Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Lincoln's team of rivals

by DoDo Wed Jan 22nd, 2014 at 03:23:48 AM EST

Ever since I read a glowing review of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (which I still haven't seen), I longed to read its main basis: Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. This biography used the novel approach to put the personal histories of the main contestants in the 1860 Republican Party presidential nomination race side by side, to show how and why Lincoln rose above all of his rivals.

I finally got to read the book during the holidays. It is a difficult read, with over 750 pages even without footnotes (it takes 250 pages just to get to Lincoln's nomination on the Republican ticket), and the author's style is at times annoying (frequent reproductions of insubstantial praise for personal qualities, descriptions of the vanity festival that was Washington social life, the first-person plural focus on an American-only audience and the need to 'excuse' Lincoln's weak religiosity), but I highly recommend it for the broad and detailed view of the age and its issues. There is also some modern relevance in relation to centrist politics. I thought I share some of the insights I came away with.

After the war, former Confederates developed the so-called Lost Cause myth, denying that slavery was the cause of the conflict, arguments later further embellished by both some leftists and the neo-Confederate revisionists. But, from the book, it's clear just how central slavery was to the whole North-South conflict.

It was less due to moral/civil rights considerations. As the book makes clear, abolitionists were a minority hated as meddlesome extremists even in the North, and notions of white racial superiority were all-pervasive even among the abolitionists. Still, for most contemporaries in the North, there was a big difference between being inferior and being property, or even between considering someone a non-citizen (barred from voting or sitting on juries) and considering someone a property. This was enough to gain support for local abolition in most Northern states.

On the economic front, it's easy to identify a conflict between the Southern plantation owner class and the mostly Northern industrialist-merchant class. This was the conflict between the earlier Democratic and Whig parties, which battled it out over some clearly economic issues: tariffs for imports (favoured by manufacturers for protection in their start-up phase but opposed by cotton exporters for fear of foreign reprisals), infrastructure programmes and cheap land for immigrants. In all of these, paradoxically as viewed from our neo-liberal present, it was the capitalist Whigs who advocated big government spending, and the agrarian Democrats who were the free-market advocates. Meanwhile, the latter (nabbing the vote of poor farmers in both the North and the South) advocated universal suffrage for white males, to which the Whigs adapted by turning their meritocratic ideal into the advocacy of better public education.

But why couldn't the two elites live side-by-side, what made the head-on collision of opposed interests inevitable? It was the western expansion and settlement into the lands stolen from Native Americans and Mexico. Ignoring what goes on in other established states is one thing, but the legality of slavery in the new territories had a direct bearing on both the economic and moral/civil rights conflicts: who gets to expand West, will the balance of slave state dominated Senate and free state dominated House be upturned, and will the (parallel but contradictory) public notions on the direction of the country's development be shaken? Thus the slavery issue led to the break-up of both the Whigs and Democrats and the formation of the Republicans in the North.

An attempt by the slave-holder side to solve the conflict once and for all by relying on widespread white racism, namely the 1857 Supreme Court ruling in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case that declared blacks non-citizens, only heightened the stakes: the slave-owners' fear of losing "property" was now mirrored by Northern fears that their own anti-slavery laws will be abrogated as unconstitutional.

His late public embracement of complete abolition notwithstanding (more on this later), the recognition of the inevitable all-or-nothing nature of the conflict over slavery was also what moved Lincoln to re-enter politics in 1854. That year, slave-owners achieved a victory with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which permitted slavery in the two new territories if the local (white) population approves it by referendum. Lincoln is quoted by a lawyer friend to have commented the news after a night of thinking thusly: "I tell you, Dickey, this nation cannot exist half-slave and half-free."

The trigger of Lincoln's focus on slavery from 1854 brings me to another revelation: the level of Northern delusions about the South.

Up until the 1850s, most of the majority of Northerners who resented abolitionists apparently thought that slavery in Southern states will eventually die a natural death just like it did in their home states. Even when that delusion unravelled due to the conflict over the West, there was a view (also espoused by Lincoln) that slavery can be put back on track to natural death if only it is quarantined in the South. (The book doesn't go into details on the Southern developments ignored in the North, but I list some: the rise of labour-intensive cotton plantations, the ensuing wave of family-disrupting slave trade into the Mississippi Basin [the Second Middle Passage], and the evolution of pro-slavery ideology which made slavery a God-given boon and duty that is best for both races [more in the seed comment].)

A different kind of ignorance about slavery was the widespread belief at the start of the war that Northern superiority in population and industry (coupled with the ability to enforce a naval blockade against exports) translates into overwhelming military superiority. This ignored that slaves would continue to till the fields (and thus run the war economy) while the white men were away fighting, and the South would also use slaves to dig trenches and run logistics.

Northern politicians bent on appeasement also failed to understand that, due to the Southern media's propaganda overdrive, their gestures never reached the Southern audience. Even when the South ratcheted up secessionist rhetoric and violence in the last years and months before the Civil War, apparently most people in the North mistook it for theatrics meant to extort more political concessions on the slavery issues.

As for that propaganda overdrive, Southern self-delusion was even worse. The neo-con tradition of making up one's own reality goes way back.

While newspapers were virulently partisan, defamatory and unreliable everywhere in 19th-century USA, in the South, even the most moderate Northern politicians were portrayed as mad abolitionists, complete with fabricated quotes, and then people believed their own propaganda. A bizarre episode was the split of the Democratic party over the nomination of a Northerner who advocated total appeasement of the South but his mad Southern comrades decided that even he is an abolitionist agent.

Worse, the Southern self-image, inspired by the romantic novels of knights and damsels so decried by Mark Twain, stood in no relationship with an actual demeanour of treating blacks worse than cattle, or making death threats against and murdering and lynching anti-slavery and pro-North whites, or aiding and abetting those who did. For example, when a Southern congressman walked up to the desk of an anti-slavery Senator and broke his skull with a cane, he was widely celebrated in the slave states as a brave hero.

In the 1850s, such examples of Southern arrogance and aggression helped to incite Northern anti-slavery sentiment and mainstream at least a part of the abolitionist agenda. Upon Lincoln's election, the South's self-deception about Lincoln (who in all likelihood [more later] still contemplated a peaceful and gradual abolition of slavery, was on a limited appeasement platform in the campaign, and largely kept mum on policy until inauguration) triggered the secession declarations. The reality-challenged but morale-sustaining propaganda claiming victory over cowardly Northerners in every battle was cited explicitly as motivation for the scorched-earth policies applied during Sherman's March to the Sea.

