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Volume 28, No. 12
Editor: Stephen L. Seftenberg

President’s Message:

After a long day’s marching, join the troops on Wednesday, December 9, 2015 at 7 PM and enjoy the Round Table’s annual holiday festivities. Everyone is asked to go to their local sutler and bring an appetizer, salad, entrée or dessert. Bring yourself and any sweethearts that you may find along the way. Speaking around the campfire will be noted author, Robert Macomber (see below). Every soldier needs a holiday treasure to bid on so please bring something for the raffle. Items do not have to be Civil War related. Gift cards would be greatly appreciated especially from a favorite sutler called PUBLIX. Besides delicious rations and camaraderie at the holiday party you can also get your horse shod, have long johns repaired, get coffee beans ground, have socks washed, get sideburns trimmed, have bullets polished, have melancholia vanished, get your saber sharpened, and dyspepsia disposed. DUES ARE DUE. Elections will be held in January. If you wish to run for any office or be on the Board, please call (561 967-8911) or e-mail (
Gerridine LaRovere

December 9, 2015 Meeting

Robert Macomber, famed author and speaker, will headline our Holiday Party, to tell us about Joint Army-Navy Operations on the Florida Gulf Coast and the Two Men Who Made It Work. His story spotlights two senior commanders of the Florida Union forces working together to forge a relentless campaign against the Confederate enemy in a combat environment unlike any else in the Civil War. This will be Robert’s twelfth straight appearance at our Holiday Party!

November 11, 2015 Meeting

Dr. Ralph Levy, after a spirited introduction by his wife, Dorothy, spoke on 1860: The Year of the Party of No Compromise, or How to Lose an Election.

Prelude. Dr. Levy began with an outline of the demographic and socioeconomic background. In 1776, the American colonies had a total population of 2.5 million, of whom 200,000, or 8%, were Black (almost all slaves). In 1850, the population had grown to 20 million and by 1860 to 31 million, of whom 3.95 million (13%) were Black slaves. The Southern states that seceded had a population of 9.1 million, of whom 4.1 million, or 44.23% were Black slaves. The population of New York City alone was 900,000. The largest Southern city, New Orleans, had a population of 150,000. The average Southern city had a population of 40,000. Four-fifths of all American factories were in the North, as were two-thirds of the railroad track. Of the ten shipyards belonging to the U. S. Navy only two (Norfolk, Virginia and Pensacola, Florida) were in the South and neither contributed to Southern shipbuilding.

The South’s weapon was cotton. The value of cotton exported by the United States grew exponentially following the Louisiana Purchase and the invention of the cotton gin. Before these events the demise of slavery had been expected when all available soil would be exhausted. From $5 million in 1800 to $15 million in 1810 and $63 million in 1840, it grew to $191 million in 1860, amounting to 57% of total American exports and over 80% of the world’s production. By 1860, the cost of a healthy young male slave was equivalent to a Toyota Corolla today. Most slaves were bought via mortgages from Northern bankers.

BuchananDr. Levy then introduced us to the key players, starting with James Buchanan (1791-1868), the 15th President, the only President from Pennsylvania and the only lifelong bachelor. Buchanan (“Old Buck”) had been exiled to Russia by President Jackson, but served as President Polk’s Secretary of State when Texas entered the Union as a slave state and the U.S. acquired substantial territory from Mexico. He was largely responsible for passage of the Compromise of 1850 that admitted California as a free state but left the territories to decide whether to allow slavery (“Popular Sovereignty”). As sectional friction grew hotter, Buchanan denied the legal right of states to secede but held that the Federal Government legally could not prevent them. He hoped for compromise, but secessionist leaders did not want compromise, so Buchanan dithered while the lit fuse of war burned.

