Pugh for the union

George E. Pugh George E. Pugh

Senator George E. Pugh of Ohio, addressing the Douglas Democratic convention of Kentucky:

The Constitution may be violated (as it often has been) by unfaithful public servants, or in the tempest, of faction, or from other causes; but our plain duty, as patriots, in every such emergency, is to invoke, again and again, and again, until seventy times seven, the sober sense and calm judgment of the people.

What can be more criminal than this modern habit of betaking ourselves, upon every trivial occasion, or even upon solemn occasions, to the jargon of Disunion, and secession, and revolution? I am not only opposed to it, gentlemen, I am tired of it, and disgusted with it.

…if Disunionists, or those to whom Union or Disunion is an affair of indifference, are now to become the leaders of the Democratic Party — to prescribe the language of our platform — to dictate, by means of secessions at Charleston and at Baltimore, whom we shall choose for candidates — it will be high time for me, at least, to seek another and more congenial association. I am against the “irrepressible conflict” on both sides — as well that now personified by JOHN C. BRECKINRIDGE, as that personified by ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

In 1856 spoke against a free-state constitution for Kansas (the Topeka Constitution), but claimed that he did so only because the state’s population had not met the required level, and that the convention voting on it was not fully representative of the people. He affirmed his support for the principle of “popular sovereignty” in that speech, and naturally supported Douglas in the 1860 election.

Pugh remained a lifelong Democrat, losing his Senate seat to Salmon P. Chase in 1861, although Chase then resigned the seat to serve as Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury. He was active in opposition to the war and a supporter of Clement Vallandigham for Governor of Ohio. He defended Vallandigham (unsuccessfully) when he was court-martialed for “declaring sympathy for the enemy” by General Burnside — more on this later.

After the war, in 1869 we encounter him again in a letter to the Times, endorsing William Allen for governor of Ohio. As he says in the letter, this candidacy would galvanize Democrats — “From every corner of the State would arise the remnant of the old Jackson Guard. Democrats – like me, in feeble health, and fainting in heart almost to despair – would feel like taking off their coats and making one more effort “a l’outrance,” for the liberty of the country and the happiness of the people.” The issues that aroused his passion in this election appear to have been mainly his opposition to “taxes! taxes!! taxes!!!” and the “iniquitous New-England tariff”. Jacksonian issues indeed. He was probably against the railroads and the homestead act too.

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