Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Post image for August Belmont – Speech at Meeting, Cooper Institute

August Belmont – Speech at Meeting, Cooper Institute

November 2, 2014

A Few Letters and Speeches of the Late Civil War by August Belmont (DNC Chairman)

NOVEMBER 2, 1864.

Mr. President And Gentlemen,—I am deeply grateful for this kind and flattering reception, which I feel is more due to the patriotic work in which we are all engaged than to any personal merit of my own. Four years ago I stood on this very place pleading the cause of the Union and the Constitution against the combined efforts of Northern Abolitionists and Southern Secessionists, and advocating the election of the patriot and statesman, the lamented Douglas, against the then obscure candidate of a sectional party. The Democracy was defeated, and our country given up to civil war and desolation, because we had become divided by the selfish machinations of Southern Secessionists, aided by their misguided friends of the North, who broke up the Charleston convention. Permit me to discuss for a few moments the present political position of some of these former champions of Southern rights. I will not speak of the Southern leaders, who, under Jeff. Davis, are waging an unholy war against our government. Grant, Sherman, and Farragut will take care of them. Our business is with their former friends at the North. Here we have, first and foremost, Benjamin F. Butler, of Massachusetts, who, at Charleston, gave, during fifty-two ballots, his vote for Jeff. Davis, the only vote cast for him in the convention, and then left that body to sit in council with the Southern traitors. Then we have Daniel S. Dickinson, who denounced the Northern Democracy for not re-admitting, at Baltimore, the seceding delegates who, under the leadership of Yancey, had broken up the convention at Charleston. On our bended knees we ought to have entreated them to return— that was Mr. Dickinson’s advice ; and I am compelled to add here that estimable gentleman, John A. Dix, who, in 1860, advocated in an elaborate address to the convention more ultra Southern views than the Breckenridge platform itself, and who, as postmaster of James Buchanan, was the head and front of the Breckenridge organization in this city. The Abolition papers of this morning contain an address of General Dix of a very different character than the one just alluded to. Without entering here into the merits of that extraordinary document, permit me only to point your attention to the following proposition contained in that address:—

An amendment of the Constitution which shall render the President ineligible after one term of service.”

In the face of this, Mr. Dix and his friends intend to vote for a second term of Mr. Lincoln. The general, after opposing in 1848 the regular Democratic nomination of General Cass, and in 1860 that of Stephen A. Douglas, will now show his consistency by voting for Lincoln in opposition to the principle laid down by himself.

Thus we find these gentlemen in the ranks of the Republican party arrayed under the black banner of Abolitionism against the party of the Union and the Constitution. The allurements of power and office are as irresistible to them under Lincoln as they were under Buchanan. They, and some lesser lights of the same stamp, are now joining with all the zeal of neophytes in the mad outcry raised by their new allies against the Democratic party and its noble leader, George B. McClcllan. In the wake of these more prominent renegades from the Democratic faith, we have seen a call for a mass meeting, signed by a number of disappointed politicians, and a few nabobs of our city, who have added a few more millions to their wealth by this terrible war. Those gentlemen call themselves Democrats—Democrats of the Jacksonian school—and allege as the reason for not supporting our ticket, the wording of our platform and the character of our candidates. Now, permit me to detain you for a few moments in order to see by what right those gentlemen call themselves Democrats, and how much the Chicago platform has had to do with their support of Abraham Lincoln. Here we have in the first instance ex-Judge Pierrepont, who for the last three years has been the confidential friend and agent of Secretary Stanton, the bitter enemy of General McClellan; and it is said by those who profess to know, that this friendship has proved quite lucrative to the honorable ex-judge. Is it to be wondered that he should wish its continuance for four years more? Is it to be wondered that in his speech of last evening, reported in all the Abolition papers, he should assail, in a spirit of the bitterest partisanship, the character and services of General McClellan? His patron of the War Department has for the past two years persecuted with the most malignant hatred the man to whom the country owes the Army of the Potomac,—the general who twice saved the capital from the invading rebel forces, and who offered to share the fate of his comrades as a common soldier, when deprived of his command by the intrigues of Halleck and Stanton. Judge Pierrepont could not show his gratitude for past favors and favors to come more effectually than by his most unfair, personal attack on General McClellan. I had looked for this first public demonstration of the judge with a good deal of curiosity, as I had hoped to obtain by it some explanation in reply to a statement contained in the following article of The World newspaper, which I have not yet seen contradicted :—

” Judge Pierrepont and the Bogus War Democrats.

