Thursday, November 10, 2016

Commentary on Election Results, 1860 Style

Unhappiness with the results of a Presidential election is nothing new - far from it, in fact - and current discussions of divisiveness and how the country will face the consequences of electoral results are also not recent creations.

Here is an article from the Covington (Ky) Journal about the 1860 Presidential election, this time with commentary about the results of that contest. This story is from November 10, 1860.

I find it interesting, even disappointing, that this story associated Abraham Lincoln with the famous "irrepressible conflict" statement, since that comment was from William Henry Seward, not Lincoln. Lincoln's most controversial prewar statement was his 1858 declaration that "a house divided against itself cannot stand" and that the nation could not long maintain a split of slave and free states, but the writer apparently did not realize that.

Lincoln also served multiple terms in the Illinois legislature, not just one as this story suggests. (Also, his "spot resolutions" in Congress were somewhat memorable, though not in a good way for him.)

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The Result
Tuesday last witnessed for the first time in a contest for the Presidency a triumph of a purely sectional party.

Lincoln and Hamlin, the Republican nominees, are elected  President and Vice-President of the United States. They are Northern men; they represent Northern principles, and they are elected by Northern votes exclusively.

Neither in Mr. Lincoln nor the party he represents do we see anything to alley the fears created by this sectional triumph.

Lincoln was made known to the people outside his own State by a contest with Douglas for a seat in the Senate of the U.S. The content just closed has brought to light these facts: That he has split rails; and that he is regarded as an honest man by his neighbors. Upon these barren considerations his election to the Presidency has been urged. If he possesses any other merit or claim his friends have failed to inform the country of it. He has served a session in the Legislature of his State and a term in Congress. It is his misfortune that as a Legislator he never said or did anything worth remembering.

He had, however, as an individual, given countenance to the infamous sentiment that there is an irrepressible sectional conflict. There is of necessity no such conflict; but a fearful conflict may be created by a President who believes there is or ought to be such a conflict.

If we look at the party that has placed "Old Abe" in power, the prospect is not less discouraging. It is composed of men holding all shades of opinion but bound together by a common feeling of hostility to the institutions of the South. This feeling, we fear, is not only spreading but becoming more intense. In this feeling the John Brown raid had its origin; this feeling leads to disregard of the Constitution and the nullification of laws of Congress. This feeling is the more dangerous because it is based upon prejudice and thrives by misrepresentation. Thousands of demagogues scattered over the North have an interest in keeping this feeling alive. It is the hobby upon which they hope to ride into office.

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It is ironic that the writer claimed the feelings of the North were based in prejudice and that they practiced "nullification" disregarding of Constitutional laws (and it does fit in with recent debates about  prejudices or criminal accusations.) It was, of course, in South Carolina where the concept of "nullification" became popular in the early 1800s and it is difficult to imagine supporters of slavery referring to the "prejudice"'of others without pondering their own views. The suspicion of ulterior motives on the part of the winning candidate is another similarity to the current situation, though I also must wonder if modern political commentators are any more accurate than this writer.  (I do admit a hint of presentism may have influenced my comments on the idea of prejudice.)

Many people on the losing side in this race went on to support secession and the attempt to create a new nation based on their disappointment in the election's outcome, leading, of course, to the long, costly and bloody Civil War. What, if anything, will current protests and dissatisfaction bring to this nation? Will time see things settle down? 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Rest in Peace, Jim Reis

Four years ago, I wrote a post about the passing of Bob Clements, whom I had met while volunteering at the James A. Ramage Civil War Museum and who had become a close friend of mine and an inspiration to how I explored my obsession with the Civil War, especially through collecting artifacts. Bob was a great guy and I still miss him, even after four years have somehow passed so quickly,

Today, I must write another sad post, about the passing of another inspiration and friend, Jim Reis, a long-time respected reporter, columnist and historian for the now-defunct Kentucky Post newspaper. In regards to Northern Kentucky history, Jim was a giant, absolutely one of the most influential and prolific historians of this region. Few people have contributed as much or more to local history than he did.

