Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Monday, June 28, 2010

"You sit upon your side, silent and gloomy . . ."

Sir, disguise the fact as you will, there is an enmity between the northern and southern people that is deep and enduring, and you never can eradicate it - never! Look at the spectacle exhibited on this floor. How is it? There are the Republican northern Senators upon that side. Here are the southern Senators on this side. How much social intercourse is there between us? You sit upon your side, silent and gloomy; we sit upon ours with knit brows and portentous scowls. Yesterday, I observed that there was not a solitary man on that side of the Chamber came over here even to extend the civilities and courtesies of life; nor did any of us go over there. Here are two hostile bodies on this floor; and it is but a type of the feeling that exists between the two sections. We are enemies as much as if we were hostile States. I believe that the northern people hate the South worse than ever the English people hated France; and I can tell my brethren over there that there is no love lost upon the part of the South.
Georgia Senator Alfred Iverson, December 5, 1860.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Lewis Cass's Nicholson Letter

In December 1847, Michigan Senator Lewis Cass wrote a letter to one A.P.O. Nicholson of Nashville, Tennessee concerning the Mexican War, the Wilmot Proviso and the issue of slavery in the territories. The letter, dated December 24, 1847, was intended to launch Cass's ultimately successful campaign for the 1848 Democratic nomination for the presidency. It was made public and published, originally in the December 30, 1847 edition of the Washington Union.

The letter gained attention and is most famous today as one of the earliest articulations of Popular Sovereignty, the idea that the people of the territories should decide whether or not to permit slavery there. The great benefit of this idea, as Cass himself admitted, was that it would remove the contentious debate over slavery in the territories from the halls of Congress.

Scholars have repeatedly pointed out that Popular Sovereignty also contained a crucial - and highly beneficial, although potentially dangerous - ambiguity as to when during the territorial process residents could address slavery. Northern politicians attempting to convince their constituents that Popular Sovereignty would, as a practical matter, bar slavery from the territories, argued, or at least suggested, that territorial legislatures could forbid slavery at any time after their creation. Southerners, on the other hand, maintained that territories could bar slavery only in the final stage of their existence, when territorial representatives met in convention to draft a proposed state constitution.

While Cass's Nicholson letter is vague on this issue, the most interesting part of the letter to me is the discussion of Congress's power over the territories. He adopts the odd (and I would maintain clearly erroneous) position that Congress did not have the power to pass laws that generally regulated the affairs of citizens within the territories (what he elsewhere calls the "police"). The language contained in Article IV, Section 3 ("The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States") "fairly construed, relates to the public lands, as such, to arsenals, dock-yards, forts, ships, and all the various kinds of property, which the United States may and must possess." It "does not extend to the unlimited power of legislation; to the passage of all laws, in the most general acceptation of the word; which [word], by the by, is carefully excluded from the sentence."

As Cass tacitly admits, the Northwest Ordinance - passed without controversy by the Founding Generation - makes something of a hash out of his position. He retreats to an uneasy solution. Based on the principle that government power "should not be carried beyond the necessary implication which produces it," Cass concludes that Congressional authority over the territories "should be limited to the creation of proper governments for new countries, acquired or settled, and to the necessary provision for their eventual admission into the Union; leaving, in the meantime, to the people inhabiting them, to regulate their internal concerns in their own way."

Here is the complete letter. Judge for yourselves:

Dear Sir: I have received your letter, and shall answer it as frankly as it is written.

You ask me whether I am in favor of the acquisition of Mexican territory, and what are my sentiments with regard to the Wilmot Proviso?

I have so often and so explicitly stated my views of the first question, in the Senate, that it seems almost unnecessary to repeat them here. As you request it, however, I shall briefly give them.

I think, then, that no peace should be granted to Mexico, till a reasonable indemnity is obtained for the injuries which she has done us. The territorial extent of this indemnity is, in the first instance, a subject of Executive consideration. There the Constitution has placed it, and there I am willing to leave it; not only because I have full confidence in its judicious exercise, but because, in the ever-varying circumstances of a war, it would be indiscreet, by a public declaration, to commit the country to any line of indemnity, which might otherwise be enlarged, as the obstinate injustice of the enemy prolongs the contest, with its loss of blood and treasure.

It appears to me that the kind of metaphysical magnanimity, which would reject all indemnity at the close of a bloody and expensive war, brought on by a direct attack upon our troops by the enemy, and preceded by a succession of unjust acts for a series of years, is as unworthy of the age in which we live, as it is revolting to the common sense and practice of mankind. It would conduce but little to our future security, or, indeed to our present reputation, to declare that we repudiate all expectation of compensation from the Mexican government, and are fighting, not for any practical result, but for some vague, perhaps philanthropic object, which escapes my penetration, and must be defined by those who assume this new principle of national intercommunication. All wars are to be deprecated, as well by the statesman, as by the philanthropist. They are great evils; but there are greater evils than these, and submission to injustice is among them. The nation which should refuse to defend its rights and its honor, when assailed, would soon have neither to defend; and when driven to war, it is not by professions of disinterestedness and declarations of magnanimity, that its rational objects can be best obtained, or other nations taught a lesson of forbearance – the strongest security for permanent peace. We are at war with Mexico, and its vigorous prosecution is the surest means of its speedy termination, and ample indemnity the surest guaranty against the recurrence of such injustice as provoked it.

