Conservapedia:American History Lecture Six

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Pause and consider if, and which, college board or college credit exam you may want to take at the end of this course, so that you can begin to focus on what the course covers.

In the 1850s, the Whig Party collapsed with the antislavery wing forming the Republican Party in the North, and the wealthy Southern Whigs joining the Democratic Party in the South. So the two main political parties had strong geographic connections. Republicans were generally in the North, and Democrats were generally in the South. However, there were still some northern Democrats, giving the Democrats the upper hand in the 1850s. The presidents elected in 1852 (Franklin Pierce) and 1856 (James Buchanan) were both Democrats and both proslavery.

Abraham Lincoln’s election as a Republican to the presidency was a huge earthquake in the South. The Republican Party was antislavery with respect to the territories and many in the Party wanted slavery abolished even in existing states. So the South began to move towards secession immediately after Lincoln was elected, before he was even sworn into office (the election was in November 1860, but his inauguration was not until March 1861).

South Carolina seceded soon after Lincoln (and the Republican Party) won the presidential election. Before the inauguration of Lincoln in March 1862, many Southern states had seceded from the Union. Lincoln tried to preserve the Union in his address: “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” His speech contains only a passing reference to God. He concludes, “The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect, and defend it.’ I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.”

His speech persuaded no one. As a student observed in the last class, perhaps the real problem was a lack of leadership at this crucial moment. In April, Lincoln tells South Carolina that he has to re-supply a federal garrison there. South Carolina doesn’t trust him and thinks it is a trick. South Carolina captures Fort Sumter and more states secede.

In the last class, our student debater (Tyler) mentioned that all the compromises had failed for thirty years (e.g., 1820, 1850 and 1854). There was one last attempt at compromise, this time by Kentucky Senator John Crittenden. (Why a compromise by a senator from Kentucky? Because it was a border state.). This led to Congress passing a constitutional amendment in 1861 to protect slavery in the South. But was never ratified by the States because war broke out before the States could even consider it. It seems unlikely that the northern states would have agreed anyway.

The first major battle was at Bull Run, near Manassas, Virginia, on July 21, 1861. By then Virginia, a border state, had chosen to secede and its local hero, General Robert E. Lee, remained loyal to his state. Lincoln offered him command of the Union forces but he chose to represent his home state instead.

In the first battle the emotional South crushed the North, and people fled into nearby D.C. But the South made a mistake of not charging immediately to take D.C., as urged by one of the greatest American (southern) generals, “Stonewall” Jackson (who had been a physics teacher at Virginia Military Institute). After this initial defeat, Lincoln fired his general and replaced him with George McClellan.

McClellan was an important figure throughout the war, and eventually ran against Lincoln for president in 1864 and would have defeated him had the southern states been able to vote. McClellan held a dim view of Lincoln, and often ignored his calls and requests. A brilliant student at West Point (second in his class), McClellan was a masterful organizer who was running large railroads just before the Civil War. Upon taking command, McClellan quickly fortified and protected D.C., and built up the Army of the Potomac into powerful force for the North (the Union).

There was little action in the fall of 1861 and soon 1862 had arrived. Time was on the North’s side, as it had over three times the free population and a much more developed manufacturing and transportation system. For the South to win the war, it had to win quickly. But it waited. McClellan also waited, and waited, and waited. He much preferred defense to offense. He did not like the harm caused by war, such as the loss of life. He did not get along with Lincoln and did not think much of him. Finally, Lincoln wrote this famous letter to McClellan: “My Dear McClellan:

If you are not using the army, I should like to borrow it for a short while.

Yours respectfully,

Abraham Lincoln”

Ultimately Lincoln fired McClellan in November 1862. McClellan ran against Lincoln for president in 1864 and it looked like McClellan would win until the Union forces won big military victories that summer and fall, and Lincoln picked a Southerner (Andrew Johnson) as his running mate to appease those who were tired of the war. Much later McClellan later became Governor of New Jersey (1878-81).

The Union (North) began winning battles in 1863. The key turning point occurred around July 4, 1863 in two different locations: Vicksburg, Mississippi (July 4) and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (July 1-3). The losses of the South on those days have been described as “mortal blows.” It was Ulysses S. Grant who led the Union at Vicksburg, which cut the South in half. Lincoln took notice and by spring of May 1864 he elevated Grant to command of the Union forces in Virginia. Grant was no military genius and was only an average student at West Point, although he was a superb horseman. But Grant did not mind shedding blood on both sides and used the superior numbers of the Union to slowly defeat the South in 1864 and early 1865 in Northern Virginia. Eventually General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9th. Five days later, on Good Friday, April 14th, Lincoln was attending a theatrical performance (that’s odd, one might observe) and was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, who was himself an actor sympathetic to the South. Some suggest that Lincoln accepted this ending to his life. Our Nation was again left without a leader.

