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Dicey, Edward. Six Months in the Federal States, Vol. II . London: MacMillan and Co., 1863. [format: book], [genre: travelogue]. Permission: Newberry Library
OF all American commercial cities, Chicago is, to my mind, the handsomest. Thirty years ago, not a house was standing there. Now, with its miles of wharves and warehouses, its endless canals and docks, its seventy churches, and its rows of palace-like mansions, Chicago is probably, both in size and importance, the third or fourth city in the States. There is an unusual uniformity about the buildings, from the fact that they have all been built almost at the same time, and the monotony of the straight rectangular streets is somewhat relieved by the Dutch-looking canals which intersect them in every direction. When, however, you have made the stock remark that, within a quarter of a century, a Trans-Atlantic Liverpool has been raised upon the swampy shores of Lake Michigan, you have said pretty well all that is to be said about the metropolis of the West. If a poor neighbour becomes a millionaire, you think it a remarkable occurrence, and possibly you regard him with envy; but I don't think,
judging from my own ideas, that you are struck with a reverential awe. So, in like manner, when you have once realized the idea of how Chicago has grown out of nothing in no time, you have about exhausted the subject. Barges, and drays, and steamboats, and factories, are much the same all the world over. Goethe is constantly reported to have said (though I own I never came across the saying in any of his writings), that there was more poetry in a spinning-jenny than in the whole Iliad of Homer. It may be so, but Goethe never tried to write a poem about a factory, and so I defy any one, except a land agent, to expatiate on the beauties and glories of Chicago. To me it is remarkable and noteworthy, chiefly as the centre of the New World, which is growing up with a giant's growth in those Free States of the North West. A commercial panic, a change in the route of traffic, might destroy Chicago, but no human power could destroy the great corn-growing region of which, for the time, it is the capital.
At the period of my visit, Illinois was undergoing one of those periodical revolutions which seem so strange to English politicians. The whole State was about to throw off its Constitution as a snake casts its slough, and Chicago naturally enough was the head-quarters of the agitation, such as there was. Politics run high in Illinois. It is the State, by birth or by adoption, not only of President Lincoln, but of Stephen
Douglas, his great Democratic rival in the late Presidential contest. The struggle in Illinois was a bitter and a close one. Lincoln polled 172,161 votes against 160,215 for Douglas, and of the 7,000 and odd voters who wasted their strength in behalf of the Whig candidate, Bell, and the pro-Slavery candidate, Breckinridge, probably nine-tenths would have voted as between the two for Douglas against Lincoln. There was no free Western State where the Republican majority was so small, or where the Democratic party had so great an influence. It is very hard for an English student of American politics to understand the meaning in which party names are used in the North, and probably most Englishmen who were asked to define the difference between American Republicans and Democrats would state, that the former were anti-Slavery men, and the latter pro-Slavery. At best, this is a half truth. In our English sense of the words, Republicans and Democrats approach much more nearly in politics to Liberals and Conservatives. When an Englishman reads, as he does in all American political discussions, that the Slaveocracy of the South supported itself by an alliance with the Democracy of the North, his impression is, that the Democratic party advocated all that class of measures which would be in favour with an Old-World Democracy. The impression is erroneous, because the demos of the New World (I am speaking especially of the Western States) exists under essentially
different conditions from the demos of the Old World. Where everybody is a voter, and where every voter is a man of some property, and generally of some landed property, the ruling demos will be a demos of small landholders, and both the prejudices and principles of such a class are essentially Conservative in many ways. A love for local institutions, a dislike to government interference, a jealousy of any privileged class, an ignorant aversion to taxation, a strong regard for the rights of property, and bitter national prejudices and vanities, are pretty sure to be amongst their distinguishing characteristics. Political parties must be judged by their relative, not by their actual, principles. An American Conservative, if he supported the same measures in England that he does in America, would be far ahead of Mr. Bright in Radicalism, just as under like circumstances an English Tory would be an ultra-Democrat in Austria. Still, for all that, there is in each country a distinct Liberal and Conservative party. Thus, in reality, the Republicans are the Liberals, and the Democrats the Conservatives of America. It is hardly fair to the Northern Democracy to allege that it tolerated slavery simply for the sake of Southern politics support. Any national interference with slavery was an interference with State rights, and the essence of Democratic Conservatism is to support vested rights and local independence against the action of the Central Government. Stare super antiquas vias, "the
Constitution as it is, and the Union as it was," is thus the rallying cry of the American Democracy. If the reader can picture to himself what the politics of England would be if there was no unrepresented class, and if the vast majority of the voters were small householders or landholders, he will have little difficulty in seeing what would be the politics of the party which bid highest for the support of the majority. Free trade would be attacked as vehemently as the game laws. Toleration would be as unpopular as tithes, and a demand for tenant-right would be accompanied by a cry of "England for the English." Under very different conditions, a somewhat similar state of things exists in America.
