May 11, 2007

"You called for war until we had it. You called for Emancipation, and I have given it to you..."

To me, one of the chief evils of our time is that most people have come to expect a world of comfort and entertainment. A world where there's no need to make difficult choices, and above all, no need to seek Truth, and fight for it. This editorial from the NY Sun is a useful corrective. It tells of an incident in our Civil War, when the editor of the Chicago Tribune, Joseph Medill, went to Washington to plead for Illinois to be spared its draft contingent...(Thanks to PowerLine)

...."The War Department's blue-uniformed sentries came rigidly to attention as the president appeared," Mr. Wendt writes. Lincoln, he says, gave them a friendly "at ease" and led his visitors through the "chattering telegraph operations room," where he knew everyone by name, to Stanton's "vast cave of maps and charts," where Stanton glowered beneath dark oil paintings of Generals Knox and Dearborn. Stanton was none too pleased to see the same Chicagoans whom he'd shooed out of his office earlier in the day return with his boss. Medill made a game effort, reading from his own newspaper about how no other congressional district had put so many men into the war.

For months, Mr. Wendt explains, the Tribune had "acknowledged to its readers that after four years of the most brutal fighting known to man, even greater sacrifices would be required. The armies were devouring men on a scale not known before in military history, as new weapons outmarched generals' old tactics." Draft riots ensued, particularly in New York. The Tribune required an entire supplemental page, Mr. Wendt notes, just to list Illinois casualties among the more than 13,000 suffered by the Union at Shiloh.

When Medill finished his plea, Stanton nodded to his provost marshal, General Fry, who "read the sanguinary statistics of four years of fighting in a loud, sonorous voice," while Lincoln listened with his head bowed. Stanton then rejected the plea, saying, as Mr. Wendt paraphrases it, that there could be no city nor section nor state asking for special favor, not even Illinois. Medill left the meeting pledging to remain silent about it until the war ended. It would be 30 years before he could bring himself to write the account that Mr. Wendt quotes at some length.

"I shall never forget," Medill said of Lincoln, "how he suddenly lifted his head and turned on us a black and frowning face. ‘Gentlemen,' he said, in a voice full of bitterness, ‘after Boston, Chicago has been the chief instrument in bringing this war on the country. The Northwest has opposed the South as New England has opposed the South. It is you who are largely responsible for making blood flow as it has. You called for war until we had it. You called for Emancipation, and I have given it to you. … Now you come here begging to be let off from the call for men which I have made to carry out the war you have demanded. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. … Go home, and raise your 6,000 extra men."

Then, in Medill's own account, Lincoln turned on the great editor. "‘And you, Medill, you are acting like a coward. You and your Tribune have had more influence than any [other] paper in the Northwest in making this war. You can influence great masses, and yet you cry to be spared at a moment when your cause is suffering. Go home and send us those men.'" Wrote Medill: "I couldn't say anything. It was the first time I ever was whipped, and I didn't have an answer. …"
Posted by John Weidner at May 11, 2007 12:06 PM
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