A House Divided

Today in History, June 16, 1858:

Illinois “circuit” lawyer Abraham Lincoln, running to be the Senator from that state, gives a speech at the capitol of Springfield and gains the Republican nomination.

One of his most famous speeches, the “House Divided” speech did not gain him the job of US Senator from Illinois, that would go to his opponent, Stephen A. Douglas.

However, published nationally, it did launch him onto the national stage, along with his series of debates against Douglas, which would gain him the Presidency two years later.

The speech was prophetic, as Lincoln told his listeners that after recent events, the nation could no longer expect to be half free and half slave, but must be all one or the other.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.

Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.

The 1862 Homestead Act

Today in History, May 20, 1862:

President Lincoln signs the Homestead Act, which would give 160 acres of western lands to anyone who would farm it successfully for 5 years and build a residence upon it (often a sod building).

The Act would encourage vastly expanded settlement of the west; bad news for Native Americans, good news for those newer Americans wanting to improve their lot in life.

Congress had attempted to pass similar acts in 1852, 1854, and 1859, but each time the attempts were shot down by Southern Democrats who were afraid that if the west were populated it would result in more “free” states, which would result in more votes against slavery.

Once the Republican Lincoln was elected, and the Civil War began, the Southern Democrats were no longer part of the equation.

The Republicans soon passed the Homestead Act and the settlement of the west began in earnest. By the end of the war 15,000 settlers (some of which were merely pawns for land speculators) had accepted their lands. Eventually 80 Million acres would be settled.

1st African-American Senator Confirmed

Today in History, February 25, 1870:

On a strict party line vote (we’ve heard that a lot lately) of 48 Republicans for and 8 Democrats against, Methodist minister Hiram Rhodes of Mississippi is confirmed as the first African-American US Senator, the first African-American member of Congress.

Rhodes had been a minister, had helped raise the first two black regiments to fight in the Civil War, had been a veteran of the Battle of Vicksburg in Mississippi.

Ironically he had served in Lincolnton, North Carolina as a barber with his brother, and served in a seminary in UNION county, Indiana.

Democrats had attempted to use the 1857 Dredd Scott decision, A ridiculous Supreme Court decision that decided black people were not citizens, as a basis for preventing Rhodes from attaining the Senate seat.

The Star of the West

Today in History, January 9, 1861:

The Star of West is fired upon.

After the election of Abraham Lincoln, a known Republican abolitionist, South Carolina had seceded from the Union in December, 1860. The other Southern states had not yet seceded, the Confederacy not yet formed.

The commander of Ft. Sumter in Charleston (SC) Harbor asked for supplies and more men.

President Buchanan’s administration (Lincoln was not yet in office) dispatched the civilian ship Star of the West to resupply the island fortress.

As the ship entered Charleston Harbor cadets at the Citadel fired upon her and she turned about to escape, continuing to take fire. She suffered only light damage.

Despite this attack, when Lincoln assumed the office of President, other states having seceded, he stated that the North would not fire the first shot…that war would only occur if the states that had seceded fired the first shot.

At the same time he refused to give up Federal forts in the south.

In April Confederate General PGT Beauregard would order an attack on Ft. Sumter, beginning the Civil War. Some historians consider the attack upon the Star of the West to be the beginning of the Civil War, but the attack on Ft. Sumter is generally considered to be the initiation of hostilities.

Fierce Enemies…and Brotherly Love

Today in History, October 20, 1864:

The relationships in the Civil War have always amazed me.

Read to the end to be amazed.

Stephen Dodson Ramseur was born in Lincolnton, North Carolina in 1837.

In 1860, he graduated the United States Military Academy at West Point in the US Army.

The next year he was one of many in the US Army who left the service to join the Confederacy…because it encompassed their “Country”.

Young “Dod” proved to be a daring, impetuous, and courageous leader and quickly rose to be the youngest Major General in the Confederate Army.

At the Battle of Malvern Hill in the Peninsular Campaign, he was seriously wounded when shot in the right arm, temporarily paralyzed. He drew the attention of Gen. Robert E. Lee and was promoted.

At Chancellorsville his brigade scored a major victory, fighting with Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart. Ramseur was wounded in the leg during this battle.

At Gettysburg, it was Dod’s Brigade that chased the Union forces back through the town in a rout.

In the Wilderness Campaign he fought valiantly at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, being shot from his horse, once again hit in the right arm.

Taking over Jubal Early’s division, he fought courageously at Cold Harbor and Petersburg. During the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns, he again fought hard…

On October 19, during the Battle of Cedar Creek, he was shot from his horse again. He mounted a second horse, and was again shot from it. Mounting a third horse to continue the fight, he was shot twice through the lungs, finally bringing him down.

He was loaded into an ambulance to be treated…and his ambulance was captured by Union forces. The Union took him to Belle Grove Plantation for treatment by Union doctors, but it was no use.

Next is the most telling part of Dod’s fascinating story. Word of his capture and condition spread quickly.

As he lie dying, many of his friends…Union officers including George Armstrong Custer that had been his contemporaries before the war, rushed to his side and held an hours long vigil for their friend, keeping him company until he passed on October 20, 1864.

If only we could emulate to recognize our “enemies” were not always so, or to show mercy to them.

The Lincoln – Douglas Debates & Abolition

Today in History, August 21, 1858:

The first of seven debates between two candidates for an Illinois Senate seat begins.

Now famous as the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, former Congressman Lincoln, a former Whig and member of the infant Republican Party, tried for incumbent Democrat Stephen A. Douglas’ Senate seat.

The primary focus of the debates was Lincoln’s desire to curtail the spread of slavery to midwest and western states, and Douglas’ belief that each state should be able to decide for itself.

