Abolition, the Union, and the Civil War
by Clement Laird Vallandigham (1863)
paperback; 248 pages
I was immediately intrigued when I saw the writings of C.L. Vallandigham appear among the great titles about the War of Northern Aggression made available by The Confederate Reprint Company. After all, research for teaching my homeschool co-op history class told me that an Ohioan was a Yankee. He was the enemy, right?
Apparently, Vallandigham's biggest enemy was anyone who misused the U.S. Constitution — including United States President Abraham Lincoln. Not an Abolitionist and not a slaveholder, the Ohio statesman adhered to the sacred founding document and refused to stick his nose where it didn't belong — i.e. in the domestic affairs of other sovereign States — and he thoroughly and thoughtfully expounds upon this principle in Abolition, The Union, and The Civil War.
His original publisher notes:
In the darkest and most trying hours of the great national conflict, still pending, Mr. Vallandingham has never deviated a moment from the old and true principles of Democracy, whereby the Union was formed and preserved, and by which alone it can be saved from destruction, restored, and perpetuated. If his words and acts have been treason, then was the Government itself, through the whole period of its history, down to the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln, one continued act of treason (page 3).
I picture the Congressman fiery by nature, a well-read gentleman and preacher's son, who attracts an audience anywhere by virtue of his great thoughts upon contemporary matters. If you enjoy thought-provoking, verbal banter, you will enjoy "meeting" the honorable Congressman in his speeches.
The first speech recounted is from a Democratic party meeting in Dayton, Ohio, on 29 October 1855, in which the Congressman elaborates on why the Democrats lost the governor's election to a "Free Soil" candidate. The reader will recall that Democrats of the mid-19th Century were conservative politicians who usually opted for smaller government and strict interpretation of the Constitution, very different from today's Democrat. The Congressman points to the fine line between what the Government should and should not press upon the citizenry, using for his example temperance and the groups that enforce it.
But all these organizations, gentlemen – in the outset, at least – professed reliance solely upon "moral suasion," and denied all political purpose or design in their action. They were voluntary associations, formed to persuade men to be temperate. This was right, was reasonable; was great, and noble; and immense results for good rewarded their labors. The public was interested, everywhere. The cause became popular.... Designing men, not honest, were not slow to discover that it might be turned into a potent political engine for the advancement of personal or party interests. Weak men, very honest, were dazzled and deluded by the bright dream of intemperance expelled, and man restored to his original purity, by the power of human legislation.... Temperance, which Paul preached, and the Bible teaches as a religious duty, and leaves to the Church, or the voluntary association, is now become a controlling element at the polls and in legislation (page 11).
Vallandigham notes that the same thing happened with Abolitionism and the party it sired – the Know Nothing Party, which he calls a "fungus" (page 12). The orator next itemizes slavery, Northern slavery:
Slavery, gentlemen – older in other countries also than the records of human society – existed in America at the date at its discovery. The first slaves of the European were natives of the soil; and a Puritan governor of Massachusetts – founder of the family of Winthrop – bequeathed his soul to God, and his Indian slaves to the lawful heirs of his body.... In 1620, a Dutch man-of-war first landed a cargo of slaves upon the banks of James river. But the earlier slave-ship belonging to the English colonists was fitted out, in 1645, by a member of the Puritan Church, of Boston. Fostered still by English princes and nobles, confirmed and cherished by British legislation and judicial decisions, even against the wishes, and in spite of the remonstrances, of the Colonies, the traffic increased; slaves multiplied, and, on the Fourth of July, 1776, every Colony was now become a slave State...." (pages 14-15)
He next names the North as "the chief carrier of slaves to others" (page 15), and notes that the number of slaves decreased in the North mostly because of slaveowners' "transportation and sale (of their slaves) in the South" (page 16). Then, when the North sought to stir up sectional feelings regarding abolition, Vallandigham charges that the North really "strove for the mastery, and to secure the balance of power in her own hands" and was not concerned about the welfare of slaves (page 18). He chides the North for vilifying the Missouri State constitution, which allowed slaveholding as did the U.S. Constitution, while pointing out that the South never challenged the statehood of a Northern territory that did not allow slaveholding. "In this first fearful strife, this earliest departure from the Constitution and the ancient sound policy of the country, the North – for the truth of history shall be vindicated – the North was the aggressor...." (page 18)
Originally during the war, Abolition, The Union, and The Civil War is dense and meaty reading as the Congressman thoroughly and thoughtfully recounts historical data without regard to the current politically-correct revisionism that liberal Americans wish was fact. He records how Northern States ignored and violated the Constitution and how the South patiently forebore the assaults.
In the second speech, given in the House of Representatives on 15 December 1859, Vallandigham calls Abolitionists "termites." He never seems to mind naming names and pointing out duplicity: "…I occupy the position of armed neutrality. I am not a Northern man. I have little sympathy with the North, no very good feeling for, and am bound to her by no tie whatsoever, other than what once were and ought always to be among the strongest of all ties – a common language and a common country.... I am not a Southern man, either – although, in this unholy and most unconstitutional crusade against the South, in the midst of the invasion, arson, insurrection, and murder, to which she has been subject, and with which she is still threatened – with the torch of the incendiary and the dagger of the assassin suspended over her – my most cordial sympathies are wholly with her" (pagse 43-44). It is small wonder that Lincoln later deported the Congressman to the South.
