August 8, 1862: Executive Order

Presidents have been issuing executive orders since 1789.  Prior to the Lincoln Presidency, the Executive Orders tended to be fairly rare, often only one or two a year.  Often they dealt with fairly trivial matters.  When the Marquis de Lafayette died, President Jackson issued an Executive Order saluting Lafayette as a friend of liberty and America and detailing the way in which the United States armed forces would honor his passing.  During the Civil War, Executive Orders were quite common, and often had a major impact on the people of the United States.

The Executive Order issued on August 8, 1862 is fairly typical.  The draft was proving unpopular and the Executive Order issued on August 8, 1862 dealt with attempts to evade it.  Note the suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus for all people arrested for draft evasion, along with all people guilty of “disloyal practices”.  Unlike critics of Lincoln, I believe that such measures were necessary for the preservation of the United States.  However, no one can deny that both the Union and Confederacy in that time of national crisis ran roughshod over rights and procedures that Americans hold dear.  Here is the text of the Executive Order: (more…)

Advertisements
Published in: on August 8, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , ,

August 3, 1864: Lincoln to Grant

Anti-Lincoln Cartoon

The gaunt man, Abraham Lincoln, lives his days.
For a while the sky above him is very dark.
There are fifty thousand dead in these last, bleak months
And Richmond is still untaken.
                              The papers rail,
Grant is a butcher, the war will never be done.
The gaunt man’s term of office draws to an end,
His best friends muse and are doubtful.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

By the beginning of August 1864 Lincoln began to suspect that he was going to lose re-election and the Union was going to lose the War.  Grant, at an immense cost in blood, had pushed Lee back to Richmond and Petersburg, but both cities still were controlled by the Confederates and Lee’s army was still a force to be reckoned with.  The North was still reeling from Early’s victories in the Shenandoah, his daring raid on Washington and his burning of Chambersburg on July 30.  In the West the Confederate Army of Tennessee still clung to Atlanta, and the Confederacy still controlled almost all of its heartland.  The War seemed to be entering a stalemate, and if it remained so until November, Lincoln would be a one term president and the Union would be permanently sundered.  With that on his mind, Lincoln sent a warning telegram to Grant.  Lincoln never lost his faith in Grant, but clearly he wanted Grant to understand that unless victories were forthcoming the Union was in peril.  Ironically, in this telegram Lincoln approves Sheridan being place in command in the Shenandoah, and it was Sheridan’s string of victories in the fall that probably ensured Lincoln’s re-election:

 

(more…)

July 11, 1864: Battle of Fort Stevens

 

 

The culmination of Early’s raid on Washington, the skirmishing at Fort Stevens, one of the many forts guarding Washington, on July 11-12, really didn’t amount to much, Early quickly realizing that the fort was now manned partially by veteran troops of the VI corps from the Army of the Potomac, dispatched by Grant to guard Washington, and that whatever opportunity he had ever had to seize Washington by a coup de main was now gone.

battle-of-fort-stevens-925

Early withdrew on the evening of July 12 and by July 13 was south of the Potomac, his raid on Washington becoming simply a matter for historians.  The attack on Fort Stevens is now chiefly remembered for the visit by President and Mrs. Lincoln during the engagement, and Lincoln becoming the only American president during his term of office to come under combat fire. (more…)

Published in: on July 11, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , ,

Quotes Suitable for Framing: Abraham Lincoln

 

Now, my countrymen if you have been taught doctrines conflicting with the great landmarks of the Declaration of Independence; if you have listened to suggestions which would take away from its grandeur, and mutilate the fair symmetry of its proportions; if you have been inclined to believe that all men are not created equal in those inalienable rights enumerated by our chart of liberty, let me entreat you to come back. Return to the fountain whose waters spring close by the blood of the Revolution. Think nothing of me, take no thought for the political fate of any man whomsoever; but come back to the truths that are in the Declaration of Independence. You may do anything with me you choose, if you will but heed these sacred principles. You may not only defeat me for the Senate, but you may take me and put me to death. While pretending no indifference to earthly honors, I do claim to be actuated in this contest by something higher than an anxiety for office. I charge you to drop every paltry and insignificant thought for any man’s success. It is nothing; I am nothing; Judge Douglas is nothing. But do not destroy that immortal emblem of Humanity; the Declaration of American Independence.

