What Should We Call It? — Part 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post on the Senate debate over the proper name for the Civil War.

Mr. Money (Mississippi): I do not consider, having been a rebel from start to finish, that there is any particular odium in that phrase. George Washington was a rebel.

Mr. Teller: Certainly

Mr. Money: And so were all the heroes and patriots who established this Government. Some of them were slaveholders, including George Washington. There is nothing oprobrious in the term “war of the rebellion.” If it suits the fancy of Senators to call it by that name, it does not hurt me. I am quite accustomed to it, and I do not mind. But I was simply suggesting phraseology to meet the history of the case better. If Senators want to call it the civil war, they can do so. We contend it was not a civil war. It is quite true that men in Tennessee to the number of 32,000 went into the Federal Army, and I believe every single Southern State, except the State of Mississippi, furnished a regiment to the Federal Army. Mississippi furnished one, which was called the “Tigers” It was not composed of Mississippians, but of the fragments of regiments–the sick and wounded Federal soldiers at Vicksburg. But Mississippi was a wholly rebel, to use a common phrase, as any State could possibly be.

Kentucky and Maryland and Missouri sent the very flower of the Confederate army into the field. The best fighting men I ever saw came from those States, for the reason that they were not compelled to go to the front by local opinion, but went to the front contrary to that opinion, as many of them had to run the lines to get there, and they made all kinds of sacrifices.

I admit that if I had been in Massachusets I would have been in the Federal Army, and I guess if the Senator from Colorado [Mr. Teller] had been living in my town he would have been a member of my company; and I am not at all blaming anybody for the attitude he took at that time.

Mr. President, I do not want to take up time, but I happened to be at the door of the lobby of the Senate one day not long ago. It was the last session, near the close. There was ex-Senator Blair, of New Hampshire, as gallant a soldier as ever went to the field, now on crutches as the result of wounds inflicted by Confederate soldiers. He was shot three or four times. He called to me. I did not recognize him on account of my bad sight. We shook hands. I said: “What are you doing on these sticks, Blair?” He said: “You fellows hit me pretty hard three or four times, and it is beginning to tell on me since I have been getting old.” He said: “Did we get you?” I said: “Once; not much.” He said: “Are you not glad you got it?” I said: “I do not know. I have not regretted it.” He said: “I am glad I was hit.” We shook hands. He said: “Any man who was worth being hit ought to have been there either on one side or the other. If you had been in New Hampshire you would probably have been in my regiment.” I agreed that it was a great deal a matter of environment.

I make these remarks to show that I do not care anything abou the criticism. I make them merely in the interest of historical accuracy.

Commentary: I am struck by the reconciliationist tone of both excerpts. Compared with the intensity of the debate in certain camps today it is interesting to note that the senators who took part in this discussion back in 1907 did not see this question as decisive. Given that many were veterans they seemed content to concentrate on their shared experiences as illustrated in the exchange between Money and Blair. In the background of the debate was the lingering issue of how to understand the relationship between the states and the federal government at the time of secession and at the beginning of Reconstruction. Our tendency today to refer to the war as the ‘Civil War’ is a reflection of the widespread belief that secession is illegal or at least not worth serious consideration. Without getting into a consitutional debate, perhaps the Civil War put a lid on this question. This is a descriptive and not a normative point.

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