Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Gideon J. Pillow: The Prequel

When I think of Gideon Johnson Pillow, the first image that comes to mind is that of the inept and cowardly bungler who wasted an opportunity to extricate his troops from Fort Donelson in February 1862, then fled in the middle of the night, abandoning them to their fate. Somewhat earlier, during the Mexican War, he had played an unsavory role in an attempt to discredit General Winfield Scott (referenced in the illustration below). It is interesting, therefore, to run across an event that shows Pillow in a more flattering light.

That episode was the Democratic presidential nominating convention of 1844. By way of brief background, Whig William Henry Harrison had defeated Democrat Martin Van Buren of New York in the 1840 election. Nonetheless, Van Buren remained the favorite to recapture the Democratic nomination in 1844. Despite misgivings among some southerners about Van Buren's commitment to slavery, and general nervousness about Van Buren's association with the Panic of 1837, the former president went into the convention with a majority of delegates committed to him.

Then, shortly before the convention, Van Buren made what proved to be a dramatic misstep. On April 27, 1844, the chief Democratic organ, Francis Preston Blair's Washington Globe published Van Buren's letter setting forth his position on the Texas annexation issue that exploded on the country when outgoing president John Tyler sent a proposed treaty to the Senate for ratification on April 22. In lawyerly and obscure prose full of caveats and hedges, Van Buren came out against annexation. In doing so he defied the wishes of his political ally and mentor Andrew Jackson and a groundswell of support for annexation among southern Democrats in particular.

James Knox Polk had been a firm supporter of Van Buren's renomination. Even after Van Buren's letter on annexation was published, Van Buren remained committed to the Little Magician, if only because Polk disliked Van Buren's principal competition, Lewis Cass of Michigan. In the run-up to the election, Polk positioned himself as a possible vice presidential running mate for Van Buren. However, it also belatedly occurred to Polk and his advisors – including former president Andrew Jackson – that Polk might somehow emerge as a contender for the presidential nomination if the convention deadlocked.

The Democratic convention was scheduled to open in Baltimore on Monday May 27, 1844. Polk would remain at his Tennessee plantation while the convention took place. Given the slowness of communications, Polk would be unable to influence events himself at the convention – he could not even know what was occurring on the first day until after the convention had adjourned. As a result, it was imperative that he have a skilled political operative present to manage his twin campaigns.

Enter Gideon J. Pillow. Pillow, then 37 years of age, was “one of Tennessee's most brilliant legal practitioners” who had earned Polk's lifelong gratitude and trust by saving Polk's brother from a long prison term in what seemed to be an open-and-shut case. He had enhanced his social and political prestige by becoming adjutant general in the Tennessee militia. Polk designated Pillow as his point person at the convention. As Polk explained to one of his lieutenants, Cave Johnson, before the convention:
“You will find Pillow . . . a most efficient and energetic man.” . . . “Whatever is desired to be done, communicate to Genl. Pillow. He is one of the shrewdest men you ever knew, and can execute whatever is resolved on with as much success as any man who will be at Baltimore. . . . He is perfectly reliable, is a warm friend of V.B.'s [Martin Van Buren], and is my friend, and you can do so with entire safety."

In his book, A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, The Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent (from which this account is derived), Robert W. Merry describes Pillow's assignment as follows:
Gideon Pillow would be Polk's pivot man in Baltimore, the Tennessee delegate who would assess the scene, size up the players, identify the opportunities, and execute the plans that emerged from the chaos. . . [Other Polk associates] would be on the scene as well, gathering intelligence and helping in the effort. But Pillow would be the field commander.

The task that Pillow was assigned to carry out was not an easy one. On the one hand, he had to position Polk and the Tennessee delegation as loyal to Van Buren, but without alienating other factions, to maximize Polk's chances for the vice-presidential nomination. On the other hand, he had to develop and implement a strategy to bring Polk forward as a possible compromise candidate for the presidency itself – something that had never been done before at that point – again, without raising the ire of other party leaders and their factions.

In fact, Pillow accomplished these goals with great skill. As the convention moved toward deadlock between Van Buren and Cass, Pillow kept the fractious Tennessee delegates solidly in line behind Van Buren At the same time, Pillow carefully buttonholed key leaders to suggest Polk as the solution. Working primarily through Massachusetts delegate George Bancroft and New Hampshire delegates Henry Carroll (editor of the Concord New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette) and governor Henry Hubbard, Pillow suggested that any movement toward Polk had to be initiated by northern delegates. If a Polk boomlet appeared in the north, then, Pillow indicated, he would see to it that southern delegations joined it.

Pillow put his plan into motion after the seventh ballot. On the eighth ballot, New Hampshire announced its six votes for Polk, and shortly thereafter Massachusetts added seven more. Tennessee declared that it had not come to the convention to press the nomination of its favorite son, but now that it appeared that he had the enthusiastic support of other states it would cast its votes for him as well. By the end of the roll call, Polk had forty-four votes.

