Saturday, May 31, 2008

Clay in '44?

I've posted before on the possibility that Henry Clay might have been elected president in 1844. In that connection, consider this stunning point by Daniel Walker Howe (emphasis added):
Only four states in the far Northeast allowed black men to vote on the same basis as white men; elsewhere black either had to meet higher qualifications than whites or were disfranchised [sic] altogether. In New York state, some 3,000 black men could meet the $250 property test imposed on them to vote; had they been exempted from it, as white men were, there would have been 10,000 black voters and Henry Clay would have been elected president in 1844.

The Birth of the Silver Greys

I've referred in several recent posts to the faction of New York Whigs known as the "Silver Greys." I thought I'd take a brief post to tell you where the name came from.

The Silver Greys were born at a New York Whig nominating convention that opened on September 26, 1850, shortly after Millard Fillmore, who was then president, had signed the bills known collectively as the Compromise of 1850.

William Seward and his mentor, Thurlow Weed, had been enemies of Fillmore for years. When Zachary Taylor had become president in 1849, Seward obtained Taylor's confidence and saw to it that Fillmore was deprived of patronage in New York, even though Fillmore was then vice president. Their rivalry also manifested itself in policy disagreements. Seward opposed and denounced the Compromise; Fillmore helped engineer it and insisted, after its passage, that it should be regarded as the "final settlement" of the slavery issue.

In this heated atmosphere, the Whigs met in September 1850 in New York to select nominees for state elections and congressional races. Weed and Seward had full control of the convention. They acquiesced in the selection of Francis Granger, a Fillmore man, as chairman. However, when nominations for office were made, the Fillmore partisans were largely snubbed.

The convention then turned to the party platform. William Duer, a Fillmore supporter, proposed a platform that included planks that were pro-Fillmore and pro-Compromise. They
praised Fillmore's virtues and declared that New York's Whigs had "the utmost confidence in his administration of the government and his maintenance of the well-know principles of the Whig party." They iterated New York Whigs' adamant opposition to slavery extension and their belief that Congress had a right to prohibit it. Nonetheless, they "acquiesce[d]" in the Texas-New Mexico boundary bill and the creation of territorial governments for New Mexico and Utah "in the confident belief that those acts of conciliation will result in the exclusion of slavery" and "restore cordial sentiments and fraternal ties" between the sections.

William Cornwell, "a Sewardite from Cayuga County," proposed amendments that contained substantive differences, but which also seemed designed to insult Fillmore and provoke a fight. Substantively, Cornwell "intransigently rejected acquiescence in the territorial bills" without the Wilmot Proviso, and maintained that it would be "'the solemn duty of Congress' to impose the Proviso on those territories at 'the first indication' that slavery would introduced into them."

Cornwell's modifications also pointedly omitted all reference to Fillmore's "maintenance of the . . . principles of the Whig party," followed by a new plank that clearly contrasted Seward's fidelity to those principles:
Our thanks are especially due to the Hon. William H. Seward for the signal ability with which he has sustained in the United States Senate, those beloved principles of public policy so long cherished by the Whigs of the Empire State, expressed in State and County conventions, as well as on the votes and instructions in our State Legislature.

"Pandemonium erupted." After the platform committee deadlocked, the dispute returned to the floor of the convention. Weed's forces, in control, passed Cornwell's substitute handily, the opposition walked out, and the Silver Greys were born:
When the resolution praising Seward passed passed 76-40, Duer and his thirty-nine supporters began to march ostentatiously out of the hall. Granger, who remained in the chair and who had presided with scrupulous fairness, then gave a short speech calling this the saddest day of his political career, relinquished his gavel, and followed Duer and his colleagues out the door. Granger, in short, did not lead the exodus, but forever afterward the bolters and other Fillmore men would be called Silver Grays in reference to Granger's hair.

All quotes are from Michael F. Holt's encyclopedic The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War, at 587-88.

Watermelon In Easter Hay

Some days, you just need to hear some Frank Zappa.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Origins of the Republican Party

I wasn’t planning on writing a review of William Gienapp’s wonderful The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852 - 1856 – and I’m still not. The book came out twenty years ago, and everyone knows that it’s an outstanding work – I’ve been hearing about how great it is for years, although I can’t tell you where, it’s just one of those things that’s in the air.

I noticed, however, that the book is the subject of only two Amazon reviews: both pretty favorable, although they’re pretty perfunctory and contain more whiney complaints than I believe they should. To give the book its due, I thought I’d write, if not a review, at least a few disjointed thoughts.

To begin at the end, the book is simply superb. The depth of Professor Gienapp’s knowledge is stunning and is reflected in his ability to place tremendous detail in a beautifully woven organic synthesis in which everything makes sense. He writes well. The story picks up steam as the Republican Party gradually coalesces and becomes compelling as the 1856 nominations and canvass take place.

True, some parts of the book are difficult and favor political junkies. Anti-Nebraska coalition parties were formed in the North on a state-by-state basis. This requires a state-by-state examination of the tortured and confused political background of a number of key states, and of the tortuous paths that proto-Republican fusionists had to cut among other parties and divisive issues that competed with theirs. Know Nothings and Hards and Softs and Hunkers and Barnburners abound. It is probably best to have some background in the period (such as David Potter’s The Impending Crisis) first.

And yet Professor Gienapp’s intimate knowledge of the lay of the land allows him to point out the path with eerie facility. I compared Professor Gienapp’s discussions of some of the key state races in my home state of New York with those of Michael Holt in his The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party. Of course, the two historians are looking at the races for slightly different purposes and have somewhat different emphases, but what really stood out was that Professor Gienapp distilled the issues into a more comprehensible, and somewhat less confused narrative. Professor Holt sees so many trees that sometimes it hard to see the forest. Professor Gienapp makes it easier to discern the patterns.

The book focuses, of course, on the birth of the Republican Party through its first presidential nomination and election in 1856. But it is far more than that. In the process, Professor Gienapp sheds invaluable light on the events that gave rise to the birth and allowed the party to reach maturity. The discussion of the effect of Bleeding Kansas and Bleeding Sumner on northern opinion in mid-1856 brings home, like nothing else I have read, how utterly critical those events were in electrifying northern perceptions of the Slave Power and transforming the Republican party from an infant struggling for breath to a healthy toddler growing, as it were, by leaps by bounds. The discussion makes me (at least) wonder what would have happened if President Pierce had not been such a moron, and if Preston Brooks had stayed his hand and cane.

