tv The Civil War CSPAN January 3, 2015 6:30pm-7:32pm EST
pleasure, my privilege to introduce professor elizabeth barron who will speak on the election of 1864 and confederate eyes. i think this is an important topic to address early on in the symposiums we don't forget there is a whole other conversation going on in other parts of the country. the professor has her bachelor degree, then went on to teach in temple before coming to the university. her first two books were from a woman's point of view about women's opinions and activities in the south, in antebellum virginia. then i biography of a yankee spy
in richmond. both were well received. and the biography won many awards. then her next book was on disunion which was about the whole debate about the discussion of strategizing about possible breakup of the union dating from 1789 onwards. most recently her book is on victory and defeat and freedom at the end of the civil war. that has already won a number of prizes, including the library of virginia eye ward. professor baron also has been speaking widely, including the lincoln bicentennial in springfield and the gettysburg civil war institute and also on c-span, book tv. so now it is my great pleasure to introduce elizabeth varon. she will speak on catastrophe or
setback. the election of 1864 in confederate eyes. >> thank you. good morning, everyone. and thanks so much for attending the event. it is a pleasure to speak in such a beautiful venue. this morning i'll address the theme of confederate interpretations of the election of 1864, but also southern unionist and border south interpretation. so i'm going to take the south as a whole into my frame. i'll first sketch out confederate debates, then i'll turn to southern unionism and particularly the role of the preeminent southern unionist andrew johnson, lincoln's running mate in this 1864 campaign. i'll conclude by considering the fraught question of whether the election was a turning point for the confederate war effort.
any treatment of this topic must begin with two often-repeated assertions that have persisted as standard fare in civil war scholarship. the first of these is that confederate leaders believed that mcclellan's election would ensure the success of their cause. they were rooting for the democrat. the second assertion is that for all confederates the unequivocal re-election of lincoln was a crushing blow. now neither of these assertions fully captures the complexity of confederate politics during the campaign season of 1864. it's true that confederates followed this northern election very, very carefully, very anxiously. but they didn't uniformly assume that mcclellan had a fighting chance in the campaign, nor did they assume that his election would be good for the south. as the election campaign geared up in the spring of 1864 confederates were arrayed in two
interpretive camps. they were divided. a peace camp led by the confederate vice president alexander stevens and representing mow vehemently in the press by the georgia newspaper, "the augusta chronicle and sentinel." the second was a hardliner camp, the side that believed at victory at any cost, led by the confederate president jefr some davis and represented by newspapers such as the "charleston merrycury." the first pinned their hopes on those critics of lincolns who seemed to sympathize with the south. the historian larry e. nelson dubbed stevens and his like the confederate copperheads because of this affinity they had with the northern peace democrats. the stevens camp hoped for a negotiated peace and that hope
was based on an interlocking set of premises, one was that the north was deeply divided. the second was that the peace elements in the northern democratic party, these copperheads, were on the ascent politically and might be prime to call for an armistice, or even -- even -- to recognize confederate independence. another premise was that the davis administration in imposing policies within the confederacy such as the suspension of habeas corpus, had lost sight of the core principle of the southern revolution, namely state sovereignty. and the final premise was that neither side, north or south had the will to keep battering each other indefinitely. this camp, this peace camp, drew encouragement in the spring of 1864 from some intemperate congressional speeches in the u.s. congress by northern peace democrats such as alexander long of ohio and benjamin harris of maryland. these democrats accused lincoln of tyranny. they called for an end to the
war. and in so doing they seemed to acquiesce in the docktrine of secession itself. working on these premises, stevens and his allies argued that the confederate administration should make an overt policy of building up and strengthening the northern copperheads and that they should do so by making frequent peace proposals to the north. those proposals, stevens and his ilk reckoned, would expose to the war-weary northern public lincoln's unwillingness to street the south. he would reject such proposals out of hand and this would show that he was unwilling to
negotiate. this would thus strengthen the hand of the northern democrats who presumably were willing to negotiate for peace. as a core layer, the conthe confederacy should refrain from offensive fighting, lest a renewed fear of confederate invasion prompt northerners to close ranks. the worry was that if the confederates were too aggressive, northerners would rally around lincoln in self-defense. these confederate copper heads those rooting ardently for a northern democrat victory in the war and working for it, had a brief moment vindication in august of 1864 when the democrats chicago convention nominating convention for the party, called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and a convention of the states to negotiate a peace. alexander stevens was widely quoted as saying this platform this democratic platform, was the first real ray of light he had seen since the war began. that's how hopeful he was. his calculation was that once the shooting stopped in some punitive negotiation or convention, no one would have the heart to start shooting again. as for the prospect of negotiation, what exactly did confederate copperheads think they might negotiate for at this stage?