There is much more to the battles of the Civil War, of course. Union General William Tecumseh Sherman brutalized Georgia by destroying everything in a 60-mile-wide path from Atlanta to the ocean, known as his “March to the Sea” in late 1864. To this day some Southerners are bitter about his destruction, which Sherman justified a way to break the back and the will of the South.

Lincoln, for his part, remains a controversial historical figure to this day. His original goals were not moral, and he admitted that he was not trying to abolish slavery. He was trying to save the Union. He even agreed to try to preserve slavery as a way of saving the Union. A cynic might point to young Lincoln’s lack of faith and his career as a railroad lawyer as the prime motivation for his obsession with unity. But that would be an oversimplification.

There are strong signs that Lincoln found faith during the war and grew to appreciate the morality of the situation. He inserted the phrase “under God” after his reference to “one Nation” in his Gettysburg address at the battlefield (cemetery) in November 1863, in commemoration of the fallen there. That address remains the most famous in all of American history, ending with the words “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address is the opposite of his First; by 1864 he saw the Civil War as a moral struggle over slavery. Lincoln also saw the death of his own beloved child, due to illness, while in the White House.

Andrew Johnson, the Vice President, then became president, only the third succession of presidential power in our history (the first was Tyler becoming president after Harrison's death, and the second was Millard Fillmore becoming president after Zachary Taylor's death). Congress was then controlled by “Radical Republicans” who wanted to impose harsh conditions on the South both to protect African-Americans and to punish the South for the War. Johnson, a Democrat from Tennessee, spent the next three years fighting the Radical Republicans, who eventually impeached him (but fell one vote short of removing him from office).

“Reconstruction” is the period from the end of the Civil War to 1877, when the disputed presidential election of Hayes and Tilden forced the Republicans to cut a deal with the Democrats that included an end to Reconstruction and a removal of all Northern troops from the South. Included in Reconstruction were three constitutional Amendments (13, 14 and 15) and many Northerners (given the derogatory name “carpetbaggers”) moved to the South to form quasi-military governments. “Scalawags” were white Southerners who worked with the Republicans in the South during Reconstruction. The term “carpetbaggers” is still used today to describe any politician who moves to a new state to be elected to office (as Hillary Clinton moved to New York to become a U.S. Senator).

Much of the disputes during Reconstruction concerned efforts by southern whites to interfere with suffrage (right to vote) by former slaves. A poll tax was used as a way to keep poor people, particularly former slavers, from voting. This was not completely abolished until 1964 by the 24th Amendment. Other forms of intimidation by whites, including violence instigated by the Ku Klux Klan, continued. One Democratic Senator today, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, once belonged to Ku Klux Klan. So did the Democratic Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black.

Other issues were controversial during the Reconstruction period. Immigration into California from China caused many union laborers to object, because the Chinese would work more industriously and for less pay than union workers. Yet it was the Chinese immigrants who finally conquered the treacherous Sierra-Nevada mountain range and built the railroad over it, finally enabling completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869 (the final link was in Utah). Afterwards, factory owners as far away as Massachusetts would transport immigrants from California in order to break a strike by a union.

Conflicts with Indians also continued during the Civil War and afterwards. General George Custer was a highly popular and charismatic cavalry officer who sported long yellow hair and the latest fashions. But he also graduated last in his class at West Point, in contrast to many of the Civil War officers who took their coursework more seriously. In 1876, Custer led his men to Little Big Horn (now in Montana) to address some conflicts with Indians. Custer’s superiors favored an attack on the Indians, but not just yet. Custer was urged to wait before leading the charge. Overly aggressive and perhaps attempting to become a hero, Custer charged ahead anyway. The Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, then overwhelmed Custer and his men and slaughtered all of them. The warriors scalped all of Custer’s men, except Custer himself, whose strange clothing may have misled the warriors into thinking he was an innocent civilian.

Offsetting that bad news was some good news from the late 1800s. Baseball developed as a uniquely American sport during the Civil War, as soldiers found a way to pass the time between battles. After the war, informal leagues began to develop. The first professional team was the Cincinnati Red Stockings (now the “Red”), formed in 1869. Then, the same year as the massacre of Custer’s men in Little Big Horn, 1876, the National League was founded. The American League did not arise until 1903.

See everyone next week!