In a similar vein, Professor Gienapp’s analysis of the ideology of the party in its early years – essentially a chapter length version of Eric Foner’s Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men – is worth the price of admission alone. Not to give away the punch line, but the author concludes, correctly in my view, that beneath a broad range of issues and opinions the critical common denominator was the fear that the tentacles of the Slave Power were reaching out to crush the liberty of northerners.

Other fascinating observations and discussions abound. How did the Republicans manage to prevail over the Know Nothings in 1855-56? Why was Nathaniel P. Banks so important that I have placed his picture at the top of this post? How on earth did John C. Fremont, a political cipher, become a serious candidate for the nomination, much less the nominee? Why was James Buchanan a brilliant choice by the Democrats? How and why did the Republicans do so well in the election – and why didn’t they do better?

In the end, the book brilliantly drives home just how critically important the period from January 1854 (when Douglas introduced Kansas-Nebraska) through the election of 1856 was. You don’t have to be a determinist to imagine this period as one in which it becomes clearer that there are two trains headed toward each other – and they’re picking up steam. The books examines the turning pistons of one of those trains in slow motion, and the reader feels queasy precisely because he can see, with the benefit of hindsight, the train wreck that will come four years hence.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Our antipathy to the Pope and to Paddy is a pretty deep-seated feeling"

The Weed-Seward Whigs had been a highly competitive organization in New York for years. They consistently outmaneuvered their intra-party rivals, the Silver Greys, and they had regularly exploited divisions between Hards and Softs to best the Democrats. The new Republican party, augmented by Barnburner Democrats, some Softs and some KNs who feared the Slave Power more than the Pope, seemed ready to march to victory in 1855. The remaining Softs and the Hards continued to be divided. As for the Know Nothings – well, you know as well as I that the Republicans were destined to relegate them to the ash bin of history.

History, however, apparently forgot to vote in the 1855 elections in New York, and the Americans did not get the message that they were supposed to die. In the lead race for Secretary of State, for example, the Americans outpolled the Republicans by almost 12,000 votes:

Headley (American) 148,557 34.1%
King (Republican) 136,698 31.4%
Hatch (Soft) 91,336 21.0%
Ward (Hard) 59,353 13.6%

On the bright side for the Republicans, it was a good showing for a new party, formally organized only six weeks before the election. One potential rival, the old Whig party, had disappeared. The three parties that had included anti-slavery statements in their platforms (all but the Hards) had garnered 86% of the vote.

On the other hand, the negatives were large. The results suggested that, even after almost two years of agitation over the Nebraska bill and troubles in Kansas, antislavery, by itself, was simply not sufficiently attractive to marshal even a plurality of the vote. More voters were attracted by the Americans’ combination of anti-Catholicism, temperance and mild anti-slavery. The total vote in 1855 had decreased by 20,000 from 1854, and yet the American vote increased by 26,000. As diarist George Templeton Strong observed, New Yorkers’ “antipathy to the Pope and to Paddy is a pretty deep-seated feeling.”

In addition, the combined votes of the two Democratic factions were greater than the Republican total. If they could reconcile for the national election in 1856, they might well sweep to victory in the state.

In sum, the Republicans were competitive in New York in 1855, but in the end they were also-rans. A betting man, surveying the field in December 1855, would not have placed his chips on the Republicans as the party to challenge and defeat the Democrats in the state in 1856.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Thurlow Weed gravitates to the the Republican movement

As we have seen, 1854 was a year of mass political confusion in New York. A Whig had won the governorship, but as a temperance candidate, and the results were widely viewed as signaling the demise of that party in the state. The true powerhouse appeared to be the Know Nothings, who had come out of nowhere to rack up impressive results.

Meanwhile, the prospects for an anti-Slave Power fusion party appeared grim. The Kansas-Nebraska Act had passed in May 1854 and failed to generate a canvass that turned on slavery and the Slave Power when the issue was fresh. There was every reason to believe that anti-slavery and fusion had missed their chance.

That, of course, proved incorrect in New York, for two reasons. First, continued provocations in Kansas, magnified by anti-slavery propaganda, kept the slavery issue before the public in New York as elsewhere in the North. Second, having achieved the re-election of William Seward to the Senate, Thurlow Weed “gravitated to the Republican movement.”

In some states, such as Ohio, the Republican party emerged out of cooperation among Whigs, Know Nothing elements, and free soil Democrats. In New York, Weed and Seward adopted a different tack, fiercely attacking the KNs. Not only had Seward courted immigrants for years; in New York, the KNs had allied with Seward’s enemies the Silver Greys. Cooperation with mainstream KN elements (other than the Choctaws and a fusion-KN group called the Know Somethings) was impossible.

Instead, the Weed-Seward Whigs courted former Barnburners and Softs. After an intricate summer-long dance, Whig and Republican conventions held simultaneously in Syracuse on September 26, 1855 produced a slate carefully balanced among the parties. Heading the ticket was Preston King, a Barnburner who had also walked out of the Soft convention in 1854, as the nominee for Secretary of State. James M. Cook (Whig) for Comptroller and Abijah Mann (a Free Soiler) for Attorney General rounded out the slate.

The platform was largely devoted to the slavery issue, but it also explicitly denounced Know Nothingism – the only 1855 Republican platform to do so. The most difficult issue proved to be temperance. In the end, a pro-temperance statement was passed as a “sense of the meeting” resolution, but was omitted from the formal platform.

Three other parties were arrayed against the new party:

The Hards ran on a platform endorsing Kansas-Nebraska and condemning the KNs.

The Softs endorsed a platform that attacked Whig economic policies, denounced the KN’s and called for repeal of the state’s new prohibition law. After bitter fighting, the convention also endorsed a resolution, known as the Corner Stone resolution, that had been adopted by the Barnburners in 1848. It “pledged to adhere to all compromises of the Constitution,” but at the same time “proclaimed ‘fixed hostility to the extension of slavery into free territory.’”

Like the Softs, the KN-Silver Greys experienced great difficulty dealing with the slavery issue. In the end, the KNs condemned Kansas-Nebraska. Obviously, their principal appeal was to nativism and anti-Catholicism.

The rump of the Whig party – those seeking to avoid siding with either the Weed-Sewardites or the KN-Silver Greys – held a convention at which only slightly more than half the state’s counties were represented – and that overstated their strength. Rather than nominating a candidate, the attendees contented themselves with denouncing the Republicans. The attempt only demonstrated that the old Whig party was dead.