Abraham Lincoln, August 17, 1858

Published in: on July 5, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: Abraham Lincoln  
Tags: , ,

Theodore Roosevelt on Lincoln and Free Speech

 

On May 16, 1918 Congress passed an amendment to the Espionage Act of 1917,  This Amendment is known to history as The Espionage Act of 1918.  Here is the text:

 

Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully make or convey false reports or false statements with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the military or naval forces of the United States, or to promote the success of its enemies, or shall willfully make or convey false reports, or false statements, …or incite insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States, or shall willfully obstruct …the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States, or …shall willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States …or shall willfully display the flag of any foreign enemy, or shall willfully …urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of production …or advocate, teach, defend, or suggest the doing of any of the acts or things in this section enumerated and whoever shall by word or act support or favor the cause of any country with which the United States is at war or by word or act oppose the cause of the United States therein, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than 20 years, or both….

About 2000 people were prosecuted under the Espionage Act and the Supreme Court upheld the Sedition portion against a challenge that it violated the First Amendment.  A temporary war time measure, Congress repealed it along with many other war time measures on December 13, 1920.

Theodore Roosevelt was concerned that the Act would be used by the Administration to stifle criticism of the President, and he took up his pen in May of 1917 and wrote the following article:

 

 

LINCOLN AND FREE SPEECH

PATRIOTISM means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him in so far as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth–whether about the President or about any one else–save in the rare cases where this would make known to the enemy information of military value which would otherwise be unknown to him.

Sedition, in the legal sense, means to betray the government, to give aid and comfort to the enemy, or to counsel resistance to the laws or to measures of government having the force. of law. There can be conduct morally as bad as legal sedition which yet may not be violation of law. The President–any President–can by speech or action (by advocating an improper peace. or improper submission to national wrong) give aid and comfort to the public enemy as no one else in. the land can do, and yet his conduct, however damaging to the, country, is not seditious; and although if public sentiment is sufficiently aroused he can be impeached, such course is practically impossible.

One form of servility consists in a slavish attitude–of the kind, incompatible with self-respecting manliness–toward any person who is powerful by reason of his office or position.. Servility may be shown by a public servant toward the profiteering head of a large corporation, or toward the anti-American head of a big labor organization. It may also be shown in peculiarly noxious and un-American form by confounding the President or–any other official with the country and shrieking “stand by the President,” without regard to whether, by so acting, we do or do not stand by the country.

 

A distinguished Federal judge recently wrote me as follows:
“Last November [1917?] it seemed as if the American people were going to be converted into a hallelujah chorus, whose only function in government should be to shout ‘Hallelujah!’ ‘Hallelujah!’ for everything that the Administration did or failed to do. Any one who did not join that chorus was liable to imprisonment for treason or sedition.
“I hope that we shall soon have recovered our sense as well as our liberty.“The authors of the first amendment to the Federal Constitution guaranteeing the right of assembly and of freedom of speech and of the press. did not thus safeguard those rights for the sake alone of persons who were to enjoy them, but even more because they knew that the Republic which they were founding could not be worked on any other basis. Since Marshall tried Burr for treason it has been clear that that crime cannot be committed by words, unless one acts as a spy, or gives advice to the enemy of military or naval operations. It cannot be committed by statements reflecting upon officers or measures of government.
“Sedition is different. Any one who directly advises or counsels resistance to measures of government is guilty of sedition. That, however, ought to be clearly distinguished from ‘discussion of the wisdom or folly of measures of government, or the honesty or competency of public officers. That is not sedition. It is within the protection of the first amendment. The electorate cannot be qualified to perform its duty in removing incompetent officers and securing the repeal of unwise laws unless those questions may be freely discussed.
“The, right to say wise things necessarily implies the right to say foolish things. The answer to foolish speech is wise speech and not force. The Republic is founded upon the faith that if the American people are permitted freely to hear foolish and wise speech, a majority will choose the wise. If that faith is not justified the Republic is based on sand. John Milton said it all in his defense of freedom of the press: `Let truth and error grapple. Who ever knew truth to be beaten in a fair fight?’ ”