And that was enough. The next ballot, the ninth, was also the last. Virginia, which had loyally adhered to Van Buren through eight ballots, announced that it was switching its votes to Polk. Van Buren's lieutenant, Benjamin Franklin Butler of New York (no, not that Benjamin Franklin Butler), then withdrew Van Buren's name from nomination and announced that he would vote for Polk, who fully met, he said, “the Jeffersonian standard of qualification.”
When all but one of New York's thirty-six delegates also went for Polk, the rush was on. One after another, delegation leaders rose to cast full delegation support to James K. Polk, often adding warm praise for the man or directing piquant invective at Henry Clay [the Whig nominee]. By the time it was over, around two o'clock in the afternoon [on Friday May 31, 1844], every delegate had cast his vote for James Polk, and the Tennessean was declared the unanimous choice of the Democratic convention.

About the illustration:
American general Gideon J. Pillow's self-promoting attempts to discredit Mexican War commander Gen. Winfield Scott are ridiculed in this portrayal of Scott puncturing "Polk's Patent" pillow. Pillow's efforts were widely viewed as part of a campaign by the Polk administration to damage Scott's growing prestige at home. An anonymous letter--actually written by Pillow--published in the "New Orleans Delta" on September 10, 1847, and signed "Leonidas," wrongfully credited Pillow for recent American victories at Churubusco and Contreras. The battles were actually won by Scott. When Pillow's intrigue was exposed, he was arrested by Scott and held for a court-martial. Polk, defensive of Pillow, recalled Scott to Washington. During the trial that ensued, "Delta" correspondent James L. Freaner testified in Scott's favor. At Pillow's behest Maj. Archibald W. Burns, a paymaster, claimed authorship of the "Leonidas" letter. Currier's cartoon was probably published during or shortly after Pillow's trial, which began in March 1848. With the sword of "Truth," Scott (right) punctures a pillow held by Burns (left) and which is being inflated by Pillow (kneeling, center). Scott holds Freaner's testimony in his hand and treads on the Leonidas letter. He exclaims at the air released, "Heavens what a smell!" At left, behind Burns is a strong box on which rests a sack of coins, marked "From Genl. Pillow for fathering the Leonidas Letter."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

John Quincy Adams in the News!

From a recent Slate article, Saying No to Obama:
Praising and admiring Obama are still common, but raising doubts about him, even scoffing at him, is now becoming fashionable. Although he is still popular among Europeans and more popular with Muslims than his despised predecessor, Obama is being tagged with the unflattering label John Quincy Adams earned before he lost the 1828 election: "Adams can write, Jackson can fight."

The only problem is, the comparison is unfair to Adams. Quinzy may not have been a military man but he was one tough S.O.B. when it came to defending American interests and values. He was an aggressive negotiator who obtained significant concessions from America's adversaries (e.g., the Treaty of Ghent and the Adams-Onis Treaty). He was the author of the Monroe Doctrine. He was the only member of James Madison's cabinet who initially defended Andrew Jackson's aggressive and possibly unauthorized 1818 incursion into Spanish Florida and his execution of two British nationals there. And later in his career he was a relentless foe of the Slave Power and its Gag Rule.

Adams's willingness to stand up to America's adversaries and refusal to kowtow to foreign powers makes him look a lot more like George W. Bush - and nothing like Obama.

About the illustration:
A satire on enforcement of the "gag-rule" in the House of Representatives, prohibiting discussion of the question of slavery. Growing antislavery sentiment in the North coincided with increased resentment by southern congressmen of such discussion as meddlesome and insulting to their constituencies. The print may relate to John Quincy Adams's opposition to passage of the resolution in 1838, or (more likely) to his continued frustration in attempting to force the slavery issue through presentation of northern constituents' petitions in 1839. In December 1839 a new "gag rule" was passed by the House forbidding debate, reading, printing of, or even reference to any petition on the subject of abolition. Here Adams cowers prostrate on a pile composed of petitions, a copy of the abolitionist newspaper the "Emancipator," and a resolution to recognize Haiti. He says "I cannot stand Thomson's [sic] frown." South Carolina representative Waddy Thompson, Jr., a Whig defender of slavery, glowers at him from behind a sack and two casks, saying "Sir the South loses caste whenever she suffers this subject to be discussed here; it must be indignantly frowned down." Two blacks crouch behind Thompson, one saying "de dem Bobolishn is down flat!" Weitenkampf cites an impression with an imprint naming Robinson as printer and publisher, this line being apparently trimmed from the Library's impression. The drawing style and handling of the figures strongly suggest that "Abolition Frowned Down" is by the same Robinson artist as the anonymous "Called to Account" and "Symptoms of a Duel" (nos. 1839-10 and -11).

