Monday, May 19, 2014

'Is God trying our nation, or destroying it?'

While researching my upcoming series on the origins of the Concord Monitor, I looked again at research of five (and more) years ago on George Gilman Fogg. The Independent Democrat, an antislavery weekly that debuted in 1845, was the chief forerunner of the daily Monitor. Fogg edited the Democrat for 15 years beginning in early 1846. He helped give the antislavery cause traction in American politics.

George Gilman Fogg, from his portrait
in the New Hampshire State House 
My idea in 2009 was to write a book about Fogg. In fact, I started one that year but abandoned it for other projects. Reviewing chapter drafts and notes on Fogg’s correspondence rekindled my interest in doing the book. Like me, you’ll have to stay tuned to see if this spark ignites anything.

In the meantime, here is a letter Fogg wrote to John Parker Hale, the U.S. senator from New Hampshire who led the bolt from the Democratic Party by antislavery men in 1845.

After running Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 campaign as its national secretary and giving the president-elect an earful on his Cabinet selections, Fogg won an appointment from Lincoln as minister to Switzerland.

Fogg wrote this letter to Hale from Berne shortly after the battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. This was a time of anguish among party men like Fogg and Hale, who had done so much to bring on the war. In his letter, Fogg shared his chagrin over Union battlefield reverses, aired doubts about God’s dependability in the strife and explained why Europeans he had met tended to favor the Confederacy.

Hale, incidentally, became the U.S. minister to Spain in 1865.

May 27, 1863

My dear Hale

Your very welcome but not very cheerful note of the 27th inst. reached me a few days since. I cannot very much wonder that you have not felt like writing letters even to old friends, for I confess to having experienced that weakness myself. I regret that you do not take a more hopeful view of our public affairs because my faith needed strengthening amazingly.

You give me only Providence to rely on, and that thus far has disappointed me about as much as the shortcomings of our statesmen and generals. It may blasphemous, but I must say that I have found myself at a loss alike to discover the finger of Divine or Human Wisdom in the management of our world’s affairs during the last two years. Is God trying our nation, or destroying it? Or has God abdicated to give the Devil a chance to do his devilishness? I confess I am less reverent & more unbelieving than ever before.

U.S. Sen. John P. Hale
I was getting to have faith in Hooker. But the latest telegraphic dispatches say that “faith is vain.” What a fatality has hung over that Army of the Potomac! Nothing but inefficiency & humiliating failures. The details of the late fighting on the Rappahannoc have not yet come to hand. There must have been terrible fighting and a fearful catalogue of the killed and wounded.

I agree with you that there has been, by somebody’s fault, a fearful squandering of the enthusiasm and life of a noble and great people. It has always seemed to me, and it seems to me so now, that our nation only needed leaders to have crushed the rebellion from the beginning of this war.

If there was an exception I had the benefit of it here in my republican mountain house. But even here at first opinion & sympathy was against us. It was so everywhere. Republicans in Europe were against us because, not understanding the causes of the war, they are always on the side of insurrection. Here “rebellion” is synonymous with “liberty.” And the people could not for a long time attach any other meaning to our rebellion. The abolitionists, aristocrats & tories, who really comprehended the rebellion in America, at the first favored it because they comprehended it. It was a rebellion in behalf of despotism – about the first of that sort on record – and for that they wished it Godspeed.

I assure you, my dear sir, to a man who really loved the honor of his country as that of his own mother, and who was anxious to do his duty, a residence abroad has not been “a bed of roses.” Many a time, as everything, in both the cabinet & field, seemed to be going wrong, have I been near throwing up my post & returning home in the desperate hope that I might do something to stay the evil which I could not endore to look upon. But a soberer view would come to tell me how easily I would “sink & leave no bubble.”

And so I am still here. Lately I have been hopeful, almost cheerful. How I will again despair, I know not.

Apart from these things – if the idea is possible – I find my posting here all that I could desire. I am in the midst of the grandest scenery in the world – within a day’s ride of all the capitals of central Europe – not overburdened with official duties – and surrounded with the most agreeable society which I can enjoy as much of as I please. I have a beautiful house and garden all to myself, barring servants – have the most magnificent Alpine view from my window – finest door to be had in all Switzerland.

Tell me that you are going to save our country at home, and I will be as happy for the next two years as a man can be who has not a wife & two charming daughters. If you doubt it, pluck up courage to challenge the Atlantic and come over & see. I can promise you the longest kind of a latch-string out, and a respectable larder with us.

I received the Concord papers – get letters which keep us pretty well posted in our State matters. What a shame that Joel Eastman should have been nominated over Marston. I have no tears to shed over E’s defeat unless the disloyal men should have the next Honor thereby.*

Now, my long time friend, good by. I know your weakness too well to expect a reply soon. Be sure when it does come will be welcome.

Give my love Mrs. Hale, Lizzie & Lucy & believe me,

Always yours
George G. Fogg

*Fogg refers here to the New Hampshire election in March. Joel Eastman, a Republican from Conway, had been nominated over the incumbent, Gilman Marston of Exeter, who was also a Union brigadier general. But Daniel Marcy, a Portsmouth shipbuilder and onetime sailor, defeated Eastman with 50.13 percent of the vote to Eastman’s 49.83. This gave the Democrats one of three of the state’s U.S. House seats. In 1865, Marston took it back from Marcy.

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