Joel Aldrich Matteson

Continuing on with the series on governors of the state of Illinois down to the end of Reconstruction, we come to John Aldrich Matteson.  Born on August 2, 1808 in Watertown, New York, he had a varied career before he came to Illinois and entered politics.  Starting out as a school teacher in Brownsville, New York, he spent the years 1831-34 in South Carolina as foreman of the construction of the Charleston and Augusta railroad.  In 1834 he moved with his family to Illinois and started a farm in what is now Kendall County.  He engaged in land speculation and made a fair amount of money.  In 1838 he became a contractor on the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal.  Due to fiscal mismanagement, ever a besetting curse of the government of Illinois, the canal project was abandoned.  Buying 700 tons of scrap iron from the state, Matteson made a considerable profit reselling it, allowing him to pay off his debts from the canal project and left him several thousand dollars, a large sum of at that time, which he used to construct a woolen mill in Joliet, which grew to be a huge establishment, and made Matteson a very wealthy man. (more…)

Published in: on January 31, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Joel Aldrich Matteson  
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Rhett Butler: Why the South Was Bound to Lose

My favorite scene from Gone With the Wind in which Rhett Butler explains succinctly the disadvantages the South will encounter in any war with the North.  Far sighted Southerners at the time also gave such warnings:

“To secede from the Union and set up another government would cause war. If you go to war with the United States, you will never conquer her, as she has the money and the men. If she does not whip you by guns, powder, and steel, she will starve you to death. It will take the flower of the country-the young men.”

Sam Houston

Far sighted Northerners living in the South saw the disparity at the time also:

“You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is follu, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mightly effort to save it… Besides, where are your man and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive or railway car, hardly a yard of cloth or a pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical people on earth – right at your doors. You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and your determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see that in the end you will surely fail.” (more…)

Published in: on January 30, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  

The Ballad of Davy Crockett

Something for the weekend.  The Ballad of Davy Crockett.  Well, I didn’t have a coonskin cap when I was a kid, but I loved this song and the tv show which I saw in reruns. (more…)

Published in: on January 29, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Ballad of Davy Crockett  
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January 28, 1861: Sam Houston Stands Alone



But if, through division in the ranks of those opposed to Mr. Lincoln, he should be elected, we have no excuse for dissolving the Union. The Union is worth more than Mr. Lincoln, and if the battle is to be fought for the Constitution, let us fight it in the Union and for the sake of the Union. With a majority of the people in favor of the Constitution, shall we desert the Government and leave it in the hands of the minority? A new obligation will be imposed upon us, to guard the Constitution and to see that no infraction of it is attempted or permitted. If Mr. Lincoln administers the Government in accordance with the Constitution, our rights must be respected. If he does not, the Constitution has provided a remedy.

Sam Houston, September 22, 1860

It took a fair amount of courage to stand against the tide of secession in the South in 1860-1861, but not even his most determined enemy, and he had many enemies, could say that Sam Houston ever had a shortage of that virtue.   As an ardent Unionist he  fought secession every step of the way.  As I outlined in an earlier post, which may be read here,  he realized that secession was a disaster for the South, and with eerie accuracy predicted a great war and military defeat for the South. 

Houston, as governor of Texas, refused to bring the state legislature back into session to consider secession.  The Secession Convention, which held its opening session on January 28, 1861, voted to abrogate the treaty of annexation with the US on February 1.  Secession was put to a popular vote and won at the ballot.  Texas was admitted to the Confederacy on March 1, 1861.  Houston never recognized the legality of any of this, and refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy.

“Fellow-Citizens, in the name of your rights and liberties, which I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the nationality of Texas, which has been betrayed by the Convention, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of my own conscience and manhood, which this Convention would degrade by dragging me before it, to pander to the malice of my enemies, I refuse to take this oath. I deny the power of this Convention to speak for Texas….I protest….against all the acts and doings of this convention and I declare them null and void.

Houston was removed from office on March 16, 1861.  On September 22, 1860 he had made a pro-Union speech.  It is a fascinating document.  If this gallant old man had been heeded, the nation would have avoided a fratricidal war that claimed 620,000 American lives.  Here is the text of the speech: (more…)

Published in: on January 28, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (7)  
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Walmart Loses Battle of the Wilderness

I think the anti-Walmart campaign popular on the Left is a deplorable assault on a business that gives employment to many Americans, often of modest means.  However I cheer the successful effort to block Walmart building on the Wilderness battlefield.  Too many Civil War battlefields have been lost to development and we must protect the remaining ones as a precious legacy not only for all Americans today, but also for all Americans tomorrow.