Next we meet Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861). At barely 5 feet tall, he was known as theDouglas “Little Giant.” As leader of the Democratic party, he was largely responsible for the Compromise of 1850 that created two new territories (Kansas and Nebraska) and had the effect of repealing the Compromise of 1820 by allowing the settlers in each territory to choose whether to allow slavery in that territory. However, in 1854 he revived the slavery question with the Kansas–Nebraska Act, which opened some territories previously closed to slavery under Popular Sovereignty. Allowing “local option” in the territories led to open warfare as pro and anti-slavery elements flooded into “Bleeding Kansas.” Opposition to this legislation also led to the formation of the Republican Party. Ironically, the real purpose of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was to open up thousands of new farms and make feasible a transcontinental railroad of which Chicago would be the Eastern terminus. This would have made him a rich man, but his dream was blocked by the South, which wanted a transcontinental railroad to run along a southern route. Douglas initially endorsed the Dred Scott decision of 1857, which essentially opened the entire United States to slavery, but during the 1858 Senate campaign, in the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, he argued its effect could be negated by popular sovereignty. He also opposed the efforts of President James Buchanan and his Southern allies to enact a Federal slave code and impose the Lecompton Constitution on Kansas. A personal irony: Douglas opposed slavery but was married to a slave-owner’s daughter.

TaneyThird on the bill is Roger Taney (1777-1864), a close ally of President Andrew Jackson, the fifth Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court (1836-1864). On March 15, 1857, Taney delivered a pro-slavery decision in the Dred Scott v. Sanford case, marking how he would be remembered historically. Scott, a slave in the free state of Illinois who had been removed to Missouri, a slave state and back to Illinois, sued for his freedom. The 7-2 majority opinion by Taney, ruled against Scott, declaring that African Americans were not United States citizens and had no right to sue, but did not stop there. The Chief Justice’s inflammatory obiter dicta (unnecessary to decide the narrow issue of Scott’s standing to sue) stated that the Fifth Amendment barred Congress forbidding slavery in U.S. territories, essentially repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1850 and included a statement that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Opponents of slavery denounced the decision, which was an indirect catalyst of the Civil War.

Fourth among the players is William L. Yancey (1813-1863) of Alabama, a journalist, orator andYancey politician. In 1849, Yancey was a firm supporter of John Calhoun's “Southern Address” and an adamant opponent of the Compromise of 1850. Throughout the 1850s, Yancey, sometimes referred to as the “Orator of Secession” and a leading “Fire Eater,” demonstrated the ability to hold large audiences under his spell for hours at a time. At the 1860 Democratic National Convention, Yancey, a leading opponent of Stephen A. Douglas, was instrumental in splitting the party into Northern and Southern factions. At the 1860 convention, he coined the phrase “squatter sovereignty” to describe popular sovereignty.

BrownDr. Yancey’s fifth player is John Brown (1800-1859), a radical abolitionist who believed in the violent overthrow of the slavery system. During the Bleeding Kansas conflicts, Brown and his sons led attacks on pro-slavery residents. Justifying his actions as the will of God, Brown soon became a hero in the eyes of Northern extremists and was quick to capitalize on his growing reputation. By early 1858, he had succeeded in enlisting a small “army” of insurrectionists whose mission was to foment rebellion among the slaves. On October 16, 1859, Brown led a party of 21 men (including some freed slaves), capturing the federal armory of Harpers Ferry in Virginia (now West Virginia) and holding dozens of men hostage with the plan of inspiring a slave insurrection. Brown's forces held out for two days and were eventually defeated by military forces led by Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee. Many of Brown's men were killed, including two of his sons, and he was captured. Brown's was quickly tried in a state court for treason and murder and on November 2 he was sentenced to death. In a speech to the court before his sentencing, Brown stated his actions to be just and God-sanctioned. Brown was probably demented, but he refused to plead insanity at his trial. Brown was executed on December 2, 1859. Brown became an anti-slavery icon among Northerners but stirred up profound passion in the deep South where Blacks made up 45% to 57% of the population.

