Bygone Days in Chicago
Author: Frederick Francis Cook
Published: April 9, 1910
Publisher: A. C. McClurg & Co., Chicago
Inter Ocean, April 17, 1910
- During the war for the Union, Chicago was ever a stage on which one event followed another with startling rapidity, often picturesquely and always dramatically. As a prelude to the great conflict, it was here, in 1860, that a national convention in the name of freedom challenged slavery for a struggle for supremacy by the nomination of Abraham Lincoln, and here, also that another national convention pronounced the war on freedom’s side a failure, when the slaughter had gone for more than years. It was in Chicago that a great rebel host was in durance—an ever present menace to life and property—and for the liberation of this unorganized and unkempt horde a conspiracy was hatched, though happily only to be effectually scotched. Here, again, a leading newspaper was suppressed by military edict for alleged rebel sympathies, and it was in Chicago that inspired singers armed the nation with “The Battle Cry of Freedom” and many another war poem that strengthened the cause of if the Union army as an army with banners.
So begins Frederick F. Cook’s volume of reminiscences, off the press of A.C. McClurg & Co. yesterday with the title, Bygone Days in Chicago: Recollections of the Garden City in the ’60s.
There are a good many people in Chicago who know from personal experience just exactly what Chicago was like in 1860. But as there are now in Chicago something like 1,500,000 people who do not, it is well to give some general facts before getting farther quotations from Mr. Cook’s book. Here are a few that give a general idea of the place.
In 1860 Chicago was growing up and was at the awkward stage and had all the confidence of untried youth. The city was just twenty-three years old, having been incorporated in 1837, with a population of about 3,000—the first census, that of 1840, giving a total of 4,479. In 1860 it had 109,206. A decade of unparalleled railroad building was just over, and into the city ran eleven trunk lines and twenty branch roads—a total mileage of 4,736 with earnings of $20,000,000 a year.
The water works at Chicago avenue had just been completed and some progress in laying water pipes, gas pipes and sewers had been made. Paved streets were beginning to take the place of plank roads or bottomless mud; board walks were being replaced in spots by stone. Street cars ran south on State street to Twenty-Second street, and on Madison street and on North Clark street. The Illinois Central suburban service to Hyde Park had been begun.
It was a queer looking city, and the queerest thing about it was in the very act of pulling itself out of the mud by its bootstraps. You see, the busiest part of Chicago was only two feet above the lake level and these two feet were black muck. When the spring and fall rains came, the result can be imagined. The facetious signs that used to stick up out of the middle of the street—”Man Lost Here”—”Keep Out—No Bottom”—”Shortest Road to China”—were fine examples of many a true word being spoken in jest. And the city was engaged in raising the level “about the height of the mayor”—“Long John” Wentworth who stood 6 feet and 7 inches. Speaking exactly, the city council had ordered a level of fourteen feet, which meant about twelve feet of filling over about 1,200 acres. About one-half the houses and sidewalks were on stilts and the other half was down about lake level, walkimh was more like going up and down stairs than anything else.
The crops had been poor, the panic of 1857 was still in the air, a momentous presidential election was on hand; the mutterings of Civil war were plain to the ear. Nevertheless the Chicago of 1860, though pretty nearly naked, was unashamed—and busy, energetic, happy and boastful. Its spirit can be measured by the fact that it had the assurance to demand and secure the Republican national convention, build “The Wigwam” for its deliberations, welcome 40,000 visitors, and take the lead in the fight that nominated Abraham Lincoln for the Presidency.
Mr. Cook’s reminiscences are told from the viewpoint of a newspaper man.
- He was associated first as a compositor, and then as a reporter, with Chicago’s four leading dailies of the war period, to wit
The Tribune (the most outspoken anti-slavery), the Times (semi-secession), the Journal (conservative Republican), and the Post (an exponent of war democracy).
Consequently, he writes in a sketchy way, touching only the high places for the morst part, with much of personal opinion in his comments.
