Thursday, April 03, 2008


When I was writing Civil War-related books, I built up a small research library on that topic, most of which I've since discarded. But I kept a few gems, including some old bound copies of the Congressional Globe (the official record of Congress in those days) from the first year of the war.

It's all in there: The debates, the in-jokes (and you know you've read a lot of it when you "get" why everyone chuckled at the mention of the year 1900), the brilliant speeches, the crackpot notions. Not one-one-thousandth of it ever gets into the history books, and that always the same fragments, over and over.

The text is newsprint quality, the paper is thin. You'll go blind reading them, but you'll learn something.

For instance, there's a little story Sen. J.R. Doolittle, Republican of Wisconsin, told on March 19, 1862, as part of a speech on emancipation [Congressional Globe, 37th Congress, 2nd session, vol. IV, appendix, p.84, col. 3]. Doolittle actually was telling another man's story, and ... well, read it and see.

I've never seen it quoted elsewhere, so I copied it out by hand one day. I think of this anecdote just about every time an earnest discussion about race and racism in America starts up among my educated, upper-middle-class white friends and family and coworkers. Here's Doolittle, in mid-speech:

I can give you a case directly in point. A very distinguished gentleman from Vermont was first elected to Congress, I believe, about 1843. One of the well-to-do farmers in his neighborhood called upon him, the evening before he was to leave for Washington, to pay his respects. He found him in his office, and told him that he came for that purpose, and to bid him good bye.

"And now, judge," said he, "when you get to Washington, I want to have you take hold of this negro business, and dispose of it in some way or other; have slavery abolished, and be done with it."

"Well," said the judge, "as the people who own these slaves, or claim to own them, have paid their money for them, and hold them as property under their State laws, would it not be just, if we abolish slavery, that some provision should be made to make them compensation?"

He hesitated, thought earnestly for a while, and, in a serious tone, replied: "Yes, I think that would be just, and I will stand my share of the taxes." Although a very close and economical man, he was willing to bear his portion of the taxes.

"But," said the judge, "there is one other question; when the negroes are emancipated, what shall be done with them? They are a poor people; they will have nothing; there must be some place for them to live. Do you think it would be any more than fair that we should take our share of them?"

"Well, what would be our share in the town of Woodstock?" he inquired.

The judge replied: "There are about two thousand five hundred people in Woodstock; and if you take the census and make the computation, you will find that there would be about one for every five white persons; so that here in Woodstock our share would be about five hundred."

"What!" said he, "five hundred negroes in Woodstock! Judge, I called to pay my respects; I bid you good evening;" and he started for the door, and mounted his horse. As he was about to leave, he turned round and said: "Judge, I guess you need not do anything more about that negro business on my account." [Laughter.]

Mr. President, perhaps I am not going too far when I say that honorable gentleman sits before me now.

Mr. COLLAMER. As the gentleman has called me out, I may be allowed to say that the inhabitants of the town were about three thousand, and the proportion was about one to six.

Mr. Collamer is Jacob Collamer, a Republican senator from Vermont.