The Jewel of Liberty

JewelLiberty

This is David Long’s book about the 1864 US Presidential Election.  Surprisingly, there have been very few books specifically dedicated to the 1864 election.  For many years, William Zornow’s Lincoln and the Party Divided was the only book around that covered that election.  If I’m not mistaken, David Long’s book is the first since Zornow’s book to cover this election.  In the Preface, Professor Long tells us, “Professor Zornow and most historians of his generation portrayed slavery as unimportant in bringing about the conflict and emancipation as an accidental and not-so-important result.  Later historians have challenged this interpretation.  Slavery brought the conflict on (no other sectional issue would have caused the war); it could not long be kept from dominating the military and political policies of both sides.  The war was fought almost exclusively in the South and slavery was omnipresent there.  Despite ambivalent and racist feelings about slaves, most Northerners could see how the nearly four million slaves would either assist the rebellion or help to destroy it.  Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was the overarching political act of the war; in addition to guaranteeing that Britain would remain neutral in the conflict, it inspired more opposition to Lincoln and the Republicans than any other act or event.  It dominated discussion of the war, its goals, and what the country would be like afterward.” [pp. xvii-xviii]

The central theme running through the book is how Lincoln was the central figure in ending slavery in the United States, and how his re-election sealed the fate of slavery.  He tells us, “Lincoln continued to push his plan for gradual compensated emancipation in the border states to be followed by colonization.  On March 6, 1862, he asked Congress to consider this measure:  ‘Resolved that the United States ought to cooperate with any state which may adopt gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such state pecuniary aid, to be used by such state in its discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences public and private, produced by such change of system.’  This was the first emancipation proposal ever submitted to Congress by a president, and it created a sensation. … Three times between March and July, the president met with border state congressmen to urge them to endorse his program.  At their last meeting on July 12, he warned them that it was now impossible to restore the Union with slavery intact and that his plan was the only alternative to a more drastic move against slavery.  He listened in disbelief as they claimed the plan would cost too much, that it would only whip the flames of rebellion, that Congress lacked the constitutional authority to compensate slaveholders, and that it would cause dangerous discontent within their states.  Lincoln had learned that even loyal slaveholders would never voluntarily give up slavery.  If abolition was to be realized, he would have to act himself.” [p. 10]  He also tells us about additional measures Lincoln took against slavery in 1862.  “On April 8 the United States joined in a treaty for greater suppression of the international slave trade; on April 13 Lincoln approved a new article of war prohibiting the return of fugitive slaves; and on April 16 he signed the bill for the abolition of slavery in the nation’s capital, which recognized and applied the principles of compensation and colonization that he had encouraged. … A few months later, he signed a measure establishing diplomatic relations with Haiti and Liberia as well as a bill abolishing slavery in the territories.” [p. 13]  On July 22, Lincoln revealed his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet, heeding William H. Seward’s advice to hold onto it until he could announce it with a Union victory.  In the meantime, he kept it secret.  “On September 13, two Protestant ministers representing ‘Chicago Christians of all denominations’ called on Lincoln at the White House.  Only a week earlier, as the nation was still recovering from the defeat at Second Bull Run, Lee had led his army into Western Maryland.  Now a rebel army was on Union soil, less than two days’ march from the capital.  It was the darkest moment of the war thus far and Lincoln immediately had to find a commander to drive Lee back into Virginia.  To the dismay of many Republican congressmen, Cabinet members, and Republican newspaper editors, he reaffirmed McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac. … The clergymen presented him with a memorial calling on him to emancipate the slaves.  Lincoln responded that religious men of opposite opinions and advice, all purporting to represent divine will, had been approaching him for months claiming to know the proper course to take on slavery.  ‘I am sure that either the one or the other class is mistaken in that belief, and perhaps in some respect both … for, unless I am more deceived in myself than I often am, it is my earnest desire to know the will of Providence in this matter. … What good would a proclamation of emancipation from me do, especially as we are now situated?  I do not want to issue a document that the whole world will see must necessarily be inoperative, like the Pope’s bull against the comet!  Would my word free the slaves, when I cannot even enforce the Constitution in the rebel states?’ ” [pp. 17-18]  After the battle of Antietam, Lincoln issued his proclamation.

