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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

With their own Vallandinghams they had an even shorter way


Little

as can be said for the "Copperhead" temper, its spread in the Northern States during the second year of the war was a serious menace to the Union cause. It showed itself in the Congressional elections, when the Government's majority was saved only by the loyalty of the Border Slave States, whose support Lincoln had been at pains to conciliate in the face of so much difficulty and misunderstanding. It showed itself in the increased activity of pacifist agitators, of whom the notorious Vallandingham may be taken as a type.

Lincoln met the danger in two fashions. He met the arguments and appeals of the "Copperheads" with unanswerable logic and with that lucidity of thought and expression of which he was a master. One pronouncement of his is worth quoting, and one wishes that it could have been reproduced everywhere at the time of the ridiculous Stockholm project. "Suppose refugees from the South and peace men of the North get together and frame and proclaim a compromise embracing a restoration of the Union: in what way can that compromise be used to keep Lee's army out of Pennsylvania? Meade's army can keep Lee's out of Pennsylvania, and, I think, can ultimately drive it out of existence. But no paper compromise, to which the controllers of Lee's army are not agreed, can at all affect that army." Reasoning could not be more conclusive; but Lincoln did not stop at reasoning. Now was to be shown how powerful an instrument of authority the Jacksonian

revolution had created in the popular elective Presidency. Perhaps no single man ever exercised so much direct personal power as did Abraham Lincoln during those four years of Civil War. The Habeas Corpus Act was suspended by executive decree, and those whose action was thought a hindrance to military success were arrested in shoals by the orders of Stanton, the new energetic War Secretary, a Jacksonian Democrat whom Lincoln had put in the place of an incompetent Republican, though he had served under Buchanan and supported Breckinridge. The constitutional justification of these acts was widely challenged, but the people in the main supported the Executive.

Lincoln, like Jackson, understood the populace and knew just how to appeal to them. "Must I shoot a simple-minded boy for deserting, and spare the wily agitator whose words induce him to desert?" Vallandingham himself met a measure of justice characteristic of the President's humour and almost recalling the jurisprudence of Sir W. S. Gilbert's Mikado. Originally condemned to detention in a fortress, his sentence was commuted by Lincoln to banishment, and he was conducted by the President's orders across the army lines and dumped on the Confederacy! He did not stay there long. The Southerners had doubtless some reason to be grateful to him; but they cannot possibly have liked him. With their own Vallandinghams they had an even shorter way.

The same sort of war-weariness was perhaps a contributory cause of an even more serious episode--the Draft Riots of New York City. Here, however, a special and much more legitimate ground of protest was involved. The Confederacy had long before imposed Conscription upon the youth of the South. It was imperative that the North should do the same, and, though the constitutional power of the Federal Government to make such a call was questioned, its moral right to do so seems to me unquestionable, for if the common Government has not the right in the last resort to call upon all citizens to defend its own existence, it is difficult to see what rights it can possess. Unfortunately, Congress associated with this just claim a provision for which there was plenty of historical precedent but no justification in that democratic theory upon which the American Commonwealth was built. It provided that a man whose name had been drawn could, if he chose, pay a substitute to serve in his stead. This was obviously a privilege accorded to mere wealth, odious to the morals of the Republic and especially odious to the very democratic populace of New York. The drawing of the names was there interrupted by violence, and for some days the city was virtually in the hands of the insurgents. The popular anger was complicated by a long-standing racial feud between the Irish and the Negroes, and a good many lynchings took place. At last order was restored by the police, who used to restore it a violence as savage as that of the crowd they were suppressing.


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