Thus, even if the Slavery issue were removed tomorrow, the struggle between Republicans and Democrats would continue, possibly under different names, and new party organizations, but still the same in principle. The struggle then going on between the two parties in the State of Illinois had little directly to do with Slavery, and illustrated the tendency of American politics, as well as the working of State Government. The present constitution of the State has been in force since 1847. It is one of the most democratic, in our English sense of the word, of any of the State constitutions. There is manhood suffrage, and one year's residence is sufficient to qualify a stranger for citizenship. The Governor, the Senate, the House of
Representatives, and the Judges, are all elected directly by the people, and no property qualifications are required. In 1860, when the last State elections took place, the Republicans were in the majority, and, as usual, filled the Assembly and the public offices exclusively with members of their own party. The Republican majority was a narrow one, and since that time the Democrats had regained strength, and had carried a number of casual elections; so that they believed that they could command a majority in the State, as they already did in the Assembly. In the natural order of things they must have waited till 1864 before they could elect a Democratic governor, or replace their party in office. The Governor's term of power is for four years, and, during that time, in the State, just as in the national Government, there exists no possible method, short of impeachment, for removing the head of the State, or turning out the Ministry. Two years, however, was a long time for hungry office-seekers to remain out of power; and, moreover, it was by no means certain that the course of public events might not shortly restore the prestige and fortunes of the Republicans in the State of Illinois. Under these circumstances, the Democrats hit upon an ingenious idea. There had long been a talk of passing some slight amendments to the Constitution. The Democrats improved upon the idea, and passed a vote in the Assembly, that a Convention should be held to submit a new Constitution to
the electors. If the new Constitution was ratified by the people, all existing offices would be vacated, ipso facto; and the Democratic party would be able to secure their nominees a four years' lease of power, as, even in Illinois, a new Constitution would not be passed again much under ten years' time. A new Constitution therefore was drawn up by a Convention, in which the Democrats were in the majority, and was on the eve of being submitted to the people at the time of my visit. In form and spirit of government there was little difference between the old and the new Constitutions. The real object of the reform was to secure a change of office; and the alterations introduced were chiefly designed to attract the favour of the voters. The nature of these new provisions, or bids for popular support, threw some light on Illinois politics. In the first place, economy was promised in the public administration. Under the old Constitution, the Assembly had the power of voting supplementary grants to Government officials for extraordinary expenditure. This power had given rise to abuse, and the Governor's salary had been raised "by indirection," according to a new-coined phraseology of the West, from three hundred pounds to six hundred pounds annually. So, also, the annual compensation allowed by law to members of the Assembly amounted to eighteen hundred pounds in all. But, by various grants, for postage, newspapers, and sundries, the amount expended amongst them reached
nearly six thousand per annum. By a self-denying ordinance, it was proposed to do away with all "indirection" in future, so that every servant of the public should receive his salary and not a cent extra. In obedience to the same economical principles, various offices were to be consolidated. The expense of printing private bills was to be borne by their promoters, the number of judges was to be decreased, and grand juries (which cost the State twelve thousand pounds in 1861) were to be suppressed, except in cases where the punishment was death or penal servitude, and even then the number of their members was to be reduced from twenty-three to fifteen. What would have been the amount of these various savings was not stated by the Convention, but was left so hopelessly indistinct, that the Republican papers asserted, with much plausibility, that it would have been more than swallowed up by the power proposed to be given to the Assembly, of fixing themselves the salary of all public officials, including their own, after the first election had taken place. Several of the principal alterations in the Constitution were proposed with the view of catching the support of the working-classes. It is a very common thing for Western railroads to get hopelessly embarrassed. On many of the lines the labourers and officials have had their pay kept back for months, and sometimes have been finally defrauded of it. To remedy this evil, the rolling-stock of railroads
was henceforth to be regarded as personalty, not as real estate; and was to be liable to seizure for contract debts, "so as not to be beyond the reach of judgments in favour of the honest working-man, whose toil has built the road, or whose supplies were furnished to it." Provisions also were to be made "to secure and "enforce a lien in favour of the mechanic and producer, upon the result of their labour and material combined." As most of the Western railroads have been built with Eastern or foreign capital, these clauses would read ominously to me, if I were unfortunate enough to be a shareholder in an Illinois railway. By another proviso, the Homestead Law was to be introduced, by which a married man's dwelling is secured to him and his family against any claim for debt "in order to protect and guard the families of the poor against the rapacity of creditors."