The Wilmot proviso has been before the country some time. It has been repeatedly discussed in Congress, and by the public press. I am strongly impressed with the opinion, that a great change has been going on in the public mind upon this subject – in my own as well as others; and that doubts are resolving themselves into convictions, that the principle it involves should be kept out of the National Legislature, and left to the people of the confederacy in their respective local governments.

The whole subject is a comprehensive one, and fruitful of important consequences. It would be ill-timed to discuss it here. I shall not assume that responsible task, but shall confine myself to such general views as are necessary to the fair exhibition of my opinions.

We may well regret the existence of slavery in the southern States, and wish they had been saved from its introduction. But there it is, and not by the act of the present generation; and we must deal with it as a great practical question, involving the most momentous consequences. We have neither the right nor the power to touch it where it exists; and if we had both, their exercise, by any means heretofore suggested, might lead to results which no wise man would willingly encounter, and which no good man could contemplate without anxiety.

The theory of our Government presupposes that its various members have reserved to themselves the regulation of all subjects relating to what may be termed their internal police. They are sovereign within their boundaries, except in those cases where they have surrendered to the General Government a portion of their rights, in order to give effect to the objects of the Union, whether these concern foreign nations or the several States themselves. Local institutions, if I may so speak, whether they have reference to slavery, or to any other relations, domestic or public, are left to local authority, either original or derivative. Congress has no right to say that there shall be slavery in New York, or that there shall be no slavery in Georgia; nor is there any other human power but the people of those States, respectively, which can change the relations existing therein; and they can say, if they will, We will have slavery in the former, and we will abolish it in the latter.

In various respects the Territories differ from the States. Some of their rights are inchoate, and they do not possess the peculiar attributes of sovereignty. Their relation to the General Government is very imperfectly defined by the Constitution; and it will be found, upon examination, that in that instrument the only grant of power concerning them is conveyed in the phrase, “Congress shall have the power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory and other property belonging to the United States." Certainly this phraseology is very loose, if it were designed to include in the grant the whole power of legislation over persons, as well as things. The expression, the "territory and other property," fairly construed, relates to the public lands, as such, to arsenals, dock-yards, forts, ships, and all the various kinds of property, which the United States may and must possess.

But surely the simple authority to dispose of and regulate these, does not extend to the unlimited power of legislation; to the passage of all laws, in the most general acceptation of the word; which, by the by, is carefully excluded from the sentence. And, indeed, if this were so, it would render unnecessary another provision of the Constitution, which grants to Congress the power to legislate, with the consent of the States, respectively, over all places purchased for the "erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards," &c. These being the "property" of the United States, if the power to make "needful rules and regulations concerning" them includes the general power of legislation, then the grant of authority to regulate "the territory and other property of the United States" is unlimited, wherever subjects are found for its operation, and its exercise needed no auxiliary provision. If, on the other hand, it does not include such power of legislation over the "other property" of the United States, then it does not include it over their "territory;" for the same terms which grant the one, grant the other. "Territory" is here classed with property, and treated as such; and the object was evidently to enable the General Government, as a property-holder – which, from necessity, it must be – to manage, preserve, and "dispose of" such property as it might possess, and which authority is essential almost to its being. But the lives and persons of our citizens, with the vast variety of objects connected with them, cannot be controlled by an authority which is merely called into existence for the purpose of making rules and regulations for the disposition and management of property.

Such, it appears to me, would be the construction put upon this provision of the Constitution, were this question now first presented for consideration, and not controlled by imperious circumstances. The original ordinance of the Congress of the Confederation, passed in 1787, and which was the only act upon this subject in force at the adoption of the Constitution, provided a complete frame of government for the country north of the Ohio, while in a territorial condition, and for its eventual admission in separate States into the Union. And the persuasion, that this ordinance contained within itself all the necessary means of execution, probably prevented any direct reference to the subject in the constitution, further than vesting in Congress the right to admit the States formed under it into the Union. However, circumstances arose which required legislation, as well over the territory north of the Ohio, as over other territory, both within and without the original Union, ceded to the General Government; and, at various times, a more enlarged power has been exercised over the Territories – meaning thereby the different Territorial Governments – than is conveyed by the limited grant referred to. How far an existing necessity may have operated in producing this legislation, and thus extending, by rather a violent implication, powers not directly given, I know not. But certain it is, that the principle of interference should not be carried beyond the necessary implication which produces it. It should be limited to the creation of proper governments for new countries, acquired or settled, and to the necessary provision for their eventual admission into the Union; leaving, in the meantime, to the people inhabiting them, to regulate their internal concerns in their own way. They are just as capable of doing so as the people of the States; and they can do so, at any rate, as soon as their political independence is recognized by admission into the Union. During this temporary condition, it is hardly expedient to call into exercise a doubtful and invidious authority, which questions the intelligence of a respectable portion of our citizens, and whose limitation, whatever it may be, will be rapidly approaching its termination – an authority which would give to Congress despotic power, uncontrolled by the Constitution, over most important sections of our common country. For, if the relation of master and servant may be regulated or annihilated by its legislation, so may the relation of husband and wife, of parent and child, and of any other condition which our institutions and the habits of our society recognize. What would be thought if Congress should undertake to prescribe the terms of marriage in New York, or to regulate the authority of parents over their children in Pennsylvania? And yet it would be as vain to seek one justifying the interference of the National Legislature in the cases referred to in the original States of the Union. I speak here of the inherent power of Congress, and do not touch the question of such contracts as may be formed with new States when admitted into the Confederacy.

