Wednesday, July 14, 2010

This week in the American Civil War: July 8-14, 1860

This is the second in a new series following the course of the American Civil War to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the war. The purpose of the series is to follow the history of the war as it occurred 150 years ago. Presently our timeline has advanced to the second week of July 1860.

This week saw at least two significant "lasts": the last slave ship to land its cargo successfully on the soil of the United States and the last person ever hanged for piracy in the United States. It also saw the race for the presidency intensify, as the two Democratic candidates continued to elbow each other while Lincoln ran his campaign from Springfield, Illinois.

Although the African slave trade had been outlawed by Congress since January 1, 1808, this had not prevented slave smugglers from collecting their human cargo in Africa and smuggling it into the Southern United States and other Caribbean nations like Cuba that still allowed slavery. On the night of July 8, 1860, the last known shipment of African slaves to arrive in the United States entered Mobile Bay in Alabama aboard the slave ship "Clotilda."

The Clotilda was towed up the Mobile River to Twelve Mile Island, where her human cargo was transferred to a smaller ship, the "Czar." The Czar, with the cargo of slaves, was taken further up the shallow river. The captain of the Clotilda, one William Foster, then burned his ship to destroy the evidence of his slave trading voyage. You can read more about the last slave ship to land in the United States at The Black Past.

The next day, July 9, 1860, a large Democratic rally was held outside Washington, DC's city hall. The rally was in support of the Southern Democratic presidential ticket of John C. Breckinridge and Joseph Lane. The speakers included several senators, and included Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. After hearing several speakers, the rally moved to the grounds of the White House.

At the White House, President James Buchanan made an appearance and spoke on behalf of Breckinridge's candidacy. Buchanan commented on the division within the Democratic Party and then listed the reasons why he preferred Breckinridge, even though Senator Stephen A. Douglas was the official Democratic nominee. Buchanan's endorsement of Breckinridge--his vice president--seems to have been motivated as much by Buchanan's extreme personal hatred towards Stephen A. Douglas as anything else. It was another in a long line of feckless and sometimes outright malicious actions by Buchanan that would contribute to the outbreak of the American Civil War.

While the Democrats wrangled, Abraham Lincoln continued to work behind the scenes--as was the custom then--to support his election campaign. On July 10, 1860, Lincoln wrote to Richard W. Thompson, the Indiana leader of the Constitutional Union Party. Thompson was having some second thoughts about supporting the Constitutional Union candidate John Bell because he didn't want to split the vote and hand Indiana to the Democrats. On the 6th of July, Thompson had written to Lincoln asking for his help and for a discreet meeting.
Hon. R. W. Thompson: Springfield, Ills,
Dear Sir: July 10. 1860
Yours of the 6th. is received, and for which I thank you. I write this to acknowledge the receipt of it, and to say I take time (only a little) before answering the main matter.

If my record would hurt any, there is no hope that it will be over-looked; so that if friends can help any with it, they may as well do so. Of course, due caution and circumspection, will be used.

With reference to the same matter, of which you write, I wish you would watch Chicago a little. They are getting up a movement for the 17th. Inst. I believe a line from you to John Wilson, late of the Genl. Land Office (I guess you know him well) would fix the matter.

When I shall have reflected a little, you will hear from me again. Yours very truly A. LINCOLN.

Burn this.[1]
It isn't clear who added the notation "Burn this" at the end of the letter, Lincoln or Thompson, but for whatever reason the letter was never destroyed and became part of the historical record. Letters like these illustrate how much wheeling and dealing went on behind the scenes in the presidential election of 1860.

In the summer of 1860, the Lincoln and the Republican leadership were less worried about the Democrats and more worried about the radical wing of their own party. The Republican leadership preferred to portray Lincoln as more moderate and centrist than the radical, abolitionist wing of the Republican Party. Their efforts were threatened by the actions of radical Republican Senator Charles Sumner, who was speaking out forcefully against the evils of slavery.

