Soldiers' Orphan Schools.
The Conflict Which Terminated In The War That Made The Children Fatherless.
To say that Pennsylvania stands first among the great sisterhood of States which compose the American Republic, in the noble work of caring for the children made necessitous by the casualties of war, is not empty boast. It would, in fact, be within the limits of truth to affirm that the Keystone State has done, and is doing, more to succor the offspring of her soldiers who lost life or limb in their country's service, than all the other States combined. Indeed, the annals of the race to not furnish a similar instance where a State has adopted, as her special wards, all the dependent children of her slain and crippled warriors.
In this cause she has already given over five millions of dollars as a thank-offering to the valor that saved the nation entire, when a great and wicked rebellion threatened its dismemberment and ruin, and gathered under her protecting and guiding care, from her cities, her hamlets, her valleys, and her mountains, over eight thousand children who represent either the grave or the mangled form of a soldier. And the good work is still going on, and will continue till every child of the class designated shall have passed beyond the years of dependency.
But before giving an account of the origin and progress of this great work, a hasty glance at the cause of the tremendous conflict that made the children orphans will be in place. Such a war could not have been provoked except for the passions excited in the defence of slavery. Early in the history of the British colonies in North
America, negroes were imported into them and sold as slaves. The accursed system of slave labor was introduced and perpetuated with the sanction of no law but that of common consent. The descendants of the Puritan and the Cavalier alike owned property in man. The number of slaves in the Northern colonies, however, was never large. This was due more to the ruggedness of the soil, and the severity of the climate, than to the purity of their moral code. In the sunny and luxurious South the African found a congenial sky, and her fields, though tilled with unskilled hands, made rich returns. Here the evil took deep root, and spread rapidly.
But when the colonists themselves were made to suffer beneath the oppression of their mother country, they resented the wrong, and demanded their rights as British subjects, and began to discourse upon the blessings of liberty, and to discuss the nature of man's inalienable rights. The duty of freeing themselves from political bondage evoked a spirit of liberty which was hostile to personal slavery. This fact is clearly seen in the records of the earliest measures taken by the colonies to form a bond of union for their mutual protection. For this purpose the first Continental or general American Congress met, in 1774, in Carpenters' Hall, Philadelphia, and adopted the famous Articles of Confederation, which condemned, in the strongest terms, the importation of slaves. There were present delegates from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. the action of this body was heartily approved by the masses of the people, to whom the word "slave" was becoming odious, save to a few sordid souls. After the lapse of more than a century, we read with peculiar interest the following comments upon this Congress, taken from a paper entitled Observations Addressed to the American People, published in Philadelphia, and dated November 4, 1774:
"The least deviation from the resolves of Congress will be treason against the present inhabitants of the colonies – against the millions of unborn generations who are to exist hereafter in America – against the only liberty and happiness which remain to mankind – against the last hopes of the wretched in every corner of the world; in a word, it will be treason against God. . . . .We are now laying the foundations of American Constitution. Posterity will most probably measure their liberties and happiness by the most careless of our footsteps. Let no unhallowed hand touch the precious seed of liberty. Let us form the glorious tree in such a manner, and impregnate it with such principles of life, that it will last forever . . . I almost wish to live to hear the triumphs of the jubilee in the year 1874; to see the models, pictures, fragments of writings, that
shall be displayed to revive the memory of the proceedings of the Congress of 1774. If any adventitious circumstances shall give precedency on that day, it shall be to inherit the blood, or even to possess the name, of a member of that glorious assembly."
How like a prophecy is the language of the ancient patriot!
Had the American people been true to the spirit of 1774, had they preserved inviolate the Articles of Confederation, and had they heeded the words of warning which issued from the press of that day, and taken no false steps, how different would have been the condition of our country on this Centennial year! There would have been no sectional hates, no smothered feelings of revenge, and no backward steps to be taken! The imagination loves to dwell on the glorious possibilities of a people severed from the traditional fetters of society by the broad Atlantic, nurtured amid the wild freedom of the forest, taught the love of liberty in the school of oppression, and enlightened and guided by the holy oracles of Christianity!