In the ’60s Chicago had not so far outgrown its infancy but that the courthouse square was the central spot of the city, just as it is in every Illinois town today. Of the courthouse and its surroundings Mr. Cook had many interesting things to say, including the following:
- In 1862, the year of my arrival, Chicago had an estimated population of 120,000, distributed among its three divisions, both as to character and numbers, in about the same proportion as are to-day its approximately 2,500,000 inhabitants. The south division remains what it was then, the business centre but where now are several distinct foci in the general maelstrom, each comparable to the original nucleus, and sufficiently specialized to admit of geographical demarcation, the Court House in those days brooked no rivals. With its aspiring cupola, it so dominated the town that none could help looking up to it as something superior and apart being, in fact, the only really tall object in sight, except to take an airing. If you when “Long John”wanted a hack you went to the Court House Square for it; and it was nearly the same if you were looking for a policeman, for several could generally be found hanging about there to prevent rival hackmen from murdering each other, or a combination of the pestiferous crew from doing a stranger to death, both being not infrequent happenings.
In a way, also, the Court House was everybody’s monitor and guide. It told you when to rise, when to eat your dinner, when to knock off work, when to jubilate, when to mourn, and, above all, it helped you to locate fires; for the clang of its great bell could be heard in almost every part of the town. Aye, how it rang paens of victory for Donelson for Vicksburg, and Gettysburg, and finally for Richmond, when that stronghold fell! And how its slow, solemn monotone voiced the anguish of all hearts, when the body of the slain Lincoln was borne through the shrouded streets of the mourning city, to rest for a day and a mght beneath the dome of the city’s capitol, that a stricken people might once more look upon the transfigured face of their beloved dead! And, finally, how it clanged, and clanged, and clanged again, on that fearful mght of fire, each stroke heightening the terror that possessed the fleeing multitude, while the “fiend” that lashed the elements to such boundless fury, compelled it to sound its own death-knell.
In 1862 the Court House Square was surrounded by an oddly assorted architectural hodgepodge, strikingly typical of the various stages of the city’s development, from the primitive “frame” of the thirties, to the new, six-storied marble Sherman House, at this time the finest building in the city, as well as one of the best appointed hotels in the country. Because of the panic of 1857, and the subsequent war, the Chicago of this period represents a status quo of nearly a full decade. Thereafter, from 1865, down to the time of the fire, the city was in an exceptional state of flux, and so much of the dilapidation of former days disappeared, that it was in quite a large way a comparatively new downtown Chicago that was destroyed on October 9, 1871.
Where Washington Street bounds the Court House Square (then enclosed by a high iron fence), there remained down to 1864 nearly a block of original prairie, a dozen feet below the plank sidewalk; and when, in 1863, the plot was tenanted by a winter circus, its patrons descended to their seats as into a cellar. When, in the middle sixties, the building boom set in, Smith & Nixon erected on the site now occupied by the Chicago Opera House a fine Music Hall, which was opened, if I am not mistaken, with a concert by Gottschalk. Among other events I recall as taking place therein was a state billiard tournament, wherein Tom Foley, the veritable stand-by of to-day, won the State championship, a circumstance which throws a calcium light on the status of the game at that period; a concert by “Blind Tom”; and a lecture by William Lloyd Garrison, on “Reconstruction.”
In marked contrast to the vacant plot, and neighboring it on the corner of La Salle Street, stood one of the tallest-steepled churches in the city, the First Baptist. This, in 1864, was taken down bit by bit and reconstructed on its present site, Morgan and Monroe Streets, there becoming the Second Baptist. In its place rose Chicago’s first fine Chamber of Commerce, to be followed after the fire by a second trade-temple of similar dimensions, only the outer walls of which now remain, as the substructure to a skyscraper.
The southwest corner, across La Salle Street from the Baptist church, calls for special mention. It was at this time occupied by a brick building of two stories and basement, among the first dwellings of that material erected in Chicago. It was originally the home of P.F.W. Peck; and before it was demolished, about 1867, after a somewhat checkered existence, it had been some years the headquarters of the police department, with a calaboose in the basement.
