Wednesday, December 14, 2016

"Fetid Exhalation from the Cesspools of Europe"

I enjoy finding obscure 19th century literature pertaining to the Southern Appalachians. Until this week, I was unaware of James Roberts Gilmore (1823-1903), a wealthy Northern merchant who ran a New York cotton and shipping company in the 1850s. Inspired by his business trips to the southern states, Gilmore began publishing books under the pseudonym Edmund Kirke. During and after the Civil War, his fact-based novels advanced his abolitionist views.

The best profile I found on Gilmore can be read here:

In 1889, Gilmore published “A Mountain-White Heroine” with much of its action set along the Tuckaseigee and Oconaluftee Rivers. Perhaps a review of the story will be forthcoming. I have yet to determine if the novel’s character “Dan Ellis” is the same Union officer whose modestly titled autobiography “Thrilling Adventures of Daniel Ellis” included many war-time stories about his exploits in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee – a great read for anyone interested in the history of this region.

Gilmore’s introduction to “A Mountain-White Heroine” is a real attention-grabber, given his warnings about lax immigration policies and the insidious nature of Socialist thought in America.  I was surprised by what he was describing at such an early date. Though the most dire of scenarios outlined by Gilmore has not yet come to pass, the recent hysteria on behalf of Bernie Sanders points to the relevance of Gilmore’s words, 130 years after they were written:







Our country offers hospitality to all civilized nations. It opens wide its doors to every man who desires civil and religious freedom, and is willing to assimilate with our people, and support our free institutions. It accords to him every right of property, and, after a brief probation, the same voice in shaping our governmental policy that is enjoyed by our native-born population, whose fathers laid the foundations of our Republic, and who have themselves erected it into a great nation. But, like prudent householders, our native citizens do not give cordial welcome to the foreign beggar, burglar, incendiary, and cutthroat. And yet, recent investigations, conducted under the authority of Congress, disclose the fact that European governments are vomiting upon our shores their criminal and worthless characters in startling numbers. Their highways and by-ways are ransacked for paupers, and their jails and penitentiaries are emptied of dangerous vagabonds, to be thrust into our large cities in idle and lawless crowds, there to form an element that is a menace to the peace and security of any civilized community.

The presence of this element has already obliged every one of our larger municipalities to so augment its police force, as to greatly increase the tax-burden of its order loving citizens.

This is an element sufficiently dangerous to cause alarm; but it is far less dangerous to us as an American people than those firebrands of Europe — the Anarchists and Socialists — whom foreign governments are scattering broadcast among us. The paupers and criminals threaten our security as individual citizens; the Anarchists and Socialists are a menace to the stability of our Government, and the integrity of our very civilization.

John Most, the high priest of American anarchy, in his recent examination before the Congressional Immigration Committee, expressed the opinion that there are fifty millions of Socialists in Europe, and he stated that two million Anarchists are already domiciled in the United States, and are being reinforced by every ship that arrives from the Continent. The number of Socialists already here he did not state; but they are undoubtedly more numerous than the Anarchists. When asked to define the difference between socialism and anarchism, Most replied that the Socialist seeks to change the whole system of society. He does not seek to abolish individual ownership, but — what is the same thing — he would have the earnings of property equally distributed among the people. Under this system he believes there would be no necessity for laws, nor any need of a government. Every man would become a law unto himself, and the State would soon go out of existence. The" Anarchist, on the other hand, according to Most, believes in the equal distribution of all property, and the immediate and total abolition of all State government.

The mere statement of these doctrines is enough to show that these people are the natural enemies of our American civilization. They are simply destructives. License with them is liberty; and freedom the ability of the poor to pull down the rich, and to revel idly on the avails of other men's industry. Both Socialists and Anarchists are largely sceptics and atheists, and drawn, as they mainly are, from the most ignorant and degraded population of Europe, they are the ready instruments of designing demagogues who would build themselves up on the ruin of society. What enormities they would commit if once freed from restraint, may be seen in the recent developments in Chicago, and in the atrocities attending the great riots in Pittsburg and New York city.

