1864 March 5: Speech by Wisconsin “War Democrat” Levi Hubbell
There were two lengthy speeches by politicians published in the March 5, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal, one by U.S. Senator James R. Doolittle on “Enlistments in the Army,” and one by Wisconsin Assemblyman Levi Hubbell given on February 18, 1864. Doolittle’s February 9, 1864, speech can be found on the Internet in the Appendix to the Congressional Globe, 38th Congress, 1st Session, beginning on page 41. Hubbell’s speech does not appear to be easily available on the Internet, so we are re-printing it here.
Levi Hubbell (1808-1876) was a lawyer, judge, and politician who came to Wisconsin in 1844 and settled in Milwaukee where he practiced law. He was a delegate to the Democratic national convention of 1848, and also ran in 1848 as an independent candidate for judge of the 2nd judicial circuit of Wisconsin. He was elected to the judgeship in 1848, drew the short term, and was re-elected in 1851. He also served as ex officio justice of the state supreme court from 1848 to 1853, and from 1851 to 1853 was chief justice of the court. In 1853 when a separate supreme court was organized, Hubbell failed to win the nomination for the post. He continued as circuit judge of the second district, but previous campaigns had won him enemies. In 1853 charges of misconduct were brought against him in the assembly, and he was brought to trial, with the senate sitting as a court of impeachment. Although acquitted in the trial, sufficient evidence was brought against him to cast a shadow over his judicial career. He resigned from the circuit court in 1856 and resumed his private law practice. During the Civil War he actually became a Union Republican, and was a state assemblyman in 1864. For more on Hubbell see his entry in the Dictionary of Wisconsin History.
Speech of a War Democrat.
Remarks of Hon. LEVI HUBBELL of Milwaukee, made in the Wisconsin Assembly, February 18th, 1864.
MR. SPEAKER :—The motion before the House is to strike out from the bill that clause which gives five dollars a month to the family of a soldier who shall marry, or shall have married, after being mustered into the service of the United States. The ayes and noes have been called and we are notified by the opposition, that responsibility is to be assumed. Sir, as one of the Union men of this House, I am ready to go upon the record. I see the opposition eager to take their chances upon whichever course we pursue. If we vote for the measure, it will be spread abroad in their papers ; it will be proclaimed at the hustings and upon the stump, through the coming political campaign, that the Union party are eating out the substance of the people with taxes, that this unnecessary war is loading them with an overwhelming debt. If we vote against the measure, the soldiers will be told “See how treacherous this Union party is to your interests ; you vote for them and they vote against you ; you vote against us, but we vote for you.” Be it so. I have no explanations to make. The gentleman from Dane, who is the leader of the so-called Democrats in the Assembly, spent a long time the other day in defining his position in reference to the army, the rebellion, and all that. I trust he was successful, so far as to satisfy himself, if not his party. If he is correct, they have suddenly turned about and taken a new tack. They are now going for the most vigorous prosecution of the war, and ready to rush with the boldest, for taxation and debt. They have left the narrow limits of their last fall’s platform, where they resolved to fight the rebels only within the pale of the Constitution. The honorable member fairly bantered us, and challenged us, to follow his lead in legalizing debt and taxation, until the war should be ended ; intimating, at the same time, that it was not his war, and that as the war was being conducted, by the President, it would never end.
When the country is bleeding at every pore it may be very natural for some persons to say, “let the galled jade wince, our withers are unwrung.”² But, that is not the position of the UNION PARTY of this State, and of this House ; nor, is their position like that of the Honorable member, in another respect. They have no need to define their position here or elsewhere. Their record is before the army and the country. From the beginning of this wicked attempt to destroy the constitution, the Government, the Union, and all the rights and liberties secured thereby, by armed forces and war, the loyal men of the country, have had but one thought, have known but one duty, and that was, to make war upon the Rebellion ; to give it blows,—with pike and spear, sword and bayonet, musket and canon, tongue, pen and type to hit it when they could, where they could, as they could ; crippling it by every means recognized in a civilized warfare.
