The War Between the States Sesquicentennial—Radical Propaganda
The Lincoln administration attracted many exiled European revolutionaries like Polish Count Adam Gurowski, demagogue, agitator and devotee of Fourier’s socialism. He fled Poland in 1834 for Russia, fled Russia in 1846 for Munich, and arrived in New York City in 1849 with a suitcase full of revolutionary doctrine. He became highly influential in the Radical wing of the Republican party and helped destroy any hope of peaceful settlement in 1861.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
The War Between the States Sesquicentennial:
Radical Propaganda Undermines February Peace Convention:
The attitudes and approaches of the Radicals in preventing compromise while secession snowballed are well illustrated by Gurowski’s relations with the Peace Convention, which assembled at Willard’s Hotel on February 4, 1861. Meeting at the call of the Virginia legislature, all States were represented except Arkansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, Oregon, and the seven of the lower South. Although the convention assembled too late to be a controlling factor, its activities proved all the more futile, because Radicals insisted that its Republican members maintain an uncompromising stand. The convention’s seven proposed amendments to the Constitution, presented to Congress on February 27, evoked negligible support.
Gurowski was quick to acquaint himself with the Northern delegates, and within a week of the opening of the convention he was conversing freely with a large number. He did not have access to the convention itself, which met behind closed doors, but he managed with uncanny accuracy to discover what was occurring. Realizing that negotiations were taking an unsatisfactory course, he unassumingly appeared before an informal group of the Northern members one evening at Willard’s, suggested a course of action, and related plots [by Southerners] to seize the Union.
He told them they would “make a mess of it,” and impetuously questioned: “Are you lambs to be eaten up unresistingly by the wolves of secession?” Then he unfolded the plots. Federal property would be transferred as rapidly as possible to the South. Armed Southerners would pack Washington when the electoral votes were counted in the House of Representatives on February 13. They would start a riot, then seize the executive departments and the capitol and establish a confederacy with Jefferson Davis as president.
Then Gurowski revealed the second plot. This time Jefferson Davis was its head and general manager, with full authority to assign special duties, and he alone determined the extent to which others should be admitted to the conspiracy. March 4, Lincoln’s inaugural day…[Davis’ conspirators] would provide the necessary men to effect the coup d’etat.
“Here,” said Gurowski, “you are permitting yourselves to be used as the instruments of a treasonable conspiracy, when you ought to be at home, organizing and drilling your regiments, preparing to defend the only government worth living under left on the face of the earth.”
Radical propaganda spread by Gurowski and supported by [New York delegate James] Wadsworth and other Republicans,…was instrumental in the breakdown of the Peace Convention. When Northern delegates heard of the Count’s alarms, they doubted their efforts. Fears increased, and the spirit of compromise sank deeper and deeper as hate flared in the convention debates.”
(Lincoln’s Gadfly, Adam Gurowski, LeRoy H. Fischer, University of Oklahoma Press, 1964, pp. 77-79)