 

 

Abraham Lincoln was in Congress while Polk was President, during the Mexican War. The following extracts from his speeches, during war-time, about the then President ought to be illuminating to those persons who do not understand that one of the highest and most patriotic duties to be performed in his country at this time is to tell the truth whenever it becomes necessary in order to force our government to speed up the war. It would, for example, be our highest duty to tell it if at any time we became convinced that only thereby could we shame our leaders out of hypocrisy and prevent the betrayal of human rights by peace talk of the kind which bewilders and deceives plain people.
These quotations can be found on pages 100 to 146 of Volume I of “Lincoln’s Complete Works,” by Nicolay and Hay.

In a speech on January 12, 1848, Lincoln justified himself for voting in favor of a resolution censuring the President for his action prior to and during the war (which was still going on). He examines the President’s official message of justification and says, “that, taking for true all the President states as facts, he falls far short of proving his justification, and that the President would have gone further with his proof if it had not been for the small matter that the truth would not permit him.” He says that part of the message “is from beginning to end the sheerest deception.” He then asks the President to answer certain questions, and says: “Let him answer fully, fairly, and candidly. Let him answer with facts and not with arguments. Let him remember that he sits where Washington sat, and so remembering, let him answer as Washington would answer. Let him attempt no evasion, no equivocation.” In other words, Lincoln says that he does not wish rhetoric, or fine phrases or glittering statements that contradict one another and each of which has to be explained with a separate key or adroit and subtle special pleading and constant reversal of positions previously held, but straightforward and consistent adherence to the truth. He continues that he “more than suspects” that the President “is deeply conscious of being in the wrong; that he feels that innocent blood is crying to heaven against him”; that one of the best generals had “been driven into disfavor, if not disgrace, by the President” for insisting upon speaking unpalatable truths about the length of time the war would take (and therefore the need of full preparedness); and ends by saying that the army has done admirably, but that the President has bungled his work and “knows not where he is. He is a bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man. God grant he may be able to show there is not something about his conscience more painful than all his mental perplexity.”
Remember that this is Lincoln speaking, in war-time, of the President. The general verdict of history has justified him. But it is impossible to justify him and not heartily to condemn the persons who in our time endeavor to suppress truth-telling of a far less emphatic type than Lincoln’s.

Lincoln had to deal with various critics of the “stand by the President” type. To one he answers that, “the only alternative is to tell the truth or to lie,” and that he would not “skulk” on such a question. He explains that the President’s supporters “are untiring in their efforts to make the impression that all who vote supplies or take part in the war do of necessity approve the President’s conduct,” but that he (Lincoln) and his associates sharply distinguished between the two and voted supplies and men but “denounced the President’s conduct” and “condemned the Administration.” He stated that to give the President the power demanded for him by certain people would “place the President where kings have always stood.” In touching on what we should now speak of as rhetoric, he says

“The honest laborer digs coal at about seventy cents a day, while the President digs abstractions at about seventy dollars a day. The coal is clearly worth more than the abstractions, and yet what a monstrous inequality in the price!” He emphatically protests against permitting the President “to take the whole of legislation into his hands”–surely a statement applying exactly to the present situation. To the President’s servile party supporters he makes a distinction which also readily applies at the present day: “The distinction between the cause of the President . . . and the cause of the country . . . you cannot perceive. To you the President and the country seem to be all one. . . . We see the distinction clearly enough.”
This last statement was the crux of the matter then and is the crux of the matter now. We hold that our loyalty is due solely to the American Republic, and to all our public servants exactly in proportion as they efficiently and faithfully serve the Republic. Our opponents, in flat contradiction of Lincoln’s position, hold that our loyalty is due to the President, not the country; to one man, the servant of the people, instead of to the people themselves. In practice they adopt the fetichism [sic] of all believers in absolutism, for every man who parrots the, cry of “stand by the President” without adding the proviso “so far as he serves the Republic” takes an attitude as essentially unmanly as that of any Stuart royalist who championed the doctrine that the king could do no wrong. No self-respecting and intelligent freeman can take such an attitude.