But, once secession started, why didn't the North let the South go, and let them meet the sad end then expected by Northerners (economic decline triggering emigration of poor whites followed by slave revolts)? There are several reasons, but I'll highlight those that were new to me.

One was a prominent whistle-blower. A month after Lincoln's election, the lame-duck Democratic administration of James Buchanan appointed a new Attorney General, prominent lawyer Edwin M. Stanton. Once he could read classified info, Stanton was convinced that there is a vast conspiracy in the army and the administration, which smuggled weapons South and diverted loyal troops from Washington, to enable the conquest of the capital by secessionist militia and the assassination of Lincoln upon inauguration. Buchanan wouldn't listen, so at the end of 1860 Stanton leaked the info to several Republicans who also informed Lincoln. From then on, any hostile move by the secessionists was viewed as a prelude to bigger action.

Meanwhile, apparently, Lincoln and key members of his cabinet thought that a successful secession wouldn't be the end of the story: the rest of the Union would continue to splinter, secession would only sharpen the competition for the West and thus ensure protracted war, European powers would interfere and play divide and rule, and new aristocracies would develop. At an even more fundamental level, this all would mean that the experiment in democratic rule and freedom would fail, as any democratic decision would be in danger of violent opposition from the side who lost the vote. So the armed confrontation, then delusionally expected to be short, was seen as something staving off much worse conflict.

A further issue not explicit in the book but apparent to me is simply the cultural mores of pride and manliness: secessionist rhetoric during the initial crisis of Fort Sumter (a federal sea fort first demanded and then conquered by secession pioneer South Carolina) was humiliating, and even conservative Republicans previously advocating appeasement wanted to show who's the man.

One reason for the armed conflict, the opposition to slavery, was totally de-emphasized by the Lincoln administration in its first year, to the extent of appeasement on the subject of laws on (not) returning fugitive slaves to their masters.

Ignoring that slavery was central in Confederate justifications for secession (also see seed comment), the absence of slavery in the Lincoln admin's first public justifications for the war and heavy criticism of the government from anti-slavery advocates is a boon for modern-day neo-Confederate quote-miners. However, it was more a case of tactics. Lincoln's administration tried to keep together a fragile new party that included conservatives and even owners of household slaves, and at the same time a rest-Union that at first included all the slaver states of the Upper South, above all the two that flanked the capital Washington (remember Stanton's conspiracy theory again). Northern emancipation campaigners still had less popular support than they believed. It's worth to note that, as impressive as electoral college maps may appear, in the popular vote, Lincoln beat the Northern Democrat candidates only 40% to 30% in 1860 and 55% to 45% (North only) in 1864, and both of these opponents had full-on appeasement platforms.

With the war already started, there were three options for bringing about slave emancipation:

  1. A focus on freeing (and possibly arming) slaves who escaped to the North or lived on land conquered from the South.
  2. A gradual government buy-out of slave-holders, coupled with an offer to freedmen for re-settlement in Africa or another tropical country (more on this later) – a policy that would have to start with the pro-Union slaver states. Advocates of this policy were concerned that any other option would eventually bring about a race war.
  3. Declaring all slaves in the South free, possibly with incitement to revolt, and then pressuring pro-Union slaver states. This was advocated by the most radical abolitionists.

While most committed anti-slavery Republicans advocated the first option at the start of the war, with his focus on getting a majority to make a policy viable, Lincoln appears to have favoured the second option from the mid-1850s. At least, after having waited for public opinion to ripen (Lincoln's own metaphor), that's what he first proposed in public at the end of 1861. Apparently, it was after the rejection of multiple initiatives by the remaining pro-Union slaver states (as well as by those not wanting to pay tax for this cause) and after military losses (and thus also a further ripening of public opinion) that Lincoln decided to switch to the third option. That is, the progress of the war only influenced the chosen method of emancipation.

To get public (and legal) acceptance for the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln chose to name reasons with a wider sway than moral arguments. He emphasized that he exhausted all other options. He also waited three months with the public announcement until a military victory (the Battle of Antietam), and used the time to stress that whatever he does he does to sustain the Union (fooling abolitionists and conservatives alike to believe that he was defending the lack of progress on emancipation). Lincoln also turned the North's recognition of the advantage slave labour provided to the Confederate logistics and war economy into an argument of military necessity, which in turn was the sufficient legal justification. By the time the Proclamation came into force on 1 January 1863, public opinion ripened enough that even ex-slave-holder Cabinet members and half of slaver state Maryland supported what was an abolitionist platform.

Emancipation was ultimately secured with the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. To ensure a wider acceptance, Lincoln chose to force it through the lame duck Congress with its Democratic blocking minority in early 1965, rather than have it approved by the newly elected one with its wider Republican majority (more later).

In formulating his anti-slavery policy, Lincoln made one glaring omission: not consulting black leaders.

The President first made up for that during the three months when he kept the Emancipation Proclamation under wraps. The main result was that he abandoned the unworkable idea of voluntary re-settlement: it finally got to him that blacks who were born and lived all their life in the country think of it as home and don't desire to move to some tropical region (what's more find the suggestion insulting), even if that means struggling against white racism that won't allow them the same rights and opportunities.

For me the most moving scene described in the book took place a year later: the first meeting between Lincoln and black activist Frederick Douglass, whom I must confess of never having heard of before. Douglass was born as a slave in the South. His life was changed by learning to read as a boy, eventually leading to his escape North and rise as a public figure. The book quotes several eloquent criticisms of Lincoln from the time of his apparent waffling on the slavery issue. But in August 1863, Lincoln shocked Douglass with a non-condescending friendliness he wasn't accustomed to even from white abolitionists, knowledge of his writings, total agreement on the issues he wanted to bring up, and even honesty about another case of timing (when issuing the Order of Retaliation in response to the South's refusal to grant blacks POW status, Lincoln waited until after the positive press echo of the first acts of bravery by Colored troops). At another meeting a year later, Douglass persuaded Lincoln to ride out the storm when he was publicly accused of scuppering a Confederate peace offer by demanding the acceptance of emancipation.

Meeting Douglass also disabused Lincoln of another prejudice behind the re-settlement idea, which wasn't based on nature but nurture: a belief that growing up as a slave with all the abuse and denial of education common in the South will leave people mentally deranged. (In contrast, Lincoln apparently never stopped viewing the slave-holder elite as honourable gentlemen, rather than as, say, twisted criminals fighting for their right to torture, rape and work to death people with impunity.)

