PART IV. THE FIVE MAJOR INCOMPLETE EXTENSIONS OF EQUALITY
This part of the book covers the period following Jackson's two presidential terms through the second Reconstruction following the American second civil war (i.e., the struggle against the southern apartheid system). The chapters follow the political model outlined in Chapter 5, and this is the reason for the many subheadings. These subheadings are not always the same for every chapter. This is intentional for American political trends do not precisely duplicate one another. There is a great deal of variation in each thrust toward greater equality, calling into question the appropriateness of seeing these trends as cycles.
It has been said that the difference between the historian and the sociologist is that the historian tells a story without a point and the sociologist stresses the point by telling a few stories. This book, however, combines the best of both worlds: the sociologist who respects the richness of historical detail. The organization of the history chapters follows the political model almost perfectly. The degree of fit between the model and the basic facts of American history is convincing. And this is not the pre-selected sociological type of history, but real history in all its glorious detail. This detail will help students of sociology, most of whom do not study and thus do not know American history.
CHAPTER 17. THE FIRST EXTENSION OF EQUALITY:
CIVIL WAR AND THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY
PART I. INCREASE IN EQUALITY
ECONOMIC AND DEMOGRAPHIC FORCES
Civil war in the United States was inevitable. From the creation of the new nation, every intelligent observer noticed the great sectional differences between North and South. The main reason for these differences was the fact that slavery underlay both the southern economy and society. The "peculiar institution" meant that not only did the North and South differ in their economies but also in virtually every other facet of life as well, including politics and social values.
The forces working toward civil war were the continued development of industrialism in the North and the consequent growing gap between northern and southern economies. Slavery could not continue because it presented too much of an obstacle to further progress on all fronts, including the economic. Lincoln himself said this in his 1858 house-divided speech when he stated that "I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved . . . but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other."
The North had a number of goals concerning slavery and the South. The long-range goal was to abolish slavery. Both leading candidates in the 1860 election, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, said they wished slavery did not exist. Given the unpopularity of this idea with the voters, mainstream politicians could only mention such a goal as achievable in the long run. The medium-range goal was to stop the spread of slavery in the western territories. The short-range goal was to stop the spread of slavery in Kansas. And the immediate reason for the Civil War was to save the union.
The long-range goal of the South was to ensure slavery's continued existence. The medium-range goal was to spread slavery in the western territories, and the short-range goal was to ensure its establishment in Kansas territory. When both the Republican and Democratic candidates appeared unwilling to provide satisfactory protection for slavery and southern interests, the South moved toward secession.
Cynics love to downplay the role of slavery as a cause of the war, and emphasize the desire to preserve the union. Nevertheless, if the North had not opposed the further spread of slavery in the nation, there never would have been any need to preserve the union because the South's way of life would not have been threatened. Because mainstream politicians had to accept slavery in the South, the political battle in the territories was a proxy battle. Some northerners wanted to be rid of all slavery, but since this was not possible, at least they could stop it in the new territories. If slavery were not stopped in the territories, it would only make the abolition of slavery more difficult, if not impossible, in the future.
Romantics love to say that the nation fought the war primarily to destroy the moral evil of slavery. This overstress on morality as the main factor is not acceptable. The nation was able to live with slavery from 1619 to 1863, and slavery was the same moral evil in 1619 as it was in 1863. Actually, the strong moral onslaught against slavery began only after the Compromise of 1850. Only after differing self-interests of the two regions widened on slavery did the North turn solidly to the moral argument. The South responded with arguments that morally justified slavery. This turn to moral positions meant the conflict had already hardened past the point of no return.
If one compared the uneasy North-South coexistence to a marriage, one would say that the two regions had irreconcilable differences. A slave economy is incompatible with a modern capitalist economy. A successful capitalist society needs a free labor force that is well educated and able to move around at will, adjusting to changing market forces. But while the South wanted to leave the marriage, the North was equally determined to keep the marriage together. Unless the regions split to create two separate nations, one of the opposing societies had to be destroyed; and given the wealth of industrialism, it was not going to be that of the North.
Attempts to increase equality usually come about because the middle class feels squeezed economically or politically. In the case of the developing Civil War, however, the middle class became divided into two middle classes: North and South. This development pitted the two regions squarely against each other.