Of all the questions that can agitate us, those which are merely sectional in their character are the most dangerous, and the most to be deprecated. The warning voice of him who, from his character, and services, and virtue, had the best right to warn us, proclaimed to his countrymen, in his Farewell Address – that monument of wisdom for him, as I hope it will be of safety for them – how much we had to apprehend from measures peculiarly affecting geographical portions of our country. The grave circumstances in which we are now placed make these words, words of safety; for I am satisfied from all I have seen and heard here, that a successful attempt to ingraft the principles of the Wilmot proviso upon the legislation of this Government, and to apply them to new territory, should new territory be acquired, would seriously affect our tranquillity. 1 do not suffer myself to foresee or to foretell the consequences that would ensue; for I trust and believe there is good sense and good feeling enough in the country to avoid them, by avoiding all occasions which might lead to them.

Briefly, then, I am opposed to the exercise of any jurisdiction by Congress over this matter; and I am in favor of leaving to the people of any territory, which may be hereafter acquired, the right to regulate it for themselves, under the general principles of the Constitution. Because –

1. I do not see in the Constitution any grant of the requisite power to Congress; and I am not disposed to extend a doubtful precedent beyond its necessity – the establishment of Territorial Governments when needed – leaving to the inhabitants all the rights compatible with the relations they bear to the Confederation.

2. Because I believe this measure, if adopted, would weaken, if not impair, the Union of the States; and would sow the seeds of future discord, which would grow up and ripen into an abundant harvest of calamity.

3. Because I believe a general conviction, that such a proposition would succeed, would lead to an immediate withholding of the supplies, and thus to a dishonorable termination of the war. I think no dispassionate observer at the seat of government can doubt this result.

4. If, however, in this I am under a misapprehension, I am under none in the practical operation of this restriction, if adopted by Congress, upon a treaty of peace making any acquisition of Mexican territory. Such a treaty would be rejected just as certainly as presented to the Senate. More than one-third of that body would vole against it, viewing such a principle as an exclusion of the citizens of the slave holding states from a participation in the benefits acquired by the treasure and exertions of all, and which should be common to all. I am repeating – neither advancing nor defending these views. That branch of the subject does not lie in my way, and I shall not turn aside to seek it.
In this aspect of the matter, the people of the United States must choose between this restriction and the extension of their territorial limits. They cannot have both; and which they will surrender must depend upon their representatives first, and then, if these fail them, upon themselves.

5. But, after all, it seems to be generally conceded, that this restriction, if carried into effect, .could not operate upon any state to be formed from newly-acquired territory. The well-known attributes of sovereignty, recognized by us as belonging to the state governments, would sweep before them any such barrier, and would leave the people to express and exert their will at pleasure. Is the object, then, of temporary exclusion for so short a period as the duration of the territorial governments, worth the price at which it would be purchased? - worth the discord it would engender, the trial to which it would expose our Union, and the evils that would be the certain consequence, let that trial result as it might? As to the course, which has been intimated rather than proposed, of ingrafting such a restriction upon any treaty of acquisition, I persuade myself it would find but little favor in any portion of this country. Such an arrangement would render Mexico a party, having a right to interfere in our internal institutions in questions left by the Constitution to the state governments, and would inflict a serious blow upon our fundamental principles. Few, indeed, I trust, there are among us who would thus grant to a foreign power the right to inquire into the constitution and conduct of the sovereign states of this Union; and if there are any, I am not among them, and never shall be. To the people of this country, under God, now and hereafter, are its destinies committed; and we want no foreign power to interrogate us, treaty in hand, and to say, Why have you done this, or why. have you left that undone? Our own dignity and the principles of the national independence unite to repel such a proposition.

But there is another important consideration, which ought not to be lost sight of, in the investigation of this subject. The question that presents itself is not a question of the increase, but of the diffusion of slavery. Whether its sphere be stationary or progressive, its amount will be the same. The rejection of this restriction will not add one to the class of servitude, nor will its adoption give freedom to a single being who is now placed therein. The same numbers will be spread over greater territory; and so far as compression, with less abundance of the necessaries of life, is an evil, so far will that evil be mitigated by transporting slaves to a new country, and giving them a larger space to occupy.

I say this in the event of the extension of slavery over any new acquisition. But can it go there? This may well be doubted. All the descriptions, which reach us of the condition of the Californias and of New Mexico, to the acquisition of which our efforts seem at present directed, unite in representing those countries as agricultural regions, similar in their products to our Middle States, and generally unfit for the production of the great staples, which can alone render slave labor valuable. If we are not grossly deceived – and it is difficult to conceive how we can be – the inhabitants of those regions, whether they depend upon their ploughs or their herds, cannot be slave holders. Involuntary labor, requiring the investment of large capital, can only be profitable when employed in the production of a few favored articles confined by nature to special districts, and paying larger returns than the usual agricultural products spread over more considerable portions of the earth.

