April 18, 1864: Dispute in Congress

Alexander Colfax
Speaker of the House Alexander Colfax


The Richmond Daily Dispatch is pleased to see an acrimonious debate in the Union Congress. The House fails to expel a couple of Democratic members (Alexander Long of Ohio and Benjamin Harris of Maryland) who called for recognition of an independent Confederacy; as Mr. Harris says, the alternatives are separation or the extermination of the Southerners. He seems to have overlooked the midrange of the spectrum. The New York Times had a somewhat different slant on events, including Colfax’s characterization of Long’s remarks as “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.” Given the Dispatch’s glee, this seems to be a pretty accurate characterization.

Lively scenes in the Yankee Congress — good signs.

On Saturday we published some account of turbulent scenes in the Lower House of the Yankee Congress, growing out of attempts to expel members for the expression of alleged disloyal sentiments. To day we copy additional sketches of these highly animated and not unamusing displays. They were initiated by a resolution moved by Mr. Colfax, Speaker of the House, for the expulsion of Mr. Long, of Ohio, on the ground that he had declared “in favor of recognizing the independence of the so called Confederacy now in arms against the Union.”–Upon this sprang a debate of a highly personal and rambling character, in which insults were most freely handled about with perfect impunity. It was quite remarkable that the Speaker thought it necessary that he should descend from the chair and initiate the proceeding which caused the storm. He was handled pretty roughly for it, as he deserved. There were a plenty of fanatical Republicans who would have gladly performed the service in order to gain some popular consideration among the subjugationists and “rebellion crushers” of the North; but Colfax, Yankee like, seeing, or thinking that he saw a chance to make something for himself, stood not upon any scruples of propriety, but caught at it eagerly.

The tendency of the debate, if debate it could be called, was quite remarkable.–There was a boldness in asserting sentiments hostile to the war and the Administration, that proves either a growing resolution or increased strength and confidence in the opposition pasty; and, perhaps, both. Upon a division of the House — the Long expulsion resolution being laid over — the parties stood 81 to 64, showing a majority of only seventeen for the ultra subjugationists. This vote was upon a motion to lay upon the table a preamble and resolution offered by Mr. Fink, of Ohio, declaring that “the army and navy cannot be rightfully and lawfully used to subjugate and hold as conquered territory any of the States of this Union,” and “that this war should not be urged on our part in any spirit of conquest or subjugation, nor for any purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of the States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution, and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired; and as soon as these objects are attained the war ought to cease.” A motion was made to lay the preamble and resolution on the table, and this prevailed by 81 to 64.

It is not improbable that there is a gradual extension over the Northern mind of the idea that whatever be the condition of the South after the war, in case the North triumph, to that condition also must the North subside. If it is held as a conquered province and ruled by a despotic authority, then that authority must be despotic everywhere, and the North, as well as the South, be under its dominion. There are increasing signs of late that this apprehension is spreading. It is a just one; but nevertheless loss one of those just ideas which are slow to prevail in opposition to a Government with a large army and navy and unlimited means to back it. Nor should we infer that were the party now supporting this idea, in power, it would materially change the manner of the war. To bolster up its power and attain its ends it would consider any means justifiable, and would become so embittered against that brave people who would give them so much trouble by resistance as to think any punishment or calamity they might bring upon themselves well merited. Resisting Abe Lincoln and his myrmidons is not so horrible in their estimation; but to resist them were they in power would be quite another and much more serious affair. To fight Lincoln, who boldly tells us to what abject degradation he means to reduce us, is natural; but to resist these States–rights men, with their promise to secure to the Southern States all their “dignity, equality, and rights unimpaired,” would be an obduracy so monstrous and aggravating, as really after all to entitle the South to no better fate than that Lincoln had prepared for them. It might not be so; but there is in human nature such facility of change of policy and of principle to suit a change of circumstances, that we need not place much faith in any predominating party at the North–State rights nor any other. If there is in human nature a weakness where self is concerned, an infirmity of inclination to interest in despite of principle, how much greater is that weakness, that infirmity, in Yankee nature?

Still, let us take what pleasure we can in these feuds of our enemies, hoping at least that there is sincerity and honesty amongst those who are opposing the tyranny and barbarism of the Yankee Government, and feeling assured that the indomitable bravery of the soldiers of the South and the triumphs of Southern arms will embolden their opposition and still further divide the counsels of the inhuman Government now plotting the subjugation and denationalization of the South.

But to return to the subject of the expulsion: In the course of the debate Mr. Fernando Wood suggested that it would be better before expelling Mr. Long to recur to what he did say; and read from the manuscript copy of the speech, prepared several weeks before it was delivered, the following passages “I now believe that there are but two alternatives — either an acknowledgment of the South as an independent nation, or their complete subjugation and extermination as a people. Of these alternatives I prefer the former.” The reading of this passage occasioned a pause in the proceedings. The satanic subjugationists were placed in a dilemma. They would be forced to expel Mr. Long for preferring recognition of the Confederacy to the entire destruction of every man, woman and child in the South, or abandon the prosecution.–So they laid over the subject to see what the official report in the Globe would make Mr. L. say.
Nevertheless, while the fate of one victim was thus necessarily delayed, possibly averted, another presented himself in the person of Mr. Harris, of Maryland, who stood up to Mr. Long “through thick and thin.” Nay, he went farther. He declared as follows:–The South ask you to leave them in peace; but no, you say you will bring them into subjection — that is not done yet, and God Almighty great that it may not be. I hope you never will subjugate the South.” Mr. H. said a great many other strong things”among them that “a braver set of men never existed on God’s earth than exists at the South;” and that he would not consent that the money of the nation “should be spent by a tyrant; ” “not a man nor a dollar would no vote for this infernal war,” &c. But the first passage quoted above from the defiant Marylander (“there is life in the old State yet!”) was ordered to be written down by the clerk, and one of those brother blackguards, “the Washburnes” moved Mr. Harris’s expulsion including for so great an offender short skill the vote was immediately taken, and resulted ayes 81, noes 58–not a two thirds vote. So Mr. H. was not expelled.

The strategy was then changed, and it was moved by Mr. Schenck, (more appropriately Skunk,) of Ohio, that Mr. H. was “an unworthy member of this House, and is “hereby severely censured.” We cannot but suppose that the gallant Harris took this terrible judgment as a compliment! It is evident that the is in the wrong place — he is too noble a man to herd with such animals as now compose the representative body of Yankeedom in the Federal Congress. He is as unworthy of association with them as would be an honest man with a band of robbers, or a gentleman with a set of scurvy blackguards and knaves. Harris should be proud indeed of the honor conferred upon him!

We repeat, the occurrences to which we have alluded are significant of an emboldened sentiment of opposition to the tyranny and brutality of the Yankee Government. The rapid strides it has made to its imperious and overshadowing power — a complete despotism — and the danger that it will be permanent, are exciting a growing uneasiness and apprehension in the Northern public mind. This tendency of public feeling has been stimulated, no doubt, by the course of the campaigns opened so unfortunately for the Yankees the present year. A few more reverses will spread the flames rapidly, and there is no telling what startling events may not ensue within the year. The futile war — the Federal finances, which are growing daily more desperate — the despair of making the South pay the enormous Yankee debt — must produces political and social convulsions among a people who are too selfish to submit to an adversity they may check, too avaricious to endure pecuniary rain in a hopeless cause. Let us hope that such convulsions are not remote, and that they may come with all the force these causes can give them, and with as much severity as may be merited by the rapacious and heartless people upon whom they must fall.

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