Newspaper partisanship

I wrote earlier of the slaveocrats’ role in bringing about the war; it’s fascinating yet horrific to watch how they lured moderates into their scheme, but after this article it’s slightly easier to see how they did it. Newspapers at the time were not held to much in the way of journalistic standards, and the boom in printing meant any idiot who could afford a press could disseminate his views. Sadly, the general public then was probably as unquestioning as the average consumer today.

In pre-Civil War America, the dominant newspapers were based in New York: James Gordon Bennett’s Herald, Horace Greeley’s Tribune and Henry J. Raymond’s Times. However, as Brayton Harris points out in “Newspapers in the Civil War,” the invention and expanded use of the telegraph and a soaring literacy rate in the U.S. led to a quadrupling of active newspapers across the country between 1825 and 1860.

In Delaware, as the Civil War loomed, erupted and progressed, those seeking control of the political process allied with likeminded newspaper editors to expand and encourage their constituencies. These journals heralded partisan viewpoints on behalf of their political patrons.

via Civil War Profiles: Newspaper partisanship in Civil War Delaware | Coastal Point.

When the South Wasn’t a Fan of States’ Rights

The more I read about the war’s origins, the more I dislike the slaveocrats. The Lost Cause tradition has swathed the discussion in the States’ Rights argument, but even a scratch on its surface reveals the ugly truth beneath. Eric Foner agrees in this article for Politico.

Whenever I lecture to non-academic audiences about the Civil War era, someone is bound to insist that the South fought for states’ rights rather than the long-term survival of slavery. In an extreme version of this view, Abraham Lincoln was not the Great Emancipator but a tyrant, the creator of the leviathan national state that essentially enslaved white Americans. This reading of the conflict is why a remarkable number of libertarians, self-proclaimed defenders of individual freedom, sympathize with the Old South, and why some even make excuses for slavery.

But this history omits one important part of antebellum history: When it came to enforcing and maintaining the peculiar institution against an increasingly anti-slavery North, the Old South was all too happy to forget its fear of federal power—a little-remembered fact in our modern retellings of the conflict.

When the South Wasn’t a Fan of States’ Rights – Eric Foner – POLITICO Magazine.

How the “Lincoln” Movie Reconstructed Thaddeus Stevens

I wasn’t much of a fan of Lincoln, but thoroughly enjoyed Tommy Lee Jones in it. His portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens stole the (dull) show, but this article suggests Stevens’ influence in the Amendment talks was nowhere near as great as the film would have us believe.

For the sake of simplicity, the film also makes Thaddeus Stevens the central radical figure organizing the amendment’s passage, even more so than the measure’s sponsor, Ashley.  This is not how many historians characterize Stevens’s role.  He was an important figure, but probably not the central one in securing passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.  Stevens had only four index entries in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals (2005), a nearly 800-page book from which the screenplay was adapted.  Stevens plays a somewhat larger role in Michael Vorenberg’s more compact Final Freedom (2001) with seven index entries but even there he is clearly superseded by other figures such as Ashley and Senator Lyman Trumbull (R, IL), who is not even mentioned in the film.  The latest and most comprehensive study of wartime abolition policies –James Oakes’s Freedom National (2012)– contains a mere six index entries for Stevens.

By contrast, Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) has about 45 speaking parts in the Spielberg film, apparently second only to Abraham Lincoln(Scene 17).  He looms large as a counter-weight to the president  –Lincoln’s near opposite in both style and policy.  Their confrontation in the White House kitchen is one of the movie’s most pivotal scenes and also arguably one of its most historically implausible.  Besides the unlikely setting, scriptwriter Tony Kushner seems to be investing many older –and quite hostile– ideas about Stevens into this conversation which contrasts Lincoln’s calculated, pragmatic approach to Stevens’s rigid, ideological worldview.  He actually has Stevens / Jones saying at one point, in defense of his sweeping plans for revolutionizing the South,  ”Ah, shit on the people and what they want and what they are ready for!  I don’t give a goddamn about the people and what they want!  This is the face of someone who has fought long and hard for the good of the people without caring much for any of ‘em.”

via Blog Divided » Post Topic » How the “Lincoln” Movie Reconstructed Thaddeus Stevens.

Forty Acres and a Mule

Sherman’s famous field order is one of the war’s great what-ifs.  A terrific idea nixed by a man who can only be described as the anti-Lincoln.  Reconstruction in microcosm.

Congress created the Freedmen’s Bureau shortly after Sherman’s Field Order No. 15 demanded the redistribution of land to former slaves. The Freedmen’s Bureau was created to ensure that millions of free slaves would begin to receive economic equality and empowerment, their 40 acres and mule, shortly after the Civil War ended. President Johnson, however, reversed Sherman’s policy and issued an order for all land to be returned to the Confederacy’s White landowners and confiscated from the free Blacks.

via Michigan Chronicle – Forty Acres and a Mule.

It’s Heeeeere!

I’m in under the wire of my deadline, but I can proudly say I’ve checked a resolution off my list already: The first ever Civil War Podcast is ready to go! (Take that, 2013!)

To marvel at my lucid writing and dulcet tones (I know, I know – I am an admitted amateur!) click the Podcast tab in the menu bar, then the January link. Clicking on the “0101 the emancipation proclamation 1” link on the January page will download a copy of the audio file to your hard drive.*

The topic is, as you can no doubt guess, the Emancipation Proclamation, which was signed on this day in 1863. Much like Lincoln, I was slow to get moving on the topic, but as I’m sure Salmon Chase would say of me, “so you see, the woman moves.