In the able letter of Mr. Buchanan upon this subject, not long since given to the public, he presents similar considerations with great force. "Neither," says this distinguished writer, "the soil, the climate, nor the productions of California south of thirty-six.degrees thirty minutes, nor indeed of any portion of it, north or south, is adapted to slave labor; and besides, every facility would be there afforded for the slave to escape from his master. Such property would be entirely insecure in any part of California. It is morally impossible, therefore, that a majority of the emigrants to that portion of the territory south of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes, which will be chiefly composed of our citizens, will ever re-establish slavery within its limits.

“In regard to New Mexico, east of the Rio Grande, the question has already been settled by the admission of Texas into the Union.

"Should we acquire territory beyond the Rio Grande and east of the Rocky mountains, it is still more impossible that a majority of the people would consent to re-establish slavery. They are themselves a colored population, and among them the negro does not belong socially to a degraded race."

With this last remark Mr. Walker fully coincides in his letter written in 1844, upon the annexation of Texas, and which everywhere produced so favorable an impression upon the public mind, as to have conduced very materially to the accomplishment of that great measure. "Beyond the Del Norte," says Mr. Walker, "slavery will not pass; not only because it is forbidden by law, but because the colored race there preponderates in the ratio of ten to one over the whites: and holding, as they do, the government and most of the offices in their possession, they will not permit the enslavement of any portion of the colored race, which makes and executes the laws of the country."

The question, it will be therefore seen on examination, does not regard the exclusion of slavery from a region where it now exists, but a prohibition against its introduction where it does not exist, and where, from the feelings of the inhabitants and the laws of nature, "it is morally impossible," as Mr. Buchanan says, that it can ever re-establish itself.

It augurs well for tho permanence of our confederation, that during more than half a century, which had elapsed since the establishment of this government, many serious questions, and some of the highest importance, have agitated the public mind, and more than once threatened the gravest consequences; but that they have all in succession passed away, leaving our institutions unscathed, and our country advancing in numbers, power, and wealth, and in all the other elements of national prosperity, with a rapidity unknown in ancient or in modern days. In times of political excitement, when difficult and delicate questions present themselves for solution, there is one ark of safety for us; and that is, an honest appeal to the fundamental principles of our Union, and a stern determination to abide their dictates. This course of proceeding has carried us in safety through many a trouble, and I trust will carry us safely through many more, should many more be destined to assail us. The Wilmot Proviso seeks to take from its legitimate tribunal a question of domestic policy, having no relation to the Union, as such, and to transfer it to another created by the people for a special purpose, and foreign to the subject-matter involved in this issue. By going back to our true principles, we go back to the road of peace and safety. Leave to the people, who will be affected by this question, to adjust it upon their own responsibility, and in their own manner, and we shall render another tribute to the original principles of our government, and furnish another guarantee for its permanence and prosperity.