The Four Democratic Conventions were crucial events in the lead-up to the Civil War. The first “official”convention, in Charleston, South Carolina, opened on April 23, 1860. “Charleston was not the best place to hold the convention. It was hot, muggy and humid which only raised delegates’ tempers. Speeches supporting one point of view or another were being given not only at the convention but in the streets, on balconies, hotel lobbies, or anywhere else (and at any time) a speaker could find an audience. Consequently, a lot sleepy delegates were kept awake at all hours of the night by orations. Adding even more fuel to the fire was the pro-secession, pro-Southern mood of the city. Whether or not these things were considered when Charleston was selected as the convention site is uncertain. ‘Officially,’ Charleston was chosen to reassure the South that it was still important to the Democratic Party.” (Tom Elmore’s Civil War e-newsletter, September 5, 2015).

BreckinridgeCharleston was probably the most pro-slavery city in the U.S. at the time, and the galleries at the convention were packed with pro-slavery spectators. Outgoing President Buchanan endorsed his Vice President Breckinridge of Kentucky, a slave state, Breckinridge wanted the party platform to include a plank supporting protection of slaves as property. Northern Democrats felt Douglas had to best chance to defeat the “Black Republicans” (ostensibly because they believed in “black freedom”). Douglas believed the federal government had no power either to allow or forbid slavery, a position he had articulated in Senate campaign debates with Lincoln. Although Douglas was the front runner and considered “moderate,” Buchanan and militant Southern “Fire-eaters” like Yancey opposed him as a “traitor.” Many predicted a split in the party, and the election of Republican William H. Seward. The delegations from seven Deep South states caucused before the convention and decided to “stop Douglas” by imposing a pro-slavery party platform which he could not run on if nominated. The “Fire-eater” majority on the platform committee adopted an explicitly pro-slavery document, endorsing Dred Scott and Congressional legislation protecting slavery in the territories. Northern Democrats fought back, saying they could not carry a single Northern state with that platform. On April 30, the convention adopted the minority (Northern) platform, which omitted these planks, 165-138. Fifty Southern delegates then bolted the convention in protest, expecting the remaining delegates to invite them back, which did not happen. Instead, Douglas had over half of the votes cast for six candidates in all 57 ballots, but needed at least 50 more votes to reach the 2/3rds vote of the original delegates needed for nomination (The Fire Eaters had bolted but still counted toward the denominator needed). The convention adjourned on May 3rd (Buchanan’s 69th and Douglas’ 47th birthday!) and called a resumed convention in Baltimore in six weeks. An odd and ironic note: Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts (one of your Editor’s favorite Civil War politicians), in all 57 ballots, gave Sen. Jefferson Davis of Mississippi (the future Confederate President) his only vote, but Davis never returned the favor, ordering Butler shot on sight during the War for his actions as Military Governor of New Orleans!

The Democratic Party reconvened in Baltimore on May 18th, “but the recess did not help. The Baltimore convention was equally hot and humid and even more split than the Charleston one. This time 110 Southern and Western delegates walked out of the convention and met elsewhere in the city. Joining them was Caleb Cushing, the chairman of the convention. Cushing’s presence was a bit odd. He was from Massachusetts and opposed to slavery, but he also hated abolitionist extremists. He believed in states-rights and was thus sympathetic to Southern Democrats. The Southern faction welcomed his presence at their convention and chose him to preside over them.” (Elmore, ibid.)Fitzpatrick Calling themselves “Constitutional Democrats,” they nominated Breckinridge and Sen. Joseph Lane of Oregon -- evidently with President Buchanan's seal of approval.