Published in: on January 27, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  

Nullification: A Brief Review of a Doctrine

I consider, then, the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one State, incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the letter of the Constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which It was founded, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed.

Andrew Jackson, Proclamation Regarding Nullification, December 10, 1832

My co-blogger Paul has a first rate post here at The American Catholic in which he discusses why nullification, the idea that a state can opt out of a federal law, is a truly bad idea.  In the comments to the post Thomas Woods shows up.  Mr. Woods is the foremost promoter of nullification today.

One of the many hilarious things about this latest boomlet for nullification created by Thomas Woods and his cronies in crankdom, is how it flies in the face of American history, not only in theory but in practice.

They seize upon the Kentucky Resolutions and the Virginia Resolution of 1798 without really understanding what was going on. These were part and parcel of the ongoing political war of the Republicans against the Federalists, and as political theater they were quite successful in helping rouse public fury against the Alien and Sedition Acts which led to Republican victory at the polls in 1800. Once the Resolutions had helped achieve success at the polls, they were quietly abandoned by the Republicans since they had served their political purpose.

In the Nullification Crisis of 1832, South Carolina’s first attempt to destroy the Union and start a civil war, a compromise was ultimately worked out in Congress to lower the tariffs and the nullification movement in South Carolina collapsed, much to the chagrin of some fireeaters like Rhett who would still be around to help start the Civil War in the secession crisis of 1860-61. (more…)

Published in: on January 26, 2011 at 9:25 am  Comments (4)  
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Gadsden Flag


Adopted by the Tea Party as the symbol of their movement, the Gadsden Flag goes back to the very beginnings of the Republic.  Benjamin Franklin was indirectly responsible for the flag.  In his Pennsylvania Gazette on May 9, 1754 he published a cartoon of the 13 colonies as a rattle snake and how desperately unity between the colonies was needed.

In December 1775 he wrote an essay in the Pennsylvania Journal which set forth why the rattlesnake was a good symbol for the American spirit:

“I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids—She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance.—She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.—As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shewn and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal:—Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of stepping on her.—Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?”

The Marines, newly created by the Continental Congress, painted their drums yellow with a rattlesnake with thirteen rattles and the motto “Don’t tread on me.”  Colonel Christopher Gadsden, delegate from South Carolina, designed the Gadsden Flag and presented it to Commodore Esek Hopkins in December 1775 to be displayed from the mainmast of his flagship.  He presented another copy of his flag to the legislature of South Carolina: (more…)

Published in: on January 26, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Gadsden Flag  
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The Real Fighting Irish: A Review of Notre Dame and the Civil War


The peaks of Notre Dame history are shrouded in the mists of war.

Father Hugh O’Donnell, President, Notre Dame-1941

I think it was in 1964 when I read my first book on the Civil War, The American Heritage Golden Book of the Civil War, and I immediately thereafter developed a life long passion for the subject.  Over the intervening 47 years, I have read hundreds of books on the War.  Truth to tell, more than a few of the books I have read on the Civil War have left me with a ho hum feeling, not telling me much that I haven’t read many, many times before.  I am therefore always pleasantly surprised when a tome on the Late Unpleasantness can give me lots of new information, and such is the case with Notre Dame and the Civil War, by James M. Schmidt.  Mr. Schmidt, knowing of my interest in US Catholic Chaplains in the military, was kind enough to send me a review copy, and I am glad that he did, as he has brought forth facts and new pieces of information about Notre Dame and the Civil War that I have not read elsewhere.

Many Protestant denominations in the country were ripped asunder North and South by the Civil War and the decades of turmoil leading up to it.  Not so the Catholic Church in America.  As a global Church, it was not unusual for Catholics to find themselves on different sides in civil wars or national conflicts, and there was never any threat to the unity of the Church in America.  Individual Catholics fought bravely for both the Union and the Confederacy.  The Catholics of Notre Dame, except for a few students from the South, were whole heartedly for the Union.

