New York in the Civil War 


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Fernando WoodIn Civil War Days. - Fernando Wood was mayor of the city of New York at the beginning of 1861, and sympathized with the Confederate cause. On January 7 he sent a message to the common council, in which he proposed the secession of the city, and the establishment of a free and independent government of its own. This proposition was in the form of suggestive questions. " Why should not New York City," he asked, " instead of supporting by her contributions in revenues two-thirds of the expenses of the United States, become, also, equally independent? As a free city, with but a nominal duty on imports, her local government could be supported without taxation upon her people. Thus we could live free from taxes, and have cheap goods nearly duty free. In this we should have the whole and united support of the Southern States, as well as of all other States, to whose interests and rights under the Constitution she has always been true. . . . New York, as a free city, may shed the only light and hope for a future reconstruction of our beloved confederacy." A favorite writer for De Bow's Review, the most stately and pretentious organ of the slave-holders, pronounced this proposition of Mayor Wood " the most brilliant that these times have given birth to." Wood seems to have been startled by his own proposition, for he immediately added, " Yet I am not prepared to recommend the violence implied in these views." The board of aldermen, a majority of whom were Wood's political friends, ordered the printing of 3,000 copies of this message in document form.

The patriotic action of the New York legislature, and the official suggestion of Mayor Wood, alarmed the commercial classes of that emporium, and these and large capitalists hastened to propose conciliation by making any concession to the demands of the South. A war would sweep thousands of the debtors of New York merchants into absolute ruin, and millions of dollars' worth of bills receivable in the hands of their creditors would be made worthless. On January 12, 1861, a memorial, numerously signed by merchants and capitalists, was sent to Congress, praying that body to legislate in the interests of peace, and to give assurances, " with any required guarantees," to the slave-holders, that their right to regulate slavery within their respective States should be secured; that the fugitive slave law should be faithfully executed ; that personal liberty acts in " possible conflict " with that law should be " readjusted," and that they should have half the Territories whereof to organize slave-labor States. They were assured, the memorialists said, that such measures " would restore peace to their agitated country." This was followed by another memorial, adopted January 18, at the rooms of the chamber of commerce, similar in tone to the other, and substantially recommending the Crittenden compromise as a basis of pacification. It was taken to Washington early in February, with 40,000 names attached to it. At an immense meeting of citizens at Cooper Institute, Jan. 24, it was resolved to send three commissioners to six of the " seceded States," instructed to confer with " delegates of the people," in convention assembled, in regard to the " best measures calculated to restore the peace and integrity of the Union."



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