One of the reasons I check out every small-town paper’s Civil War related stories is that you occasionally find some delicious wheat amongst the “round table meets tonight” or “Lincoln impersonator to speak at library” chaff. This article is one of the kernels that makes it worthwhile. A surprisingly in-depth look at some radical proposals in the wake of the Nat Turner uprising, leading to some big historical what-ifs.
The first thing white people did after Nat Turner’s violent slave insurrection in 1831 was round up more than 120 black people and kill them.
But the next thing white people did was surprising.
Hundreds of them sent petitions to the Virginia General Assembly calling for an end to slavery.
Source: Virginia debated ending slavery after Nat Turner’s revolt – Plainview Daily Herald
The Election of 1856 seems to get a lot less attention than those of 1860 and 1864, which is a shame, because there was a lot of interesting political maneuverings to study. This article, while written a bit too twee-ly for my tastes, is a good shallow dive into the Republican Party’s first nationwide showing.
After Republicans lost their first election in 1856, the nineteenth-century Nate Silvers were happy to declare the antislavery movement a radical, fringe idea. Four years later, Abraham Lincoln won on a radical program of change.
Source: Antislavery Wasn’t Mainstream, Until It Was
If you’ve read Team of Rivals, you’ll be familiar with Andrew Johnson’s drunken Vice-Presidential inauguration. If not, and if you can bear the cringe-inducing details, click through for this summary.
After expressing his gratitude to his colleagues for their kindness during his tenure as vice president, Hamlin suppressed whatever bitterness he felt about having been tossed off the ticket and asked: “Is the vice-president elect now ready to subscribe the oath of office?” The combination of Hamlin’s introduction and Johnson’s speech was supposed to be a matter of minutes; instead, it turned into a 20-minute spectacle.
Source: Jared Cohen: How a drunk vice president foreshadowed segregation | Fox News
There’s a new book about Andrew Johnson and his impeachment, and the New York Times has given it a rave review. I’ll have to pick it up, but I might wait to see how the current Constitutional crisis shakes out first. I’m not sure it’ll make for consolatory reading.
By February 1868, President Andrew Johnson had forced the moment to a crisis. As Brenda Wineapple recounts in her new book, “The Impeachers,” Johnson had been goading legislators with his accelerating attempts to rule by decree, daring them to “go ahead” and impeach him — which the House voted to do by an overwhelming majority, 126 to 47.
The author of award-winning works about Nathaniel Hawthorne and Emily Dickinson, among other books, Wineapple started to research her history of the country’s first impeachment trial six years ago; she briefly mentions Presidents Nixon and Clinton but not the current occupant of the White House. She doesn’t have to. The relevance of this riveting and absorbing book is clear enough, even if Wineapple’s approach is too literary and incisive to offer anything so obvious as a lesson.
Source: Impeachment, the First Time Around – The New York Times
The modern conclusions drawn here are very questionable, but the Civil War history was pretty edifying: I knew that Lincoln had pushed through the statehood for a couple of states, but the political impact had never been fully clear until reading this.
This largely forgotten act of line-drawing enabled one of the most consequential gerrymanders in American history. Because the virtually unpopulated Nevada became its own territory, Republicans could admit it as a state just four years later. That gave the Party of Lincoln two extra seats in the Senate — helping prevent Democrats from simultaneously controlling the White House and both houses of Congress until 1893.
Nor was this selective admission of the Republican state of Nevada an isolated case. Among other things, the reason why there are two Dakotas — despite the fact that both states are so underpopulated that they each only rate a single member of the House of Representatives to this day — is because Republicans won the 1888 election and decided to celebrate by giving themselves four senators instead of just two.
Source: The forgotten history of how Abraham Lincoln helped rig the Senate for Republicans – ThinkProgress
Another great article from the reliably great Immigrant’s Civil War blog. Here’s Frederick Douglass speaking on the post-bellum efforts to curb Chinese immigration.
