Chapter 1:

  • The campaign of 1860
  • -- the political clubs -- ‘Hurrah for the Confederacy’ -- result of the election -- sentiment is Unified -- Governor Moore's proclamation -- meeting of the legislature.

The National Democratic convention met at Charleston, April 29, 1860—the Louisiana Constitutional convention, January 23, 1861. Between these conventions Secession, as the inevitable result, of acute dissension in the old camps, was already standing with stalwart sponsors at the baptismal font of nations. Its time for action was not ripe. It stood on guard, awaiting the summons with brave eyes sweeping the front.

The answer of Louisiana to the conflict of convention nominations was prompt. This promptness was specially marked in her chief city in the sharpened activity of politicians and in the enthusiasm of rank and file. From its older days the native population of New Orleans, inspired by its French and Spanish blood, instinct in imagination, has lent itself readily to the picturesque angle in its public spectacles. A presidential campaign in New Orleans largely exhibits, along with Southern heartiness, an élan rarely found among the men of other cities. Enthusiasm here assumes a poetic guise. The processions, marching with joyous abandon, carry within themselves an air of the carnival; the ranks, far from quiet be it said, fill the streets with racy cries; and around and about the transparencies shines a gleam of color which seen, is as inspiring as the mottoes.

Strangely enough—yet not so odd, considering the [4] respectable and wealthy party back of it—the first response came through a call, published in the papers, for a Bell and Everett ratification meeting to be held on May 30th. This call was signed by an imposing number of citizens, prominent in every branch of the public interest. Among the names subscribed were found those of Randell Hunt and Christian Roselius, eminent members of the bar; Moses Greenwood, banker; John R. Conway, afterward mayor; W. H. C. King, journalist; I. G. Seymour, editor of the Bulletin; Thomas Sloo, merchant; F. A. Lumsden, editor of the Picayune; W. O. Denegre, lawyer; E. T. Parker, sheriff of Orleans parish; and, to conclude with a war name, J. B. Walton, to be veteran major of the Washington Artillery when the bugle should sound for battle, and the gallant colonel of that superb battalion on fields not less hard-fought than glorious.

At this meeting, with all their voices for Bell and Everett, appeared for the first time the ‘Young Bell Ringers.’ These were a gallant band of marchers; young men, stepping jauntily and jesting while they stepped; evidently musically inclined, since in their bands, with a pleasantly conceived jeu d'esprit on their principal candidate's name, each bore and zealously rang a bell, great or small, with note sharp or mellow, as the need was. The ‘Young Bell Ringers’ presented the picturesque element in the presidential campaign of 1860. Opposed to them in the canvass, equally light in step, equally witty in tongue, equally proud in their candidates, came, sweeping along in their processions in pride of hopeful youth, the ‘Young Men's Breckinridge and Lane Club.’ Less wealthy than their rivals, they did not spring from darkness into sudden light. Their growth from a small beginning had been slow—from darkness into half tone. At first the ‘Young Men's Breckinridge and Lane Club’ showed twelve members, as aggressive in speeches as they were sturdy in spirit [5] Though small in numbers, this club had, from its first gathering, with a purpose boldly proclaimed at the meetings and fearlessly shouted in the streets, impressed itself upon the imaginations of unattached Democrats of the town. From it sprang, in different parts of the city, clubs like the Young Guards, Breckinridge Guards, Chalmette Guards, Southern Guards, as from a mother organization.

It was not long before it became noticed by keen eyes on the banquette that the small group following the main parade was like an island on fire in a quiet sea. Among those sharp eyes were others belonging to young men, still unplaced in the campaign because dubious. In this estuary the first parade of the club turned the tide to fulness. As it marched along it was flanked by two stalwart scouts who kept the crowd moving either side of the procession. There are many veterans, old men now, young then, who still remember those scouts of 1860 and how well they kept the ways free. The ethics of the clubs of both parties leaned to mercy. No crowns were cracked; but order—as the primal law of parades—was rigidly maintained.

In this first procession the club made converts as it marched. It attracted them by a debonair step; and won and retained them by cheers full of fire and already aggressive with ‘Dixie.’ The tide rose swift and high in one night, as that of the bay of Fundy. At the next procession of clubs, now increased in number, the Young Men's Breckinridge and Lane club, with Ernest Lagarde, first president, and his successor in office, Fred Ogden, paraded two thousand strong. No longer a faction of the Democratic host, it had become the procession, since, wherever placed, its banners were first sought and its gay and ringing shouts were eagerly listened for.

As the growth of the club developed, the Young Bell Ringers began gradually to haunt the banquette. They were there to watch the swing and to pass comments on [6] the campaign music of their rivals. Friendship allied many in either rank; kinship, not a few; yet loyalty was for a space intense enough to divide them by a party-hedge of the thickest. One night, when the campaign was still young, a new shout, with a strange rhythm about the words, startled the Bell men. This cry came from two thousand lungs, filling the air with its proud defiance and stirring the Bell Ringers to many a satiric retort. Not yet heeding, they were soon to heed the solemn voice of their mother State. These gibes came from those whose credo was all for the ‘Union and the Enforcement of the Laws.’

The cry of that night prefigured the future: ‘Hurrah for the Confederacy.’ A subtone of youth's thoughtlessness might have been in it. For the first time injected into a Louisiana campaign, it was the key to that far mightier voice, yet unlocked, which, springing from heroism, was, in a muster of armies, to ring through the valleys and echo from the hills of an embattled South.