The next general Congress of the American people was in 1776. It was this body, as all the world knows, that made the immortal Declaration of Independence, and held as self-evident truths "that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;" and "to secure these, governments are instituted among men." And yet, sad to relate, it is among the doings of this Congress we find the first compromise with slavery. In the original list of offences charged against the repudiated king of Great Britain is the following serious accusation:
"He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty, in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. Determined to keep a market where men should be bought and sold, he has a length prostituted his negative for suppressing any legislative attempt to prohibit and restrain this execrable commerce."
This paragraph, being objected to by the Georgia delegation, was expunged from the document for the sake of unanimity. What misery this concession may have brought upon "millions of" then "unborn generations"!
The Articles of Confederation, adopted in 1781, contained no recognition of slavery. Evidences are numerous that at this time the leading men of the nation, North and South, looked with disfavor upon
the evil. During, or immediately after, the war for independence, legislative measures were taken in all the States north of Mason and Dixon’s line, except Delaware, for the immediate or gradual emancipation of the slaves within their borders, and States farther south seemed ready to follow their example.
In 1789, the Constitution under which we now live was adopted, the Articles of Confederation proving inadequate to the wants of the Republic. A majority of the convention which framed this instrument were, like their compatriots of the Revolutionary era, opposed to slavery; but at that early day the threat of disunion was made, and another compromise with wrong was deemed necessary. A proposition to prohibit, at once and forever, the importation of slaves into the United States, was modified, at the instigation of the delegates from North Carolina and Georgia, by a proviso giving Congress the authority to interdict foreign slave-trade after 1808, a term of twenty years. It was declared that with no slave-trade there could be no Union, and the dire ultimatum was too readily accepted. Again slavery was recognized in the Constitution in deciding the basis of representation in Congress, and direct taxation. These were "apportioned" among the several States according to their respective numbers, which was determined by adding to the whole number of free population "three-fifths of all other persons." The "other persons" alluded to were slaves; and, consequently, the citizens of the slaveholding States held a greater political influence in the National Legislature than those of the non-slaveholding States. There was also ingrafted into the Constitution a clause making it lawful to pursue slaves escaping from one State into another, and drag them back into bondage. Though these unfortunate recognitions of a great wrong were clearly in the Fundamental Law, the words "slave" and "slavery" were excluded from it, as it must have appeared to the minds of the framers of the Constitution that both the rhetoric and logic of the Declaration of Independence were a protest against holding any human being in bondage.
Nor were these concession to slavery made without a struggle. The emergency was such as statesmen are seldom called upon to meet. There were such conflicting interests in the Convention that for a long time it was feared its members would fail to come to an agreement. Propositions to adjourn finally had been made. The fair, new nation, which had been conceived by the wisest statesmanship, and born by the patriotic throes of a whole people, and baptized
in the blood of the bravest, was about to perish. Those who saw the danger dare not adjourn without accomplishing the object for which they had assembled. A considerate majority yielded to a reckless minority, only when the preservation of the nation seemed to demand the costly sacrifice.
One of the first acts of Congress, under the Constitution, was to prohibit the introduction of slavery into what was then designated the North-west Territory – a vast extent of country, from which the States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa have been subsequently formed. This measure was proposed by Thomas Jefferson, and received the vote of the entire Southern delegation. At this time the opinion of the South itself regarded slavery as a social, political, and moral evil, forced upon them by England, difficult to be got rid of, but soon to pass away. Slaveholders freely admitted the wrongs of the system, and discussed the subject privately and in public.
In 1803, the United States made the Louisiana purchase. For generations this region, whether under French or Spanish rule, had been slave territory. This act opened the vast and fertile Mississippi valley to the cultivation of cotton; and the invention of the cotton-gin made the growth of this plant exceedingly profitable. Sugarcane and rice were also lucrative crops. These new industries created a demand for slave labor, and some of the more northern of the Southern States turned their attention to breeding slaves for the Southern market. Virginia and Kentucky became infamous in this barbarous commerce. A counter sentiment began to take place in Southern opinion. Slavery, which once asked but to live, humble and ashamed, ceased to apologize for its existence, and began to proclaim its moral excellency, and ask for room to expand. The reaction, at first almost imperceptible, became more and more marked and decided, until it gained the ascendancy, and changed the policy of the nation in regard to the restriction of slavery. In 1820, Missouri was admitted as a slave State; but not till after an angry debate, threats from the South to sever the Union, and a compromise, by which slavery was allowed in Missouri, but excluded from all the country west and north of that State. The faith of thoughtful men was even then shaken in the perpetuity of the national compact, and through fear the opponents of the measure conceded what they had the right and the power to deny. The whole country was violently agitated, and sectional antipathies were engendered by the struggle.
