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Table 14.3 Presidential Vote in 1860 (by State)
Breckinridge (Southern Democrat)
Carried all northern statts and j11 electot j! u>u.s eveepi $ in Niw Jetsev Carried all slave states except \ tigtnu, kentutkv, Lnmsste.
Bell (Constitutional L'ruon) Carried Virginia, Kcnuiiky, Tennessee Douglas (Northern Democrat) Carried only Missouri
Lincoln received only 26.000 votes in the entire South and was not even on the billot in ten slave state, s lireckinridge wa& not on the ballot in ihree northern states.
Chapter 14 Slavery and America's Future: The Road to War, 1845-1861
cornrnitted Republicans—antislavery voters and "conscience Whigs"—were adamant for free soil. Lincoln chose to stand firm against slavery's extension.
In the winter of 1860-1861, southern leaders in the Senate were willing, conditionally, to accept a compromise drawn up by Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky. Hoping to don the mantle of Henry Clay and avert disunion, Crittenden proposed that the two sections divide the territories between them at latitude 36°30'. But the southerners would agree to this only if the Republicans did, too, for they wanted no less and knew that extremists in the South would demand much more. When Lincoln ruled out concessions on the territorial issue, Crittenden's peacemaking effort, based on old and discredited measures, collapsed.
Meanwhile, the Union was being destroyed. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina passed an ordinance of secession amid jubilation and cheering. This
On February 18,1861, in Montgomery, Alabama, Jefferson Davis took an oath as president of the Confederate States of America. Davis later recalled that he foresaw "troubles innumerable" but was committed to seek independence as his paramount goal. (Boston Athenaeum)
step marked the inaugural success of a strategy favored by secessionists: separate-state secession. Recognizing the difficulty of persuading all the southern states to challenge the federal government simultaneously, secessionists concentrated their efforts on the most extreme proslavery state. They hoped South Carolina's secession would induce other states to follow, with each decision building momentum for disunion.
The strategy proved effective. By reclaiming its independence, South Carolina raised the stakes in the sectional confrontation. No longer was secession an unthinkable step; the Union was broken. Secessionists now argued that other states should follow South Carolina and that those who favored compromise could make a better deal outside the Union than in it. Moderates found it difficult to dismiss such arguments, since most of them—even those who felt deep affection for the Union—were committed to defending southern rights and the southern way of life.
Southern extremists soon got their way in the Deep South. Overwhelming their opposition, they called separate state conventions and passed secession ordinances in Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. By February 1861 these states had joined South Carolina to form a new government in Montgomery, Alabama: the Confederate States of America. The delegates at Montgomery chose Jefferson Davis as their president, and the Confederacy began to function independently of the United States.
This apparent unanimity of action was deceiving. Confused and dissatisfied with the alternatives, many southerners who in 1860 had voted in the U.S. presidential election stayed home a few months later rather than vote for delegates who would decide on secession. Even so, in some state conventions the vote to secede was close, with secession decided by overrepresenta-tion of plantation districts. Furthermore, the conventions were noticeably unwilling to let voters ratify their acts. Four states in the Upper South—Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas—flatly rejected secession and did not join the Confederacy until after fighting had begun. In the border states, popular sentiment was deeply divided; minorities in Kentucky and Missouri tried to secede, but these slave states ultimately came under Union control, along with Maryland and Delaware (see Map 14.4).
Such misgivings were not surprising. Secession posed new and troubling issues for southerners, espe-
The Confederate States of America
Tbiiitoiii's iri'le' U." or ^ontiol j 1 Territories aligned with the Confederacy
Percentages of blacks in the total population are shown for each state. States with less than 1 % of blacks are shown as<] %..
Map 14.4 The Divided Nation—Slave and Free Areas, 1861 After fighting began, the Upper South joined the Deep South in the Confederacy. How does the nation's pattern of division correspond to the distribution of slavery and the percentage of blacks in the population?
cially the possibility of war, where it would be fought, and who would die. Analysis of election returns from 1860 and 1861 indicates that slaveholders and non-slaveholders were beginning to part company politically. Heavily slaveholding counties strongly supported secession. But nonslaveholding areas that had favored Breckinridge in the presidential election proved far less willing to support secession: most counties with few slaves took an antisecession position or were staunchly Unionist (see Figure 14.1). Large numbers of yeomen also sat out the election. With war on the horizon, non-slaveholders were beginning to consider their class interests and to ask themselves how far they would go to support slavery and slaveowners.