Compromise of 1820
Given that slavery was such a divisive issue, many compromises had to be worked out. One of the most famous involved Kentucky Senator Henry Clay. The Clay-sponsored Missouri Compromise of 1820 sanctified twelve free and twelve slave states with Maine entering as a free and Missouri as a slave state (1821). The act also prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of latitude 36 degrees 30 minutes.
A common interpretation of the compromise is that it postponed slavery as a crisis question for the next twenty-five years. But this simply is not true, as seen in South Carolina's threat to secede during Jackson's administration.
Despite the passive stance on the part of government, the slavery issue would not go away. The number of northern states abolishing slavery continued to increase: New York in 1827 and Michigan in 1837. In 1833 abolitionists from New York and New England formed the American Anti-Slavery Society. Already by the following year there were antiabolitionist riots in New York City and Philadelphia. In 1838 Congress adopted "gag resolutions" against antislavery petitions and motions. In that same year the Underground Railroad started, taking escaped slaves to freedom in the North. Also in that year some northern states passed Personal Liberty Laws that obstructed the Fugitive Slave Act. Rhode Island abolished slavery in 1842, New Jersey did so in 1846, followed by Connecticut in 1848. By 1848 the nation witnessed the start of the Free-Soil party, which declared its opposition to slavery in all U.S. territories. In 1850 Pennsylvania abolished slavery.
In 1827 the Quaker abolitionist Benjamin Lundy printed an account of Baltimore merchant Austin Woolfolk's involvement in the slave trade. Woolfolk knocked Lundy to the ground and the assailant was fined one dollar. William Lloyd Garrison credited his commitment to the antislavery cause to his meeting with Lundy in Boston. Lundy persuaded Garrison to join him in Maryland. Garrison soon met Jacob Greener, John Needles, and William Watkins, antislavery leaders in the black community. In 1831 Garrison began the newspaper the Liberator. In the first issue he announced his goal as the abolition of slavery and proclaimed "I will be heard." (McFeely 1991:30-32)
In 1838 Frederick Douglass at the age of twenty decided to run away from his slavery in Baltimore with his fiancée. He made his way to New Bedford "the best city in America for an ambitious young black man." He made his first antislavery speech on March 12, 1839 at a church meeting. With his deep sonorous voice he captured the attention of the white abolitionists, especially of Garrison. Soon he began a career of lecturing, first on antislavery, then on issues of concern to freed blacks, that lasted for over thirty-five years. He would also often talk against Jim Crow practices that made it impossible for he, a black man, to write with his white abolitionist colleagues (McFeely 1991:77&83&93)
At a meeting at Pendleton, Ohio their speaking group was attacked by a mob of enraged whites. A blow from the club of one of the attackers broke Douglass's right hand. Improperly set it bothered him ever afterwards. His autobiography, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), sold over 30,000 copies in five years. (McFeely 1991:108-112 & 116-117)
In 1846 Douglass and Garrison launched publicly their new Anti- Slavery League. He broke from Garrison and went to Rochester, New York, where many runaways from slavery made their way out of the United States on the underground railroad. He also established a new antislavery newspaper, the North Star, an act which led to his being fired as a lecturer for the existing antislavery organization. (McFeely 1991:146)
The Reaction to Abolitionism in the North
The 1830s saw a great increase in the movement for the complete abolition of slavery. Abolitionists existed in both the North and South, but primarily in the North. The reaction to the abolitionists in the North gives us a great many clues to the racist attitudes of the North at the time.
Until the early 1830s, most of the opposition to slavery revolved around the idea of returning blacks to Africa. The American Colonization Society was founded in 1817. It promoted the migration of free blacks to Africa and had such supporters as James Monroe, Henry Clay, and Chief Justice Marshall. The activities of the abolitionists at first went largely unnoticed, but this changed when they attacked the American Colonization Society.
When the abolitionists started showing they had bite as well as bark, northern whites responded with violence. In 1835 a mob dragged abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison through the streets of Boston. At Utica, antiabolitionists broke up a convention of the New York State Antislavery Society. In the same year and the one following, northerners petitioned their legislatures to make propaganda for abolition a criminal offense. And beginning in 1836 and extending to 1844, northerners voted for congressional gag rules in order to stifle consideration of abolitionism. In 1838 antiabolitionists burned down Pennsylvania Hall in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia. Not even the West was spared from violence. In 1837 antiabolitionists murdered abolitionist editor Elijah Lovejoy at Alton, Illinois.