The third speech entitled, "How Shall the Union Be Preserved?", was delivered to the House of Representatives on 20 February 1861. Vallandigham suggests dividing the torn nation into four sections within the Union: the North, South, Pacific, and West. In this way, secession would be limited to the approval of sister regional States. He gives a lengthy oration on constitutional powers, the growing power of the presidency, his ideas on reducing the power of the federal Government, and his thoughts on protecting against the aggressive spirit of the majority.
From 10 November 1860, a few days after the North elected Abraham Lincoln as President, the publisher included this extract from the Cincinnati Enquirer:
If any one or more of the States of this Union should, at any time, secede – for reasons of the sufficiency and justice of which, before God and the great tribunal of history, they alone may judge – much as I should deplore it, I never would, as a Representative in the Congress of the United States, vote one dollar of money whereby one drop of American blood should be shed in a civil war… Ours is a government of opinion, not of force – a Union of free will, not of arms; and coercion is civil war … If Abraham Lincoln is wise, looking truth and danger full in the face, he will take counsel of the 'old men,' the moderates of his party, and advise peace, negotiation, concession.... (page 91)
Three months later, the Congressman was again defending his stance against "the persevering perversity of the Abolition press" (page 92).
The fourth speech entitled "Executive Usurpation," which was delivered under death threats to the House on 10 July 1861, would make good reading for those who study current events. The script of 140 years ago is not so different from today. The Congressman immediately addresses Abraham Lincolns $400 million request to finance the war against the South. According to Vallandigham:
...[I]t was his duty, as an honest Executive, to make that information full, impartial, and complete, instead of spreading before us a labored and lawyerly vindication of his own course of policy – a policy which has precipitated us into a terrible and bloody revolution. He admits the fact; he admits that, to-day, we are in the midst of a general civil war, not now a mere/petty insurrection, to be suppressed in twenty days by a proclamation and a posse comitatus of three months' militia. Sir, it has been the misfortune of the President, from the beginning, that he has totally and wholly under-estimated the magnitude and character of the Revolution with which he had to deal, or surely he never would have ventured upon the wicked and hazardous experiment of calling thirty millions of people to arms among themselves, without the counsel and authority of Congress (pages 95-96).
Vallandigham criticizes Lincoln's "State of the Union" address of the previous week, pointing out the misinformation contained therein, and, by way of historical relevance, recounting Lincoln's inaugural address: "...a message, I regret to say, not written in the direct and straightforward language which becomes an American President and an American statesman, and which was expected from the plain, blunt, honest man of the North-west – but with the forked tongue and crooked counsel of the New York politician, leaving thirty millions of people in doubt whether it meant peace or war" (page 99).
Congressman Vallandigham then begins a point-by-point recitation of many ways Lincoln had set aside the Constitution: "…I assert here, to-day, as a Representative, that every principal act of the Administration since has been a glaring usurpation of power, and a palpable and dangerous violation of that very Constitution which this civil war is professedly waged to support" (page 102). He offers more and more evidence of the ways Lincoln abrogated the governing document of the nation. What does the Congressman make of this? "Treason, sir, rank treason..." (page 104)
Vallandigham often spoke in his home State of Ohio to cheers and ovations, and was well-known for his May 1862 slogan, "The Constitution as it is, the Union as it was!" He never let his audience venture from the unmoving standard: the Constitution. His "State of the Country" speech of 2 August 1862, delivered at Dayton, Ohio, again reports on Lincoln's misuse of the Constitution, especially as it related to illegal arrests made by Executive Order:
Sir, this Administration has no Constitutional or legal authority to make these arrests. I have as good a right to arrest the President, or any one of his Cabinet, as he or they have to arrest me or any other citizen in this manner. The Constitution is broad enough and strong enough for any emergency.... Let it be obeyed. I, too, have sworn to support that Constitution; and, more than that, I have done it. I demand that all men, from the humblest citizen up to the President, shall be made to obey it likewise. In no other way can we have liberty, order, security (page 145).
Redistricting and "gerrymandering" added a pro-Abolition county to his district, and this resulted in defeat in his 1862 bid to return to the House of Representatives. The book closes with his final speech to the House, and comments made during his career there. After leaving office, Vallandigham was arrested for making derogatory comments about Lincoln, whose administration he called a "reign of terror," tried by military court, denied habeas corpus, and sentenced to two years in a military prison. Lincoln commuted the sentence, and banished the former Congressman to the Confederacy. He spent most of the next two years in Canada, re-entering America in disguise in 1864. He died in 1871 at the age of 50 after accidentally shooting himself while representing a client in a murder trial. His final words expressed his faith in "that good old Presbyterian doctrine of predestination."
Filled with helpful notes from the original publisher, Abolition, The Union, and The Civil War is excellent reading for high school or college-level readers (and beyond) and well-placed reading for history and political science students.
– reviewed by Deborah Deggs Cariker