the three wise men denigrated

phillips (Men of Our Times, by Harriet Beecher Stowe (

‘traitors release a traitor’

150 years ago earlier this month Wendell Phillips seemed a bit miffed that Jefferson Davis had been bailed out back in May.

From The New-York Times June 7, 1867:

Jefferson Davis and His Friends.

From the Anti-Slavery Standard of This Week.

In spite of the “three wise men of Gotham,” BEECHER, GREELEY and SMITH, we still hold that treason and murder ought to be punished, and that, had there been a will, a way would have been found; that it is a most unsound as well as disgraceful “policy” to treat murderers like honest men in order to conciliate other murders. The religion of these “wise men” consists in swapping morality for success. They have every quality of a Yankee peddler, except his ‘cuteness [acuteness?].

Washington, D.C. Soldier springing the trap; men in trees and Capitol dome beyond (by Alexander Gardner; LOC:

murder near the capitol steps

In contrast with these muddled philanthropists and clergymen, tossing about words of whose meaning they know nothing, look at the sensible and clear-sighted statesman, THADDEUS STEVENS, whose letter on confiscation, full of profound wisdom, will be found in another column. Mr. GREELEY, like all convicted sinners, takes refuge in that coward’s castle, an effort to show my inconsistency. No amount of inconsistency on my part would lessen his guilt. He expended so much magnanimity, however, in going to Richmond to clasp DAVIS’ hand, that he had none left to copy in his columns my statements, which he undertakes to answer and comment on. Instead of this newfangled and wondrous magnanimity, I wish he could find time to cultivate a wee bit of that homely and old-fashioned virtue, justice. The nation and I should both be better for it. In regard to his statements, copied in another column, let me say, I never asked for DAVIS’ death, and do not now. He deserved death, and the Government which leaves him alive confesses that it murdered WIRTZ. Had I been President, and ready to execute WIRTZ, I should have shot DAVIS within twenty-four hours after his arrest, not as a traitor or belligerent, but as a murderer and a butcher, wholesale violator of the laws of honorable war. But I am against life-taking, and my whole theory of rebel punishment I explained in a speech in April, 1865, on LINCOLN’s death.

Pioneers of freedom (1866; LOC:

and justice for all

I repudiated the idea of trying him by a jury; not, however, from any doubt that he could be convicted. Take him to Lawrence, Kansas, and try him for QUANTRELL’s [sic] murders; take him within sight of St. Albans and set him before a Vermont jury – does any man doubt that he would be convicted? But I would no more honor him with a jury trial than I would an adder.

In the Winter of 1865 and 1866 I scouted the idea of punishing DAVIS in any way; because I saw that, with JOHNSON in the White House and GREELEY in the Tribune – the first a traitor from excess of backbone, and the second equally in our way from entire want of one – justice was an impossibility. I was anxious, in such untoward circumstances, to snatch all I could. Waiving, therefore, justice, I struggles for the negro’s vote. And because he himself thus blocked the wheels of right, Mr. GREELEY quotes me as if allowing or advocating the release of DAVIS! I saw and said that the idea of DAVIS’ punishment was as old as the ark – his release a foregone conclusion – and I held JOHNSON and GREELEY responsible for this: JOHNSON because he planned and GREELEY because he indorses it. My position is submission to the inevitable. Mr. GREELEY’s position is fellowship with the disgraceful. Let me not, however, do injustice to President JOHNSON, by seeming to bring him down to GREELEY’s level. The President released DAVIS, but he never went to Richmond to congratulate and shake hands with him.

reconciliation (Reconstruction / eng. by J.L. Giles, N.Y. ; printed by F[rancis] Ratellier, 171 Broadway, N.Y.( 186; LOC:

everything hunky-dory? Bobby and Sam, Horace and Jeff

Horace Greeley (

wanting a backbone?