To reinforce the point that Lincoln was aiming to get emancipation in a roundabout way from the start, one has to dive deeper into Lincoln's mind. This finally leads me to the main focus of the book, Lincoln's political style. Was he an idealist, or an opportunist? Was he a tool of special interests and behind-the-scenes puppet-masters, or a tyrant?

The book convincingly demonstrates that (1) Lincoln was a man with an over-riding ambition to leave a mark on history, who sought to achieve his chosen mission by (2) becoming a master manipulator of fellow politicians and by (3) guiding public opinion according to the principle we call Overton Window today.

All this appears to be rooted in prior failures. The explicit ambition to stay in people's memory solidified when he overcame a suicidal phase. Lincoln's signature policy during his first foray into politics was a major state infrastructure programme which fell victim to austerity and the accompanied turn of public opinion. His second foray into politics was cut short by the unpopularity he earned by challenging the rationale for the Mexican–American War (1846-1848).

The master manipulator (a true herder of cats) was particularly evident when Lincoln put together his cabinet. All of his appointments were big-shots with own ambition whom Lincoln chose to (a) fully represent the different forces in his fragile coalition and (b) still be the best and brightest for the individual posts. "Give no concessions" (meaning primarily, no promises for government jobs) was a recurring message to his minions. When the post-election lobbying for government jobs began, Lincoln got his desired outcome with elaborate tricks, including fait accompli and lies of omission. At one point, his two brightest rivals (William H. Seward, who'd become Secretary of State; and Salmon P. Chase, who'd become Secretary of the Treasury) both rejected their nominations, but Lincoln put both of them in situations where they had to retract, without extracting any concessions. (The one example in the book when he clearly offered perks for votes was in the drive to "turn" enough Democratic congressmen for the 13th Amendment to pass with the required two-thirds majority.)

What's also clear from the examples of Lincoln's control over his team is that he must have been fully aware from the start that they hold not merely different but incompatible views: everything he said or wrote to them was "situational". As for the Overton Window, there are explicit quotes from Lincoln about the need to know public opinion and the tactic to work towards the desired outcome by nudging public opinion in the right direction. (Combined with the lack of a diary or pour-your-heart-out letters to trusted relatives or friends, this also means that Lincoln's actual views remain something of an enigma.) As President, Lincoln made the point to his team several times that the final decision is his. Yet, due to his manoeuvring, in the first year or two, many thought he is waffling. The book quotes several cases when Cabinet members advocating some policy in vain groaned about the President's indecisiveness or weak-handedness when in fact by that time he already set in motion a more complex plan.

The book is less convincing in denying the influence of Secretary of State Seward, who became Lincoln's best friend and closest advisor due to similar views and tastes (more on this later). Although the evidence is convincing that Seward wasn't the power behind the throne many contemporaries believed him to be – he comes across as a talented yet carefree, ageing dandy without strong convictions rather than a crypto-conservative puppet-master –, his unrivalled access to Lincoln does mean influence, if only by reinforcing the boss in his views. The author herself comes near to acknowledging the last point when discussing some unworkable offers of reconciliation, on which Lincoln gave up after meeting unanimous opposition from the Cabinet in Seward's absence. (Then again, Seward averted war with Britain by swaying not just Lincoln but almost the entire Cabinet on the Trent Affair, and achieved a similar feat when he proposed to time the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation for after a military victory.)

In spite of being the master manipulator and gathering the best minds around him, Lincoln made some truly bad appointments.

The only one to out-fox the President-elect during the appointment game was Pennsylvania's sleazy Republican string-puller Simon Cameron. Lincoln could deny him his coveted Treasury post, but had to give him the War Department. However, that was a job beyond Cameron's capabilities (Chase at the helm of Treasury had to help out at the start of the war), and his cronies were implicated in corrupt military supply deals, so Lincoln had to engineer his replacement (bringing in Stanton the whistle-blower, who basically worked himself to death in the job). The book doesn't detail this, but the other man who wasn't on Lincoln's original list, Indiana Republican leader Caleb Smith (who got the Secretary of the Interior position) proved both unfit for the administrative job and a weak character. Smith, too, was re-placed mid-term.

Acknowledging his lack of expertise in military affairs, Lincoln at first allowed his generals free rein, to the extent of ignoring insults. But, based on the book's comparison of letter excerpts and actual facts, Lincoln's first own appointments for the commanding general position on both the eastern and western theatres of war (George B. McClellan resp. John C. Frémont) were useless acts and self-aggrandizing fools whose only talent lay in deflecting blame for their frequent failures. McClellan in particular (who was also anti-abolition and would become Lincoln's Democratic opponent in the 1864 elections) actively sabotaged the war effort, wasting the possibility of a much earlier victory. Lincoln tried to correct his mistake by educating himself on military strategy and keeping a watch out for capable officers to be at hand if and when needed as replacements.

The book sees a silver lining in Lincoln's ability to recognise, admit and correct errors, but IMHO it also transpires that his ability to see into and analyse people wasn't as perfect as implied by his domination of his team of rivals.

As for that team of rivals, there is one Cabinet member who is set up as the villain of the book: Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, the most radical Cabinet member on the slavery issue.

The author's opinion of Republican leaders seemed to be a function of their loyalty to Lincoln, and Chase places lowest on that scale for being the only one not dropping his own ambitions to become President (ultimately leading to his 1864 dismissal). The book never spared him of an unflattering remark regarding a cold and scheming nature, using the oh so unbiased comments of conservative colleagues, and double standards (tricks are "cunning" when Lincoln used them but deplorable when Chase did, connecting personal ambition with the advancement of a great cause is a sign of greatness for Lincoln but hypocritical in Chase's case).

While the author blames everything on Chase (in effect, Lincoln's failure to sufficiently nurture their personal relationship is blamed on Chase's failure to appreciate Lincoln's humour), to me it's clear that Lincoln's management of his alpha-male Cabinet was less than perfect (even if no one was around who would have done it better). Lincoln's closeness with Seward in particular was bound to make others feel left out of the loop. More importantly, there can be no question that on a number of policy choices – including blacks in the army, resettlement of ex-slaves, and firing General McClellan –, Chase was ahead of the curve relative to Lincoln. That is, the President could have educated himself and moved towards the right direction faster and with less detours had he paid more attention to Chase (and Chase wouldn't have felt that Lincoln is too infirm, a feeling the author wouldn't accept as sincere argument for his candidacy).