Even before the Civil War, as Mr. Schmidt brings out,  Notre Dame students were preparing to fight.  Two student military companies were organized in 1858, part of the craze for militia companies, well drilled, in fancy uniforms that swept the nation in the late Fifties.  It was fun being a part time soldier:  drills, nice uniforms, parades, pretty girls cheering on the side lines.  Many of the students of course were soon to have first hand knowledge of darker aspects of military life.

Schmidt skillfully relates the fever to enlist in the Union army that swept through the students of Notre Dame after Fort Sumter.  Along with their students, Notre Dame priests also served as chaplain.  Most famous among them was of course Father William Corby, who marched and fought with the Irish Brigade and who gave them mass absolution on the second day at Gettysburg before they charged into battle.  The book relates the adventures of Father Corby, but also relates the stories of other Notre Dame priests who served as chaplains, including Father Paul E. Gillen, Father James Dillon, Father Joseph C. Carrier and Father Peter P. Cooney, all of whom will be featured in posts in the future.

The Sisters of the Holy Cross of Notre Dame also got behind the war effort.  Sixty of the Sisters would serve as nurses during the war.  The role of Catholic Sisters as nurses in the Civil War is one of the great largely unsung stories of the War.  Usually nursing Protestant soldiers, the Sisters, through their bravery, skill at nursing and simple charity and kindness, often turned fairly anti-Catholic men into friends of the Church and not a few converted to the Faith.  Mr. Schmidt gives these heroic women their due. (more…)

Published in: on January 24, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Rule Britannia

Something for the weekend.  Rule Britannia.  I grew up with a bit of a love-hate relationship with Great Britain and her now vanished Empire. On my father’s side the family had been in America since before the Revolution, except for the Cherokees who had been here I assume for 30,000 years, and the family could have cared less about Great Britain one way or the other.  On my mother’s side however things were different and more complex.  My mother, an immigrant who became a naturalized citizen, was proud Newfoundlander Irish.  Her Great-Grandfather, who regarded pews and kneelers as perfidious Protestant innovations and would kneel on bare stone floors into his eighties in the back of  the church he attended during Mass, had come to Newfoundland from Ireland and kept alive in my Mom a memory of Ireland.  She played in our home as I was growing up all the old Irish rebel songs, and part of the heritage I imbibed did not stint on remembering the grievances of the Irish against the English.  On the other hand, my Mom loved Queen Elizabeth II and from her I developed a life long interest in British history and politics.  My Great-Uncle Bill on my mother’s side served in the infantry in the Royal Army from 1939-1945, joining up, he said, “Because someone has to teach the Limies how to fight!’

Therefore on this blog I will happily play both the Irish rebel songs and an occasional salute to the land of the Queen my sainted mother loved.  In regard to the vanished Empire, I am fully cognizant of the wrongs that were committed by it, as I think I have indicated in many of my posts on the American Revolution, but I believe perhaps this section from The Life of Brian might be applied to the British, as well as the Roman, Empire, in some ways.


Published in: on January 22, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Lincoln’s Dog Fido

One hundred and fifty years ago the Lincolns in Springfield, Illinois were making preparations for their move to Washington.  One sad task for them was to find a new home for their dog Fido, who had been a member of the family since 1855.  Mr. Lincoln was an animal lover, and Fido, a mustard colored mutt, often accompanied him as he went around Springfield.  When they went to the market Fido would bear a basket in his mouth.  The dog could be seen waiting patiently outside of the barber shop while Lincoln’s hair was cut.  Fido was an inside dog, and seemed to think that a horse hair sofa in the house was his own personal domain.

Lincoln hated to part with Fido, but the dog was terrified both of cannon fire and trains, and he decided that Fido would have a hard time dealing with the train trip to Washington.  Fido was placed in the care of John Roll and his family.  Roll was a carpenter friend of Lincoln’s who had helped Lincoln remodel his house.  He had two young sons for Fido to play with.  The Rolls were asked never to scold Fido for coming into the house with muddy paws, to never tie Fido up in their yard alone, and to allow him into the house when he scratched on the door.  The Lincolns gave the Rolls their horse hair sofa so that Fido would feel more at home.  Shortly before they left Springfield, the Lincolns had a photo taken of Fido,  an image of which is at the top of this post.

The Lincolns received a report on Fido from Rolls on December 27, 1863.  “Tell Taddy that his (and Willys) Dog is alive and Kicking doing well he stays mostly at John E. Rolls with his Boys who are about the size now that Tad & Willy were when they left for Washington.” (more…)

Published in: on January 21, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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