Leonard L. Richards (1970) in his book on anti-abolition mobs in Jacksonian America asks why northerners were so hostile to the organized antislavery movement. He answers by noting that in the North the idea of black assimilation was anathema. Therefore, antiabolitionism was a pervasive and intensive component of northern life. Indeed, antiabolitionism was so widespread that it even prevailed in the Congregational churches of New England.
Northerners, also living in a racial tripartite society, were highly prejudiced toward blacks. C. Duncan Rice (1975) wrote that since the North was not dependent on slavery, the institution became vulnerable as soon as opinion turned against it. But this did not mean that abolitionism was popular. Even following their emancipation in the North, northern blacks were denied the right to serve on juries or to marry whites (Wilson 1973:95). Whites forced the blacks into the most unskilled and menial jobs and often denied them the right to vote by forcing them away from the polls. In the West, authorities in Illinois, Indiana, and Oregon barred blacks from entering their states.
The Mexican War and the Discovery of Gold
War with Mexico proved the real start of the undoing of slavery because the war forced head-in-the-sand Americans to confront the problem of dividing new territories into slave and free states. Events ran ahead of the ability of political wizards to build lasting compromises to soothe tensions between North and South. In 1836 Texas won its independence from Mexico. Some nine years later, during the administration of President James K. Polk, Texas became a state. Polk became the greatest American empire builder since Jefferson. He believed in the nation's Manifest Destiny, a phrase coined in 1845 to refer to the belief that America had not only the goal to spread from coast to coast but also the divinely approved duty. Polk wanted to roll to the Pacific, taking California in the process. (That there were people who already inhabited the land did not phase the Americans. In fact, in the racist tradition they actually saw American domination as a completely beneficent move.) Obviously, Mexico objected to America's imperialist expansion at their expense and in 1845 began military operations to stop the United States from annexing Texas. Early the following year, war started between the two nations.
While the Mexican War raged on, Representative David Wilmot of Pennsylvania sponsored the Wilmot Proviso. This stated that slavery would be outlawed in any of the lands won from Mexico in the Mexican War. The proviso never passed because of southern opposition, but it was as if the South's worst nightmare had come true. The North intended to limit the spread of slavery.
The war ended in 1848. Mexico gave up its claims to Texas, as well as present-day California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. In return, Mexico received $15 million and an agreement that the United States would pay the claims of American citizens against Mexico.
As the 1848 election approached, the Democrats found themselves terribly divided. Radical northerners rallied around the Free-Soil party and chose former President Martin Van Buren as their candidate. The Democrats nominated General Lewis Cass, who had been an early proponent of the idea of popular sovereignty. According to this idea, people in the territories would vote in order to determine whether the future state would be free or slave. The Democratic party incorporated popular sovereignty into its platform. By doing so, Democrats hoped to prevent further rifts in the party between northern and southern supporters.
On the expansion-of-slavery issue, the Whigs simply chose not to write a platform. Instead, they relied on the popularity of war hero General Zachary Taylor, who had argued for self-determination by the territories. In the election itself Van Buren took votes from the Democrats, giving the victory to the Whig candidate.
Events continued to run ahead of the politicians. In January of the election year, someone discovered gold on John Sutter's property in California; by 1849, the population of that area had increased tenfold, from 10,000 to 100,000. Naturally, California asked for statehood. Everyone knew that New Mexico and Utah would not be far behind. Thus, the gold rush brought an end to the gradualist approach, forcing the nation to confront what it had spent so much time and energy trying to avoid.
Compromise of 1850
The situation looked bad. Mississippi called for a meeting of southern states in June 1850. Meanwhile, delegates from that state resolved that Congress had no power to prohibit the introduction of slavery into the territories and threatened secession. Southern Whigs began to join forces with southern Democrats, and the situation grew less promising by the day.
All the political parties scrambled for a way out of the impasse. In January 1850 Henry Clay came up with still another compromise. Congress admitted California as a free state to balance statehood for slave-state Texas. This, however, made sixteen free states and only fifteen slave states. Moreover, Congress decided to let the people in the territories of New Mexico and Utah decide for themselves whether to be slave or free.