But I conceive that the peril to which the country is exposed from this disorganizing element, lies not so much in its violent uprising, as in the peaceful spread of its opinions — the silent infusion of its poisonous virus into the veins of the great body of our working population, till they shall mistake French Communism, or German Socialism, or Russian Nihilism, for Anglo-Saxon freedom. The danger is that the country shall thus lose its national character, be un-Americanized, swung away from the traditions of our fathers, and from the English liberty, English law, and English religion, which have given us all our greatness as a nation.

This calamity may not be possible in our Eastern and Middle States, where the foreign element is a minority, and every school-boy knows that true freedom is liberty regulated by law, and its most characteristic trait a strict regard for the property and rights of other men. The natural field for these destructive theories is the West, where the foreign-born population is a much more potent element, and New England ideas have not so thoroughly leavened the community. In that section, which in the near future will hold the political power of the country, these atheistic and destructive principles are strongly aggressive, and gaining ground with astonishing rapidity. In Chicago alone there are now, according to Professor Samuel Ives Curtiss, forty thousand Anarchists, who openly counsel resistance to law, and support vile journals in which are reproduced the writings of Thomas Paine, the shallow utterances of Robert G. Ingersoll, and ribald parodies of all that is most sacred in human literature. These journals distinctly proclaim that property is theft, the future life a delusion, Christianity a fable, and God Himself merely a scarecrow, invented to keep the poor out of the rich man's cornfield.

All along the Great Lakes this fetid exhalation from the cesspools of Europe is spreading, and it threatens to soon taint the atmosphere of the entire West. And the misfortune is that the spread of the poison cannot be checked. No capitation tax will keep these men out of the country, and we cannot deny them a free expression of their opinions when they are in it. If we were to set zealously about the work we might convert a few of them to our political creed; but the chances are that when we had made one proselyte two others would spring up in his place, armed at all points with false logic, and backed by the moral support of that European reserve of fifty millions.

But it is doubtful if any genuine Anarchist can be converted to our American idea of freedom. Hatred of the rich he has drunk in with his mother's milk, and the iron heel of the governing classes in his native country has so scarred his very soul, that he has come to regard all who are better-conditioned than himself as his natural enemies. He cannot be made to understand that there can be no tyranny where every man wears a crown, no actual inequality where all are equal before the law, no exclusive possession of riches where moderate intelligence, and persistent industry, will speedily bestow them upon the poorest and most illiterate. He is incapable of understanding this, and hence, is unable to appreciate either the rights or the duties of an American citizen. This being so, and these men increasing in number in a more rapid ratio than our native population, and every one of them having the ballot in his possession, how shall we during the coming years preserve our national character, and keep intact our American institutions? The question is of vital moment to this nation, and it concerns not only every patriot, but every Christian who has at heart the upward progress of the human race, and would see his country achieve its high mission as the standard bearer of civil and religious freedom.

There can be but one answer to this question, and that is —The safety of our American institutions depends solely upon a more general education of our native born American population. From our own people, who have inherited our national traditions, and have our Anglo-Saxon freedom in their very blood, must be formed a body of intelligent, liberty-loving, God-fearing men, whose ballots shall hold this destructive foreign element in check, and thus preserve to us in their integrity our national character, and our free institutions. Thus far we have been safe in our numerical superiority; but with this inflowing tide of socialism and anarchism overspreading all the West, the time has come when our supremacy is endangered, and we need to be reinforced by a body of voters who have the same ideals and aspirations as ourselves. This reinforcement we must have, or soon lose our character as an American people. This is the emergency that is now upon the nation.

But where shall we look for an auxiliary native force that will neutralize the baleful influence of this disorganizing foreign element? The Southern negro is the born enemy of atheism and anarchism, and when his rights as a freeman are more generally respected, and he is better educated, and more fully acquainted with his duties as an American citizen, he will be a valuable aid in upholding our American institutions. But the negro has not inherited our traditions, he has no ancestral memories connected with Bunker Hill, or King's Mountain, nor does he belong to a race which through fifteen hundred years of blood and struggle has achieved enlightened liberty and Christian civilization.

