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SELECTED LETTERS OF SALMON P. CHASE
NEW ORLEANS, November 6th, 1863.
DEAR SIR: A political movement has lately been made in this State, which threatened to be of considerable consequence. It seems an organization was made many weeks ago by the "planting interest," the copperhead faction and a few pro-slavery Union men. Persons went to Washington to get promises of support, but the whole matter was managed with entire secrecy, both as to the real object to be accomplished, and the method of its accomplishment.
The object of the movement was simply to restore the State to the Union with the old constitution, with slavery restored and preserved, and to place the whole authority of the State government in the hands of a few pro-slavery leaders, who are simply unsuccessful, but not repentant, secessionists. The organization, composed of but few members, some dozen or twenty, held secret meetings, intending to spring suddenly an election upon the people on the second inst., and accomplish their designs by a kind of coup de etat. Had they been successful, they expected Mississippi and other southern States would have followed their example.
When Dr. Cottman returned from Washington, great activity among them was apparent. The Dr. travelled up the river and through the Lafourche. He also went to Vicksburg, and passed out into the State of Mississippi beyond the federal lines. He informed me that he had with him important letters from President Lincoln, which enabled him to make the expedition with safety with the hope of great results; that he consulted with Judge Sharkey, and many other principal men of Mississippi, all of whom coincided with his views and wishes, and promised that Mississippi would follow wherever Louisiana would take the lead. He even said President Davis was in favor of peace, and willing that he himself should be sacrificed if the people desired it. In their secret meeting it was stated to this cabal that `their plan was favored by—(` I suppose this meant the President') by Mr. Seward and by Mr. Blair; that Gen. Grant had promised to assist as much as he could through his Provost Marshals in the Northern part of the State; and it was also approved by General Banks.'
Dr. Cottman returned from Vicksburg, and on the 26th of October the accompanying pronunciamento was published:
An Address to the
Citizens of Louisiana
We address you as citizens loyal to the Government of the United States, and, as such, having duties to perform to your State, your country and Republican institutions. These institutions are in danger; your country is engaged in a terrible and devastating war, and your State without a regularly organized civil Government. The obligations resting upon you to perform these duties are paramount, and require from you, in some particulars, an energetic, immediate action.
The want of civil Government in our State can, by a proper effort on your part, soon be supplied, under laws and a Constitution formed and adopted by yourselves, in a time of profound peace. It is made your duty, as well as your right, to meet at the usual places, and cast your votes for State and Parish officers, members of Congress and of the State Legislature.
Hitherto in our history the direction of these elections has been had by your chosen agents, the executive officers of the State government. Now all these are found absent from their posts, and there are no others in their places who have issued the customary orders or made the usual preparation for the coming election. The day, as fixed by our laws, is Monday, the 2d day of November next, 1863; but because of this, there is and can be no reason why you should be prevented from the full exercise of your political rights and duties. Heretofore, in a thousand instances, the people have met and exercised the right of suffrage at the appointed time, without any other formal call than that proclaimed by the law itself; and in a hundred cases of contested elections, the votes thus cast have been decided to have been legally cast, and the persons voted for been decreed to have been legally elected.
There is, then, nothing to prevent your meeting on the day fixed by law, and selecting your agents to carry on the affairs of government in your own State. The military will not interfere with you in the quiet exercise of your civil rights and duties, and we think we can assure you that your action in this respect will meet the approval of the National Government. Even now, the day of election in every rebellious State has passed, with the exception of Louisiana, and should you suffer that to pass, the WHOLE country will be in a state of anarchy, without any civil government of the people's own choosing, and subject to the danger of being thrown, as "vacated" territory, into the hands of Congress, where the wish of many is, that our State, with others, shall be thrown. We charge this design upon a certain faction here and at the North, the result of whose action, in our minds, threatens to destroy Republican liberty and Republican institutions.
We urge upon you action in this important crisis. It will convince the world of our wish and determination to do what in us lies to return
to the management of our civil affairs; it will encourage all who are desirous of peace in other States; it will have a tendency to cause those in arms against their common country to cease this deadly strife; it will set an example to all—both North and South—which it would be wholesome for them to follow; in short, the tendency of your course on the approaching day of election, will be for the weal or woe of our common country, as you act the part of true citizens by voting, or by neglecting to vote fail in your duty.