what might transpire if the states met in the convention to consider peace. such a convention, stevens reckoned, would be a way to bypass lincoln and jefferson davis, each of whom was a hardliner on the subject of peace, unwilling to negotiate. stevens hoped that perhaps a convention might turn back the clock, re-affirm state sovereignty, renounce coercion and perhaps even disavow emancipation as a war aim of the union. confederate copperheads, in other words, fantasized that such a convention might bring victory, either recognition of the confederacy which is their first choice, or as a fallback position reunion on the south's terms. now we're going to switch to our seconds camp here. this either/or formulation was completely unacceptable to the second camp in this debate. the hardliners represented by jefferson davis. for davis and his ilk, peace without independence was failure
and the offering of peace proposals to the north was a sign of weakness that would only serve to stoke northern aggression. these hardliners agreed that the confederacy should work to weaken the flort from within by encouraging the peace elements there, but only clandestinely through the machinations as it turned out of an unofficial diplomatic mission based in canada. this diplomatic mission was going to aid and abet those northern peace elements again on the down low. it would provide secret societies in the north with money, propaganda and organizational counsel. confederate agents as part of these machinations hatched such plots as buying and hoarding gold specie in new york and raiding prisoner war camps in the northwest in ways to undermine the northern war effort. it is easy to dismiss these plots which came to naught as hairbrained schemes based on delusional thinking. but they reflected the hope on the part of confederates in both camps really that the campaign season in the north might be
attended with violence, to quote the confederate war bureau chief, that social chaos might break out in the north, or perhaps even an armed mutiny on the scale of the new york draft riots of 1863. but hardliners rejected the idea the confederates should openly endorse the northern peace democrats. they feared that such an endorsement would backfire. it would discredit the democrats in the eyes of the northern electorate. republicans would be able to say, jefferson dafrsvis wants mcclellan to win and that wouldn't be good for the mcclellan campaign. indeed the republican press had a field day when stevens said he thought democratic platform was a ray of light. but hardliners also invoked a deep rooted tenet of secessionist yidologist, the
argument that it the democratic party could not be relied upon to protect southern interests. hardliners invoked this deep rooted are den net. the lesson of secession, the charleston mercury reminded its readers in the spring of 1864, was that the south could depend upon no party at the north for the protection of their liberties and institutions. noting how many union generals were old democrats, members of that party, and ben butler for confederates was the most notorious example here. the editorial concluded all northern parties, republican and democrat, are united in the wicked and bloody policy of subgentlemansub subjugateing the south. it is an expression of the true ll of the democrats, a willingness to negotiate perhaps to recognize southern independence. hardliners by contrast believed the democrats' choice of mcclellan as their standard bearer was far more revealing
that the platform that he had adopted in their convention. mcclellan hardliners argued was clearly a war democrat, someone who rejected southern independence and who was not to be trusted. they invoked mcclellan's acceptance letter of the democratic nomination in which he explicitly rejected the idea that there might be peace without reunion, without the south repudiating secession. fk clelen's letter famously intone odd the union must be preserved at all hazards. i could not look in my face of the gallant comrades of the army and navy and tell them that their labz and sacrifice of so many of our slain and wounded had been in vain, that we had abandoned that union for which we had so often perilled or lives. no peace can be permanent without union. mcclellan's position at odds with his party's platform. for hardliners in the
confederacy the meaning of this letter was clear. a september 19th richmond dispatch editorial commenting on the letter asked rhetorically shall we be slaves to the yankees and answered general mcclellan says we shall. that stance would lose him the election the editorial predicted because it erased any meaningful difference between mcclellan and lincoln. both were pro war war. if mcclellan left the northern masses any ground for hope his election might have stopped the fusion of their blood and money he might have been elected but given the choice between two war candidates, the people of the united states have no reason to change their government. in short, the two confederate camps differed not only on the question of means but also ends. hardliners had little faith that a democratic president would do the south's bidding. instead they wished for lincoln's defeat because it might signal the erosion of northern morale and herald the coned if confederacy's military triumph. the core principle of the hardliners of jefferson davis
and his camp was that only battlefield victories and not political machinations would win southern independence. the primary aim of these hardliners was not to encourage northern dissent. that was a secondary aim. but instead to revive southern enlistment and discouragage desertion and stoke the will to fight on the part of the confederates. jefferson davis in his speeches and communications during the 1864 campaign, spring, summer, fall of 1864, played down the importance of the northern election. didn't say much about it. he focused instead relentlessly on two themes. yankees atrocities and confederate manpower. in speeches he delivered in georgia and south carolina in the fall of 1864, davis invoked the union army's alleged outrages in atlanta asking would you see the fair daughters of the land given over to the
brutality of the yankees. his prescription, davis' prescription, for confederate victory was simple -- everyone able must go to the front. convinced that recent military setbacks transpired because too many southern men had shirked duty, davis intones, "if half the men now absent without leave will return to duty, we can defeat the enemy." this is his message during the campaign season. he went on, the yankees were dogs, he declared. and the only way to make them civil was to whip them. and you can whip them, he told confederate men in october of 1864. if all the men capable of bearing arms will do their duty. the fate of the confederacy then, davis insisted, was in the hands of the confederates themselves. stom what was the end game. the position of the stevens faction, this wish for peace and negotiation, commanded substantial public support in
the sunger of 1864. but that support waned in the fall as union military successes improved lincoln's prospects. we tend to credit the fall of atlanta with sealing lincoln's victory but in confederate eyes and particularly for the virginia press, confederate reverses in the shenandoah valley were every bit as pretentious as the fall of atlanta. this combatle will secure the election of lincoln, of which indeed there was no doubt before. with the peace democrats losing ground in the wake of northern battlefield victories, stevens the confederate vice president now publicly accused davis, the president, of failing to do the right thing, of failing to have fully promoted the northern peace party, to give it a fighting chance. stevens speculated in a controversial letter which he wrote on november 5th, 1864, and which was widely reprinted in the confederate press, stevens speculated that jefferson davis actually preferred lincoln's election to mcclellan's. davis considered this a scurrilous charge and denied it.
