image_pdfimage_print
06/22/16

The Civil War at Sea

This entry is part 1 of 10 in the series The Civil War at Sea

The American Civil War at Sea was a tremendously varied and wide-ranging endeavor. The four years of war would see a massive blockade by the U.S. Navy. It would see the use of combined operations against land targets. There would be amphibious assaults, blockade running and commerce raiding.

The U.S. Navy would engage in a variety of tasks:

  • Conduct a massive coastal blockade;
  • Carry out combined operations with the army against coastal and inland targets;
  • Patrol the commerce sea lanes;
  • Pursue enemy commerce raiders.

The Confederate naval forces would have a much smaller set of tasks:

  • Protect the Southern ports from closure by attacking the blockade squadrons;
  • Conduct commerce raiding against Northern shipping;
  • Attempt to break the blockade with specially equipped steam blockade runners.

The U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia-The Civil War at SeaAt the beginning of the war the small United States Navy was scattered all over the globe. It had a total of 42 warships. Many of them were engaged in intercepting slavers from Africa. The U.S. Navy had another 48 that were partially completed or unmanned. They would become available when crews were recruited to man them. Most of these were sailing ships and were not appropriate for the task at hand. Many of the ships that the U.S. Navy had in the fleet were converted merchantmen that were used primarily for blockade duty.

The variety of combat roles that the U.S. Navy would engage in required an increase in the size of their fleet and diversity of ship types. For example, naval operations on rivers would require ships with shallow drafts. The United States Navy would eventually number some 500 ships with about 84,000 men.

The Confederate States Navy was a much smaller force that began the war with 30 ships, only 14 of which were seaworthy. Eventually, the C.S. NavyC.S.S. Alabama-The Civil War at Sea would include about 101 ships. Over the course of the war the Confederate States Navy used technical innovations in order to maintain some equality with the Union Navy. These included ironclads, submarines, torpedo boats and naval mines.

The Union Navy had at least five shipyards at Portsmouth, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Washington and Boston. All of the Union yards were fully equipped with drydocks and extensive shipbuilding equipment.

The Confederates had one shipyard at Pensacola and had the good fortune to capture the Norfolk Naval Shipyard nearly intact. The shipyard yielded ships, including the soon-to-be C.S.S. Virginia, 1,000 naval guns, much-needed drydocks and a storehouse of equipment. The Confederates also had short-term shipyards to build ships for specific locations.

The Confederate States Navy used a number of commerce raiders to attack Northern merchant vessels. The best known were the C.S.S. Alabama, the C.S.S. Florida, the C.S.S Sumter and the C.S.S. Shenandoah. Most of the Confederate commerce raiders were built in Great Britain but armed at sea because of their neutrality status. Over the course of a two-year career the Alabama took 65 prizes. After the war the United States filed a claim against the government of Great Britain and won millions in compensation because they violated their neutrality by building a number of the USS Kearsarge and the CSS Alabama-The Civil War at Searaiders.

The U.S. Navy countered the commerce raiding with roving squadrons of hunters. The most prominent of these was the U.S.S. Kearsarge, a sloop-of-war. The Kearsarge forced the abandonment of the Sumter after a blockade at Gibraltar. On June 19, 1864 the Kearsarge sank the C.S.S. Alabama after a one hour sea battle.

The Confederate States Navy’s other primary task was breaking the Union blockade. Blockade runners were lightly armed steam powered merchant ships that brought high quality military and consumer items through the Union cordon on a regular basis. They ran a gauntlet from Bermuda, the Bahamas or Havana past the Union warships and into ports like Charleston, Savannah, Wilmington and Galveston. Despite having a a high success rate many of them were captured, sunk or run aground.

Both sides used their navies to support land warfare operations although the Union Navy used it to their benefit both on the coast and up the rivers. At New Orleans, Vicksburg and other battles naval support was a key part of the Union’s success. Most of the Confederate fleet was built for coastal defense of their ports and forts along key rivers.

Over the course of this series of posts we will elaborate on the Civil War at sea and its impact on the final outcome of the war.

 

 

06/20/16

Generals from VMI

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series Military Academies of the United States

Generals from VMIAt least 20 VMI graduates served as generals during the Civil War. Some were obscure while others were well-known. Of course, Stonewall Jackson was a lieutenant-general and corps commander but he was not a VMI graduate. He had served as a professor for almost a decade.

Jackson surrounded himself with VMI graduates, many whom had been his students. He knew them and their abilities, therefore he felt comfortable having them as subordinates.

Here is a brief biographical look at some of the generals.

