Butler County Before the Civil War

The Mexican War ended, as we have seen, with complete victory by the United States, and we now had no enemy nor any foreign controversy. War seemed far distant. Our boundary troubles, which for several years had seemed likely to result in bloodshed, had been amicably closed two years before the beginning of the contest with Mexico, and the small portion which remained unadjusted, respecting the channel between Vancouver's Island and Oregon, was, by the wisdom and patience of General Scott, quietly composed. Our differences with Spain respecting Cuba had passed by, and nothing remained for us to do except to sit under our own vine and fig tree and watch the development of the country. Yet the seed of discord was there, and war was soon to break out among us on an unexampled scale. The remote cause was negro slavery; the immediate cause was State rights, so called, pushed to an unnatural and dangerous extent-a length never dreamed of by those who were most strenuous in opposing the adoption of the Federal Constitution, and certainly not by those who favored it. (Battle of Monterrey by Carl nebel, courtesy of the University of Texas NOTE: Butler County soldiers in company I, 1st Ohio Volunteers fought at Monterrey)


The baneful effects of slavery were seen everywhere in the South. The fields of Kentucky, even at this day, do not compare with those of Ohio. Liberty of speech was inhibited, strangers form other States were forbidden to sojourn in Southern towns in cases where it was suspected their views of the peculiar institution differed from those of their neighbors, the press was muzzled, the pulpit not allowed to speak on one of the most flagrant violations of morality ever committed, and all these ultra views were sustained by a phalanx of Congressmen who could be depended upon in any emergency. No such unanimity existed among the representatives from the free States, and it was impossible to conceive of their being so completely of one mind as those who dwelt South of Mason and Dixon's line, for differences of opinion always spring up in a free government. What mild dissent might have been allowed at the beginning of the century, when Jefferson uttered his philosophic doubts, and Madison and other Virginia statesmen hoped that emancipation might come some day, had entirely disappeared. The recruits never disclosed any individual ideas. The two strong men of the South who entertained latest a difference of opinion, Henry CLAY and Thomas H. BENTON, disappeared from the scene before the final struggle. After them came DAVIS, YANCEY, SLIDELL, WIGFALL, and others, who breathed forth the real views of the people of the South. Slavery had been used to aggravate their people at every election until they had resolved to embrace civil war rather then endure the slightest interference in the Territories, the District of Columbia, or in regard to the return of fugitives.


Nor in this respect was the North unblamable. Demagogues among us steadily fanned the feelings of enmity of the Southern people to those who only wished to do justice to a poor, ignorant, and weak class of the American people. In some of the states free colored men were not permitted to sojourn; in others it was a State's-prison offense for the two races to marry, never reflecting that nature itself would prevent them, and here in Butler County the bitterest prejudices prevailed. Any man of color who attempted to settle in Rossville was speedily driven out by a mob. Should any one of that race go South he was liable to be taken up and sold, as being presumptively a runaway, and the most distinguished colored citizen of the county at present, a man always free, and whose abilities and acquirements are at least equal to those of any other man in Butler, was forced to pretend, in order to prevent being enslaved in New Orleans and other places where he traveled in this youth, that he was an Indian.


It is difficult to speak coolly of the years before the Rebellion-more difficult than to do so of the great struggle itself. The last was the effort of a people to free itself from what it regarded as oppression, but the true stain on the character of the people of the South is the long course of injuries practiced upon a defenseless people, and the crime against free speech and liberty thereby engendered. With the toil of a dozen of these wretches, who slept in dirty cabins, ate the rudest food, and wore the coarsest clothes, the master dressed in broadcloth and fine linen; with a dozen more his wife maintained her state; and with the spoil of a hundred the family visited Saratoga or the White Sulphur Springs, the sons were sent to college and the daughter to boarding-schools, the parents enjoyed the luxuries of life, and the children were brought up to follow in their footsteps. Yet the same man would not have accepted a gift of five dollars from another white man, and would have resisted with his life any attempt to wrest from him a penny of his property. His moral sense, by a long course of tampering, was degraded. Walpole saw nothing wrong in giving a bribe to members of Parliament, nor did they in receiving it, and the nobility in France resisted the payment of all taxes and sustained the privileges of their order until they fell under the ruins of the monarchy. Daylight came to the Southern masses only at the close of the war.


It would be unprofitable to relate the chain of events that preceded the beginning of the American conflict. In general terms the war may be traced to the compromise measures of 1850, and to the passage of the Kansas and Nebraska act. Fighting began in Kansas in 1855. A little later John BROWN made his attack upon Harper's Ferry, and failed. SUMNER had been beaten over the head by a bludgeon, his assailant reaping a great increase of popularity. The fugitive slave law was occasionally and spasmodically enforced through the North, each recovery making an anti-slavery majority in the neighborhood. Finally, as the result of the election of Abraham LINCOLN, South Carolina seceded, and was followed by other States. Major ANDERSON maintained his position in Charleston Harbor with difficulty, and at last, after removal form one of the islands to another, was attacked by the Secessionists forces under General BEAUREGARD.