My relationship with Jim was a lot different than the one with Bob. I only met Jim about 5 or 6 years ago, when he had already retired and was starting to suffer from Parkinson's Disease. This awful disease had already started to affect him physically, as he was very skinny, had trouble walking or standing and even struggled to speak, but us mind was still sharp st the time, at least as far as I could tell as he asked questions at meetings. People had to strain to hear and understand him, but it was worth the effort. 

Of course, as the years passed, the diseases effects worsened , forcing hm to retire as Vice-President from the Campbell County Historical and Genealogical Society, where I also volunteer. He still attended membership meetings, where it was always nice to see him, though sometimes hard to see his condition.

Jim and I were friends and always said "hello" and shook hands when we met, but it was not as personal a relationship as I had with Nob. It was more professional, but was one of respect and friendship

His inspiration on my interest in the Civil War, however, started much earlier than my friendship with Bob. In 1983, one of his Pieces of the Past articles on local history was on the subject of a local incident from the Civil War, involving William Francis Corbin and Jefferson McGraw.

This article fascinated me. Some of it was because the newspaper included a picture of a cow standing Corbin's gravestone in the middle of a farm field. My mom told me this cow was my cousin's, as he was renting the land where he had been buried., Perhaps that tiny family connection caught my interest for some reason. McGraw was buried at a church that was just down the street from where I lived (out in the middle of the country), so that very local aspect of the story also attracted my attention

About 10 years later, when I was at college, I wanted to read that story again, and wen to the library and searched through many issues of the Post, until I found. Luckily, I guessed the year was 1983 and started there, so I did not need to search too long, even in those days before google and other Internet search engines.

I also purchased a booklet that the Historical Society sold, a reprint of an 1897 story that one of Corbin's friends had put together

When asked about how I became so interested in the Civil War, my first answer is usually that I, at some point in my elementary school years, learned that Abraham Lincoln was, like me, from Kentucky. This sparked my interest in Lincoln, which naturally led to a fascination about the war, but I do think the Corbin-McGraw story affected me and helped draw my interest to the war. It is probably the most relevant incident that involved anything very close to where I grew up (though the Siege of Cincinnati a few months prior did affect the entire region) so it always struck a chord with me. Had I not read Jim's story about them, would I have been as interested in history or the Civil War? I do not know, though I do know his story has remained with me even now, over 30 years later. It is part of My Civil War Obsession, and I will always remember that and thank Jim for writing about it, letting me know this fascination story. It will always be a part of me.

I will also always remember his funeral, which took place Thursday. The final song, as they moved his casket out of the church was Battle Hymn of the Republic. It is one of my favorite Civil War era songs, but I had never before thought about it as a funeral song. It somehow ended up being very fitting and appropriate, and added even more and more sincere feelings to this sad occasion, at least for me. That was memorable and just so fitting and proper.

Thank you Jim, and rest in peace my friend.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Temper of the Southern Mind, as the 1860 Election Aporoached

As the pundits currently ponder what the results of the upcoming Presidential election will mean, it is  noteworthy that this is nothing new for Americans, as people were wondering the same thing about the contest of 1860, though perhaps with more dire consequences in mind.

Here is an article from the Covington Journal of October 27, 1860 with some discussion of possible meanings of potential outcomes of the race then taking place. (This story does quote the Charleston Mercury, though some questioned that paper's credibility.)

The  Temper of the Southern Mind

The following we copy from the Charleston Mercury of the 15th:

The Minute Men - We are glad to see the people of our State everywhere preparing for the crisis which is at hand. As an offset to the "Wide Awakes" of the North, "Minute Men" are organizing in the principal districts of South Carolina. Their object is to form an armed body of men, and to join with our fellow-citizens, now forming in this and our sister States as "Minute Men," whose duty it is to arm, equip and drill, and be ready for any emergency that may arise in the present perilous position of the Southern States. The badge adopted is a blue rosette - two and a half inches in diameter, with a military button in the centre, to be worn on the side of the hat. Let the important work go bravely on, and let every son of Carolina prepare to mount the blue cockade.

