Monthly Archives: May 2020

Help United Daughters of the Confederacy

(June 1, 2020) No doubt many of you are as angry as me about the outrages to the United Daughters of the Confederacy building in Richmond over the weekend. As a result, I am pledging to donate half ($10) of the $20 purchase price for my book Ulysses Grant’s Failed PresidencyTo learn how postbellum Reconstruction failed and left much of the South struggling economically for a century afterward, it is important to understand how Grant failed in the White House despite the flood of favorable biographies about him in recent years.

To take advantage of the offer email me: phil_leigh(at)me.com* Also provide a postal address. Let me know if you want your copy signed. Domestic shipping is free. You may pay by check, PayPal, or credit card.

*(at) = @

Book Review: Gore Vidal’s “Burr”

Burr
by Gore Vidal
New York: Vintage Books, 1973
428 pages.

Burr is a fictionalized version of the life and times of Aaron Burr whose 1800 Presidential run threw the election into the House of Representatives. Burr also became Jefferson’s Vice President, killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel and was tried for, but not convicted of, treason for an alleged conspiracy to form a new country along the Mississippi Valley, annex Texas and conquer Mexico. He fathered one daughter by his wife but also likely sired multiple illegitimate children after his wife’s death. Among such offspring was probably Martin Van Buren who was elected President the same year that Burr died in 1836.

The book leaves four impressions pertinent to the Civil War.

First, our country barely remained united during her first forty-four years from 1789 to 1833. Disunion was an ever present threat. Ties to the states were far stronger than links to the Federal Union. Those ties were particularly strong when your region lacked power in Washington. Secession was often discussed throughout the country although the reasons varied from region to region. Here are some examples:

1. Alexander Hamilton warned President Washington and his Secretary of State Jefferson that the Northeastern states threatened to secede if the Federal government declined to assume their Revolutionary War debts. Virginia and North Carolina were particularly opposed because they had made large land donations to the western territories and their debts were lower. In the spirit of national unity Washington and Jefferson agreed to debt assumption.​

2. New Englanders discussed secession at least three more times. First, over objections to President Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory. New Englanders wanted to avoid losing political influence in the Federal government, which would be the result if new states were carved out of the Louisiana Territory. The second time was over President Jefferson’s 1807-1809 trade embargo intended to avert the War of 1812. The embargo idled the region’s maritime industry. The final time was toward the end of the War of 1812 when the British finally blockaded New England thereby preventing her from continuing to her voluminous smuggling.​ She refused to put her militia into the National Service as ordered by President Madison and loaned more money to the British enemy than she did to the Federal government.

Second, the Federal government had early tendencies to seize power from the states and become despotic. Hamilton favored a strong central government ruled by aristocrats and had more influence on Washington than any cabinet member. Hamilton disdained a democracy. Our second President, Massachusetts’s John Adams, pressed Congress to approve his Sedition Act, which made it a crime to speak ill of the President or Congress. The Supreme Court quickly tried to assume authority over the states in a case that permitted an individual from one state to sue a second state without the second state’s consent. The ruling was rejected by the states with prompt ratification of the 11th Amendment because they considered the court decision to be a usurpation of their sovereignty.

Third, opposing political parties and geographic regions tended to favor states’s rights when they were out of power and minimize them when they controlled the Federal government. During John Adams’s presidency, for example, future Presidents James Madison and Thomas Jefferson opposed the Sedition Act. The former wrote the Virginia legislature’s resolutions against the act and Jefferson wrote similar resolutions for Kentucky’s legislature. When Jefferson became President, however, he assumed authority to buy the Louisiana Territory, although he eventually got a two-thirds Senate vote approval for the purchase as a treaty. New Englander’s leaned heavily on state’s rights in their disputes with Presidents Jefferson and Madison.

Fourth, the occupants of all branches of the Central (Federal) Government were constantly trying to provide that government more power. The conflict that resulted in the 11th Amendment noted earlier is one example. Chief Justice John Marshall, who served for 34 years, led a number of rulings that took sovereignty away from the states. In McCulloch v Maryland, for example, the court denied Maryland the authority to tax the Bank of the United States even though the constitution enumerated no power to form such a Bank. Even though Marshal was related to strict-constructionist Jefferson, Marshall interpreted the Constitution liberally.

The question that I will not answer is a spoiler: Why did Burr challenge Hamilton to a duel? For many readers Vidal’s answer will excuse Burr.