Monday, May 26, 2008

"These great co-workers in the old Whig time are again friends"

I was looking at old New York Times articles concerning Millard Fillmore when I ran across the following brief item. Given the bitter relations between Thurlow Weed and William Seward, on the one hand, and Fillmore on the other, the description of a post-War reconciliation between Fillmore and Weed makes one wonder about could-have-beens. What would have happened if Weed had convinced Seward to see Fillmore as a colleague, rather than a rival?

The article bears a dateline of July 21, 1869. I have added paragraph breaks for readability:
It will afford the friends of both distinguished parties infinite pleasure to learn that the long personal estrangement between Ex-President MILLARD FILLMORE and Mr. THURLOW WEED was brought to a happy close a few days since at Saratoga, by a meeting of reconciliation so magnanimous in its feeling incidents, so creditable and characteristic on both sides, that we trust we violate no private confidence in stating the fact.

They were their own voluntary mediators. Mr. FILLMORE made the first advance by intimating to Miss WEED, on the occasion of an accidental meeting at the dinner table of the hotel, that if he were sure it were agreeable to her father he would call upon him at his rooms. On hearing this Mr. WEED immediately sought the rooms of Mr. FILLMORE, where, without scarcely a momentary reference to by-gones, personal or political, the most hearty good neighborhood and kindly understanding were restored.

So these great co-workers in the old Whig time -- both grown gray in the public service -- are again friends after an estrangement of nearly a score of years.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Thanks to Zombietime.

The Choctaws

A couple of posts ago, I referred to a number of the names borne by political factions in the Byzantine world of antebellum New York politics -- Barnburners and Hunkers, Softs, Hards and Silver Greys.

Well, here's one more: the Choctaws. No they were not Indians. The Choctaws were a dissident group of pro-Seward Know Nothings. In 1854, when the KN-Silver Greys nominated Daniel Ullmann for governor, the Choctaws bolted the KNs and endorsed the Dry Weed Whig, Myron H. Clark.

In early 1855, Thurlow Weed curried favor with the Choctaws as part of his strategy to obtain Seward's reelection to the Senate. Weed selected as speaker of the New York assembly DeWitt Clinton Littlejohn, a KN allied with the Choctaws.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The KNs Vote for Pope Pius

In New York, “[t]he disintegration of anything like party regularity in the chaotic four-party election of 1854 made it impossible to forecast the party breakdown in the new legislature” that assembled at the beginning of 1855. KNs constituted roughly one-third of each house. “By cooperating with the Hards, their most likely allies,” the KN could have controlled both houses.

William Seward had a long history of courting immigrants and Catholics. As such, there was every reason to assume that he was anathema to the KN legislators. Remarkably, Thurlow Weed nonetheless engineered the reelection of Seward to the United States Senate. He used a variety of methods. Using the compliant new governor, Myron Clark, Weed delayed all government appointments until after the vote, to the point that a Silver Grey complained that “[t]he State creeps all over like an old cheese, & swarms of maggots are out hopping & skipping about all the avenues to the Legislature.”

Substantively, Weed and the KNs reached an accommodation. If the KNs voted for Seward, Weed would not “hinder passage of a temperance law and of an anti-Catholic church property law designed to prevent clerical control of ecclesiastical property. Both laws were key pieces of legislation to the KNs, and the temperance law would please the governor as well.

The upshot was that a majority of the American party legislators in both houses voted for Seward, and the legislators got their temperance and church property laws.

The New York Evening Post acerbically commented on the surprising result, “one need not be surprised if the vote of the Know-Nothings is cast for Pope Pius at the next election.”

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Demise of the Whigs: New York 1854

Viewed from a distance, history often looks pretty tidy. Shortly before the Civil War – some one hundred fifty years ago – the Whig party died and was succeeded by the Republican Party. You can say it in a sentence; the transition is seamless; the appearance and eventual triumph of a new party organization seems predestined, inevitable.

Up close and personal, however, it is remarkable how messy the whole process was. There was nothing inevitable about the Republican party. Its leaders included clever tacticians, and they got lucky.

Ironically, it was not even the Republican party that killed off the Whigs. The mid-1850s witnessed a remarkable series of new political issues arise almost out of nowhere that battered both the old Jacksonian Democracy and the Whigs. The Democrats survived. For a variety of reasons, the Whigs did not.

Death took place at different times, and from somewhat different causes, in each state. However, if you had to pick a year in which the Whig party received a mortal blow, it was 1854. I thought I’d take a look at the New York State fall 1854 elections for governor and the state legislature to give you a feel for the utter political chaos of that year.

In his wonderful The Origins of the Republican Party, William Gienapp takes thirteen pages to sort through the election – which will tell you something about the utter confusion that reigned. Obviously, I will not do that here. But bear in mind that this account is tremendously simplified. All quotes are from Professor Gienapp’s book.

To begin with, we have to take a step back, because both the Democrats and Whigs were already badly fractured in New York. The Democratic fracture went back to 1848, when Martin Van Buren deserted the party to run as the presidential candidate of the Free Soil party. Van Buren and his followers, known as the “Barnburners” (as opposed to the “Hunkers” who remained in the party) eventually rejoined the Democrats, creating another fissure. “Hardshells,” or “Hards,” took the position that the Van Buren apostates should be punished by being barred from holding state or federal office. “Softshells,” or “Softs,” were inclined to forgive and readmit the prodigals. In part, these disagreements reflected attitudes toward slavery and the Slave Power, but more fundamentally they concerned factional fights over patronage and personality.

The Whigs, meanwhile, had their own problems. The fundamental division was between the wing of the party controlled by Thurlow Weed and his protégé William Seward, and the so-called “Silver Greys.” The latter were a more conservative, pro-Compromise group, which you can think of, for purposes of convenience, as associated with Millard Fillmore. As with the Democrats, the factions had policy differences, but a good deal of the rivalry grew out of personal animosity and patronage access. You were either fer Weed or agin’ him – and vice versa.

Cutting across these party and factional lines – essentially dicing them up – were a host of issues that were new or assumed increased importance. Old issues that had traditionally divided Democrats and Whigs in New York, such as the Erie Canal, had faded or been resolved. Taking their place were issues that included temperance, immigration, anti-Catholicism and the Slave Power.