There is, however, among us a class of native-born Americans, who, if educated, and socially and morally elevated, would I think give the country the added strength it needs to maintain intact its free institutions; and this class is the so-called " Mountain-White" population of the Southern Alleghanies. They occupy what is now the very heart of this country, and number about two millions, all of them native-born, with an inherited love of freedom, and the intense patriotism which is peculiar to our American character. Being either too poor, or too conscientious, to hold slaves, they were, more than a hundred years ago, forced back to the mountains by the slave-holding planters of the seaboard, and, insulated there, shut out from the world, and deprived of schools and churches, they have grown up in ignorance of their rights and duties as American citizens.

The present condition of these people is directly traceable to slavery; for in making the slave the planter's blacksmith, carpenter, wheelwright, and man of all work, slavery shut every avenue of honest employment against the working white man, and drove him to the mountains and the barren sand hills to starve and to die. And having there shut him out from the world, it legislated to keep him in ignorance, lest he should learn his rights and overthrow its power. Only a few years before the war I saw a planter of my acquaintance march twenty of these men up to the polls, and when they had voted at his bidding, he turned to me and said, "This is your boasted Democracy. These men govern this country: Jefferson gave them the right of suffrage, and they suppose they are voting for Jefferson now."

"But," I said to him, "why do you not teach them to think? Why not give them schools and churches?"

"Because, if we did, they might not vote for Jefferson."

This reply indicates the policy that was pursued toward these people, through long years, by the ruling element in the South. But ignorant as they generally are, there is not in the whole country a more honest, brave, and liberty-loving class of men than these " Mountain-Whites," and during our recent civil war they developed qualities that do honor to American manhood. Though citizens of seceded States, and hemmed in by secession armies, and a disloyal people, the majority of them stood firmly by the Union, enduring, for what they thought the right, such suffering as rarely falls to the lot of any people. Multitudes of them laid out in the woods, were hunted with blood-hounds, beaten with stripes, hung to trees, tossed on the points of bayonets, and buried while yet alive, rather than deny their country, or betray its friends. Grass-grown cross-roads, where rude guide posts point ways no traveler ever went; lonely mountain hamlets, unknown except to the census-taker and the tax-gatherer, where the spelling-book and the mail bag never were seen, produced a race of heroes whose deeds will vie with those of any of the most noted characters in our history.

Living as these people do, remote from traveled routes, they are seldom seen by travelers, and their exploits in the late war, performed as they were in small conflicts, and amid the seclusion of their remote mountains, have escaped the notice of the chroniclers of the great events that decided the fate of the nation. Nevertheless, they are worthy of record at the present time, if for no other reason than to show the character of a large native element on which, when properly instructed, we may rely to stem the tide of socialism and anarchy that is now inundating the country. Therefore, it has been suggested to me that I may do a public service by recounting some of the war history of these people as it has been related to me by veracious persons, and by drawing such a general picture of their way of life, and natural and social surroundings, as came under my personal observation during a recent residence of some years in their near neighborhood. The facts that I record were communicated to me by some scores of individuals while I was traveling through their country in pursuit of material for a series of histories of the early South-West, that I have recently written; and I had then no thought of ever giving them to the public. I consequently took no further care at the time to verify the various accounts I received than would be natural to one who has more personal satisfaction in truth than in fiction. But, since the idea of writing this volume has been suggested to me, I have taken every means of verifying its facts that are possible by a correspondence with my original informants. The conclusion I have arrived at is, that the main facts I relate are historically true, and that, if some of the minor details are not so, the fact does not detract from the truthful character of my picture as a whole, nor render it a less faithful representation of the rare heroism, and self devoted patriotism exhibited by these Mountain-Whites during the recent war for the preservation of the Union.