The Wisconsin legislature has just set forth the proper American doctrine, as follows
“The people of the State of Wisconsin always have stood and always will stand squarely behind the National Government in all things which are essential to bring the present war to a successful end, and we condemn Senator Robert La Follette and all others who have failed to see the righteousness of our nation’s cause, who have failed to support our government in matters vital to the winning of the war, and we denounce any attitude or utterance of theirs which has tended to incite sedition among the people of our country.”

In view of the recent attitude of the Administration as expressed through the attorney-general and postmaster-general I commend to its attention the utterances of Abraham Lincoln in 1848 and of the Wisconsin legislature in 1918. The Administration’s warfare against German spies and American traitors has been feeble. The government has achieved far less in this direction than has been achieved by a few of our newspapers and by various private individuals. This failure is aggravated by such action as was threatened against The Metropolitan Magazine. The Metropolitan–and the present writer–have stood and will continue to stand, “squarely behind the national government in all things which are essential to bring the present war to a successful end” and to support “the righteousness of the nation’s cause.” We will stand behind the country at every point, and we will at every point either support or oppose the Administration precisely in proportion as it does or does not with efficiency and single-minded devotion serve the country.

From this position we will not be driven by any abuse of power or by any effort to make us not the loyal servants of the American people, but the cringing tools of a man who at the moment has power.
The Administration has in some of its actions on vital points shown great inefficiency (as proved by Senator Chamberlain’s committee) and on other points has been guilty of conduct toward certain peoples wholly inconsistent with its conduct toward other peoples and wholly inconsistent with its public professions as regards all international conduct. It cannot meet these accusations, for they are truthful, and to try to suppress the truth by preventing the circulation of The Metropolitan Magazine is as high-handed a defiance of liberty and justice as anything done by the Hohenzollerns or the Romanoffs. [Roosevelt uses these royal families as examples of German and Russian tyranny, respectively.] Such action is intolerable. Contrast the leniency shown by the government toward the grossest offenses against the nation

with its eagerness to assail any one who tells unpleasant truths about the Administration. The Hearst papers play the German game when they oppose the war, assail our allies, and clamor for an inconclusive peace, and they play the German game when they assail the men who truthfully point out the shortcomings which, unless corrected, will redound to Germany’s advantage and our terrible disadvantage. But the Administration has taken no action against the Hear[s]t papers. The Metropolitan Magazine has supported the war, has championed every measure to speed up the war and to make our strength effective, and has stood against every proposal for a peace without victory. But the Administration acts against the magazine that in straightforward American fashion has championed the war. Such discrimination is not compatible with either honesty or patriotism. It means that the Administration is using the great power of the government to punish honest criticism of its shortcomings, while it accepts support of and apology for these shortcomings as an offset to action against the war and, therefore, against the nation. Conduct of this kind is a grave abuse of official power.

Whatever the Administration does, I shall continue to act in the future precisely as I have acted in the past. When a senator like Mr. Chamberlain in some great matter serves the country better than does the Administration, I shall support that senator; and when a senator like Mr. La Follette perseveres in the course followed by the Administration before it reversed itself in February, 1917 [urging that the U.S. stay out of World War I], I shall oppose him and to that extent support the Administration in its present position. I shall continue to support the Administration in every such action as floating the liberty loans, raising the draft army, or sending our troops abroad. I shall continue truthfully to criticise any flagrant acts of incompetency by the Administration, such as the failure in shipping matters and the breakdown of the War Department during the last fourteen months, when it appears that such truthful criticism offers the only chance of remedying the wrong. I shall support every official from the President down who does well, and shall oppose every such official who does ill. I shall not put the personal comfort of the President or of any other public servant above the welfare of the country.

In a self-governing country the people are called citizens.  Under a despotism or autocracy the people are called subjects. This is because in a free country the people are themselves sovereign, while in a despotic country the people are under a sovereign. In the United States the people are all citizens, including its President. The rest of them are fellow citizens of the President. In Germany the people are all subjects of the Kaiser. They are not his fellow citizens, they are his subjects. This is the essential difference between the United States and Germany, but the difference would vanish if we now submitted to the foolish or traitorous persons who endeavor to make it a crime to tell the truth about the Administration when the Administration is guilty of incompetence or other shortcomings. Such endeavor is itself a crime against the nation. Those who take such an attitude are guilty of moral treason of a kind both abject and dangerous.