For a season this "Missouri Compromise" seemed to allay hostile feelings. But the emissaries of the slave power were at work seeking to enlarge its domains. Texas, one of the States of the Mexican Republic, was packed with adventurers from the Southern States. Controlled by their counsels, she seceded from the Mexican Union because that Republic had abolished slavery. A free Republic on our southern boundary was not desired by the slaveholders, and besides they hankered for additional slave territory; and as Congress now had become the pliant tool of their policy, Texas, before her independence had been acknowledged by Mexico, was annexed to the United States. Nor was this sufficient. The propagandists of slavery looked beyond the Rio Grande with a covetous eye. They provoked Mexico, when she preferred peace, to hostile steps, which were made a pretext for waging a war of conquest which resulted in the acquisition of New Mexico and Upper California – a vast extent of country reaching from the Rio Grande to the Pacific Ocean. At this enlargement of area, supposed to be opened to slavery, there was great rejoicing all over the South. The way seemed to be prepared for the controlling power of the Government, at no distant day, to be lodged in the hands of the advocates of slavery. But at the very moment when their wishes seemed about to be consummated, an unexpected difficulty presented itself in the Wilmot Proviso, which threatened to exclude slavery from the newly acquired territory. This measure was twice adopted in the House of Representatives, but defeated in the Senate. The spirit of the North was aroused, and throughout the Free States the indispensable condition of support at the polls was a pledge to stand by the Proviso. The discovery of gold in California, during the very month – July, 1848 – that the treaty with Mexico was signed, brought in a host of hardy adventurers from the North, who assured that country to free labor.
And growing directly out of the questions raised in fixing the status of slavery in the territory acquired from Mexico, was the famous, or infamous, compromise of 1850, one of the provisions of which was the Fugitive Slave Law. The manifest injustice, and the cruelties and barbarities attending the execution of this code, intensified the hatred of slavery in all the Free States, and a powerful counter-reaction set in towards the purer sentiments which prevailed in the earlier days of the Republic, when statesmen and the churches, North and South, were conscientiously opposed to slavery. A few years before, Abolition societies were broken up by mob violence in Boston
and other Northern cities, and there was not a conspicuous pulpit in the entire land that was not silent in regard to the evil. An unfriendly allusion to slavery, in the farthest North, by a lecturer or preacher, created a commotion. The cotton-mills of the North had joined hands with the cotton plantations of the South, and Cotton was king. Had not an overruling Providence interposed, a petty oligarchy of a few thousand might possibly have imposed the fatal yoke upon all America. But the aggressions of the slave power, always reckless and violent, awoke the slumbering conscience of the North. Anti-slavery organizations multiplied rapidly, and pulpits, long muzzled, began to denounce slavery as a sin. And yet there was a goodly majority at the South, and a still larger one at the North and North-west, in favor of maintaining the Union, and preserving cordial and fraternal relations between the different sections of the country.
When Congress met in December, 1853, there was an exhibition of a better feeling than had prevailed since the stormy session of 1850. The visible omens were auspicious of a coming year of political calm. But hardly had the preliminaries been arranged for entering upon business, when the grasping slave power again disturbed the peace of the country. Missouri was, as will be remembered, admitted into the Union as a slave State, after an angry debate and threats of secession, by a Compromise, in 1820, which excluded slavery from a vast region in the middle of the Continent, nearly twice as large as the thirteen original states. That part of the Compromise which strengthened slavery having taken full and vigorous effect, it was now attempted to repudiate that portion of the compact which favored the consecration of that vast area to free labor. It was proposed to organize this extensive domain into two territories, to be called respectively Nebraska and Kansas, and allow the inhabitants who should migrate and settle there to decide for themselves whether slavery would, or would not, be allowed within their borders. This breach of faith on the part of the slave propagandists kindled the rancor of the North. Public meetings were called by men of all parties to denounce the perfidious plot, and petitions and remonstrances flooded the Senate while the measure was pending in that body.