Nay more, they have endeavored, everywhere and always, to cheer, sustain and relieve our gallant troops in the field. This is what Union men have done ; and it has been seen and known of all men. There are somethings, they have not done. When traitor-troops, to the number of one hundred thousand were marching into the heart of Pennsylvania, when traitor-cannon lined the banks of the Mississippi, closing that great River to the commerce of the north-west ; when the threats of foreign intervention seemed most imminent, and the national heart grew pulseless with anxiety, the Union men did not go about shouting Vallandigham—Vallandigham, and string up civil strife, in our midst. [Clement L. Vallandigham]
And when again the tocsin of victory rang throughout the land ; when the gallant Meade [George G. Meade] had conquered at Gettysburg, the still nobler Grant [Ulysses S. Grant] had planted his victorious flag on the highest tower of Vicksburg, and the brave Banks [Nathaniel P. Banks] had marched his heroic troops into the fortresses of Port Hudson, they did not then drown the nation’s shout of triumph by hoarse howling against the President of the United States. Nor, sir, did they do another thing. When the malignity, perseverance and power of the rebellion, manifested through a year and six months of bloody strife, satisfied the Commander-in-Chief of our armies, that, in order to save the Government, he must lay his hand upon the corner stone of their Confederacy—when he touched the sore of bondage with the point of his pen, and caused it to fly asunder, Union men did not go into spasms, and cry out, “Constitution violated,” “Lincoln guilty of treason.” They knew that slavery formed no part of the Constitution of the United States. Nor does it. There is not a word, or sentence, or article, in that immortal instrument that creates slavery, or that will perish if slavery ceases to exist. Five great purposes are enumerated in the preamble, as the objects of its creation and adoption. The first is, “to form a more perfect Union,” the last, “to preserve the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,” and the others are kindred to those in their character. It was not made to preserve “the blessings” of human bondage. It was recognized—unwillingly—without naming it, the existence of slavery in the States ; provided that states should not interfere with States in reclaiming fugitives ; and gave to States where it might exist a representation in Congress, founded upon it. Beyond this, it ignored the institution. That, as a part of the war power, the President or the Congress might control it, or sweep it away, was declared by one of its authors, the Illustrious MADISON,³ during the first or second Congress under the Constitution. His emphatic declarations to that effect, will be found among the proceedings of the early Congresses.
But, it required no provision of that instrument conferring that power ; no declaration of its author or expounder, to invest the President therewith. The President is the constitutional and executive head of the government. When the life of the government is assisted, it becomes the duty of the executive head thereof to call into exercise every power, and all the means of the body politic.
The dearest right, and the first duty of every created thing is self-preservation.
But it cannot be conceded or convinced, that a great, free and intelligent people in creating for “themselves and their posterity” a government, did not invest it with this first and inalienable right. Had all the slaves liberated by the President’s proclamation been the property of loyal men, the national emergency might have justified the act ; just as property is thrown overboard, and lives are seceded, on a sinking ship, to save the rest.
But no such plea can be made for the slave property of the rebel states. As states they had willfully and treasonably seceded from the Union ; organized a separate and independent government ; opened a war of destruction against the constitution and government of the United States ; and invited in foreign and hostile nations to aid them in their damnable work. Those states and the people of those states, thus standing in open rebellion, and covering their borders with hostile armies, could, by no possibility, have any rights under the constitution.
We might as well claim constitutional rights for the people of England, or the savages of New Zealand. Those who make this claim for them, are their friends and our enemies, or they know not what they demand.
And this, sir, is their work, not ours. The condition of rebellion in which the southern states find themselves is their own wicked, treasonable, voluntary act.
They had all the rights the Constitution gave them. They had enjoyed its benefits and its blessings beyond other portions of the Union.
Political supremacy had been conceded to them. Peace pervaded their land, and prosperity dwelt in their palaces. Rulers in the nation ; autocrats in the commercial world ; masters on their own plantations, they sat down beneath their palm trees and orange blossoms, like oriental princes, surrounded by their satraps and slaves.