In the great panic year of 1857, from which the West has never thoroughly recovered, every corporation and public body of any kind was involved directly or indirectly in speculations. In railroad companies alone the indebtedness of counties and cities in the State exceeded three millions sterling, and many a town is still crushed by the failures of that year of panic. The collapse of the speculative mania had caused the popular instinct to fly into the opposite extreme; and by the new Constitution, every municipal corporation was forbidden either to take shares in, or to guarantee
in any way whatever, any chartered company. The effect of this act, if enforced, would have been to stop all the internal improvements so much needed in the State; but, for the moment, the proposal was popular as a precaution against over-trading. From similar causes banks of issue were out of favour in Illinois. By the laws of the State, every bank was required to guarantee its issue by depositing a certain fixed amount of the stocks of some State of the Union with the local Government. The banks naturally bought the stocks of the Southern States, which always stood lowest in the market; and as after secession these stocks became absolutely unsaleable, the Illinois banks stopped payment while the securities held by the State could not be realized. To obviate a recurrence of this calamity, the new Constitution proposed that no new banks at all were to be created, and no old charters extended; and that no notes or promises to pay of any description whatever were to be issued by the existing banks after 1866. How the currency was to be supplied was a difficulty which never seemed to have struck the convention. "An influx of gold and silver will supply the deficiency." This was an assertion made confidently; but what was to be given by the State in exchange change was a question not considered worth entering on.
The most striking clause, however, proposed by the new Convention was that about negroes. It ran thus:
"No negro or mulatto shall migrate to or settle in this State after the adoption of this Constitution;" and further, "No negro or mulatto shall have the right of suffrage, or hold any office in this State." Every other clause was expounded, and defended at length, in the Report of the Convention. This one, I hope because its authors were ashamed of it, was passed over without a word. Its insertion formed a strange indication of the power of popular prejudices. The Democratic party have not a stronger feeling of personal dislike to the free negroes than the Republicans, but the class is unpopular with the people of Illinois, partly on account of race, partly because there was an ignorant idea that a large negro immigration would follow emancipation, and thus lower the wages of labour. So, in order to secure votes for their party, the Democrats raised the cry of "Illinois for the white man!"
A similar clause was appended to the existing Constitution, but was rejected at its adoption in 1847. The Republican papers were extremely confident that the new Constitution would not be adopted, and still more for positive that the negro clause, which was to be voted for separately, would be rejected by a large majority. On the other hand, the Democrats were equally positive that both would be carried. The result proved that either party had over-calculated their strength. If the Democrats could have succeeded in their attempt to tack the vote against the negroes on to the vote for
the Constitution, they would probably have succeeded in their main object. Baffled in this, they failed to secure popular support. The clause excluding free negroes from the State was passed by a large majority, but the proposal for a new Constitution was rejected by a majority nearly as decisive. It is, by the way, a curious fact that the Illinois soldiers in the army of the West, who were stationed in Slave States, voted almost unanimously against the negro clause.