” The following letter comes to us indorsed by the signature of a gentleman whose name is at the service of Judge Pierrepont, if he desires a voucher for its authenticity. We confess our own surprise at its statements, and, in common with the public, should be glad to know what considerations have worked such a change in Judge Pierrepont’s mind since September.

” Philadelphia, October 25.

To the Editor of the World:—

My attention has been called to a manifesto addressed to ‘ War Democrats, and published in the New York Tribune,—a very singular medium of communication, one would suppose, with Democrats of any shade of opinion. Among the names of the signers to this document I perceive that of ‘Edwards Pierrepont;’ I have a few remarks to make touching him. We chanced to be fellow-passengers in the Persia, Cunard steamship, from Liverpool, in the month of September. We had not, upon our departure on September 10th, as yet learned who was the nominee of the Chicago Convention, and, of course, we were all very much excited upon the subject. There seemed to be but one or two administration men on the ship, out of some 180 or 190 passengers, the Democrats being very generally in favor of General McClellan for the nomination. This Judge Pierrepont, after holding back for some time, finally declared himself a Democrat of the strictest school. He said, however, that there was no earthly chance of the nomination of General McClellan; that the Democratic party would not stultify itself by nominating any man who had any connection with this war: that the war was an utter failure; that the only prospect of the salvation of the nation, or the restoration of the Union, lay in a cessation of hostilities. and a general convention of all the States. He said that none of these purposes could be accomplished without a change of administration, and that, therefore, it was the solemn duty of every patriot to labor for that primary and fundamental object, without which all efforts were fruitless, all hope vain of the salvation of our republican government. He said to me in conclusion : ‘With a change of administration there might yet be a way to save the Republic entire; without it, it was past praying for.’

This was the substance of a conversation of two hours or more, in the presence of my wife, in all of which, as general propositions, I concurred, except that General McClellan could not be nominated. I assured the judge that he could and would, and should be, as he was, above and beyond any living man, the embodiment of the political necessities of the American people. Now, you may imagine my surprise to see the name of this same ‘Edwards Pierrepont’ in four short weeks after the earnest expression of the above-recited views, giving his name, and any influence he may possess, to the prolongation of that very policy, and the support of that identical administration, which he thus publicly declared would insure the downfall of the Republic.


What do you say to these sound principles of a war Democrat of the new school, who cannot support the Chicago platform, and must bolt the regular Democratic nominee to vote for Abraham Lincoln? Then you have the member of Congress from the First District, the Hon. Mr. Stebbins, who has just resigned his seat, because he says that his opinions are no longer in unison with those of his constituents. I doubt very much if there ever existed any such unison between him and them. He was elected two years ago by the loyal Democracy of the First District, who, then, as they are now, were for the “Union at all hazards;” but were not in favor of Mr. Lincoln or the financial policy of his Secretary of the Treasury. Mr. Stebbins, for many months after his election, was the avowed advocate of an immediate and unconditional peace, and I could cite here many good Democrats, personal friends of his, who had to use all their influence in order to make him withhold those pernicious views. I believe they succeeded so far as to make him, for a short time at least after he took his seat in Congress, as near to the mark of a sound Democrat as he ever was or ever will be. But we find him soon fascinated by the transcendent statesmanship of Mr. Lincoln’s Secretary of State and the financial genius of Mr. Chase. So much so that his great effort in Congress is a grandiloquent eulogy of the irredeemable paper issue of the Secretary of the Treasury. And the Republican papers of this morning, selected for the first time for the diffusion of Democratic principles, contain a letter of his, in which he lectures the Democratic party for not doing justice to the efficiency and talent of Mr. Lincoln’s cabinet. It will be refreshing to Messrs. Stanton and Welles to read praises from a Democratic pen, which their own party has not been willing to accord to them. Is it strange, after all this, that Mr. Stebbins does not agree in sentiment with his constituents? They seem to have come to that conclusion some time before he did, when they refused to put him in re-nomination for Congress. The Hon. F. B. Cutting can hardly claim that he leaves the Democratic party on account of our platform. Nobody can entertain personally a more sincere regard for that gentleman than I do; still we all know that he has not been with us since 1862, when we did, what we intend to do next Tuesday, elect Horatio Seymour governor of this State. Then you have the eccentric and venerable Mr. Peter Cooper, who appears in the character of a war Democrat, after having voted, in 1856, for Fremont, and in 1860 for Lincoln. Both Mr. Moses Taylor and Mr. A. T. Stewart signed, last spring, a circular in favor of Mr. Lincoln’s re-election, and they probably forgot that circumstance, when they now profess to abandon our banner, because they profess to see lurking in its folds a disgraceful peace, notwithstanding that McClellan and Pendleton have inscribed on it: “The Union and the Constitution at all hazards; peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must.” The political antecedents of the other signers of that call are of the same questionable character: there is, for instance, Mr. William H. Webb, a wealthy ship-builder and government contractor, who builds magnificent vessels, for which he receives still more magnificent prices from Mr. Welles, but who has not voted a Democratic ticket for many a year.