  • Raleigh E. Colston, Class of 1846. Born in Paris, he was sent to Virginia under the care of his uncle. He entered VMI in 1843 and graduated in 1846. He was a Professor of French at VMI from 1846 until the outbreak of war. In November 1859, he accompanied a contingent of VMI cadets assigned to guard duty at the execution of abolitionist John Brown. He was commissioned Colonel of the 16th Virginia Infantry Regiment. In December 1862 he was appointed Brigadier General and led a brigade under Longstreet on the Peninsula. He commanded a brigade under Stonewall Jackson in April 1863 and he commanded a division at Chancellorsville. He later served under P.G.T. Beauregard in defense of Petersburg in 1864. At the end of the war he was in command at Lynchburg.
  • Samuel Garland, Class of 1849. Born in Lynchburg, Virginia, Garland entered VMI in 1846 and graduated at 19 in 1849.  He studied law at University of Virginia; practiced in Lynchburg, VA. Following John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry in 1859, Garland organized the Lynchburg Home Guard. Commissioned Colonel, 11th Virginia Infantry Regiment at the start of the war. He led his regiment at 1st Manassas. He was wounded at Williamsburg but did not leave field. He was promoted to Brigadier General in May 1862 and commanded a brigade at Seven Pines, Gaines’s Mill, and Malvern Hill. He was mortally wounded on Sept 14, 1862, at South Mountain during the Maryland campaign, he was buried in Lynchburg.
  • Robert E. Rodes, Class of 1848. Rodes was also born in Lynchburg. He graduated from VMI in 1848 and was appointed Assistant Professor (Physical Science, Chemistry, Tactics) at VMI, 1848-1850. In 1850 Rodes began a Civil Engineering career, working on various railroad projects in Alabama and elsewhere in the south. In 1860 he was elected Professor of Applied Mechanics at VMI, but never served in this capacity because of the outbreak of war. In May 1861 he was commissioned Col. 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment. In Oct 1861 he was appointed Brigadier General, commanding a brigade at Fair Oaks, Gaines’s Mill, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville. He was promoted to Major General May 1863. He led a division at Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania. He then went to the Shenandoah Valley in June 1864, where he served under Jubal Early and fought at Kernstown and elsewhere. Rodes was killed at Winchester, VA, on 19 September 1864 and was buried in Presbyterian Cemetery, Lynchburg.
  • William Mahone, Class of 1847. Mahone was born 1826 December 1, 1826 on a farm near Monroe, Southampton Co., Virginia. He enrolled at VMI on July 20, 1844 at age of 17½; was graduated on July 5, 1847, standing 8th out of 12 graduates. He taught at the Rappahannock Academy, Caroline Co., Virginia, 1848-1849. From 1851-1861 he was a civil engineer; Chief Engineer and subsequently President, Chief Engineer and General Superintendent of the Norfolk and Petersburg railroad. At the start of the war Mahone was a Lt. Col. and Colonel of the 6th Virginia Infantry Regiment. He was promoted to Brigadier General November 1861. During the Peninsular Campaign he led a brigade at Seven Pines and Malvern Hill. He also fought at 2nd Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania. He was promoted to Major General on July 30, 1864 for his performance at the Battle of the Crater (near Petersburg, VA). He returned to engineering and continued to be instrumental in developing railway system in Virginia; unsuccessful bid for governor in 1877. He was a United States Senator, 1881-1887. Mahone died October 8, 1895 and was buried in Blandford Cemetery, near Petersburg, VA.
  • Thomas T. Munford, Class of 1852. Munford was born March 29, 1831 at Richmond. He enrolled at VMI on July 30, 1849 and was graduated in July 1852, standing 14th in a class of 24. He was commissioned Lt. Col. of the 13th Virginia Mounted Infantry; Col., 2nd Virginia Cavalry. He served in the  in the Shenandoah Valley under Stonewall Jackson, succeeded Turner Ashby, fought at Cross Keys, Harrisonburg, White Oak Swamp, 2nd Manassas, Antietam; appointed Brigadier General November 1864; took command of Fitzhugh Lee’s division and fought at Five Forks, High Bridge, Sayler’s Creek, and Appomattox. After the war he was an Iron manufacturer and farmer. He was President, VMI Board of Visitors, 1884-1888. Munford died February 27, 1918 at the home of his son in Uniontown, Alabama and was buried in Lynchburg, Virginia.
05/30/16

Memorial Day 2016

This entry is part of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life

I wrote this post in 2012 for Memorial Day. It is well worth reprinting in memory of all those who fought and died to make the United States the free nation that it is today.

When I was younger, Memorial Day was sometimes referred to as Decoration Day. It was the day that was set aside by a grateful nation to decorate the graves of our honored dead. It wasn’t meant for sales, outdoor barbecues and games.

The original Decoration Day was first proclaimed by General John Logan, the first national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in General Order #11 on May 5, 1868. The United States was barely three years past the end of the Civil War.

Perhaps 750,000 Americans, North and South, had perished on battlefields and in John A. Loganhospitals. Untold numbers had been crippled. Not a single town across this great land had been spared.

Mothers had lost sons; sometimes as many as five in the case of Mrs. Lydia Bixby of Boston, Massachusetts. Abraham Lincoln’s letter to her is featured in the movie “Saving Private Ryan”. (It now appears that she only lost two of her five sons.) The Union veterans were looking for a dignified way to honor their fallen comrades. Logan gave them that way.

GENERAL JOHN A. LOGAN’S MEMORIAL DAY ORDER

General Order No. 11

Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868

I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose, among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their death a tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the Nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism or avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation’s gratitude, ‑‑ the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the Commander‑in‑Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use every effort to make this order effective.

By command of: JOHN A. LOGAN, Commander-in-Chief .

N. P. CHIPMAN, Adjutant-General.

The Price of Freedom-Memorial DayUntil 1882 the day was called Decoration Day. New York was the first state to make it a legal holiday. By 1890 all of the northern states had followed suit. The southern states had their own Memorial Day. The National Holiday Act of 1971 changed the whole feel of Memorial Day from a one-day commemoration of the nation’s war dead to a three-day holiday weekend.

“There are no better teachers for those who come after us than the silent monuments on the battlefields, marking the places where men died for a principle they believed right, whether they wore the blue or the gray uniform.”
Major Wells Sponable, 34th New York Monument dedication at the Antietam battlefield.

So when you’re flipping that burger, eating that hot dog or cruising the mall, please have a thought for those who lie beneath the ground that they defended with their lives. Remember that the price of freedom has been very high. Remember that was paid for in the blood of American patriots. When you see a service member be sure to thank them for their service to our country.

 

05/23/16

Lincoln and Secession

61st New York Infantry-Lincoln and SecessionAbraham Lincoln is considered one of the two or three best Presidents that the United States has ever had. But like most Presidents he had to learn the job as he went along. And quite honestly, his early decisions on the conduct of the war and who would lead his armies were mostly abysmal. In this post we’ll look at how his call for troops from the states pushed Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee into secession.

Lincoln’s initial strategy of a call for troops precipitated a number of Southern state legislatures to reverse their initial rejections of secession and join the Confederacy. Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee were three states that teetered on the secession issue.

The Virginia Convention of 1861 convened on February 13, 1861 to consider whether Virginia should secede from the United States. Its 152 delegates, a majority of whom were Unionist, had been elected at the behest of the Virginia General Assembly, which also directed that their decision be ratified by a statewide referendum.

Virginia hesitated, and debate raged on for months. On April 4, secessionists badly lost a vote but prepared for the possibility of war nevertheless. Former Virginia governor Henry A. Wise worked behind the scenes and outside the legal process to secure the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry by military means, a move that prompted a furious objection from Unionist delegate John Baldwin of Staunton. After the fall of Fort Sumter on April 13 and Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers on April 15, the momentum turned toward secession, and the convention voted on April 17 to leave the Union. Virginians expressed their agreement at the polls on May 23.

Non-slaveholding yeoman farmers made up a majority of the North Carolina population and constituted the core of the Unionist strength. They were disinclined to secede or fight for the preservation of slavery. Also, the Whig Party, which had disintegrated as a national party by 1860, still had a strong following. Whig leaders comprised the bulk of the unconditional Unionist leadership. Other Whigs and conservative Democrats advocated a “watch and wait” policy while maintaining that secession was a fundamental right of each state. The counties in the west, northeast, and Piedmont were areas of Unionist sentiment.