The remaining delegations adopted the “Cincinnati Platform” stating that “Congress could not interfere with slavery in the several states, denounced those who disagree as ‘trouble makers’ and endorsed the Compromise of 1850 as the only sound and safe solution of the slavery question. The Democratic Party is the party of the Union and would defend the rights of the states, uphold the Union as it was and the Union as it shall be.” The Chair of the convention was a Yancey crony and he ruled that it would take two-thirds of the original seated delegates to nominate a candidate. This two-thirds rule would remain in force until 1936! The enraged delegates changed the rules to two-thirds of delegates present and nominated Douglas and Senator Benjamin Fitzpatrick of Alabama was nominated for Vice President. However, after the convention, Fitzpatrick refused the nomination, something that would only happen again once (1924) in the history of the republic. With the Conventions over and no vice presidential candidate, former Senator and Governor Herschel V. Johnson of Georgia was offered the nomination by Douglas. For Douglas, it was a Pyrrhic victory.

The Democrats became all the more fragmented when a group calling themselves the Constitutional Union party convened a fourth rump convention and nominated John Bell, a moderate from Tennessee who believed slavery should be federally protected where it existed but Bellprevented from spreading. Since none of the various candidates had received 202 votes, arguably none of them were “lawfully” nominated!

The Democrat, a Chicago newspaper, drew the curtain on May 1, 1860, saying, “The irrepressible conflict has rent the Democratic party asunder, and it has ceased to exist as a national organization.”

More good stuff from Tom Elmore: “So why the Southern Democrats all but assure Lincoln’s victory when they were so opposed to his election? Some believe that the pro-secessionists delegates used the split conventions and Lincoln’s victory as a pretext for secession. Others speculate that it was hoped that the election would have been deadlocked, forcing the House of Representatives, controlled by Democrats, to elect a weak president, with the South receiving legislative concessions, in exchange for breaking the deadlock. This scenario came close to happening. Just the switch of a few thousand votes in a handful of states switched from Lincoln to one of the other candidates would have sent the election to Congress. These theories could be over-speculation. Remember both Baltimore and Charleston were hot and sweaty places. With heat and rhetoric competing for the top of the temperature gauge, just pure emotions could have been enough to set off the bizarre turn of events.”

The Republican Party held no primaries and no way to gauge how many delegates a candidateNational Game would get and ten men had thrown their hats in the ring. Nevertheless, going into the Republican Convention in May 1860, William Seward (1801-1872) former New York Governor and U. S. Senator, was seen as the most likely Republican nominee. Discussing Dred Scott, Seward accused Buchanan and Chief Justice Roger B. Taney of conspiring to gain the result, and threatened to reform the courts to eliminate Southern power. Taney later told a friend that if Seward had been elected in 1860, he would have refused to administer the oath of office. Buchanan reportedly denied the Seward access to the White House. Seward predicted slavery was doomed: “The interest of the white races demands the ultimate emancipation of all men. Whether that consummation shall he allowed to take effect, with needful and wise precautions against sudden change and disaster, or be hurried on by violence, is all that remains for you to decide.” Southerners saw this as a threat, by the man deemed the likely Republican nominee in 1860, to force change on the South whether it liked it or not. However, Seward was doomed because of his support for immigrants and Catholics and his association with corrupt Boss Tweed. Behind the scenes efforts by Abraham Lincoln’s manager, Sen. David Davis (1821-1886) and others opposing Seward got the Republican convention set for Chicago. where Lincoln had the “home field” advantage. Over Lincoln’s specific instructions, “No deals,” his manager David Davis cut a deal with Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania (who ended up as a terrible Secretary of War) and on May 18, 1860, Lincoln was nominated after three ballots. In the general election, Virginia went for Bell, but Lincoln won with about 40% of the votes but 180 of 303 possible electoral votes. Many historians convincingly argue that the militant southerners had determined that slavery would never be safe in the Union and intended to split the Democratic Party and elect an arguably anti-slavery Republican as an excuse for succession. They succeeded, but of course, ultimately, the Union was preserved and slavery was abolished.

Dr. Levey received a round of applause for his talk, followed by a short Q&A session.

Last changed: 12/04/15

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