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This Day (Many Views of McClellan Edition)

December 3rd, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe · No Comments

Happy birthday to George Brinton McClellan, who was born in Philadelphia on this day in 1826. The most convenient of Civil War villains, Little Mac never got on with his former employee Abraham Lincoln, and when he didn’t quite win the Peninsula Campaign despite winning most of the battles, he lost his command. He may have defeated Lee at Antietam, but somehow his reputation never quite recovered. It may have had to do with his challenge of Lincoln in the 1864 election, or the rise of Ulysses S. Grant, or of the comparative weight given by historians to what he said about Lincoln versus what Lincoln said about him. Whatever the case, an attempted rehabilitation of McCellan is under way, and you can see some evidence of it here.

The cartoon above, suggests how difficult a task that might be. Published in 1864, during the presidential campaign, it shows on the left Lincoln shaking hands with a laborer, and on the right, McClellan shaking hands with—gasp!—Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Speaking of whom, on this day in 1868, during his treason trial, Davis argued that were he to be found guilty, he would be punished twice, violating his Fifth Amendment rights. How? Section 3 of the new Fourteenth Amendment already barred former federal officials, found to have rebelled against the government, from again holding government office.

One imagines that Davis viewed the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments—abolishing slavery and providing for equal protection under the law—as the nightmarish consequence of having lost the war. That he could and did seek protection under those same provisions—well, that’s what makes America America.

IMAGES: Multiple views of George B. McClellan (Library of Congress); “UNION AND LIBERTY! UNION AND SLAVERY!” published by M. W. Siebert, New York, 1864 (Lilly Library, Indiana University)

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