Senator Clay received a great deal of help from the chairman of the House and Senate Committees on Territories: Stephen Douglas of Illinois. In his position, Douglas oversaw the organization of a dozen territories and the admission of the same number of states. Douglas was a Vermonter, barely five feet tall, who had moved to Illinois when he was twenty years old, teaching school in order to make ends meet. Becoming a lawyer at the age of twenty-seven, he became a justice of the Illinois Supreme Court and in 1846 came to the U. S. Senate. The Little Giant, as Douglas was known, promoted the idea of popular sovereignty. He felt this would help his chances for reelection in Illinois, but still retain the support of southern moderates. President Taylor died in July 1850 with Vice- President Millard Fillmore filling the position. The new president favored compromise, and Douglas was there to provide it. Douglas divided Clay's Omnibus bill into six (later five) separate acts. Through his skill as a negotiator, he secured a different coalition of congressmen to pass each of the acts.
In the 1852 party platforms both Democrats and Whigs accepted the Compromise of 1850. The Democrats also endorsed the rebellious Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798. At the Democratic National Convention the strong candidates eliminated each other and, finally, on the forty-ninth ballot, the nod went to dark horse Franklin Pierce. In the presidential election that followed, one can see a strengthening of the sectional divisions and voting along strictly sectional lines. The 1852 election was marked by virtually all the states rushing toward the Democratic party and away from the possibility of further division. Given the widening split in the electorate, almost any Democrat could have won.
Repeal of the Missouri Compromise: The Kansas-Nebraska Act
A mere four years after the 1852 election, the temporary peace of the Compromise of 1850 came to an end. It happened in the following way. Senator Douglas sponsored the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which created two new territories of Kansas and Nebraska. The big problem with the act was that the two new territories had almost no permanent white residents. Douglas thought that Missouri would make Kansas a slave state, while Iowa would transform Nebraska into a free state. But since the act left the new territories undecided whether they would be slave or free, it almost guaranteed that as settlers moved into the territories, they would come into conflict.
Douglas hoped to open the territories for settlement while not raising the slavery question. So he was careful to use the same phrasing in the Kansas-Nebraska Act as he used in the 1850 Compromise. But attitudes had hardened in the interim between the two acts. Senator David Atchinson of Missouri, up for reelection, refused to support the measure unless it specifically nullified the Missouri Compromise. Douglas agreed, virtually declaring the Missouri Compromise of 1820 null and void. Compounding the tragedy of his error, Douglas persuaded President Pierce to make the bill an administration measure. The amended version became law in May 1854.
The reaction was swift and devastating. The ire brought down on Douglas's head was so great that he had to head home to Illinois to defend his stand among his own supporters. He said of his trip (reported in Wells 1971:38), "I could travel from Boston to Chicago by the light of my own effigy." When he arrived in his home state in the summer of 1854, angry mobs greeted him. His sponsorship of the Kansas-Nebraska Act cost him the support of many northern Democrats. In addition, the act promoted the formation of the Republican party. The platform of the new party was a radical one in that it called for the abolition of slavery.
Douglas's weakness was that he never realized the increasing sectionalism of the country. Once the nation cherished its great compromisers, but things were different now. His biographer Damon Wells (1971) classifies Douglas as a nationalist, most comfortable in planning the physical growth of the country. He was not an original thinker and had little tolerance for moral principles and high ideals. He wanted to compromise in a practical manner with little thought of the long-range consequences of his policies. But with the expansion of the United States from coast to coast, Douglas found himself in a different age. Now he was out of step and did not understand the growing sectionalism that had descended on the nation. Compromises were no longer acceptable. People had taken sides and had begun to see issues as moral ones. After 1854, no side in the conflict really trusted Douglas.
Rehearsal for Civil War: Bleeding Kansas
The Kansas-Nebraska Act created a maelstrom. For the South, Kansas became a test case for the future of slavery. The region thought that if slavery could not be extended to the new territory, the whole future of slavery would be in jeopardy. Furthermore, the South wanted Kansas admitted as a slave state to restore the sectional imbalance created by the Compromise of 1850, which resulted in sixteen free and fifteen slave states. The North, on the other hand, saw Kansas as an opportunity to stop the spread of slavery.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act turned the new territory of Kansas into a bloody battleground as proslavery and antislavery forces killed each other. In 1857 proslavery Missourians sacked the antislavery settlement at Lawrence, Kansas. Two days later, abolitionist John Brown, with four of his sons and three other men, retaliated by killing five unarmed southerners in the "Pottawotamie massacre."