But I have already dwelt too long on these proselytes to the Abolition faith. The great Democratic party cannot suffer from the attacks of this or any other set of men. It is the party which, by its unwavering adherence to the Constitution, and by its unflinching firmness and strict regard to treaty stipulations in all our domestic and foreign relations, had brought our country to a greatness and prosperity which had rendered it the admiration and envy of the nations of the earth, until, in an evil hour, the madness of sectional fanaticism placed Abraham Lincoln in the presidential chair. It was a Democratic administration which carried us triumphantly through the Mexican war, giving us the golden empire of the Pacific, soon to become the highway of the commerce of the East. It was a Democratic administration which resisted firmly and successfully British pretensions in Oregon and Central America. It was under a Democratic administration that American influence compelled Denmark to abandon the feudal Sound dues which for centuries she had imposed upon the commerce of the world. It was under a Democratic administration that Kozta was liberated from the claws of Austrian tyranny, proving to the world that our proud flag gave protection to the martyrs of liberty of all nations who sought asylum under its folds. I had the honor to represent our country abroad when Mr. Marcy wrote the Kozta letter, and my heart swelled with pride and gratitude that I could claim the title of an American citizen. How do we stand now, under Mr. Lincoln’s administration, in our relations with the great powers of Europe—how are American rights respected and protected abroad?

We all remember, with shame and indignation, the case of Arguelles, a Spanish refugee, who was seized in this city by the Federal officers, and, without even the form of a trial, given up to the Cuban authorities. We have no extradition treaty with Spain, so that no possible excuse could exist for this arbitrary act of Mr. Seward. Of whatever crime Arguelles may have been accused in Cuba, I doubt whether modern history can point to a grosser outrage against the sacred right of asylum. Place the case of Kozta alongside that of Arguelles, and you obtain an idea of the difference between a Democratic and Republican administration. Had an occurrence like the famous Trent affair taken place when a Marcy or a Cass was at the head of the State department, those prisoners would have been surrendered at once, and by our free action, sent to England before they were claimed, if their capture was illegal; but if they were lawfully taken, the whole power of France and England could not have obtained their release from those Democratic statesmen, and the American people would have sustained them, if every city on our sea-board had been laid in ashes by the combined fleets of those great powers. Look at our commerce, the sails of which, four years ago, whitened every sea of both hemispheres—our commercial flag chased from the ocean by a few paltry privateers of the Confederates, who, if we had a competent Secretary of the Navy, should long ere this not have had a single port either on the Atlantic or the Gulf. Can anybody doubt that, with an efficient navy under such men as Farragut, Dupont, Rogers, and Porter, we could have taken Charleston, Mobile, Savannah, and Wilmington within six months after the war began. But Mr. Welles, notwithstanding the immense resources placed at his disposal, gave to the rebels all the time they could possibly desire to make those ports the strongholds they now are.

The fact is, the present administration did not know how to preserve peace, nor does it know how to conquer it, notwithstanding the many victories gained on land and sea by our gallant navy and army. We have been told over and over again that the rebellion was on its last legs, that the people of the South are tired of the war, that their armies are demoralized and on the point of dispersing. Are we, for all this, any nearer to an honorable peace within the Union than we were three years ago? Has the administration tried to profit by the blood-stained laurels of McClellan, after the battle of Antietam; of Grant, when he took Vicksburg; of Farragut, when he took New Orleans, and placed Mobile at our mercy; of Sherman’s glorious capture of Atlanta; of Meade’s overwhelming victory at Gettysburg? No attempt at negotiation, no proffer of an honorable settlement which (even if under the military terrorism of Jeff. Davis it should not have led to immediate peace) would, at least, have strengthened the Union party at the South, and given them power, with the aid of the strong arm of the Federal forces, to free themselves of their tyrannical leaders.

