the many outweighed that of the few, a principle that he considered foundational to democracy. He clearly identified himself as a Jacksonian democrat in 1836, a fact that surprised a number of his Whig Harvard colleagueEverett Crops including friend Edward Everett (pictured right). His allegiance was with the common, agrarian masses rather than the privileged minority. His political position became all the more public with Bancroft’s growing involvement in the Democratic Party. He wrote several journal articles in support of Jackson’s position on the national banking issue which he attributed to the long struggle between capitalists and laborers. In 1838, his party work was rewarded with the position of Collector of the Port of Boston. By 1844, he was a prominent player in the Massachusetts democratic delegation and played a key role in securing the Presidential nomination for James K. PolkJames K. Polk (pictured left). Polk appointed Bancroft Secretary of the Navy the following year and he found himself Acting Secretary of War during the months that opened the Mexican War. But Bancroft was after a diplomatic post and between 1846 and 1849 he served as United States Minister to England. It was during this time that he amassed a huge collection of historical notes from British archives, utilizing scribes and secretaries to copy copious amounts of data. These he brought home to America for use in future historical writing.

    The scholar in Bancroft had found new voice shortly after leaving Round Hill. In 1834, he published the first of what would become his multi-volume treatise, A History of the United States from the Discovery of the Continent (set of all volumes to right). (A full listing of Bancroft’s works availA History of the United States Bancroftable online can be found here.) He chose to focus not on contemporary history but rather on the formation and evolution of the nation. Bancroft believed that the creation of the United States of America was part of a divine plan. It was a demonstration for all the world of the efficacy of a nation built on the principles of liberty.

    Pivotal to the country’s success was the quality of its leaders. “The secret of the science of governing, Bancroft decided, lay in the quality of a nation’s leaders – those great men who personify the people’s ideals, act out their interests, and crystallize their needs in laws and institutions” (82). Nye found that Bancroft valued two types of hero-leaders. The first was the agrarian nobleman best exemplified in Andrew Jackson (pictured below).

    Andrew Jackson

    His gift was an innate perceptiveness gained from long connection with nature. The second was the classic wise man whose traits Bancroft found in George Washington, a man for whom he had a lifelong admiration.

    Geroge Washington

    Abraham Lincoln eventually became Bancroft’s third hero-leader. While initially unimpressed with Lincoln, his respect for him grew to such a degree that he eventually thought him representative of the genius of the American people. Bancroft’s regard for Lincoln was no doubt one reason that he was chosen by Congress to deliver his eulogy. It was considered his best oration.

    Abraham Lincoln

    Like the nation, Bancroft had to come to terms with slavery. He blamed the English for its introduction to the colonies and thought it a temporary evil gone array. Its conflict with the principles of liberty was always obvious. While never a flaming abolitionist, Bancroft considered slavery the primary cause of the Civil War and spoke out about it primarily in his writing. He was a resolute unionist and had little sympathy for arguments for state rights and for the succession movement.

    Bancroft happily finished his diplomatic career in Germany where he became a favorite of politicians and intellectuals. He returned to a quite life, still writing and active for most of his ninety-one years. The portrait below was painted while Bancroft was in diplomatic residence in Germany.

    Bancroft in Germany

    Nye does a masterful job of identifying Bancroft’s core beliefs and the influences that formed the man and his career. He also shows a considerable grasp of the nuances of history that were in play in the 19th century, worth noting because Nye’s training is in literature rather than history. His obvious mastery of the large collection of papers Bancroft left behind for his biographers is impressive.

