The Most Hated Man in the Southern States

Chapter 14

In 1860, the world ended.

I do not say that lightly or in any way except the most literal of sense: after 1860, the states of the North and South would never again be as they were. It was a world of manners and gentility, a time when events moved at a slower pace, an age in which it seemed the American experiment in democracy might succeed. It was a world wherein the governments of the states and nation touched the citizen only lightly; taxes were unheard of, the tariff inconsequential, and the nation had long been at peace.

Within a short time the public was to be acquainted with conscription and taxes so high they could scarce be borne, inured to the sight of heaps of dead, houses burned, land laid waste. We would no longer turn away from the armless, crippled, blind or burned - they were too common, unremarkable in their legions. Families would be torn asunder, brothers and sons and fathers pitted against each other, the Union - the glorious, magnificent Union! - torn asunder, and tyrants ruling over the shattered pieces.

All of this was encoded in this terrible year, a seed planted in envy, watered in hatred and manured in self-righteousness, overgrowing the institutions of freedom as a creeper o'ergrows a tree, strangling it and bringing it down in rotted ruin.

Let me tell you of this year.

The growing strength of the Republican Party alarmed the men of the South. The Republicans had no particular plan to do away with slavery, but they did mean to see it contained and eventually exterminated. Southern men were adamant that slavery must spread from coast to coast and across the Western Hemisphere; between these two ideas there was indeed, to use Senator Seward's phrase, an 'irrepressible conflict.' The Republicans were growing in strength, but they were not capable of wresting control of the Presidency and Congress from the Democrats, so long as the Democrats made no great mistakes. They did of course proceed to make every mistake they possibly could and invent a few new ones for good measure.

The Party of the Democracy rested its strength in the South and in men in the North who were willing to conciliate the South a little to preserve the Union. The South was however now overrun with men who would accept no compromise, no conciliation. Slavery must be proclaimed a great good, a beneficent thing, and they would scorn any candidate who attempted to compromise or appease. Such was Stephen Douglas, author of the Kansas-Nebraska acts. He was too strong for slavery to appeal to the North and did not breathe enough fire to woo the South, and so fell between the two and was scorned in the Convention in Charleston. The Southern delegates walked out of the convention and went off to set up their own Party - two more parties, before the summer was out. Thus split, the Democrats seemed certain to lose.

The Republicans convened in Chicago in May, and surprisingly nominated Abraham Lincoln, the man who had lost a senate race to Stephen Douglas not long before. The stage was thus set for a rematch of titanic proportions, yet, in the end, it mattered little. The South might not have seceded if Douglas had won, or might have waited another year, or two. But Southern men were adamant: even if the election was fair and the results legal, if Lincoln won they would leave the Union.

As Lincoln was later to say, "Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came." The men of the South had determined that any sacrifice on their part would be too much; rather than attempt to live with their brothers, they would burn down the house and all that was in it. For my part, I spoke to such men as I could and I accomplished nothing; the fire-eaters were ascendant in an ecstasy of self-righteous fury and could not be turned from their path.

After the debacle of the Charleston convention I ordered machinery to expand our rifle plant in Columbus and bought as many locomotives from Northern shops as I could afford. As an experiment we introduced the European style Crampton locomotive to passenger and mail service. They were breathtakingly fast but less reliable than our American types. Finally, we doubled our tracks from Mobile through Atlanta and over to Charleston, vastly increasing the traffic our lines would bear.

In November, Abraham Lincoln was duly elected 16th President of the United States.

And the world ended.