On the 2d day of November, then, go to the polls and cast your votes as usual; your chosen Congressmen will take their seats on the 1st Monday of December; your chosen Legislators will meet on the 3d Monday of January and organize;, your State officers will on the same day be inaugurated, and thus the wheels of Civil Government will be once more set in motion in our State, and, we trust prosperously and for the benefit of mankind. Fail to make this little effort, and your last opportunity for renewing Civil State Government, in accordance with legal provisions, will fruitlessly pass, with the probable destruction of Republican Institutions.
Louisiana has always been at heart loyal to the United States. She never seceded by a majority vote. The true interests of her citizens comported only with her remaining loyally in the Union. She was juggled and forced into the position of seeming rebellion, but in our opinion she was and is still one of the United States. Now that it is practicable—thanks to the gallant Army and Navy of the United States—her citizens desire to assume forthwith their old status, and to replace the star of their State, with lustre bright as ever, on the glorious flag of our common country.
We raise no minor points. Our objects are TO RESTORE THE UNION AND PRESERVE THE NATIONAL CONSTITUTION. If the influence of successive events and altered circumstances require changes in our domestic laws and policy, we shall hereafter have leisure to effect these changes. The rebellion is over when all opposition to the execution of the laws is subdued. These laws, however, necessarily and as a consequence remain, and only traitorously disposed persons will impede their effective operation.
Let us arise, then, and go forth and perform the imperative and sacred duty of electing the officers of a Civil Government for Louisiana, on Monday, the second day of November, the time appointed by our laws; and if we fail, it may be the last time we will have the -power of acting as freemen.
By order of the Executive Central Committee of Louisiana.
W. W. PUGH,
E. AMES, Vice
J. Q. A. FELLOWS,
NEW ORLEANS, October
Gov. Shepley addressed a letter to Gen. Banks, making inquiries if this thing was by his wish, and received a reply
which I have seen, in which Gen. Banks disapproved the project totally, as undesirable, illegal and unauthorized. This secret association had already nominated all the State officers and members of Congress. J. L. Riddell, former postmaster, was to be Governor, Cottman was one of the candidates for Congress. On the list of candidates were two registered enemies, two who had signed the ordinance of secession (Cottman one of these,) and two or more who had held military office under the Confederacy. They did not publish their ticket, (though I have seen some of them.) The method by which they became known it is not necessary to mention.
About this time they made application to the Union Associations, by a letter to the President, Mr. Durant, requesting their cooperation. Mr. Durant replied, and the correspondence, which was published, is annexed hereto.
At a meeting of the FREE STATE GENERAL COMMITTEE of the Union Associations of the Parishes of New Orleans and Jefferson, held on FRIDAY EVENING, the 30th. Oct., 1863, the President, having laid before the Committee copies of a communication from the officers of the Louisiana State Executive Committee, and the reply of the President and Secretary thereto, it was, on motion,
, Unanimously, that the action of the President and Secretary be approved, and the said correspondence published in the Times and Era.
LOUISIANA STATE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE,
No. 83, ST. CHARLES STREET,
Orleans, October 27, 1863
To the President and Members of the Central Committee of the Parishes of New Orleans and Jefferson:
Gov. Shepley, by two or three firm but mild letters, put a stop to the whole proceeding. Had they proceeded with an election, he would probably have broken it up by arresting and imprisoning the whole gang. As it was, they had not the opportunity to become martyrs; and the whole movement, which was nothing but copperheadism and secessionism in disguise, after creating much excitement and indignation among the Union men, resolved itself into a ridiculous farce. The whole thing has had a healthy effect, and weakened and disgraced its authors. The newspapers, Times and Era, assumed the proper position and in the proper manner. I clip from them the two enclosed articles, as illustrating the view taken of the affair by Union men.
With the object of speedily and completely restoring Louisiana to her proper position as a loyal member of the Union, we cordially invite you to join us, on MONDAY next, the 2d of November, the day fixed by the laws of Louisiana for a general election, in the election of members of Congress, State officers and members of the Legislature.
We have the honor to inclose you herewith:
1st. An address to the citizens of Louisiana, dated October 27th, inst., in which our views are set forth.
2d. Copy of the rules and regulations adopted by us for the conduct of
the election, in which we believe you will see proper to concur. If you dissent from them in any respect, we shall be happy to entertain any suggestions of yours for changing them.
