Opposition to the Lincoln Supporters

Rachel Augusta Whiting Anthony, Golden Memories of an Earnest Life.  A Biography of A. B. Whiting: together with selections from his poetical compositions and prose writings.  Compiled by his sister, R. Augusta Whiting.  Boston: William White and Company, 1872: 103-106.

Here follows a different assessment of the Convention’s political resolutions.  Albert Bennet Whiting was a spiritualist lecturer from Louisville, Kentucky.  His sympathies were clearly opposed to Lincoln and all those in the North who were prosecuting the War.  A strain of ultra-Libertarian objection to infringements on the liberty of the individual was present in the pro-Southern arguments of States Rights, as well as in the radical reformers and abolitionists from the North whose convictions would not allow them to participate in “worldly governments.”  Although Whiting’s sister suggests here that her brother’s opposition to the Convention’s pro-Lincoln resolution was based on his conviction that spiritualism ought not to be tied to any political faction—a kind of “non-organizationist” position that attempts to keep religion separate from politics—I find it difficult to see her argument as anything but disingenuous.  She writes that he was concerned that the partisan resolution would prevent the real goal of the Convention, which was to form an organization of spiritualists, yet also justifies opposition to the resolution with an appeal against organization per se.  Albert Whiting’s public lectures—despite his avowed desire to keep politics out of spiritualism—were partisan enough to inspire pro-Republican audiences in the North to disrupt them repeatedly.  His lecture tours during the War took him back and forth between Kentucky and Canada, where the Confederate intelligence service was quite active, and Northern counter-intelligence agents were convinced he was carrying Confederate dispatches on these trips.—JB
Having lectured during July at Grand Rapids and Lansing, Mich., on the 8th of August he proceeded to Chicago to attend the first “National Convention of Spiritualists,” which had been called to convene on the 9th, “for the purpose of deciding upon some plan of organization or associative action.”  His first move, on reaching the city and taking rooms at the Sherman House, was to have an interview with Mr. Storey, of the “Chicago Times,” and arrange for the attendance of first-class reporters on behalf of that paper, thus securing a full and impartial report of the proceedings.

He had not contemplated attending the convention up to within a short time of its assembling, as other business demanded his attention, so that he could only do so at considerable personal loss and inconvenience.  But it was foretold to him that an attempt would be made, in view of the coming election, to throw the weight of the convention in support of a party, by the introduction of a series of political resolutions; that a contest would ensue, and, if the resolutions passed, the object of the convention—namely, organization—would be defeated.  Deeply interested in the success and harmonious working of the convention, he resolved to leave everything, and go, and do what he could to promote that object by aiding to prevent, if possible, the introduction of extraneous and dividing topics.  This he had some hope might be done from the personal assurances of many, who, though holding adverse political opinions, agreed with him in thinking it necessary that harmony should be secured, and the time of the convention devoted to the important object for which it had been called.

Unfortunately, this hope was not realized.  The majority, carried away by enthusiastic loyalty and devotion to their own political views, decreed the reception of a series of resolutions on the state of the country, containing an absolute indorsal of the war, the party in power, and their candidate for the presidency.  The contest being thus forced upon him, he, in common with others of different views, was left no honorable alternative but to stand up as firmly in defense of his political as he ever had of his religious principles.  From this duty he did not shrink, and, although the majority outnumbered the minority nearly seven to one, and the galleries were filled by a crowd ready to hiss down the unpopular side of the question, he not only gained a respectful hearing, but won the admiration of his bitterest opponents by the determined manner with which he quelled an incipient clamor in the crowd, and compelled their attention.  One, who stood opposed to him then, describes his attitude upon that occasion—when he declared that he would be heard even though he stood alone—to have been one of the finest examples of moral heroism, and personal power to command an audience, that it was ever his fortune to witness.  It may be mentioned, as an incident eminently characteristic of the man, that, after the conclusion of his speech, he took occasion to make his way among that portion of the audience whence the attempted disturbance had arisen.

The resolutions were passed—a minority of forty-four protesting—and in an ably written document setting forth their reasons for dissent, and the convention, after much discussion on organization and other matters, adjourned, as had been predicted, without having accomplished that object.  He much regretted this result, although he had expected it.  He saw that it was inevitable under the circumstances, and could only hope for better harmony at some future time, when the war spirit should be laid.  He was deeply pained by the bitter spirit displayed by a portion of the majority; for, while he conceded to all an absolute right to their own opinions upon political or any other subjects, he did not recognize the right of any to force those opinions upon a body of persons assembled for an altogether different purpose.  This he would never do himself, and he believed such a course one that no majority could render either just or profitable.  He had never taken any active part in politics, although, as was well known to his friends, he had settled convictions on those subjects as upon most others.  Those views coincided, in the main, with those of the leading democratic statesmen from the time of Jefferson down.  He belonged to a class of thinkers who regarded war as a blot upon our civilization, and the encroachment of military power upon individual rights as subversive of civil liberty—the very foundation of free institutions.  In his travels in the different parts of the country, he had been led to observe that the differences existing between distant sections arose largely from misunderstanding of each other’s character and motives; and hence he believed that, by conciliation and a better acquaintance, those differences might be reconciled, and their causes peaceably removed.  Holding these views, he deplored the fatal blindness of those party leaders, who, by appeals to passion and prejudice, fomented discord, and, finally, plunged the country into the horrors of civil war.  But while he condemned their action, and earnestly desired the unity of the republic, he claimed the people’s constitutional right to criticise the acts of public servants in time of war, as in time of peace.  He could not indorse the course of the administration, inasmuch as it seemed to him in many respects ill calculated to promote the end in views, namely, the speedy restoration of peace and union.  He saw with apprehension the growing tendency to centralization in government, and regarded the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in peaceful states, and the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of their citizens, without due process of law and in violation of plain constitutional provisions, as a usurpation of power which no plea of necessity could palliate, and precedent most dangerous to the liberties of the people.  He believed that “two wrongs never could, under any circumstances, make a right;” hence the position which he assumed on this subject, and maintained by argument, not only at the Chicago Convention, but upon all suitable occasions.


[ Ephemera Home ] [ Civil War ]