Winnebago County, IA
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From the commencement of government there have been two antagonistic principles contending for mastery—slavery and freedom.  Sometimes smoldering and even invincible; but the seeds were there and ever and anon would burst into flames, carrying destruction, death and desolation with it.  A repetition of that great conflict, which, for ages, has agitated our globe—the conflict between aristocratic usurpation and popular rights.  History is crowded with descriptions and scenes of this irrepressible conflict.  Two thousand years ago, when the aristocracy of Rome was headed by Cneues [sic] Pompeya, Julius Cæsar, espousing the rights of the people, unfurled the banner of equal rights, and striding through oceans of blood which tossed their surges over every portion of the habitable globe, overthrew the aristocratic commonwealth, and reared, over the ruins, the imperial commonwealth.  Again on the field of Pharsalia, the aristocratic banner was trailed in the dust, and democracy, although exceedingly imperfect, became victor.  It was aristocracy trying to keep its heel on the head of democracy which has deluged the Roman empire in blood.

But the nobles regained foothold, and regardless of these lessons renewed their oppression.  Again they commenced sowing the seed which must surely bring forth terrible fruit.  Over 200 years ago the aristocracy of France, housed in magnificent palaces, mounted on war horses, with pampered men at arms ready to ride rough shod on every embassage of violence, trampled upon the suffering serfs until humanity could no longer endure it.  The masses of the people were deprived of every privilege, save that of toiling for their masters.  The aristocracy so deprived the people, whose wives and daughters through their brutality were forced to go to the field bare-headed and barefooted, and be yoked to the plow with the donkey, that they dreamed that the wretched boors would dare even to look in defiance toward the massive and stately castles whose noblemen proudly strode along the battlements in measureless contempt for the helpless peasantry below.  But the pent up vials of vengeance of ages at last burst forth.  These boors, these jacks rose, and like maddened hyenas, rushed upon their foes.  Imbruted men, who for ages had been subjected to the most outrageous wrongs, rose by millions against their oppressors, and wreaked upon them every atrocity which fiend-like ingenuity could devise.  All the brutal and demon passions of human nature held high carnival, and it can truly be said that France ran red with blood.  But at length disciplined valor prevailed.  After one half of the peasantry of France had perished, the knighted noblemen, the aristocrats resumed their sway, and the hellish bondage, worse than slavery, was again placed upon the -people.  This war of the Jacks, or as it is called in history, Jacqueri[e]b, is one of the most interesting and warning events of the past; and yet it was all unheeded.

The oppression went on, growing more and more outrageous; the people were kept ignorant that they might not know of their wrongs; poor, that they might not resent them.  That the lords might live in castles and be clothed in purple and fare sumptuously, the people were doomed to hovels, rags and black bread.  The peasant must not place the bit of dough in the ashes by his fireside—he was compelled to have it baked at the bakery of his lord, and there pay heavy toll.  He dare not scrape together the few crumbs of salt from the rocks of the ocean shore, [sic] he must buy every particle from his lord at an exhorbitant [sic] price.  “Servants obey your masters,” was interpreted to apply to all save of noble birth; and religion was converted into a method for subjecting the masses.  Bibles were not allowed to be read by these "boors," lest they learn what the Savior really taught, and a peasant detected with one in his hand, was deemed as guilty as if caught with the tools of a burglar or the dies of a counterfeiter.  As associates for lords—the idea would have been considered contrary to nature or reason.  Thus Louis XV., surrounded by courtesans, debauchees and the whoredom of his castle, once said:  "I can give money to Voltaire, Montesquien [sic]c[,] Fontinelle [sic]d, but I can not [sic] dine and sup with these people."  If the peasant with his wife and child toiling in the field, in cultivation of a few acres of land, managed to raise $640 worth of crops during the year, $600 of it went to the King, the Lord and the Church, while the remaining $40 was left to clothe and feed the emaciate family.  Thomas Jefferson, in the year 1785, wrote from Paris to a friend in Philadelphia. “Of 20,000,000 of people supposed to be in France, I am of the opinion that there are 19,000,000 more wretched, more accursed in every circumstance of human existence, than the most conspicuously wretched individual in the whole United States.”  It was this state of affairs which brought on the War of the French Revolution, inaugurating the most terrific of all Time's battles.  Such combats earth never saw before, probably never will see again.  Two worlds, as it were, came clashing together.  Twenty millions of people, trampled in the mire, rose ghastly and frenzied, and the flames of feudal castles and the shrieks of haughty oppressors appalled the world.  All the combined aristocracy of Europe were on the other side to crush the demand of the people for the equality of man.  Russia, Prussia, Sweden, Austria, England, Spain—all the kings rallied their armies to the assistance of France in subduing the oppressed masses, who, believing they were right, marched heroically to the victories of Marengo, Wagram and Austerlitz.  But in the final victories of the despots, aristocratic privilege again triumphed in Europe.  In the meantime a similar though less bloody and terrific battle had taken place in England; the same ever rising conflict between the united courtiers and cavaliers under Charles I, and the Puritans under Cromwell.  With prayer, fasting and hymn, the common people, who had for ages been under the yoke of servitude, took to arms in defense of their rights, and many cavaliers bit the dust through their sturdy blows.  But Charles II returned to the throne and again aristocracy triumphed.  The oppressed were our Puritan fathers; again they were trodden under foot.  Then it was that the heroic resolution was adopted to cross the ocean 3,000 miles, and there in exile establish and found a Republic, where all men, in the eye of the law, should be equal.  The result is too well known to need rehearsal.  How they fought their way through all the dangers of the savage new world and succeeded in their object.  How the aristocracy of England made the desperate effort to again bring the yoke to bear; to tax us without allowing us to be represented in Parliament—to place the appointment to all important offices in the hands of the king, who would send over the sons of England's noblemen to be our governors and our judges, and who would fill all our posts of wealth, dignity and power with the children of the lords.