the confederate president and vice president were at war. but many of their countrymen never took clear and consistent positions aligning themselves with one interpretive camp or another. instead, these confederates careened back and forth between these two poles in somersaults of reasoning, mental acrobatics. these mental acrobatics became more ubiquitous after the fall of atlanta and the setbacks in virginia's valley as 9 confederates are increasingly in damage control mode. and in damage control mode they take to arguing that there is indeed no functional difference between lincoln or mcclellan or that the very idea that they had ever looked to the yankee election for their salvation was itself a spurious piece of northern propaganda, that they had never been so deluded. some began to argue that lincoln's election might indeed
be preferable. when the writing was on the wall, many began to argue that lincoln's election might indeed be preferable. after all this last argument ran, lincoln, a the new devil southerner's brew. misdemeanor college's life, by contrast, might breathe new life into the northern war effort and splinter the south if cred dusthe credudlous southerners. any other result should be disastrous to us. we need his folly and fanaticism for another term. his mad pursuit of his peculiar ideas. lincoln's re-election will make us realize that we must make a choice between perpetual resistance if necessary and a condition of surfdom. as the election approached, both camps trafficked in images of republican electoral fraud to explain why lincoln would win. confederate newspapers claimed that democratic meetings notice north were being disrupted by abolitionist mobs, that voters were being indimtimidated, that the republican press was whipping up war fer vor and that lincoln himself would manipulate the soldiers' vote to ensure his
own victory, that lincoln's tools will stuff the ballot boxes and in every conceivable way cheat and steal to carry their point. no one has a doubt editorialized one paper. we have no idea lincoln will permit a fair election and therefore no hope for mcclellan's election to continue. such a view was echoed in a letter written on election day -- i do not see that any good can come to us from this yankee election, yet i long to know how it has gone. do i in the think there will be
a real election. so many have been sent from the army and from the government to use the influence patronage and means of corruption at their disposal and they will carry the election by fraud if no other way. now for the stevens faction, there wasn't in such images of fraud a glitter of light. they hoped the election might bring the long awaited revulsion against lincoln by the northern public. this is what the stevens types were waiting for, a revulsion on the part of the northern public against lincoln. but the hardliners in davis' camp saw things differently. in their eyes the republicans would get away with fraud and intimidation and they would get away with it because lincoln and the radical republicans held the majority of northerners in their sway. in other words, the widespread election corruption was a sign
in the eyes of davis, of lincoln's strength and his power, not his weakness. in the end, lincoln's victory did more to vibd kate the hardliners with their uncompromising commitment to the confederates than the confederate copperheads for lincoln's victory, the hardliners insisted, would make the scales fall from the eyes of southerners who had naively held out hope that the yankees would treat with their foes. in a november 17, 1864 letter addressed to georgia senators who sought to know the prospects of a negotiated peace, this now after the election, jefferson davis described to them what he took to be the yankees' peace terms. "we should submit to their yoke, acknowledge that we are criminals, and appeal to their mercy for pardon." davis would brook no such peace.
emma holmes put it this way with her acid pen, "the presidential election took place several days ago and there seems no doubt from the returns already received that lincoln, the vulgar uncouth animal, is again chosen to desecrate the office once filled by george washington. war there must be until we conquer peace." in short throughout it the campaign and its aftermath confederal opinion was divided with lardliners ascended as the copperheads faltered.ardliners ascended as the copperheads faltered.hardliners ascended as the copperheads faltered. what about southern unionists. those who rejected the confederacy. let me say a few brief words about southern unionism before i focus in on the campaign. it's been difficult for scholars to measure the extent of southern unionism and at issue is a sometimes tenuous distinction between antiadministration confederates, those who register protests of one kind or another, sometimes very ardent protests against the way the confederate government was conducting the war critics of the war effort. in a second category we have people who may be were confederates at heart but masks that confederate loyalty in
order to survive and to co-exist, for example, with occupying yankee armies. then on final category, we have true blue unionists, unconditional unionists, those who had never supported secession and who worked for and welcomed northern victory. lines between these categories can be tough to sort out between dissent, opportunism and true loyalty. but it is clear that these unconditional true blue unionists, those southerners who never accepted secession, never renounced the united states, let decisive aid to the union war effort. the historian william freeling has argued in fascinating book called "the south versus the south" that the slave states furnished 450,000 troops to the union army. 200,000 came from the border south states -- kentucky maryland, delaware, missouri that had not seceded. 150,000 were african-americans predominantly former slaves from the south.