As it turned out, there were four candidates for governor:

The incumbent, Horatio Seymour, was a Soft. However, in 1853 he had unexpectedly vetoed a prohibition bill sponsored by Myron Clark, a Whig legislator. A joint Soft-Barnburner convention renominated him. This meant that Seymour would run primarily as an anti-temperance candidate, particularly since disagreements between Softs and Barnburners over Kansas-Nebraska required that that issue be buried.

When combined, Softs and Barnburners significantly outnumbered Hards. Even so, the Hards so resented the rival groups that they went their own way. They nominated their own candidate, Greene Bronson. The Hards, oddly, were both anti-administration (Pierce had sided with the Softs and removed Bronson from a lucrative position) and pro-Nebraska.

At the Whig convention, the Weed-Seward wing battled the Silver Grey faction. Weed was not able to control the convention the way he usually did, but he did retain sufficient influence to engineer the elevation of a candidate he could live with: the pro-temperance Myron Clark, a “pliable” “incompetent who was an admirer of Seward and willing to follow directions from Weed.” The Whig platform and Clark were mildly anti-Nebraska, but Rum (or rather its elimination) was clearly their primary issue.

Late in the campaign, disaffected Silver Greys seized the chance to nominate their own candidate. Taking control of the Know Nothing organization, in October they nominated Daniel Ullmann, “a leading conservative Whig and perpetual office-seeker.” He was known to oppose Kansas-Nebraska, and privately (but not publicly) pledged to sign a temperance law. In effect, Ullmann headed “a separate Know Nothing ticket with a strong Silver Grey taint.”

In this four-way race, Dry Weed Whig Clark actually prevailed, by all of 309 votes out of 469,000 cast, over Soft Wet Seymour:

Clark (Dry Weed Whig) 156,804 33.4%
Seymour (Wet Soft) 156,495 33.3%
Ullmann (Silver Grey KN) 122,282 26.0%
Bronson (Hard) 33,850 7.2%

Even so, the true winners were the Know Nothings – and the true losers were the Whigs. Ullmann had entered the race very late. The Know Nothings had not yet organized in many counties; Ullmann was lackluster and uninspiring; and his pro-temperance views not widely known. Yet where they were organized, the Know Nothing vote swept away the old parties. Observers were stunned:
“Nothing can be assumed from former Elections,” the Albany Evening Herald remarked the day after the election. “Nearly all the old political landmarks are obliterated. Of all parties there has been a regular ‘smash-up’” in the face of “a complete ‘Know Nothing’ stampede.”

Foremost among those swept away were traditional Whigs, who deserted the party in droves. “[T]he nativist vote came primarily from former Whigs and earlier non-voters.” In addition, many of Clark’s votes were based on his dry position – a position that largely overlapped with the views of the KNs (think whiskey-swilling bogtrotters). In short, Clark did not win as a Whig but largely as a pro-temperance KN stand-in, with a few anti-Nebraska votes thrown in:
Despite Clark’s narrow victory, the traditional Whig electoral base had been thoroughly disrupted, since as many Whigs voted for Ullmann as for Clark. [Clark] suffered massive losses among native-born voters, and in fact he ran behind Ullmann in a number of Whig strongholds . . .. At the same time, Clark picked up unexpected support in northern counties, no doubt in part because the Know Nothings had not yet extensively recruited in that area, but also in response to the Whig candidate’s anti-liquor and anti-Nebraska positions.

As a result, most New York Whigs saw the party as finished:
The election had left “the old Whig Organization a mass of ruins,” a Whig paper in upstate New York commented ruefully. “We are utterly wrecked. It is altogether idle to think of a reconstruction of the Whig Party. It is past surgery, past all medicine.” . . . Nativism had sealed the party’s fate. The Know Nothings, as one New York politician remarked, had “torn the Whig strength to pieces.”

One other observation: in New York, there was not a Republican in sight. Former Barnburners had decided not to bolt their party (again), since Soft Seymour was the standard bearer. On the Whig side, Weed and Seward actively resisted the formation of an anti-Nebraska fusion party, because Seward needed Whig votes in the legislature to win reelection to the Senate. But they had at least hoped to make Nebraska the central issue of the campaign. In this they failed utterly: the issues of Rum and Romanism clearly predominated:
With the Nebraska issue swallowed by the forces of ethnocultural conflict, the major parties in turmoil, and a powerful new party having arisen almost overnight (“as if by magic,” one paper claimed), even experienced politicians were at a loss as to what the future would bring. “Parties are now in a state of disorganization – rather of utter anarchy,” a veteran New York Democratic leader observed at the end of the year. “What is to come out of it, no one can foresee.”

The greatest irony, perhaps, was that, as of the end of 1854, many “experienced politicians concluded that the unprecedented opportunity offered by the Nebraska controversy to organize a northern antislavery party had been irretrievably lost.” The analysis of moderate New York Whig Hamilton Fish, surveying the wreckage on December 16, 1854, was not unusual:
Noting that thousands of Whigs, to say nothing of free soil Democrats, had opposed Clark in New York “while the Nebraska issue was still blistering,” [Fish] saw little hope that a new antislavery party could be organized. “The time for ‘fusion’ is in my opinion past,” he proclaimed. “Fire will not burn a second time over the same field.”

Fish and other observers could not know that David Atchison would set fire to same Kansas field again in 1855, and that the flames would burn on and off for three years, until the resolution of the Lecompton crisis in 1858.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"He has a crack across his brain"

I confess however that I cannot be inspired with confidence in any movement that [Horace] Greeley controls. With all his ability he has a crack across his brain that amounts to little short of derangement & will destroy anything which he may be allowed to lead.

Hamilton Fish to Thurlow Weed, March 22, 1856, quoted in William E. Gienapp, The Origins of the Republican Party, at 151.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Gettysburg Day 3: What Think You of This?

I don't pretend to be a Gettysburg expert, but I've read some about it. I have never, however, heard the following. Can any of you who have studied the battle comment on the following:
Is there anything new and important to say about Gettysburg? Perhaps so. Perhaps Lee's imagination and patience did not falter after the abortive attacks on the second day. Perhaps his plan for the third day was the most brilliant of all: he just kept the fact of its failure secret out of concern for his army's morale. That plausible plan concerns something everyone knows -- J.E.B. Stuart's belated return on July 2 -- and something many people may not know" the action Stuart's men fought on July 3 well behind Culp's Hill. It is always assumed that Stuart just meant to disrupt the federal troops' supplies and reinforcements or harry their expected retreat. But strong circumstantial evidence suggests that Lee sent Stuart around the northeastern tip of the Union lines with orders to circle back west and charge Seminary Ridge from the rear in support of Pickett's charge from the front. Why didn't Stuart deliver that mortal blow? Because 2,700 cavalrymen from Michigan, in fighting trim thanks to Hooker's attention, defeated Stuart's gray ghosts about four miles short of their goal. The Union general who rallied his men with the cry "Come on, you Wolverines!" was George Armstrong Custer.