In New Orleans there was in that day a large body of citizens faithful to their section, but of conservative tone and suspicious of overhaste. These heard this new cry of the young Democrats and thought it imprudent. Some of them, indeed, reported the incident to the leaders of the party, then to be found in the rooms of the State central committee. Strong with experience, the elders shook their heads gravely, but—like Tennyson's wise old chamberlain—said nothing. Occasion was promptly found, however, to see the young children. ‘Don't go too fast, boys,’ said one, hiding behind grave glasses a smiling eye. ‘Now, you must really be more cautious,’ echoed another, beaming on the offenders.

The counsel was fatherly, the rebuke mild. The Young Men's Breckinridge and Lane club received this warning from their leaders with respect, shrugged their shoulders on leaving the room, and continued to shout, with scarcely bated voices, for a Confederacy then mistily [7] arising amid the shadows. It would have been far from prudent leadership in the closing months of 1860 to crush the high temper of youths who might, within a half year, be carrying a musket or riding double on a caisson. In this gallant temper of her young men, New Orleans recalls with pride that of all her sons, marching under what banners soever or shouting what party names in the canvass of 1860, none able to go was found lacking when Louisiana needed his services on the field.

With the progress of the campaign, bad news came to render the timid anxious and to make the brave heady. The news felt like a breath of war from the Hudson. Arrangements were making, it was said, on a given date before the election, to parade all the Black Republican ‘Wide-awake’ clubs in New York and Brooklyn. Instant was the antagonism to this veiled threat. ‘Wide awake to what?’ asked men of all parties on the Mississippi. To this question, but one answer could be truthful. This bit of news came to be a triumph for the Young Men's Breckinridge and Lane club. Their enthusiasm had been wiser, had looked more clearly into the future than the prudence of their elders; had seen, to use a strong French expression, the ‘movement coming.’ Meantime the election went apace with its shouts, its bands and transparencies. At the end of September a Breckinridge and Lane mass-meeting was held. The club not only led the van of a monster parade, but marched proudly under the folds of a beautiful banner presented to it on September 24th. A notable feature in this procession was the appearance of the Lane Dragoons—a new club of horsemen, recently organized. On their horses the dragoons, ninety strong, presented a military aspect. Many, by the way, considered this a fair Roland for the Wide-awake Oliver. They wore black coats buttoned up, with a white belt bearing the club name, and a cap decorated with a gold band. Of this parade, with politics in a ferment, the Picayune [8] said: ‘A grand affair and remarkable for its composition.’

The campaign moved swiftly. October came and found the Young Bell Ringers full of purpose, strengthening their party by mass-meetings in different parts of the city. They affected the public squares, holding their assemblies on Lafayette square and Annunciation square in the First district, and Washington square in the Third. At each meeting the Bell and Everett men were surrounded by crowds. Their meetings under the trees became a marked feature of the canvass—nay, they undoubtedly aided the large vote that came with election day. In a measure, Breckinridge men were more domestic. They had held their first meeting in Armory hall. As the fight went on, they clung to its white-washed walls. It was soon known that at Armory hall were to be found eloquent speakers, strong speeches, bright lights, enlivening cries, stirring campaign songs, along with an enthusiasm which, springing from the club, rose to fill all visitors with political ozone. These chance meetings gathered night after night The public meetings were merely an ordinary night's meeting, enlarged and improved and ‘ozoned.’

On October 29th the Breckinridge club swung into a new path. On that day they went, carrying their new banner, down to the Pontchartrain depot on Elysian Fields to welcome Hon. William Lowndes Yancey, of Alabama, the magnetic orator of disunion. Some time previous they had invited this famous ‘firer of Cotton States into rebellion’ to address the Democracy. New Orleans was ablaze with excitement. A vast crowd of all parties assembled on Camp street to hear Mr. Yancey. A brilliant speech from the orator was followed by a torchlight procession which filled the streets with Southern airs and cries. Mr. Yancey must have been pleased. He had more than kept his word. He had fired the Sugar State ‘into rebellion.’ [9]

A week after this, on November 7th, the telegraph flashed to the Union of divided minds the result of the election held on the 6th. In Louisiana the election of Mr. Lincoln, the candidate of the Republican party and the first of that party to snatch victory from the vote of a united country, fell like a shock of icicles upon citizens of all parties. Some received the news with amazement, others with apprehension, others with indignation; all with disappointment During the campaign, thus adversely ended, John C. Breckinridge had said: ‘In the Southern States of the Union a few are, perhaps, per se disunionists—though I doubt if they are.’ For Louisiana, the eternal truth of history justifies Mr. Breckinridge's doubt.

Lincoln's election did more than divide the Union. It consolidated the South. After the result was known, politics turned into a game of partners. The Young Bell Ringers maintained their organization for a while. Their organization, in changing the current of its partisanship, soon amalgamated with their Democratic rivals. All the young voters of 1860 melted into one party. It was the party of the South; a party with one cry and one purpose. It gave out an insistent note, swelling from day to day into larger volume—the cry for an independent Confederacy. Over all these—whether Young Bell Ringers or Breckinridge and Lane men, or Douglas and Johnson clubs-hovered a glorified radiance from the Confederacy that was to be!

I leave here the workers in the political campaign of 1860. In May that campaign had divided upon party interests. In January it was to unite in one controlling, dominating interest of State and section. [10]

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