and 100,000 were whites from the confederate states. african-american resistance to the confederacy was of course the beating heart of southern unionism. slaves fled farms and plantations by the hundreds of thousands to seek refuge with the union army and they contributed to the union victory. not only as soldiers but as nurses, spies, scouts, teachers, and day laborers. for them, the union's success at arms was synonymous with freedom. the motivations of white southern unconditional unionists, a small minority but symbolically very important minority of whites in the south, were very varied to defy generalization. some of these white southern unionists had northern roots or family ties but most didn't. many of them advocated the economic development of the south, the long lines proposed by the wig party, remake the south in the image of the north, promote pentagon industrialization, for example. but many others were jacksonian democrats committed to an agrarian economy. many wrp anti-slave holder rather than antislavery and resented the political power of the secessionist elite but some active live supported is abolition. there were strong pockets of unionism to be found in the
mountainous up country regions of the south where plantation slavery hadn't taken firm roots such as east tennessee. but there were unionist undergrounds, cells, in confederate strongholds like atlanta and richmond. now why such a focus on southern unionism if these white southern unionists are a small minority of white southerners. well, southern unionism was at the heart of the 1864 presidential campaign as the most prominent of all southern unionists andrew johnson of tennessee was chosen to be lincoln's running mate. there's been much debate among scholars about how active a role lincoln played in this choice of johnson and of what motivated the choice. unless we be tempted to think this was a low-stakes decision we should remind ourselves that twice in the previous generation presidents had died in office and been replaced by their vice presidents, william henry harrison was replaced by john tyler in 1840.
zachary taylor by millard filmore in 1850. in both instances these vice presidents departed dramatically from the policies of their predecessors and revealed faultlines within the ruleing political party. these precedents not so different from the election of 1864 were not far from the minds of americans as they contemplated lincoln's election. "past experience shows that the choice of vice president of the united states is almost as important as that of president. in the case the latter dies or becomes unable to perform the duties of the office, they fall to the former. we should not vote the most persuasive explanation for the choice of johnson on the ticket, the most pervasive explan flagsex explanation for this choice, "lincoln picked johnson in order to give legitimacy to lincoln's policy of war time reconstruction and the union occupied south, particularly tennessee, arkansas and louisiana." lincoln was eager
for these states to be welcomed back into the union under loyal leadership, according to the dictates of his so-called 10% plan which he had promulgated in december 1863 in his proclamation of amnesty and pardon. this 10% plan laid out the steps for the readmission of these errant confederate states into the union stipulating that those confederates who took an oath of allegiance to the union would receive a full pardon and restoration of their property rights. slaves accepted. and when in a given state undergoing this process seeking entry back into the union 10% of those who had voted in 1860 took that oath of loyalty, that vanguard could then elect delegates to a new constitutional convention, write a new constitution, send representatives to congress, rejoin the union. lincoln's aim with the 10% plan was to offer generous terms as a bait to waverers to give up the rebellion, lure southern white men back into the union. the 10% plan proved
controversial. radical republicans in the northern congress argued that it set the bar for admission to the union too low and insisted that 50% of the electorate must take that oath of loyalty before a state could be re-admitted. so lincoln is embattled on this issue and he hopes that the selection of andy johnson will help neutralize this critique of his reconstruction program. it will give congress an incentive to admit tennessee to the union. johnson's home state. perhaps top count tennessee's electoral votes in the final tally. johnson's choice would represent the fusion of war, democrats with republicans, into a newly dubbed union party. that's what lincoln's party was called in 1864. and it would help to hasten, so lincoln hoped, the restoration
of self-government by proven loyalists in the south. reward those southern union irses and use them as a vanguard for the reunion of the country. now johnson himself was a hero in the north at this point. his remarkable life story was well known to americans. made him a hero in the north pand a villain to confederates. a few words about johnson's biography, andy johnson had risen to prominence from the humblest of roots, born in a log cabin in poverty in north carolina. he lost his father at a young age and was put to work as a tailor's apprentice. he fled from service as an apprentice and painstakingly worked his way up the political ladder. in his career he forged a reputation as a champion of the common man, the non-slave holding yeoman farmer and he did so in the mold of his political idol, andrew jackson. andy johnson was in his first term as a united states senator from tennessee representing the democratic party when the civil war began and he took a
courageous and altogether singular stance secession. he declared it to be an odious diabolical, nefarious and hell born doctrine. andrew johnson paid a high price for that statement. his family was driven into exile in tennessee and his property conit is kated and johnson hung in effigy and roundly cursed in his home state. johnson's unidownism was rooted johnson's unionism was rooted in the class resentments of non-slaveholding yeoman farmers against elite planters. he believed wealthy planters looked down on men like him. it was rooted in the differences between the mountainous upcountry regions of the south and the low country plantation districts. finally, it was rooted in a constitutional argument, the argument the founders intended the union to be perpetual. secession was synonymous with lawlessness. a government without the power
