One hundred and fifty years ago Lincoln was at the high point of his Presidency. The Civil War was coming to a victorious conclusion. His popularity would zoom to heights not reached by any President since Washington when on April 14, 1865 he foiled the assassination plot of John Wilkes Booth by wrestling him to the floor of the theater box at Ford’s Theater. (One wonders if Booth would have succeeded if Lincoln had not been standing and stretching, his face to the door of the theater box, when Booth burst through the door.) Less than four years later, he left Washington, widely reviled North and South. Although revisionist histories appear occasionally defending Lincoln, the consensus of his contemporaries still stands: that Lincoln made an adequate wartime President, but an abysmal peacetime President. I think this verdict is overblown, but one cannot argue that his second term after the War was anything but a disaster. Let us look at the factors that led to this.
1. Former Confederate States-Lincoln’s theory was that the former Confederates States had never been out of the Union. So soon as ten percent of the voters based on 1860 totals had taken an oath of allegiance to the Union and organized a state government that abolished slavery, the new state government would be recognized by the federal government and members elected to Congress seated. This was far too lenient for Radical Republicans who feared that these new state governments would simply be replicas of the state governments that existed in 1860 with a de facto abolition of slavery while de jure blacks would be fifth class citizens. Their fears were soon realized with new state governments recognized by the Lincoln administration adopting Black Codes, laws that severely restricted the freedom the newly freed slaves. This remained a bone of contention between Lincoln and the Congress controlled by the Radical Republicans from the beginning until the end of his second term.
2. Rights of Blacks-That Lincoln was sincerely committed to the civil rights of former slaves cannot be doubted in good faith by anyone. The ringing words of his 1865 Fourth of July “Life and Liberty” oration before the freedmen of Richmond should eliminate any doubt on that score. Throughout his second term Lincoln used military force to enforce the rights of blacks that were routinely trampled upon by the new governments in the former Confederate states that he recognized. He was instrumental in establishing the largely black states of Liberty, Emancipation and Freedom in the West that ensured black representation in Congress and a haven for blacks disenfranchised in the rest of the country. However, the use of the military was met by a virtual guerilla warfare in the South led by the Ku Klux Klan, often receiving clandestine aid from the governments that Lincoln had helped install. This was all very confusing for the war weary citizens of the North, and a common complaint of “What did we fight the War for?” became ever more common in the North as Lincoln’s second term went on.
3. Mary Lincoln- The assassination attempt on Lincoln seemed to unhinge Mrs. Lincoln. She would often shriek in public to strangers that she knew that they were out to murder her husband. Lincoln perhaps had no choice in having her committed to an insane asylum, but that decision added to his unpopularity.
4. Fissions in the Republican Party-With slavery ended, the Republican party fractured between radicals and conservatives, former Whigs and former Democrats, and a myriad of different state factions. Much of Lincoln’s time was devoted to healing these fractures, with Lincoln often receiving strong criticism from all factions for his troubles as a would be peacemaker.
5. Seward’s Folly- Throughout the second term Democrats often attacked Lincoln for having run up a huge national debt during the Civil War. This charge received more ammunition when the US purchased Alaska for 7.2 million dollars, which Democrats painted as money wasted for a worthless icy wasteland. When it got out that Lincoln was considering attempting to set up more black states in Alaska, he was subject to laughter and ridicule, often accompanied by a quoted statement from a black that he did not want to go and freeze in Alaska.
6. Man of the Past-Lincoln often seemed like a figure of the past by the end of his second term. Secession and slavery, the two issues most associated with Lincoln, quickly became relics of the past to a nation, at least the white part of the nation, eager to turn the page. Heroes who win often seem outdated as times rapidly change, and that fate befell Lincoln. Continue reading
An exercise in alternate history.
The path to the creation of the United Socialist States of America began with the death of President Franklin Roosevelt on April 12, 1944 and the accession to the Presidency by Vice-President Henry Wallace. Personally favorable to the Soviet Union, the new President surrounded himself with fellow travelers and security risks.
In the Presidential election of 1944 Thomas E. Dewey, the Republican nominee, denounced Wallace as “soft on Communism”, a charge that Wallace vigorously denied. Wallace was elected in a close contest with Senator Glen Taylor (D.Id) as his Vice-President.
Following the conclusion of World War II, Wallace followed a policy of rapid demobilization which was quite popular, leaving only three divisions in Europe for occupation duties. General Eisenhower denounced this as being an inadequate force and resigned from the Army. Wallace turned a blind eye to the Soviet imposition of Communist governments in Eastern Europe, with his inaction being denounced vociferously by the Republicans and by many Democrats, most notably Senator Harry Truman (D.Mo.).