The minions of the slave party were successful in the contest, and the terrible struggle which Congress had invited, for the possession of Kansas, by the friends of freedom and bondage, followed. A
few days after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, hundreds of Missourians, on the western border, temporarily crossed into the adjoining territory with the intent of taking possession of Kansas in behalf of slavery. On the other hand, associations were formed in the Eastern States to facilitate the migration of their citizens thither with the purpose of making Kansas a Free State. The "Border Ruffians" were determined to drive out the peaceful settlers of the East, and civil war was kindled. A Congressional committee was appointed to investigate the condition of affairs in the disturbed territory, and the majority reported decidedly in favor of the friends of Freedom. This continual sectional agitation of the country, by the unprincipled aggressions of the slave-owners, resulted in the formation of the Republican party of men of all political creeds, who were opposed to the further extension of slavery. In 1856, the new organization nominated Colonel John C. Fremont for the Presidency; the Democrats nominated James Buchanan; and the Americans, or Know-Nothing party, nominated Ex-President Millard Fillmore.
The contest which ensured was exciting and animated. The Republicans carried the six New England States, New York, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Buchanan, though he lacked a majority over both his competitors, was elected by a decided plurality.
The beginning of his administration was disturbed by a remarkable ruling of the Chief-Justice of the United States, to the effect that a freed negro slave, or a descendant of a slave, could never become a citizen of the Republic. This strained and new construction of the Constitution affected almost every man of African descent in the country, and produced much dissatisfaction and universal discussion, and added intensity to party feeling.
The country was deeply stirred, during the whole of Buchanan’s presidency, by questions relating to slavery. When steps were taken to admit Kansas into the Union as a State, the pro-slavery and the anti-slavery men in that Territory each framed a State Constitution. The Free State men were prevented by violence from voting against the Constitution framed in the interests of slavery; nevertheless, President Buchanan declared it to be legal. At a subsequent election, in which the "Border Ruffians" did not participate, the pro-slavery Constitution was rejected by ten thousand majority. The President, nevertheless, blindly persisted in disregarding this expression of the will of the people, and sent the bogus, pro-slavery Constitution to Congress, and asked that Kansas be received as a slave State. Con-
gress, however, properly ordered it to be again submitted to the vote of the people; and it was a second time rejected by a majority of nearly ten thousand; and Kansas at length came into the Union as a Free State.
It was during Mr. Buchanan’s term of office that the slaveholders ventured to claim that the fundamental law of the United States legalized slavery in all her Territories; and some even went so far as to affirm that it made the odious system lawful in all the States of the Union, and the boast was made that the time was not distant when the taskmaster would call the roll of his slaves beneath the shadow of Bunker Hill. The bold attempt to make that Constitution, from which its framers carefully eliminated the words "slave" and "slavery," an instrument of bondage throughout the nation, together with the continued offensive operations of the Fugitive Slave Law, greatly incensed the people of the Northern States; and several of their Legislatures denounced the encroachments in unmeasured terms, and enacted laws to prevent the unjust execution of the black code.
In the meantime leading men in the South were maturing measures to re-open the African slave trade. Native Africans were actually landed on the Southern coasts, and gladly received.
These backward movements strengthened the friends of freedom in the North, and made many converts to their cause.
In the autumn of 1860, another Presidential election occurred. The Democrats, split by the slave questions, had two candidates in the field, namely, John C. Breckinridge and Stephen A. Douglas; the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln. Besides these there was a fourth candidate put forward by the self-styled "Constitutional Union" party, which was so nearly a nonentity that it does not deserve mention. The Breckinridge party held that any citizen might lawfully take with him his slaves into any Territory of the United States, and that Congress was bound to protect him in the exercise of that right, regardless of the action of Territorial Legislatures. The Douglas party held that the white inhabitants of each Territory had the right to adopt or exclude slavery, and that Congress had no power to interfere. The Lincoln, or the Republican, party held that Congress was bound to prohibit or exclude slavery from all the Territories. In the canvass for the Presidency which followed, the issues were sharply defined. There was no ambiguity, deception, or double-dealing by devising, as had too often been the
case, a platform which meant one thing in the North and another thing in the South. After an exciting campaign, Abraham Lincoln was fairly elected by a constitutional majority.