To Lincoln's credit, his principle of keeping a balance led him to replace Chase with another radical, also to replace Chase's conservative arch-enemy in the Cabinet (as part of a later political bargain), and make Chase the Chief Justice who'd take his oath during his second inauguration. As for Chase, the book acknowledges that he campaigned for Lincoln after both nomination failures and did his job while in office.

Chase also gets credit for a progressive agenda on economic and financial matters.

Another favourite argument of the Southern revisionists is to conclude from the corruption of the post-Lincoln era that the Republicans and Lincoln were mere tools of Northern capitalists all along. This is more than hypocritical in view of the introduction of progressive income tax, a VAT exemption for small business, as well as basic goods, all that with the explicit intent to favour labour. Of course, modern-day free-traders deplore all of that, and also the debt-making involved in the introduction of greenbacks.

The point of disagreement between Chase and Lincoln where I find the book's implication of the superiority of Lincoln's ideas least convincing was Reconstruction.

It is already a question how effective Lincoln's politics would have been in delivering the end of slavery had the South kept back from starting war during his presidency. But, regarding Reconstruction, the history of the KKK, Jim Crow, and the Lost Cause myth gives me strong doubts about whether treating the plantation owners (and thousands of young men sharing the views of John Wilkes Booth) as noble gentlemen re-joining the club would have had any chance of bringing about reconciliation and universal suffrage by the votes of Southern whites.

Finally, there is the inescapable modern relevance of this analysis of Lincoln's politics.

I think that even without the vilification of Chase (as well as some other Radicals), the appraisal of Lincoln's brand of centrism can be read (and, in US political circles, was read) as a confirmation of the politics of the Democratic Leadership Council and other triangulators. Indeed my copy carries this recommendation from current President Barrack Obama: "A wonderful book... a remarkable study in leadership". But that's quite self-serving and hypocritical.

I mean, show me a recent centre-left leader who used triangulation to advance a major revolutionary, progressive change as end result (rather than steadily eroding progressive agenda while implementing the Right's agenda with some token progressive reforms). Show me such a leader who made a serious effort at educating himself on the issues and moved further left as a consequence (rather than echoing elite received wisdom and think-tanker propaganda). Show me an example of using radicals in the own camp as a bulwark (rather than trying to push them from all positions of power).

For a view at the internal dynamics on the other side, a no less fascinating book is my current read, Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War (which came up in the discussion a year ago). Nothing shows the depths of Southern white self-delusion and the absurdity of the Southern "cause" as clearly as this subject.

The story of black Confederates is shown to have been a desperate last-ditch effort to ease manpower shortage, which proved to be a monumental failure: only two units of altogether less than hundred could be assembled in the last weeks of the war, anxiously guarded by military police but still exposed to abuse from white kids, and seeing no significant battlefield action. Nevertheless, the plan was discussed widely and with great controversy both among Southern whites and slaves and made many a Union general concerned.

A most interesting thing about the Southern white debate as revealed by the book was how the more thoughtful proponents and opponents finally considered issues from the slaves' viewpoint. The greatest Southern self-delusion was mistaking feigned submission for slave loyalty: at the start of the war, slave-owners fully believed their own propaganda that most slaves are thankful for the divinely granted guidance of masters and will faithfully follow them through fire and water. But the hundreds of thousands of slaves fleeing to the North (including the most trusted domestic servants), the remainders' refusal to follow orders when Union troops neared, the help provided to Union troops as spies, guides, voluntary labourers or black Union soldiers slowly undermined these views even across the noise of incessant propaganda. The conduct of black Union soldiers also undermined the axiomatic view that blacks are cowards and thus unfit for organized battle. Thus key proponents of the arming of slaves realised that – whodunnit! – slaves actually want to be free, and offering potential recruits freedom is essential. However, the less emotional of the opponents (and those who considered the measure too little too late) argued that that won't cut it. Even if victory is achieved, the free black veterans would demand full emancipation and then equal rights. But, more likely, slaves would be better off waiting for Union victory so that their families and friends are freed, too, or they may join only to desert once they gained training and guns. They were actually right: the book quotes numerous sources indicating that slaves widely discussed the service-for-freedom proposal and most contemplated just the last two options.

The debate among whites, meanwhile, brought internal divisions to the fore: slave-less white trash groaning about fighting the rich man's war vs. slave-owners concerned about loss of property and about leaving wife & children alone, the plantation economy of the Deep South vs. the Upper South where slaves were mostly domestic servants, the Gulf region with its legacy of racial mixing under French rule vs. the total-segregationist rest, the secessionists of the first hour with their series of failed optimistic predictions vs. the more reluctant patriots accused of defeatism. Already before arming slaves came up, planters became extremely reluctant to lend their slaves for army construction work and logistics, leading to a surprisingly oft-repeated accusation that they value their slaves more than their fellow whites, including their own sons. Planters also held out hope for a negotiated peace involving a renouncement of emancipation or compensated emancipation, for which case they wanted to keep their property. While a small minority, but one including military leaders, were even prepared to sacrifice slavery for independence (an argumentation later used as the basis for the creation of the Lost Cause myth), others pointed out that this way the South would give up the very reason for independence. The latter prevailed: in the form adopted by a narrow margin, the black soldier plan was restricted to blacks promised freedom by their own masters rather than government (which already plotted to limit post-war freedoms).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jan 19th, 2014 at 07:44:06 AM EST
DoDo. That was a superb work. It is the reason I read European Tribune--I learn as much about my own country as I do others.

I hope to meet you some day. Your essays are always informative.

Do you have any train blogs coming up?

Paul Gipe

Paul Gipe

by pgipe (pgipe(at)igc.org) on Sun Jan 19th, 2014 at 12:24:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]

I have 3-4 half-finished diaries, most of them rail... I hope to get them out over the next few weeks.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jan 19th, 2014 at 12:44:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is just excellent.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jan 19th, 2014 at 08:04:50 AM EST
An outstanding book review! The best source of which I know, (no strong recommendation), regarding the problems of slavery in the USA is Half Slave and Half Free the roots of Civil War by Bruce Levine. He portrays the same situation as Goodwin but makes the point that the chief sources of animosity by Northeners over slavery derived from two factors: first were laws making all US citizens responsible for assisting slave owners in the capture and return of fugitive slaves, which made it impossible for them to just ignore the unpleasant reality of the South's "peculiar institution"; second was the resentment of northern small tradesmen and journeyman workers at having to compete with slave labor.