Which member of the Wallace administration secretly provided the Soviets with the blue prints to build atomic bombs in 1945 remains unclear, but suspicion has usually focused on Secretary of State Alger Hiss. Hiss was certainly instrumental in turning Werner von Braun and his associates over to the Soviets in 1945. By 1948 Communist parties dominated all of Eastern Europe and Italy.
Wallace was defeated for re-election in 1948, running on the Progressive Party ticket after being denied the Democrat nomination which went to Harry Truman. Thomas E. Dewey, the Republican standard bearer, won in the fall with Truman a close second and Wallace a humiliating third with 2.4% of the votes.
The Wallace administration was history, but it left behind in the government bureaucracies many individuals who served as agents for the Soviet Union out of ideological conviction. Steps to remove them were only partially successful, and throughout the ensuing Cold War they provided steady intelligence to the Soviet Union which allowed it to maintain a technological parity with the United States as the years passed. Rising to senior positions in the various government bureaucracies they sheltered younger agents who joined them over the years.
With the defeat of US forces in Vietnam, the Henry Wallace wing of the Democrat party became dominant, with George McGovern narrowly defeating Ronald Reagan in 1976. Embarking on a policy of a 37% reduction in military spending, which represented in practice a policy of unilateral disarmament, McGovern was not a knowing agent of the Soviet Union, although it is difficult to see what difference it would have made in his policies if he had been. He steadfastly ignored the toppling of governments of Central America by communist insurrections and the swarms of Soviet advisors that helped prop up the new regimes. The beginning of a Communist insurrection in Mexico in 1978 alarmed many in the United States, but McGovern stuck to his policy of “Come Home America” and continued his policy of non-involvement in military struggles abroad. Continue reading
For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago;
William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust
As we prepare to observe the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, a question arises as to whether the shattering Confederate victory was inevitable. I believe it was for the following reasons:
1. Lee and Jackson-The most formidable military partnership in American military history, Jackson and Lee by Gettysburg had perfected the teamwork that made them matchless on the battlefield. With Lee providing strategic insight and bold plans, Jackson was the perfect man to execute Lee’s will on the battlefield. As Lee said of him: Straight as the needle to the pole he advances to the execution of my purpose. When fired upon by his own men by accident in the gloom of night at Chancellorsville, it was fortunate indeed for the Confederacy that although several members of his party were killed and wounded, he emerged unscathed. Lee and Jackson hoped in their Northern invasion to produce a defeat so decisive that it would destroy Northern morale and end the War.
2. Jackson and Stuart-The grim Cromwellian warrior of God Stonewall Jackson and the spiritual descendant of the cavaliers, Jeb Stuart, were, surprisingly enough, good friends. After Brandy Station, Lee was concerned that Stuart was stung by the criticism of the Southern newspapers, and that might cause him to attempt one of his patented spectacular raids, precisely not what Lee desired in the forthcoming invasion of the North. Lee sent Jackson to talk with Stuart. Stuart describes the interview in his memoir, one of the classic pieces of literature to come out of the Second American Revolution, Riding the Raid (1880):
Initially I was perplexed as “Stonewall” described the plan of the coming campaign and that General Lee wished to use my cavalry as a coordinated attack force with General Jackson’s corps. Then I realized this was General Lee’s characteristically polite manner of telling me that I was to follow Jackson’s orders in the coming campaign. I will not pretend that I was not chagrined although I gave no outward sign of the irritation I felt to my friend “Stonewall”. As it turned out this was yet another example of the brilliance of General Lee, the greatest soldier of our age. If not for this order, I would not have been on hand to quickly scatter General Buford’s cavalry during the early morning of July 1, and General Jackson would not have been aware of how distant the Union infantry corps were from the all important high ground south of the town. After that day I never entertained the slightest doubt as to the decisions of General Lee, even if they ran directly counter to my own opinions.
3. The Hardluck XI- I have always thought that the XI Corps receives a disproportionate amount of blame for the Union loss at Gettysburg. Any of the Union corps marching on to the battlefield as the XI Corps did probably would have fared as poorly, however that task fell to the same Corps that had recently been routed by Jackson at Chancellorsville, and hardly two months later they met the same fate at Gettysburg. It was the luck of the draw that the XI Corps was at the head of the marching order that day and the first Union Corps to reach the field. With the loss of McPherson’s Ridge, courtesy of Stuart, Jackson was free to march through Gettysburg and launch a furious assault on the XI Corps at noon as it attempted to deploy on Cemetery Hill. After a half hour of fighting the XI Corps collapsed and headed southeast on the Baltimore Pike. Seeing Union reinforcements arriving from the southeast, Jackson made no effort to pursue, but contented himself with seizing, completely uncontested, Cemetery Ridge, Little Round Top and Big Round Top and fortifying these immensely strong by nature positions.
