Comic History of the United States - Bill Nye

Befo' The Wah—Causes Which Led to It

Masterly Grasp of the Subject Shown by the Author

A man named Lopez in 1851 attempted to annex Cuba, thus furnishing for our Republican wrapper a genuine Havana filler; but he failed, and was executed, while his plans were not.

Franklin Pierce was elected President on the Democratic ticket, running against General Scott, the Whig candidate. Slavery began to be discussed again, when Stephen A. Douglas, in Congress, advocated squatter sovereignty, or the right for each Territory to decide whether it would be a free or a slave State. The measure became a law in 1854.

That was what made trouble in Kansas. The two elements, free and slave, were arrayed against each other, and for several years friends from other States had to come over and help Kansas bury its dead. The condition of things for some time was exceedingly mortifying to the citizen who went out to milk after dark without his gun.

Trouble with Mexico arose, owing to the fact that the government had used a poor and unreliable map in establishing the line: so General Gadsden made a settlement for the disputed ground, and we paid Mexico ten millions of dollars. It is needless to say that we have since seen the day when we wished that we had it back.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Two ports of entry were now opened to us in Japan by Commodore Perry's Expedition, and cups and saucers began to be more plentiful in this country, many of the wealthier deciding at that time not to cool tea in the saucer or drink it vociferously from that vessel. This custom and the Whig party passed away at the same time.

The Republican or Anti-Slavery party nominated for President John C. Fremont, who received the vote of eleven States, but James Buchanan was elected, and proved to the satisfaction of the world that there is nothing to prevent any unemployed man's applying for the Presidency of the United States; also that if his life has been free from ideas and opinions he may be elected sometimes where one who has been caught in the very act of thinking, and had it proved on him, might be defeated.

Chief Justice Taney now stated that slaves could be taken into any State of the Union by their owners without forfeiting the rights of ownership. This was called the Dred Scott decision, and did much to irritate Abolitionists like John Brown, whose soul as this book goes to press is said to be marching on. Brown was a Kansas man with a mission and massive whiskers. He would be called now a crank; but his action in seizing a United States arsenal at Harper's Ferry and declaring the slaves free was regarded by the South as thoroughly representative of the Northern feeling.

The country now began to be in a state of restlessness. Brown had been captured and hanged as a traitor. Northern men were obliged to leave their work every little while to catch a negro, crate him, and return him to his master or give him a lift towards Canada; and, as the negro was replenishing the earth at an astonishing rate, general alarm broke out.

Douglas was the champion of squatter sovereignty, John C. Breckinridge of the doctrine that slaves could be checked through as personal baggage into any State of the Union, and Lincoln of the anti-slavery principle which afterwards constituted the spinal column of the Federal Government as opposed to the Confederacy of the seceded States.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Lincoln was elected, which reminded him of an anecdote. Douglas and several other candidates were defeated, which did not remind them of anything.

South Carolina seceded in December, 1860, and soon after Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas followed suit.

The following February the Confederacy was organized at Montgomery, Alabama, and Jefferson Davis was elected President. Long and patient effort on the part of the historian to ascertain how he liked it has been entirely barren of results. Alexander H. Stephens was made Vice-President.

Everything belonging to the United States and not thoroughly fastened down was carried away by the Confederacy, while President Buchanan looked the other way or wrote airy persiflage to tottering dynasties which slyly among themselves characterized him as a neat and cleanly old lady.

Had Buchanan been a married man it is generally believed now that his wife would have prevented the war. Then she would have called James out from under the bed and allowed him to come to the table for his meals with the family. But he was not married, and the war came on.

Major Anderson was afraid to remain at Fort Moultrie in Charleston Harbor, so crossed over to Fort Sumter. The South regarded this as hostility, and the fort was watched to see if any one should attempt to divide his lunch with the garrison, which it was declared would be regarded as an act of defiance. The reader will see by this that a deaf and dumb asylum in Northern Michigan was about the only safe place for a peaceable man at that time.

