The Role of Governors in Governing

I have the pleasure of reviewing books for several entities, including Emerging Civil War. I have said here (and elsewhere) many times that the 21st Century is a direct product of the 19th. With sheltering in place (or “reenacting Vicksburg,” as I like to call it) such a part of life now, I am watching more television than I usually do. Again and again, I see the governors of various states coming on news shows or giving state briefings, explaining what they have done, plan to do or wish they had done sooner. After all, Covid-19 is a national crisis.

I am reminded of another group of governors 160 years or so ago—Horatio Seymour (NY), John Andrew (MA), William Sprague (RI), William Buckingham (CT), Richard Yates and Richard Oglesby (IL), William Dennison and David Tod (OH), and Andrew Curtin (PA) among others. These were the men who provided volunteer Union troops at the beginning of the war, who used their own war powers to retool state industries for war production, and who, in some cases, took to the field themselves to lead “their boys” in battle. They provided weapons, uniforms, food, medical supplies—anything and everything called for by President Lincoln to help the northern war effort. They did not always agree perfectly, but they did their patriotic duty to hold the Union together. All this is much like what our current governors are doing to keep their states safe during these trying times.

Where did I find out about these fellows? I reviewed a book by Stephen D. Engle titled Gathering to Save a Nation: Lincoln & the Union’s War Governors. That review can be found here:

I never thought much about governors prior to reading this excellent book. It changed my thinking completely, and because of that change, I am much more aware of how modern governors do their jobs. The current president says we are at war once again, which makes our current governors war governors. I ask you to take the time we are being given to read Engle’s book. It is especially relevant just now.

12 Responses to The Role of Governors in Governing

  1. All unconstitutional of course, but why let the Constitution and the government our founding fathers gave us get in the way.

  2. The Civil War featured an authoritarian President with unprecedented centralized powers over States, railroads, industries, commerce, taxation, and conscription, and who violated civil liberties and bent the Constitution to a near breaking point.

    His name was Jefferson Davis.

    1. Enh… a tad harsh maybe. The Confederacy only ever existed during a nation-wide Civil War. Jefferson Davis, with all his faults, was acting upon the circumstances. As for as civil liberties go, Davis never even tried to shut up all his critics and he had a lot of them. Who was Davis’ Clement Vallandigham? And I might be wrong, but Davis never quite bossed the southern railroads like Lincoln was able to do in the North and South.

      1. Davis’ Clement Vallandigham – William “Parson” Brownlow of Knoxville, Tenn. Probably many others too, from East Tenn, western NC, northern AL, etc. Seems that whole “self-determination” thing only went so far…

      2. I thought about all the Unionists in the Confederacy, but I would argue they were different… they were often literally the enemy of the Confederates, right? Brownlow was thought to be complicit in bridge burning wasn’t he? And didn’t Jefferson Davis let him and other Unionists go?

        Vallandigham had been a U.S. Congressman and was not party to burning any bridges in Ohio.

  3. Vallandigham was arrested, imprisoned, banished, and returned to his home state politics to continue his opposition. Brownlow was arrested, imprisoned, banished, and returned to his home state politics to continue his opposition. Both bitterly opposed what they saw as tyrannical usurping governments trampling on the rights of free men.

    I’ve never understood how neo-Confederate apologists & Lost Causers can rail against Lincoln as an autocratic dictator, while Jeff Davis pulled as much or more & gets a pass.

    1. Tony,

      I’m not a Neo-Confederate (few if any such people actually exist, because they would have to support the institution of slavery since that is what the Confederacy was all about… I know of no such people, even among the minuscule Southern nationalists and white supremacists) or a supporter of the Lost Cause. What I do support is the truth or at least a thoughtful understanding of history. I love Abraham Lincoln and like to think of him as the best President the U.S. has ever had, but the facts are the facts man and civil liberties were tossed to the wayside by both sides during the Civil War, because get this, it was a civil war.

      All I was really trying to point out was that Jefferson Davis didn’t have any of his chief naysayers, like say Louis Wigfall, arrested for being naysayers. Clement Vallandigham was a naysayer who got arrested for being a naysayer. Parson Brownlow wasn’t just a naysayer, but a man who didn’t think of himself as a Confederate at all, but an American and he was believed by local Confederate authorities to be part of the group of Unionists who literally burnt down bridges in East Tennessee. It goes without saying that local state Confederate authorities did all kinds of horrible things to Unionists. I mean they massacred them on a few occasions. That’s a civil war for you.

      One last thing… I think the slave owner Andrew Johnson was the greatest Tennessee Unionist and every college in Tennessee should name a school building after him. Be proud of Andrew Johnson Tennessee! More Johnson; less Forrest (although I totally appreciate Forrest’s warrior skills and his life success of going from Mississippi mud dirt poor nothing to wealthy businessman)!

    2. Davis probably could spin his “pass” because the Confederate Congress made his job of stifling freedoms much easier than Lincoln had it. For example only: the Alien Enemies Act; the Sequestration Act; and suspending the writ of habeas corpus twice before finally telling Davis that he could use it at his discretion. Somebody should feel welcome to tell me about all of that individual “freedom” in the Confederacy. By the way, did Lincoln impose martial law on Washington, D.C? There was a model about 90 miles to the south.

      1. By the way, a very good dissection of the mythology regarding alleged tolerance of individual freedoms in the CSA is Southern Rights: Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism, by Mark Neely. It started with the arrest of a Florida journalist on April 12, 1861.

  4. And, some of those facts are: the cases & treatment of Vallandigham and Brownlow are very similar, with many parallels as I’ve pointed out. I’m glad you’re not a Neo-Confederate apologist or Lost Causer. They are not as rare as you think. I agree on Lincoln – I put him up there with Washington. I also believe it is factual to state that Davis’ administration was more autocratic & possessed more centralized power than Lincoln’s. Facts are stubborn things. They’re like cream – they rise to the top.

    As for Johnson, yes, he was an ardent, patriotic Unionist – a contrarian voice in the wilderness, the only Southern Senator to remain such. He was also an openly unapologetic racist, bigoted man. Sorry, that’s just the truth.

    I’ve given dozens of talks to various groups over the years on the Civil War, and I have a saying:
    If you talk about the war inaccurately, you’re liable to upset half your audience. If you talk about the war accurately, you’re liable to upset all your audience

  5. Yes, Andrew Johnson was, like you say, an unapologetic racist, bigoted man who Abraham Lincoln (also a racist and bigot), possibly the greatest President the U.S. ever had, personally admired and chose to be his Vice-President.

    And as I like to say, the greatest Tennessee Unionist there ever was. Totally fearless in the face of the Confederacy and violence against his person.

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