Another factor he brings out is the extent to which so many Southerners also thought that slavery would die out prior to the rise of King Cotton. Cotton culture gave new life to the institution of slavery and attitudes in the South changed by 1830 or so. And then there was the deep fear amongst the slave holders of a slave revolt of which Haiti was the chief example.

That fear gave context to the extreme brutality with which slaves were treated and the reason they were denied literacy. Levine cites slave owner's manuals, which were popular in the South and uses excerpts to illustrate just how brutal those conditions were. One example was how to deal with an uppity female slave who was in an advanced stage of pregnancy. The owner naturally did not want to endanger the foetus, so the solution was to dig a hole in the ground large enough to accommodate the baby bulge and then have the typical four other slaves each hold a limb while she was beaten bloody.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Jan 19th, 2014 at 11:50:08 AM EST
Bruce Levine

Actually, I forgot to credit him in the seed comment as the author of Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War. So that adds to your recommendation.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jan 19th, 2014 at 11:54:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Needless to say, I had not clicked your link for Confederate Emancipation when I composed my first remark.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 04:25:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As to Southern Myths, the best source I know is W.J Cash's The Mind of the South. No one knows them like their own.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Jan 19th, 2014 at 12:02:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Another interesting discovery in my "supplementary reading" was the root of John Wilkes Booth's pro-confederate and anti-abolition radicalism: the Christiana Riot of 1851.

Christiana was a settlement in Pennsylvania for escaped slaves, including two of four who escaped a Maryland farm two years prior. A guy making his living from tracking down and tipping off escaped slaves found these and informed their owner, who came over from Maryland with a small posse – only to be killed by the locals who were warned and resisted. This led to a trial under the Fugitive Slave Law, which ended with the release of all accused (the one delivering the deadly blow escaped to Canada with Frederick Douglass's help, though). One of the sons of the killed slave-owner was a childhood friend of John Wilkes Booth, who heard the story in a totally twisted version, in which the slaves fled after committing robbery and the owner was in direct pursuit.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jan 19th, 2014 at 12:24:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Slavery was dying in the late 1700s.  Even with slave labor the labor costs of picking out seeds from the bolls were too high.  That was the argument that finally persuaded Sam Adams, et. al., to drop their demand for abolition during the Constitutional Era.  Otherwise, the United States would have split in the 1790s.  

It took the northern mechanization (irony of ironies) of cotton de-seeding to make slavery pay.  And when that happened it made it impossible to "solve" slavery through political compromise.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Jan 19th, 2014 at 02:59:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Outstanding Dodo.  Congratulations.

All I can do is add ...

David M. Potter's book The Impending Crisis: 1848 - 1861 is THE go-to source to understand how and why the Civil War broke out in 1861.  It's also the go-to source for understanding why it didn't start in 1850 when it came this -><- close to so doing.  And why Stephen Douglas pushed through the Kansas-Nebraska Act, obliterating all previous compromises:  he wanted to build a railroad.  (And on and on and on.)

By reading Goodwin you've already got an overview of Potter.  Reading the book will fill out your understanding of why & how of our Civil War.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Jan 19th, 2014 at 02:48:38 PM EST
It's on my bookshelf (a gift from my American History Teacher mother) and I've been putting it off, but now that I've finished "The Presidents Club" I will start it. I should have read it first, as the Club book tended to gloss over a number of things, which didn't surprise me, being written by Time Magazine reporters. It gave me that odd feeling of "wow, that is so interesting to know" juxtaposed with "is that really true?"

Thanks for your review and the kick in the pants.

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher

by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Sun Jan 19th, 2014 at 03:08:44 PM EST
a very thorough review with some unusual insights, too.

I can enlarge your comment that Lincoln replaced Salmon Chase with "another radical". William Pitt Fessenden is a distant relative. He was essentially a friend of Chase and certainly in agreement with his abolitionist politics. He also shared the 'radicals' opinion of Lincoln in the first years of the war as too compromising.

As you point out, commentators of the period were no less partisan than now, but Fessenden had a solid reputation for integrity and effectiveness. An interesting feature of the Team of Rivals story is that he had no higher ambitions - like Stanton in my opinion. They were both focused on policy and on the war.

Goodwin, I think, approached her book with a desire to show Lincoln's political skill, which, as you write, could be (was?) triangulation. Perhaps it was only the logic of process and situation that eventually brought Stanton, Fessenden, and Grant into their appropriate positions. I like to give Lincoln somewhat more credit for conviction on the one hand and management skills on the other.

At any rate Fessenden was an abolitionist Senator from Maine with two brothers (also Maine, also abolitionists) in the House of Representatives at the start of the war. They were all essentially charter members of the Republican Party in the sense that Maine Whigs held onto their party label longer than some other contingents before creating their state branch. His youngest son was a Lieutenant who died at Bull Run; his two other sons became Generals by the end of the war. One of the latter two, James, organized the first African-American regiment in 1862, but Lincoln's staff ordered it disbanded.

He actually did rescue the Treasury partly by paying more attention to his job than jockeying for political dominance (Chase). First, he 'cleaned up' a lot of the political appointments in his inherited staff. Second, he 'invented' the idea of government bonds at a par value that the general public could afford with an attractive interest rate (7.3%). Then, although he had opposed paper money (definitely a 'gold bug') while in the Senate, he saw the imperative of 'running the printing presses' at that juncture, intending to buy the 'greenbacks' out when war financing ended.

One action of his with which I might disagree is that he probably saved Andrew Johnson's presidency. Fessenden felt that the impeachment proceedings were prejudiced according to his official remarks and voted for acquittal on an essentially technical basis. Some other remarks, however, indicate that he feared a political crisis at that juncture.

One remark on William Seward - to keep his cabinet position under Johnson, he had to have been an adept political operative.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (paulgspencer@gmail.com) on Sun Jan 19th, 2014 at 03:12:28 PM EST
he had no higher ambitions - like Stanton in my opinion

As a further aside, you allow me to tell four interesting tidbits about this intriguing character which didn't fit into the diary.

Stanton had a special history with all the main players. I first mentioned him as a whistleblower – the first Republican he contacted was Seward. From much earlier, he was Chase's best friend. As for Lincoln, their first meeting was rather negative. Back when both worked as lawyers, a partner of Stanton asked Lincoln for some help in a patent case involving an Illinois company, but although Lincoln did the job, he was forgotten when the trial was moved to Ohio. When Lincoln turned up at the trial in Cincinnati, Stanton saw him as an uncouth backwoodsman and rudely told him off. However, instead of coming away with hate, Lincoln stayed and was impressed by Stanton's attention to detail in the case, contributing to his later decision to put him in the War Department. As for Stanton, in office, he practically became a fan of Lincoln, and wrote that law partner that "no men were ever so deceived as we at Cincinnati".