Democrats like Governor John W. Ellis, Senator Clingman, Congressman Thomas Ruffin, and former congressman William S. Ashe led the secessionists. The main areas of secessionist strength were the coastal counties with large slave populations and the counties that bordered South Carolina, especially Mecklenburg. Lincoln’s election prompted this group to launch local secession meetings. The first meeting was held in Cleveland County on 12 Nov. 1860, the second in New Hanover on 19 November. A series of similar gatherings were held across the state. The movement was given a boost by the secession of South Carolina on 20 Dec. 1860.

On 29 Jan. 1861 the General Assembly agreed to put the convention question to the people on 28 February. The legislature also voted to send delegates to the Washington Peace Conference on 4 February.

The convention campaign was vigorously waged. The Unionists were able to set the terms of the debate early, focusing on the question of “Union or Disunion.” Secessionist attempts to redefine the campaign based on southern self-defense failed.

The Unionists carried the northeastern counties and most of the Piedmont and Mountains. They defeated the secessionists by a vote of 47,323 to 46,672. The delegate elections are more indicative of actual sentiment. Only about a third of the 120 delegates elected were secessionists. The Unionists were helped by positive news from the Peace Conference the day before the election. The debate in the campaign had been injurious to the secessionist cause. On 4 March, a few days after the vote, Lincoln gave his inaugural address, which struck some as conciliatory.

The secessionists did not give up, however. On 22-23 Mar. 1861 delegates from 25 counties assembled in Goldsboro and organized the Southern Rights Party. They urged the legislature to call a convention and demanded that the state join the Confederacy. They posed the new debate in terms of South against North. Despite numerous meetings, by early April North Carolina seemed no nearer to secession than it had been in February.

Then came the news that Confederate forces had bombarded Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor on 12 April, followed on 15 April by Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops. Governor Ellis responded, “You can get no troops from North Carolina.” Zebulon Vance was pleading for the Union with his arm upraised when word arrived of Lincoln’s summons. “When my hand came down from that impassioned gesticulation,” he recalled, “it fell slowly and sadly by the side of a secessionist.”

Ellis called a special session of the legislature for 1 May and immediately ordered the seizure of Federal property. When the General Assembly met, it voted for a delegate election on 13 May to an unrestricted convention to meet in Raleigh on 20 May, the anniversary of the so-called Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. The campaign for the convention was characterized by resignation rather than enthusiasm. Both Unionists and secessionists spoke of the need to act in the face of northern aggression. The major debate-whether North Carolina should separate based on “the right of revolution,” as some Unionists advocated, or on the Calhounian doctrine of secession-was over. The radical secessionists favored the latter position.

A total of 122 Democratic and Whig delegates, 108 of whom were native North Carolinians, gathered on 20 May 1861. The delegates held an average of 30.5 slaves each, with the median being 21, which meant that over one-half of the delegates belonged to the small planter class. Sixty-eight delegates had attended college, making them far better educated than those who had elected them. The average personal and real property per delegate was valued at $61,817, placing them among the wealthy citizens of the state.

The convention elected Weldon N. Edwards, a Democratic planter from Warren County, as president. (Edwards defeated William A. Graham of Orange County.) Edwards gave a speech denouncing continued connection with the “Black Republican Union.”

Onetime Unionist George E. Badger introduced a resolution for separation from the Union based on the right of revolution. An alternate ordinance, simply dissolving the Union and representing the radical position, was proposed by Burton Craige of Rowan County. The Badger proposal was defeated by a vote of 72 to 40. An attempt to modify the Craige ordinance failed. The convention then unanimously passed the ordinance of secession and voted to accept the provisional Constitution of the Confederate States of America. As requested by Governor Ellis, the convention agreed not to put the secession ordinance to a popular vote. On 21 May 1861 the ordinance was signed and President Jefferson Davis proclaimed North Carolina a Confederate state.

Tennessee was the last state to secede from the Union. Tennessee was a complicated state. Like its neighbor Virginia, it was profoundly divided over the issue of secession, with its mountainous eastern section deeply opposed to the idea. They weren’t alone: A special election on Feb. 9 revealed the political gulf between Governor Isham Harris and the people of the state: On the same day that Mississippi left the Union, the voters of Tennessee voted 80 percent against secession.

By the time of Lincoln’s inauguration in March, nothing short of a repudiation of the 1860 Republican platform would satisfy the state’s fire-eaters. The two sides, Unionist and secessionist, stood at a stalemate until the bombardment of Ft. Sumter in early April. While some favored immediate secession, others held that secession was unconstitutional. A larger number futilely hoped for some sort of settlement based on a constitutional compromise regarding the “question of negro slavery.” Even after the outbreak of war, Tennessee, like Missouri and Kentucky to its north, hoped that it could remain neutral.

That changed with Lincoln’s April 15 call for the states to send 75,000 troops to fight the Confederacy. If the federal government was going to “coerce” the seceded states into returning, Tennessee had no choice but to join its Southern neighbors. “Tennessee will not furnish a single man for purposes of coercion but 50,000 if necessary for the defense of our rights and those of our Southern brothers,” wrote Harris in response to Lincoln’s request. The legislature (with 32 percent of the House and 16 percent of the Senate dissenting) voted on May 6 to join her “Southern brothers.”

Unlike every other state to join the Confederacy with the exception of Texas and Virginia, however, the legislators insisted that the public ratify their decision. While the state government prepared for secession and war following the vote for secession, Tennessee was technically not yet a member of the separatist government. But on June 8, by a two-to-one majority, Tennessee’s electorate confirmed the General Assembly’s verdict. The Volunteer State thus became the last to secede.

04/29/16

Stephen Douglas of Illinois

This entry is part 16 of 18 in the series The Roots of the Civil War

Stephen DouglasStephen Douglas is best known for the Lincoln-Douglas debates that took place across Illinois during the 1858 Senate campaign. The two candidates debated seven times. Douglas won the election and was returned to the Senate.

Many historians suggest that his views cost him the Presidency in the 1860 election to the very same Abraham Lincoln. However, Douglas did have a distinguished and impactful career in the House of Representatives and the Senate that spanned 18 years. He gained the nickname “Little Giant” both for his diminutive stature and his achievements while in the Congress.

Stephen Douglas was born on April 29, 1813 in Brandon, Vermont to Stephen Arnold Douglass and Sarah Fisk. Douglas dropped the second “s” from his name some years later.

He migrated to Winchester, Illinois in 1833, where he served as an itinerant teacher and opened a school for three months at three dollars a pupil. He also studied law, and settled in Jacksonville, Illinois. By the end of the year, he wrote his Vermont relatives, “I have become a Western man, have imbibed Western feelings principles and interests and have selected Illinois as the favorite place of my adoption.” 