3rd. A complete list of our nominations for Congressmen, State officers, and the Legislative Representatives from New Orleans. So far as you may dissent from our nominations, you will, of course, make them for yourselves, a matter which will give you little trouble and consume but little time, because of your thorough organizations: Your partisans and ours all aim to replace our State fully in the Union, with the advantages of a Civil Government of her own, administered by loyal officers chosen by her loyal citizens. We are aiming to accomplish this in a manner which we deem strictly legal and eminently practical. We propose to postpone the consideration of subordinate matters, however important in themselves, until this paramount object is accomplished. If we are not misinformed, you propose to get this State in position again through the agency of a Convention of the people, to be called hereafter. With all due courtesy, gentlemen, we assent to take the voice of the people, through the ballot-box, on the propriety of calling a Convention. The election of Monday next will in no wise interfere with or delay the call for a Convention; but considering the unavoidable days attendant upon the Convention plan, if that alone be relied upon for the restoration of Civil Government; and moreover, considering how important it is that we should be represented in the United States Congress, which meets the 1st. Monday in December next, little more than a month hence, we trust you will reciprocate our courtesy and co-operate with us in the election to be held on Monday next.
Respectfully communicated, in obedience to the resolution of the Committee.
W. W. PUGH, President
EDWARD AMES, Vice
J. Q. A. FELLOWS,
FREE STATE GENERAL COMMITTEE OF THE UNION ASSOCIATIONS OF THE PARISHES OF NEW ORLEANS AND JEFFERSON.
New Orleans, October 28th. 1863.
To W. W. PUGH, Esq.,
President; E. AMES, Esq., Vice President, J. Q. A.
Secretary, Executive Central Committee of Louisiana:
GENTLEMEN: On yesterday, between one and two o'clock, P. M. the President of this Committee received your communication of that date.
You invite us to join you on Monday next, the 2d of November, the day, you say, fixed by law for a General Election, in the election of members of Congress, State Officers and members of the State Legislature.
The enclosures referred to by you, viz:
1st. Address to the people of Louisiana.
2nd. Copy of rules and regulations adopted by you for the conduct of the election.
3rd. A complete list of your nominations have not been received.
We respectfully decline the invitation you have tendered.
No election for Members of Congress can be held in Louisiana until the State shall have been divided into five Congressional Districts, composed of contiguous territory, each District to elect one member only, according to the act of Congress of 14th July, 1862. (See 12th. Statutes at Large, p. 572. )
The State can be divided into Districts only by the Legislature thereof, or by Congress, according to the first paragraph of the fourth section of he first article of the Constitution of the United States.
We consider your proposed attempt to hold elections for Congress, setting aside all questions of your total want of authority to hold any election whatever, as a violation of the Constitution and the act of Congress, which are the supreme law of the land.
There is no law in existence, as stated by you, directing elections to be held on the first Monday of November.
The Constitution of 1852, as amended by the Convention of 1861, was overthrown and destroyed by the rebellion of the people of Louisiana, and the' subsequent conquest by the arms of the United States does not restore our political institutions.
But not only is your movement illegal, but unjust; you are only a party. What principles of State policy you may entertain you have not referred to in your communication. As a party, then, without the consent and against the wishes of the only lawful authority here, the Military Governor and the Commanding General, you undertake to appoint your own Commissioners of Election; hold the polls at such places as you may select; admit such electors as to you may seem proper, and on such proceeding you propose to declare yourselves (for who could be chosen but yourselves?) officers of the State of Louisiana, and to assume the functions of a State Government here; while in all these proceedings, the plan of which is known only to yourselves, your opponents havono opportunity of participating. We beg you to reflect how unjust such a course would be, could it be carried out.
We look upon the result of such an attempt as a mere nullity, producing no legal effect.
Our cooperation in your movement, which we refuse, could not give it the semblance of validity. Neither you, nor we, nor both of us together, are the people of Louisiana; nor have we the right to treat as null and void the act of the Government of the United States, as you propose to do.
The Military Governor has ordered a Registration of the names of all citizens who are willing to take a certain oath of allegiance to the United States, with the view of ordering an election of Members to a Constitutional Convention. The test oath, you will find on examination, to be conceived in the most liberal spirit. It excludes no man on account of his past conduct. It rejects no man on account of his opinions on "subordinate matters however important in themselves." Every loyal man can take that oath.
The Registration, when completed, will have ascertained, who the
loyal citizens of the State are; and, with the cordial cooperation of loyal men, it can soon be completed. This we consider the only just path to the restoration of Civil Government in the State, and we would be most happy if you would tread it in our company.
Believing, then, that the course you propose to pursue is illegal and unjust, however loyal may be the sentiments which inspire it, we again respectfully decline the invitation you have courteously extended us, to co-operate with you.
And with great respect, gentlemen, for yourselves personally, we have the honor to be your most obedient servants.
THOMAS J. DURANT,
P. S. The enclosures you spoke of have since been received.
T. J. D.
The other leading newspapers were silent.
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