Hence the War of the Revolution.  We, the people, conquered, and established our government independent of all the world, placing as corner stone of the edifice, that “all men are born free and equal, and are alike entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Then coming down to the great conflict of America, the Rebellion, it was a continuance of that irrepressible conflict which has shaken the world to its uttermost depths for ages.  It was based upon slavery, that which has caused the shedding of oceans of blood, and making millions of widows and orphans.

The constitution, under which we are bound together, is in its spirit and legitimate utterance, doubtless, one of the most noble documents ever produced by the mind of man, and even now, when the advancement of a century has dawned upon its use, not a paragraph requires changing to make it true to humanity.  But yet ingloriously and guiltily we consented to use one phrase susceptible of a double meaning, “held to labor.”  So small and apparently so insignificant were the seeds sown from which such a harvest of misery has been reaped.  In the North these honest words meant a hired man or an apprentice.  In the South they were taken to mean slavery, the degradation and feudal bondage of a race.  A privileged class assumed that the constitution recognized it, and the right of property in human beings.  This class endeavored to strengthen and extend their aristocratic institution, which was dooming ever increasing millions to life-long servitude and degradation.  All wealth was rapidly accumulating in the hands of these few who owned their fellow-man as property.  The poor whites, unable to buy slaves, and considering labor which was performed by them degrading, were rapidly sinking into a state of frightful misery.  The sparse population which slavery allowed, excluded churches, schools and villages.  Immense plantations of thousands of acres, tilled by as many slaves, driven to work by overseers, consigned the whole land to apparent solitude.  The region of the southern country generally presented an aspect of desolation which Christendom nowhere else could parallel.  The slave-holders, acting as one man, claimed the right of extending this over all the free territory of the United States.  Free labor and slave labor cannot exist together.  The admission of slavery effectually excluded free men from them.  It was impossible for those men, cherishing the sentiment of republican equality, to settle there, with the privileged class, who were to own vast realms and live in luxury upon the unpaid labor of the masses.  It was on this point that the conflict, in its fierceness commenced.  From the year 1790 the strife grew hotter and hotter every year.  The questions arising kept Congress, both the Senate and House, in one incessant scene of warfare.  There could be no peace in the land until this aristocratic element was effectually banished.  The Hon. Mr. Iverson, of Georgia, speaking of the antagonism of the two systems, aristocracy and freedom, said, in the Senate of the United States, on Dec. 5, 1860:

“Sir, disguise the fact as you will, there is enmity between the northern and southern people, which is deep and enduring, and you can never eradicate it—never.  Look at the spectacle exhibited on this floor.  How is it?  There are the northern senators on that side; here are the southern senators on this side. You sit upon your side silent and gloomy.  We sit upon our side with knit brows and portentous scowls.  Here are two hostile bodies on this floor, and it is but a type of the feeling which exists between the two sections.  We are enemies as much as if we were hostile States.  We have not lived in peace.  We are not now living in peace.  It is not expected that we ever shall live in peace.”

Hon. Mr. Mason, of Virginia, in continuation of the same debate, said:  “This is a war of sentiment and opinion, by one form of society against another form of society.”

The remarks of Hon. Garrett Davis, a senator from Kentucky, are to the point:  “The cotton States by their slave-labor, have become wealthy, and many of their planters have princely revenues—from $50,000 to $100,000 per year.  This wealth has begot a pride, and insolence, and ambition, and these points of the Southern character have been displayed most insultingly in the halls of Congress.  As a class, the wealthy cotton growers are insolent, they are proud, they are domineering, they are ambitions.  They have monopolized the government in its honors for forty or fifty years with few interruptions.  When they saw the sceptre about to dart from them, in the election of Lincoln, sooner than give up office and the spoils of office, in their mad and wicked ambition they determined to dispute the old confederation, and erect a new one, wherein they would have undisputed power.”