I am, dear sir, respectfully, your obedient servant,


A.O.P. Nicholson, Esq., Nashville, Tenn.
About the first illustration, entitled The Democratic Funeral of 1848:
Foreseeing political death for the Democrats in the election, the artist imagines a funeral of the party's standard-bearers with a procession of the faithful. Democratic senators (left to right) Sam Houston of Texas, Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, (obscured unidentified man), and South Carolina's John Calhoun carry a litter bearing the bodies of Van Buren, as a fox, and Lewis Cass, as a gas balloon (an unflattering play on his last name). Cass expels clouds of gas from his mouth. Benton carries a slip of paper with the words, "Last of the Family Reign." Calhoun carries an iron collar or manacle labeled "Slavery." They are followed by a second group of pallbearers: Ohio Senator William Allen, former Van Buren advisor Amos Kendall, New Hampshire Democratic leader Levi Woodbury, and former general William Worth, who carry a stretcher bearing retiring President Polk (with cloven hoofs and a devil's tail). Kendall also carries a document labeled "Latest Despatch" while Worth holds his "Military Comi--- [Commission?]," possibly alluding to his role in the Scott-Pillow controversy. (See "Self-Inflating Pillow," no. 1848-2.) An empty "Sub Treasury" box lies open next to Polk on the stretcher. The Independent or "Sub Treasury" bill was a widely criticized measure passed by the Polk administration in August 1846. All of the mourners wear clerical robes. A tombstone for the newspaper "Washington Union" is at left and a monument "To the Memory of Democracy" at right.
About the second illustration, entitled Cass & His Cabinet in 1849:
The satire imputes to the Democrats of 1848, led by candidate Lewis Cass, the corrupt practices of the Van Buren-era party. The artist also criticizes Whig repudiation of stalwart party leader Henry Clay in favor of the independent Zachary Taylor in its 1848 presidential nomination. Cass stands at the head of a table before a paper marked "Democratic Platform," addressing his "Cabinet" composed of old-line Democrats including (left to right) Van Buren's postmaster general Amos Kendall, his treasury secretary Levi Woodbury, former Van Buren Senate allies John Calhoun and Thomas Hart Benton, and Democratic senators Sam Houston and William Allen. Cass: "Gentlemen, we stand on the Democratic "Platform," that is, to "Reward our Friends," rewarding of enemies & deserting of Friends is what caused the breaking up of the Whig Party." Kendall, with a document "Post-Office Reform" before him: "Mr. President, I think you had better state to the gentlemen present what our Principles are & what we intend to carry out." Woodbury, holding a rolled document titled "New Hampshire" says: "The Whig Party ought to be broke up for ever, for putting aside "Clay" & sticking a man in his place that has no principle or Party." South Carolina Senator Calhoun, writing a paper "Free Trade S.C." comments: "I think after all the northern "Dough Faces" must feel rather "flat," to think we won't go their "bastard whig ticket." rather green that." Benton adds: "Feel "flat," why they are used to that, they always have their own way, Except upon "Election day!'" "Houston, with "Missouri Claims," agrees: "Yes, & the day after the "Election" they say it was a dam'd "Locofoco cheat, &" that the Irish & Dutch "both Voted against them." "Senator Allen concludes: "Gentleman, I agree with you all, we must turn out every man that does not stand on the "Platform," it will not do to have any spies in our camp."
About the third illustration, entitled A Correct Chart of Salt River:
"Salt River," the fictitious river of political doom, is charted here as a meandering stream of Democratic misfortunes. The chart was purportedly "prepared by Father Ritchie," i.e., Democratic editor and Polk administration spokesman Thomas Ritchie. Swipes are taken at the Tariff of 1846, Polk's Vice President George M. Dallas, Martin Van Buren, and 1848 Democratic presidential nominee Lewis Cass. The river winds upward from the Ohio River (Ohio was a Democratic stronghold in 1848) to the Lake of Oblivion with an island on which sits the "Mansion of Despair." The "Fast Sailing Steamer Free Trade," captained by Lewis Cass and piloted by Ritchie, sets out on the "Slough of Despond" below (one of the landmarks in John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress&1). The ship approaches a fork, from which the "Old Fox Branch" on the right leads to "Cabbage Point" and the home of Martin Van Buren. Van Buren can be seen sitting in a rowboat on the river complaining, "Hard work this all; your fault 'John,' with your D--d Free Trade." His son John, a Free Soil party leader and campaigner, encouraged Van Buren's bid for the party's presidential nomination in 1848. On the left Salt River continues past the "Sub Treasury Bluffs," "Noise and Confusion Shoals," "Two Face Points," and "Irish Relief Shoal" (a reference to Democratic support for anti-British insurgents in Ireland), to another fork, "Prince John's Creek." Here John Van Buren walks along the shore and calls, "Good bye Dad! We could not Gull the People." The main branch of the river continues to "Pillow's Cemetery" (named after Gen. Gideon Pillow, conspirator against popular Mexican War commander Winfield Scott and a friend of James K. Polk), "One Seal Island" (?), "Casting Vote Point," and "St Anna Pass." The last is named after Mexican president and commander Santa Anna, whom the Polk administration returned from exile only to see him lead the war against the Americans. On Lake Oblivion is a small ferry boat heads toward the shore at upper right where it will connect with a train named "Tariff [of 18]42," bound for Washington. On the left is a funerary monument "In Memory of Dallas," a memorial to Vice President and former Pennsylvania senator George M. Dallas. Many of Dallas's fellow Pennsylvanians viewed him as a traitor to the state's interests in his support of the Tariff of 1846, which supplanted the popular 1842 tariff.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Speaker Named: Rep. Michael Walsh of New York

As you probably guessed, my guess the speaker question has an unexpected answer. The speaker was Congressman Michael Walsh of New York. His entry in the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress reads as follows:
WALSH, Michael, a Representative from New York; born in Youghal, near Cork, Ireland, May 4, 1810; completed preparatory studies; was graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland; immigrated to the United States and settled in Baltimore, Md.; learned the trade of lithographic printer; moved to New York City; member of the State assembly in 1839; in 1843 established the Subterranean, which he stopped after two years when convicted for the publication of a libel; elected as a member of the State assembly in 1846 and again in 1848; elected as a Democrat to the Thirty-third Congress (March 4, 1853-March 3, 1855); unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1854 to the Thirty-fourth Congress; after his term in Congress was employed as a newspaper reporter; died in New York City March 17, 1859; interment in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, N.Y.
James L. Huston describes Rep. Walsh as having "a distinct class viewpoint on the economics of American life, particularly on the sufferings of the Irish in New York City. He found no reason to celebrate the northern laborer in comparison with the lot of a slave." "Walsh's statements were quite unique in the Kansas-Nebraska debate, but they obtained considerable reprinting in the northern press."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Name that Speaker

The time: May 1854

The place: The House of Representatives

The occasion: The debate on the Kansas-Nebraska Act

I don't expect you to be able to identify the speaker. But tell me something about him. Where is he from? North? South? East? West? Urban or rural? For or against the Act?

The clue: The speaker is not James Henry Hammond, pictured at the top.

Paragraph breaks added:
In reply, Mr. Chairman, to what dropped from the gentleman from Massachusetts [Mr. Wentworth] last night, and to others who have been overflowing with sympathy for the southern slaves, I have to say, that the only difference between the negro slave of the South, and the white wages slave of the North, is, that the one has a master without asking for him, and the other has to beg for the privilege of being a slave. [Great laughter.]

The one is the slave of an individual; the other is the slave of an inexorable class. After the latter has added, by his labor and his toil, wealth to the community in which he has lived, he is turned adrift without any, among all the different employers that he has had, to give him a mouthful of victuals or a night's lodging.