And this, gentlemen, is the only way in which we can ever hope to restore the Union, and bring peace and prosperity to our common country. Give to the South the choice of an honorable peace under the Union and the Constitution, or a fruitless struggle against the irresistible power of a united North, and you will see State after State leave the confederacy of Jefferson Davis, and return to their allegiance under the Union. But who can doubt that the South will fight to the last extremity if the fatal policy of confiscation and forcible emancipation is to be persisted in, and that is the policy to which Mr. Lincoln and his party are pledged, should they be able to keep themselves in power.

Thus the war is to become a war of subjugation or extermination—and do you know what it means to conquer and subjugate a nation of six millions of freemen? It took the ablest generals of republican France more than ten years before they could subjugate the small department of the Vendee, which was only finally pacified by the great Napoleon himself. The whole power of Russia, with its colossal military despotism, was nearly half a century before conquering the small province of Circassia. Poland and Hungary were not subjugated by the sword of Russia and Austria alone, but tardy concessions had to assist in their pacification.

Look at what we have achieved ourselves in three and a half years, with a sacrifice of nearly four hundred thousand men and the accumulation of a national debt of $2,000,000,000. Our army and navy have earned immortal glory and the lasting gratitude of their countrymen by their devotion and heroism, and yet, though we hold the Mississippi and several important points on the Atlantic and the Gulf, we are far from having the conquest of the South within our grasp. Grant, whose bravery is only equalled by his stubborn tenacity, has, with the largest and best army ever placed under one man on this continent, and with the power and resources of a patriotic people to back him, not yet taken Richmond, after six months, and the sacrifice of over one hundred thousand of our best troops.

Can any one, after all these heart-rending experiences, have any doubts as to the fearful calamities in store for us, if Mr. Lincoln should succeed in having himself re-elected—a war to the knife between the two sections, until the weaker is exterminated, and the other left in the agonies of exhaustion; a whole generation swept away; a national debt accumulated, such as few nations have ever been burdened with, and entailing the disgrace and miseries of national bankruptcy, or else, for generations to come, a load of taxation which must undermine our labor and industry, and reduce our laboring classes to poverty and pauperism.

In the face of all these evidences, clear as the light of day to every mind which is not blinded by corruption or fanaticism, the Democratic party, as well as its candidates, are denounced by an unscrupulous party press as disloyal, and as the open allies of the rebels, because we expect to conquer an honorable peace within the Union and the Constitution, instead of following the mad career to ruin under the lead of sectional fanatics. While the Democratic generals are fighting our battles, while Grant, Meade, and Hancock are pushing on toward Richmond, and while the gallant Sherman is driving Beauregard before him, and the dashing Sheridan is gathering fresh laurels, we see some Republican generals of Mr. Lincoln try their prowess on a more peaceful field of battle. Hooker, when last heard from, was operating in Illinois, in the new character of a stump-speaker; General Burnside is busy here making speeches in favor of Lincoln and abolition, both undoubtedly hoping for a better result in November than they were able to achieve at Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg. Thus the Democratic party and its leaders stand where they have always stood—”for the Union, the Constitution, and the law”—alike opposed to Southern Secessionists and Northern fanaticism.

A leading journal in this city, which has maintained in this presidential contest a strict neutrality—a neutrality in which, I am sorry to say, my humble self does not appear to have been included—has found fault with our party for not having declared in favor of a more vigorous foreign policy, and the re-affirmation of the Monroe doctrine. I need not tell you, my Democratic fellow-citizens, that the Democratic party does not undertake more than one great task at a time. Let us first restore the Union and the Constitution, and then we will settle our other accounts. General McClellan has pledged himself and the party “for the Union at all hazards.” Our candidate for the Vice-Presidency has declared for the restoration of the Union and the Constitution, “peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must.” On that platform we intend to elect them, and redeem their pledges to the American people and the world, and when once again we shall, by the blessing of the Almighty, be a reunited and powerful people of freemen, then the Democracy of this mighty Union will say to the powers of the earth, that the North American continent was intended for Republican- institutions, and that the temple of liberty raised by the fathers of the Republic must span its dome from ocean to ocean and from the lakes to the isthmus.

And now, gentlemen, let me entreat you, in conclusion, to use every honorable means within your power in order to accomplish the great work before us. In six days from now the life or death of this great Republic will be decided. Let the Empire City be, as ever, true to the Union and the Constitution; let us roll up a majority of forty thousand for McClellan and Pendleton, that the sun of the 8th of November may, under a benignant Providence, set upon a free and redeemed people, and a new era of greatness and prosperity follow the dark days through which we are now passing.

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