H/T Instapundit.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Kansas-Nebraska Act Makes the News!

One of my favorite political commentators, Michael Barone, compares the odious Obamacare legislation to the Kansas-Nebraska Act:
It's time to blow the whistle on two erroneous statements that opponents and proponents of the health care legislation being jammed through Congress have been making. Republicans have been saying that never before has Congress passed such an unpopular bill with such important ramifications by such a narrow majority. Barack Obama has been saying that passage of the bill will mean that the health care issue will be settled once and for all.

The Republicans and Obama are both wrong. But perhaps they can be forgiven because the precedent for Congress passing an unpopular bill is an old one, and the issue it addressed has long been settled, though not by the legislation in question.

That legislation was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Its lead sponsor was Stephen A. Douglas, at 41 in his eighth year as senator from Illinois, the most dynamic leader of a Democratic Party that had won the previous presidential election by 254 electoral votes to 42.

ADDENDUM: Scott Johnson at Powerline points out that the Claremont Review of Books had made available Harry Jaffa's essay entitled Lincoln in Peoria in light of Barone's column.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The South Carolina Secession Convention

One hundred forty nine ago today – on December 20, 1860 – the state of South Carolina seceded from the Union.

The secession convention opened in Columbia, South Carolina on December 17, 1860, but by then the game was already over. The election of delegates on December 6 had rejected those few candidates who dared to run as Cooperationists. William W. Freehling describes the victors:

[The delegates] were the cream of their world. Ninety percent of them owned at least one slave; over 60 percent owned at least twenty; over 40 percent owned fifty or more; and 16 percent owned a hundred or more. No other southern secession convention would approach this mass of wealth, unknowingly stepping toward class suicide.

The Convention remained in Columbia only one day. Early on the morning of December 18, the delegates entrained for Charleston in order to avoid a smallpox scare in Columbia. Before leaving, however, they unanimously passed a pledge to secede upon arrival in Charleston.

The “imminent suicides,” in Prof. Freehling's phrase, kept their pledge. As the Charleston Mercury recounted the next day,
On yesterday, the 20th of December, 1860, just before one o'clock, p.m., the Ordinance of secession was presented by the Committee on "the Ordinance," to the Convention of the people of South Carolina. Precisely at seven minutes after one o'clock, the vote was taken upon the Ordinance - each man's name being called in order. As name by name fell upon the ear of the silent assembly, the brief sound was echoed back, without one solitary exception in that whole grave body - Aye!

At 1:15 o'clock, p.m. - the last name was called, the Ordinance of Secession was announced to have been passed, and the last fetter had fallen from the limbs of a brave, but too long oppressed people.

The unanimous vote was taken behind closed doors at St. Andrew's Hall. Soon, however, the vote was publicly announced to “loud shouts of joy” and cannon fire. The convention voted to adjourn for a ceremonial signing that evening at Charleston's Institute Hall, where the Democratic Party had, fatefully, met and torn itself apart eight months earlier:

But before the Great Seal of the State was affixed to the Ordinance of Secession, and the names of the Delegates to the Convention were signed, it was proposed that this ceremony should be postponed until 7 o'clock that evening; when the Convention should reassemble and move in procession from the St. Andrew's Hall, where they then sat, to the great Secession Hall; and that there, before the assembled citizens of the State, the Great Seal of the State should be set, and each signature made. The proposition was favorably received.

Re-assembling at 6:30 p.m., the delegates “formed in procession and moved forward in silence to Secession [Institute] Hall,” which was filled to overflowing with some three thousand rapturous spectators. What it most striking about the Mercury account is the overt religious symbolism. The delegates are Old Testament patriarchs, the Secession Ordinance the Ten Tablets, the act of secession the deliverance of a long-suffering people into the Promised Land:

The Convention was called to order. The scene was one profoundly grand and impressive. There were a people assembled through their highest representatives – men most of them upon whose heads the snows of sixty winters had been shed – patriarchs in age – the the dignitaries of the land – the High Priests of the Church of Christ – reverend statesmen – and the wise judges of the law. In the midst of deep silence, an old man, with bowed form, and hair as white as snow, the Rev. Dr. [John] BACHMAN, advanced forward, with upraised hands, in prayer to Almighty God, for His blessing and favor in this great act of his people, about to be consummated. The whole assembly at once rose to its feet, and with hats off, listened to the touching and eloquent appeal to the All Wise Dispenser of events.

At the close of the prayer the President [of the Convention, David Flavel Jamison] advanced with the consecrated parchment upon which was inscribed the decision of the State, with the Great Seal attached. Slowly and solemnly it was read unto the last word – "dissolved" – when men could contain themselves no longer, and a shout that shook the very building, reverberating, long-continued, rose to Heaven, and ceased only with the loss of breath. In proud, grave silence, the Convention itself waited the end with beating hearts.