I would ask the particular advocates of Abolition upon this floor, to point me to one single solitary degradation heaped upon the negro of the South that a white man at the North is not liable to have imposed on him for the time being through poverty?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thomas Edison Speaks

To hear an ailing 82-year-old Thomas Edison speak, with the great inventor's voice, wheezy and high-pitched, growing husky and choked as he praised his good friend Henry Ford who stood alongside President Herbert Hoover on a stage on Oct. 21, 1929 is catching lightning in a bottle. . . .

It is contained in one of the world's oldest surviving radio broadcasts, recorded on an obscure machine that General Electric developed in 1922 and called a pallophotophone - which means "shaking light sound" in Greek.

Listening to the elderly Edison lose his place, become confused and nearly weep over the depth of his admiration for Ford more than 80 years after he spoke those heartfelt words to a live audience has the power to cause a lump to rise in one's throat.

This aural treasure might have remained lost in history's silent dustbin were it not for a curious archivist, a dogged engineer and a fixer. . . .

Saturday, June 19, 2010

"Not a brushstroke creates the shadow of a slave"

In her beautifully written book, Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North, C.S. Manegold tells the story of, among others, Isaac Royall Jr., who came into possession of Ten Hills Farm (which lay along the Mystic River near Medford, Massachusetts) upon the death of his father in 1739.

In the course of her review of Isaac Jr., Ms. Manegold discusses a painting of Isaac and his family created by Robert Feke in 1741. I was so struck by the picture - and Ms. Manegold's description - that I thought I'd share it with you, particularly since the original is virtually inaccessible - "hiding in plain sight" in a room within Harvard's Law School, "a place so forbidding and obscure it seldom sees a visitor."

At the right is 22 year old Isaac, "wear[ing] an imperious expression," "undeniably the painting's hero." To his right (the viewer's left), "all in a row like bobbins - sit his women." Immediately to his right is his 19 year old wife Elizabeth, a Scottish heiress, "a solid figure, someone who might have thrived just as well carrying pails of milk and churning butter." Elizabeth holds their daughter.

Next to Elizabeth is her sister, Mary Palmer (nee McIntosh). "Sweet-faced and unfocused," smiling Mary seems both "sympathetic" and "fragile," "as though life might come and knock her down."

Finally at the far left is Isaac's sister Penelope, who "exudes detachment, as though she only deigns to sit at her brother's insistence."

Missing are the sources of the family's wealth. "Not a brushstroke creates the shadow of a slave."

If you want to get a book for Juneteenth, Ms. Manegold's work would make an excellent choice.

The Manumission of Harriet and Dred Scott

Harriet Scott and her husband Dred filed their first freedom suit in 1846. Through eleven long years of litigation different defendants – their putative masters and mistresses – resolutely opposed their claim to freedom, and in March 1857 the Supreme Court shut the last door. The Scotts and their children, it seemed, would remain slaves for the rest of their lives.

And yet, shortly after their final victory, the Scotts' owners manumitted them. Why? What accounts for this surprising turn of events?

In her fine new book, Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery's Frontier, lawprof Lea VanderVelde explains why the Scotts' owners relented after all those years.

If anyone owned the Scotts (and there is doubt as to whether anyone did own them – but that is another story) when they left Fort Snelling for St. Louis in 1840, it was Army doctor John Emerson. Dr. Emerson died unexpectedly after a short illness on December 29, 1843, leaving behind his widow, Irene Emerson, nee Sanford.

The name “Sanford” (misspelled as “Sandford”) may ring a bell. Irene was the sister of John F.A. Sanford, a wealthy and successful senior manager of the American Fur Company. Dr. Emerson's will did not mention, much less dispose of Dred and Harriet. At all events, they fell under the direction of Irene and her father, Col. Alexander Sanford (and, as a legal matter, perhaps John F.A. Sanford, the administrator of Dr. Emerson's estate). After Col. Sanford's death in February 1848, Irene and her family, at least, seem to have assumed that the Scotts had become her property.

In 1850, Irene, who had moved to Massachusetts, remarried. Her new husband, a resident of Springfield, was Dr. Calvin C. Chaffee. Dr. Chaffe and his wife, the new Mrs. Irene Chaffee, were now Dred's and Harriet's owners if anyone was. And so it remained through the end of the litigation in March 1857. (I will not delve here into the issue whether Harriet's brother, John F.A. Sanford, ever owned the Scotts. At all events, in December 1856 Sanford suffered a nervous breakdown and was confined. He was never released, dying in May 1857 in a New York insane asylum.)

When the Supreme Court decision was issued in March 1857, the publicity created a problem for Dr. Chaffee. Although the suit had named John F.A. Sanford as the defendant, people quickly realized that Dr. Chaffee and his wife seemed to be the true owners. This was awkward. Not only was the doctor a resident of Massachusetts, where slavery was not popular. In 1854, he had run for Congress emphasizing his anti-slavery views, winning election as a candidate of the American (Know Nothing) party. In 1856 he ran and won again, this time as a Republican.