In 1934 Douglas began his political career with an appointment as State’s Attorney of Morgan County. He held the position for two years and then moved on to a succession of political positions, including the Illinois House of Representatives, registrar of the Springfield Land Office, Illinois Secretary of State and associate justice of the Illinois Supreme Court in 1841, at age 27.

He resigned from the Court upon being elected US Representative in 1843, and was re-elected in 1844. In Congress, he championed territorial expansion and supported the Mexican War. In 1846 the Illinois General Assembly elected him a US Senator. The Illinois Democrat had entered the biggest stage in American politics.

In 1850, Douglas supported the omnibus Compromise Bill of Henry Clay. However, it was defeated and Clay who was very ill and handed off the passage of the bill to Douglas. The omnibus bill had been defeated because too many senators were opposed to one part of the bill or another. Douglas realized this and the divided the bill into separate bills. The separate bills were thereby passed.

In 1852, Douglas vied for the Democratic Presidential nomination but was passed over for Franklin Pierce. The following year saw him easily reelected to the Senate.

Douglas was an avid promoter of railroads. He saw them as a means of tying the regions of America together. At the same time he saw them as a way of promoting commerce and trade for his hometown, Chicago. In addition, Douglas had a financial interest Chicago real estate that was expected to benefit if a central route for a transcontinental railroad was built.

In 1854, Douglas became involved in the Kansas-Nebraska controversy. Nebraska Territory, west of Missouri, was then being settled, and Congress needed to provide territorial organization for the region. The Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery there (because it was north of the 36°30′ compromise line), and the Compromise of 1850 had reaffirmed this.

Southern leaders proposed a deal: they would support the central route if slavery was permitted in the new Territories. Douglas agreed. In the first version of the Act, Douglas allowed for the Territories to choose slave or free status at statehood, but the Southerners demanded immediate permission for slavery there (an implicit repeal of that part of the Missouri and 1850 Compromises). Douglas discovered a “clerical error”, and revised the Act to suit their wishes.

Douglas was vilified throughout the North. He joked that he could travel from Washington back to Illinois by the light of burning effigies of him. But in order to respond to his critics he invoked “popular sovereignty“, the doctrine that the people of a community were rightfully entitled to decide such issues for themselves.

The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was assured with the votes of some Northern Democrats and of all Southerners, Democrat and Whig alike. Opponents of the Act saw it as a triumph for the hated Slave Power. The passage of the bill was responsible for the fundamental realignment of the political parties.

The Whig Party dissolved; anti-slavery Northern Whigs formed the Republican Party instead, joined by many “free-soil” Democrats. There was a Senate election in Illinois in 1855: Republicans and dissident Democrats elected “Anti-Nebraska” Democrat Lyman Trumbull, a clear rebuke to Douglas. He was passed over once again in the 1856 Presidential nominating process.

The 1857 Dred Scott decision presented Douglas with a tremendous dilemma. The decision declared that under the Constitution, neither Congress nor a Territorial legislature created by Congress had the power to prohibit slavery in a Territory. This struck down key elements of the Missouri and 1850 Compromises, made the Kansas-Nebraska Act irrelevant, and denied the basis of “popular sovereignty”.

If he rejected Dred Scott, he would lose the Southern support that he needed for the presidential election of 1860. If he embraced Dred Scott, he would lose Northern support. He tried to avoid both hazards, issuing a tepid endorsement of the decision, while continuing to assert popular sovereignty without explicitly saying the Court was wrong.

Campaigning for reelection in 1858, Douglas initially tried to avoid debating his Republican challenger Abraham Lincoln. But Lincoln followed Douglas around the state responding to each Douglas speech a day or two later. Finally, Douglas agreed to a series of seven debates which came to be known as the Lincoln-Douglas Debates.

In the debates, Douglas reiterated his support of popular sovereignty. He demanded to know whether Lincoln would ever vote to admit a new slave state, even if the majority of settlers favored slavery.

He denounced Lincoln for his insistence that slavery was a moral issue that had to be resolved by the nation as a whole. Douglas described this as causing an unnecessary conflict between free and slave states, which threatened to boil up into disunion and war. He also asserted that Lincoln supported civil and social equality between the races, and insinuated that Lincoln even accepted racial intermarriage.

Lincoln forced Douglas to commit himself on the question of Dred Scott versus popular sovereignty. In the second debate, at Freeport, he asked a direct question: “Can the people of a United States Territory, in any lawful way … exclude slavery from its limits prior to the formation of a State Constitution?”

If Douglas answered “No”, he would fully endorse Dred Scott, and would alienate Illinoisans and other Northerners. If he answered “Yes”, he would reject Dred Scott, and would alienate Southerners. Douglas declared that while the Supreme Court had barred explicit prohibition of slavery, that didn’t really matter, because the people of a Territory could exclude slavery in practice by “unfriendly legislation”. This became known as  the Freeport Doctrine.

It was barely enough to satisfy the voters of Illinois and Douglas won with a narrow majority in the Illinois legislature. But the Freeport Doctrine was vehemently rejected by most Southerners. The “Fire-Eaters” denounced Douglas as no better than an abolitionist.

The 1860 Presidential election matched Lincoln and Douglas again. However, the Democrats split along sectional lines and the Southerners nominated John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, the sitting Vice President while some former Whigs nominate John Bell under the banner of the Constitution Party.

The four way race ended with Lincoln winning the Presidency with almost 40% of the popular vote and 180 electoral votes. Douglas came in second with almost 40% of the vote but only 12 electoral votes. Six weeks after Lincoln’s election South Carolina voted to secede from the Union and began the secession of the other Southern states.

Douglas was opposed to secession and at Lincoln’s request he undertook a number of speaking engagements in the Border States and the Midwest to rouse the spirit of Unionism; he spoke in Virginia, Ohio and Illinois.

Douglas died in Chicago from typhoid fever on June 3, 1861. He was buried on the shore of Lake Michigan.

 

 

 

 

 

04/28/16

Daniel Webster of Massachusetts

This entry is part 15 of 18 in the series The Roots of the Civil War

Daniel Webster circa 1847Daniel Webster of Massachusetts was an outspoken advocate for the shipping and industrial interests of his state. He was a powerful orator and was nationally known for his speaking ability. Webster was a prominent Whig who championed the elites of his region. “He was a thoroughgoing elitist, and he reveled in it,” says biographer Robert Vincent Remini.

Daniel Webster was born in Salisbury, New Hampshire in 1782. He and his nine siblings grew up on their parents’ farm, a small parcel of land granted to his father. His ancestors were among the early settlers of Salisbury.