Back in 2006 when I wrote Monday Train Blogging: Field Railways, I thought that the 1866 Austro-Prussian War was the first conflict in which railways have been used strategically, with decisive effect, but a commenter forced me to read up on the Civil War and re-think. Now I view the September-October 1863 movement of three entire divisions from the eastern to the western theatre in a week (which proved a decisive factor in the ensuing Chattanooga Campaign) as the revolutionary step. As described in Team of Rivals, his was entirely Stanton's brainchild, his generals never thought something like this is possible until he had calculations made, organised it and supervised it 24/7 at the detriment of his health.

Then there is General Sherman, who was such a racist that during his march to the Sea, he failed to recognise that taking slaves along was the most effective means of his goal to starve the Southern war economy. It was Stanton who got him to meet slave elders and issue an order distributing land among the escaped slaves following his army.

It was also Stanton, though, who in all likelihood was responsible for issuing the order for the assassination of the Confederate government that came to light in the Dahlgren Affair. Team of Rivals completely omits this episode, and also the fact that the South retaliated by starting black flag operations, though the most successful of those was featured: that claim of scuppering a Confederate peace offer (which I mentioned in the diary in the part on Douglass), a manipulation by Southern agents in Canada meant to influence the 1864 elections.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jan 19th, 2014 at 05:07:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would note, following Allyn Young's account, that Chase was responsible for the creation of the National Bank System as a result of his actions as Secretary of Treasury. One of his first acts was to negotiate three $50 million loans with New York bankers. The loans were payable in gold. Once he had the loans he demanded payment in gold, thus, effectively, seizing most of the domestic gold supply. US banks were largely unable to now deal with foreign counter-parties who might demand payment in gold, so this gave control over foreign imports to the Federal Government, which held almost all of the gold.

But this also meant no more loans! So two issues of $150 million of legal tender currency were quickly authorized and a total of $400 million was issued before the Union Army was disbanded. The deal Chase negotiated with the banks allowed them to use this legal tender currency as reserves against which they could issue their own bank notes. The greenbacks did depreciate by about 50% against gold over the course of the war, but the Union had much stronger finances than did the Confederacy and could use gold to pay for vital supply imports, while the South had to rely on getting a shipment of cotton past the blockade to earn foreign currency.

This episode gave the US experience with a fiat currency and, effectively, created the National Bank System, which endured until the creation of the Federal Reserve, which became operational just after the outbreak of WWI. After the war there was pressure from the banks to reestablish the gold standard and the Treasury began retiring greenbacks, which proved highly deflationary. The retirement was stopped in 1873 and, instead, the Treasury accumulated enough specie to properly back the notes, after which there was no need to retire the remainder.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 12:28:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
By way of wikipedia found this critical cartoon of the Lincoln administration, Chase is the one working the money mill.

(Click for larger)

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 02:46:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One remark on William Seward - to keep his cabinet position under Johnson, he had to have been an adept political operative.

I submit I don't know anything about his Johnson-era career, but let me expand on what I meant with my characterisation as "a talented yet carefree, ageing dandy without strong convictions".

  • It appears that politics was like an aristocratic sport for him: he enjoyed drawing a crowd with public speeches, liked to fight rhetorical battles on the Senate floor, and most of all liked to be at the centre of a social gathering, whatever the subject of discussion. But often his spoken words came back to haunt him when written down and read by other audiences.

  • Another pillar of a 19th-century American political career was to have loyal foot-soldiers who do the groundwork. Lincoln created this on his own, Chase totally ignored this, while Seward left it all in the hands of his friend and mentor Thurlow Weed. Seward would have been nobody without Weed.

  • The third ingredient was (is) to network with other powerful people. In this field, Chase's deficit was to be contended with superficial friendships and change parties (and thus "betray" networks) too many times, while Seward (and Weed) neglected relationships, most prominently Horace Greeley (a New York newspaper editor with political ambitions ignored for too long).

  • Further on the aristocratic sport point, Seward was something of an opportunist, he doesn't seem to have had any real ideological causes or strong loyalty to a group with special interests. This in sharp contrast to his wife Francis, who was a perhaps even more committed abolitionist than Chase (the effect of a visit to the South when the couple was young).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 07:34:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. When that cracker Preston Brooks caned Charles Sumner nearly to death on the floor of the Senate, it wasn't just Brooks acting.  A significant number of southern senators came armed that day and surrounded Sumner's desk throughout the incident, preventing northern senators from coming to his aid.  And in my no way humble opinion, the behavior of the southern elites has not changed one bit since.
  2. If you want a realistic view of Reconstruction, as opposed to the crap that is usually slung around, read Ballots and Fence Rails by William McKee Evans.
by rifek on Sun Jan 19th, 2014 at 10:18:44 PM EST
This was awesome, DoDo.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 10:13:42 AM EST
Great review.

A minor point; I had always thought that the North could never allow the South to secede as this would have given them control over the lower reaches of the Mississippi, which was the trade gateway to the northern heartlands.

Such control by the South would have made the North's westward ambitions futile

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 01:19:24 PM EST

In 1861 the Mississippi River Valley was the only transportation route for transporting bulk cargo (wheat, etc.) to market.  From western Pennsylvania it was cheaper to ship down the Ohio River, to the Mississippi, transfer the cargo from river boat to ocean sailing ship in New Orleans, across the Gulf, up the Atlantic coast to New York than shipping it overland.  For Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, etc., it was the only route to get their products to a paying market.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 01:52:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 02:32:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Even had that not been the case, the prospect of having an embittered, economically dysfunctional British puppet state on your border is hardly an encouraging thought.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 02:39:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
An interesting What/If.

The British empire had outlawed chattel slavery and had gone as far as interdicting the slave trade to South America, using the Royal Navy.  Could Southern slavery continued if they had become a "British puppet state?"

A "no" is supported by the fact one of the principal reasons the British Empire did not intervene was slavery.