Sumner spoke before a packed house at the Cooper Union on the evening of July 11, 1860. Sumner's remarks were a forceful denunciation of slavery and owed much to an earlier speech by the senator, "The Barbarism of Slavery."
FELLOW-CITIZENS OF NEW-YORK: Of all men in our history, there are two whose influence at this moment is most peculiar. Though dead, they yet live, speak and act in the conflict of principles, which divides the country -- standing face to face like two well-matched champions. When I add that one was from South Carolina and the other from Massachusetts, you will see at once that I mean JOHN C. CALHOUN and JOHN QUINCY ADAMS.

Statesmen both of long career, of marked ability, and of unblemished integrity -- acting together at first -- sitting in the same Cabinet -- which they quitted -- one to become Vice-President, and the other President, then for the remainder of their days battling in Congress and dying there -- each was a leader in life, but each has become in death a grander leader still.

Mr. CALHOUN possessed an intellect of much originality and boldness, and, though wanting in the culture of a scholar, made himself felt in council and in debate. To native powers unlike, but not inferior, Mr. ADAMS added the well-ripened fruits of long experience in foreign lands, and of studies more varied and complete than those of any public man in our history, beside an indomitable will, and that spirit of freedom which inspired his father when in the Continental Congress he so eloquently maintained the Declaration of Independence, making himself its "colossus" on that floor.


Sitting together in the Cabinet of Mr. MUNROE, they concurred in sanctioning the Prohibition of Slavery in the Missouri Territory as constitutional, and so advised the President. But here the divergence probably began -- though for a long time it was not made manifest. The Diary of Mr. ADAMS shows that at that early day, when Slavery had been little discussed, he saw its enormity with instinctive quickness, and described it with corresponding force. The record is less full with regard to Mr. CALHOUN; but when in later life they appeared, one in the Senate and the other in the House of Representatives, each openly assumed the position by which he will be known in history -- one as the leader in all the pretensions of Slavery and of slave-masters, and the other as the champion of Freedom.

Mr. CALHOUN regarded Slavery as a permanent institution; Mr. ADAMS regarded it as transitory. Mr. CALHOUN vaunted it as a form of civilization; Mr. ADAMS scorned it as an unquestionable barbarism. Mr. CALHOUN did not hesitate to call it the most stable basis for free government; Mr. ADAMS vehemently denounced it as a curse, full of weakness and mockery, and doubly offensive in a boasted Republic. Mr. CALHOUN, not content with thus exalting Slavery, proceeded to denounce the early opinions of WASHINGTON and JEFERSON as "folly and delusion," to assail the self evident truths of the Declaration of Independence as "absurd," and then to proclaim that human beings are property under the Constitution' and as such, may be transported into the territories and there held in Slavery: while Mr. ADAMS added to the glory of his long and diversified career, by persistent efforts, which are better for his fame than having been President -- upholding the great rights of petition and speech; vindicating the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence; exposing the hateful character of Slavery; insisting upon its prohibition in the territories; denying the asserted property in man; and especially and often exhibiting the unjust power in the National Government, usurped by what he called "the little cluster" of slavemasters, whose yoke was to him intolerable.
You can read the entire text of Charles Sumner's address at The New York Times' archive. Many moderate Republicans, including those around Lincoln, worried that Sumner's inflammatory speeches could hurt the Republican Party. In the presidential election of 1860, the Republican Party was wooing independent voters. Sumner's speeches allowed Southerners to paint the Republican Party as being far more anti-slavery than the party actually was in 1860. In the event, Sumner's speeches caused more excitement in the South than in the North. Aroused by Sumner and other radicals over the slavery question, Southerners rejected the more moderate pro-union Stephen A. Douglas and flocked to the banner of John C. Breckinridge, which in turn contributed to the stampede towards secession after the election.

But, as we saw last week, politics wasn't the only thing on the minds of ordinary Americans in the summer of 1860. Just two days after Sumner's speech against slavery, the citizens of New York City witnessed the spectacle of the last public execution of a pirate in the United States. Albert W. Hicks ("Hicks the Pirate") was hanged for his crimes on Bedloe's Island (now Liberty Island) in New York Bay on July 13, 1860. Albert W. Hicks had confessed to killing and robbing the other three members of the crew of the oyster schooner "A.E. Johnson."