Webster attended Phillips Exeter Academy, a preparatory school in Exeter, New Hampshire, before attending Dartmouth College. After he graduated from Dartmouth (Phi Beta Kappa), Webster was apprenticed to the lawyer Thomas W. Thompson in Salisbury. But his career was short lived as he left to support his older brother’s studies by working as a schoolteacher.

After a year, he returned to the law in 1802 and two years later he moved to Boston where he clerked for Christopher Gore. Gore’s practice encompassed international, national, and state politics. Webster learned about many aspects of the law and met many Massachusetts politicians. In 1805, he was admitted to the bar.

He returned to New Hampshire shortly after being admitted to the bar due to his father’s declining health. He set up a law practice in Boscawen but after his father’s death in 1896 he handed over his practice to his brother and moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Daniel Webster was a Federalist who had been educated at the Federalist-leaning Dartmouth College. In 1807 Thomas Jefferson had pushed through the Embargo Act of 1807, stopping all trade to both Britain and France. As New England relied on commerce with the two nations, the region strongly opposed Jefferson’s attempt at “peaceable coercion.” Webster wrote an anonymous pamphlet attacking it.

The trouble between the United States and Britain escalated into the War of 1812. Webster gave a speech in the same year at the Washington Benevolent Society, a speech that proved critical to his career. The speech condemned the war and the violation of New England’s shipping rights that preceded it, but it also strongly denounced the extremism of those more radical among the unhappy New Englanders who were beginning to call for the region’s secession from the Union.

Webster’s outspokenness led to his election to the House of Representatives in 1812. He would remain in the House until March 1817. He was an outspoken critic of the Madison administration and its wartime policies, denouncing its efforts at financing the war through paper money and opposing Secretary of War James Monroe‘s conscription proposal.

Notable in his second term was his support of the reestablishment of a stable specie-based national bank; but he opposed the tariff of 1816 (which sought to protect the nation’s manufacturing interests) and House Speaker Henry Clay’s American System.

Webster did not seek a third term and he returned to his law practice which he moved from Portsmouth to Boston. He had married in 1808 and was to have four children with his wife Grace.

Webster was one of the foremost constitutional lawyers of the early 1800’s. He argued 223 cases before the Marshall Court, winning about half of them. Marshall patterned some of his Court decisions after Webster’s briefs, and Webster played a crucial role in helping many of the justices interpret matters of constitutional law. As a result many people began calling him the Great Expounder of the Constitution.

With the help of a coalition of Federalists and Republicans, Webster was elected to the Senate from Massachusetts in June 1827. His first wife died in 1828 and he remarried a year later.

Webster became New England’s champion in the fight over the Tariff of 1828. Webster changed his position to support a protective tariff in 1828 explaining that after the failure of the rest of the nation to heed New England’s objections in 1816 and 1824, “nothing was left to New England but to conform herself to the will of others.” The region was heavily invested in manufacturing and he would not now do it injury.

Webster’s speaking ability came to the fore during the Nullification Crisis when he famously summed up his position in opposition to nullification of federal laws “Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable!”

In 1836, Webster was one of four Whig Party candidates to run for the office of President, but he only managed to gain the support of Massachusetts. This was the first of three unsuccessful attempts at gaining the presidency. In 1839, the Whig Party nominated William Henry Harrison for president. Webster was offered the vice presidency, but he declined.

However, Harrison appointed Webster as his Secretary of State, a position that he retained under John Tyler after Harrison’s death a month after his inauguration. In September 1841, an internal division amongst the Whigs over the question of the National Bank caused all the Whigs (except Webster who was in Europe at the time) to resign from Tyler’s cabinet.

In 1842, he was the architect of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which resolved the Caroline Affair, established the definitive Eastern border between the United States and Canada (Maine and New Brunswick), and signaled a definite and lasting peace between the United States and Britain. Webster succumbed to Whig pressure in May 1843 and finally left the cabinet. Webster later served again as Secretary of State in President Millard Fillmore’s administration from 1850 until 1852.

Webster returned to the Senate in 1845,  where he opposed both the Texas Annexation and the resulting Mexican-American War for fear of its upsetting the delicate balance of slave and non-slave states.

In the United States presidential election, 1848, he sought the Whig Party’s nomination for the President but was beaten by the military hero Zachary Taylor. Webster was once again offered the Vice-Presidency, but he declined saying, “I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead and in my coffin.” Taylor died 16 months after the inauguration, the second time a President who offered Webster the chance to be Vice President died.

During the debates over the Compromise of 1850, Webster once again exhibited his eloquence on the floor of the Senate. Webster gave one of his most famous speeches, later called the Seventh of March speech, characterizing himself “not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man but as an American…” In it he gave his support to the compromise, which included the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

Webster returned to the State Department in July 1850 where he became embroiled in prosecutions of those who aided Shadrach Minkins in 1851 from Boston officials who intended to return Minkins to his owner. The juries convicted none of the accused. His popularity in New England fell to a low and he was passed over for the 1852 Whig nomination for the presidency.

A rump “Native American Party” put his name on the ballot without permission and he collected a few thousand votes, even though he died just before the election. Daniel Webster died on October 24, 1852 at his home in Marshfield, Massachusetts, after falling from his horse and suffering a crushing blow to the head, complicated by cirrhosis of the liver, which resulted in a cerebral hemorrhage.

The great irony was that his son Fletcher went on to serve as a Union Army infantry colonel in the Civil War that Webster tried to prevent. Fletcher Webster commanded the 12th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, and was killed in action on August 29, 1862, during the Second Battle of Bull Run.

 

04/27/16

The Caning of Charles Sumner

This entry is part 14 of 18 in the series The Roots of the Civil War

The caning of Charles SumnerOn May 22, 1856, at the height of a heated debate over the impact of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, an event took place in the Senate Chamber that is nearly unique in American history. Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was assaulted at his Senate desk by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina.

Tempers had become so inflamed over the slavery issue that Brooks felt compelled to attack Sumner for a speech that he had made on the floor of the Senate two days beforehand. The story of those events illustrate the widening divide between the North and the South.

To understand the events surrounding the near-fatal beating of Senator Sumner, one must understand the events of the time and the two protagonists.

The debate over the Kansas-Nebraska had begun when the original bill was introduced in the Senate on January 4, 1854. Over the course of the next two bills the contents of the bill had been modified by its sponsor Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. By May the bill passed both chambers in its final form and was signed by President Franklin Pierce.