The accompany footnote states, in relevant part, "On Lee's secret plan for the third day, see Tom Carhart, Lost Triumph: Lee's Real Plan at Gettysburg and Why It Pailed (New York: Putnam, 2005)."

Walter A. McDougall, Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Eara 1829-1877 (New York: HarperCollins 2008) (emphasis added).

Have you heard of this? Is it credible? Do you believe it?

Blind Willie Johnson

The first time I heard Blind Willie Johnson, I felt as if someone had thrust an ice pick in my neck; I was, literally, stunned. Then I began to smile and, ultimately, laugh out loud – in amazement, and in joy that I’d found him. He is, simply, the finest old time blues singer and performer I have ever heard. I am apparently not alone. Ry Cooder reportedly called one of his songs the most “transcendent piece in all American music.” Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton have also cited him as a major influence.

Willie was born near Waco, Texas in about 1902. At age five, he announced that he was going to be a preacher, and his father made his first guitar out of a cigar box. Following the death of his mother, his father remarried. After his father beat his stepmother for cheating on him, she blinded Willie at age seven by throwing lye water in his face (apparently aiming for the father). With few options available, Willie later began performing on street corners with a tin can tied around his neck, singing and playing the guitar in a bottleneck slide style, using a pocketknife. He married in 1927.

Luckily for us, also in 1927 Columbia brought Blind Willie into a studio, where he recorded ten of his songs. They sold very well, and later sessions increased the total number of songs recorded to thirty. By 1930, however, the Depression had devastated his audience. After a final session in April 1930 sold poorly, Blind Willie, like many bluesmen of the era, never recorded again.

With his wife, he lived for the rest of his life in Beaumont, earning a living as best he could by preaching and playing on the streets and occasional church benefits. In 1947, their house burned down. Living in the damp remains of the structure, he died of pneumonia, virtually forgotten until rediscovered during the folk-blues revival in the 1960s.

Although I have termed Blind Willie’s music as “blues,” he would likely have objected to the characterization. He was devoted to the Bible and the Baptist Church, of which he was a member. Most of his songs are religious – gospel, if you will – and on the streets he preached as well as played his music. But whether you label them “blues” or “gospel” or something else, the performances are those of a man fighting for his very life and soul. Sometimes using a sweet tenor, Blind Willie mostly growled and shouted his songs in a raspy, bellowing, moaning – and yet intensely beautiful – low baritone that would make the devil run scared . . . or cause him to get down on the ground and cry out for forgiveness.

Comparisons? Bukka White comes closest. There are marked similarities between their vocal techniques. Bukka's voice is higher, reedier, and I don't think his guitar technique is as distinctive. Recognizing that all such things are personal, Bukka somehow fails to convey, to me at least, the incredible emotional depth that Blind Willie delivers. Such is the mystery of music. Further afield, Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart are sometimes mentioned. Both lack the power and, more importantly, the anguished and yet life-affirming beauty that Blind Willie conveys. This is "soul" music in the literal sense.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Cultural Differences and the Civil War

In response to a recent post, decon left a comment that began:
The "southerners were different from northerners" thesis is offered in many different guises and it drives me nuts.

The idea that cultural differences between the North and South caused the Civil War seems to be largely in remission these days. However, you do see it pop up from time to time.

The best debunking of the idea that I have come across is contained in essay by David M. Potter entitled "The Historian's Use of Nationalism and Vice Versa," republished in The South and the Sectional Conflict (LSU Press 1968). Professor Potter reiterated many of the same points in The Impending Crisis.

To begin with, the cultural argument
exaggerates the points of diversity between North and South, minimizes the similarities, and leaves out of account all the commonalities and shared values . . .. These featured had proved their reality and their importance by nourishing the strong nationalism which was in full vigor by the 1840s. Further, any explanation which emphasizes the traditionalism of the South is likely to lose sight of the intensely commercial and acquisitive features of the cotton economy.

Cultural dissimilarities exist between or among sections or groups in many countries. Yet they usually do not lead to war. Likewise, in the United States cultural differences between North and South were probably greater during the founding period and the first quarter of the Nineteenth Century than they were in 1860, and differences persisted long after the Civil War ended. Yet southerners were in the forefront of founding the nation and the nationwide Second Party system, and enlisted in the United States army and fought under the American flag in 1898 and 1917.

The cultural diversity argument fails because it cannot account for these phenomena:
To explain an antagonism which sprang up suddenly, and died down suddenly, the historian does not need to discover, and cannot effectively use, a factor which has been constant over a long period, as the cultural difference between the North and the South has been. He needs to identify a factor which can cause bitter disagreement even among a people who have much basic homogeneity.

In short, "[n]o cultural explanation" "would make possible the explanation of the Civil War, without making impossible the explanation of the rapid return to union after the war."

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Throes of Democracy

I'm a little over halfway through, but I thought I'd deliver an interim report on Walter McDougall's Throes of Democracy.

Let's begin with what it is not. It is not a narrative political history of the period. If you are not already familiar with the basic chronology of events, this book is not for you. I think the book would be tremendously confusing to a reader lacking sufficient background.

It is true that Professor McDougall does intersperse impressionistic summary accounts of the political background here and there, but I just don't think it's enough. Certainly, the reader who assumes he is going to get a comprehensible overview of the period is going to be sorely disappointed. If that is what you want, my recommendation is that you opt for Daniel Ward Howe's magnificent What Hath God Wrought (covering 1815-1848), David M. Potter's definitive The Impending Crisis (1848-1861), James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom (Civil War) and Eric Foner's Reconstruction (or Kenneth M. Stampp's brief but excellent The Era of Reconstruction).

So much for what the book is not. What, then, is it? Here's where I start scratching my head. I suppose that most would characterize it as a "social history" (with snippets of political narrative scattered about). I fear, however, that that phrase gives the book too much credit. Good social history does not, perhaps should not, have a "point," but it should at least have an organizing principle that allows the reader to understand why the author is focusing on certain phenomena rather than others. Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought is magnificent in this respect, bringing together social, religious, literary, technological and political developments to try to explain the multiple competing visions in the first half of the Nineteenth Century of what America was and what it should become, and how and why it went down one path rather than others.