Another incident in Illinois State politics, which occurred at this period, is a strange instance of the strength of the old State-right's feeling. By the laws of Illinois all State taxes must be paid in gold and silver. After the act of Congress was passed making Treasury-notes a legal tender, the tax-payers sought to pay their taxes in Treasury-notes. The State Treasurer refused to receive them, not on account of there being any loss to the State by taking them, as Treasury-notes were then at par, but because he was forbidden to take anything but bullion by the State laws. A friendly suit was instituted by the authorities of the State, in order to investigate the rights of the case. On being tried before the Illinois Circuit Judge of the Supreme Court, this suit was decided in favour of the State. It is true that the Supreme Court was nominated during the reign of the old Democratic party, and has always favoured extreme State-right doctrines; but still, this decision, just or unjust, gave a severe
blow both to the value of the Treasury-notes and the authority of the central Government. If a State law, passed to regulate its own local affairs, over-rides a law of Congress passed for the whole nation, it is difficult to see how the same principle may not be extended to many other and far more important questions.
So much for the politics of Illinois, on which I have dwelt as illustrating in their most settled form the tendencies of Western administration. The West, however, is so vast a region, and comprises States of such different physical and geographical conditions, that ultimately the different portions of the district will doubtless exhibit distinctive features of their own. At present, the fact that each Western State has been colonized much at the same time and much in the same manner, has given a temporary character of uniformity to their systems of politics. As years go on, new forms of society will doubtless develop themselves there. The West is pre-eminently the country of the future. When Prince Napoleon travelled, at the out break of the war, through the Western States, he remarked to an acquaintance of mine, that, in not many years to come, the valley of the Mississippi would be the centre of civilization. The remark was probably dictated in part by the natural desire of a Frenchman to say something gratifying to his entertainer, but in part also by the far-sightedness of a Napoleon. It must be an unobservant traveller who
goes through this region without having the conviction forced upon him that the West is destined to play a part, and that no insignificant one, in the world's history. Everywhere railroads are building, towns are growing up, and, above all, the wild soil of the prairie is being turned, almost without an effort, into the richest corn-growing country. Rapid as the progress of railroads is, the growth of the soil is more rapid still. In many parts of the West there are said to be three years' crops of wheat stored up, waiting only for delivery till the means of transport are provided. Indian corn is so plentiful that it is burnt for fuel, and on the prairie there is pasture-land for all the herds of cattle which the world can boast of. Centuries well-nigh must pass, even with the astonishing increase of population, before absolute want is known in the West by any class, or before it ceases to be the granary of the New World, if not of the Old also. These are the economical conditions under which the West is rising into national existence: the political conditions are not less remarkable. All the North-western States have been founded by individual enterprise: they owe nothing to Government aid, or support, or patronage. Every farm and town and State has been created by the free action of settlers doing as seemed best in their own sight. The West, too, more than any part of the Union, has been colonized by one uniform class. There have been no aristocratic families amongst the first colonists, as in
Virginia or Maryland, and even, in some measure, in Kentucky and Tennessee; no original Dutch settlement, as in New York; no dominant religious leadership, as in the New England States. In the West all men are equal as a matter of fact, not at all as a matter of abstract theory. The only difference between man and man is, that one man is richer than another. But fortunes are made and lost so easily in this part of the world that the mere possession of wealth does not convey the same power or importance as it would in an older and more defined civilization. I quite admit that this dead level of society has its disadvantages. For a man of refined tastes, and imbued with the teachings of Old World culture, the West must be a wearisome residence. It would be so, I think, for myself. As the undergraduate said, when he was asked to describe the structure of the walls of Babylon, "I am not a brick-layer." Not being a bricklayer of any kind, social or political, I have no taste for living in brick-fields; and the West is nothing more as yet than a vast political and social brick-field, upon which, and out of which, some unknown edifice is to be raised hereafter, or, rather, is raising now. Still, there are some lessons which may be learnt already from the young history of the West, and chief amongst them is the force of self-government. There is little power to compel obedience to law, still less is there any superintending authority to tell men what they ought and ought not to do; but, somehow or
other, there is a general security, a respect for law, and a peaceable order, which seemed to grow up without any forcing process. Wherever you have slavery, you have rowdyism also; but, in the Free States of the West, the rowdy proper is as unknown as the slave.