to enforce its laws, he declared in 1861, is no government at all. johnson put this principle into action as military governor of tennessee. lincoln put him in charge there in 1862, after battlefield victories had secured union control over the western and middle sections of the state. johnson as wartime governor of union-occupied tennessee ruled with a heavy hand. he had conspicuous critics of the lincoln administration imprisoned. he enclosed punitive taxes and closed antiunion newspapers. johnson was determined only consistently loyal union men like himself, rather than latter-day unionists, would shape tennessee prosecutor. as governor, he required that anyone who sought to stoke -- to vote in state elections would have not only to swear allegiance to the union but vouch they had no negotiations
with the confederates. johnson gradually came to support emancipation as a war measure. that means to punish the confederate elite and rob it of resources peering theory that emancipation by edict would alienate slave-holding unionists, johnson urged lincoln to exempt tennessee from the emancipation proclamation, so he could work the issue from the inside, which he did. johnson freed his own slaves, setting an example for his fellow tennesseans. in the year that followed, he issued speeches that called slavery a cancer, and urged tennessee to abolish the institution, which they would do. now back to the campaign. lincoln watched closely what johnson was up to, and he not
only admired the assertiveness but rewarded it. winton made it known behind the scenes discreetly, his preference for the tennessean in the 1864 campaign on his ticket. at the national convention in baltimore, the union/republican convention in 1964, lincoln turned to the tennessee delegates to publicly make the case for johnson, and this they did with stirring spent -- stirring speeches on the convention floor appraise johnson for having stood loyal while in the very furnace of the rebellion. some radical republicans had their doubts about the arrest -- about the tennessean. that is stevens said that lincoln should have been able to find a running mate "without going down to one of those damned rebels." but others rallied around the nomination in the hope that johnson, with his penchant for tough talk against secessionists, might push lincoln toward a more stringent
reconstruction program. lincoln backers in the north delighted in contrasting johnson's loyalty to the union with the less admirable record of mcclellan's running mate, george pendleton of ohio. pendleton was the very personification, in union party eyes, of the treacherous copperhead democrat, and the lincoln campaign trotted out pendleton's voting record in congress, all the many times pendleton had voted against resolutions to provision the troops and raise revenue for the war effort. these votes were proof, the campaign arguments went, that pendleton was openly disloyal. what about the larger group of southern unionists? they were deeply divided. a few of these southern unionists positioned themselves in april lincoln angered, and actively pushed for the president's reelection. among lincoln's most prominent border blockers were montgomery blair of maryland, the former
post -- postmaster general robert j breckenridge, who led the delegation where lincoln was nominated, and mcclellan of alabama, who urged the unionists in his state to push for its restoration under union leadership. he also warned confederates he was trying to convert to the union cause not to fall into the trap of believing that mcclellan's election might save them. in a knot over 1864 pamphlet, he tried to disabuse confederates of what he called their delusions. he wrote, what no faith among the divisions of the people of the north. there are party divisions, but among the great question of her storing the union, there is unanimity. the election of mcclellan, if that were possible, would only prolong the war. mcclellan might negotiate for peace, but the only terms jefferson davis will ever offer him will be such as he do not
accept. -- dare not accept. andrew johnson's presence on the ticket was endorsed by men such as these, but it by no means guaranteed lincoln's support of loyalists across the south. in the 1864 campaign, lincoln came under withering critique from the right and left ends of the spectrum of southern unionism. he was opposed quite ardently by many southern unionists. border state unionist delegations from kentucky attended the democratic national convention in chicago in late august to proclaim their support for the democratic party and its candidate. and they sailed lincoln, the democrats did, democrat unionists, for his abridgement of civil liberties, for his refusal to listen to any terms of peace upon the simple basis of union and constitution. these border democrats accused lincoln of prostituting all the powers of the government to the bain purpose of forcibly securing his own re-election, as their rhetoric ran.
during the campaign, mcclellan received vigorous backing from some influential pro-war southern unionists. these were men like kentucky's governor william bramlet and maryland's senator johnson. they were pro-war, they wanted to see the union prevail. they had grudgingly come to support emancipation as a war aim but did not favor the enlistment of black troops. they loathed lincoln but they also rejected the cease-fire language in the war failure language, the argue that the war had been a failure in the democratic platform. war democrats. these conservative southern unionists often took direct aim at andy johnson. for example the pro-mcclellan "louisville daily democrat" called johnson the most scrupulous, malignant and contemptible of all lincoln's underlings. for southern unionists no less for confederates, the specter of electoral fraud and intimidation loomed large. in tennessee, mcclellan democrats protested andrew johnson's requirement that all
voters take a test oath in which they reject an armistice with the confederacy. such an oath, the democrats complained, effectively required that voters repudiate the democratic platform and thus rigged the election in lincoln's favor. in the end, tennessee's votes did not count or matter in lincoln's victory, but this issue of fraud had potent symbolic value as a campaign tool. in kentucky, for example, the governor, again pro-mcclellan with be accused federal authorities of using violence and intimidation to suppress the mcclellan vote, but he overlooked after failing -- conteuntervailing evidence that lincoln supporters in the state had come under similar threats from democrats. meanwhile, from the left end of the political spectrum came an altogether different sort of critique. in union occupied new orleans, african-american leaders such as john baptiste and others through the newspaper "the new orleans tribune" accused lincoln of not being radical enough.