Professor Long’s approach to the Radical Republicans differs from Zornow’s approach to them.  Where Zornow saw them more as an enemy, and an argument might be made that he considered them more of an enemy to Lincoln than the rebels, Long has a different view.  First, he defines who they were.  “The wartime and early postwar activities of the Republican Party revolved around a constant rivalry between two wings.  The more active and controversial wing contained the Radicals, also known as Jacobins, Ultras, Vindictives, Unconditionals, and Liberals.  Historian T. Harry Williams described them as ‘aggressive, vindictive, and narrowly sectional’ for their frequent stands for social reform, especially their opposition to slavery and their determination to prevent its spread to any new territory.  Their vehemence caused them to be dubbed as Radicals.  During the war, ‘they advocated complete emancipation and vigorous prosecution of the war,’ with the official acknowledgement that ‘slavery was at the root of the conflict’ and therefore justified ‘the confiscation of so-called ‘rebel’ property and the employment of Negro troops.’  Radicals had no official organizational status and they differed widely on numerous matters, but once the war came, they closed ranks on the issue of immediate and uncompensated emancipation.  They distrusted generals who were Democrats, who did not aggressively carry the war to the rebels, or who disagreed with them on slavery.  Some of them welcomed the war as enthusiastically as the Southern fire-eaters, and saw it as the only way to destroy slavery.  In pursuit of this, they jealously sought to control government and military policy and to a significant degree they succeeded.  Though they never were a majority in either chamber of Congress, they played a major role in shaping and implementing government policy during the war.” [p. 21]  He tells us that “Non-Radicals were even less monolithic than their Radical contemporaries.  They believed the war was being fought primarily to save the Union and that consideration should shape wartime policies.  They agreed that slavery was morally wrong and resisted its extension, but they were reluctant to tamper with it unless abolition would directly influence the salvation of the Union.  They believed any attack on slavery should involve the voluntary participation of slave states, particularly those that did not secede, and they preferred gradual, compensated emancipation followed by colonization of the freed slaves outside the United States.” [p. 22]  The Radicals included Charles Sumner, Ben Wade, Zachariah Chandler, and Lyman Trumbull in the Senate, among others, and Thaddeus Stevens, George Julian, Owen Lovejoy, James Ashley, George Boutwell, and Henry Winter Davis, among others, in the House of Representatives.  Unlike Zarnow, Long tells us that “Lincoln often sympathized with the Radicals and admired them as the genuine patriots and freedom fighters of the Civil War.” [p. 23]  He said to John Hay, “I know these Radical men have in them the stuff which must save the State and on which we must rely.  If one side must be crushed out & the other cherished, there could be no doubt which side we would choose as fuller of hope for the future.  We would have to side with the Radicals.” [p. 23]  Long describes the road Lincoln took to the nomination, focusing on the role of slavery as well.  The 1864 Union Party convention was held in Baltimore in June of that year.  “The first major issue arose when, in the opening address, Senator Edwin D. Morgan of New York called for a constitutional amendment prohibiting slavery.  This was greeted by applause and cheering.  Lincoln had suggested the amendment to Morgan several days before the convention. … Lincoln was nominated on the first ballot, 484 to 22.” [p. 38]