Broadly speaking, Professor McDougall clearly has a theme. He sees Nineteenth Century America as a wildly diverse, violent and contradictory, teeming with avaricious hustlers, immigrants, preachers (who may be hustlers or reformers or both) and reformers (who may be hustlers or preachers or both).

But in conveying this theme, Professor McDougall encounters a problem. He does so largely by telling a series of stories about particular characters and movements. Some are interesting, some are not, but it is hard to tell what binds them all together, other than the fact that they illustrate the diversity outlined above. However, if diversity is the only common element, then everything is relevant. In the end, one gets the impression that Professor McDougall is simply stitching together otherwise discrete essays, statistics, trivia and biographical sketches. The result is not Frankenstein, but you can see the scars, and the whole is less -- and less satisfying -- than the sum of the parts.

Let me take one chapter as an example: "Migrants, Farmers, Mechanics, and Clowns: The Anxious, Exciting Birth of an Industrial People, 1830-1860. In sixty pages, Professor McDougall discusses aspects of the following:

Introduction, population growth
Irish immigration and efforts to oppose bias
German immigration and influence
Jewish immigration
Emmigration from New England to the Old Northwest
Farming in the Northwest; technological innovation; transport
Technology: patents; telegraph, sewing machine
Coal; locomotive; railroad development
Rise and growth of technology redux
Newspapers and magazines
Dan Rice, entertainer and huckster
P.T. Barnum, entertainer and huckster
High vs. low entertainment

There you have it. The topics are related, and you can even discern a sort of progression from one topic to the next, but the overall impression is an unsatisfying jumble.

As I said, I am only half way through. If my impression changes, I will be happy to repent.

Friday, May 16, 2008


I don't think I've ever recommended a movie here before. Well, let me break the string. Breach is a fine, understated yet compelling film.

I've watched it three plus times. Chris Cooper is the kind of actor who shouldn't get a lead role in a million years. He's not sexy, he's not pretty; he's just excellent. The movie sold me on Laura Linney as a fine actress, and Ryan Philippe is very good as well.

Finally -- and maybe I should have put this first -- the subject matter is compelling:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Was Braxton Bragg Really That Bad? V

Last year, I devoted several posts, entitled "Was Braxton Bragg Really that Bad," to suggesting that he wasn't. (You can find them by clicking on the "Braxton Bragg" label at the right.) The posts were based largely on the writings of Steven Woodworth, who has argued that the common knee-jerk opinion that Bragg was the worst of the worst does not withstand careful review.

Until yesterday, I thought I was alone; I don't think that I had ever seen anyone else in the blogosphere dare to defend poor Braxton. Yesterday, however, I was delighted to discover a like-minded spirit. At Army of Tennessee, Braggophile Lee White, a Ranger at the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park, has published a number of entries seeking to raise the general's reputation a notch or two. Continue the good work, Mr. White! And thanks for pointing me to Grady McWhiney's talk to the Civil War Round Table in Chicago, Braxton Bragg: Misplaced General, which I had not seen.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Second Party System

Several years ago, Sean Wilentz, suffering a severe case of BDS (from which he has not yet recovered), wrote a silly article in which he tried to tar Dubya with the epithet . . . "Whig!"

Daniel Walker Howe has, in effect, devoted an entire book to explaining why the Whig label, properly understood, is a badge of pride, not shame. But I was reminded of the article most recently by Walter McDougall's observation that it is a futile exercise to try to impose the contemporary political spectrum on the Second Party System:
Who were the conservatives and who were the liberals in this second party system? If one adopts twentieth-century definitions it might appear that the libertarian Democrats were the conservatives and the statist Whigs the liberals. But in the parlance of nineteenth-century Britain, where the labels originated, the reverse would be true. In regard to slavery, free-soil Whigs would appear the liberals and the Democrats supporters of a racist status quo. But in regard to workers' rights as understood later in the century, neither party was "progressive." In regard to ethnic and religious tolerance the Democrats would appear the liberals, since they embraced Catholics and immigrants. But in regard to education and social reform the reverse would be true. The only way to get a grip on the growing divide among Americans in the mid-nineteenth century is to purge our contemporary notion of the political spectrum and try instead to imagine the ambivalent anxieties of a freewheeling people with one foot in manure and the other in a telegraph office.

A Corrupt Bargain?

If Hillary drops out of the race and throws her support to Obama in return for the vice presidency or a cabinet position like Secretary of State, wouldn't that be a corrupt bargain?

How about Supreme Court Justice? I'm feeling ill.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


My sister's American Mastiff, Augie, is closing in on 100 pounds.

A Lazy Post

At Civil War Talk, a correspondent posted the following:
In general Southerners seem to have had a greater connection to their state than Northerners did. I have never been sure of why that was (it seems to have been roughly similar at the time of the Revolution), but it is clear that it was so. Perhaps Northerners were less likely to feel that way because of the greater amount of immigration in their area, the easier transportation network, etc.

I responded as follows:
David Potter makes a point that is relevant here, although it tends away from your argument. Potter argues that loyalty to locality and loyalty to a larger political entity (nationalism) are not necessarily contradictory values. Often, there is no conflict between the two, and one can be loyal to and supportive of both. There is no need to prioritize one's values.

Sometimes, however, the loyalties come into conflict. In those cases, one must draw priorities. This is not necessarily an all-or-nothing exercise. One may feel loyalty to one's country, but feel more loyalty to one's locality or state.

Potter argues that in this respect there was nothing unique about the South. Back during the War of 1812, it was New England that perceived tensions between loyalties. The national government was taking actions that were perceived to be harmful to the section. New England rumbled with discontent. James Madison and Henry Clay -- and John Calhoun! -- were the nationalists, because they saw no conflict of loyalties.

The War of 1812 abated of course. Later on, southerners began to perceive (rightly or wrongly -- we can avoid that issue) that the national government was moving in a direction that threatened their interests. They began to have to prioritize their loyalties. By then, it was the Northerners (or most of them) who perceived no contradiction between their loyalties to their section and their country as a whole. Daniel Webster was able to speak "as a Union man" because he saw no conflict between that role and the interests of his state and section.