The sacred text that formed the center of the ritual was the Ordinance of Secession:

AN ORDINANCE to dissolve the union between the State of South Carolina and other States united with her under the compact entitled "The Constitution of the United States of America."

We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the ordinance adopted by us in convention on the twenty-third day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and also all acts and parts of acts of the General Assembly of this State ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the "United States of America," is hereby dissolved.

Done at Charleston the twentieth day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty.

That text was committed to physical form worthy of worship and was placed on its altar before the assembled multitude:
Jamison carried the Secession Ordinance. The historic document was engrossed on thick linen parchment, twenty-three by twenty-eight inches in size. Jamison spread the latest declaration of independence on a thick table with stubby legs, a weighty platform for a weighty document. The Great Seal of South Carolina, designed by Williams and Arthur Middleton and executed in silver by George Smithson in 1776, was stamped into the linen. Not since the seal shone on the Nullification Ordinance in 1832-33 had this silver invaded parchment.

The final act of the ritual began as the delegates approached the sacred text and publicly declared and confirmed their faith by affixing their signatures. Prof. Freehling implies that the audience cheered the entire time (“3000 voices cheering every step”), but the Mercury suggests that the crowd watched in silent reverence for some time. Only toward the end, when the chief apostle, Robert Barnwell Rhett, approached the object of his devotion – the Messiah he had been awaiting for thirty years – did the crowd erupt:
The President then requested the Delegates (by previous decision) to step forward as they were called in the alphabetical order of the Districts which they represented, and sign the Ordinance. Two hours were occupied in this solemn ceremony - the crowd waiting patiently the end. As the delegation from St. Phillip's and St. Michael's came forward, again, the hall was filled with applause. And as the Hon. R.B. RHETT advanced to the parchment, the shouts became deafening, long-continued, until he had seated himself, signed and retired. It was a proud and worthy tribute, gracefully paid, and appreciated. The same special compliment was paid to our Ex-Governor [William] GIST, who recommended in his message to the extra session, the immediate secession of South Carolina from the Union.

Rhett was overwhelmed in the presence of his Lord. At the table, he “sank to his knees and prayed to his Lord in thanks for thirty years of work triumphant.”

The author of the Mercury article painted the conclusion and implications of the convention in religious terms:
At the close of the signatures the President, advancing to the front of the platform, announced that the Seal of the State had been set, the signatures of the Convention put to the Ordinance, and he thereby proclaimed the State of South Carolina a separate, independent nationality.

To describe the enthusiasm with which this announcement was greeted, is beyond the power of the pen. The high, burning, bursting heart alone can realize it. A mighty voice of great thoughts and great emotions spoke from the mighty throat of one people as a unit.

The State of South Carolina has recorded herself before the universe. In reverence before God, fearless of man, unawed by power, unterrified by clamor, she has cut the Gordian knot of colonial dependence upon the North - cast her fortune upon her right, and her own right arm, and stands ready to uphold alike her independence and her dignity before the world.

Of course, others disagreed.

And the War came.

Friday, December 18, 2009

"The damndest political whore in the country"

Among the other contenders circling the nomination [of the Democrats for president in 1844] . . . was Richard [Mentor] Johnson of Kentucky, former vice president during [Martin] Van Buren's presidential term [1837-1841], whose national reputation had begun with news that he had personally killed the famous Shawnee Indian leader Tecumseh at the battle of the Thames in 1813. . . . Old Dick, as Johnson was often called, had been dining out on reports of it throughout his life . . . insisting he had no wish to dredge up once again the famous story and then regaling audiences with every detail, as well as a furtive display of the mutilated finger he had acquired in the battle. He was a man of no fixed opinions - "the damndest political whore in the country," as Thomas Hart Benton described him.

Robert W. Merry, A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, The Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent.