Long next describes the situation on the Democratic side.  “After the Southern senators and representatives departed, fewer than one-fourth of each house were Democrats.  In 1861, they lacked the political strength to form even a loyal opposition.  Moreover, the Democrats were without a prominent national leader.” [p. 39]  This is because the most prominent loyal Democrat, Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, died June 3, 1861.  Other prominent Democrats who had remained loyal had become Republicans, had retired, or had died.  Like the Republicans, the Democrats were also divided into two wings:  Peace Democrats and War Democrats.  “Even within these two groups, there were splits, prominently among the War Democrats, a number of whom formed coalitions with the Republicans.  Many other Democrats supported the administration’s war effort but differed sharply on racial policy, confiscation, conscription, suppression of civil rights, economic and fiscal policies, and Reconstruction.  The War Democrats who did not align with the Republicans represented the party’s best hope to unseat the majority party which they felt was mishandling the war.  Willing to prosecute the war to restore the Union, these Democrats readily denounced the Republicans for their revolutionary racial policy, bungling of military operations, and the suppression of constitutional rights.  This group has generally been referred to as the Regular Democrats or as Conditional War Democrats.  Regular Democrats rejected any coalition with the despised Republicans and attempted to re-establish the traditional Democratic majority minus members who had entered into a Union coalition.  However, Regular Democrats had little opportunity to woo back Union Democrats because a third faction threatened the party’s existence.  As the party had grown and assumed a dominant role in politics, one branch of the family tree had developed in an aberrant manner.  While the various schools of free-state Democrats had branched separately, all generally accepted the perpetuity of the Union and the illegality of secession–all save one.  They were known as Doughfaces before the war–Northern men with Southern sympathies–and Copperheads during the war because they were compared to the deadly snake.  This group was based largely in the Ohio River Valley of the Midwest and most members had Southern roots.  They strongly sympathized with the South’s racial policy and assumed a right of secession, or at least they opposed forceful suppression of the rebellion. … Peace Democrats ranged from the fifth columnists of the Knights of the Golden Circle and the Sons of Liberty to vehement vocal opponents of the war and administration.  They were not limited to the Midwest; they also were active in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New England.   Still, they were strongest among Midwesterners, who had shared social and economic interests with the South before the war.” [pp. 40-41]  Peace Democrats, generally had little influence on a national level from the standpoint of leadership of the Democratic Party.  “There were many Northern newspapers that, if not outright pro-Southern, were opposed to the war as a means of restoring the Union.  Since few Northern newspapers were actually suspended during the war, editors largely said what they wanted.  Because newspapers were the major source of news beyond word of mouth, they were widely read and tremendously influential on public opinion. … Perhaps the most virulently anti-Lincoln, anti-war, pro-slavery newspaper of the North was the weekly Columbus (Ohio) Crisis, published by Samuel Medary, an elderly but fanatical pacifist, Quaker, and Democrat.  In Pennsylvania, the Jeffersonian was the most blatant and pro-slavery Copperhead journal, and the Philadelphia Age was a consistent and partisan opponent of the administration and the war effort.  In Michigan, the Detroit Free Press was the leading newspaper of the Peace Democracy, and no Northern newspaper engaged in more rhetorical abuse of the administration than the La Crosse (Wisconsin) Democrat, whose editor once expressed a willingness to himself assassinate Lincoln.  In New York City the Freeman’s Journal, the Daily News, the Journal of Commerce, and the Weekly Day-Book were all organs of Peace Democrats.” [pp. 42-43]

Professor Long discusses political events from 1862 to 1864, concentrating again for the most part on issues related to slavery, including Lincoln’s defense of the Emancipation Proclamation.  He also brings in the controversy over conscription as an issue between the two parties.  He devotes some pages to discussing the case of Clement Vallandigham of Ohio, including his arrest and banishment to the confederacy, and Lincoln’s defense of administration actions in his famous letter to Erastus Corning.  Long also discusses Lincoln’s letter to James Conkling defending his emancipation policy and his use of black soldiers.

The book does has some minor problems.  On page 198 he tells us that the Army of the Potomac was under the “nominal command of Major General Gordon Wade.”  On page 200 he repeats the myth that at Cold Harbor 7,000 Union soldiers were casualties in less than ten minutes, though to be fair this book was published before Gordon Rhea’s excellent work on the Overland Campaign.  On page 208 he says that John Bell Hood launched the attack at Ezra Church on July 28 when in fact that attack was not what he wanted and was launched by Stephen D. Lee, against Hood’s instructions.  These minor errors, though, really don’t detract from the book’s analytical strengths.

This was an excellent story of Lincoln’s re-election, though I think he could have focused somewhat less on the slavery issue and somewhat more on the loyal states’ political machinations during the election.  I’m not saying he ignored them, but I would have liked to have seen more of it.  All in all, though, I highly recommend this book.  It’s one of the better books discussing the election.

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6 comments

  1. Bob Nelson · · Reply

    I’ll definitely put this on my “wish list” for Christmas. Any more that you or others here might recommend? Something slightly different than the usual bios, military campaigns, generals or battles. She is expecting a list from me. Help!!!

    1. Scroll down to the Categories section on the right side of the blog page and click on “Books.” That will show you all the posts about books I’ve done. Some of those might pique your interest.

  2. Bob Nelson · · Reply

    Which would you more highly recommend? This one or John Waugh’s “Reelecting Lincoln?”

    1. It depends on what you’re looking for. Waugh’s book was a more enjoyable read, but Long’s book is better historical analysis.

  3. jfepperson · · Reply

    I’ve read this book. Brooks is very “down” on it and the author for the unsubstantiated claim that the results of Cold Harbor were withheld for political purposes. There’s a book by John Waugh, “Re-electing Lincoln,” that is supposed to be much better. I have it, but it is so far unread.

    1. I see where he says the Democratic Press, whom one would expect would play up the losses, hardly mentioned it for over a week. The principal reporter was captured by confederates, two others were sick, and there were telegraph problems caused by the weather. He speculates that some Democrat reporters may have left to attend the Union Party nominating convention. He says that southern newspapers speculated withholding information for political reasons. I see speculation from Long as well, but I don’t read it as coming out and declaring it so. Waugh’s book is a better read, but I don’t think it’s better from the standpoint of historical analysis.

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