Rep. Chaffee was labeled a hypocrite. In a footnote, Prof. VanderVelde cites and quotes from Mason Arnold Green, Springfield, 1636-1886: History of Town and City (1888):
Mrs. Emerson, the owner of Dred Scott, had married, after the doctor's death, Congressman Chaffee, of this town [Springfield, MA], and Mr. [John F.A.] Sanford, the administrator of the Emerson estate, was the brother of Mrs. Chaffee, nee Emerson. Mr. Chaffee's political enemies were not slow in piling the dry fagots of insinuation under his reputation and lighting a blaze. He was charged with the intent of making money out of the very slave system which upon the floor of Congress he had condemned. With a twenty years' honorable record as an antislavery man, he was compelled to deny these strictures, and to say in public, "There is no earthly consideration that could induce me to exercise proprietorship in any human being; for I regard slavery as a sin against God and a crime against man," and he added, "If, in the distribution of the estate, of which this decision affirms, these human beings to be put, it appears that I, or mine, consent to receive any part of the thirty pieces of silver, then, and not till then, let the popular judgment, as well as the public press, fix on me the mark of a traitor to my conscience."
Dr. Chaffee moved quickly to limit the damage. Under Missouri law, only a resident of Missouri could manumit a slave residing in that state. Chaffee transferred ownership of Dred and Harriet to Taylor Blow, a younger son of Peter Blow, Dred's original owner. “Taylor Blow then filed the $1,000 freedom bond necessary to emancipate each of the Scotts, as he had done for several others before. Dred and Harriet each signed their freedom papers with the same shaky 'x' that they had used in filing their lawsuit.”

Prof. VanderVelde notes a final irony lost amidst Dr. Chaffee's denials that he would profit from the affair:
What went unnoticed, however, was that Mrs. Chaffee's attorney appeared in court to collect the wages that the Scotts had earned during the long trial. In the end, it seems all the wages earned by the Scotts for the trial's duration were paid over to Chaffee's attorney, and probably transferred to Irene Emerson Chaffee . . ..

(In Dr. Chaffee's defense, I wonder whether he provided the funds that Taylor Blow used to post the freedom bonds, which were presumably greater than the Scotts' accumulated wages.)

I see it's Juneteenth. Reading Prof. VanderVelde's examination of slavery on the frontier in the mid-nineteenth century would be an apt way to contemplate the meaning of the date.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hot Babes!

The Eizo Pin Up Calendar 2010. They take it all off!

Monday, June 14, 2010

"In such State or States . . . slavery . . . shall be prohibited"

I was looking for something else yesterday in David P. Currie's The Constitution in Congress: Descent into the Maelstrom 1829-1861 when this grabbed my attention (emphasis added):
Most notably the [March 1, 1845 Joint Resolution for annexing Texas to the United States] provided that Texas might at any time divide itself into as many as five separate states. . . .

No one objected, moreover when the resolution was amended to require that slavery be prohibited in any state so admitted from [Texas] territory north of the Missouri Compromise line of 36 degrees 30 minutes. The compromise applied only to areas acquired by the Louisiana Purchase; the Texas provision extended the line westward. Not only did the proviso merely reassert Congress's purported authority, exemplified by the compromise itself, to ban slavery in the territories; it imposed a condition on the admission of new states. Southern apologists for the extension of slavery would soon have the unenviable task of explaining it away.
Section 2, Third of the Resolution included the provision that allowed the creation of up to four additional states, in addition to the state of Texas, to be formed out of Texas's territory with its consent:
Third. New States, of convenient size, not exceeding four in number, in addition to said State of Texas, and having sufficient population, may hereafter, by the consent of said State, be formed out of the territory thereof, which shall be entitled to admission under the provisions of the federal constitution.
The same section goes on to provide, as Prof. Currie points out, that slavery "shall be prohibited" in any Texas Tots (as I like to call them) that may be created:
And such States as may be formed out of that portion of said territory [of Texas] lying south thirty-six degrees thirty minutes north latitude, commonly known as the Missouri compromise line, shall be admitted into the Union with or without slavery, as the people of each State asking admission may desire. And in such State or States as shall be formed out of said territory north of said Missouri compromise line, slavery, or involuntary servitude, (except for crime,) shall be prohibited.

Another Democratic Thug

Keep it classy, Congressman.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Remake of Red Dawn?

Kick This

Braxton Bragg and Leonidas Polk

My memory may be telescoping things a bit, but as I recall it fairly early on in my Civil War reading I began to think that Braxton Bragg had gotten a bum rap. It's not that I thought he was a reincarnation of Alexander the Great, but it did seem there was a good argument to be made that he wasn't The Worst General Who Ever Lived and utter incompetent that his detractors generally make him out to be. Some of my thoughts on this subject are laid out in a series of posts entitled Was Braxton Bragg Really That Bad?

Since I make no claim to originality, it will come as no surprise that my thoughts on Bragg derived primarily from the writings of Steven E. Woodworth, one of the Civil War historians I admire most, who has defended Bragg and pointed the finger principally at the truly miserable Bishop Leonidas Polk.

I mention all this not to recycle old posts (well . . .) but to shed some light on why I am so delighted with my recent purchase of what would otherwise seem to be a fairly obscure collection of essays entitled Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Volume 1: Classic Essays on America's Civil War (Lawrence Lee Hewitt and Arthur W. Bergeron Jr., eds.). A little more than half way through, I've encountered at least three essays that touch on the Bragg-Polk issue. All three roundly dump on the Bishop and/or give Bragg at least some credit.

