Ben E. Green, Politician & Colonel, Unpublished, H
Ben E. Green, Politician & Colonel, Unpublished, Handwritten Memoirs & Related Ephemera
406pp manuscript; 2 pamphlets. Ca 1900.
It never ceases to amaze how so many arguments for the causes of the Civil come together, combine, and recombine in so many ways. No one better illustrates the variations on the theme than the diplomat Col. Ben E. Green (1822-1907). Born in Elkton, Ky., the son of the renowned politician, editor, and Friend of Lincoln, Duff Green, Green graduated from Georgetown 1838, and after studying law at the University of Virginia, began practice in New Orleans. With his family connections, he earned an appointment to the legation in Mexico City in 1843, and acted as charge d’affaires there until 1845, and was sent by Pres. Zachary Taylor as a secret agent to West Indies in 1849, where he secretly investigated the purchase of Cuba and establishment of naval station in Santo Domingo.
The heart of this interesting collection is a manuscript intended for publication, entitled The Reminiscences of Ben E. Green, in which Green roams over the swath of American history that he had witnessed during his long life, from his diplomatic mission to Mexico on the verge of the Mexican American War, to his ideas on Daniel Webster and other statesmen in the Senate, his secret mission to the West Indies in 1849-1850, the Civil War, and other political affairs. Throughout, he is candid, though highly partisan and blinkered by his own perspective. Writing while the Spanish American War was in swing, he recalled his time there fifty years before: I found the Cubans very cautious until assured that they could speak without risk of betrayal. Then they become eloquent in denunciation of Spanish misrule. Every one I talked with desired annexation to the United States, and said that it was the desire of all Cubans. But in the cities they had neither arms, nor organization, nor opportunity to organize. There the spy system and repressive police were such that friends meeting on the streets ran the risk of being cast into prison incommunicados, if they stopped to chat with each other. In the country, the conditions were more favorable for concert of action. What the country Cubans have since accomplished, with machetes as their only weapons, is marvelous.
More fascinating still is his discussion of race and the war between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in which he claims that the black Dominican populace expressed their loyalty to the Spanish whites of the east, and [their] abhorrence of the French blacks of the west end of the island. How long this would last: when and how soon the Spanish blacks would again coalesce with the French blacks for the extermination of the whites & mixed bloods, no one could foretell. Green returned to the US with a plan to encourage white immigration to the Dominican, promising freedom of religion, land grants, and freedom from taxes and military service, all as a means of preventing the country’s domination by the Black barbarity of Haiti.
Green’s section on the Civil War is perhaps the most important and most curious from a modern perspective. The war, he insists, is a peculiar phase of the Capital and Labor problem. In an interesting rhetorical dance, he attempts simultaneously to remove all blame for the Civil War from the South, dismiss any claims against slavery, and blame all evils on a cabal of Northern Capitalists, all while rescuing Lincoln, a close friend of Green’s father. To do so, Green writes that Lincoln was merely a political newcomer when he became President, and did not know how to prevent the zeal of devious northern capitalists who were committed to a new political economy which declared that “Free labor is cheaper than slave labor.” Northerners were never for equality -- too many wrote that they did not want free blacks in American territory -- nor does he allow that the war was a war for union -- there were northerners who sought disunion from a slaveholding south. Seward, his particular bogeyman, had once worked as a teacher in Georgia, but learned more than he taught: It did not take long for one of his quick mind to discover that there in the South, the wages of Labor went into the pockets of capital, while the cost of the Laborer’s living came out o the pockets of capital. At the north this was reversed. There wages came out of the pockets of capital, and a profit on the cost of living went into the pockets of capital, because wages were paid, as a general rule, by orders on stores, owned by capital, and the higher cost of living the greater the profit.
Claiming that the south had no idea that secession would lead to armed conflict, he writes: Under a policy of conciliation, without any attempt or threat of coercion, carried out in good faith, which Lincoln desired and would have adopted, had he been permitted, ten days would have sufficed to convince the large non-slave holding majority that it was not his purpose to force negro equality on them. Convinced of that, they would have been ready to nullify the ordinance of secession, which they had forced upon the unwilling slaveholders. He adds, somewhat disingenuously, Of course, the formal acts, -- (elections and conventions), -- would have required more time. But that delay would have been preferable to fratricidal war and its lamentable results. Green’s insists that the war was a conspiracy by Capital against Labor, with Capital asserting that slavery was too costly as a system of labor, that modern commerce demanded the cheapest labor, and that the wages of a free white man should be less than the cost of feeding, clothing & housing a slave. It was not moral to require one man to provide for the wants of other men or women in the infirmities of age, he wrote, because one has money and they none, and that it was morally wrong to make capital suffer for the improvidence or misfortunes of Labor, they concluded that it was morally wrong to allow Labor any claim on Capital at all. Green insisted that most people who voted Republican in 1860 had no idea of the hidden claims of the Black Republicans, But this was the morality of the great politico-economical leaders “in whose minds the design was centered.” Accused them also of encouraging the Coolie trade (i.e. Chinese immigration), even while claiming to oppose it. Throughout, Green insists that Lincoln was not of the same stripe of his cabinet, that he was not a Black Republican and Capital man, but was duped or misled at various points, or was outmaneuvered by rivals within his own cabinet.
The collection also includes genealogical notes on Duff Green and family and two pamphlets by Green, Shakespeare and Goethe on Gresham’s Law and the Single Gold Standard (Dalton, Ga., 1900) and An Insight Into the Dalton Real Estate Pool (Dalton, Ga.?, ca.1876). The Shakespeare and Goethe pamphlet includes a publisher’s advertisement on the back wrapper stating Soon to be issued: Reminiscences by Ben. E. Green. The work appears not to have appeared, perhaps scuttled by Green’s death.
A significant historical memoir reflecting a singular character in American diplomacy. Although somewhat brittle, with minor chipping at edges and age toning, the manuscript can be handled and read with ease.