The main issue with the bill was its “popular sovereignty” clause. In the case of this act, it said that the residents of territories should be able to decide by voting whether or not slavery would be allowed in the territory.

It ignited a rush of pro-and anti-slavery settlers into Kansas in an attempt to vote their position. The period following the movement of forces Charles Sumner“Bleeding Kansas”.

On May on May 19 and May 20, 1856, Sumner attacked the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The long speech argued for the immediate admission of Kansas as a free state, and went on to denounce the “Slave Power“, the political arm of the slave owners. Their goal, he alleged, was to spread slavery through the free states that had made it illegal.

In his speech, Sumner, a Free Soil Democrat, attacked authors of the Act, Senators Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina.

The senator from South Carolina has read many books of chivalry, and believes himself a chivalrous knight with sentiments of honor and courage. Of course he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight — I mean the harlot, slavery. For her his tongue is always profuse in words. Let her be impeached in character, or any proposition made to shut her out from the extension of her wantonness, and no extravagance of manner or hardihood of assertion is then too great for this senator.

The main outside event leading up to the assault on Senator Sumner took place on May 21, 1856. A group of pro-slavery Border Ruffians Preston Brooksentered the Free-State stronghold of Lawrence, where they burned the Free State Hotel, destroyed two newspaper offices and their printing presses, and ransacked homes and stores.

On May 22nd, Representative Brooks entered the Senate chamber accompanied by fellow South Carolina Representative Laurence M. Keitt. Brooks was armed with a thick gutta-percha cane with a gold head. His companion carried a pistol. Sumner was working at his desk in the almost empty Senate chamber.

Dueling was still legal in the nation’s capital but Keitt had advised Brooks that dueling was for gentlemen of equal social standing Both of the men considered  that Sumner was no better than a drunkard, due to the supposedly coarse language he had used during his speech. Brooks had decided to beat him with a cane.

Approaching his desk, Brooks identified himself as Senator Andrew Butler’s nephew. “Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.”

As Sumner began to stand up, Brooks began to beat him mercilessly with the cane, using the head to beat him about the head. Sumner attempted to hide under his desk but eventually he ripped the bolted desk from the floor.

Keitt quickly drew a pistol from his belt, jumped into the aisle and leveled it at the horror-struck Congressmen who were approaching to try to assist Sumner, loudly announcing “Let them be!”. He resigned in protest over his censure, but was overwhelmingly re-elected to his seat by his South Carolina constituency within a month.

Sumner staggered into the aisle, blinded by his own blood. He soon lapsed into unconsciousness but Brooks continued his assault. Brooks Lawrence Keittcontinued to beat the motionless Sumner until his cane broke, at which point he left the chamber.

The episode revealed the polarization in America, as Sumner became a martyr in the North and Brooks a hero in the South. Northerners were outraged. The Cincinnati Gazette said, “The South cannot tolerate free speech anywhere, and would stifle it in Washington with the bludgeon and the Bowie-knife, as they are now trying to stifle it in Kansas by massacre, rapine, and murder.”

In addition to the head trauma, Sumner suffered from nightmares, severe headaches, and what is now understood to be post-traumatic stress disorder or “psychic wounds”. He spent months convalescing while his political enemies ridiculed him and accused him of cowardice for not resuming his duties.

The Massachusetts General Court reelected him in November 1856, believing that his vacant chair in the Senate chamber served as a powerful symbol of free speech and resistance to slavery. He eventually returned to the Senate in 1859. He continued to serve in the Senate until his death in 1874.

There was an attempt to oust Preston Brooks from the House of Representatives but it failed. He was fined $300 for the assault and resigned his seat on July 15, 1856. He was re-elected by his constituents but died the following January before the new Congressional term began.

Lawrence Keitt resigned in protest over his censure by the House, but was overwhelmingly re-elected to his seat by his South Carolina constituency within a month. He was involved in a later incident in the House when he started a massive brawl in House on February 5, 1858.

Keitt insulted Pennsylvania Representative Galusha Grow calling him a “black Republican puppy”. Grow responded by telling Keitt that “No negro-driver shall crack his whip over me.” Keitt became enraged and went for Grow’s throat, shouting that he would “choke him for that”.

A massive brawl involving some 50 Representatives ensued. It ended when a missed punch from Rep. Cadwallader Washburn of Wisconsin upended the hairpiece of Rep. William Barksdale of Mississippi. The embarrassed Barksdale accidentally replaced the wig backwards, causing both sides to erupt in spontaneous laughter.

Keitt served as a delegate from South Carolina to the Provisional Confederate Congress, 1861–62, and a colonel in the Confederate States Army during the Civil War, commanding the 20th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment and later Kershaw’s Brigade. Mortally wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864, Keitt died the next day near Richmond, Virginia.

04/26/16

John C. Calhoun: The Men who dominated National Life

This entry is part 13 of 18 in the series The Roots of the Civil War

John C. CalhounBefore we move on to the the last several events that led up to the Civil War, it is important that we look at the men who dominated national life and the Congress in the antebellum period. Their political careers overlapped and they had a huge impact on the history of the United States.

Let’s start with John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. Born in South Carolina in 1782, Calhoun began his political career as a nationalist, modernizer, and proponent of a strong national government and protective tariffs. After 1830 while still holding national office as Vice President, Calhoun’s views evolved and he became a proponent of of states’ rightslimited governmentnullification and free trade.

Calhoun served in a succession of political offices starting in 1811 when he was sworn into the House of Representatives. He was to remain in the House for six years. He then was appointed Secretary of War in 1817 by President James Monroe.

As Secretary of War Calhoun proposed an expansible army similar to that of France under Napoleon, whereby a basic cadre of 6,000 officers and men could be expanded into 11,000 without adding additional officers or companies. Congress wanted an army to defend the nation in the event of war against Britain or Spain over Florida. Once the crisis was settled diplomatically the need subsided and Calhoun’s plans were shelved.

In 1825 Calhoun was elected Vice President by the House of Representatives in a landslide. He was to serve four years with John Quincy Adams and four years with Andrew Jackson. He was one of two vice presidents to serve under two different presidents.

Eventually, Calhoun split with Jackson over the policy of hard cash, which he felt favored Northern financial interests. Calhoun opposed an increase in the protective tariff. When his position was defeated he returned to his South Carolina plantation to write “South Carolina Exposition and Protest“, an essay rejecting the centralization philosophy.

This led to the theory of a concurrent majority through the doctrine of nullification,”the right of a State to interpose, in the last resort, in order to arrest an unconstitutional act of the General Government, within its limits.” Jackson, who supported states’ rights but believed that nullification threatened the Union, opposed it.