they condemned his reconstruction plan as too lenient. they pushed for african-american suffrage highlighting the heroism of black military service, and they made the case that congress, not the president, should direct the course of reconstruction. similar arguments were advanced by a small but vocal cadre of white radicals from border states. men such as maryland's henry winter davis who rejected lincoln's amnesty policy and worried that lincoln might be willing after the election to accept some sort of compromised peace. for radical republicans then lincoln was the lesser of two evils. this choice between mclellan was lincoln was seen in that light. let me conclude by turning to my final question. the election of 1864 as a turning point. what do these many divisions among southerners mean in the modern scholarship, namely that the election of 1864 was a turning point in the war? one illuminating way to approach this issue is modeled by the scholar william c. davis in a provocative essay on the subject. it is a sort of fallacy of reversibility exercise. he asks whether lincoln's defeat would have led to confederate independence. he answers with a resoundsing --
no. it would not have led to confederate independence, and it would not have done so be with -- done so, because as davis notes, in the event of a democratic victory if mcclellan had won, lincoln, together with grant, sherman and sheraton, would have done everything in their power to seize richmond and bring the confederacy to heel before march inauguration of mcclellan. even if they failed to extract surrender, they would still have been able to hand president mcclellan, now president mcclellan, now commander in chief, the imminent prospect of complete and total victory on a silver platter. william c. davis asks, referring to mcclellan, are we really supposed to ask that this men of all men given the opportunity to claim the ultimate triumph would have chosen instead to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, recall his armies and send jefferson davis a basket of roses and a note saying "you
win"? of course not. therefore we must conclude that the fate of the confederacy did not hinge on this election. i agree with davis tossed assessment of the strategic situation and a mcclellan likely course of action, and yet i would argue that this counterfactual exercise doesn't invalidate the case that the election of 1864 was a turning point for the confederate war effort. however much confederates try, rhetorically, to downgrade lincoln's election from a catastrophe to a setback, or even to argue that the republicans' victory was pyhrric, the fact remains that the election swept away a pillar of the confederate creed, namely the conviction that if the confederates beat the odds on the battlefield, help would come from the outside. in the form of a revolution in northern public opinion or off foreign recognition. these two hopes were closely related. among the rumors that had calculated through confederate discourse during the campaign season was the claim that if the democrats won the election and conceded that the confederacy was unconquerable and therefore had to be negotiated and treated
with, then foreign recognition of the confederacy would transpire in short order. without the prospect of help from the outside, confederates had no way to confound the logic of the overwhelming numbers and resources theory of their own demise. that phrase which we associate with lee's farewell address had long been a part of confederate lexicon. early in the war the phrase overwhelming numbers of resources was invoked to motivate southern enlistment and at times a victory connoted a challenge met and overcome beating the odds, something the confederates were used to. but as the war ground on, the overwhelming numbers formulation took on the aspect of a grim prophecy, an argument that the union victory was both illegitimate and inevitable. the triumph of might overwrite. -- over right. the re-election of lincoln did not in one fell swoop crush
confederate morale. indeed many confederates had come to see it as inevitable and perhaps even desirable. but the margin of lincoln's victory was sobering for southerners. lincoln's triumph was more complete than most of us expected, wrote robert keen. most judicious persons believed he would be re-elected but nearly all while thinking his election would be better for us than mcclellan's, hoped that it would be closely contested. after lincoln's election it was dramatically more difficult for confederates to imagine what shape victory might take, and also to keep at bay distressing rumors about what lincoln might now do with a mandate, a new mandate in hand. i'll close with a revealing example. on november 14, 1864, the prolific rebel war clerk john jones wrote in his diary lincoln is re-elected and has called for a million of men. the following day jones rejected this report as a rumor noting it is now contradicted that lincoln had called for a million men. but the rumor, as these rumors tended to do, had already taken
on a life of its own, and it circulated through the confederate press, accompanied by editorial commentary. the "charleston mercury" picked up the threat on november 18th. lincoln, we hear, calls for a million of men, it reported -- adding ruefully, while his hand was in, he might as well have called for 2 million or 3 million. it is as easy to get 1 as it is the other. "the richmond dispatch" reported the rumor. "lincoln is calling for a million of men to swell his armies," the paper lamented. it continued, "he does not call spirits from the vasty deep. they will come. he will have them. it would have been quite as easy to call for 5, 10 or 20 millions as for one." it added, "it may now be too late." thank you. [applause] i'd be happy to take questions if people have them.