The old landmark was succeeded by one of the finest buildings in the city, with the Union National Bank for its chief tenant. After the fire the bank was temporarily domiciled at the northwest corner of Market and Madison Streets, which one-sided locality with Field, Leiter & Co.’s establishment, both wholesale and retail, on the northeast corner, and the Board of Trade opposite became for a time the business focus of the city. Within a year or so, the old Peck residence site was rehabilitated with an even more substantial building than the one destroyed; and so this intersection, when the Chamber of Commerce had been rebuilt, became once again the city’s chief business centre. In addition to the Union National Bank, then the leading financial institution in the West, the new building accommodated the Western Union Telegraph Company, the Associated Press, the Western Army Headquarters (in charge of General Phil. Sheridan), another bank, and many important interests besides. Nevertheless, though of goodly size, this structure was in 1893 ruthlessly razed to give place to the present Stock Exchange building. Thus, in its various stages, this corner has been preeminently typical of the city’s vicissitudes and progress; while the frequent changes in its physical aspect emphasize the difficulties of the chronicler in undertaking to reproduce with certitude any particular epoch in the city’s physical history.
Mr. Cook’s volume is out of the ordinary among such works in that it devotes several chapters to Chicago’s underworld—which was quite different from that of 1910. Here are some of the things he has to say:
- It was this state of things that gave such an air of liveliness to ‘down town’ at night. It made all of us, that were foot-free, literally ‘Johnnies-on-the-spot’ all the time, and it was this intimate and peculiar community life, unmodified by anything like home influences, that gave the gambler his opportunity to play a dominant role. In the eyes of most unattached masculinity, the ‘sport’ with Lower Mississippi River antecedents was a prodigious personage, whose sayings and doings formed a leading topic at every rendezvous. He was particularly catered to at all but the most exclusive resorts, and it was an off-night when he failed to supply a batch of racy news items.
The average young man of half a century ago, as compared with his kind to-day, was easily impressed by externals, and as in the down town night life it was invariably the gambler on whom the lime light centered, it is small wonder that our ‘Johnnie’ fell an easy victim to the glamour of the extravaganza in which this pinchbeck cavalier was ever the acclaimed hero. A veritable night-hawk, the blackleg was seldom on view until well along in the afternoon, and then only to do a ‘stunt’ at sidewalk ‘mashing. The silly caramel girl, in her matinee finery, had as yet no existence, for the matinee itself awaited introduction. No, when in those days you caught the flash of an eye from under some milliner’s ‘dream,’ you made no mistake in assigning the wearer to the ‘red-light’ district; for the approved street costume of the period was exceedingly quiet, and a ‘symphony in color,’ such as may now without comment be displayed by the demurest maiden, was in those days an unmistakable class signal, and vastly in afternoon-promenade evidence.