The Richmond Enquirer, in an article on the contingency of Lincoln's election, uses the following language:

"Virginia can no more prevent the dissolution of the Union after Lincoln's election than she can prevent that election. She will be powerless to prevent civil war, with all its attendant horrors. Any of the Southern States can, and some of them will involve the whole country, North as well as South, in the internecine strife of bloody and desolating civil war. Virginia will, by a majority of her people, decide upon resistance, while a large minority may desire to postpone resistance for the 'overt act;' but, hitched as she is to the Southern States, she will be dragged into a common destiny with them, no matter what may be the decree of her people. We believe that a large majority of the people of Virginia, if the opportunity of a State Convention was allowed them, would vote for immediate resistance and for a common destiny with the Southern State; and with this belief we would advise the slave States not to hesitate to strike an early blow from fear that Virginia may hesitate in her duty to the South."

The Lynchburg Virginian (Breckenridge,) says:

"They who suppose that the election of Lincoln will not result in the dissolution of the Union are entirely deluded. The Cotton States will go out, and Virginia will be compelled to go along with them. Besides - discarding all party feeling, as our people will do after this election - a large and determined majority of the people of Virginia will be for dissolution, rather than submit to the humiliation and disgrace which the election of Lincoln will entail upon the country."

We copy the following from the Vicksburg Whig:

"The Yazoo Banner reports Gov. Pettus as having said upon the streets of Yazoo City, that he had not only drawn from the State Treasury the two hundred thousand dollars appropriated by the last Legislature to purchase arms and ammunition, but he had ordered more than they could purchase, giving his receipts as Governor of the State for the amount overdrawn. Will any body with these facts before them, maintain that the Government of Mississippi is not preparing to go out of the Union?"


Courtesy pscwrt.org 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Noble Stand of the Union Men

Students of the Civil War generally associate the term "Union Men" with those who supported the United States government against the Confederacy, including those who joined the "Union" army, but in the days before the war that term had a different meaning, at least to some people.

This brief article comes from the Covington Journal of October 27, 1860, shortly before the Presidential election of that year took place. This newspaper supported the John Bell - Edward Everett ticket, the "Constitutional Union Party" and used the term "Union" with that meaning in mind.

The Noble Stand of the Union Men

Whilst the leaders of the Republican party frantically appeal to Northern prejudices in behalf of "Northern men with Northern principles," and the Secessionists loudly call for a "united South" to resist the North, the Union men of the South make no idle threats, appeal to no national prejudices.

They repel with indignity the unjust assaults that are made upon their section, and earnestly demand their constitutional rights. In conjunction with their friends in the North they present as a candidate for the Presidency a man of great experience in public affairs and of undoubted conservative national opinions - a man who if elected will labor to repress sectional agitation and restore the administration of the general government to the broad basis of the Constitution.

If, after all, the Union men fail, if the majority no longer heed appeals to their sense of justice and love of country, and the dark days come upon us, when the collision of sectional opinion shall be "quickly followed by the clash of arms," they will  have the consolation of knowing that they labored to the last and did their utmost to prevent the dire result.

Bell - Everett poster courtesy loc.harpweek.com


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Period Article on Lincoln's Nomination

As we enter another election season, I thought I would share this story I found. It comes from the Covington Journal  of May 26,1860. It is a bit more complimentary of the new party's selection than I expected, as the Journal had been a supporter of John Bell and opposed any idea of abolishing slavery, a trait then associated with the Republican Party, as the final sentence shows.