    Nye leaves the reader with a sense for the utter brilliance of Bancroft (pictured below in his study) and yet presents him as anything but infallible. He was a man who enjoyed the privileges of an education well beyond the norm of his day and earned by an innate drive and love for scholarship. He was comfortable with life choices that went agGeorge Bancroft in his studyainst the norm, an indication of independence of thought. He was not unfamiliar with loss, having endured the death of his young wife. He knew failure, having disappointed those who saw in him potential as minister. His failure as a poet, a personal aspiration, revealed a level of sensitivity (He worked very hard to find and destroy every copy of his Poems.). He embraced cultures and perspectives outside of his own and yet remained an American patriot. He brought to his generation a better sense of the story of their country and to a large degree, popularized history. He remained a loud voice for the ideals of liberty and democracy and the rights and privileges of the masses. But at his core, he was, as depicted by Nye, a man of letters and I suspect that Mr. Bancroft would be pleased with that distinction. His legacy is a remarkable body of work sadly forgotten by most citizens of the 21st century.

    American Military University
    Rene Tyree

    Exploring Causes of the Civil War – Part VIII: The Influence of the Individual

    This post continues a series on Exploring Causes of the Civil War. Other posts can be read by clicking on any of the following links: Part I: Introduction, Part II: Antebellum America, Part III: The Antebellum South, Part IV: The Antebellum North, Part V: The Rise of Sectional Disputes, Part VI: The Contribution of Constitutional Ambiguity, and Part VII: Political Discord, Slavery, and the Fight for Political Control.
    ___________________
    Gabor BorittCivil War scholar Gabor Boritt posits a fascinating theory that the impact of an individual can, in fact, be more influential in the determination of history’s direction than the long confluence of time.[i] “…It may be declared with confidence that a giant in the earth, or a crucial moment, weighs more in the scales of history than dreary ages.”[ii] The giant of which he spoke was Abraham Lincoln. His view makes Lincoln a central figure of both American mythology and history. Lincoln’s role in the coming of the Civil War he “divides into four increasingly important stages.”[iii]

    • First, in the 1850s as tensions grew, Lincoln was one of many political leaders, Lincolnfamiliar mostly in and around Illinois, though as the decade progressed so did his reputation in the North.
    • Second, in 1860 he won the presidential nomination of the Republican [P]arty and became a nationally known figure.
    • Third, from his election in early November to his inauguration on March 4, 1861, he was the president-elect.
    • Fourth, in the White House he presided over events that led to Sumter.

    As one stage followed another, Lincoln’s stand changed only gradually, but his voice grew ever more weighty until the end when, together with the voice of President Jefferson Davis, it proved to be decisive.[iv]

    I would suggest that there were others whose individual influence – while perhaps not equal to that of Lincoln’s – none the less, impacted the direction of the nation. Key to the South was the “triumvirate of secession” – extremists Robert Rhett, William Yancey, and Edmun Ruffin (pictured below). Each, according to his gifts, kept the pressure for secession constant, the evils of the North apparent. In the period after Lincoln’s election, they leveraged the fear, uncertainty and doubt created by Northern and Southern newspapers to move the populous from defeat to secession as the only alternative left.[v] [See more about Rhett, Yancey and Ruffin in my post “The Revolutionaries of the American Civil War” here.]

    They fought delay. Many of the leaders had long believed the Union a curse to the South and they feared that if they moved too deliberately the North might offer favorable terms. Others urged quick action lest the people cool off and accept less than justice. They must strike while the iron was hot. Delay was their worst enemy.

    By December 17, 1860, Rhett and his followers had secured a convention in South Carolina, composed of those who were ready to stand alone, if necessary, in defense of Southern rights. The next day an ordinance of secession was adopted. Within six weeks, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas had followed South Caroline’s example. The Cotton Kingdom was ready to form itself into the Confederate States of America.[vi]

    Is it a wonder that Edmun Ruffin was among the first to fire a cannon on Fort Sumter?

    RuffinAt a nearby battery, another fire-eater was ready. Edmund Ruffin, with his long flowing white hair, another momentary exile from a still reluctant Virginia, sixty seven-year-old honorary Palmetto Guard, was ready. Staring into the dark, knowing where the enemy was, he sent the first shot from a columbaid into the fort flying the unseen flag of the United States.[vii]

    Key individuals in the North included those who catapulted the Abolitionist message into the public consciousness. For this reason, John Brown must be included. The men surrounding Lincoln – Seward, Chase, Bates, Douglas and Buchanan – also deserve a chair.