Douglas Loses Key Southern Support: The Lecompton Constitution
James Buchanan of Pennsylvania became president in the election of 1856. The electorate chose him primarily because he, alone of the candidates, had not been tainted by the controversy surrounding the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Also, the public thought he would be the best person to keep the nation out of war. Buchanan owed his election to southern support and favored the South in his actions.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act had driven so many northern Democrats from the Democratic party that the national organization became a southern-dominated party. In the Democratic camp itself, Buchanan and Douglas, with their very different styles, became personal enemies. Combined actions of the president and the South removed Douglas from his chairmanship over the territories, and Buchanan and Douglas bitterly clashed over the future course of Kansas territory. There proslavery forces had gained the upper hand and, through a great many questionable maneuverings, adopted in 1857 what became known as the Lecompton Constitution. Douglas lost further southern support when he opposed the constitution, which Buchanan supported. In 1858 the people of Kansas rejected the Lecompton Constitution, and the territory became nonslaveholding. In 1859 the state ratified an antislavery constitution at Wyandotte. Obviously, none of this helped Stephen Douglas.
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates
The 1858 senate debate held at Freeport, Illinois, between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas presaged the future victory of Lincoln and the political troubles awaiting Douglas. Southern moderates approved the idea of popular sovereignty, but southern extremists did not. They maintained that the doctrine violated the Supreme Court's 1857 Dred Scott decision. Douglas had to defend the principle of popular sovereignty against the Court's decision. In the 1858 debate with Douglas at Freeport, Lincoln pointed out the contradiction in Douglas's position: How could Douglas support popular sovereignty against the rights of the slaveowner to his property? Douglas had once been thought to be the only man who could prevent civil war and possibly become the next president of the country. But the Lincoln-Douglas debates spelled disaster for the senator.
Abolitionists and John Brown
Douglass met the abolitionist John Brown in 1848 and came to know of his various plans to speed the process of abolition. Brown had a vague project to establish a republic of fugitive slaves in the Appalachians. This republic would then wage war on the slave states. In 1849 Douglass had settled his family in North Elba, New York, the black community on remote and barren lands given by Gerrit Smith, a rich friend of Douglass. During the terrible struggle between slave holding and non-slave holding forces over "bleeding" Kansas, Brown engaged in the slaughter of some of the slave holding forces, following the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. A cabal of six noted New Englanders (Samuel Gridly Howe, husband of Julia Ward Howe of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" fame; George Luther Stearns, a rich manufacturer; Thomas Wentworth Higginson, editor and Unitarian minister, and later the colonel of a black regiment in the Civil War and an acquaintance of Emily Dickinson; Theodore Parker, a famous Unitarian minister, and perhaps the most erudite man in the land; Franklin B. Sanborn, master of a fashionable school in Concord; and Gerrit Smith). (McFeely 1991:190-191)
Brown came to Douglass's secluded house to perfect his revolutionary design. And then again in 1859, Frederick Douglass met with Brown. Revealing the plan to Douglass, Douglass thought it was doomed to failure and refused to join him on his attack against the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry in Virginia (now West Virginia). On the night of October 16, 1859, John Brown, leading an armed force of thirteen whites and five blacks, seized the federal arsenal, killing the mayor of the town in the process. A force of marines led by Robert E. Lee brought an end to Brown's raid. Brown was hanged on December 2, 1859. Warrants for the arrest of Douglass went out after the Brown debacle at Harper's Ferry. Douglass escaped into Canada and then went on a speaking tour to Great Britain until the affair quieted down. After the initial shock settled down, it became a badge of honor in progressive circles to have known John Brown. (McFeely 1991:192-200 & 212)
ROLE OF CONGRESS AND SUPREME COURT
The primary role of Congress was to avoid confronting the slavery issue. And, it must be admitted, Congress was successful in putting off the coming crisis for decades through many compromises. This talent for evading the racial issue has always characterized the U. S. Congress, as it does to this day.
President Buchanan followed a legalist approach to solving the nation's paralyzing regional disputes. Indeed, there is evidence that, behind the scenes, the president worked to ensure that the Supreme Court would decide the issue. In 1857 Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in the Dred Scott decision ruled that, in effect, the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. He held that Congress had no right to prohibit slavery in the territories. The decision defined slaves as property and, as property, no government could deny the slave owner's right to his slaves. Reaction to the decision was furious. A dark cloud was drawn over the Taney Court, as the decision helped accelerate the sectional strife that led to civil war.
