Grappling with Slavery and the War

Source: http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1861/july/slave-auction.htm

One of the central themes of this blog is that Emancipation, while not initially the reason the federal government opposed secession and went to war to prevent it, was the most important legacy of the Civil War (and as I go through local historical materials, i.e. newspaper accounts, letters, commemorations, I will be interested in seeing if locals in WMass saw it that way). During the Summer of 1861, initially with the Contraband question, Congress and the president struggled to find a way to deal with the issue of slavery and its relationship with government policies. For example:

The Crittenden-Johnson Resolutions on the Objects of the War, 1861

(from Richardson (ed.), Messages and Addresses of Congress, Vol. 6:430)

The Crittenden Resolutions

[Passed by the House of Representatives] 

Resolved by the House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States, That the present deplorable civil war has been forced upon the country by the disunionists of the Southern States now in revolt against the constitutional Government and in arms around the capital; that in this national emergency Congress, banishing all feelings of mere passion or resentment, will recollect only its duty to the whole country; that this war is not waged on our part in any spirit of oppression, nor for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired; and that as soon as these objects are accomplished the war ought to cease.

 

The Johnson Resolutions

[Passed by the Senate]

 Resolved, That the present deplorable civil war has been forced upon the country by the disunionists of the Southern States now in revolt against the constitutional Government and in arms around the capital; that in this national emergency Congress, banishing all feeling of mere passion or resentment, will recollect only its duty to the whole country; that this war is not prosecuted upon our part in any spirit of oppression, nor for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor purpose of overthrowing or interfering with rights or established institutions of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and all laws made in pursuance thereof, and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality, and righs of the several States unimpaired; that as soon as these objects are accomplished the war ought to cease.

I am working on a post about how these debates in Washington were covered locally, and I hope to be able to post that soon.

In the meantime, Donald H. Schaffer has some excellent posts relating to the debates in Congress on this matter on his blog “Civil War Emancipation.”

Some other Massachusetts related writing on the internet, though not specific to Western Massachusetts, include a post today by Kevin Levin, at Civil War Memory:

“With that in mind I’ve decided to take a closer look at the veterans from Massachusetts.  To what extent does their collective memory of the war fit into this story of reconciliation and reunion?  To get at this I am going to examine the dedication speeches for the many soldier’ monuments that dot the landscape in my immediate surroundings and throughout the rest of the state.  Not surprisingly, much of the literature on soldiers’ monuments focuses on the South and those that do glance northward tend to focus on the Shaw Memorial here in Boston.  In regard to what I consider to be the most impressive Civil War monument I’ve always been interested in how southern newspapers covered the dedication of the Shaw memorial.  Another question I have is whether dedication themes went through any discernible stages during the postwar period.  Did the emphasis on the preservation of the Union come at the expense of a memory that the war brought about emancipation and the promise of equal rights?  Yes, my thinking here has definitely been influenced by Gary Gallagher’s recent study, The Union War.  Consider the following from the dedication address given on Memorial Day in 1910 in Westford, Massachusetts:

 

[quote]

This monument is not alone a memorial for the dead but an incentive to future generations to patriotism and high ideals.  The period of the civil war had its shadows, out of which came the pure white figure of patriotism, of loyal service of generous sacrifice, of ministering angels, of tender compassion, and heroic champions of freedom and union.  So will it be with the clouds of today.  There has  been no year since your service in the field when the battle has not been on, not of shot and shell, but of the clashing activities of peace—the struggle of clashing interests, out of the very selfishness of which, however, springs that human endeavor which in the long run works the ultimate steady, average betterment of all.

Glorious as were Gettysburg and Appomattox the great glory was that we had reached that degree of widening of our thoughts; that point in moral conviction and devotion in which those great victories and devotion were only the incident of the greater moral victories of freedom over slavery, of right over wrong—victories just as much for our Southern brethren as for ourselves.  Let the young men of today fight the good fight for righteousness, which is now calling them to battle, as you in your day fought the good fight for union and freedom.

[end quote]

Finally, to supplement the recent post about Bull Run, here is a Letter from John C. Robertson to Sarah Robertson, 27 July 1861. (Thanks to the Massachusetts Historical Society for having this document available online.)

“In this twenty-page letter to his wife Sarah, dated 27 July 1861, Lieutenant John C. Robertson of the Eleventh Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry offers the ‘full particulars’ of his experiences during the Battle of Bull Run. Informing Sarah that he has ‘been in battle,’ Robertson offers a detailed description of the day’s events, including the silent overnight march from Centreville to Manassas, the horrors he witnessed during the battle, the disorganized retreat of the Union troops, and the forty-mile march back to Washington immediately following the battle.

 

“John C. Robertson was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, on 31 December 1820. He married Sarah F. Crafts on 9 April 1844 and was employed as a tobacconist and a bookkeeper in Boston prior to the war. In the spring of 1861, Robertson applied for and received a commission as a lieutenant in Company I of the Eleventh Massachusetts. In May of 1862, he was promoted to captain in that same company. He mustered out of service in June 1864 and returned to Charlestown, where he died on 18 June 1865.”

About marcferguson

I teach history, including the American Civil War Era, as an Adjunct at American International College in Springfield, Ma. I also teach survey courses in U.S. history, Western Civilization, and World History, and have taught at other area colleges, including the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, and Holyoke Community College. While my academic background is in European History, my interest in the American Civil War began about a decade ago. Other areas of interest include Modernism, 20th century World Thought and Culture, The Rise of the West after 1400, 19th c. American Society and Culture, Central and Eastern European History and Culture, and Local History. I have in recent years cut back my teaching drastically in order to devote more time raising my kids (15 year old twins now), including working part-time at their elementary/middle school for the past 6 years, they are now launched and off to High School, and I plan to crank up my involvement in teaching history and local history projects, particularly in light of the American Civil War Sesquicentennial.
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