On a more practical level, it's worth remembering that the south was deeply tied into national and international commerce. Planters -- including those hotspurs in South Carolina -- marketed an international cash commodity. They had agents and brokers in Britain and shippers in New York. Even most farmers produced a bale or two as a cash crop. I just don't think the isolated south vs. engaged north holds up.

I think the dynamic was the other way around. Perceived national threats to local interests generated increasingly strident defenses of local interests, and the elaboration of theories designed to reduce national power. On the other hand (and I think this also supports my contention), where an increase in federal power was perceived to benefit the south (fugitive slave law, federal slave code in the territories), southerners readily embraced those propositions and indeed maintained that they were constitutionally required.

The same goes for the north, by the way. Where northerners perceived a conflict between national and local, and had to prioritize their loyalties, many went local. Examples would include the personal liberty laws designed to hamper the Fugitive Slave Act, and court decisions such as Abelman v. Booth, which held the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional.

Martin Van Buren, Transvestite!

Well, I've introduced you to Martin Van Buren, Pervert. Now meet Martin Van Buren, Transvestite:
Davy Crockett, the Whigs' own Tennessee leatherstocking, served up jucier meat. He wrote (or had ghost-written) a campaign biography depicting "little Van" as a fop. Van Buren, it said, turned up his nose at the common people he presumed to lead, rode about in a carriage with servants in uniform ("I think they call it livery"), dressed like a lord, and (here's the kicker) "is laced up in corsets, such as women in town wear. . . . It would be difficult to say, from his personal appearance, whether he was a man or woman, but for his large red and gray whiskers."

Walter A. McDougall, Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era 1829-1877, at 91-92.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Richard Vaux, "An ass of the first water"

You've never heard of Richard Vaux? He was an early victim of the Know Nothings. The Democrats nominated for mayor of Philadelphia in 1854. He had a close association with Catholics and immigrants and won the Democratic primary in large part because a large portion of the Catholic vote was delivered to him. Running against Whig Robert T. Conrad, the Democrats were confident of a resounding victory.

They were wrong. In the general election, held in June 1854, Vaux was swamped; Conrad, it turned out, was also a Know Nothing, and won with a majority of more than 8,000 votes.

Even some Democrats were disgusted with Vaux's heavy reliance on Catholics. William Gienapp relates that "One indignant Democrat, who claimed that Vaux had been nominated by illegal votes, dismissed the Democratic mayoral candidate as 'really an ass of the first water.'"

I'm not sure what that means, but you get the idea.

Millard Fillmore, Know Nothing: Part XI

Last winter, I posted a number of entries about Millard Fillmore's decision to run for president as the candidate of the American (Know Nothing) party in 1856. I argued, among other things, that Fillmore was not a nativist or anti-Catholic; that he turned to the American party, for want of any other vehicle, to convert it into a non-sectional, pro-Union party; and that, in winning the nomination and running on the American ticket, he used an absolute minimum of nativist, anti-immigrant rhetoric -- so little, that he alienated many of the hard-core members who had swelled the party's ranks in 1854 and 1855.

I am pleased to see that so learned a scholar as William Gienapp appears to agree. Here are are a few of Professor's Gienapp's observations about Fillmore's involvement with the Know Nothings:
Fillmore had begun pursuing the [Know Nothing] nomination as early as 1854. He appealed principally to the Silver Grey element in the order [Silver Greys were conservative New York Whigs, opposed to the Seward-Weed wing of the party] and to southerners who desired the preservation of a national Union party. Although the former president endorsed limited nativist reforms, he had little interest in this aspect of the American movement (indeed, while visiting Rome in January 1856, he had an audience with the Pope). Instead, from the first he envisioned the American party as a conservative, pro-Union replacement for the Whig organization.

* * *

Also important [to the Know Nothings' decline] was the muddling of the party's appeal with Fillmore at the head of its ticket. The Know Nothings had risen to power by crusading against old party hacks, calling for political reform, and shrewdly exploiting both anti-Catholic and anti-Nebraska sentiment so pervasive in the North. Fillmore had no interest in any of these issues. To him and the clique of Silver Grey Whigs around him, the major issue of the contest, indeed the great issue since 1850, was the preservation of the Union. In a series of short campaign speeches that he delivered following his return from Europe, Fillmore over and over again stressed the importance of the Union issue while giving only lip service to the nativist sentiments that motivated the party's rank-and-file. "Do you notice that K N-ism already has utterly sunk all discussion of its leading principles?" one Republican asked near the end of the campaign. From a quite different perspective, a New York Know Nothing nonetheless made a similar observation when he complained that the party's speakers "have said too little about the great American principles."


Every once in a while I venture out of the Nineteenth Century. I did so last month, reading Max Hastings's Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-45. I won't bore you with a review -- there are scores at Amazon alone -- but I found it gut-wrenching, horrifying and stunning. I felt like I'd never read about World War II before.

For a preview of sorts, I recommend a podcast of a talk that Sir Max gave in 2004 about the book at the Pritzker Military Library in 2004.

Hastings's newest book, Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-1945 is also the subject of a Pritzker podcast. I'm adding it to the list.

Salmon P. Chase, Bull-Bitch

I pass this along without comment, mostly because I'm not sure what a "bull-bitch" even is. It doesn't sound good, though:
The sincerity of [Chase's] hatred of slavery is beyond challenge. The Ohio Free Soil leader had committed himself to the antislavery movement in the 1830s when it was not respectable; he had braved anti-abolitionist mobs; he had waged a long legal struggle for black rights; and he had labored diligently for many years to form a powerful antislavery third party. As his commitment to political activity grew, however, so, too, did his ambition; he was, in the words of one Ohio politician, "as ambitious as Julius Caesar." Chase was . . . also unbearably self-righteous and on occasion decidedly duplicitous in his political dealings -- his enemies called him "a political vampire" and "a sort of moral bull-bitch."

William E. Gienapp, The Origins of the Republican Party, at 72.

Franklin Pierce, Wimp

It is remarkable how irrelevant Franklin Pierce seems to be to the momentous events that shook the country during his presidency. In connection with the Kansas-Nebraska bill and the acrimonious debates and violence that ensued, Pierce typically gets only a line or two.

The little notice that Pierce does draw usually focuses on a visit he received from Jefferson Davis, Stephen Douglas, David Atchison, John Breckenridge and others on Sunday January 22, 1854. The circumstances surrounding that meeting only emphasize what a cipher Pierce seems to have been, and how little the legislators thought of him.