4. George Gordon Meade-Appointed to command the Army of the Potomac just two days prior to the battle, Meade has gone down in history as the man who lost the decisive battle of the War. It is hard not to have sympathy for him. He had indicated prior to his appointment that he did now want the job and he now had it under the worst possible circumstances, with no time to put his own stamp on the Army or come up with a plan of campaign on his own. My sympathy does not extend to his decision to attack the now heavily fortified Confederate positions on July 2, 1863. Meade had enough experience of the War to realize that a frontal assault on fortifications held by veteran troops of the Army of Northern Virginia was merely a colorful way to commit suicide. The men making the attacks certainly did, many of them pinning notes with their names and home addresses on them so their next of kin could be informed of their deaths. After the debacle at Fredericksburg this decision by Meade, albeit under heavy pressure from Washington to do something, was truly unforgivable. Meade would have done better to withdraw and keep Lee’s army under observation, harassing Confederate foraging parties. This would have forced Lee to eventually leave his fortified nest due to lack of supplies. Instead Meade’s attacks cost him 12,000 casualties in exchange for less than 3,000 Confederate casualties. Jackson favored a counter-attack, but Lee decided that he would wait and see what Meade would do the next day. Continue reading
Palin would not have dismissed the Black Panther intimidation lawsuit that the government had already won.
Palin would not have seized two auto companies and give them to her cronies in and out of the UAW.
Palin and her supporters would not be claiming that her opponents were racists for disagreeing with her policies.
Palin would not have tried to block Boeing from building a factory in South Carolina as a gift to her union buddies in Washington state.
Palin would not have toured the world apologizing for America.
Palin’s Homeland Security Department would not have classified patriots as security threats.
Palin would have expanded oil and gas exploration on federal lands instead of reducing it, make the US even less dependent on foreign oil.
Palin would not have allowed the Pigford suit to be settled that gives billions of dollars to “farmers” that never farmed.
Palin would not have shipped thousands of guns to Mexican drug cartels so that they could be found next to the bodies of murdered Mexicans and American agents.
Palin would not have encouraged the IRS to harass Tea Party groups.
Palin would not have encouraged the IRS to illegally reveal the names of contributors to conservative groups to Liberal organizations so that contributors could be harassed.
Palin’s IRS would not ask groups seeking 501(c)4 status about their prayer life.
Palin would not have passed a national health care bill that is a 2000 page “train wreck” and that threatens to destroy America’s health care system. Continue reading
If the end brings me out wrong, ten thousand angels swearing I was right wouldn’t make any difference.
During the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the War Between the States, it is time to take stock of the War that severed forever the United States of America and led to creation of two American republics, soon to be joined by a third, the Pacific Republic, and, eventually, by a fourth, after Texas seceded from the Confederacy during the Great Depression of 1893. All of our American history, for good and ill, was irrevocably altered by the events that transpired a century and a half ago. Could events have come out differently? I think many historians would say yes, if Lincoln had not lost the election of 1864.
By the Spring of 1864 the Union war effort had clearly made progress but at a terrible cost in human lives and treasure. The Union had succeeded in conquering almost all of Tennessee and Arkansas. The Confederacy’s largest city, New Orleans, was under Union control and, in Lincoln’s phrase, “the Father of the Waters” went unvexed to the Sea, and the Confederacy in Texas and the unconquered portions of Arkansas and Louisiana was now cut off by a newly hostile Mississippi. The Union had established control of much of the coast line of the Confederacy and the Union blockade, a joke in 1861, had become a very grim reality for the Confederacy in 1864. Today, most people do not appreciate how close the Confederacy came to defeat in 1864, although it was a common theme in speeches given at Confederate Victory Day celebrations throughout the South for decades after the War. How did this all turn to ashes for the Union by November 1864 with Lincoln rejected at the polls? Here are, I think, some of the major factors:
1. War Weariness-By 1864 most Americans, North and South, were heartily sick of the War, the huge casualty lists filling the newspapers giving a nightmarish quality to life. However, there was a difference. If the North lost the War, there would be little change in the life of most Northerners. If the South lost the War, they would be under what most white Southerners now perceived as hated foreign domination. Northern morale was as a result more fragile than Southern morale. The South would resist until they could resist no longer, while the North would continue the War only if it could be brought to a victorious conclusion relatively quickly.