About the illustration at the top:
An imaginative and elaborate parody on the upcoming 1844 presidential campaign. The artist favors Whig nominee-apparent Henry Clay and is highly critical of incumbent John Tyler. The "chase" for the presidency leads to the White House (upper left) where Robert Tyler arouses his sleeping father saying, "Come wake up old Sampson, the Philistines are upon you!" President Tyler replies with a yawn: "Why Bobby my Pippin! I do believe I've been asleep! no matter I'm the People's favorite and belong to no Party. They will reelect me! If they don't I'll veto the whole concern d--n me!" His statement and the presence of a "Veto" paper on his desk allude to his liberal use of the presidential refusal to stymie Whig congressional efforts to establish a National Bank. In Robert Tyler's pocket is a scroll "Irish Repeal," referring to his support of that international movement. Approaching the steps of the White House, riding a beast which is half-horse and half-alligator (a mythical animal associated in popular lore with Clay's Kentucky), is Henry Clay. He exclaims triumphantly, "Hurrah! Old Kentuck will distance them all yet, and then the views of the lamented Harrisson will be carried out in full, and treachery will meet its reward." The sun rises behind him and an eagle with a streamer reading "E pluribus unum" flies ahead. Clay is followed by South Carolina Democrat John Calhoun, who remarks, "My old nullification Coota Turtle is rather a slow Coach! I am afraid he won't get out of this Clay Bank!" Taking the lower road (in keeping with his reputation for intrigue) is Martin Van Buren, riding a fox and exclaiming, "Confound Calhoun! He is right in my way! I'll take a short cut and though the path is crooked and rather dirty, I don't care so that I get in." Van Buren was derisively nicknamed "the Kinderhook fox." On the same path are two more presidential aspirants, James K. Polk(?) and Richard M. Johnson. The first, sitting on a donkey and waving a club, yells, "I'am an Old Soldier, but I shall never get in unless I can turn this Donkeys head the right way." Johnson, who has fallen off his horse, exclaims, "My old amalgamation Nag has got the blind staggers! and I can stump it no longer!" "Amalgamation" was common parlance for the melding of races, more specifically referring here to Johnson's common-law marriage and offspring with a mulatto woman, Julia Chinn. Off to the right, Massachusetts senator Daniel Webster sits by an open fire, cooking a cauldron of "Chowder" (a staple of his native New England), vowing, "I shant leave my Chowder! unless my country calls me." Behind him on horseback is Gen. Winfield Scott who calls over to War of 1812 Commodore Charles Stewart, seated in a boat on a lake, "Odds bullets and bayonets! I don't care about being President but if my friends insist upon it I'll serve! I say Commodore, cant you or I get in by a Coup-de-main!" Stewart replies, "I think not General! so I'll haul my wind! I am better fitted to govern the helm of old Ironsides than the helm of State." In the lower right corner, a man (possibly Supreme Court Justice John McLean) falls head first down an incline, saying, "If I thought I had a drop of Democratic blood in my veins I would let it out."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Henry Clay on Posterity

[Henry Clay] also harbored a certain intellectual arrogance, manifest in a biting invective directed at those he considered less brainy than himself. Bored by a loquacious man who suggested he spoke for posterity, Clay interjected, "Yes, and you seem resolved to speak until the arrival of your audience."

Robert W. Merry, A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent.

About the illustration:
An anti-Jackson broadside issued during the 1824 presidential election campaign. The text strongly criticizes Jackson's anti-tariff platform and condemns him and William Coleman as advocates of British interests. The author also praises Henry Clay's support of American home industry. The illustrations symbolically represent Industry, Commerce, and Agriculture. The first shows a man at a loom, with the motto "National Industry is National Wealth" below. The central vignette shows a sailing ship with "John Quincy Adams of Washington" across its stern, and flags reading "Free Trade & Sailors Rights" and "No Colonial Subjection" flying from its masts. On the right is a view of a man plowing a field, a liberty pole with a banner inscribed "Speed the Plough," and, in the distance, a small cottage. Below is the motto "Agriculture is the Source of Prosperity."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Preston Brooks In the News!

It turns out that Mitch McConnell has a pretty dry sense of humor, and a pretty good sense of history. From his email today (emphasis added):
The plain language of the Senate precedent, the manual that governs Senate procedure, is that unanimous consent of all members was required before the Senator from Vermont could withdraw his amendment while it was being read.

Earlier today, the majority somehow convinced the parliamentarian to break with the long standing precedent and practice of the Senate in the reading of the bill.

Senate procedure states clearly, and I quote: under Rule 15, paragraph 1, and Senate precedents, an amendment shall be read by the clerk before it is up for consideration or before the same shall be debated unless a request to waive the reading is granted.

It goes on to state that, quote, "the reading of which may not be dispensed with, except by unanimous consent, and if the request is denied, the amendment must be read and further interruptions are not in order."

You may have heard that the majority cites an example in 1992 where the chair made a mistake and allowed something similar to happen. But one mistake does not a precedent make.

For example, there is precedent for a Senator being beaten with a cane here in the Senate. If mistakes were the rule, the caning of Senators would be in order. Fortunately for all of us, it is not.

It’s now clear the majority is willing to do anything to jam through a 2000-page bill before the American people or any of us has had a chance to read it—including changing the rules in the middle of the game.

To which Glenn Reynolds adds, "I dunno, the caning of Senators is looking better and better . . . ."

To which I add, "There's also a precedent for brandishing firearms on the Senate floor."

