Republican Thoughts on the War

By Emma Woolley

It is sometimes difficult to discern, in reviewing John Raymond’s letters, the precise nature of his feelings toward pro-war Democrats. At the Civil War’s start, there was naturally some partisan hostility toward his fellow citizens. As the war dragged on and more atrocities were committed, John Raymond grew increasingly impatient with and reproachful toward the war’s detractors. This outlook seems consistent with other Republicans’ sentiments at the time, as can be seen both in John Raymond’s letters to his brother Sewell and in articles from contemporary North Country newspapers. The Advance, a paper published in Ogdensburg, New York, will serve as a reference for hometown Republican sentiments at the war’s commencement; and Potsdam’s Courier and Freeman offers a convenient showcase for Unionist sentiments toward war’s end.

In his letter dated April 22nd, 1861, a few days after the surrender of Fort Sumter, John Raymond remarked just how “universal” Unionist sentiment was in New York City, a place that was otherwise generally known at the time for its strong Democratic sentiment. Among the most notable things John Raymond noticed at this time was the cooperation of the churches across denominations for the war effort. For the folks at home he remarked that on the Sabbath, in New York City, Christian concert was, remarkably, the order of the day: “presbyterians, all-underwater Baptists, Self-righteous Methodist, intolerant Romanists, ‘The Church,’ the accommodating Universalist and all the isms and ists of Every description” had come together as one. Church organs pumped out the national anthem in support of the war, and the Union flag flew up and down the streets, even from the print shops of so-called sensation and secession newspapers.

In April 1861, John Raymond writes a letter that showcases the extent of the repressive tendencies that have risen as a result of the war. This letter was written within days after the 1861 Baltimore Riot. This was a pro-confederate attack on federal troops marching through Baltimore.[1] During this riot, four Union soldiers were killed and 36 others were injured.[2] In the letter Raymond suggests that the “roughs” of New York City, armed with muskets, revolvers, and bowie knives, are hoping to engage in a hand to hand melee with the roughs of Baltimore in retaliation for the riot. At the time, anyone in the city who was not pro-war often opted to stifle their opinions, as they did not want to become a victim to latent violence. According to Raymond, New Yorkers who spoke against the Union were sure to be quickly silenced by pro-war mobs. He even heard of a man who was pitched out of a crowd and run over by an omnibus for expressing “southern sentiments.” Such news naturally made its way to the North Country. According to the Ogdensburg Advance, a factory in the state’s metropolis found to be supplying munitions to the South was threatened with destruction at about this same time. As war loomed, Northerners with anti-war or anti-Union sentiments were pressured to keep quiet.

John Raymond’s feelings towards the war and those fighting against the Union evolved as more casualties were reported and more damage was done. In an 1861 letter, Raymond stated: “we must have a fight and then we shall be better friends.” This is not to say that John Raymond loved the Democrats at the beginning of the war, however. In his letters, he is still fairly disparaging of them. In January 1861, he observed that “the whole south seems to be one grand insane asylum,” probably because secessionists were pushing for the unthinkable: breaking apart the sacred Union. John Raymond’s evolving attitude toward Abraham Lincoln, whom he met at a public event in New York City, also serves as proof of Raymond’s core Unionism. Having met the president-elect, John Raymond described him as a noble man dedicated to protecting the Union. Although he originally supported John Bell, the Constitutional Unionist candidate, John Raymond came to believe with certainty “that Lincoln is the very man for the times,” because he would not be made a puppet for party or personal gain. The Ogdensburg Advance expressed similar sentiments. Commenting on Lincoln’s inauguration in its March 4th, 1861 issue, the editor spoke of Lincoln being sworn into office to defend the integrity of the government against all attempts seeking to overthrow it. Echoing Raymond, the newspaper described Lincoln as the “man for the times”; “a cool head and warm heart is what he needs” in order to defeat the so-called “wandering states.” The inauguration was a celebrated event in Ogdensburg. Besides republishing Lincoln’s complete inaugural address, the Advance described the event as a “gala day” and wrote about how “flags were flying in various parts of the village.” To cap the day, the Wide-Awakes (a Republican youth organization) paraded in the evening, followed by supper and speeches at the Oswegatchie House.

Later that year, after the first casualties had come in, the attitudes of Raymond and his fellow Republicans had hardened considerably. By August of 1861 Raymond even went so far as to speak of the “monsterous wicked and abominable rebellion.” He hoped that the “getters up of it” would be “made to feel the strong arm of the Union and the constitution.” Such “rascals” deserved to be hanged “higher than Haman,” a reference to the infamous Old Testament plotter against the Jews. As the war went on Republicans became even less likely to argue that the war would make them “better friends” as John Raymond had written in 1861. There is a jump here in John Raymond’s narrative of the war due to the nature of the collection. Many of Raymond’s letters discuss farming, mortgages, and the family business and it is not until December of 1863 that he resumes discussion of the war in the letters that the Potsdam Public Museum has in its possession. After the war had dragged on for years, John Raymond characterizes all dissenters as so-called Copperheads. In a letter from Union-occupied Beaufort, North Carolina, in April 1864, he speaks of the “outrages in humanity and civilization” being committed by the rebels. He believes that unprovoked attacks against defenseless Union prisoners should be met with retaliation twice as fierce. Surrounded, as he thought he was, by Southerners who were brazen enough to justify Confederate atrocities and commend them for the future, Raymond fretted doubly because “that class of beings” back home in Potsdam doubtless would likely feel the same way. This comment is notable because it suggests that the trouble and sacrifices of the war had generated a great deal of “bad blood” between neighbors in the North Country.

Such Republican sentiments against Copperheadism on the home front are certainly evident in Potsdam’s Courier and Freeman, a newspaper well-known to Raymond. At one point in the winter of 1864, its editor complained that “the Ogdensburgh Democratic paper, gets a little wrathy and exceeding verbose over the fact that some of its party are properly called Copperheads.” A month later, the Courier and Freeman opined that “Copperhead accounts and rebels must be the sorest people on the globe”; “we desire no companionship of any kind with a nation of robbers and murderers.” There was no ambiguity anymore: “they shall not be our masters, and we would not have them for our slaves.” As the year went on, the Courier and Freeman harped regularly on the hypocrisy of the rebels and the “mongrel” Democratic party. Although Northern Democrats claimed to be willing to put an end to slavery, they regularly voted down any such amendment whenever it was sent to the House and they stood by Southerners’ right to own slaves, an essential rebuke to the virtue of their cause. By August of 1864, the Courier and Freeman was quick to point out Confederate hypocrisy when it came to the enlistment of Black soldiers. When such enlistment served the Union cause, the rebels were aghast, but now they were employing Blacks on their side as well.

Throughout the war, John Raymond maintained a fairly consistent dislike of even pro-war Democrats. He referred to them as “rascalls” and “beings,” when he had once referred to them as “friends.” This seems to be consistent with the sentiments of the bulk of the Republican Party at the time. At the start of the conflict, Republican-run newspapers did not focus as much on blatantly attacking the opposing side; a shared Unionism could trump partisanship. By war’s end, however, seemingly every issue featured articles on the latest disgrace so-called Copperheads allegedly had committed. The fact that there were even Copperheads in the North Country is notable, and the discourse surrounding them in the Republican newspapers suggests that “bad blood” poisoned the relations of once friendly neighbors.

[1] Michael G. Williams, “Baltimore Riot of 1861,” HistoryNet, March 03, 2016.

[2] Ibid.