Calhoun and Jackson came to a breaking point over a previous recommendation when Calhoun was Secretary of War. In May 1830, Jackson discovered that Calhoun had asked President Monroe to censure then-General Jackson for his invasion of Spanish Florida in 1818.

Calhoun was then serving as James Monroe’s Secretary of War (1817–1823). Jackson had invaded Florida during the First Seminole War without explicit public authorization from Calhoun or Monroe. Calhoun’s and Jackson’s relationship deteriorated further. Calhoun defended his position and by February 1831 the break between the two men was irrevocable.

In 1832, states’ rights theory was put to the test in the Nullification Crisis, after South Carolina passed an ordinance that nullified federal tariffs. Congress passed the Force Bill, which empowered the President to use military power to force states to obey all federal laws. Jackson sent US Navy warships to Charleston harbor, and even talked of hanging Calhoun. South Carolina then nullified the Force Bill.

Cooler heads prevailed and Congress passed the Compromise Tariff of 1833, a proposal by Senator Henry Clay to change the tariff law in a manner which satisfied Calhoun, who by then was in the Senate.

Calhoun ran for the Senate in 1832 and was elected by the South Carolina legislature. After the Compromise Tariff of 1833 was implemented, the Nullifier Party, along with other anti-Jackson politicians, formed a coalition known as the Whig Party. Calhoun would gain his most lasting fame and his most influence as a senator.

Calhoun led the pro-slavery faction in the Senate in the 1830s and 1840s, opposing both abolitionism and attempts to limit the expansion of slavery into the western territories; actively anti-Wilmot Proviso. He was a major advocate of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, which required the co-operation of local law enforcement officials in free states to return escaped slaves.

In a famous speech on the Senate floor on February 6, 1837, Calhoun asserted that slavery was a “positive good.” He rooted this claim on two grounds: white supremacy and paternalism.

“I take higher ground. I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good—a positive good… I may say with truth, that in few countries so much is left to the share of the laborer, and so little exacted from him, or where there is more kind attention paid to him in sickness or infirmities of age. Compare his condition with the tenants of the poor houses in the more civilized portions of Europe—look at the sick, and the old and infirm slave, on one hand, in the midst of his family and friends, under the kind superintending care of his master and mistress, and compare it with the forlorn and wretched condition of the pauper in the poorhouse… I hold then, that there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other.”

Calhoun cooperated with Jackson’s successor Martin Van Buren, who became president in 1837. Democrats were very hostile to national banks, and the country’s bankers had joined the opposition Whig Party. The Democratic replacement was the “Independent Treasury” system, which Calhoun supported and which went into effect.

Calhoun, like Jackson and Van Buren, attacked finance capitalism, which he saw as the common enemy of the Northern laborer, the Southern planter, and the small farmer everywhere. He therefore united these groups under the banner of the Democratic Party.

Van Buren’s successor was William Henry Harrison, a Whig, who died a mere month after taking office. He was succeeded by John Tyler, a former DEmocrat, who appointed Calhoun as Secretary of State in 1844. Calhoun would serve in that position for less than a year but had a huge impact on American foreign policy.

He was able to resolve  the Oregon boundary dispute, claimed by both Britain and the U.S. Calhoun compromised by splitting the area down the middle at the 49th parallel, ending the war threat.

Tyler and Calhoun, who were both Southerners, were eager to annex the independent Republic of Texas. Texas was slave country and the Southerners wished to bring Texas into the Union as a slave state. When the Senate could not muster a two-thirds vote to pass a treaty of annexation with Texas, Calhoun devised a joint resolution of the Houses of Congress, requiring only a simple majority. Texas joined the Union and war broke out with Mexico in 1846.

Meanwhile, Calhoun had resigned as Secretary of State in March 1845 and returned to the Senate in November of the same year. Calhoun by then believed that the country was threatened by a totally corrupt party system. He believed that in their lust for office, patronage and spoils, politicians in the North pandered to the antislavery vote, especially during presidential campaigns, and politicians in the slave states sacrificed Southern rights in an effort to placate the Northern wings of their parties.

He was the driving force behind the drafting and publication of the “Address of the Southern Delegates in Congress, to Their Constituents.” It listed the alleged Northern violations of the constitutional rights of the South, then warned southern voters to expect forced emancipation of slaves in the near future, followed by their complete subjugation by an unholy alliance of unprincipled Northerners and blacks, and a South forever reduced to “disorder, anarchy, poverty, misery, and wretchedness.”

By 1850, Calhoun was gravely ill with tuberculosis. During the debate over the Compromise of 1850, which Calhoun rejected, he was so ill that one of his colleagues read his speech, calling upon the Constitution, which upheld the South’s right to hold slaves; warning that the day “the balance between the two sections” was destroyed would be a day not far removed from disunion, anarchy, and civil war.

John C. Calhoun died on March 31, 1850 in Washington. He was returned to Charleston and interred in the St. Philip’s Churchyard.

 

04/25/16

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854

This entry is part 12 of 18 in the series The Roots of the Civil War

Bleeding Kansas-The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854The original intent of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was to open up the vast new territories of the West for farming. By creating a governmental infrastructure the Congress hoped that it would make a transcontinental railroad feasible. These two goals were laudable but in the writing of the bill the idea of popular sovereignty was written in the act.

What was popular sovereignty? It was the concept that allowed the voters of the moment to decide if Kansas and Nebraska would enter the Union as free states or slave states. It was to set up the conditions for a border war between supporters of slavery and Free Soilers.

Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois who wrote the bill hoped that the formula of “popular sovereignty” would ease national tensions over the issue of human bondage and that he would not have to take a side on the issue. Instead, it ignited a spark that eventually led to civil war.

Douglas was the Democratic party leader in the United States Senate, the chairman of the Committee on Territories, an avid promoter of railroads, an aspirant to the presidency, and, above all, a fervent believer in popular sovereignty.

Douglas was an early supporter of a transcontinental railroad, especially one that had its terminus in Chicago, Illinois. A bill to organize the Nebraska Territory passed the House and went to the Senate. It was taken up by the Senate’s Committee on Territories which was chaired by Douglas.

Missouri Sen. David Atchison announced that he would support the Nebraska proposal only if slaveholders were not banned from the new territory.  The Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery north of the Missouri state line. Other Southern senators were not as flexible as Atchison. By a vote of 23 to 17, the senate voted to kill the motion by tabling it with every senator from states south of Missouri voting for the tabling.