About the illustration:
A dramatic portrayal, clearly biased toward the northern point of view, of an incident in Congress which inflamed sectional passions in 1856. The artist recreates the May 22 attack and severe beating of Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner by Representative Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina. Brooks's actions were provoked by Sumner's insulting public remarks against his cousin, Senator Andrew Pickens Butler, and against Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas, delivered in the Senate two days earlier. The print shows an enraged Brooks (right) standing over the seated Sumner in the Senate chamber, about to land on him a heavy blow of his cane. The unsuspecting Sumner sits writing at his desk. At left is another group. Brooks's fellow South Carolinian Representative Lawrence M. Keitt stands in the center, raising his own cane menacingly to stay possible intervention by the other legislators present. Clearly no help for Sumner is forthcoming. Behind Keitt's back, concealed in his left hand, Keitt holds a pistol. In the foreground are Georgia senator Robert Toombs (far left) and Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas (hands in pockets) looking vindicated by the event. Behind them elderly Kentucky senator John J. Crittenden is restrained by a fifth, unidentified man. Above the scene is a quote from Henry Ward Beecher's May 31 speech at a Sumner rally in New York, where he proclaimed, "The symbol of the North is the pen; the symbol of the South is the bludgeon." David Tatham attributes the print to the Bufford shop, and suggests that the Library's copy of the print, the only known example, may have been a trial impression, and that the print may not actually have been released. The attribution to Homer was first made by Milton Kaplan.

Thomas Hart Benton

The most raving political maniac I ever knew.

John Tyler on Thomas Hart Benton.

About the illustration:
Another mock shinplaster (see also nos. 1837-9 and -10 above). Again the artist attributes the shortage of hard money to the successive monetary programs of presidents Jackson and Van Buren, particularly to the former's pursuit of a limited-currency policy and his dismantling of the Bank of the United States. In the drawing Jackson rides a pig headlong toward a precipice, followed by congressional ally Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, on an ass. Both pursue the "Gold Humbug" butterfly, symbolizing their efforts to restrict the ratio of paper money in circulation to gold and silver supplies. Van Buren, riding a fox, cunningly deviates from this disastrous course and follows a downward path leading toward the Bank. Jackson (reaching for the butterfly): "By the Eternal!! I'll have it, Benton!" Benton (whipping his mount with a quill pen): "Go it thou Roman!! a greater man ne'er lived in the tide of times.!!" His quill is labeled "Expunger," an allusion to Benton's extended campaign to "expunge" or remove the 1834 Senate censure of Jackson from the Congressional Record. Van Buren (losing his crown): "Although I follow in the footsteps of Jackson it is &2expedient, &1at &2this time &1to & 2 deviate & 1a little!!" Below the precipice Nicho;as Biddle, Bank of the United States president, sights Van Buren from atop his bank. The note is endorsed by the publisher, who promises "to pay Thomas H. Benton, or bearer, Fifty Cents, in Counterfeit Caricatures at my store . . . " It is dated May 10, 1837, the date of the New York banks' emergency suspension of specie payments.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why Men Shouldn't Write Advice Columns

Click to enlarge. H/T The Blog Prof.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

John Pope

A recent post by James Durney at TOCWOC about Second Manassas got me thinking about John Pope. I read Peter Cozzens's biography of him, General John Pope: A Life for the Nation, several years ago, and have had a soft spot for Pope ever since. I thought I'd put together a post saying a few kind words about him.

For those of you who don't know him, the general line on Pope is that he was an arrogant blowhard who got his comeuppance. Brought east by Lincoln to replace George McClellan after the Peninsula Campaign, Pope issued a famous order castigating his predecessor and his predecessor's troops (many of which Pope was now inheriting), as defensively-minded defeatists:
Let us understand each other. I have come to you from the West, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies; from an army whose business it has been to seek the adversary and to beat him when he was found; whose policy has been attack and not defense. In but one instance has the enemy been able to place our Western armies in defensive attitude. I presume that I have been called here to pursue the same system and to lead you against the enemy. It is my purpose to do so, and that speedily. I am sure you long for an opportunity to win the distinction you are capable of achieving. That opportunity I shall endeavor to give you. Meantime I desire you to dismiss from your minds certain phrases, which I am sorry to find so much in vogue amongst you. I hear constantly of "taking strong positions and holding them," of "lines of retreat," and of "bases of supplies." Let us discard such ideas. The strongest position a soldier should desire to occupy is one from which he can most easily advance against the enemy. Let us study the probable lines of retreat of our opponents, and leave our own to take care of themselves. Let us look before us, and not behind. Success and glory are in the advance, disaster and shame lurk in the rear. Let us act on this understanding, and it is safe to predict that your banners shall be inscribed with many a glorious deed and that your names will be dear to your countrymen forever.

Pope's performance during the Second Manassas campaign was certainly miserable. Even in the fog of war so common in Civil War battles, Pope stands out, if only because he failed to heed warnings that an entire Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia was stationed on his left flank, waiting to pounce after Pope's army exhausted itself attacking Stonewall Jackson's well-entrenched troops. The result was an utter debacle. James Longstreet's Corps smashed through Pope's army. Only nightfall saved the remnants of Pope's army as it fled back toward Washington. It did not save John Pope. Lincoln promptly exiled him to a God-forsaken wasteland called Minnesota to deal with some Indians there.