But, they were not satisfied. So long as they saw the prosperous North, plying its brains and muscle, toward all that could implore, adorn and enable the human race, they looked upon them, as Haman, in the kings palace, looked upon Mordecai, sitting at the gate. They chose to regard the free laborers of the North, as “white niggers,” “abolitionists,” “mud-sills,” and they resolved to kick them out as unfit to be politically associated with better blood of the South.” In an evil hour, they embarked in the project of giving cotton an independent kingdom, and slavery a broader area. The results are before them ; ruin—starvation—ignominy. The foundation of their political edifice has crumbled to dust ; and, I say again, it is the work of their own hands. They might have preserved slavery. The Constitution of the United States stood in the way of its destruction, by any free state or by any foreign power. But, when they seceded from the Union and made the war upon the Constitution, the Constitution destroyed slavery, as the sole means of preserving itself.
Mr. Speaker, for one I have no tears to shed. While the Southern States remained loyal to the Constitution, I was among those who yielded everything for peace. Arrogance, obloquy, threats, party supremacy—all were submitted to, until the great Democratic party of the Northern States was broken down under the load of southern control. It has had its day. The Confederacy will have its day. It, and its dark foundations, will e swept away, and the great temple of the Republic will stand—every corner of it—upon the immovable basis of constitutional liberty.
This war is to have a record—a proud and glorious record. I would rather, were it possible for so humble an individual as myself, that my name should go down in history, and be read, as it will be read, a thousand years hence, as having acted a prominent part in suppressing this the greatest rebellion the world ever saw, than to have stood at the right hand of Washington and aided in throwing off the yoke of England, and establishing our national independence.
This war is to be fought through.
The gentleman from Dane says we can never fight it out successfully, and therefore, I infer, he is for piling up taxation. I think otherwise. I think the Confederacy is “upon its last legs.” A little more union and perseverance ; a few more heavy blows, and it must go down, with all its adherents, into everlasting contempt.
But there is a resurrection for the Southern States. Conquered they must be ; conquered into submission to the Constitution of the United States. But when they come back, penitent for their treason, and willing to yield obedience to that instrument, they will be welcomed again into the fold of the Union ; aye, so welcomed, only too generously, by all the loyal people of all the States. They will then help to sustain, instead of laboring to destroy, the best Government the world ever saw ; because it is the only Government ever framed by the people, for the people.
In the mean time, every man has his duties to perform. We have ours, in voting upon this Bill. Let us be governed by patriotism and reason.
The rebellion must be crushed. Whatever is indispensable to that end, must be killed. It will crush us, unless we crush it ; and, though it cost all our property and half of our lives, we must save our Government. With that Government rests life, property, peace, to us and our posterity. Is the proposed additional allowance to soldiers who shall marry, indispensable ? I think not. The Government of the United States has recently offered, three and four hundred dollars bounty, to soldiers enlisting, or re-enlisting in the service. And besides this, counties, cities and towns are paying liberal bounties. The man without a family, who now goes into the army, is reasonably provided, both for beginning the world, and maintaining a wife, if he has one. Other calls upon the Treasury of the State, seem to me, more pressing. The pockets of the people are reached by a thousand demands. The really poor, and the national taxes are upon them. I believe the soldiers will understand and fully appreciate all this. They will appreciate our action here. The state convention at Janesville, representing the “Loyal Democracy” of the State, declared that they honored the patriotism, admired the valor, and held themselves bound to cherish the memory and reward the services of our heroic soldiers. The Union Convention, at Madison, did substantially the same.
When the war is over, the army must and will e provided for, as a great, rich and redeemed nation ought to, and can do. Now, whlle [sic: while] the conflict rages, we must be prudent, reasonable, just ; not lavish, nor even generous with the people’s money.
Mr. Speaker, I am in favor of the proposition, to strike out : that is my record.
1. This image is from the Archive of Dane County Judges on the Clerk of Circuit Court webpage.
2. This quotation is from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2.
3. James Madison (1751-1836), Founding Father and 4th president of the United States.