Sadly, I decided to scale back my podcasty undertaking from a daily podcast to a weekly one (frankly, it takes a lot longer to research, write and record a 6 minute podcast than you’d think) but I hope you enjoy the presentation, which includes a piano intro/outro of “We Are Coming Through the Cotton Fields”, performed by my good friend, Tom Nagy. Hopefully his lovely playing will offset my monotone.

*I need to find a solution for embedding the link without incurring hosting surcharges. Podcasting is not a cheap hobby!

Stevens’ Wit

I’m rehashing the Thaddeus Stevens links I shilled earlier on the blog, but fans of Lincoln’s wit will enjoy this particular article.  Lincoln wasn’t the only one in his day with a sharp tongue.

When he served as a lawyer in Gettysburg, Stevens greeted an adverse judicial decision by shuffling papers and grumbling loudly. The judge said he could fine Stevens for “manifesting contempt of court.”

“Manifesting contempt of court, your Honor?” exclaimed Stevens. “Sir, I am doing my best to conceal it.”

I was particularly gratified to see this quote, which I’ve long known but been unable to attribute. It’s positively Shavian:

Stevens did not like all Republicans, however. He thought poorly of fellow Lancastrian Simon Cameron. He told Abraham Lincoln to watch out for Cameron after the president made him Secretary of War.

Lincoln protested: “You don’t mean to say you think that Cameron would steal?”

“No,” said Stevens, “I don’t think he would steal a red-hot stove.”

The remark got back to Cameron, who demanded a retraction.

So Stevens went to Lincoln and offered this “retraction”: “I believe I told you he would not steal a red-hot stove. I will now take that back.”

via Caustic wit: Anecdotes of Stevens’ sarcasm are abundant – News.

Thaddeus Stevens on Screen

Thaddeus Stevens is one of those names of which I know a fair bit, but whose image is always a surprise to me. I wouldn’t be able to pick him out of a lineup, but his onscreen portrayer, Tommy Lee Jones’ wig anecdote might help in future.

“All I knew of Thaddeus Stevens was what an attentive student of American history would have learned in high school or college,” he said. “He was a radical Republican abolitionist with a very severe outlook on Reconstruction,” arguing that the postwar South should be punished like conquered provinces where constitutional restraints would not apply.

What Jones didn’t know was that Stevens had a club foot, lost all his hair and wore a wig cut the same way all around so he wouldn’t have to waste time locating the front. Jones called wearing his impressive toupee just “one of the vicissitudes of acting.”

via In ‘Lincoln,’ Jones found full package.

The Lincoln Letters

Another week, another discovery of a trove of historical letters. This time, though, the collection is a doozy: The letters of Leonard Swett, one of Lincoln’s closest advisors.  Here’s an excerpt of the article, detailing some of the treasures within (and a great summary by one of the preservationists!)

Rose Burnham’s scrapbooks held several letters — one sent in September 1864 — on Executive Mansion letterhead from her grandfather. The name of the mansion located at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. was changed in 1902 to the White House.

The collection also included a letter from Col. Custer dated June 21, 1875, a year and four days before the Battle of the Little Bighorn. While much of Custer’s handwriting is illegible to anyone who doesn’t know his penmanship, the signature is unmistakable…

Another keepsake is a menu of a state dinner Swett attended, which featured little neck clams, green turtle soup, boiled salmon, spring chicken, frogs fried in crumbs and broiled woodcock.

“Isn’t that cool? These guys were having a blast traveling all over the country, going here and going there,” said Ransick, as she looked through a magnifying glass at some of the documents. “It really shows you how distant our relationships are today with e-mail, cell phones and computers. These people exchanged handwritten letters and met often. We’re much less likely to shake hands and have frog legs together than people back then.   

via Lincoln letters.

New Seward Biography

There’s a new biography of William H. Seward, and it sounds excellent. Seward is presented in a heroic trajectory from snooty jerk to warm, winning statesman. Much as Team of Rivals gave an extensive biography of Seward to the night of his assassination, Kearns Goodwin ends his story with the death of Lincoln. I’m looking forward to learning how he contributed to the country in the post-bellum years.

Walter Stahr’s biography of Lincoln’s Secretary of State, "Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man," takes a while to attract. Though Seward was personally energetic, though he fully documented his own life with letters and dispatches from his political career, Stahr proceeds cautiously, as if he were Lincoln’s slowpoke General George B. McClellan assembling his myriads of troops but rarely advancing. In Stahr’s defense, William Henry Seward (1801-1872) is and was not, from a distance, easy to like or admire. Once we know him, however, just as it happened with his contemporaries, his depth and high spirits win us over; he sparkles, pleases, and charms. A sharp politician of great skill, always clever, never resentful, Seward, through persistent compromising, before, during and after the Civil War helped steer the United States forward.

via New biography of man who purchased Alaska for $7.2 million in 1867 | Alaska Dispatch.

The Lincoln Douglas Chats

Appleton veterinarian E.H. Graves lived in Illinois in 1858 and later claimed he drove Lincoln and Douglas between two of the debates: "Douglas was short, round, dressed in broadcloth and wore a silk hat. … Lincoln was tall, raw-boned and awkward. … He and Douglas would tell stories and chaff each other. They were the best of friends personally, both capital storytellers."

This little article reminds us that, as much as Lincoln and Douglas were bitter political rivals, they were also longtime friends and acquaintances. That’s one of the things that even the best biographies tend not to mention, beyond the tantalizing fact that Mary Lincoln had been courted by both of them.

via Odd Wisconsin: Lincoln looked grotesque, awkward.