No picture of down town street life in the early sixties would be in any manner a true reflex that failed to show in high relief the part played by the Underworld—which for the nonce might well be called the Upperworld—for was it not literally on top? Even had it not so flagrantly challenged the eye the men aggressively swagger, the women flaringly spectacular—it would still have attracted large attention, because of the absence of other ‘goings-on’ to divide interest with it. A process of elimination from the present-day showing of any American city of say two hundred thousand inhabitants (about Chicago’s aggregate at the close of the war) will readily make this plain. There was only one permanent place of amusement, where to-day (apportioned to same population) there are half a score of various sorts, and more or less ‘continuous.’ There were no race meetings to bulk the pygmy jockey into a Goliath of popularity; no ring contests to beat the ‘bruiser’ into pulpy notoriety; no professional baseball to apotheosize the doubly-twisted ‘twirler’; no football contests to crown with bay or laurel the buttressed ‘centre,’ rock-rooted ‘fullback,’ or foot-winged ‘rusher’; no rowing matches to distinguish the ‘stroke’ above his fellows; unheard of, and certainly unplayed, were such diversions as polo, golf, tennis, cricket, lacrosse, hockey, hand-ball, basket-ball, and even innocuous croquet; no such objects of adoration as champion pedestrians, long-distance runners, spindle-shanked sprinters, high-jumpers, vaulters, weight-putters, or other fame-devouring athletes; no record-or neck-breaking cyclists; no death-courting or death-dealing chauffeurs; surely no sun-soaring aviators; and not even a billiard champion, until some years later, when my old friend, genial Tom Foley, won that distinction at the first State tournament. There was not a club in the whole city for a quiet ‘sit-in’; no horse, dog, poultry, or flower shows; no skating-rinks; indeed, no popular pastimes of any sort; while even the picturesque red-shirt lads, who but a few years before had ‘run wid de masheen’ and finished every fire with a free, all-round fight, had been summarily abolished. So it only remains to mention McVicker’s Theatre, home of the tragic muse, for a ‘steady, with an occasional variation of circus or minstrel troupe. In these circumstances, is it matter for wonder that in the ‘whirl of the town,’ the men and women of the Underworld were the unchallenged top-liners? And while the shame thus flaunted no doubt acted as a deterrent on the many, on more than a few the gay plumage permitted only to those who threaded the ‘primrose path of dalliance,’ exerted a baleful fascination.
About this time there came into common use the term ‘war widow,’ to denote a species of frailty quite unknown before. When the modern Ulysses went forth to battle, his Penelope, it is to be feared, did not always rise to the possibilities of her self-denying opportunities, neither wove by day nor undid by night, unneeded webs against the importunities of unwelcome suitors; nor yet devoted herself wholly to keeping the hearth swept in readiness for her hero’s return. No, in only too many instances (especially in the absence of the restraining influence of children) the spouse, if still young and moderately fair to look upon, made undue haste to invest her ‘substitute’ hoard in finery for the street, approaching ever nearer in her unrestraint to the devotees of pleasure. From this it resulted that outlying abodes were exchanged for ‘light house- keeping’ accommodations on the upper floors of business blocks, hitherto consecrate to guileless masculinity. And so it came about that an evil theretofore strictly confined to “establishments” apart, intruded free-lance fashion wherever it might find domiciliary tolerance. Prior to the irruption of the ‘war widow,’ spiders of her variety had spread their gaudy nets only in the light of day as part of ‘Vanity Fair,’ and with an ulterior eye only to possible entanglements of over-curious ‘flies.’ But now, in the full adornment of war paint, the ‘bereaved’ went obtrusively forth to seek her prey under the gaslight; and, in an incredibly short time this evil grew to such proportions that the police were compelled to take cognizance of it. Thereafter frequent perfunctory ‘clean-ups’ followed, and the ‘widow,’ with or without a war record, became an established police-court habitué.
It was the vogue of the period for the gambling chiefs to have for consorts the most notorious keepers of ‘establishments.’ There seemed under the circumstances a peculiar fitness in this arrangement,—a veritable triumph for the law of natural selection—and because of this connection, and the large publicity given to occasional ‘pulls’ (always made as spectacular as possible on the part of the police), these “Madams” were the tavern talk from the lakes to the Rockies.