But the more pressing question with regard to the West is, what its influence will be on the war. We in Europe look upon the struggle as solely one between North and South, and can scarcely realize the fact that the West will, in a few years, be more powerful than the North and South put together, and is virtually the arbiter of the struggle between the two. As Mr. Hawthorne once remarked to me, "We of the Old States are nothing more than the fringe on the garment of the West." Now, about one fact there is no doubt whatever, and that is, that the West has thrown its whole power into the cause, not of the North, but of the Union. Two essential conditions are required for its development one, that it should have free access through the great lakes to the Atlantic; the other, that it should hold the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico: and the only way by which both these conditions can be satisfied is, by the whole country between the lakes and the river being held by one Government; while the only Government which can so hold it, as a matter of fact, is one which more or less resembles the old Union. So much for the present. The future of the West, which is not a dream, but an unfulfilled reality,
requires an extension of the same conditions. During the present generation the great Pacific railroad will become an accomplished fact. Then the whole influence of the growing States of the Pacific sea-board will be thrown into the scale of the West, and will enable it to demand even more imperatively than at present that free access to the Atlantic which can only be secured by the whole country between the two oceans being subject to one Government. It requires no great amount of thought or education to understand these conclusions, and the Western men are sufficiently educated by the free-school system and the more important teaching of political self-government to appreciate them fully. The West means to preserve the Union, and is as determined as the North perhaps more so, though on different grounds. It was curious to note the difference of tone about the war in the West and in the North, as expressed both in the press and in conversation. There was much less of regard for the Constitution as an abstraction, much less of sentimental talk about the "fathers of the country," or the wickedness of secession. On the other hand, there was a greater regard for individual freedom of action, and a greater impatience of any Government interference. The truth is, the enormous German element in the Western population has produced a marked effect upon the state of public feeling. To the German settler the fame of Washington inspires no particular reverence.
The names of Franz Sigel and Carl Schurtz and John Fremont carry more weight than those of Jefferson and Hamilton and Madison; and the traditions of the War of Independence are not so vivid as those of '48 and the campaign of Sleswig-Holstein. They are attached to the Union because it secures the prosperity and development of their new country, and because it has proved a good Government to them, or rather, has allowed them the unwonted privilege of governing themselves. The German element, it is true, is modified with wonderful rapidity into the dominant American one; but still, in the process of absorption, it modifies the absorbent.
In like manner it is easy, as I have remarked before, to trace an essential difference of feeling with regard to the question of Abolition in the Free West and in the North. With the New England States, Abolition is a question of principle and of moral enthusiasm. In New York and the great Central States, the abolitionist feeling is checked and hampered by the national reverence for the Constitution. Even amongst the most ardent Abolitionists in the North there are few logical or sincere enough to admit that the maintenance of the Constitution may prove incompatible with the abolition of slavery; and Wendell Phillips is the only Abolitionist who faces this dilemma boldly, and asserts that, if it should arise, then the sooner the Constitution perishes the better. Now, in the West, abolitionism is
practical, not sentimental. Two propositions with regard to slavery have established themselves firmly in the Western mind. The first is, that slavery in the West is fatal to the progress of the country; the second, which has been adopted chiefly since the outbreak of Secession, is, that the existence of slavery at all is fatal to the peace and durability of the Union. Given these propositions, the West draws the conclusion that slavery must be abolished; and, if emancipation should prove inconsistent with the Constitution, then the masterwork of Washington must be modified. To do the Germans justice, too, they are, with the exception of the poorer Catholics, anti-slavery on principle. In the school in which they learnt democracy, the doctrine of the rights of man was not qualified by a clause against colour.
These remarks of mine must be taken as expressing rather the general tendency of what I saw and heard in the West, than as a description of the exact state of public feeling either then or at the present day. Like all America, the West, though in a less degree perhaps, is in a state of political upheaving. Politics and parties and principles vary from day to day, with the events of the war. The one point on which all Western men seemed agreed was, that the insurrection must and should be suppressed; and the war, in every railway car and tavern and house you entered, was the sole topic of talk and interest. You could not forget the
war, even if you had wished. Every carriage on the railway trains was laden with sick or wounded soldiers, travelling homewards to be nursed, and, if I could judge their faces rightly, to die. So far, the West had done the hardest part of the fighting, and still appeared ready to fight on to the end. With this mention I must pass on from the West. I trust it may never be my fortune to settle in a new country; but, if it should be, my prayer is, that it may be in the Free West, on the country watered by the Mississippi river.
Dicey, Edward. Six Months in the Federal States, Vol. II . London: MacMillan and Co., 1863. [format: book], [genre: travelogue]. Permission: Newberry Library
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