And yet – who among us would not flunk if judged on our worst day? In John Pope's case, the verdict of history has done just that, while overlooking a number of positive attributes.

To begin with, Pope had done a creditable job out West earlier in the war, most notably showing some ingenuity at Island No. 10, a Confederate position blocking the Mississippi River. True, there were hints even during the Island No. 10 campaign that he might come apart under pressure, becoming "harried and excitable" and lashing out, but those traits did not prevent him from successfully completing an important mission.

Although Pope seems to have been a self-centered man who could annoy others, that reaction was not universal. Many of his Western colleagues wished Pope well when he was called East. Indeed, in some ways it is hard not to feel sorry for him. When Pope headed for Washington, Gordon Granger told him regretfully, "Good-bye Pope, your grave is made", and it's pretty clear that Pope knew he was headed for at least a political quagmire. He really didn't want to go. He was devoted to his wife and newborn daughter. Then to make matters worse his daughter died on July 19, 1862 at the age of two months and Pope was unable to comfort his wife in their grief.

In short, his collapse seems to have been the cumulative result of a number of factors: a naturally brittle temperament; aggressiveness probably masking insecurity; homesickness and grief; a much larger command than he'd ever held in a theater he knew little about; a superior foe; the knowledge that many were rooting for him to fail; and little help or guidance from those who were theoretically on his side (Henry Halleck in particular was useless or worse), leaving him feeling dangling in the wind, as it were. It was all too much, and he became overwhelmed.

Pope's post-Bull Run career seems to confirm the view that, while Pope could be annoying at times, he was a man of substantial talent in other respects, provided he was kept away from the battlefield. Ulysses Grant and others recognized that he was a highly competent administrator, rewarding him with substantial commands in the West, punctuated by diligent and conscientious service as District commander of the Third Military District (Alabama, Georgia and Florida) during Reconstruction.

Pope also proved a highly sympathetic analyst of the "Indian problem", recognizing that the cycle of treaty, followed by renewed White incursion, gave the Indians little choice but to fight. As early as 1865, he perceptively described the cycle of tragedy and foresaw its "dreadful" end:
Lately large reinforcements have been organized which are now moving against the Indians in the hope to restore peace, but in my judgment with little prospect of doing so. The first demand of the Indian is that the white man shall not come into his country. How can we promise this, with any purpose of fulfilling the obligation, unless we prohibit emigration west or south of the Missouri River? So far from being prepared to make such an engagement with the Indian, the government is every day stimulating emigration and its resulting wrong to the Indian. Where under such circumstances is the Indian to go, and what is to become of him?

My duties require me to protect the emigration, the mails, and the settlements against hostile acts of the Indians. I have no power under the laws of the United States to do this except by force. As the Indians are more and more driven to desperation, the end is sure and dreadful to contemplate.

More than twenty years later, in 1887, as the cycle was nearing its conclusion, Pope, who had retired as Major General the year before, looked back sadly to see that his fears had been realized, and to pronounce his own judgment. The next time you're inclined to malign Pope as an arrogant and incompetent blowhard, remember that the same man was capable of writing the following epitaph on the Indian wars:
There is no rest for the Indian on this continent except in the grave to which he is being driven with accelerated speed every day. I used to think something in accordance with the ordinary dictates of humanity might be devised for him and carried into execution by the government but that hope has long been abandoned and death alone appears to offer relief from an outrage which will be a stain on this government and this people forever.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Major Jones's Courtship

In Parties, Slavery, and the Union in Antebellum Georgia, Anthony Gene Carey refers to a book I'd never heard of, Major Jones's Courtship: Detailed, With Other Scenes, Incidents, and Adventures, in a Series of Letters, by himself (first published Philadelphia, 1840). Prof. Carey describes the author, William Tappan Thompson, as a Georgia “newspaper editor who knew most of the major figures in [Georgia] state politics.” The book consists of a series of purported letters by the title character, Major Joesph Jones, a small planter, reporting on (per Carey) “the latest ridiculous happenings in the imaginary town of Pineville.”

Prof. Carey's reference to the book caught my eye because he describes it as containing “[t]he most vivid surviving account of legislative campaigning in antebellum Georgia.” The portions of the book that Carey quotes are indeed amusing and informative, so I thought I'd relay them.

Thompson describes speeches delivered by local candidates to a group of men assembled for a militia muster. First up on the stump was Ben Ansley:
Bout this time out cum a whole heap of fellers with sum candidates, and wanted I should let 'em address the betallion. I told 'em I didn't care long as they didn't kick up no row. Well, the men wer all high up for hearin the speeches of the candidates, and got round 'em thick as flies round a fat gourd. Ben Ansley – he's the poplarest candidate down here – begun the show by gittin on a stump, and takin his hat off rite in the brilin hot sun.