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To support this blog, buy my books at my Amazon Author Page

The Confederacy at Flood Tide by Philip Leigh
Trading With the Enemy by Philip Leigh
Lee’s Lost Dispatch & Other Civil War Controversies by Philip Leigh
Southern Reconstruction by Philip Leigh
U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency by Philip Leigh
The Devil’s Town: Hot Springs During the Gangster Era by Philip Leigh

Letter to News and Advance

(May 27, 2020)  Provided below is a letter-to-the-editor by Bo Traywick (responsible for its content) to the Lynchburg News & Advance. Before publishing the letter I asked if Bo believed that the white Supremacists  that hi-jacked the Robert E. Lee statue for their own purposes were also responsible for the Charlottesville riot along with the antifa thugs. Bo replied, “By all means, blast the White Supremacist thugs and any and all other hijackers of our heritage.” Speaking for myself, I will never forget Joe Biden’s lie that Donald Trump was defending the white Supremacists instead of people like Bo when the President said “there are fine people on both sides.”

Bo is an author, Vietnam Vet and Virginia Military Institute graduate.

Bo Traywick

 

To the Editor:

Sunday’s OpEd page notes that “Few things have been as divisive in American history” as the Vietnam War, yet it goes on to promote even more divisiveness with its rhetoric in describing the United States’ War to Prevent Confederate Independence, aka “The Civil War.” It’s all there: blaming “white supremacists” for Charlottesville instead of the imported fascist Antifa mobs who incited the riots for the news cameras; mourning how many soldiers from Ohio and Michigan died “to stamp out the rebel flag and the cause it represented;” and expressing pious impatience at the prospect of hearing “all the debates about why (Confederate monuments) are there in the first place.” Here is one that is not open to debate:

If those Michigan and Ohio boys had stayed home and minded their own business, they would not have died at the hands of our forefathers who were fighting to defend our country from invasion, conquest, and coerced political allegiance – the same cause their fathers were fighting for in 1776, when the thirteen slave-holding colonies signed the Declaration of Independence and seceded from the British Empire. That is the cause that the “rebel flag” stood for – in spite of Lincoln’s pious and political “Orwellian doublespeak,” and what Voltaire called history: “The propaganda of the victorious.” It was the cause of ’76, when George Washington was also called a rebel, the cause those boys from up North were “stamping out” back in ’61-‘65, and the cause for which those people in Ohio and Michigan were flying the Battle Flag today. Good for them!

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To support this blog, buy my books at my Amazon Author Page

The Confederacy at Flood Tide by Philip Leigh
Trading With the Enemy by Philip Leigh
Lee’s Lost Dispatch & Other Civil War Controversies by Philip Leigh
Southern Reconstruction by Philip Leigh
U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency by Philip Leigh
The Devil’s Town: Hot Springs During the Gangster Era by Philip Leigh

 

It’s About the Money

(May 25, 2020) A recent thread in an online discussion group about the causes of the Civil War continues to be dominated by those who equate the causes of secession with the causes of the war. But they are not the same because the North could have permitted the seven cotton states to leave in peace. Instead Northerners chose to start a Civil War in order to coerce the seven back into the Union. The vast majority in the discussion group fail to question why the North chose to fight beyond replying that it was to “preserve the Union.” They are thunderstruck when challenged with the thought that “preserve the Union” was merely a euphemism for “avoiding the consequences of disunion.”

“Oh yeah. What are those consequences?” they ask dismissively.

“Economic hardship,” I reply.

“Like what?” they say and leave their jaw dropped until I reply.

“Loss of tariff revenue and access to Southern markets for monopolistic domestic manufacturers of the North who have been protected by deterrence tariffs.”

“Oh, that’s BS. My college professor told me that the tariff argument has been completely discredited,” they reply after a sigh and frown.

“Not discredited at all,” I say. “Consider that the tariff on dutiable items increased from 19% before the war to an average of 45% for over fifty years thereafter. In fact rates did not drop until Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who lived in the South as a boy, became President.”

With a backhanded wave they respond, “Oh, that’s ridiculous. Nothing that happened after the war can explain what the war was about!”

“If the war was fought to preserve the Union, surely you admit that it was preserved by readmission of the former Confederate states,” I reply. “That was after the war, as was the 13th Amendment freeing the slaves.”

This time they raise both hands as if to push the thought away before saying, “That’s different because my professor never talked about it because . . . well he went to Yale and studied under Dr. Blight . . .  and . . . well, that’s just different, see?”

It’s useless to detail Dr. Blight’s biases so I provide examples of secession-era newspapers documenting that concerns over the economic consequences of disunion undeniably worried Northerners.

1. Chicago Daily Times: December 10,1860

Let us . . . look dissolution [disunion] in the face: At one single blow our foreign commerce must be reduced to less than one-half what it now is. Our coastwise trade [presently an American monopoly by law] would pass into other hands. One-half of our shipping would lie idle at our wharves. We should lose our trade with the South, with all of its immense profits.