Few who were of the Chicago of the middle sixties and in any manner ‘men-about-town,’ can have forgotten the introduction of a game that has been described as consisting of one fellow calling out numbers, another after a while shouting ‘Keno,’ and a whole lot of other fellows vociferating, Oh, h—ll!’ For months little else was talked about. Was it gambling? Ah, that was the question! The ‘sports’ said no, as ‘keno’ was only another name for a certain innocent German pastime called ‘lotto.’ The police, meanwhile, couldn’t come to any conclusion— indeed, how could they, with their ‘rake-off in mind?—and so matters were allowed to drift until the craze passed all bounds. For faro and like orthodox gambling devices Chicago had never been ‘open’ in the sense that Western cattle or mining towns are, where you enter the tiger’s den directly from the street, and the best ground-floors are reserved for the animal’s sinuous disporting. No, faro had to be played at least one flight up, and with some pretence to closed doors. But keno! ah, that was different! First floors on Randolph Street, between Clark and State then—par excellence the gambling ‘midway’— were soon renting at exorbitant figures; and, spacious as they might be, there was seldom sufficient room to accommodate would-be patrons. On Saturday nights in particular the crowds that gathered not only blocked the sidewalks, but filled up a good part of the street; while above all the din and uproar of this congregated loaferdom, the casual wayfarer could plainly hear the urn manipulator’s call, ‘Sixty-four!’ ‘Seventy-two!’ ‘Eleven!’ ‘Forty-three!’ or whatever might be the numbers drawn;
and, over all, in due course, the triumphant ‘Keno!’
An order from headquarters to ‘shut up’ would at any time have sufficed to put all these establishments in- stantly out of business. But such a matter-of-fact proceeding would have brought no grist to the Armory Station police mill. Accordingly (when the scandal had finally made some action imperative), realizing that even an appearance of ‘shutting up shop’ would seriously cut down their ‘divvy,’ the powers determined to recoup by a big ‘pull’ with bail-bond pickings at a dollar a head for the justices, and five dollars or more per victim to the professional bailors and all this, properly proportioned between captain and sergeants, promised to make life reasonably worth living to those in charge of the Armory precinct, which at this time included the entire south division.
The police selected a Saturday night, of course, and the hour when there would be most to ‘pull off.’ While practically the entire force was brought to the scene, there were yet only policemen enough to guard the various outlets simultaneously, with a reserve squad for escort duty, which in the circumstances barely sufficed to cope with the contents of a single establishment at a time. Hence nearly a dozen trips were made, and while the raid began before ten o’clock, it was long after midnight before the last
‘den’ was emptied.
To facilitate the bailing process, both the police justices of that day, ex-Mayor Isaac N. Milliken and ex-school-teacher A. D. Sturtevant, were on hand; and the gravity with which they piled their desks with greenbacks was exceeded only by the unction with which the bailors pocketed their fat pickings.
A raid so wholesale had never before been attempted, and most likely has not been seen since. The old Armory was a goodly sized building, three stories high. Soon it was packed from bottom to top with victims, and still they came. There was a big barn in the rear, and when that was filled, a lot were corralled in the open street, and separated from the thousands of outsiders drawn to the scene by a barrier of blue-coats. Sunday morning came, and still the bailing grind went on. Then an odd thing happened. The justices ran out of printed blanks, and it became necessary to write out the entire rigmarole on sheets of foolscap; and to this service every policeman capable of wielding a pen, and who might be spared from guard duty, was impressed.
It was by no means an ordinary ‘catch’ that was brought to land. As everything had been conducted for weeks with wide-open doors, many a staid burgher was caught, who had dropped in merely to see the fun. But in ‘the eyes of the law’ that made no difference; and while the patient wife waited by the fireside for the coming of her liege, ‘Smith’ or Jones’ of record was eating his heart out, while waiting through weary hours for the particular Jones or Smith whom he stood for, to be called to receive his charter of liberty.
While hundreds of the well-to-do were thus enabled to spend the Sabbath (or what was left of it) in the agitated bosoms of their families, other hundreds, whom the game had perchance served scurvily, were compelled to take ‘pot luck’ of unsweetened mush and black coffee with the turnkey until Monday morning, when they were either released through the good offices of friends, or joined the procession to the Bridewell, then a dilapidated rookery in the region of Franklin and Harrison Streets.
As all students of American history know, the part played by Chicago and Illinois in the great rebellion was large and important.
Yet the beginning was feeble and almost grotesque, though unsuccessful. The South, thanks to its friends in the Buchanan Cabinet, was far better supplied with arms and ammunition than the North, and apparently no part of the North was in worse shape as Illinois.