Thus the feeling continued to grow stronger.  One incessant cry became, “Abjure your democratic constitution, which favors equal rights to all men, and give us in its place an aristocratic constitution, which will secure the rights of a priveleged [sic] class.”  They insisted that the domestic slave trade should be nurtured, and the foreign slave trade opened; saying, in the course and vulgar language of one of the most earnest advocates of slavery!  “The North can import jackasses from Malta, let the South, then, import niggers from Africa.”

The reply of the overwhelming majority of the people of the United States was decisive.  Lincoln was elected and inaugurated despite the conspiracy to prevent it.

Volumes could be and have been written up on these actions, but they are well known.  We will merely mention the most prominent features, transpiring until the havoc of war actually set in.

On the 7th of November, 1860, it was known that Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States, and was to enter upon his duties on the 4th day of the following March.  In the meantime the executive government was virtually in the hands of the slave power.  James Buchanan, the President, had been elected to the office openly pledged to to [sic] pursue the general policy the slaveholders enjoyed.  The cabinet were all slaveholders and slave-masters.  The United States Navy was scattered all over the face of the earth, leaving only two vessels for the defense of the country; the treasury was left barren; the army was so scattered in the remote fortresses in the far west, as to leave all the forts where they would be needed, defenseless; the United States Arsenals were emptied, the secretary of war sending their guns to the slave States, where bands of rebels were organized and drilling, prepared to receive them. One hundred and fifteen thousand arms, of the most approved pattern, were transferred from Springfield, Mass., and from Watervleit, N. Y., together with a vast amount of cannon, mortar, balls, powder and shells were also forwarded to the rebels in the slave States.

On the 18th of February, 1861, the inauguration [sic] of Jefferson Davis, as president of the Southern Confederacy, took place at Montgomery, Ala.  Four days later the collector of customs, appointed by the confederate government in Charleston, S. C, issued the manifesto that all vessels, from any State out of the Confederacy, would be treated as foreign vessels, and subject to the port dues, and other charges established by the laws of the Confederate States.  Thus by a stroke of the pen, the immense commerce of the Northern States was declared to be foreign commerce, beneath the guns of the forts which the United States had reared, at an expense of millions of dollars.

Already a number of States had passed the ordinance of secession.

On the 4th of March, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated President, and assumed official duties.

At half past four o'clock on the morning of the 12th of April, 1861, the rebels opened fire upon Fort Sumter, and, after enduring terrific bombardment from all sides the heroic defenders abandoned it, and were conveyed to New York.  Fort Sumter was the Bunker Hill of the Civil War.  In both cases a proud aristocracy were [sic] determined to subject this country to its sway.  In both cases the defeat was a glorious victory.

On the next Monday, April 15, President Lincoln issued a call for three months service of 75,000 volunteers.  The effect was electrical.  Within fifteen days it is estimated that 350,000 men offered themselves in defense of our national flag.

Thus the Civil War had burst upon the United States with all the suddenness of the meteor's glare. It was, however, but like the eruption of the volcano whose pent up tires had for ages been gathering strength for the final explosion.  The conspirators had for years been busy preparing for the conflict.  In the rebel convention which met in South Carolina to consummate the conspiracy, Mr. Inglise said:  “Most of us have had this subject under consideration for the last twenty years.” Mr. Keittf said:  “I have been engaged in this movement ever since I entered political life.”  Mr. Rhettg said:  "It is nothing produced by Mr. Lincoln's election, or the non-execution of the fugitive slave law.  It is a matter which has been gathering for thirty years.”  But more need not to be said, the result is too well known.  Call followed call in quick succession, the number reached the grand total of 3,339,748.  The calls were as follows:

April 15, 1861, for three months . . . . . . . . . . . .
May 4, 1861, for five years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
July, 1861, for three years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
July 18, 1862, for three years . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
August 4, 1862, for nine months . . . . . . . . . . . .
June, 1863, for three years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
October 17, 1863, for three years . . . . . . . . . . .
February 18, 1864, for three years. . . . . . . . . . .
July 10, 1864, for three years . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
July 16, 1864, for one, two and three years . . . .
December 21, 1864, for three years . . . . . . . . . .

75, 000
64, 748
500, 000
300, 000
300, 000
300, 000
300, 000
500, 000
200, 000
500, 000
300, 000


aGnaeus Pompeius (75BC-45BC):  Roman general and politician.

b Jacquerie:  the peasant revolt of 1358 which took place in the north of France.

cCharles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (1689-1755):  French political philosopher who formulated the theory of the separation of powers.

dBernard le Bovier de Fontenelle (1657-1757):  French author and member of the Académie Française.

eJohn A. Inglis (1813-1879):  chairman of a committee which drafted South Carolina’s ordinance of secession.

fLaurence M. Keitt (1824-1864):  a delegate from South Carolina to the Provisional Confederate Congress and a colonel in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

gRobert B. Rhett (1800-1876):   A delegate to the South Carolina Secession Convention and the Confederate Provisional Congress.

1History of Kossuth, Hancock and Winnebago Counties, Iowa. Springfield, Illinois: Union Publishing Company, 1884. 830-35.

Transcribed by Paul Nagy