Our manufactories would be in utter ruins. Let the South adopt the free-trade system, or that of a tariff for revenue [instead of deterrance], and these results would alike follow. If protection be wholly withdrawn from our labor, it could not compete . . . with the labor of Europe. We should be driven from the market, and millions of our people would be compelled to go out of employment.

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2. Philadelphia Press: January 15, 1861

If those [tariff] laws cannot be enforced, the Union is clearly gone; if they can, it is safe.

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3. (Cleveland) Daily National Democrat: November 20, 1860

Anticipating a secession, it is said, the English Cabinet have . . . a Treaty which will allow the South to send their cotton free of duty to England, while English woolen and English cotton manufactured goods would be received free of duty into the cotton States. England would thus achieve the great object of her ambition, to have a monopoly of the raw cotton, and thus to strike a deadly blow at her great rival, the United States, and the result would be, that the cotton factories of the North—their best market cut off—the price of the raw cotton advanced, would be crippled if not entirely used up, and England have the monopoly of that great trade.

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4. New York Evening Post: March 2, 1861

That either the revenue from duties must be collected in the ports of the rebel states, or the ports must be closed to importations from abroad, is generally admitted. If neither of these things be done, our revenue laws are substantially repealed; the sources which supply our treasury will be dried up; we shall have no money to carry on the government; the nation will become bankrupt before the next crop of corn is ripe.

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5. St. Louis Missouri Republican quoted in New York Evening Post: March 27, 1861

Every day our importers of foreign merchandise are receiving, by way of New Orleans, very considerable quantities of goods duty free . . . If this thing is to become permanent there will be an entire revolution in the course of trade and New York will suffer terribly.

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6. New York Evening Post: March 12, 1861

. . . Allow railroad iron to be entered at Savannah with a low duty of ten percent . . . and not an ounce would be imported at New York. . . The whole country would be given up to an immense system of smuggling . . .

7. New York Daily Tribune correspondent J. S. Pike: January 11, 1861

Key West, the Tortugas, and Pensacola belong more . . . to the great maritime and commercial interests of the Free States . . . Those posts are in themselves alone of sufficient importantance to create and justify a war, even a long and bloody war, should their possession be contested.

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8. Philadelphia Press: December 27, 1860

If South Carolina is permitted to establish a free port with impunity, and to invite to her harbor all ships of foreign nations [instead of only US flag carriers for coastal trade as required by Federal law] would not disaster fall upon our great northern interests?

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9. New York Times: March 29, 1861

. . . The result of this [passive] policy cannot be doubtful. . . We shall not only cease to see marble palaces rising along Broadway; but reduced from a national to merely a provincial Metropolis, our shipping will rot at the wharves and grass grow in our streets.

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10. Chicago Daily Tribune: January 19, 1861

There is yet a single hope for freedom in this crisis, but that hope does not rest on the North. If the South Carolinians would only make a determined assault upon Fort Sumpter, level its walls to the sea, and slaughter its gallant commander and all his men—then perhaps the North would arise in vindication of the Constitution and laws, and teach the South that this country and government were not made wholly for slaveholders. That is now almost our only hope.

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11. Boston Transcript, March 18, 1861 (This one concludes that slavery was not the cause of secession)

Alleged grievances in regard to slavery were originally the causes for the separation of the cotton States, but the mask has been thrown off, and it is apparent that the people of the seceding States are now for commercial independence. . . The merchants of New Orleans, Charleston, and Savannah are possessed with the idea that New York, Boston and Philadelphia may be shorn . . . of their mercantile greatness by a revenue system verging upon free trade. If the Southern Confederation is allowed to carry out a policy by which only a nominal duty is laid upon imports, no doubt the businesses of the chief Northern cities will be seriously injured.

The difference is so great between the tariff of the Union and that of the Confederacy that the entire Northwest must find it to their advantage to purchase imported good at New Orleans rather than New York. In addition Northern manufacturers will suffer from the increased importations resulting from low duties. . .

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12. The Boston Herald, November 12, 1860

[Should the South secede] she will immediately form commercial alliances with European countries [that] . . . will help English manufacturing at the expense of New England. The first move the South would make would be to impose a heavy tax upon the manufacturers of the North, and a export tax on the cotton used by Northern manufacturers. In this way she would seek to cripple the North. The carrying trade, which is now done by American vessels, would be transferred to British ships.

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13. The following is excerpted out of a letter from New York Times publisher Henry Raymond to William Yancey of Alabama. (Dec. 30, 1860)

If the South secedes the remaining truncated Union would “be surrendering to a foreign and hostile power more than half of the Atlantic seaboard—the whole Gulf—the mouth of the Mississippi . . . and its drainage of the commerce from the mighty West . . . all chance of further accessions from Mexico, Central America or the West India islands and all prospect of extending our growth . . . in the only direction in which such extension will ever be possible. . .”