After Alabama's convention approved secession, one delegate wrote: "Here I set & from my window see the nasty little thing [flag] flaunting in the breeze which has taken the place of that glorious banner which has been the pride of millions of Americans and the boast of freemen the wide world over." Although such sentiments presented problems for the Confederacy, they were not sufficiently developed to prevent secession.
The dilemma facing President Lincoln on inauguration day in March 1861 was how to maintain the authority of the federal government
ITTTir^T™"'"TT without provoking war. Proceeding Fort Sumter and . , , , , _ , ,,
Outbreak of War cautlousv' e sough* onryto hoi" on to forts in the states that had left the
Union, reasoning that in this way he could assert federal sovereignty while waiting for a restoration of relations. But Jefferson Davis, who could not claim to lead a sovereign nation if the Confederate ports were under foreign (that is, United States) control, was unwilling to be so patient. A collision was inevitable.
It arrived in the early morning hours of April 12, 1861, at Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. A federal garrison there ran low on food, and Lincoln notified the South Carolinians that he was sending a ship to re-supply the fort. For the Montgomery government, the alternatives were to attack the fort or to acquiesce to Lincoln's authority. After the Confederate cabinet met, the secretary of war ordered local commanders to obtain a surrender or attack the fort. After two days of
Chapter 14 Slavery and America's Future: The Road to War, 1845-1861
m 40 o
CD D) CO
for Breckenridge, 1860 for Secession, 1861
Alabama Georgia Louisiana Mississippi North Carolina Tennessee
Figure 14.1 Voting Returns of Counties with Few Slaveholders, Eight Southern States, 1860 and 1861 This graph depicts voting in counties whose percentage of slaveholders ranked them among the lower half of the counties in their state. How does voters' support for secession in 1861 compare with support for John Breckinridge, the southern Democratic candidate in 1860? Why was their support for secession so weak? At this time counties with many slaveholders were giving increased support to secession.
heavy bombardment, the federal garrison finally surrendered. No one died in battle, though an accident during postbattle ceremonies killed two Union soldiers. Confederates permitted the U.S. troops to sail away on unarmed vessels while Charlestonians celebrated wildly. The Civil War—the bloodiest war in America's history—had begun.
Throughout the 1840s and 1850s many able leaders had worked diligently to avert this outcome. Most people, North and South, had hoped to keep the nation together. As late as 1858 even Jefferson Davis had declared, "This great country will continue united," saying that "to the innermost fibers of my heart I love it all, and every part." Secession dismayed northern editors and voters, and it also plunged some planters into depression. Paul Cameron, the largest slaveowner in North Carolina, confessed that he was "very unhappy. I love the Union." Many blacks, however, shared Frederick Douglass's outlook. "The contest must now be decided," he wrote in March 1861, "and decided forever, which of the two, Freedom or Slavery, shall give law to this Republic. Let the conflict come."
Why had war broken out? Why had all efforts to prevent it failed? The conflict slavery generated was fundamental and beyond adjustment. The emotions bound up in attacking and defending it were too powerful, and the interests it affected too vital, for compromise. Because it was deeply entwined with major policy questions of the present and the foreseeable future, each section ultimately regarded slavery as too important to be put aside.
Even if one excludes extreme views, North and South had fundamentally different attitudes toward the institution. The logic of Republican ideology tended in the direction of abolishing slavery, even though Republicans denied any such intention. The logic of southern arguments led toward establishing slavery everywhere, though southern leaders too denied such a motive. Lincoln put these facts succinctly. In a postelection letter to his old friend Alexander Stephens of Georgia, soon to be vice president of the Confederacy, Lincoln offered assurance that Republi
cans would not attack slavery in the states where it existed. But Lincoln continued, "You think slavery is right and ought to be expanded; while we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted. That I suppose is the rub."
A nation may face unresolvable issues yet manage to get past them. New events can capture people's attention; time can alter interests and attitudes—this is why historians always remind us of the importance of "contingency" in human affairs. That is precisely what the advocates of compromise hoped for. They tried to contain conflict and buy time for the nation, to avoid issues that could not be settled, and to preserve areas of consensus among Americans. But their efforts were doomed to failure.