>> i understand the value of andrew -- picking andrew johnson. but why was the decision to leave hannibal hamlin? >> because again the goal here is to keep war democrats in the fold and the perception was that hamlin was perceived by the mainstream and moderate middle of the political spectrum as too anti-slavery, too radical. and therefore, he wouldn't help in this project of keeping war democrats on board. the radical republicans had nowhere else to go. so in a sense it was less important to appeal to them. they briefly had seemed they had somewhere else to go. when fremont's campaign was considered. but that went by the wayside. i'm sure other speakers will say more about that. lincoln hoped that to secure this middle ground and this middle ground was a place where
there were not only a lot of voters but a lot of soldiers governors. it was essential in lincoln's mind to keep those war democrats on board. and johnson seemed at that moment to be the perfect answer to his problem. of course we know that johnson's presidency turned out to be quite disastrous, but at this point lincoln, again, has watched johnson closely and feels that he is a man who can be trusted. johnson, as many may know, will really stumble out of the gate at the inaugural ceremonies. he is widely reported to have been drunk and makes a real fool of himself. but lincoln even then stands by him, says i know andy johnson. he messed up but he's going to find his footing and he's a good man. it can't be emphasized enough that rhetorically speaking johnson had been known as one of the great stump speakers in america, really. he was flown for his fiery rhetoric and particularly his absolute uncompromising condemnation of secessionists and of the southern elite. he represented the common man.
the plebians, as he liked to put it. this was thought to be an argument that could appeal to jacksonian democrats in the north as well as in the south. >> we know how the information was communicated to hamlin whether there was a conversation with lincoln -- >> that's a really interesting question. i'm sure we know. i don't know. there is a lot of debate about this question of lincoln's choice because we don't have smoking gun in the form of documents in which lincoln talks about the choice. much of this was kind of behind the scenes negotiation of which there is no written record, so we are left to speculate. and the problem is that those who consider themselves close to lincoln and in the know offer up some conflicting perspectives on this. but again, about the question of whether really lincoln was deeply involved in the choice of johnson or just acceded to it without having thought much about it, there is evidence to support both points of view. yes, sir.
>> how did mcclellan reconcile his war democrat views with the peace platform of the democratic party of 1864? >> that's a great question. again one i'm sure we'll return to in many different contexts. the short answer in a sense is that he wasn't able to fully reconcile them and that this tension or contradiction hung in the air throughout this campaign. in a sense i think some democrats hoped that it would help them, that it would mean that they could appeal both to those who were war democrats and to those who were peace democrats, and wouldn't certainly be the first time a party had sent mixed messages in the hope of creating a big tent. but mcclellan ultimately is a soldier, and what he objected to about the platform was less that it countenanced possible
negotiations than it declared the war a failure. because he had profound critiques of lincoln, and he had them since 1861. but the idea that the soldiers would be blamed for having failed. for mcclellan as a soldier who prided himself on putting the well-being of his men perhaps before all other considerations , for mcclellan that war failure there it it would have been unacceptable. -- alien or narrative would -- that was r failure narrative would have been unacceptable. oh, sir there first, and then -- >> let's say johnson had declined the nomination of vice president. who would have been second? and also, lincoln was even concerned that -- they were concerned about lincoln getting assassinated even before he became president. why did he so totally let the convention decide who would be the vice president? >> well, again, there's some debate about how involved he was. and there is speculation about who else was on the list. and again we'll never know definitively.
but there is speculation that he talked to ben butler about this. ben butler would have had the same problems, disadvantages, as hamlin. perhaps even more. butler a radical republican. so there was some thought about whether you're going to reach out to that side of the spectrum. who you would have turned to if it hadn't been johnson, i'm not -- i don't know -- i'm not sure that there's a clear answer to that -- to that question. i think that -- i do think though, that lincoln had decided that appealing to this middle part of the political spectrum was his first priority in the choice, so he would have picked someone else who could do that. who was -- seemed to be a moderate. and the context for lincoln's thinking here is both immediate electoral concerns but also lincoln's long-standing resentment of having been charged with radicalism. the republican party has been charged with radicalism since it first came on the scene in 1856. and lincoln more than any other republican had been the one to
say, no we're not radicals. we're not garrisonian abolitionists. we envision a union that's whole, but becomes whole through a gradual process of evolution of voluntary, gradual compensated demise of slavery, in line with the wishes of the founders who had wished for slavery's demise. so lincoln is trying to shore up throughout the war the case that this party is fundamentally conservative, in the sense that it's the party that embodies the wishes of the founders. and time and time again during the war, he has tried to -- to reject and discredit claims that he is a radical. and so this choice of the union party designation is part of that work. and as my colleague gary gallagher has argued in his book called "the union war," that designation of the union party in 1864 is no accident. that's very much a matter of
careful calculation too, and it reflects the fact that for the vast majority of northerners the war was fundamentally about the union, and the destruction of slavery was a means to the end of restoring the union. so many hands. yes, ma'am. >> is there any indication that the confederate military, either the common soldier or confederate military leaders were in any way involved in either of these two camps, the davis camp and the stevens camp? >> sure. if we look at the letters and diaries of confederate soldiers we can see that they followed the election very carefully, and we see that spectrum of opinion also the somersalts of reasoning, the mental acrobatics on the part of the soldiers. we see some belief very, very ardently that mcclellan's election would be best. others felt that it didn't make sense to put stock in a northern party.