Once again, as in the Jacksonian revolution, the Supreme Court reflected an earlier time and did not adapt to change. Under Taney, the emphasis was on state power over the power of the federal government and this influenced all decisions of the Court.
EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY (LIBERAL VERSION)
Ralph Waldo Emerson was the preeminent transcendentalist spokesperson, but his emphasis on self-renovation had a conservation impact on social thinkers. As civil war approached, a handful of thinkers transformed transcendentalism into a demand for radical social reform (see Fredrickson 1965). There was even a certain affinity between this radical transcendentalism and abolitionism. Among the proponents of these ideas were George Ripley, William Henry Channens, and Theodore Parker. Parker, a Boston Unitarian minister, was the leading exponent.
Although the majority of northerners certainly were not abolitionists, as the divisions in the country grew so serious that war threatened, abolition itself grew in influence. In 1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom's Cabin. This immensely popular book did a great deal to justify a more direct antislavery position. Northern support to confront the now "moral evil" of slavery solidified and increased.
Of course, America rejected radical alternatives. The disputes between William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass illustrate the racism of American liberalism (Allen 1974:40-41). The self-educated Douglass ran away from his Maryland slave master in 1838. In 1841 he met Garrison at an antislavery meeting, and Garrison encouraged Douglass to became an antislavery lecturer. But as soon as Douglass wanted to strike out on his own with the publication of the newspaper The North Star, Garrison had a falling out with Douglass. Garrison wanted the North to divorce itself from the union, whereas Douglass wanted the North to stay in the union and work to eradicate slavery in the South. Douglass even went so far as to justify the right of slaves to revolt. The differing positions of the men led to their split in the early 1850s. Certainly, if Garrison did not find radical abolitionism acceptable, one could not expect the racist white middle class to accept it.
ELECTION OF A STRONG PRESIDENT AND A LIBERAL CONGRESS
Abraham Lincoln and the Election of 1860
Douglas's support for the Lecompton Constitution and popular sovereignty made him unacceptable to the South. Southerners came to the 1860 Democratic National Convention prepared to bolt if they did not get a proslavery platform. Thus, what should have been the high point of Douglas's political life turned into a fiasco. When the Illinois senator would not support a platform that protected slavery in the territories, the southerners left the convention, bringing the whole affair to an end. Later, northern Democrats chose Douglas as their candidate, while southern Democrats chose John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky. The Constitutional Union party, which derived its primary strength from the border states, chose John Bell of Tennessee.
The Republican party chose Lincoln as its candidate. The party platform called for no more slavery in the territories, but no interference with slavery in the states. The platform planks were moderate positions with no room for the abolitionists. But it was too late now for compromise and moderation.
Lincoln won the election with 1.9 million votes against Douglas's 1.4 million. Lincoln's low percentage of the total vote showed that most Americans did not want war over slavery (Fleming 1977:118).
Five days before Christmas, 1860, South Carolina seceded. Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas followed. Confederate cannons trained on Fort Sumter, located in Charleston harbor, opened fire on April 12, 1861, the date that marks the official start of the Civil War. When Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers for the army, the states of Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia voted to leave the Union. The South now had eleven states. There were four border states: Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware. In 1863 the newly established West Virginia became a fifth border state. The rest of the nation arrayed itself against the South.
Most European leaders thought the South would be able to secure its independence simply because it is so difficult to put down a determined secession (Morison 1971). Granted that the South was weak compared to the North in terms of manpower and supplies of all sorts, but many observers thought that these advantages would not offset the spirit of rebellion.
The task was made extremely difficult precisely because Lincoln was a terrible commander- in-chief. His main task was to win the war militarily, and yet his affable nature made it difficult for him to assert his wishes over the army. Lincoln was no Harry Truman. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than an incident involving the president and George B. McClellan, the commander of the Army of the Potomac (reported in the ABC television special on Lincoln by the Kunhardts that aired December 26, 1992). The president, Secretary of State Seward, and presidential secretary John Hay waited a full hour at the residence of McClellan before the general arrived home. On his arrival, McClellan marched straight up to his bedroom, passing without acknowledging his guests in the waiting room. The visitors waited another half hour and then sent the house servant to inform McClellan that they were waiting for him. The servant came back with the message that the general had retired for the night. McClellan's extreme rudeness and contempt for the president was matched only by his ineffectiveness in pushing the war against the South. Yet, despite the obvious need to rid the army of this little caesar, Lincoln finally did so only after the Battle of Antietam, which occurred in September 1862. (And this in spite of the fact that McClellan had already been forced from the spotlight by the ascendancy of General John Pope. Pope, however, went on to lose the Second Battle of Bull Run.) Lincoln then went through so many poor commanders that one has to question Lincoln's ability to choose effective generals.
