General Sherman’s 4th of July

The following excerpt is from William Tecumseh Sherman’s (1820-1891) speech in Salem, Illinois, on July 4, 1866, according to research by James Heintze:

The Spaniards have nearly vanished from our territory, but the English, the Swedes, the Germans, the French remain, and their posterity will remain till the end of time.

From this I infer the fact that the soil and climate such as you enjoy here in Illinois is the wealth of America not alone its mineral resources. They are incidental. They are dug up and are taken away, but this soil remains to you today, next year and forever to the end of time; and will produce food and raiment for all men on the face of the earth.

Then comes the intellectual part of our history. Look at Franklin drawing from the clouds the agency of electricity, so that now you are able to communicate with your friends far away that you are well and comfortably assembled together. He is also another man whom we should cherish with pride–he and other men who made your constitution according to the best of their understanding, believing that it would fulfill the destiny for which they contemplated it. No one doubted that it was fair upon its face; every paragraph had been well studied, and it did work like a charm, and I still think it is the best heritage which they could have given us.

But like many of the people of the world, are we not governed by reason alone. We are full of passion; I am full of passion and sometimes act wildly. So do you, and so do all men. We do not follow the dictates of our intellect and reason; but are swayed hither and thither by passion. Passion carried us into one war with England; then came the Mexican War, and finally the great war which is now over, thank God, and you are the living witnesses of it.

Sherman makes a strong point about the nationalities who “remain”. Wonder why? He does say that the natural bounty is for “all men on the face of the earth”.

Either we are governed by the constitution or passion? This is usually where a politician would bring in religion, but not Sherman. Perhaps his “act wildly” comment is meant to help lay the foundation for his defence against accusations that he destroyed Georgia:

Now you all remember when we took Atlanta it looked as though with our army strung along a line of six or seven hundred miles the head of the column would be crushed.

If I had gone on stringing out my forces would there not have been a time when the head of that column would have been crushed in? You soldiers are generals enough to see that. Therefore I resolved in my mind to stop the game of guarding their cities, and destroy their cities. [Cheers.]

Seems to have been a reasoned tactic after all. His position thus becomes clearer and more pronounced:

Now, my friends, I know there are parties who denounce me as inhuman. I appeal to you if I have not always been kind and considerate to you. [Cheers.] I care not what they say. [Bully for you and cheers.] I say that it ceased to be our duty to guard their cities any longer, and had I gone on stringing out my column, little by little, some of your Illinois regiments would not have come home, but would have been crushed. Therefore I determined to go through their country, and so I took one army myself and gave my friend George Thomas the other, and we whaled away with both. [Loud cheers.] Therefore we destroyed Atlanta, and if we had destroyed all the cities of the South in order to bring about the result in view it would have been right. [Loud cheers.]

The course we pursued did produce the desired result, and now, ladies, you see your young friends returned to you, wives see their husbands– all reunited in this beautiful grove in Illinois, and God knows, I hope you will never be sent forth again; but if you are, I know you will respond more promptly than you did before. [Loud cheers.]

The old ends justify the means theory. Note, however that he does say his end was to achieve peace so that Illinois civilians could return to their normal lives, and that’s not just any “end”.

As to the future, I have been over all that part of the country which is assigned to me, and I have never yet, at any period of our history, seen the country looking so prosperous, the grain growing so luxuriantly, and the people so well contented and happy, the table so bountifully spread; and all this, too, out on the plains of Kansas where, six years ago, it required an escort of three hundred men to guard an officer sent to pay off a garrison. Now I can go, and anybody can go with a single horse a way out to the limits of Kansas, or even to Colorado, without an escort, and that too at the close of a long and terrible war. So that I say that we are progressing to the end we have in view, and that whether the politicians, whether the statesmen, I will call them, the judges and lawyers, will adopt a policy to produce the desired result, I don’t know and don’t much care, because it will be done anyhow. [Laughter and cheers.] I say if the farmers, mechanics and businessmen will go on and attend to their own business the people of Missouri will do the same. Iowa the same, and so it will be all over the Western and Northern country, and politicians will be compelled to adapt their policy to this end–and that is the true end, namely, the great prosperity of our country.

Therefore it is unnecessary to even allude to the position in which our national affairs are placed, for I do not pretend to comprehend or understand them. It is not my task; but it is my task to see that the forces placed at my disposal to put down opposition to the laws quickly and forever, do their duty. [Cheers.] Whenever the United States Marshal comes to me and tells me that his power is resisted, and he has not sufficient civil force to execute the laws, if I have soldiers I will go to his assistance and see that the laws are enforced. And my friends, if that rule is carried out in the land, if the laws of Congress are to be enforced wherever this flag floats, then in truth are we a nation to all intents and purposes, at home and abroad.

The comments about an escort of 300 men are curious. Kansas was called “bloody”, but I’ve not seen a reference that spells out how much security and stability of a military unit actually cost back then. He says “at home and abroad” but later in the speech calls out Congressional oversight and due care in foreign intervention:

when it becomes necessary to assert our authority with foreign nations, let Congress and the Executive do it by due course of law, and then it becomes our right and not before

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