During the senate adjournment a group of senators, including Atchison,  formed the nucleus that would insist on slaveholder equality in Nebraska. Aware of their opinions and power, Douglas knew that he needed to address their concerns in order to move forward with the bill.

By the time that the bill was reported out of committee it had changed dramatically. In the new bill the territory of Nebraska was extended north all the way to the 49th parallel, and any decisions on slavery were to be made “when admitted as a state or states, the said territory, or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission.”

But the bill still presented problems for the Southern senators. Without the explicit repeal of the Missouri Compromise, slaveholders would be reluctant to move to the new territory until slavery was actually approved by the settlers, settlers who would most likely hold free-soil views.

Kentucky Whig Archibald Dixon introduced an amendment that did just that, much to Douglas’ surprise. A similar amendment was offered in Map of the United States in 1854-The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854the House to match the Senate’s version.

On January 23 a revised bill was introduced in the Senate that repealed the Missouri Compromise and divided the territory into two territories, Kansas and Nebraska. The division was the result of concerns expressed by settlers already in Nebraska as well as the senators from Iowa who were concerned with the location of the territory’s seat of government if such a large territory was created.

The reformulated bill stirred up a hornet’s nest of debate in both Houses of Congress. The Democrats held large majorities in each house, and Stephen Douglas, “a ferocious fighter, the fiercest, most ruthless, and most unscrupulous that Congress had perhaps ever known” led a tightly disciplined party. The Free Soilers were at a distinct disadvantage.

The debate would continue for four months. Douglas remained the main advocate for the bill while Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, William Seward of New York and Charles Sumner of Massachusetts led the opposition. In the end the bill passed. The final vote in favor of passage was 37 to 14. Free state senators voted 14 to 12 in favor while slave state senators overwhelmingly supported the bill 23 to 2.

The debate then moved to the House. The opponents of the bill used a delaying tactic. The legislation was referred by a vote of 110 to 95 to the Committee of the Whole, where it was the last item on the calendar. Realizing from the vote to stall that the act faced an uphill struggle, the Pierce administration made it clear to all Democrats that passage of the bill was essential to the party and would dictate how federal patronage would be handled.

The debate raged through April and into May. In the end, it passed by a 113 to 100. Northern Democrats split in favor of the bill by a narrow 44 to 42 vote, while all 45 northern Whigs opposed it. In the South, Democrats voted in favor by 57 to 2 and Whigs by 12 to 7. President Pierce signed the bill into law on May 30.

The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act would set of a border war between the pro-slavery supporters, dubbed border ruffians by opponents, and the anti-slavery “Jayhawkers“. Both groups sent settlers into Kansas in order to vote for their particular beliefs. Violence was inevitable.

04/22/16

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

This entry is part 11 of 18 in the series The Roots of the Civil War

Slaves in antebellum America-The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850The most divisive law of the antebellum period was easily the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 just as the Dred Scott decision was the most divisive court ruling. The law was passed as part of the Compromise of 1850 along with five other specific laws that attempted to maintain the balance between slave states and free states.

The act was passed by the was passed by the Senate 27-12, and by the House 109-76 on September 18, 1850. It was immediately signed by President Millard Fillmore. It was a successor to the earlier Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. That law  was written with the intention of enforcing Article 4, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, which required the return of runaway slaves.

It sought to force the authorities in free states to return fugitive slaves to their masters. But officials in Northern states used a variety of means to circumvent the earlier law. They passed “personal liberty laws“. These laws mandated a jury trial before alleged fugitive slaves could be moved and others forbade the use of local jails or the assistance of state officials in the arrest or return of alleged fugitive slaves. In some cases, juries refused to convict individuals who had been indicted under the Federal law.

The Missouri Supreme Court routinely held that voluntary transportation of slaves into free states, with the intent of residing there permanently or definitely, automatically made them free. The Fugitive Slave Law dealt with slaves who went into free states without their master’s consent. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842), that states did not have to offer aid in the hunting or recapture of slaves, greatly weakening the law of 1793.

The Southern states saw the non-cooperation of Northern states as a means of gradually bleeding away their property rights. In some cases Southern slaveholders organized raids into Northern states in order to capture fugitive slaves.

In 1847 and 1849, planters from Bourbon and Boone Counties in northern Kentucky led raids into Cass County, Michigan to recapture runaway slaves. The raids failed of their objective but strengthened Southern demands for passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850.

The Compromise of 1850 gave the Southerners in Congress the opportunity to strengthen the earlier law. The new law made any Federal marshal or other official who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave liable to a fine of $1,000 (about $28,000 in present-day value).

Law-enforcement officials everywhere now had a duty to arrest anyone suspected of being a runaway slave on no more evidence than a claimant’s sworn testimony of ownership. The suspected slave could not ask for a jury trial or testify on his or her own behalf.

In addition, the law made any person aiding a fugitive slave subject to six months’ imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. Meanwhile, officers who captured fugitive slaves were entitled to to a bonus or promotion for their work.

The opportunities for the abuse of the law were rampant. Being unable to testify in court many free blacks were captured and transported South to spend years in slavery even though they were free. The case of Solomon Northup, free-born black man from New York State is just one among many. His story was told in 12 Years a Slave, a book that he wrote after he was freed by a court in Louisiana.

In November 1850 Vermont’s  legislature approved the “Habeas Corpus Law,” requiring Vermont judicial and law enforcement officials to assist captured fugitive slaves. This law rendered the federal Fugitive Slave Act effectively unenforceable in Vermont and caused a storm of controversy nationally because it was a “nullification” of federal law, a concept that had become highly charged in debates over slavery.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court  declare the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional in 1854, as a result of a case involving fugitive slave Joshua Glover, and Sherman Booth, who led efforts that thwarted Glover’s recapture. Ultimately, in 1859 in Ableman v. Booth the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the state court.

In November 1850 Vermont’s  legislature approved the “Habeas Corpus Law,” requiring Vermont judicial and law enforcement officials to assist captured fugitive slaves. This law rendered the federal Fugitive Slave Act effectively unenforceable in Vermont and caused a storm of controversy nationally because it was a “nullification” of federal law, a concept that had become highly charged in debates over slavery.

In essence the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 made every person who aided or assisted a runaway slave into a criminal. It’s enforcement in the North brought the issue of slavery home to citizens there. Abolitionists were faced with the prospect of breaking the law or going against their personal beliefs. Uncle Tom’s Cabin written by Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1852 was one response to the law.

Abolitionists continued to aid runaway slaves and after the signing of the law Canada became a destination of choice. There the former slaves would enjoy absolute freedom without a fear of being returned to their former state of slavery.