2. Lee-Ulysses S. Grant was a fine General even if ultimately he failed in his goal of defeating Lee. In his Overland Campaign he succeeded in driving Lee back to Richmond, and ultimately brought Petersburg under siege. No mean feat up against a man now universally regarded by nearly all Americans as the finest American General. Lee realized the caliber of General that he was up against in regard to Grant, and that Grant could not be defeated easily as he had defeated other Union drives against Richmond. It took all of Lee’s immense skill to prevent Grant from taking Richmond, but this he succeeded in doing while inflicting casualties of 2-1 against Grant, and causing much of the North, including, privately, Mary Todd Lincoln, to denounce Grant as a butcher. Grant had brought the Union close to victory, but only by an immense effusion of Northern blood, and the population of the North simply had no stomach for many more casualties in what appeared to be an endless War.
3. Sherman’s Death-Sherman’s drive on Atlanta, which had been making progress, came to a sudden end on June 27, 1864 with the battle of Kenesaw Mountain. Of all the Civil War might have beens, perhaps none are more poignant than what would have happened if Sherman had stopped the battle after the failure of the initial assaults as he was advised to do by General Thomas. Instead, Sherman ordered two more attacks each bloodily repulsed. As he went out to meet the retreating survivors of his last attack, Sherman was felled by a long-range shot from a Confederate sharpshooter equipped with a rifle and a telescopic sight. Lincoln wished to place Thomas in command, but Grant, who bore animosity for Thomas, why still being something of a mystery, insisted on General James McPherson being placed in overall command. McPherson wished to continue the offensive against Atlanta, but that simply was not possible after the fifteen thousand casualties sustained by the Union. Resisting calls in Northern papers to fall back on Chattanooga, McPherson remained in place and awaited reinforcements. In early September the offensive was renewed, with McPherson making slow but steady progress against a skillful and dogged defense by General Johnston. McPherson placed Atlanta under siege, two days before the November election, too late to alter the outcome.
4. Blind Memorandum- With the War stalled both East and West Union morale was faltering. Lincoln’s morale was also faltering as graphically demonstrated by what has become known as The Blind Memorandum. Lincoln sealed this document and asked his cabinet officers to sign it unread. They complied. In the chaos that followed Lincoln’s defeat the document lay forgotten for some twenty years until Lincoln mentioned it in his autobiography, Of the People, (1884). Here is the text:
This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.
5. Cedar Creek- Lincoln’s prospects appeared brighter in September and October of 1864 with Union victories in the Shenandoah. This came to a halt with the Confederate victory at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864. In the aftermath Union commander General Phil Sheridan was sacked by Secretary of War Stanton, over the strenuous objections of General Grant, who had always considered him to be too young at 33 for such an important command. Grant placed Meade in overall command of the Shenandoah theater. The cautious Meade avoided any further Union defeats prior to election day, but did not succeed in winning any Union victories. Democrats made considerable hay at rallies in late October with the fact that Sheridan had been fifty miles from Cedar Creek at the time of the battle and mocked his strenuous, albeit futile, ride to get to the battlefield in time to rescue the situation. Continue reading
From the Deadliest Warrior television series. I have always enjoyed absurd alternate history speculations a la “What if Napoleon had a B-52 at Waterloo?”
By the time Lawrence of Arabia arrived on the scene TR was getting fairly long in the tooth and was in ill health, however, I would not have bet against him. He used knives for killing fairly frequently. This letter to his kids in 1901 is typical:
Keystone Ranch, Colo., Jan. 14th, 1901 –
Soon we saw the lion in a treetop, with two of the dogs so high up among the branches that he was striking at them. He was more afraid of us than of the dogs, and as soon as he saw us he took a great flying leap and was off, the pack close behind. In a few hundred yards they had him up another tree. This time, after a couple of hundred yards, the dogs caught him, and a great fight followed. They could have killed him by themselves, but he bit or clawed four of them, and for fear he might kill one I ran in and stabbed him behind the shoulder, thrusting the knife right into his heart. I have always wished to kill a cougar as I did this one, with dogs and the knife. Continue reading
(I wrote this for April 1, 2011 for the blog Almost Chosen People, and I thought that the various Civil War mavens who read The American Catholic might find this interesting.)
As we mark the 150th anniversary of the War Between the States there are many historical questions to ponder. However, one question rises to the fore as it always does when the War Between the States is discussed: Was Confederate victory inevitable?