The selection of ABRAHAM LINCOLN and HANNIBAL HAMLIN as candidates for President and Vice President by the Republican Convention at Chicago is hailed with considerable enthusiasm by the adherents of the party of the North. The nomination of Lincoln is perhaps as strong of one as could be made. With talents of no mean order and some rather rare elements of personal popularity, he will undoubtedly unite the Republicans of the North-west, at least, and command their hearty support. New England, too, appears to be satisfied with the nomination, though we have seen no indication of unwonted enthusiasm in that quarter. But this is not enough. The Republicans must carry, in addition, both New York and Pennsylvania and the probabilities now are that they will carry neither of these States. We are not ignorant of the fact that a hundred guns have been fired in honor of the Chicago nominations at Albany, and at some points in Pennsylvania there have been similar manifestations of popular approval. All this, however, is very inconclusive. A dozen men may manage to have a hundred guns fired and fifty man hold a very enthusiastic ratification meeting. SEWARD, as the founder and law-giver of the party, was entitled to the nomination, and expected it. It is evident that he and his devoted followers in the State of New York, are sorely disappointed, and it cannot be supposed they will give a very hearty support to a candidate the selection of whom has dashed to the ground their long cherished hopes. At the late State elections in New York the Republicans were beaten on a part of their ticket, and we see no reason to conclude they are stronger now than then. Indeed, we believe they have been steadily losing strength ever since the last Presidential election. Pennsylvania is essentially a conservative State, and if the Republicans succeed there, the fact will doubtless be owing to the inexcusable failure of the Opposition to unite against them.

The following is the main plank of the Chicago platform: 
"That the normal condition of all the Territory of the United States is that of freedom; that as our Republican fathers when they had abolished Slavery in all our national Territory had ordained that "no person should be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law," it becomes our duty, by legislation, whenever such legislation is necessary, to maintain thus provision of the Constitution against all attempts to violate it; and we deny the authority of Congress or a Territorial Legislature or any individuals to give local distance to Slavery in any Territory in the United States."

It will be noted that the idea of "no more Slave States" is embodied in unmistakeable language in this declaration. In fact the platform is identical in spirit with that of '56, while the candidates of '60 are, if possible, more sectional than those of '56.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Review of Battery Hooper Civil War Days 2016

Sorry for the lack of content lately, but my new job has turned things around for me, leaving me much less time for research and writing, specially as overtime has become mandatory lately. I have been surprised and disappointed by how little time I have spent here or on any other Civil War reading and writing, and need to reverse that trend, hopefully starting now.

I have also had some issues with the Blogger app not saving everything I type. That is frustrating as I have redone this post multiple times.

I do want to take some time to review the Ramage Museum's Battery Hooper Civil War a Days from this year, the thirteenth incarnation of the event and the ninth(!) with which I have been involved.
We facedsome new and interesting challenges this year, but still put on a successful event.

On Saturday morning, we had some issues with our museum building, but got them resolved well before any visitors arrived. That was certainly an interesting hour or two we had, though.

Saturday featured the worst weather I have ever witnessed at for any BHD event. We had a few downpours of rain, and when it did not rain, it looked like it would at any moment. It was a fairly unpleasant day overall, but our presenters put on goodshows. We even moved a couple inside, though maybe we should have done do earlier. The Belle Boyd presentation was new and very interesting, even in a fairly small room.The weather certainly impacted attendance and left us feeling a bit frustrated over events we could not control.

Sunday was a much better day, perhaps even perfect from a weather perspective. Attendance  rebounded quite nicely, bringing us a feeling if relief.nWe had more guests in the first two hours than we did all day Saturday, send we ended up with over 500 attendees for the day. It seemed like the beauty of Sunday was a gift to make up for the struggles of Saturday.

Overall, we faced some challenges, but put on a successful event. We had good sales in our gift shop and used book sale, and visitors were kind with their donations. As usual, it was a lot of work, but, again as usual, as soon as it ended, I started looking forward to next year, wondering what new presentations, displays and ideas we might try then. 



Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Informal Online Civil War Learning

Television features a lot of commercials about various online learning opportunities, usually for-profit institutions, though not always, but formalized schooling is not the only way the wonderful world wide web can help a person increase his or her knowledge.

I have been blogging for almost 7 years now (started in 2009, but took a break in 2013-14) and part of my blogging has been reading other blogs and sites. The development and growth of Facebook and Twitter in this same time frame has help me with that.

