Question of the Week: 11/2-11/8/20

Who’s your favorite U.S. senator from the era of 1850-1865? Why?

11 Responses to Question of the Week: 11/2-11/8/20

  1. Stephen A. Douglas. For all his flaws the single most dynamic legislator of the 1850s. Achieved a heroic ending in his active campaigning into the South, his awareness of secessionist fervor, and his tying the Union Democrats to Lincoln’s war policy.

  2. Without question John C. Calhoun!

    President John F. Kennedy said Calhoun was “Generally judged to be the most notable political thinker ever to sit in the Senate.” Kennedy was so right! He continues, “whose doctrine of concurrent majorities has permanently influenced our political theory and practice, John Calhoun did more than any other Senator in the 19th century, in the words of Professor Nevins, ‘to make men think clearly and carefully on fundamental political questions… He was a model member in the purity of his public and private life, in his incessant industry and in his efforts to master completely the main issues of his day.’”

    Webster considered Calhoun “much the ablest man in the Senate… He could have demolished Newton, Calvin or even John Locke as a logician … Whatever his aspirations, they were high, honorable, and noble … There was nothing groveling or low or nearly selfish that came near the head or the heart of Mr. Calhoun.” Henry Clay predicted that Calhoun’s principles would “descend to posterity under the sanction of a great name.”

    Modern historians of a sort who find it PC fashionable to disparage Calhoun intentionally mislead in interpreting Calhoun’s statement that “slavery was a positive good.” Calhoun prefaces that claim with an insistence that slavery in the abstract is wrong. It was the practical necessities of his day of which Calhoun spoke regarding slavery as a positive good, just as Oscar Shindler would claim regarding his use of slavery to protect Jews as slaves in his munition factories. President Kennedy chimes in on this subject, “In defending the views of his state and section on the practice of slavery, abhorrent to all of us today but a Constitutionally recognized practice in his time, Calhoun was yielding neither to the pressures of expediency or immorality – nor did his opponents at the time so regard it.”

    Regarding secession Kennedy would add, “Calhoun was not a proponent of disunion – though he warned at the end of his career that secession might be the South’s only means of achieving justice, he fought long and hard to keep the South in the Union.”

  3. Charles Sumner. His beating by Preston Brooks demonstrated the height of division in antebellum America and the acceptance of violence that would ultimately be played out in the Civil War

  4. John C. Frémont. Senator from California 1850 – 1851; first Republican Party candidate for President (1856 election); married into the influential Benton Family (force to be reckoned with in Missouri politics); met with Abraham Lincoln in Springfield after Lincoln won the Election of 1860; in Europe as Special Envoy Spring of 1861 buying up all the Enfield Rifle-muskets, light artillery pieces and cavalry equipment available (denying sale of those items to the Confederacy); upon return to America and appointment as Major General, put in command of the Department of the West and quickly strengthened Missouri (and especially his HQ of St. Louis) denying Rebel attempts to absorb Missouri into the Southern Confederacy. Initiated the successful career of Civil War General U.S. Grant by authorizing Grant’s occupation of Paducah Kentucky (September 1861.)

  5. Stephen R. Mallory, Senator (1851-1861) and chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs. He fostered a vigorous program of navy modernization and new construction, including construction of six large, swift, and powerful new screw frigates. The lead ship became the USS Merrimack, the pride of the U.S. Navy. The Merrimack frigates were considered even by European competitors among the best of their type; they would form the wooden backbone of the wartime U.S. Navy. Mallory enthusiastically advocated for ironclads like the British and French were producing, but with no success. In 1861, Mallory became the Confederate Secretary of the Navy and built a new navy from scratch. He converted the former USS Merrimack to the ironclad CSS Virginia.

  6. Robert Toombs. Senator from Georgia 1853-1861. What a character! Liked his madeira wine. Lifelong friend of Alexander Stephens. Highly recommend “The Union that Shaped the Confederacy” by William C. Davis for all the details.

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