Most predictable, given his prior advocacy, is the essay authored by Prof. Woodward, "Soldier with a Blunted Sword: Braxton Bragg and his Lieutenants in the Chickamauga Campaign." In the essay, Woodward provides an overview of the anti-Bragg conspiracy, headed by Polk, that ate its way through the Army of Tennessee between the Perryville campaign and Chickamauga, culminating in lost opportunities due to what I can only call insubordination in the week before the battle began. (For greater detail on one of these lost opportunities, see Woodworth's essay "'In Their Dreams': Braxton Bragg, Thomas C. Hindman, and the Abortive Attack in McLemore's Cove", in The Chickamauga Campaign, discussed briefly here.)

But Prof. Woodworth is not alone. Grady McWhiney contributes an essay, "A Bishop As General", in which he provides his assessment of Polk - and it ain't pretty. I particularly enjoyed this:
It may be time for historians of the Confederacy to admit that Bragg was not the Confederacy's worst general. Leonidas Polk may not be able to claim that title either, but he certainly was a bad general. Ignorant of military matters, quarrelsome, at times careless, lazy, insubordinate, and conspiratorial, he was dangerous not only because he knew so little about the art of warfare but also because he delighted in using his religious influence as well as his friendship with high government officials, especially the president, to promote himself and to undermine his enemies. Untrustworthy, he hurt every command and every commander with whom he served. The appointment of Polk to high military rank was one of Jefferson Davis's most serious mistakes.
Finally, Lawrence Lee Hewitt awards Bragg high marks in "Braxton Bragg and the Invasion of Kentucky in 1862":
Bragg's campaigning by maneuver should have become the primary Confederate strategy in the Western Theater. Even if the invasions were to fail, the maneuvers would upset Federal plans and would delay their penetration of the Confederate interior. More importantly, Bragg had demonstrated what a single individual could accomplish when charged with the defense of the entire Western Theater. Between June and October of 1862, Bragg had displayed greater ability at grand strategy than did any other Confederate commander during the entire war [take that, Robert E. Lee!]; he had accepted responsibility for key positions hundreds of miles from his headquarters and had successfully held them for the Confederacy.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Robert Johnson

Since the unexpected success of the Sony two-disc set of the Complete Recordings of Robert Johnson twenty years ago (!), I have assumed that everybody has at least a passing acquaintance with this remarkable musician. But twenty years is a long time, and I just happened to run across this recording of one of my favorite Johnson pieces, so what the heck.

If you know your Robert Johnson already, for extra credit - and a whole lotta fun - go listen to Neil Rolnick's amazing A Robert Johnson Sampler:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Civil War Books and Authors

I'm constantly on the lookout for new books, and it occurs to me that I don't give enough credit where credit is due.

One of the sites I check regularly is Andrew Wagenhoffer's Civil War Books and Authors blog. Drew seems to note just about every Civil War release and re-release and provides an astounding number of comprehensive and well-written reviews - the man must be a reading machine.

Although the Civil War is not the center of my interest, I mention Drew's site in particular because I owe him thanks for leading me to two books recently. Some time ago, Drew's posts alerted me to the impending release of a book of essays on The Chickamauga Campaign edited by Steven E. Woodworth. I finished the book a week or two ago and was glad Drew had found it for me. A post briefly discussing some of the essays is here.

Right now I am in the middle of another book of essays thanks to Drew, Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Volume 1: Classic Essays on America's Civil War. Drew's recent review had me placing an order immediately, and so far I'm delighted.

Of the essays I've read so far, Grady McWhiney's acidic treatment of Bishop Leonidas Polk pleased me no end, since I'm convinced that the Bishop did more damage to the Confederate cause than any other (Confederate) officer. I can't say I agree with the theses of the next two pieces - positive assessments of Albert Sidney Johnston and Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard - but the authors make their cases as well as they can given that they have an uphill climb (in my humble opinion).

As always (and this is one of Drew's constant complaints as well), the volume of essays I'm reading now is deficient in maps. In the Beauregard essay, for example, author T. Harry Williams argues, among other things, that Beauregard's "march order from Corinth to the [Shiloh] battlefield . . . was not . . . unduly complex." But, for me at least, it's virtually impossible to follow the movements of the troops to the battlefield without a map, and so Williams' detailed descriptions in support of his argument basically go to waste.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Why Can't the English Teach Their Children How to Speak?

In 1835-1836, young Harriet Robinson, the "servant" of Lawrence Taliaferro and Elizabeth Dillon Taliaferro, "wintered over" with them at the St. Peter's Indian Agency compound (Lawrence Taliaferro was Indian Agent to the Sioux) one-quarter mile outside the walls of Fort Snelling, in what is now Minnesota.

The Taliaferros were not without their own linguistic shortcomings - they pronounced their family name "Tolliver". However, in her new book Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery's Frontier Lea VanderVelde reveals that an Englishman who wintered over at Fort Snelling with them was pronunciationally challenged to the point of being disfunctional (emphasis added):

One last summer visitor to pass through the Agency was an English geologist who was leading a small American-sponsored expedition in search of mineral deposits. George Featherstonhaugh (pronounced "fanshaw") made a trip up the St. Peter's River, which the Sioux called the "Minnaysoter". Like the artist [George] Catlin [who had visited the Agency and Fort that summer], this geologist was a man of grand ambition. Featherstonhaugh advocated a revolutionary notion for the times: that geology was the science of nature, not of any particular country. He was convinced that American rock formations correlated to those in England. The idea that geology was history rather than national geography was revolutionary.
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