Then there was great commotion all over the South. The North awaited calmly for the return of reason to those who had been vanquished by the ballot. Four months must yet pass under the administration of Mr. Buchanan. Treason, in the meantime, was active. His Minister of War adroitly used the remainder of his power to strip the Government arsenals, located in the North, of their arms, and transfer them to the South; the little army of regulars were sent to posts remote from Washington; and the navy was scattered to the four corners of the sea. The first steps of the great rebellion were taken, under the protection of the Government, by the very men who had sworn to defend it. In the South, States began to withdraw from the Union. South Carolina took the lead. On the 4th of February, 1861, the Southern Confederacy was formed by delegates from the seceded States. A rebel Congress chose Jefferson Davis as President of the new "Confederacy." Forts, arsenals, mints, ships, custom-houses, and other Government property were seized, and armies raised to support the usurpation. The "Star of the West," a Government steamer, was fired into and driven from Charleston harbor, while in the act of carrying supplies and reinforcements to the loyal Major Robert Anderson and his faithful band, who occupied Fort Sumter. While these deeds were being perpetrated, President Buchanan sat dazed in the Presidential chair, and made no serious effort to check the conspiracy.
Mr. Lincoln was inaugurated on the 4th of March, 1861. His predecessor in office escorted him to the White House, and retired into a merciful oblivion; and the new President began to prepare for the great task which had been imposed upon him. The language of his inaugural address was conciliatory and yet firm. Referring to the people of the South, he said: "In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, are the momentous issues of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect, and defend’ it." He most distinctly declared it to be his most solemn duty and determination, as President of the United States, to enforce the laws and repossess the stolen forts and arsenals.
The people of the North were slow to admit that there would be
war. The South had so often threatened, and so often been quieted by fresh compromises, that it was difficult to believe that now she meant anything more than to establish a position for extorting advantageous concessions. Indeed, honorable terms of peace were even now offered, but were rejected by the secessionists.
During all the month of March, and on to the middle of April, Mr. Lincoln was strangely silent; but it was not the silence of indecision. He was at a loss to know what the South really meant.
The ominous stillness was at last broken, and the purpose of the South declared – the dream of peace broken, and the work of compromising with slavery ended, by the bursting of a rebel shell over Fort Sumter, April 12th, 1861. This act aroused and united the North, and the uprising of her people was wonderful. Within twenty days almost two hundred thousand men were ready to take the field, and the loyal people had offered nearly forty millions of dollars for the war. This was the beginning of a momentous struggle, which continued four sad and weary years. The slave power was not weak or cowardly. It fought to the bitter end, surrendering only when utterly exhausted. The North suffered many defeats, and passed through many seasons of deepest gloom and discouragements. Had it not been for the deep-seated conviction that they were fighting in a righteous cause, they might have despaired. The whole people were humbled, and became thoughtful and grave under the awful circumstances amid which they lived. The following "Battle-Hymn of the Republic" is an embodiment of the popular sentiment of those portentous times:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His Truth is marching on.
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I have read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His Day is marching on.
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel—
"As you deal with My contemners, so with you My grace shall deal;*
Let the Hero born of woman crush the serpent with His heel,
Since God is marching on.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat;
Oh! be swift, my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet,--
Our God is marching on.
In the beauties of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me;
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
The sacrifices of the war were fearful. During its continuance two million seven hundred thousand men bore arms on the side of the North. Of this number ninety-six thousand men were killed in battle or died of wounds in hospitals; one hundred and eighty thousand died of disease in hospitals; and many more went home wounded or stricken with mortal disease, to die amid the scenes of their childhood. Sad memories of the war are sacredly cherished in nearly every Northern home.
But terrible as was the cost, its gains are great. The curse of slavery, which retarded progress, kindled sectional strife and civil war, and made us a byword among the Christian nations, has been removed. The fatal political heresy of State sovereignty has been branded treason, and the lie that the Union is a weak bond of incoherent and independent powers discarded, and the great truth that the United States of America is a Nation established by the blood of a hundred battles. And as a hope to the oppressed peoples of the world, the fact has been demonstrated that a free people have the capacity to guide their own destinies in war as well as in peace, and that the dependence of the many upon the few is as unnecessary as it is humiliating.
In the light of these grand results, the contest which raged with such destructive fury for four weary, anxious years, appears more truly a holy war that the purest of the Crusades; for we fought for something greater than Christ’s empty tomb, --we fought for Justice, for Freedom, for Self-government, for Humanity, for Civilization, for Religion, and for God.