Douglas and his allies had decided the evening before to report the Kansas bill on Monday. Almost as an afterthought, they decided that they should get Pierce and his administration on board. They recruited Jefferson Davis, Pierce’s Secretary of War, and descended on the hapless president at the White House. Although Pierce and his cabinet had previously expressed disapproval of Douglas’s bill, Pierce was unable to resist the pressure and agreed that the administration would support the plan. Not content with his oral commitment, the conferees even bullied the president into writing out a statement that the Missouri Compromise “was superseded by the [Compromise of 1850] and is hereby declared inoperative and void.”

Pathetically, Pierce tried to maintain a little wiggle room by asking his visitors to consult Secretary of State William Marcy as well. They thought so little of Pierce that they never did so, later claiming that Marcy was not at home when they called.

William Gienapp provides a superb sketch of Pierce that explains why he was and remains virtually invisible – and why Douglas insisted on getting the president’s commitment in writing on that fateful day in January 1854:
A handsome, slightly built man with a generous head of hair and more than a touch of vanity, he carried himself with a graceful manner that imparted an imposing presence. Preeminently a social person, he was blessed with great personal charm and easily assumed a familiar air with callers, often throwing an arm around their shoulders. Such behavior betrayed the shallowness of his character. Wanting intensely to be liked and uncomfortable with confrontation, Pierce appeared to agree affably with whomever he was conversing, even when he had no intention of accepting the proffered advice; later, when he adopted a different policy, men naturally felt deceived. Politicians in Washington came to see how little his protestations of friendship really meant, how completely undependable he actually was. . . . Forceful politicians quickly realized that this unsteady and irresolute president could be intimidated.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Iran Disses Millard

Now I’m really pissed. Even the Iranians are dissing Millard Fillmore.

MEMRI TV has a clip aired on Iranian TV that highlighted the fact that murderous thugs have served as President of the United States throughout our country’s history. Here is the transcript:
Masters of the White House - Presidents of the United States of America

Andrew Jackson 1829-1837, AKA "The Slaughterer of Indians " – Annihilation of hundreds of Indian tribes.

Pierce Franklin [sic] 1853-1857 – Threatening the Japanese empire with the American fleet.

Abraham Lincoln 1861-1865 – The American Civil War. Thousands of dead and wounded.

Woodrow Wilson 1913-1921 – World War I. Thousands of dead and wounded.

Harry Truman 1945-1953 – The 1945 destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by means of two nuclear bombs.

Dwight Eisenhower 1953-1961 – The American intervention in Lebanon on July 15, 1958.

Lyndon Johnson 1963-1969 – The beginning of the air bombardment of North Vietnam on February 9, 1956 [sic].

Richard Nixon 1969-1974 – Sending 540,000 American soldiers to invade Vietnam.

Jimmy Carter 1977-1981 – Sponsor of the Camp David Accords with the Zionist entity.

Ronald Reagan 1981-1989 – Supporting the 1982 Israeli attack on the Iraqi nuclear plant.

George Bush (Father) 1989-1993 - Leading the coalition of thirty countries that invaded Iraq in 1991.

Bill Clinton 1993-2001 – An intensive missile attack on Iraq in 1998.

George W. Bush 2001 till now – Thousands of dead and wounded in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, since 2001 to this day.

But, as Paul Mirengoff at Powerline points out, “it was Millard Fillmore who ordered the fleet to Japan, although the treaty that Commodore Perry's visit produced was signed early in the Pierce presidency.” Once again, Millard gets no respect. He can't even get himself listed as the war criminal that he was.

Even Millard’s own biographer is forced to admit that Fillmore and his thuggish henchmen were in fact blood-soaked murderous imperialist pigs who used the threat of overwhelming and devastating force to crush the peace-loving Japanese – and to serve notice to the entire world that the United States was prepared to destroy anyone who stood in its way:
With regard to Japan, . . . Millard Fillmore decided that the United States would be the prime mover. This, presumably, would give the United States an initial edge in negotiations for whatever trade and other advantages might be derived from Japan, and it would show the world that the young democracy was indeed a world power. . . .

First, however, a “pretext” needed to be found:
Beginning in December 1850, Fillmore’s Japan project slowly took shape. . . . The pretext for the expedition would be the return of some shipwrecked Japanese sailors who had been rescued by an American ship and brought to San Francisco.

Using this cover, the warmonger Fillmore instructed the ruthless Commodore Perry, behind a veneer of professions of friendship, to reduce Japan to vassalage under the heel of the United States:
[Perry’s] orders were difficult. He was to convince the Japanese that the incursion of Americans into Japan was inevitable and that they should abandon their position of hostility. He was to remember, however, that his mission was “necessarily of a pacific character,” and he should use force only in self-defense. The Japanese were “proud and vindictive,” and he was to be “courteous and conciliatory” but “firm and decided.” He was to “submit with patience and forbearance to acts of discourtesy . . . by a people unfamiliar with our ways,” but he was to allow no insults.

At the same time, with a wink and a nod, Fillmore made clear to his commander that he was expected to disregard his formal orders and reduce Japan to a smoking ruin if necessary. Perry was specifically assured that “’Any error of judgment’ on his part would be viewed with ‘indulgence’ by his superiors in Washington.”

With these duplicitous orders, Perry set sail, armed to the teeth and laden with gifts designed to corrupt and debauch that pacific island nation:

Perry set sail with four powerful ships carrying two years of provisions; gifts, including one hundred gallons of Kentucky bourbon whiskey, wines, two telegraph transmitters with several hundred feet of wire, a quarter-scale railroad with 370 feet of track, four volumes of Audubon’s Birds of America; and an excellent interpreter.

Eight months later, Perry delivered these gifts and a deceitful letter from Fillmore
assuring the Japanese emperor, his “Great and Good Friend,” that Perry and the United States wanted only “friendship, commerce, a supply of coal, and protection for our shipwrecked people.” In closing, Fillmore added, “May the Almighty have your imperial majesty in His great and holy keeping.”

Franklin Pierce may have gotten the credit for this bloodthirsty exercise, but it is Millard Fillmore who deserves to live in infamy:
The successful conclusion of Perry’s mission would occur during the following administration, but for better or worse, the combination of military threat and peaceful assurances that opened Japan was conceived, planned, organized, and staffed by Daniel Webster, Millard Fillmore, and Edward Everett.
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