others still, their opinions changed based on battlefield fortunes and their morale at any given moment. we do know that just let me give you the example of lee. one of the huge perennial questions for scholars with the confederacy is, why did the confederates think they could win the war to begin with? as my students will sometimes say to me, couldn't they crunch the numbers? they could see the north had more of everything, more men more industrial output, more everything armies need. the answer to the question is complex. but on the part of men like lee, the key hope was that a revolution in northern public opinion, divisions within the north asserting themselves mainstream conservative northerners coming to their senses, throwing off the yoke of the lincoln administration, this sort of thing -- this was absolutely central to lee's reasoning about how the confederates would win the war. so -- so for someone like lee, the -- the -- the loss of the election of 1864 was, indeed
profoundly demoralizing because they just saw that hope of divisions within the north asserting themselves recede. and the whole issue brings us back to the question of the quality of leadership on both sides. and the sense that those confederates who hoped that those divisions in the north would prove decisive had underestimated lincoln. and his ability to describe to the northern public in a way that was compelling what they were fighting for. and he proved much better at that than davis did. my quotes from davis here hint at the fact that really, in davis' rhetorical arsenal, yankee atrocities and the idea that the yankees were not fighting fair, were so horrible and barbaric that there was no turning back, this was the theme that davis just relentlessly kept drumming at. and it was not this sort of invocation of positive goals positive and transcendent goals that lincoln offered northerners.
yes? >> hardliners and davis emphasized more manpower for the confederate forces, and up in canada, he had operations secretly to influence the activity -- influence thinking in the north. that seems to play in to what a very few authors writing about lincoln's assassination have said about booth. that in the fall of 1864, he too, was in montreal, meeting confederate agents secretly, and his plan was not to assassinate originally but to kidnap, to exchange for confederate prisoners. and i wonder if this activity from the south or from the confederacy for the election of 1864 somehow is wrapped up in the assassination story? >> well, there's a connection in the sense that there had always been a group of confederates who felt that these kind of
machinations this this sort of subterfuge would be effective, and among scholars there's a sort of spectrum of opinion as to how, first of all, how enthusiastic davis was about such schemes. and how serious they really were. but i think i agree with william c. davis, the scholar i quoted a number of times here, who suggests that davis was ambivalent about these schemes. he didn't think that they were central, and secondly, that the men involved in these plots, the canadian agents and so on, were oftentimes improvising without direct orders from davis, and were generally quite feckless, and again, delusional. maybe that's putting it slightly too strongly. so, i think that there's -- there's a connection in that there's this long fascination with the possibility of subterfuge and of infiltration.
but the confederates don't have the means or the men or the will to really do it. and they find, again and again when they do try to foment discontent in the north, that that the imagined anti-war northern tide that they hope to conjure into being doesn't exist. so, these men are -- these men involved in these schemes are forced to conclude that much of this expectation of northern revulsion against lincoln has been -- has been trumped up. that they've fallen prey to a misreading of public opinion northern public opinion. yes? >> this will be the last question. >> sir? >> let's back up a bit. because eight months before the election is the kill patrick-dahlgren raid. and the fuss over that lasted a
few months. and it wasn't until after that the confederacy sent the agents to canada. so, would you like to comment on what -- >> so, the patrick dahlgren raid -- that is another one of these topics that is shrouded in uncertainty. so, dahlgren, a young union hothead, leads a raid, or that's how it's perceived on both sides, leads a raid against the confederates. the exact purpose of the raid is not clear. he's killed. and the confederates claim to find on dahlgren's person papers suggesting that his mission was to assassinate jefferson davis and to infiltrate the confederacy. and they, in their anger at this, at this discovery, they mutilate dahlgren's body and they give him a dog's burial in an unmarked grave. and he becomes a cause celebre. these shows that the yankees are
not fighting fair, and how, how, how barbaric to even contemplate assassination. now from the very start there was dispute about whether those orders that were found on dahlgren's person were legitimate or whether they were fabricated. and those debates continue among scholars. i can't help but take the opportunity to point out that this becomes wrapped up in the activity of the unionist underground, to get back to the topic of southern unionism about which i wrote in "southern lady yankee spy." unionists in richmond discerned the location of dahlgren's body. they have him disinterred and clandestinely moved to the farm of a unionist in virginia where he's given a proper burial surrounded by family and friends, or ersatz family, not his actual family, but well-wishers and friends. the controversy boils on dahlgren's father, who is a union admiral, and quite an eminent fellow, asks the
confederate government if they could please return the body of his son to him. he begs the confederate government. the confederates say no but finally they relent and they say, okay, we'll give you the body back. and the confederates go to dig up dahlgren's body in the dog's grave and they find it's not there. that the unionist underground has moved it. and this is one of many signs that the confederate government has that there is a unionist underground in richmond that is defying them, but that they can't seem to catch. so, it just speaks of the fact that there's -- that these questions is subterfuge -- of subterfuge are at work on both sides. the union's espionage operations in the early part of the war are poor and disorganized.
they're quite feckless, to use that word again. but by the end of the war the union espionage machine is working quite well, represented by this unionist underground and the confederates are bringing their hands. -- wringing their hands. thank you so much. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] [captioning performed by national captioning institute which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> each week, american history tv brings you archival films that help tell the story of the american century. the battle of the bulge happened on december 16, 1944 in belgium, luxembourg, and france. a key crossroads village standing between the german army and their objective, the port of antwerp. the