(December 12, 2018) While The Washington Post accuses President Trump of trying to censor the press, last week one of their reporters wrote an article smearing the reputation of an historical figure who was among America’s strongest advocates of a free press. Specifically, Lisa Rein reported that twenty-four years ago President Trump’s new director of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilkie, expressed respect for Confederate history, Jefferson Davis and the common Rebel soldier. Although Wilkie also condemned slavery the article was an obvious attempt to characterize him as a racist.
Characteristically, The Post fails to realize that Confederate President Jefferson Davis refused to censor Southern newspapers that criticized him. In contrast, Abraham Lincoln shut down as many as three hundred Northern newspapers who disagreed with him. Even according to Lincoln-sympathizer and historian Harold Holzer:
Eventually the [federal] military and the government began punishing editorial opposition to the war itself. Authorities banned pro-peace newspapers from the U.S. mails, shut down newspaper offices and confiscated printing materials. They intimidated, and sometimes imprisoned, reporters, editors and publishers who sympathized with the South or objected to an armed struggle to restore the Union. . . . Did press dissent really pose an existential threat to national security? Probably not . . .
Such hypocrisy leads discerning users of The Post and similar news organizations to realize by themselves—without President Trump’s alleged “dog whistle”—that the mainstream media is the enemy of the people.
[Learn about Civil War and Reconstruction at my Amazon Author Page.]
Today I learned the subject manuscript of yesterday’s post still exists and sold at a Christie’s auction five years ago for $122,500. The single document has the signatures of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, which both signed in their presidential capacities.
As may be recalled, in the final weeks of the Civil War a Baptist minister personally acquainted with Lincoln approached the president seeking permission to sell cotton owned by a Mississippi orphanage in order to buy supplies for the children. He had a petition from the orphanage’s board of trustees describing the destitute conditions.
President Davis endorsed the back of the petition with a note permitting the minister to pass through enemy lines in order to meet with Lincoln. After initial reluctance, Lincoln wrote a note below Davis’s authorizing the Union occupation commander in New Orleans, Major General Edward Canby, to assist the minister.
Prior to the latest Christie’s auction the document had three owners. First was the applicable Baptist minister, Thomas C. Teasdale. The next owner was Gilbert Colgate of the Colgate-Palmolive and Colgate University family. He apparently wrote a Civil War Times Illustrated article about the incident shortly before he died in 1965. The most recent seller was evidently a Colgate family descendent.
Prior to discovering the auction, I would have guessed that Teasdale’s petition would have brought a higher price because I don’t think there is another document having both the Lincoln and Davis signatures, particularly in their presidential capacities. Moreover, the petition itself partly tells the interesting background story. Finally, according to the Christie notes, it also has General Canby’s signature and endorsement.
My Civil War Books
Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated
For the first half of the Civil War President Jefferson Davis and many other Confederate leaders were hopeful that Britain and France would intervene on the side of the South. Great Britain had the world’s mightiest antebellum economy and about 20% was linked to cotton textile manufacturing, which obtain nearly 90% of its feedstock from the American South. The industry was similarly important to France, which was the second largest importer of Southern cotton. Moreover, both Britain and France resented the protective tariffs popular in the Northern states whereas the South favored free trade.
Nonetheless, Britain would require convincing reasons to diplomatically recognize the Confederacy because such action would likely provoke a war with the United States. Emperor Napoleon III of France felt the same way, although he was busily creating the required compelling reasons by preparing to install a puppet monarchy in Mexico. America’s Civil War provided him the opportunity to test Lincoln’s resolve to enforce the Monroe Doctrine while the president was pre-occupied with suppressing the Southern rebellion.
A French army landed in Mexico in January 1862 under the pretext of enforcing debt collections owed by the Liberal government under Benito Juarez. Napoleon’s real intention was to install a monarchy under the Austrian Archduke Maximilian whose throne would be protected by the French army. Mexico’s popular governments had repeatedly failed. Since gaining independence from Spain in 1821 she was governed by over fifty different administrations over the next forty years. Church clerics and conservatives concluded Mexico would do better under a monarchy. Continue reading