    And So What the Cause?

    The Civil War can be attributed to no single cause. Slavery was undeniably an influencing factor – a common thread – inexorably tied to the sectional crises that evolved as the country expanded. Profound sectional differences – social, cultural, spiritual, economic, political – provided sufficient tender to ignite into violent conflict – given the spark. The “fanatical edge” and our politicians created the sparks that erupted in violence and pushed the nation over the precipice and into war. Several key individuals tipped the balance. Chief among these were: the Southern fire-eaters Rhett, Yancey and Ruffin, abolitionists who turned up the heat of anti-slavery sentiments in the North, and – pointedly – Abraham Lincoln himself.

    For more reading, I highly recommend Gabor S. Boritt’s Why the Civil War Came. His essay titled “Abraham Lincoln and the Question of Individual Responsibility” is excellent. Avery Craven’s The Coming of the Civil War. 2nd Ed. provides very interesting commentary on Rhett, Yancey, and Ruffin (and more about their individual strengths) and a wealth of information on Antebellum America and its march toward war.

    In the next post, I’ll tackle the second question of the series: The Debate Over the War’s Inevitability.

    © 2007 L. Rene TyreeWhy the Civil War Came
    _______________________

    [i] “Abraham Lincoln and the Question of Individual Responsibility,” in Why the Civil War Came., ed. Gabor S. Boritt (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 7., [ii] Ibid., [iii] Ibid., [iv] Ibid.

    [v] Avery Craven. The Coming of the Civil War. 2nd Ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 19The Coming of the Civil War (Phoenix Books)57), 433., [vi] Ibid.

    [vii] Boritt, “Abraham Lincoln and the Question of Individual Responsibility,” in Why the Civil War Came., ed. Gabor S. Boritt (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 5.

    Exploring Causes of the Civil War – Part VII: Political Discord, Slavery, and the Fight for Political Control

    This post continues a series on Exploring Causes of the Civil War. Other posts can be read by clicking on any of the following links: Part I: Introduction, Part II: Antebellum America, Part III: The Antebellum South, Part IV: The Antebellum North, Part V: The Rise of Sectional Disputes and Part VI: The Contribution of Constitutional Ambiguity.
    ___________________
    William E. GienappPolitical discord represents yet another candidate for the war’s cause. Late historian William E. Gienapp (pictured right) suggests that “however much social and economic developments fueled the sectional conflict, the coming of the Civil War must be explained ultimately in political terms, for the outbreak of war in April 1861 represented the complete breakdown of the American political system. As such, the Civil War constituted the greatest single failure of American democracy.”[i]

    Gienapp poinSlave Sale Posterts to the role of slavery as the underlying cause of the sectional conflict. “Without slavery it is impossible to imagine a war between the North and the South (or indeed, the existence of anything we would call “the South” except as a geographic region).”[ii] He also asserts that America’s slave heritage was completely associated with race. That is, had the slaves brought to America been white, the practice would have disappeared much earlier.[iii] But an argument asserting slavery as chief cause of the war neglects the fact that not only was it older than the republic, but “for over half a century following adoption of the Constitution, the institution had only sporadically been an issue in national politics, and it had never dominated state politics in either section.”[iv] What changed? It was the rise of the slavery issue in American society; that is, the heightened awareness of it. This development was rooted in a number of changes in American society in the first half of the nineteenth century already addressed.[v]

    As mentioned in previous posts in this series, the abolitionist movement did a great deal to raise that awareness. But Gienapp suggests that “it was the politicians themselves, as part of the struggle for control of the two major parties, whJames Polko ultimately injected the slavery issue into national politics.”[vi] The key development was the introduction in Congress in 1846 of the Wilmot Proviso, which prohibited slavery from any territory acquired from Mexico, by a group of Van Burenite Democrats who were angry with President James K. Polk (pictured right) and his southern advisers. Once the slavery issue, in the shape of the question of its expansion into the western territories, entered the political arena, it proved impossible to get it out. The issue took on a life of its own, and when politicians tried to drop the issue after 1850, they discovered that many voters were unwilling to acquiesce.[vii]

    Gienapp makes a good case for the war’s true cause in the following discourse.

