A year after Appomattox – the Hagerstown mayoral election, Unionism, and the continued “Negro question”

Posted on April 9, 2016 by


Looking among the archives of Hagerstown newspapers this week, I took time to pay particular attention to anything found from 150 years ago. In an editorial in the Herald and Torch Light (Hagerstown), of April 18, 1866, I ran across an interesting piece discussing the mayoral election, candidates, loyalty, and Union. At the center of the discussion was the Herald and Torch Light’s newspaper competitor, the Mail. If one takes the time to look back in the archives of this blog, it’s easy to see that, even before the war, the Mail was clearly pro-secession, and the Herald and Torch Light pro-Union.

As you read the piece below, pay particular attention to two points. The first is that the Herald and Torch Light had remained firm in its stand on Union and continued to identify what they believed to be deceptive “traitorous” practices by the Mail. In retrospect, I don’t think this is surprising, except, perhaps, that the Mail was able to continue in some of its same practices so soon after the war.  What is of particular interest, however, is the manner in which the Herald and Torch Light addresses the Mail and its apparent continued “negrophobia”. Then too, I think it’s interesting to see the Herald and Torch Light’s position on the same, within that same paragraph.

In addition to these points, I catch myself considering the complicated definition of Southern Unionism. It’s a lot more complex than some might think. Before and during the war, loyalty to the Union did not necessarily equate to a desire to free the slaves. Likewise, after the war, loyalty demonstrated may have demonstrated a form of progressive thinking, for its time, in coming to an understanding with the emancipation of slaves, but that did not necessarily trigger or mean embracing what we might consider, today, “racial equality”.

To be clear, I’m not judging. To me, the piece simply marks the march of American thinking through history, demanding that we, today, need to make less generalizations, and, instead, take time to recognize the many dimensions of people, and their beliefs and understandings, within the context of the times in which they lived.

So, for your consideration, the editorial…

Town Elections

The Mail is so vastly elated with the success of the independent candidate for the Mayoralty, and claims it as a rebel triumph. The only tickets voted were the regular Union ticket and the Independent Union ticket. The Mail and its rebel friends had no ticket in the field. Then, the only contest was between the Independent Union and the regular nominee, both Union. The one, nominated by a convention called at the instant of Mr. Biershing and his friends, as much as at the instance of Mr. Cook and his friends, both candidates were voted for, we presume, by about an equal number of Union men. Some say that many Union men voted for Mr. Biershing, because Mr. Cook, misconstruing the constitution, allowed unregistered rebels to vote, a thing that has not been done in any other municipal election in the State.

We know that if the Mail supposes that the Union men who voted for Mr. Biershing are hereafter to be classed and reckoned among rebels, it is much mistaken. The assertion of there being any Johnson and anti Johnson question in the election, is too transparent to fool any one. The Mail would like to get up a division in the Union party if it could, but Union men know rebels too well to listen to what they say, or in any way to be governed by their dictation.

The Mail seems to have a relapse of its old disease, negrophobia, and is very much exercised lest the negro population should move a little father than it does in the march of human improvement. If he expects to keep ahead he must improve his ways somewhat. No one else is afraid. The white race has always been ahead, and we rather think it will keep so. If the Mail falls back and gets mixed up with the negro, away behind, it is his fault, not ours. If he has no more industry, no more intelligence and refinement than a negro, that is his fault, and not the fault of the white race, and this race can not be expected to halt till the Mail men catch up.

“The elevation of Mr. B. to the mayoralty of our town reflects great credit to the many returned soldiers, who, on Monday last, gave satisfactory proof of their appreciation of his kindness to their families while absent in the field, and his favors to those, of then unfortunate companions in arms with whom he came in contact.”

Whilst Mayor Biershing was showing kindness to the families of the Union soldiers, who had left all and broken away from the dearest ties, that can hold the affections of men, and gone forth to battle for the Union, and against secessionist and traitors in arms, to break down our government, whilst Mayor Biershing was showing kindness to the families of the soldiers, and to their companions, in our hospitals, sent there by rebel bullets, swords and shells; whilst he was aiding the needy and comforting the sick and wounded Union soldiers, where were the editors of the Mail? Were they fighting the battles of the Union as loyal men? Were they helping to care for and comfort Union soldiers and their families? Were they for the Stars and Stripes, the glorious emblem of the Union and of power transmitted to us by loyal ancestors? Were they with the Union and its defenders? No, not by any means. The Hagerstown Mail sent a load of its employees to Harper’s Ferry to join the Rebel armies – Not content with this, the editor sent a map to enable that army to invade his own State, and plunder those families which Mr. Biershing was aiding. Not content with emptying his office and sending charts for rebels in arms against that Union, which he now professes to love, not content with this, he follows himself and becomes a vagabond traitor with the armies of treason.

This monster of political iniquity now prates about Union soldiers and their families.

Where are the stories he gathered for the families of Rebel soldiers in the Valley of Virginia? Did he ever start out on a mission for Union soldiers or their families?

This man forgets his history of disloyalty and treason, and now prates of Union soldiers, whose enemy he was, and whose enemy he would be to-day, if rebellion had any chance of restoration.