April 19, 1861, four days after the first call for 75,000 men, Governor Yates, the famous War Governor of Illinois, telegraphed General H. K. Swift of the militia, with headquarters at Chicago, to get ready with all speed as strong a force as he could raise. The next day a messenger arrived from Governor Yates instructing General Swift to take possession of Cairo, which was plainly a strategic point in the war game, as both Missouri and Kentucky had outspoken pro-Southern Governors. Within two days General Swift was on his way with four brass six pounder guns, forty-six horses and 800 men. Mr. Cook says:
- On the fifteenth of April, 1861, there was a call for seventy-five thousand militia, of which the quota of Illinois was six regiments. But there were only some odds and ends of companies in the State, not enough to fill a third of the quota. General H.K. Swift, of Chicago, a well-known banker, being a militia brigadier was called upon by Governor Yates, as has been shown, to proceed immediately to Cairo with whatever force he could ‘commandeer.’ This he proceeded to do, and he arrived at that point with less than one thousand men, as follows:
But few of these had arms, and the stores of Chicago had been depleted to supply them with anything that resembled a gun. As to the State, it had altogether this remarkable collection of ‘shooting irons’ in its arsenal at Springfield: 362 muskets altered from flintlocks, 125 Harper’s Ferry and Deneger rifles, 297 horse pistols, and 133 musketoons whatever deadly contrivances those may have been! As for the batteries, they were without anything resembling shot, shell, or cannister, and so was the State arsenal. Accordingly, slugs were hurriedly prepared, and some of these improvisations are said to have made great havoc in the ranks of the enemy at Donelson.
It is the proud boast of the Illinoisan that his state’s total enlistment for the war was 237,488 men, a showing both per quota and enrollment far above that made by any other state—and that as Governor Yates could say with peculiar pride: “Thus it will be seen that Illinois alone of all of the loyal states of the Union, furnishes the proud record of not only having escaped the draft without receiving credit for her old regiments, but of starting under a new call (which had come on Jan. 17, 1865, for 300,000 additional men) with her quota largely diminished by thousands of veterans already re-enlisted.”
Here are some of the interesting things Mr. Cook has to say about war times in Chicago:
- Chicago at the outbreak of the war had a population approximating 100,000. Her contribution of men to the war was in round numbers about 15,000 (Cook County’s total being 22,436). When it is considered that the city’s total vote in 1860 was only 18,747, which in 1862, under the drain of the war had fallen to 13,670, it can easily be seen what an important part the war played in the every day life of the people, and the affairs of the city.
The exceptional position of Illinois among her loyal sister States, as the only one whose quotas were placed in the field without resort to the draft, has been frequently attributed to the fact that it gave Abraham Lincoln to the nation, and so had a special incentive to sustain him in his arduous task. But, as I attempt to evaluate the various influences that joined in the proud result, certain other factors urge themselves for recognition.
Who was it that said, ‘Let me write the songs of a people and I care not who makes its laws’? But great songs have no fixed habitation. Indeed, frequently they are popularized far from the scene of their birth: so much is due to the manner of their exploitation so frequently to some exceptional interpretation. Was it merely a coincidence that the maker of the war’s most inspiring lyrics, and their ‘creators’ (as the stage people say) and most gifted celebrants were local co-workers? These battle paeans were heard in Chicago, where they were born, as nowhere else. If inspiration requires a congenial atmosphere for spontaneous expression, there was much here to call it forth.
The Lumbards, Frank and Jules, were notabilities years before the war. Through these gifted brothers singing had fairly got into Chicago’s blood; and so all was ready to give a whole-hearted welcome to the gift of the muses, as a form of emotional expression suited to the hour. Jules G. Lumbard, in his prime, was regarded as one of the finest bassos in the country; and to this rare gift fortune added a presence that happily still makes this master-singer in his hale old age one of the marked figures of the city. Frank’s voice was a sonorous tenor; and, if not quite the equal of the brother’s in purity, it had a quality all its own, a triumphant heartiness that irresistibly compelled his auditors to follow where he led, and to ring out the chorus as if the life of the country depended on each individual doing his very utmost.