A "yes" is supported by the fact the BE was acquiescent of the caste system of India.  From what I can gather, they didn't like it but they didn't like it enough to try to force its abandonment.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 03:02:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hm, public opinion in Bratian was against slavery, but the Empire was built on racial supremacy policies, including land theft, forced labor and genocide being visited on un-white people (including, but not limited to, people today acknowledged as white like the irish). So chattel slavery was banished as such, but practises close to it was allowed. Could the South adopted to that? Perhaps not given their propaganda.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 03:39:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
South couldn't.  The economic argument is easiest to make.  So ...

Slave prices doubled from $900 in 1820 to $1,800 1861. To translate that, in 1850 the average slave cost $40,000 in today's money.  There were (1861 census) 3,950,528 slaves in the south equaling $7,110,950,400 or $158 billion in today's money.  US GDP in 1860 is estimated to have been $88,713,000,000 so the capital value of slaves represented ~8% of the US GDP.  Roughly 65% of Southern capital was directly tied-up with slavery and something like 95% was directly and indirectly tied-up in slavery; where indirect includes such as fulling mills, cotton ginning, railroads, etc.

For all intents and purposes cotton production from chattel slavery was the Southern economy although they were still involved in tobacco production, rice production in South Carolina, and sugar production in Louisiana.  But all these latter paled in comparison to King Cotton whose value was ~$1.3 billion in 1860 dollars.

The South's economic capital was tied-up in slavery.  The South's income was derived from slavery.  

The South could have adjusted to "free" (sic) labor Crop Sharing -- which is what they did after 1865.  But the return on investment to the Ruling Elite would have been much lower and they would have lost the money in their capital investment in slaves, meaning they would have had to start a cycle of capital formation and appreciation from nothing -- which is also what happened after 1865 and why the South was an economic basket case until the 1950s and economically backward even today.  

My own opinion is the South could have gotten British intervention in 1861 or 1862 by abandoning slavery but what would be the use of getting British intervening in the Civil War if the Planter Class had to wreck their slave-based economy when the "point" of fighting the Civil War was to maintain slavery?  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 06:19:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The UK solved the problem by paying its slave-owning class £20 million in compensation/bribes after abolition - which was 40% of GDP at the time, so the eqv. of roughly £1 trillion today.

I can't imagine the UK agreeing to adopt the South after that, if only because the South might have expected something similar.

Arguably Lincoln could have saved money overall by suggesting the same trick in the US and paying the South to abolish and mechanise. The total cost of the Civil War was around $7bn nominal, which was very close to 100% of nominal US GDP at the time.

Excellent book review, btw.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Feb 19th, 2014 at 05:12:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The UK solved the problem by paying its slave-owning class £20 million in compensation/bribes after abolition - which was 40% of GDP at the time

I find it was 40% of government expenditure, not of GDP. I find GDP in the mid-1830s was about Ł500 million, thus government expenditure was a tenth of GDP and the slavery emancipation compensation fund was about 4% of GDP (about half of what ATinNM estimated for the US). I suspect your figure of about $7bn for US GDP is government expenditure, too, given that ATinNM wrote above that 1860 US GDP was estimated at $88bn. At any rate, the war expenditure (here estimated at $6bn on the Union side and $2bn on the Confederate side, without veterans' benefits) was about the same as the value of the slaves as estimated by ATinNM. IIRC the Team of Rivals book had an estimate on the money actually intended for Lincoln's 1861 compensation scheme, I'll check it in the evening when I get home.

On the beneficiaries of the compensation in Britain, I found this:

Britain's colonial shame: Slave-owners given huge payouts after abolition - Home News - UK - The Independent

Academics from UCL, including Dr Draper, spent three years drawing together 46,000 records of compensation given to British slave-owners into an internet database to be launched for public use on Wednesday. But he emphasised that the claims set to be unveiled were not just from rich families but included many "very ordinary men and women" and covered the entire spectrum of society.

Dr Draper added that the database's findings may have implications for the "reparations debate". Barbados is currently leading the way in calling for reparations from former colonial powers for the injustices suffered by slaves and their families.

Among those revealed to have benefited from slavery are ancestors of the Prime Minister, David Cameron, former minister Douglas Hogg, authors Graham Greene and George Orwell, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the new chairman of the Arts Council, Peter Bazalgette. Other prominent names which feature in the records include scions of one of the nation's oldest banking families, the Barings, and the second Earl of Harewood, Henry Lascelles, an ancestor of the Queen's cousin. Some families used the money to invest in the railways and other aspects of the industrial revolution; others bought or maintained their country houses, and some used the money for philanthropy.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Feb 19th, 2014 at 06:01:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
IIRC the Team of Rivals book had an estimate on the money actually intended for Lincoln's 1861 compensation scheme, I'll check it in the evening when I get home.

Lincoln foresaw just $400 per slave when he attempted a test run in the state legislature of Delaware (which rejected the scheme), and calculated that buying all the slaves in the pro-Union slave states would then cost the same as running the war for 87 days. At $400 per slave, the compensation for all the slaves (including those in the South) would have been $1.6 billion.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Feb 19th, 2014 at 06:47:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would distinguish between active and open support for a civil war party and indirect control over an already established state. In the latter case, the British government would have to pay much less attention to domestic public opinion on slavery. At any rate, Europeans playing "divide and rule" after the completion of secession was an expressed fear of Unionists.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 06:38:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Starting in the 1840s railroads came to be important, especially for producers not located on navigable rivers. One route involved rail from Baltimore to a navigable port on the Ohio River, and then by barge or riverboat to New Orleans.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 03:00:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]

The US railroad system was in its infancy:

and note it was most developed where river traffic was least developed.  Moreover, one can argue the rail road's main purpose was to ship cargo to a river port.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 03:08:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Forgot the "But" part.  :-)

The railroads were primarily used to ship manufactured goods from Ohio to the Eastern and Southern markets and ship raw materials to feed those factories.  Shipping raw materials to the factories in the Northeast, e.g., coal, was also a factor.

The North didn't have the river systems.  A "fake" river system - canals - were used but rail roads out competed them when the goods had to be transported farther than 200 miles.  

For passenger service the railroads won hand's down.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 03:17:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not easily deduced from the RR map is the tremendous importance of Buffalo New York.  Located on Lake Erie it was a major center of grain trading.  What "killed" the trade was the completion of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in 1959.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 03:22:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Agreed. Rail's initial use was very much to ship products to river ports and/or to create rail portages between rivers and lakes. But the Arkansas was not navigable much beyond Little Rock and the Missouri was highly seasonal above Council Bluffs, Iowa. Rail really came into its own with the trans-continental lines begun during and finished after the Civil War.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 03:26:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 03:37:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd say rather than infancy, US railways already entered elementary school age. For the purposes of the discussion on access to the West, the trans-Appalachian lines matter, and all three that still matter today were essentially in place (the former NYC, Pennsylvania RR, and B&O routes, though the first wasn't yet consolidated), as well as the Erie.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 07:01:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Checking the status of railroads (transport on which I presume was costlier) I ran across this tidbit, with railroad-steamboat competition, Lincoln and influence peddling at the highest level, all in a couple of paragraphs.

