In four days we reach the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States. During the four months that had passed since his election, seven states had seceded from the Union and Congress had debated several compromises which, some hoped, would either lure the seven back into the Union or at least avoid a civil war. But many representatives and senators were no longer interested in a compromise by the first of March that year. Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan took to the floor of the United States Senate:
“This is not a question of compromise,’’ he said. “This is a question of whether we have, or have not, a government. . . . We are told that six states have seceded, and that the Union is broken up; and all we can do is send commissioners to treat with traitors with arms in their hands; treat with men who have fired upon your flag; treat with men who have seized your custom-houses, who have erected batteries upon your navigable waters and who now stand defying your authority. Sir, I will never submit to this degradation. I would rather join the Comanches.’’
“God forbid, I hope not,’’ quipped Senator Louis Wigfall of Texas, who had not left the Senate yet even though Texas had, “they have already suffered much from their contact with the whites.’’
If you haven’t already found it, I highly recommend the “Disunion” series on the web pages of the New York Times, from which this anecdote comes. “Disunion” is following the Civil War as it unfolded 150 years ago and is a marvelous series of blog posts. And, as yet, the NYTimes has not retreated behind its pay wall, so it remains available at no charge.