Douglass declared that the people of the United States were not racially, ethnically, or religiously homogeneous. Americans, he argued, are a “composite nation,” a people made up from many peoples. In recognition of this fact, he declared, “we should welcome to our ample continent all nations, …tongues and peoples; and as fast as they learn our language and comprehend the duties of citizenship, we should incorporate them into the American body politic. The outspread wings of the American eagle are broad enough to shelter all who are likely to come.”
Source: When a Ban on the Chinese Was Proposed and Frederick Douglass Spoke Out – Long Island Wins
An article about Grant’s Chief Justice nomination made an offhand mention of the reparations Britain paid after the Civil War. I haven’t done enough reading about the post-bellum period, and the Alabama Claims were news to me. It’s a pretty fascinating little footnote in history, not least because it involves a fast-tracking of British Columbia’s entry into Confederation.
After international arbitration endorsed the American position in 1872, Britain settled the matter by paying the United States $15.5 million, ending the dispute and leading to a treaty that restored friendly relations between Britain and the United States. That international arbitration established a precedent, and the case aroused interest in codifying public international law.
Source: Alabama Claims – Wikipedia
On the eve of the latest government shutdown ending, NPR takes a look back to the first shutdown, which also had its roots in racism. Plus ça change, America? I’m filing this blog post under “reenactments”.
GONZALEZ: At the time, African-American men were allowed to vote, but they tended to vote Republican. So Democrats didn’t want them voting. Sometimes, it resulted in violence at the polls. And the government would send troops. Nineteenth-century Democrats hated this. So when they gained control of Congress 14 years after the Civil War, they come up with this idea.
RICHARDSON: Simply starve the government until they did what we wanted by holding a gun to the head of the Treasury.
GONZALEZ: Fund the courts and the Army but only if the government stops protecting black voters.
RICHARDSON: There are a number of cartoons in the newspapers about how the Confederates have taken back over Washington and how they are deliberately starving the United States Treasury the same way that they starved Union prisoners.
Source: Looking Back On The First Government Shutdown In U.S. History : NPR
Mother Jones interviews Joanne Freeman, author of The Field of Blood, examining physical violence in Congress in the run-up to the Civil War. If the book is as fun as the interview, it promises to be a rollicking read!
That’s a great example both of the performative aspect of it and the ways in which it’s more than performance. Both North and South had an enormous response to the caning, partly because it came after a string of Southern attacks against Northerners, partly because of the brutality of it, and the fact that it took place within the Senate chamber itself—which Brooks tried to avoid. He tried to catch Sumner outside so that he could avoid precisely what happened, which is the symbolism of a Southern congressman striding into the Senate and beating an abolitionist to the ground. I remember reading through Sumner’s letters, and letter after letter after letter, from adults, from schoolchildren, [they’re] not even sure what to do with their emotions, talking about crying when they heard what happened. The power of that moment for Northerners is easy to underestimate.
The same goes for the other side of the equation. Many Southerners took abolitionism generally—and abolitionists specifically—as an insult, as well as a threat and a danger. There was a feeling that Brooks gave Sumner just what he deserved. Sumner had stood up and made a rousing speech attacking the spread of slavery into Kansas, had insulted the South, had even insulted a few Southern congressmen. So to many Southerners, their response was, “Thank you so much for defending our honor and our interests and silencing him.” There was one letter I found from a woman who was a Northerner, and I believe she married a Southerner, and she says in the letter, “If Brooks had done it anywhere but in the Senate and not over the head, then nobody would have any objections at all.”
Source: If You Think Congress Is Bad Now, You Should Hear About What Happened in 1838 – Mother Jones
From the “What goes around, comes around” files, this reminder that the morass of fake news in which we currently swim is not a new phenomenon.
Abraham Lincoln was more than just a foe of slavery. He was also a mixed-race eugenicist, believing that the intermarriage of blacks and whites would yield an American super-race.
Or at least, that’s what newspapers in 1864 would have had you believe. The charge isn’t true. But this miscegenation hoax still “damn near sank Lincoln that year,” says Heather Cox Richardson, history professor at Boston College.
Source: Fake news almost destroyed Abraham Lincoln — Quartz