“Nine-tenths of our people in the North and Northwest would wage a war longer than the War of Independence before they will assent to any such surrender . . . There is no nation in the world so ambitious for growth and power—so thoroughly pervaded with the spirit of conquest and so filled with dreams of enlarged dominions, as ours.”

In sum, as H. L. Mencken put it, “Whenever somebody says, ‘It’s not about the money’, it’s about the money.”

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To support this blog, buy my books at my Amazon Author Page

The Confederacy at Flood Tide by Philip Leigh
Trading With the Enemy by Philip Leigh
Lee’s Lost Dispatch & Other Civil War Controversies by Philip Leigh
Southern Reconstruction by Philip Leigh
U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency by Philip Leigh
The Devil’s Town: Hot Springs During the Gangster Era by Philip Leigh

Tomorrow: History Channel MiniSeries on U.S. Grant

The History Channel premiers the first chapter of a three-episode miniseries on Ulysses Grant, titled “Grant,” on Memorial Day. It airs Monday at 9 P.M. (8 P.M. Central) for two hours, and again at 11 P.M. and 1 A.M. the next morning as well as 7 P.M Tuesday. The second and third episodes are at the same times on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, respectively.

Given that author Ron Chernow is Executive Producer, Grant will likely be portrayed too favorably as both a military commander and President.

Click on the book image to visit its Amazon Page.

While the series airs I am offering my book, U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency, for $15 which is 20% off the regular $20 price. (Amazon has a Kindle version for $4.95.) To realize how Reconstruction failed it is necessary to understand how Grant’s presidency failed.

Domestic shipping is free. You may pay with credit card, PayPal, Apple Pay, and check. Email me at phil_leigh(at)me.com to proceed.

 

Was Lincoln Forced to Act as He Did?

(May 19, 2020) During his first inaugural address, President Lincoln warned that the seven cotton states might force him to take military action against them because secession was unconstitutional and he had taken a solemn oath to “preserve, protect, and defend” the constitution. Most modern historians echo his remarks as justifying war against the South and putting the blame on Southerners. “He had no choice,” they argue. But some earlier Presidents reacted to similar situations with less belligerence and New Englanders considered secession themselves four times.

In 1807 President Thomas Jefferson responded with economic sanctions instead of belligerence after the British Navy committed an Act of War. In June of that year British warship H.M.S. Leopard fired upon American warship U.S.S. Chesapeake because the latter refused to let the British board her. Unlike the bloodless Sumter bombardment, four Americans were killed and seventeen wounded. Although President Jefferson took steps to prepare for war he instead obtained congressional authority for a trade embargo to encourage the British to stop stealing crew members from American ships. Jefferson also appeased secession-prone New Englanders by repealing the Embargo, which was unpopular to the region’s shipping interests, less than two years later.

HMS Leopard versus USS Chesapeake

According to Thomas Fleming in A Disease of the Public Mind, New Englanders “flirted” with secession three times before the Civil War, to which I add the 1790 debt assumption as a fourth. To be sure, they never adopted a secession ordinance because either circumstances changed or Southern Presidents appeased them or the Presidents adopted peaceful responses.

1. The first instance was their demand that the Federal government assume the Revolutionary War debts of the individual states. Southerners were opposed because they had paid off most of their debts. In the spirit of national unity, however, the South gave into demands of the New Englanders. All they got in return was relocation of the U.S. Capital to the Potomac River. President Washington encouraged the bill even though many of his fellow Virginians opposed it.

2. The second instance was during the War of 1812 when Massachusetts refused to put her militia in the national service as required when President Madison ordered it. (Years later the Supreme Court ruled that Massachusetts’ action was illegal.) Madison responded by declining to send federal troops to the state. Toward the end of the war he appeased New England by promoting the 1816 protective tariff to benefit the region.

3. The third instance was in 1815 when secession flirtation led to the Hartford Convention. After traveling to Washington with demands for seven new constitutional amendments, the emissaries returned after realizing the the War of 1812, which triggered their disaffection, was over.

4. The fourth instance was in response to the Louisiana Purchase. New Englanders objected because any new states that came out of the Territory would reduce New England’s relative influence. Of course, the same applied to the southern states, but they put the interests of the nation ahead of their region

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To support this blog, buy my books at my Amazon Author Page.

The Confederacy at Flood Tide by Philip Leigh
Trading With the Enemy by Philip Leigh
Lee’s Lost Dispatch & Other Civil War Controversies by Philip Leigh
Southern Reconstruction by Philip Leigh
U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency by Philip Leigh
The Devil’s Town: Hot Springs During the Gangster Era by Philip Leigh