It is “debatable” who won the debates, but Lincoln lost the election.

Yet the debates launched this little known lawyer onto the national stage. Two years later he would face Douglas and others for the Presidency and would win.

It is important to note that while Lincoln was an abolitionist at heart, he was not yet arguing for complete abolition, only restrictions on slavery. Each of the debates lasted for hours. Here is one telling quote from Lincoln,

“This declared indifference, but, as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites—causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty—criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.”

Lincoln did not have all of the answers. He had little choice but to play politics and compromise to achieve his goals. I personally do not see how an analysis of his speeches, writings, and actions can lead to any conclusion other than he was an abolitionist.

An Emergency…”Temporary” Tax

Today in History, August 5, 1861:

“This bill is a most unpleasant one. But we perceive no way in which we can avoid it and sustain the government. The rebels, who are now destroying or attempting to destroy this Government, have thrust upon the country many disagreeable things.”

— Thaddeus Stevens, Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means speaking on the Revenue Act of 1861, the nation’s first income tax, which was signed into law by President Lincoln on this date.

The law also provided for certain property taxes and levies on imports, which Lincoln feared would be impeded in the Southern ports by seceding states.

The tax was by intent and design temporary, meant to fund the fight to restore the Union in the Civil War. Changes would be made in 1862, and the law would be repealed in 1871.

But the dye had been cast, and the 16th Amendment of 1909/1913 would bring the ever increasing tax back for good.

General of the Army of the United States

Today in History, July 25, 1866:

Congress creates the new rank of “General of the Army of the United States” specifically for the US Army’s commanding general, Ulysses S. Grant.

Typical of Grant’s unpretentious nature, he chose to signify the honor with a simple 4 star should board on his basic uniform.

Grant would hold the rank until elected President, at which time he was succeeded by William Tecumseh Sherman, who was succeeded by Phillip Sheridan. The rank died when Sheridan did in 1888, until WWII, when it was signified with 5 stars.

Sam Finishes his Book

Today in History, July 16, 1885:

Raison D’etre – Sam finishes his book.

Sam had led a bit of a rough life. He saw great success, no doubt, but he was also an alcoholic. His father struggled with the demon for a time, and his grandfather had succumbed to it. In those days they didn’t realize it was often a family trait or a disease…it was simply a weakness. Sam had fought the demon his entire adult life. He was brilliant at is chosen profession. He quit it for a time because of his drinking and tried other jobs…farmer, realtor, shopkeeper…none worked out. As brilliant as he was, he had another weakness; he had a big heart and was much to quick to trust people with his money. So Sam spent most of his life broke.

Even with this, events in his life led him in a round about way to the pinnacle of success. He succeeded where others failed miserably due to his tenacity, his organizational skills and his ability to see the big picture. Yet through it all, no matter how much he achieved, his detractors never forgot, and certainly never let him forget, his demons.

Sam had made his fortune at last…but then, in his older years when there was little to no chance of building success anew, his other failure reared its ugly head again. The people he trusted with his money were scoundrels, and he found himself…and more importantly to him, his family, destitute once again.

Living on borrowed money, things got worse. One day while eating a peach his wife had given him, he felt as if he had been stung by something within it. He had no time for doctors and stubbornly toiled for months until the pain was unbearable to relent to his wife’s demands to see his physician. By then, it was too late. The mouth and throat cancer was advanced, and all that could be done was to provide him with pain killers until the end would come.

Sam’s father had been an inveterate braggart, a schemer and an incessant talker. It embarrassed Sam so that he became the exact opposite. Quiet and humble to a fault, it took everything he had to do what he had refused for years…to blow his own horn and tell his own story. But now it was the only way he could leave his wife and children with a means of support. So he threw himself into the task.

For over a year he wrote. He wore a muffler to cover the baseball sized tumor at his throat. Typical of his demeanor, he never complained of the excruciating pain that wracked him day and night…his family only saw him grimace from the pain when he was asleep and unable to hide it.

Sam worked with a purpose…he amazed his publisher by finishing 10,000 words in a day, written out. Mark couldn’t believe it…Mark was one of the most prolific story-telling authors of his time, and could never match Sam, who disliked the task of telling his own story. But now he had to…for his family…for his legacy because his old detractors were only too happy to repeat their own refrain, “See, we told you so.”

Fighting past the pain and past the fog of his medications, he toiled even when he could no longer write, and tortured himself to dictate his story to others.

Finally on July 16, 1885, Sam completed his autobiography. Mark had promised to publish it for a handsome price which would see to it that Sam’s family did not want for anything. It was suspected that Mark had ghostwritten the work…which he adamantly and angrily denied. His friend Sam had written the work…brilliant and surprising as usual.

Having won his last battle, he could let go now. Seven days later on July 23, 1885, Hiram Ulysses Grant, “U.S. Grant” due to an Army administrator’s error in his youth, Sam to his friends, a drunk to his detractors, an amazing horseman and hero of the Mexican-American War, General of the Army and President of the United States, passed from this earth.

Mark Twain saw that “The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant” was published and the family was treated fairly and well. Sam had found someone trustworthy this time. I’ve read General Grant’s memoirs, and they would be impressive if written by someone in perfect health. They are nothing less that heroic considering the suffering he endured during his final work.

I am fortunate to have what appears to be a 1st Edition of volume 1. Would love to find the matching volume 2! I’ve listened to the audible book.

“A House Divided Cannot Stand”

Today in History, June 16, 1858:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.”

Unsuccessful Senatorial candidate Abraham Lincoln delivers his “house divided” speech when he is nominated as the Republican candidate for the Illinois senatorial seat.

It would be one of his most notable speeches, perhaps only second to the Gettysburg Address.

His message about a house divided…still stands.