Published in: on May 17, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Theodore Roosevelt on Lincoln and Free Speech  
Tags: , , ,

April 9, 1939: Marian Anderson Sings America at the Lincoln Memorial

The rendition at the beginning of this post is by Marian Anderson, perhaps the most gifted songstress of her generation.  A devout Christian, this granddaughter of slaves was denied the opportunity by the Daughters of the American Revolution to sing at Constitution Hall in 1939.  In 1939 the District of Columbia was controlled by committees of Congress.  Democrat segregationists rigidly enforced rules of segregation in the District.  Blacks were rightly upset that during a performance by Miss Anderson, if it had been held at Constitution Hall, they would have been required to sit in the back of the hall.  The District of Columbia Board of Education, controlled by Democrats, declined to allow Marian Anderson to perform in the auditorium of a white school.  To her credit, Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband arranged for Anderson to give her unforgettable performance at the Lincoln Memorial on April 9, 1939, Easter Sunday.

During the war years, Miss Anderson spent a large part of her time entertaining troops.  In 1943, at the invitation of the Daughters of the American Revolution, she sang before an integrated audience for a Red Cross benefit at Constitution Hall.  The always gracious Miss Anderson remembered the event:  When I finally walked onto the stage of Constitution Hall, I felt no different than I had in other halls. There was no sense of triumph. I felt that it was a beautiful concert hall and I was very happy to sing there.

Published in: on April 9, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on April 9, 1939: Marian Anderson Sings America at the Lincoln Memorial  
Tags: , , , ,

Two Minutes to Change the World

Presidents during their presidencies make hundreds of speeches.  Most are utterly forgotten soon after they are delivered.  Even most of the speeches by a president who is also a skilled orator, as Lincoln was, are recalled only by historians and trivia buffs.  Yet the Gettysburg address has achieved immortality.

 

 

 

 

Lincoln was invited to say a few words at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg on November 19, 1863.  The featured speaker was Edward Everett, one of the most accomplished men in American public life, who gave a two hour oration.  It is a fine example of nineteenth century oratory, full of learning, argument and passion.  It may seem very odd to contemplate in our sound bite age, but audiences in America in Lincoln’s time expected these type of lengthy excursions into eloquence and felt cheated when a speaker skimped on either length or ornateness in his efforts.

Lincoln then got up and spoke for two minutes.

We are not really sure what Lincoln said.  There are two drafts of the speech in Lincoln’s hand, and they differ from each other.  It is quite likely that neither reflects precisely the words that Lincoln used in the Gettysburg Address.  For the sake of simplicity, and because it is the version people usually think of when reference is made to the Gettysburg address, the text used here is the version carved on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial.

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle- field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate…we cannot consecrate…we cannot hallow…this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Here was the masterpiece of Lincoln’s passion for concise, almost terse, argument.  No doubt many in the audience were amazed when Lincoln sat down, probably assuming that this was a preamble to his main speech.

“Fourscore and seven years ago”

Lincoln starts out with an attention grabber.  Rather than the prosaic eighty-seven years, he treats his listeners to a poetic line that causes them to think and follow Lincoln back in time to the founding. (more…)

Published in: on February 16, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Two Minutes to Change the World  
Tags: , , ,

February 15, 1861: Lincoln Downplays the Crisis

On his way to Washington in 1861 to be sworn in as President, Abraham Lincoln made a number of speeches in the cities and towns his train passed through.  Most of them were short and rather forgettable.  However the speech in Cleveland on February 15, 1861 is interesting.  It is part of Lincoln’s efforts to reassure the nation that the crisis wasn’t as bad as it seemed and that all will be well.  Lincoln throughout most of his life had lived in a nation that seemed to be on the point of dividing North and South:  The compromise of 1820;  the Nullification Crisis of 1828-33;  the conflict over the admission of Texas into the Union as a slave state;  the Compromise of 1850.  In each of these prior political conflicts cooler heads had prevailed and the Union had been preserved.  Lincoln, and much of the North, at this point thought that the South was bluffing and that after yet another compromise was patched together, the Union would go on as it had until the next round of crisis and compromise.  After he became President, Lincoln would swiftly learn that this time things were very different, and the time of talk and compromise was now a thing of the past.  Lincoln’s speech in Cleveland: (more…)

Published in: on February 15, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on February 15, 1861: Lincoln Downplays the Crisis  
Tags: ,

What If Abraham Lincoln Had Died Young?