The New York Herald carried a detailed description of the execution the next day:
Was not attended by any very important incidents. The Red Jacket, which had taken the place of the United States (the steamboat originally chartered for the occasion), started for the island about a quarter-past ten o'clock. As the boat passed down the North river the passengers were afforded an excellent view of the Great Eastern, and so great was the curiosity of those on board to see the "big ship" that for the moment Hicks was for getten, and the crowd imagined themselves on some pleasure excursion. Indeed, most of those who were on board looked upon the affair in the light of an excursion throughout. Among those who were most conspicuous in the crowd were Tom Hyer, Bob Willis, John Enright, A.W. fol Gardiner, Pat Daly, Jordon, the actor, Florence, do., Coroner O'Keefe, Theodore Hynders, with a deputy sheriff's badge on, ex. Alderman Compton, and host of city ofllciala including members of the Common Council, the Police Department, and City Inspector's 0ffice. Notwithstanding the motley character of the assemblage, remarkable order prevailed on board, and to the credit of the police be it said, none of tbe passengers suffered at the hands of any pickpockets. The saloon was occupied by tbe representatives of the press, the physicians and the Marshal's deputies, while the forward deck, upper saloon and promenade deck were taken up by outsiders. During the passage down to the island, which only occupied a few minutes, Hicks remained by the side of the priest, listening attentively as it were to the words of consolation which were poured into his ear by the father confessor, but at no time did he betray any inward struggle in anticipation of the fearful death which was so close at hand. Just before the arrival of the boat he ascended to the saloon for the purpose of getting a drink of water, and as he descended the cabin stairs again, his face wore rather a cheerful expression than otherwise. He was determined to act the "game man" even up to the very last moment, and nothing seemed to break his spirit or excite him in the least.
A crowd of perhaps as many as ten thousand people watched the execution from boats arrayed around the island. Hicks' last wish was to see the SS Great Eastern--largest ship in the world--as she lay docked in New York City. You can read the rest of the account here. Many years later, Bedloe's Island was renamed Liberty Island and became the home of the Statue of Liberty.

The presidential election of 1860 wasn't the first election to see racist campaigning, and it wouldn't be the last. During the general election, Lincoln and the Republican Party tried to play down the Republicans' association with the forces of abolitionism. Southern Democrats, on the other hand, did their best to play up those connections and ridiculed Republican attempts to put distance between Lincoln and abolitionism.

Last week we briefly touched on the fact that only Stephen A. Douglas was actively campaigning for the presidency, and he was breaking precedent by doing so. By tradition, presidential campaigns were carried on by surrogates and affiliated newspapers, and the newspapers in particular did not pull their punches. Political cartoons in particular provided accounted for some of the more vicious attacks.

In one brutal pro-southern cartoon, Horace Greeley--the editor of the New York Tribune and seen as a spokesman for the Republican Party--was depicted trying to convince a man called "Young America" that the Republicans are not connected to the abolitionists.
I assure you my friend that you can safely vote our ticket, for we have no connection with the Abolition party, but our Platform is composed entirely of rails, split by our Candidate.
Young America, who represents Southern Democrats, points at a woodpile, where Abraham Lincoln sits on pyramid of rails labeled "Republican Platform." Trapped inside the crossed rails was a grinning black man. Young America tells Greeley:
It's no use old fellow! you can't pull that wool over my eyes for I can see 'the Nigger' peeping through the rails.
The cartoon's author teases Lincoln, who was shown saying:
Little did I think when I split these rails that they would be the means of elevating me to my present position.
Cartoons like this one show the pre-occupation with race and the question of slavery which dominated the election of 1860.

This has been the second Daily Kos Civil War Roundtable roundup of the events that took place 150 years ago this week. Next week we'll go on the road with Stephen A. Douglas, the first American politician to actively campaign in person for the presidency.

This project is part of my commemoration of the American Civil War. You can follow along on a daily basis at my blog The American Civil War here. You can follow along with The American Civil War at Facebook by clicking the "Like" button. You can support this effort by going toCivil War Top Sites and voting for the American Civil War.

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