President Lincoln found himself placed at the head of a looted government on the sharp edge of a crisis that had not been properly upholstered. The Buchanan cabinet had left little except a burglar's tool or two here and there to mark its operations, and, with the aged and infirm General Scott at the head of a little army, and no encouragement except from the Abolitionists, many of whom had never seen a colored man outside of a minstrel performance, the President stole incog. into Washington, like a man who had agreed to lecture there.

Southern officers resigned daily from the army and navy to go home and join the fortunes of their several States. Meantime, the Federal government moved about like a baby elephant loaded with shot, while the new Confederacy got men, money, arms, and munitions of war from every conceivable point.

Finding that supplies were to be sent to Major Anderson, General Peter G. T. Beauregard summoned Major Anderson to surrender. General Beauregard, after the war, became one of the good, kind gentlemen who annually stated over their signatures that they had examined the Louisiana State Lottery and that there was no deception about it. The Lottery felt grateful for this, and said that the general should never want while it had a roof of its own.

Major Anderson had seventy men, while General Beauregard had seven thousand. After a bombardment and a general fight of thirty-four hours, the starved and suffocated garrison yielded to overwhelming numbers.

President Lincoln was not admired by a class of people in the North and South who heard with horror that he had at one time worked for ten dollars a month. They thought the President's salary too much for him, and feared that he would buy watermelons with it. They also feared that some day he might tell a funny story in the presence of Queen Victoria. The snobocracy could hardly sleep nights for fear that Lincoln at a state dinner might put sugar and cream in his cold consomme.

Jefferson Davis, it was said, knew more of etiquette in a minute than Lincoln knew all his life.

The capture of Sumter united the North and unified the South. It made "war Democrats"—i.e., Democrats who had voted against Lincoln—join him in the prosecution of the war. More United States property was cheerfully appropriated by the Confederacy, which showed that it was alive and kicking from the very first minute it was born.

Confederate troops were sent into Virginia and threatened the Capitol at Washington, and would have taken it if the city had not, in summer, been regarded as unhealthful.

The Sixth Massachusetts Regiment, hurrying to the capital, was attacked in Baltimore and several men were killed. This was the first actual bloodshed in the civil war which caused rivers and lakes and torrents of the best blood of North and South to cover the fair, sweet clover fields and blue-grass meadows made alone for peace.

The general opinion of the author, thirty-five years afterwards, is that the war was as unavoidable as the deluge, and as idiotic in its incipiency as Adam's justly celebrated defence in the great "Apple Sass Case."

Men will fight until it is educated out of them, just as they will no doubt retain rudimentary tails and live in trees till they know better. It's all owing to how a man was brought up.

Of course after we have been drawn into the fight and been fined and sent home, we like to maintain that we were fighting for our home, or liberty, or the flag, or something of the kind. We hate to admit that, as a nation, we fought and paid for it afterwards with our family's bread-money just because we were irritated. That's natural; but most great wars are arranged by people who stay at home and sell groceries to the widow and orphan and old maids at one hundred per cent. advance.

Arlington Heights and Alexandria were now seized and occupied by the Union troops for the protection of Washington, and mosquito-wires were put up in the Capitol windows to keep the largest of the rebels from coming in and biting Congress.

Fort Monroe was garrisoned by a force under General Benjamin F. Butler, and an expedition was sent out against Big Bethel. On the way the Federal troops fired into each other, which pleased the Confederates very much indeed. The Union troops were repulsed with loss, and went back to the fort, where they stated that they were disappointed in the war.

West Virginia was strongly for the Union in sentiment, and was set off from the original State of Virginia, and, after some fighting the first year of the war over its territory, came into line with the Northern States. The fighting here was not severe. Generals McClellan and Rosecrans (Union) and Lee (Confederate) were the principal commanders.

The first year of the war was largely spent in sparring for wind, as one very able authority has it.

In the next chapter reference will be made to the battle of Bull Run, and the odium will be placed where it belongs. The author reluctantly closes this chapter in order to go out and get some odium for that purpose.