 

 

On his 209th birthday it is perhaps appropriate to consider how the world would have changed if Abraham Lincoln had died young.  Unlike many great figures in history, Lincoln did not matter in a historical sense until around the last decade of his life.  Up to that time his political career had been mostly undistinguished and he had attracted little national notice.  If he had died in 1855 his name would now be unknown except in the pages of the most comprehensive histories of Illinois in the middle of the Nineteenth Century.  With his birth in the harsh conditions of a pioneer family, death was certainly not a stranger.  His brother Thomas died before he was three days old.  His mother died at the age of 34.  His sister died at age 20 in childbirth.  Lincoln came close to death when he was kicked by a horse in the head at 9 years of age in 1818.  He was clubbed in the head during a robbery attempt in 1828.  He contracted malaria in Illinois and had two bouts of it in 1830 and 1835.  He suffered from bouts of depression and some of his friends feared on at least one occasion that he might try to commit suicide.  Lincoln in 1838 may have published a poem,  authorship is still debated, called The Suicide’s Soliloquy:

 

Here, where the lonely hooting owl
Sends forth his midnight moans,
Fierce wolves shall o’er my carcase growl,
Or buzzards pick my bones.

No fellow-man shall learn my fate,
Or where my ashes lie;
Unless by beasts drawn round their bait,
Or by the ravens’ cry.

Yes! I’ve resolved the deed to do,
And this the place to do it:
This heart I’ll rush a dagger through,
Though I in hell should rue it!

Hell! What is hell to one like me
Who pleasures never knew;
By friends consigned to misery,
By hope deserted too?

To ease me of this power to think,
That through my bosom raves,
I’ll headlong leap from hell’s high brink,
And wallow in its waves.

Though devils yell, and burning chains
May waken long regret;
Their frightful screams, and piercing pains,
Will help me to forget.

Yes! I’m prepared, through endless night,
To take that fiery berth!
Think not with tales of hell to fright
Me, who am damn’d on earth!

Sweet steel! come forth from your sheath,
And glist’ning, speak your powers;
Rip up the organs of my breath,
And draw my blood in showers!

I strike! It quivers in that heart
Which drives me to this end;
I draw and kiss the bloody dart,
My last—my only friend!

 

Lincoln was a remarkable man, and perhaps not the least remarkable feature about him is that he survived long enough to become a national figure and President.

Now let us assume that fate was not so kind, and Lincoln departed this Veil of Tears circa 1855 or earlier.  What would have been different in 1860?  The Democrats would still have been facing a party split.  Southern Democrats were unwilling to support a nominee who was not a forthright no compromise advocate of slavery.  The Northern Democrats, facing the rising Republican Party, realized this was political suicide and would still have rallied around Douglas as their political standard bearer.  On the Republican side, Seward of New York would likely have won the nomination unless a dark horse moderate on the slavery issue had arisen.  That of course is how Lincoln ultimately won the nomination, Republican party leaders viewing Seward as too radical on the slavery issue and potentially scaring away moderate Northerners and costing the Republicans their first win at the White House.  However, in the absence of Lincoln, who was a moderate on slavery but who gained a good deal of support from abolitionists due to confronting Douglas on the slavery issue in the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858, I think it likely that Seward would have gained the nomination.  Seward would have gone on almost certainly to win the general election, the Democrat split making a Republican victory in 1860 almost a foregone conclusion.