    A second critical development, intimately related to the first, was the crystallization of rival sectional ideologies oriented toward protecting white equality and opportunity. Increasingly, each section came to see the other section and its institutions as a threat to its vital social, political, and economic interests. Increasingly, each came to think that one section or the other had to be dominant. Informed by these ideologies, a majority of the residents of each section feared the other, and well before the fighting started the sectional conflict represented a struggle for control of the nation’s future.

    It fell to the political system to adjudicate differences between the sections and preserve a feeling of mutual cooperation and unity. And for a long time the political system had successfully defused sectional tensions. Because it brought northern and southern leaders together, Congress was the primary arena for hammering out solutions to sectional problems. In various sectional confrontations–the struggle over the admissiLecompton Constitutionon of Missouri as a slave state in 1819-21, the controversy over nullification and the tariff in 1833, the problem of the status of slavery in the territory acquired from Mexico in 1850, and the struggle over the proslavery Lecompton constitution in 1858-Congress had always managed to find some acceptable way out of the crisis.

    Yet the American political system was particularly vulnerable to sectional strains and tensions. One reason was the institutional structure of American politics. The Civil War occurred within a particular political institutional framework that, while it did not make the war inevitable, was essential to the coming of the war.

    Integral to this institutional framework was the United States Constitution. While some aspects of the Constitution retarded the development of sectionalism, it contained a number of provisions that strengthened the forces of sectional division in the nation. No constitution can anticipate all future developments and conclusively deal with all controversies that subsequently arise. The purpose in analyzing the Constitution’s role in the sectional conflict is not to fault its drafters or condemn it as a flawed document, but rather to indicate the importance of certain of its clauses for the origins of the war.

    One signifiAndrew Moorecant feature of the Constitution was its provision for amendment. Lurking beneath the surface in the slavery controversy was white Southerners’ fear that the Constitution would be amended to interfere with the institution. In advocating secession after Abraham Lincoln’s election, Governor Andrew B. Moore of Alabama (pictured above) predicted that the Republicans would quickly create a number of new free states in the West, which “in hot haste will be admitted to the Union, until they have a majority to alter the Constitution. Then slavery will be abolished by law in the States.”[viii]

    The fear, uncertainty and doubt associated with this possibility, on the part of the Southern political establishment, pushed the country toward war.

    The next post: “The Influence of the Individual.”The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party

    For further reading, I recommend The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War by Michael F. Holt and Why the Civil War Came, edited by Gabor S. Boritt.

    © 2007 Rene Tyree
    _________________________Why the Civil War Came

    Photo credits:
    Historian William E. Gienapp. Source: Harvard Gazette Archives, Issue: April 07, 2005.
    Poster Announcing Sale and Rental of Slaves, Saint Helena (South Atlantic), 1829. Source: The Atlantic Slave Trade and
    Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record., Jerome S. Handler and Michael L. Tuite Jr., The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Image H003.
    President James K. Polk
    Cropped image of the constitution of Kansas
    Governor Andrew B. Moore of Alabama. Source: Alabama Department of Archive and History

    [i] William E. Gienapp, “The Crisis of American Democracy, the Political System and the Coming of the Civil War,” in Why the Civil War Came., ed. Gabor S. Boritt [book on-line] (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, accessed 1 September 2007), 82; available from questia.com http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=78779127; Internet., [ii] Ibid., [iii] Ibid., [iv] Ibid., [v] Ibid., [vi] Ibid., 83., [vii] Ibid., [viii] Ibid., 86.