One of a series of posts, as explained in “Williams & the Civil War: The Wrong Side – Introduction“:

At long last, 150 years after the Union prevailed “with a brave army, and a just cause” in the American Civil War, one of the most visible remaining markers of that conflict is on everyone’s lips and coming down…

Williams College, and most Ephs, reflect on the Civil War through a Union lens — correctly so, from both a moral and historical perspective… [s]o let’s use this occasion to learn more from and about Ephs on the subject of the Civil War and especially on the other side: the Confederacy.

James Garfield, Class of 1856, is necessarily a lodestar in any understanding of the Civil War from an Eph perspective. Not only because Garfield remains the only Eph to attain the White House. Rather, as an abolitionist and politician even before secession, he foresaw the war, fought in the war, and helped lead the re-United States in recover from the war. His insight and experience explains to us, as it did to his contemporaries, the nature of that conflict.

One of Garfield’s most thorough discussions of the Civil War came in a speech to the House of Representatives on February 1, 1866, just six months after the surrender of the final Confederate general (Interesting historical note: that surrender was by Cherokee chief Degataga, English name Stand Watie, leader of the Cherokee Mounted Rifle Regiment, and the only Native American general on either side in the Civil War).

James A. Garfield, on “Restoration of the Rebel States”:

The Rebellion had its origin in two causes; first, the political theory of State Sovereignty, and second, the historical accident of American slavery. The doctrine of State Sovereignty, or State Rights as it has been more mildly designated, was first publicly announced in the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, but was more fully elaborated and enforced by Calhoun in 1830 and 1833. Since that time it has been acknowledged as a fundamental principle in the creed of the Democratic party, and has been affirmed and reaffirmed in some form in nearly all its State and national platforms for the last thirty years.

That doctrine, as stated by Calhoun in 1833, is in substance this: “The Constitution of the United States is a compact to which the people of each State acceded as a separate and sovereign community; therefore it has an equal right to judge for itself as well of the infraction as of the mode and measure of redress.”

The same party identified itself with the interests of American slavery, and, lifting from it the great weight of odium which the fathers of the republic had laid upon it, became its champion and advocate. When the party of freedom had awakened the conscience of the nation, and had gained such strength as to show the Democracy that slavery was forever checked in its progress, and that its ultimate extinction by legislative authority was foredoomed, the Democratic leaders of the South joined in a mad conspiracy to save and perpetuate slavery by destroying the Union.

In the name of State Sovereignty they declared that secession was a constitutional right, and they resolved to enforce it by arms. They declared that, as the Constitution to which each State in its sovereign capacity acceded created no common judge to which a matter of difference could be referred, each State might also in its sovereign capacity secede from the compact, might dissolve the Union, might annihilate the republic. The Democracy of eleven slave States undertook the work. As far as possible, they severed every tie that bound them to the Union.

They withdrew their representatives from every department of the Federal government; they seized all the Federal property within the limits of their States; they abolished all the Federal courts and every other vestige of Federal authority within their reach; they changed all their State constitutions, transferring their allegiance to a government of their own creation, styled the “Confederate States of America”; they assumed sovereign power, and, gathering up every possible element of force, assailed the Union…

Garfield’s remarks on the causes of the Civil War were the mere introduction to his powerful assault on then-President Andrew Johnson, who had quickly revealed himself to be openly hostile to federal action to establish civil rights and a free society in the post-war South. For example, Johnson insisted that voting rights (for freed slaves and others) should be a matter determined by each state individually. He quickly provided amnesty for most southerners, except the wealthiest propertyholders. And he encouraged Congress to seat among its ranks former Confederate leaders, include former second-in-command Alexander Stephens. Garfield was one of the leading voices of outrage:

The Democratic party is composed of all who conspired to destroy the republic, and of all those who fought to make treason triumphant. It broke ten thousand oaths, and to its perjury added murder, starvation, and assassination.

It declared through its mouthpieces in Ohio, in 1861, that if the Union men of Ohio should ever attempt to enter a Southern State to suppress the Rebellion by arms, they must first pass over the dead bodies of two hundred thousand Ohio Democrats.

In the mid-fury of the struggle it declared the war a failure, and demanded a cessation of hostilities. In the Democratic party is enrolled every man who led a Rebel army or voluntarily carried a Rebel musket; every man who resisted the draft, who called the Union soldiers “Lincoln’s hirelings,” “negro worshippers,” or any other vile name. Booth, Wirz, Harold, and Payne were Democrats. Every Rebel guerilla and jayhawker, every man who ran to Canada to avoid the draft, every bounty-jumper, every deserter, every cowardly sneak that ran from danger and disgraced his flag, every man who loves slavery and hates liberty, every man who helped massacre loyal negroes at Fort Pillow, or loyal whites at New Orleans, every Knight of the Golden Circle, every incendiary who helped burn Northern steamboats and Northern hotels, and every villain, of whatever name or crime, who loves power more than justice, slavery more than freedom, is a Democrat and an indorser of Andrew Johnson.

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