If Seward had been elected would the South have seceded?  Almost certainly.  Lincoln was largely an unknown quantity in the South while Seward had been in the anti-slavery vanguard for many years.  Seward had been a devil figure in the South since his maiden speech in the Senate on March 11, 1850 with this passage:

I deem it established, then, that the Constitution does not recognize property in man, but leaves that question, as between the states, to the law of nature and of nations. That law, as expounded by Vattel, is founded on the reason of things. When God had created the earth, with its wonderful adaptations, He gave dominion over it to man, absolute human dominion. The title of that dominion, thus bestowed, would have been incomplete, if the lord of all terrestrial things could himself have been the property of his fellow- man.

With this appeal to natural law, Seward ever after in the South was viewed as an anti-slavery radical who regarded a higher law demanding freedom as putting the safeguards of the Constitution, that the South relied upon to protect their Peculiar Institution, as mere parchment barricades that could be breached instantly.  Secession likely would have been swifter under a President Elect Seward than it was under a President Elect Lincoln.

This of course would have been immensely ironic since Seward was quite willing to give the South virtually everything it wanted to avoid secession historically in early 1861.  Of course his vantage point would have been quite different as incoming President than as the incoming Secretary of State, but the urge to avert splitting the nation by surrender on the slavery issue would have been the same.  Would it have worked?  Almost certainly not.  Lincoln gave half-hearted support to a Thirteenth Amendment that would have enshrined slavery in the Constitution and that had zero impact on the desire of the South to form the Confederacy.  The South was not in a mood to accept anything short of independence.

Once compromise failed would Seward have fought to preserve the Union?  Likely no.  Seward historically was in favor of evacuating Fort Sumter.  He also thought that starting a foreign war with France or England would cause the Confederates to rejoin the Union.  That last idea was so divorced from reality, I suspect that Seward viewed a war to preserve the Union prior to the firing on Fort Sumter as being unthinkable.  A President Seward may well have evacuated federal installations in the South and adopted a policy of watchful waiting to see if the South would have come back voluntarily.  This policy would have ended in de facto recognition of the independence of the Confederacy, and probably a bitter civil war within the Republican party that would have led to Democrat victories at the polls in 1862 and 1864.  There would have been many areas where a Confederate States and United States would have come into conflict, including territories in the West, the border states, runaway slaves and further efforts at foreign expansion by both countries, but they are beyond the scope of the present exercise in musing on alternate history.  Thus we leave President Seward presiding over a rump United States and return to our reality.

 

Published in: on February 12, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on What If Abraham Lincoln Had Died Young?  
Tags: ,

Lincoln and Liberty Too

 

 

The low clown out of the prairies, the ape-buffoon,

The small-town lawyer, the crude small-time politician,

State-character but comparative failure at forty

In spite of ambition enough for twenty Caesars,

Honesty rare as a man without self-pity,

Kindness as large and plain as a prairie wind,

And a self-confidence like an iron-bar:

This Lincoln, President now by the grace of luck,

Disunion, politics, Douglas and a few speeches

Which make the monumental booming of Webster

Sound empty as the belly of a burst drum.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

Something for the weekend.  Lincoln and Liberty Too, the most stirring campaign song in American history.  Mr. Lincoln’s birthday, his 209th, is on Monday which this year coincides with the state holiday in Illinois.  I always close down the law mines on that day.  Lincoln used to say that Henry Clay was his ideal of a statesman and for me Abraham Lincoln has always filled that role.  Presidents come and Presidents go, but Washington and Lincoln remain, the fixed stars of the better angels of our natures.

 

 

HURRAH for the choice of the nation!
Our chieftain so brave and so true;
We’ll go for the great Reformation—
For Lincoln and Liberty too!

We’ll go for the son of Kentucky—
The hero of Hoosierdom through;
The pride of the Suckers so lucky—
For Lincoln and Liberty too!

Our David’s good sling is unerring,
The Slaveocrats’ giant he slew;
Then shout for the Freedom-preferring—
For Lincoln and Liberty too!

They’ll find what, by felling and mauling,
Our rail-maker statesman can do;
For the People are everywhere calling
For Lincoln and Liberty too.

Then up with our banner so glorious,
The star-spangled red-white-and-blue,
We’ll fight till our flag is victorious,
For Lincoln and Liberty too!

Published in: on February 10, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Lincoln and Liberty Too  
Tags: , ,