Mr. George P. Upton shared to the full the emotions of the hour. In his recently published ‘Musical Memories,’ through which those who were of the elder time can so truly live many experiences over again, he thus associates these singers with some significant incidents:
When President Lincoln issued his second call for troops, ‘The Battle Cry of Freedom’ occurred to him (Dr. George F. Root) as a motive for a song, while he was reading the document. He dashed it off hurriedly the next morning at the store. There was to be a public meeting on the same day in the Court House Square. Frank and Jules Lumbard, who were the singers laureate of the war period, came to the store to get something new to sing. The Doctor gave them ‘The Battle Cry.’ They ran it over once or twice, went to the meeting, and shouted it in their trumpet tones, and before the last verse was finished thousands joined in the refrain. It spread from that Square all over the country. It was heard in camps, on the march, upon the battle field. It became the Northern Marseillaise.
When defeat followed defeat, and hearts were wrung to the breaking point, there was in the wide territory tributary to Chicago no instrumentality to rouse men to renewed action to ever higher duties and sacrifices comparable to these rarely gifted singers. No rally for the Union within a wide radius was complete without the promised presence of their war quartette; and whensoever they were advertised to appear, there was never a question as to the success of the meeting, for then the whole country side for fifty miles around would be on hand to follow their lead in ‘Shouting the Battle Cry of Freedom.’ Frank, the quartette’s leader, was an incarnation of optimism, an embodiment of the spirit of enthusiasm; and, whatever the situation, however oppressed the hearts of the people, he possessed the gift to impart his own high spirits to his surroundings. He just did things in a big, exuberant way; dispelled clouds and made the sun shine in spite of itself; forced men and women to sing and sing again, and so turned heart-heaviness into sacrificial rejoicing.
Therefore, taking into account the naive character of the community, together with the storm and stress of the times, it should not be difficult to understand why the Lumbards, through their exceptional gift, became the voice of a popular emotion nay, its apotheosis and, rather than the many honored above their deserts, deserve to be held in grateful remembrance by their compatriots; and, above all, by the people of the Middle West.
In these days of the general worship of Lincoln, it is difficult to realize such scenes as attended the Democratic national convention held in Chicago in 1864, which nominated McClellan on a platform that declared the war a failure and demanded that “immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities.” Here are some of the things the author has to say of this conversation:
- The Democratic National Convention held in Chicago in 1864 was to many people an event of ominous import. When it is considered that on the one hand was the South holding the Union armies well in check; and on the other, a party in the North, constituting at least three-sevenths of its population, whose chosen representatives in Convention assembled solemnly declared the war then waging for the preservation of the Union a failure, it can be readily imagined that the avowedly Union element found itself in a discouraging pass, and seldom more so than at the time of this extraordinary gathering.
While the attitude anathematized as ‘Copperheadism’ may remain a more or less disputed question in the sphere of political psychology, certain it is that this ‘ism’ was often extremely aggressive, even though its temerities were as a rule wholesomely tempered by the ebb and flow of the tide of war. And so, when for the nonce the various disgruntled segregations found themselves components of an enormous aggregation, under circumstances particularly favorable for kindling a ‘fire in the rear’ of the Union armies, the brands thus adventitiously thrown together threatened a general conflagration.
In the deliberations of the Convention, which took place in a huge auditorium specially erected for the occasion at the southern end of the lake front, restraint of speech was for obvious reasons deemed advisable; but outside, at impromptu gatherings about the leading hotels, most of the speakers (when addressing what can be characterized only as howling mobs) lashed themselves into paroxysms of denunciation of everything in any manner tending to give encouragement or effective support to the war.