Territorial expansion generated disputes so frequently that the nation never enjoyed a breathing space. Every southern victory increased fear of the Slave Power, and each new expression of Free-Soil sentiment made alarmed slaveholders more insistent in their demands. Eventually even those opposed to war could see no way to avoid it. In the profoundest sense, slavery was the root of the war. But as the fighting began, this, the war's central issue, was shrouded in confusion. How would the Civil War affect slavery, its place in the law, and African Americans' place in society? Would the institution survive a short war, but not a long war? As a people and a nation, Americans had reached the most fateful turning point in their history. Answers would now come from the battlefield and from the mobilization of two societies to wage war on a scale they had not imagined.
i, f. /■. y i':.'. iV.*1- ) ■■'„•■;-; jHJ s r-i *j
The greatest significance of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 rests in its long aftermath in American memory. "Men consented to his death," wrote Frederick Douglass of Brown, "and then went home and taught their children to honor his memory." Brown is as important as a symbol as he is for his deeds. He has been at once one of the most beloved and most loathed figures in American history. In the song that bears his name, "John Brown's Body," a popular marching tune during the Civil War, his "soul goes marching on." As the poet Stephen Vincent Benet wrote: "You can weigh John Brown's body well enough, / But how and in what balance weigh John Brown?"
In the wake of his execution, in painting, song, and poetry, people constructed a John Brown mythology. Was he the Christ-like figure who died for the nation's sins, who had to commit crimes in order to expose the nation's larger crime? Or was he the terrorist thief, who murdered in the name of his own peculiar vision of God's will? Brown can be disturbing and inspiring, majestic and foolish, a monster or a warrior saint. He represented the highest ideals and ruthless deeds. He killed for justice. Perhaps Brown was one of the avengers of history who does the work the rest of us won't, couldn't, or shouldn't.
Brown forces us to ask when and how revolutionary violence—violence in the name of a political or spiritual end—is justified. The 1850s and the turn of the twenty-first century are two different contexts. But in today's world, terrorist, revolutionary violence is commonplace in our weekly news: an airliner is blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland; buses are strafed in Jerusalem; a federal building explodes in Oklahoma City; the Irish Republican Army plants bombs in London subways; American embassies are attacked in Africa and Europe—a truck bomb here, a car bomb there. Many organizations over the years have adopted John Brown as their justifying symbol, from left-wing students opposing American foreign policy to current anti-abortion groups who target clinics and doctors. The story of John Brown's raid in 1859 forces us to confront the question of when revolutionary violence is right or wrong.
For Further Reading, see page A-17 of the Appendix. For Web resources, go to http://college.hmco.com.
was an ordinary twenty-seven-year-old store clerk from a New England town. But he went off, as though directed by a manly compass, to seek the extraordinary experiences of comradeship and war. In the spring of 1861, Charles Brewster, a member of a militia unit in Northampton, Massachusetts, left his mother and two sisters behind and joined Company C of the Tenth Massachusetts Volunteers. At that moment, Brewster had no idea of his capacity for leadership or his ability to uphold such values as courage and manliness. But the war released him from the boredom and failure of his life.
On April 18, only three days after the surrender of Fort Sumter, a mustering of Company C turned into a large public rally where forty new men enlisted. By April 24 seventy-five Northampton women committed their labor to sew uniforms for the company. Some women worked at home, while others sewed in the town hall. Local poets came to the armory to recite patriotic verses to the would-be soldiers. Yesterday farmers, clerks, and mechanics, today they were the heroes who would "whip secesh." By June 10, after weeks of drilling, Brewster's company attended a farewell ball, and four days later they strode down Main Street amid a cheering throng of spectators. Flags waved everywhere, several brass bands competed, and Brewster and his company boarded a train going south. En route the soldiers continued the joyous fervor of the day by singing "patriotic airs" to the accompaniment of a lone accordion.
Before their three-year enlistment ended, the Tenth Massachusetts participated in nearly every major battle fought by the Army of the Potomac from early 1862 to the summer of 1864. When the survivors of the Tenth were mustered out, only 220 of the nearly 1,000 in the original regiment were still on active duty. Their summer outing had transformed into the bloodiest war in history. They had seen thousands die of disease, practiced war upon civilians and the southern landscape, and loyally served the cause as variously defined, trying their best to fulfill their communities' expectations. In more than two hundred sometimes
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