"Feller-citizens," ses he, "I spose you all know as how my friends is fetched me out to represent this county in the next legislater – I am posed to counterfit money and shinplasters; I am posed to abolition and free niggers, to the morus multicaulis and the Florida war, and all manner of shecoonery whatsumever! If I's lected your respectable representation, I shall go in for good munny, twenty cents for cotton, and no taxes, and shall go for bolishin prisonment for debt and the Central Bank. I hope you'll all cum up to the poles of the lection, and vote like a patriot for your very humble servant – Amen."

Then he jumped down and went round shakin hands. "Hurra for Ben Ansley! Ansley for ever!" shouted every feller. "Down with the cussed bank – devil take the shinplasters and all the rale-roads!" ses Captain Skinner.

Ben Ansley was followed by his adversary, Squire Pettybone:
“Silence for a speech from Squire Pettybone!" "Hurra for Pettybone!"

Squire Pettybone was a little short fat man, what had run afore, and knowed how to talk to the boys.

"Frends and feller-citizens," ses he, "I's once more a candidate for your sufferins, and I want to splain my sentiments to you. You've jest hearn a grate deal bout the Central Bank. I aint no bank man – I'm posed to all banks – but I is a frend to the pore man, and is always reddy to stand up for his constitutional rites. When the Central Bank put out its munny it was good, and rich men got it and made use of it when it was good; but now they want to buy it in for less nor what it's worth to pay ther dets to the bank, and they is tryin to put it down, and make the pore man lose by it. What does they want to put the bank down for, if it aint to cheat the pore man who's got sum of it? If I's lected, I shall go for makin the banks redeem ther munny in silver and gold, or put every devil of 'em into the penitentiary to makin nigger shoes. I's a hard munny man and in favor of the Vetos. I goes for the pore man agin the rich, and if you lect me that's what I mean to do."

Then he begun shakin hands all round. "Hurra for Squire Pettybone! hurra for the bank and the veto!" shouted some of the men – "Hurra for Ansley! d—n the bank!" "Silence for Mr. Johnson's speech!" "Hurra for Harrison!" " Hurra for the Vetos!" " Hurra for Jackson! I can lick any veto on the ground!" "Silence!" "Hurra for Ansley, d—n the bank !" "Whar's them vetos what's agin Ansley – let me at 'em!" "Fight! fight! make a ring! make a ring!" "Whoop!" hollered Bill Sweeny, "I'm the blossom – go it shirttail!" "Hit 'em, Sweeny!"

The muster, which had been none too disciplined before the speeches, descended into chaos:
"Tention, Betallion!" ses I, but it want no use – they was at it rite in the middle and all round the edges, and I know'd the quicker I got out of that bilin the better for my wholsum. Thar they was, up and down, five or six in a heap, rollin over and crawlin out from under, bitin and scratchin, gougin and strikin, kickin and cussin, head and heels all through other, none of 'em knowin who they hurt or who hurt them – all the same whether they hit Ansley or veto, the blossum or Pettybone. The candidates was runnin about pullin and haulin, and tryin ther best to stop it; but you couldn't hear nothin but cussin, and "bank" and "veto," and "let me at' em," "I'm your boy," "let go my eyes!" and sich talk for more'n twenty minits, and then they only kep 'em apart by holdin 'em off like dogs till they got dun pantin.

It want no use to try to get 'em into line agin. Some of 'em had got manuel exercise enuff, and was knocked and twisted out of all caracter, and it would be no use to try to put 'em through the manuel in that situation. Lots of 'em had ther eyes bunged up so they couldn't "eyes right!" to save 'em, so I turned 'em over to ther captains, accordin to law, and aint sponsible for nothin that tuck place after I left.

Prof. Carey comments:
His exaggerations of underlying truths made Thompson's stories hilarious. Militia musters, which typically mixed a little training with a lot of drinking, attracted most of the white men in a district and thus were favorite occasions for campaign speech making. Ben Ansley and Squire Pettybone comically displayed the candidate's knack of supporting what no one opposed and opposing what no one supported – they affirmed white men's values. Neither man had a kind word for banks or worthless paper money; both endorsed “good money” and prosperity. The tellingly named Squire struck a few licks against the rich, and both despised “niggers.” . . . The rusticity of campaign rhetoric clarly stands as the vignette's main theme. Rather than debating issues in fine detail, Ansley and Pettybone appealed to general prejudices and vowed to protect white men from their enemies – a promise that, as William T. Thompson well knew, was the alpha and omega of campaign rhetoric in antebellum Georgia.

Bonus question: Which of the candidates is the Democrat, and which the Whig – and what is the basis for your conclusion?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Surprised Kitty

Time for some kitty cuteness!
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