Who the heck was John A. Dix?

General John Adams Dix Gen. John A. Dix

Well, every time I look at a newspaper article, I wind up getting sucked in to another whole epic. When I looked at the paper for August 13, 1860, the first thing that caught my eye was an article titled “Where Gen. John A. Dix stands: the reasons why he supports Breckinridge and Lane.” Okay, ho hum, another Southerner for Breckinridge, whatever. So I looked him up, just to be sure. Well, firstly, he’s a New Yorker. In fact, he later would become a Republican Governor of New York. Odd, for a Breckinridge man. But he ran for Governor in 1848 on the Free Soil Democrat faction’s ticket. And here he is arguing for Breckinridge against Douglas; hardly free-soil now. And yet later, he’ll be a Union Major General of Volunteers. In fact, he’s a complicated guy, and it’s an interesting story. First let him tell what he thinks about the Democratic nominees:

From the moment the Baltimore Convention adjourned I resolved to vote for BRECKINRIDGE and LANE, if there should be an electoral ticket in this State for them. The reasons which led me to this conclusion are briefly these:

1. The nomination of Mr. DOUGLAS was, in my opinion, forced upon the Democracy of the country in violation of all these feelings of conciliation and mutual good-will, to which we are indebted for our past political successes.

2. It was not in conformity with the established usages of the Democratic Party, nor with the resolution of the Convention by which it was made.

3. It was obtained by the exclusion of delegates who were fairly entitled to their seats.

Under these aspects I regard it not only as an unjust and tyrannical exertion of the power of numbers, but as an example of irregularity and disregard of the Interests of the Democracy of the country, which I cannot sanction by my vote.

Besides, I do not concur in the views of Mr. DOUGLAS on the rights of the people of the Territories. His doctrine of non-intervention is partial — it is non-intervention by Congress only. The question which has vexed the country so long and so painfully, cannot, as I believe, be settled on so narrow a basis. Non-intervention, to be what the word imports, must be absolute. It must be non-intervention by the Territorial Legislatures as well as by Congress. The Territories must, while the territorial condition exists, be common ground, where the people of all the States can meet and enjoy unmolested the rights of property which they enjoyed at home. I do not believe the question can ever be amicably adjusted on any other basis. The territorial condition, with the active enterprise of the country, is very brief, and the moment it terminates, the inhabitants of the Territory are free to regulate by the constitution they frame for their own government, all their domestic concerns as the majority shall deem just and conducive to their common good. Mr. DOUGLAS and his political friends stand on a sectional platform — one on which the people of the Union can never harmonize, and which leaves the most dangerous question ever agitated in this country open to continued distension.

Okay, so he’s using the Southern code words — we know what “property” was. Yet apparently he’s sincerely making this argument based on constitutional principle, which is a novelty. He argues here for Union among Democrats, but later he will argue even more strongly for Union among states. I don’t want to go too much into his future here; I’ll come back to him as events progress. But just so you know, Fort Dix is named after him.

P.S. I just got a copy of Dix’s biography, written by his son in 1883. I will definitely be coming back to him later.

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2 Responses to Who the heck was John A. Dix?

  1. Chris Moore says:

    You reference Fort Dix. Doesn’t it seem odd that we have numerous military installations named after Confederate officers who broke their oath of allegiance and fought against the United States? Forts Benning, Bragg, Campbell, Gordon, Hood, Lee, Rucker that I can think of… None named for Grant, Sherman, Thomas, McClellan, Hooker, etc.

    • Agathman says:

      Hmm… It would be interesting to do a little survey and see how many of each there are. There was a Fort Sherman on the Panama canal.

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