In the past, I had often heard about the many Civil War fanatics out there, but did not really meet many or see this phenomenon for myself. Volunteering at the James A. Ramage Civil War Museum in 2006 helped me start to see some of this, but it wasn't until I got more involved in reading online sources that I realized how true it was.

Personally, I have always felt slavery was the unquestioned main cause of the war - perhaps the only one that mattered. I still strongly feel that slavery was the key issue, but in the past few years, I have seen stories of others who disagree with that. Completely. Some deny slavery had any role in the coming of the war, while others say it was only one piece of the puzzle and they include other pieces like "taxes," "big government," 'states' rights" and other subjects that they believe contributed to the war as much or more than slavery did. I have, of course, found many others who do emphasize slavery's role in the coming of the war, but the debate is bigger than I had known. The web has opened my eyes to this and helped me better understand how much passion for the war exists.

I've also seen arguments over other topics such as "Black Confederate," a topic that likely would never have crossed my mind if not for the information superhighway (there's a term you don't hear much anymore. Maybe I show my age by using it. :)  )

Of course, a very common and popular topic online, especially in the last year, has been the Confederate Battle Flag and other symbols of the Confederacy. When I was young, I attended a middle school called "South Campbell County" Middle School and the nickname was the Confederates. When you walked into the school, you walked over a large, rubber welcome mat, with a large CBF surrounded by gray. The school sold buttons, at least once, saying "the South will rise again" and at least one of my yearbooks had a drawing of a Confederate soldier holding a CBF on the cover. None of this was a big deal then, but I was just 13 or 14 years old and not paying attention to stuff like that. As I left the school to go to high school, the county renamed the school for a long-time superintendent. That is the explanation I heard and I never did hear anything about the mascot or any Confederate controversy. Of course, the school was (and still is) located in an area not especially diverse in terms of demographics, but I sometimes wonder what would have happened in the last year around here if it still had the same name and mascot as when I attended it.

Sorry for getting off topic there, but that is my main background with the CBF. I did not grow up in a  major Confederate are or with Confederate family heritage. It was just a school I attended, so when the recent controversies around this symbol popped up, I had a lot to think about (as did many Civil War enthusiasts, I suppose.) I don't like seeing statues and other objects destroyed or removed, but I understand why they may bother some people. It's a very complicated topic, but I think the flag does belong in museums, at re-enactments, in historical places, even cemeteries. The recent story about a Washington D.C. travel magazine refusing to publish an ad for a Civil War museum because the logo featured a CBF in it bothered me. That is an appropriate use for the flag, and helps show the museum's mission.

Of course, I do recognize misuses of the flag as well. Anyone who tries to intimidate others with it is a fool, and only reinforcing stereotypes of those who like the flag. Denying how it has Bernie used in that way is also a mistake. Of course, this online experience has shown me that there are more than a few people who love that flag but do not see how their own behavior hurts their cause, while others do not recognize any negative connotations with its past usage. That is one of the things that my online experience has shown me. People who say they support and love the Confederacy are real, not just some story or theory I have heard, and I see that more than ever now, thanks to the access the Internet provides. This is a bigger world than I had previously realized.

Anyway, it is obvious there is a lot of bad information online, but there is also good information and even the bad information can be enlightening. People who post incorrect information do exist and that is important to remember. Why do they do that? Do they really believe what they say? Do they honestly. Percy others to believe it?

Another point is how modern political belief can affect a person's interpretation of history. It seems like some people interpret the past in a way that attempts to validate their current views, especially of politics. Or maybe they go the opposite - take modern views that match what they see as their heritage. I do not personally understand why something that happened so long ego should determine what I believe is right in the present. Some of my ancestors owned slaves, for instance, but that has no nfluence in my political views. Other people take different approaches, perhaps not always consciously, and that is something else this "online classroom" had shown me,. 

I still enjoy reading books, and need to do more of that, but the online world certainly has given me new perspectives on the Civil War and the people who study and/or enjoy it. There are a lot of people and beliefs in this world and the past few years has made that obvious to me. My small personal world has certainly grown in the past few years.