First Transcontinental Railroad - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Thomas C. Durant, who was building the cross-Iowa railroad (the M&M), was literally banking that the Omaha route would be chosen and began buying up land in Nebraska.

In 1857, Durant hired private citizen Abraham Lincoln to represent the M&M in litigation brought by steamboat operators to dismantle Government Bridge, the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River. The bridge's drawspan was difficult for steamboats to navigate, and many felt the bridge had been built intentionally so.[60] In August 1859, Lincoln, at the behest of M&M attorney Norman Judd, traveled to Council Bluffs to inspect M&M facilities that were to be used to secure a $3,000 loan Lincoln was to hold. On the visit, Lincoln rode the SJ&H railroad and visited railroad locations in Missouri and Kansas before going to Council Bluffs. During the visit, Lincoln was to spend two hours with M&M engineer Grenville M. Dodge at the Pacific House Hotel discussing the merits of starting the railroad in Council Bluffs, and was to visit Cemetery Hill there to look over the proposed route.[61]

Lincoln's ties to Council Bluffs were further strengthened by the fact that he had won the 1860 Republican nomination on the third ballot when the Iowa delegation switched its vote to him.[62] In contrast, Lincoln was to get only 10 percent of the Missouri vote in the 1860 Presidential Election.

While the Pacific Railroad Act was to award the eastern contract to the newly formed Union Pacific, it was left up to then-President Lincoln to formally choose the location for the railroad to start, and Lincoln in 1862 was to follow the advice of his former client.

That quote aside, what I really was looking at is how the buillding of transcontinental railroads went into full steam with the war. So had the north lost the south they would have had railroads up and runing within a couple of years, with which they could have projected power.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 03:17:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Letting the South go and building a rail/canal network rather than fighting the Civil War would have been the cheaper option for the North.  Alas for the Economic Determinists, major political decisions are, more often than not, made for other reasons.  Having said that, much of the "fury of the Northmen" in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin during the Civil War sprang from their assessment without free access to the port of New Orleans they would become impoverished.


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 03:32:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Two fascinating books on this are Empire Express and Railroaded, both of which I read last year, and which I was too lazy to diary despite their immediate relevance to a lot of issues of interest here at ET.  Railroaded is especially good.
by Zwackus on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 07:13:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I forgot to comment this in general. Railroads are key in the Lost Cause narrative of Lincoln as a tool of capitalist interests (and this even found its way into "communist" accounts of US history, the source I heard it from).

When I finally checked up on the matter, the best source I found was Abraham Lincoln as a Railroad Attorney, a 17-page essay by James W. Ely Jr., a professor of law as well as history. I won't review that, but the most important counter to the Lost Cause narrative is that he represented cases both for and against the railroads, taking cases as they came.

Checking some additional sources, the Wikipedia account of the Council Bluffs visit seems severely distorted:

  1. Norman Judd wasn't an exclusive lawyer for M&M.
  2. Nor was Norman Judd merely an attorney: he was a key Illinois Republican (before that Democrat) operative and Lincoln's campaign manager. (Judd's loyalty is similar to Stanton's with respect to its negative origins. In 1854, Judd led a small group of Illinois state congressmen who broke away from the Democrats over the issue of slavery but foiled Lincoln's Senate nomination on a joint anti-slavery ticket, forcing Lincoln's Whigs to accept one of theirs instead. Lincoln however refused to treat him as a traitor, earning both the merger of Judd's anti-slavery Democrats into the Whig-dominated new state Republican party, and personal loyalty.)
  3. Lincoln inspected no "M&M facilities" but 17 parcels of land owned by himself and Judd since 1857.
  4. The occasion in 1859 was that Lincoln invoked an earlier agreement with Judd that Judd buy his half of the land, but with no cash at hand, Lincoln "loaned" the purchase price with fixed interest (which was paid to Lincoln's widow by 1867), retaining the lands as collateral. In short, he wouldn't profit from any future land price increases or compensation due to future rail construction.
  5. Nor was Greenville M. Dodge an "M&M engineer" in 1859, though he did work a lot as a freelancer surveyor for M&M (alongside ventures like a bank and a coach company), and his pioneering 1850s surveys for a transcontinental railroad received private funding from Durant.
  6. The meeting between Dodge and Lincoln was a chance meeting: Dodge, a resident of Council Bluffs, was in attendance at a public meeting Lincoln held and was introduced thereafter. The discussion was one-way (Lincoln thoroughly querying Dodge about his ideas).

A rough itinerary of Lincoln's four-day visit to Council Bluffs can be read here; the account of the Lincoln-Dodge meeting is here; details on Norman Judd's connections to Lincoln can be read here. Two bios on Greenville Dodge discussing his work in the 1850s (the second mentioning an 1858 attempt at selling the transcontinental railroad idea to East Coast financiers meeting total lack of interest) are here and here.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 21st, 2014 at 03:10:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I forgot to add to the 3rd point: it is possible that Lincoln and Judd decided in 1857 to purchase land in Council Bluffs in the expectation of future expropriations for a railroad line (though it's unlikely that they were already thinking of a transcontinental line), but a railroad from Chicago reached Council Bluffs in 1867 only, and the Missouri bridge to Omaha (the starting point of Durant's own Union Pacific) wasn't built until 1873.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jan 22nd, 2014 at 05:52:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's typically "Grenville Dodge."  That's how it's spelled on his gravestone.

There is an old joke that the modern American legal system was created to sort out disputes between banks and railroads in the mid-19th Century and hasn't changed since.  Suffice it to say it was difficult to have a successful law practice and not be involved in railroad cases.

by rifek on Thu Jan 30th, 2014 at 08:28:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's typically "Grenville Dodge."  That's how it's spelled on his gravestone.

And in all of my sources, too. Ooops, sub-conscious mis-reading.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Jan 31st, 2014 at 07:54:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I said "typically" because there are records where it was spelled "Greenville."  His middle name got spelled a couple of different ways, too.
by rifek on Fri Jan 31st, 2014 at 10:54:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]