The Emancipation Proclamation illustrates the desperateness of the North's military situation, caused to a considerable extent by Lincoln's ineffective control over his armed forces. As the war dragged on, Lincoln became concerned about the North winning and thought that the one thing that would really help the northern cause was freeing the slaves. His cabinet advised him to wait until the North gained a clear battlefield victory and he agreed.
Robert E. Lee provided Lincoln with his opportunity by deciding to invade the North. Northern forces under General McClellan defeated Lee at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland. Five days following the victory, in September 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves only in those southern states controlled by the Confederacy.
The proclamation was largely a war measure, but it did accomplish a goal that before the war only the most radical of political thinkers believed was obtainable: the abolition of slavery. Ironically, the South fought the war to make sure slavery would spread westward, and ended with the abolition of slavery not only within the western territories but within their own states.
Reaction to Emancipation
While the few abolitionists were ecstatic over emancipation, many northerners were livid. Many Union troops deserted, declaring they would not fight to free the black man. In the North there was a broad white supremacy belt covering two-thirds of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, most of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the lower half of New York (Fleming 1977:120-121). This was the area with the heaviest concentration of blacks. In Indiana, antiwar sentiment was so strong that the governor suspended the legislature and ruled by fiat. In Ohio, Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham became the head of the Copperhead peace movement. In 1863, he came close to winning the governorship of his state. In New Jersey, Democratic politicians said the Republican party was engaged in "Negromania," maintaining that Republicans were anti-labor. The Democrats were also worried, thinking that freed blacks would flood northern labor markets.
Just how insecure northern whites could be is illustrated by the Draft Riots of 1863 in New York City, which was a strong proslavery center. Scapegoating Irish immigrants, upset at having to fight for the black man's freedom so that blacks could compete with them for jobs, went on a rampage that left some twelve hundred persons dead (see McCague 1968:33). The rioters specifically targeted black- connected organizations for their wrath. For instance, they burned the black orphanage near 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue. The authorities had to call out thirteen regiments of regular troops in order to restore order.
End of the Civil War
The highwater mark of the Confederacy was just before the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1863. Lee had gone on the offensive into the North again (following his earlier defeat at Antietam). The opposing armies bumped into each other, and the battle was on. Lee, now cursed with hubris, threw George Pickett's men at well-entrenched Yankee positions and painfully watched the bloody results. Lee had thought the Army of Northern Virginia could do anything asked of it, even accomplish a task that Lee himself had defeated many times when tried by northern generals. Pickett never forgave Lee, declaring that the old man had destroyed his army.
Lee would never again go on the offensive in the North, but this was small comfort to Lincoln, who with the approaching election was running out of time. The president had to find someone who would fight and fight hard in the east. Lincoln finally appointed a general who would fight. Ulysses S. Grant kept coming at Lee, never giving the southern commander a chance to relax. With time running out, however, Grant could not afford to use sophisticated battle plans. He quickly became known as the butcher of the North because of the thousands of casualties thrown against strongly enforced southern positions. In twenty minutes at Cold Harbor Grant lost 7000 men. In one month the north suffered 55,000 casualties, nearly the size of Lee's entire army. Mary Todd Lincoln herself referred to Grant as a butcher and maintained that if the war lasted another four years, Grant would depopulate the North (Kunhardt television special, December 1992).
Butcher or not, Grant's tactics forced the outmanned and outarmed southern forces into barricaded positions around Richmond and Petersburg. When Grant finally took Petersburg, cutting the rail connection to the Confederate capital, Lee had to abandon the city. Confronted at Appomatox Courthouse by overwhelming northern forces, Lee surrendered in April 1865.
Shortly after the war ended, the sometime actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln. Vice-President Andrew Johnson became the new president. Johnson found himself face to face with liberal Republicans who wanted to transform southern society.
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