The Sherman House, most centrally located, was the headquarters of the ultra leaders. Here Vallandigham and his immediate retinue put up; and here also was to be found the Indiana delegation, which, under the cloud-compelling leadership of the ‘Tall Sycamore of the Wabash,’ was the most blatant of them all. A triumphant mob surged at all hours about this hostelry, and its cries of ‘Speech!’ ‘Speech!’ would bring to the balcony first one and then another of the popular favorites the measure of acclaim with which their appearance was greeted being usually in proportion to lengths of time they had served in some ‘Lincoln bastille.’
On the morning following one of the evening gatherings during the Convention week a ‘Copperhead orgy’ the Republican papers called it the Times described the outbreak as follows:
‘The demonstration last night was not a meeting merely; it was a whole constellation of meetings. The grand centre of the city Randolph, Clark, Washington, and La Salle Streets, about the Court House, as well as the Court House Square presented one solid mass of human beings; and these were independent of crowds that had gathered in Bryan Hall and other halls. During the entire evening there were at all times five speakers holding forth to these tens of thousands of assembled citizens.’
Of the utterances of the speakers who harangued the great mass from different improvised rostrums the principal ones being the east and south balconies of the Sherman House the following extracts from the Times reports are fair samples:
Hon. S. S. Cox, of Ohio (later of New York) ‘Abraham Lincoln has deluged the country with blood, created a debt of four thou- sand million dollars, and sacrified two millions of human lives. At theNovemberelectionwewilldamnhimwitheternalinfamy. Even Jefferson Davis is no greater enemy of the Constitution.’
Hon. W. W. O’Brien, of Peoria ‘We want to try Lincoln as Charles I. of England was tried, and if found guilty will carry out the law.’
Stambaugh, of Ohio ‘If I am called upon to elect between the freedom of the nigger and disunion and separation, I shall choose the latter. You might search hell over and find none worse than Abraham Lincoln.’
Hon. H. S. Orton, of Wisconsin ‘In Wisconsin Lincoln has no party, except his officers and satraps that is all there is left. I pledge you my word, that that is all that is left in the State of Wisconsin. The collectors of the revenue, the assessors and their dependents, are all the strength that Abe Lincoln has in these free States. Are they to rule over us? Are you going to submit to it? (Cries of ‘No.’ ‘No.’) God bless the draft. It proves that we have touched bottom, and got to the last ditch, the last man and the last dollar. The stars of heaven are blotted out, the moon will refuse to shine, the sun will rise no more in the fair firmament of the American Republic.’
Hon. and Rev. Henry Clay Dean, of Iowa ‘The American people are ruled by felons. With all his vast armies Lincoln has failed! failed! FAILED! FAILED! And still the monster usurper wants more victims for his slaughter pens. I blush that such a felon should occupy the highest gift of the people. Perjury and larceny are written all over him. Ever since the usurper, traitor, and tyrant has occupied the presidential chair the Republican party has shouted war to the knife, and the knife to the hilt. Blood has flowed in torrents, and yet the thirst of the old monster is not quenched. His cry is ever for more blood.’
Compare this language in this scene:
- One of the saddest days in the history of Chicago was that which saw the body of Abraham Lincoln borne through shrouded streets, lined with tear-stained faces that bespoke the heart-sorrow of a bereaved people.
Hours before the sad procession was due, people by hundreds of thousands they had come, a mighty host, from all parts of the Northwest were massed along the route, especially on the lake front, which, from Park Row to Washington Street, presented such an assemblage as few occasions bring together.
Newspaper work prevented me from falling into line until three o’clock in the morning, and even at that unusual hour so extended was the line that I was nearly an hour and a half in reaching the bier.
I therefore quickly fell once more into line, this time at the corner of Madison and La Salle Streets, whereas before I had begun two blocks farther east on Madison. While the double file moved at a slow but fairly even pace (first west on Madison, then north on La Salle Street, then east on Randolph, then south on Clark, then west on Washington, and thence once more through the square, up the steps, and into the rotunda).