I go for substance, and not for forms. This wining about DAVIS’ imprisonment would be absurd, if it were not criminal. Has he suffered a millionth part of the misery he inflicted on others? Has he suffered one thousandth part of what he deserved? If I had been President, I would have kept him in prison until the ingenuity of the last survivor of the kindred of those starved at Andersonville confessed itself unable to devise a way of bringing him to trial. They should have had a century, if necessary, to invent a process that would enable the nation “to execute justice between man and man.” Imprisoned a few months too long! Let him be thankful that he did not fall into the hands of a barbarian like himself, and meet with retaliation, which would have been torture and starvation unto idiocy, unless death, more merciful than his jailor, took him to his loving arms. I have no fear of DAVIS. This nation is strong enough (as I have said every week for the last three years) to despise a million such. But we are not strong enough to allow that crime should be treated as ill-used innocence. We are not strong enough to have the foundations of our moral sense sapped by the sophisms and vagaries of our leaders. JEFFERSON DAVIS is one of the vilest and guiltiest men in the country. This Government has released him, not because it could not punish him – it has not tried to do so – but because it expects to strengthen its party by this ignoring of crime. The philanthropists who rejoice in this disgraceful act are either stone-blind or too besotted to deserve our confidence hereafter.


In a public letter dated June 6. 1867 Gerrit Smith said he agreed to be part of the bail out team because he believed in due process and he was asked to sign the bond:

Image 1 of Gerrit Smith on the bailing of Jefferson Davis ... Peterboro, June 6, 1867. (

no trial very trying

A cartoon in the June 1, 1867 issue of Harper’s Weekly (page 341) seemed to sell the bail out as an example of Northern superiority over the South, where Northerners were harassed and mobbed; the example referred a riot in Mobile, Alabama:

peace and war peaceandwar Harper's Weekly June 1, 1867;

reconciliation and riots

The portraits of Wendell Phillips and Horace Greeley come from a book (at Project Gutenberg) written by one of the wise men’s sister. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1868 Men of Our Times contains biographies of eighteen “Leading Patriots of the Day” and included Wendell Phillips and two of the three wise men (sorry about that Gerrit). Mrs. Stowe respected Wendell Phillips for his strong advocacy of his principles but seemed to be advising him to lighten up a bit since the war had ended and the slaves were free. “A Change of Tone Recommended.” Beginning on page 499:
During the period of comparative vacillation and uncertainty, when McClellan was the commander-in-chief, and war was being made on political principles, Mr. Phillips did his utmost in speeches and public addresses in the papers, to stir up the people to demand a more efficient policy.
Since the termination of the war and the emancipation of the slave, Mr. Phillips seems to show that the class of gifts and faculties adapted to rouse a stupid community, and to force attention to neglected truths are not those most adapted to the delicate work of reconstruction. The good knight who can cut and hew in battle, cannot always do the surgeon’s work of healing and restoring. That exacting ideality which is the leading faculty of Mr. Phillips’ nature leads him constantly to undervalue what has been attained, and it is to be regretted that it deprived him of the glow and triumph of a victory in which no man than he better deserved to rejoice. …
May we not think now that the task of binding up the wounds of a bruised and shattered country, of reconciling jarring interests thrown into new and delicate relationships, of bringing peace to sore and wearied nerves, and abiding quiet to those who are fated to dwell side by side in close proximity, may require faculties of a wider and more varied adaptation, and a spirit breathing more of Calvary and less of Sinai?
It is no discredit to the good sword gapped with the blows of a hundred battle fields, to hang it up in all honor, as having done its work. …
freeandequal (

“new birth of freedom”

Harriet Beecher Stowe (

the war is won

Mrs. Stowe began her treatment of Horace Greeley by describing the characteristics of the Scotch-Irish race in America. I was a bit concerned that she might have been resorting to a stereotype, but then she explained how “Mr. Greeley [was] a Partly Reversed Specimen of it [the Scotch-Irish race]”
The portrait of Harriet Beecher Stowe also comes from her book. The Harper’s Weekly cartoon can be found at Wikimedia Commons. The images of  two handshakes and two babies (my first thought was Romulus and Remus) are cut out from Reconstruction, which the Library of Congress describes as “a grand allegory of the reconciliation of North and South through the federal program of Reconstruction.” Also from the Library: pioneers; Gerrit Smith’s letter; one of several images of the execution of Henry Wirz
Apparently the story about President Lincoln saying to her “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!” is apocryphal
Reconstruction / eng. by J.L. Giles, N.Y. ; printed by F[rancis] Ratellier, 171 Broadway, N.Y. Enlarge (1867; LOC:

a big job

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