Because of the ten following factors, I’d say that it was:
1. Abraham Lincoln- Few Presidents have ever been elected with no executive experience, but that was precisely the case with Lincoln. Although he could deliver a magnificent speech and was clearly a master of the English language, Lincoln quickly demonstrated that he was an amateur in running the government. His frequent sacking of generals led to instability in the Union Army command, the frequently hostile relations with Congress, including members of his own party, that hampered his policies, the corruption that marred the supply of the Army, these and many more features of his administration attested to the fact that Lincoln was an extremely talented man who simply was out of his depth. Perhaps the task was too large for any man to preserve the Union by force of arms, but certainly it was too great for Mr. Lincoln.
2. Supremacy of the Defence-General Robert E. Lee quickly realized that the old Napoleonic charges were impossible against fortified positions held by troops armed with rifled muskets. Although his troops initially meant the title derisively, Lee, the King of Spades, repeatedly used field fortifications, beginning in 1862, to nullify the Union manpower advantage on the battlefield.
3. Size of the Confederacy- The sheer size of the Confederacy, three times the size of France, ensured that the attempted Union conquest would be a massive undertaking, too massive as it turned out for the Union. If British seapower, beginning in 1862, see number 6 below, had not caused the lifting of the Union blockade, prevented the landing of Union troops along the coasts of the Confederacy and contested Union naval control of the Mississippi river, it is conceivable that the Union could have coped with the immensity of the Confederacy, but such was not the case.
4. Lee-Jackson partnership-No command team in history proved more effective than the Lee-Jackson combination. Beginning at Chancellorsville, Lee and Jackson dealt the Union body blows at Gettysburg in 1863, and the Wilderness in 1864, almost a replica of the Chancellorsville victory a year before. No wonder that Lee was the second president of the Confederacy and Jackson the third.
5. Enlistment of black soldiers-After the victory at Gettysburg, Lee put his immense prestige behind the cause of enlisting black soldiers under the Confederate battle flag with the promise of freedom for themselves and their families. Resistance to this move was immense in the Confederacy, but with Lee behind it all resistance was overborne. The 100,000 black troops who fought for the South in 1864 were essential to the Confederate victory, and paved the way for the passage of the Gradual Emancipation Act of 1870, which President Robert E. Lee, just before his death, claimed to be his greatest victory. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The song Macedonia to the tune of Sharona by the Knack, by the endlessly talented folks of History for Music Lovers. Alexander the Great, living refutation of the idea that history is all grand vast processes and that individuals matter for little. In his brief 32 years he had a larger impact perhaps on this world than any other one man in secular history. The spreading of Greek culture in the East led to the vast cultural synthesis of Hellenism, and had a huge impact upon Judaism and, eventually, Christianity. It is somewhat frightening to think that so much of our history depended upon the military prowess of one man.
What if Alexander hadn’t turned East? What if he had turned West? The Roman historian Livy, in one of the first examples of alternate history, mused about what would have happened if Alexander had marched against Rome. Continue reading
An exchange on my personal blog over yesterday’s post about Gettysburg swerved into a question which I imagine our history-minded readers would enjoy commenting on: What would things look like today if Lincoln had simply allowed the CSA to leave and recognized it as a separate country?
Given Lincolns character and beliefs, this seems almost impossible to imagine, but these sorts of alternative history exercises can be an interesting diversion, if only because they make us think about the interconnectedness of history. A few thoughts of my own:
One of the major questions there would, of course, be: Which CSA?
The deep south seceded immediately after Lincolns election, but the mid and upper south didn’t secede until after Lincoln responded to the attack on Fort Sumpter with a call for the states to raise militias.
Personally, I think you’d also have to imagine that a Union which let the South secede would probably have broken up further over the following 60 years. Once the precedent for peaceful secession was made, it would be an obvious answer to regional tensions between East and West, etc.
A final factor which shouldn’t be overlooked: If the CSA had been left independant, Wilson would clearly never have become president of the US — and the presidency of Wilson (who said his earliest memory was of huddling with his family in the steeple of his father’s Presbyterian church and watching the flames of Sherman’s army passing through Georgia) was one of the formative influences on the US in the 20th century and on the modern Democratic Party.
This started as an attempt to annoy a somewhat too Obama-struck Democrat on Facebook, but I think the question is an interesting one to play with at this point:
Imagine that Gore had been given Florida in the 2000 election and was thus elected president. How would subsequent history have been different? Who would be president now? (Would anyone outside of Illinois have heard of Obama?)
I’ll provide my initial thoughts in the comments in order to keep the playing field level.