Thursday, December 13, 2012

December 13 - Tennessee Civil War Notes

13, Criticism of the Harris administration's efforts to control prices and aid the poor and unemployed families of discontent Tennessee militia men

It is with the utmost reluctance always that we utter complaints about the administration of public affairs, especially when there is an even chance that such complaints may be heard by the enemy. -- But there is a point at which silence ceases to be prudence; and that point has been reached when the mutterings of discontent are heard on every hand, and grow louder as the evils presses heavier upon that class which it is the duty of the Government to protect -- the poor and unemployed. Never, in the history of the South, has there been such an abundance of meat and bread as at this moment, and it is a subject of grave enquiry why, just at this time, when the families of the poor are deprived of the support of husbands, fathers, brothers and sons, the Government has bid against them for meat and bread, and fixed the price of pork at ten dollars and flour almost as high. These prices, the poor can not pay -- it is an extortion for which those in authority are responsible, and yet they are charged with a want of patriotism if they hesitate to volunteer in defense of their country and leave their defenseless families to the tender mercies of the selfish speculator or to an unequal competition with Government agents. These hardships are severely felt and every hour of endurance lessens the interest of those who bear them in a contest which promises nothing but ruin, en as it may. Every day we see and hear evidences of the dangerous influence the things are having upon the popular heart -- an influence which nothing can counteract so long as the agent and speculator are permitted to oppress them by placing the staff of life beyond the reach of their humble means.

But we shall probably be told that the Government has no right to fix the price of meat and bread -- that it is interference would be an unauthorized assault upon the rights of individuals -- an obstruction of the legitimate course of trade. If this be true, by what right does it take his gun, value it at half price and give him a receipt for the gun, but pays no money -- By what right does it take possession of a man's lot, tear down his houses and fell his timber? Oh, but these are military necessities, and the power implied is everywhere conceded. Granted! But the poor volunteer or militiaman will argue, with equal justice and force, that his services are a military necessity, and, that whilst the government exacts them at its own price, it is bound by every consideration of right and humanity to protect his family against its own against as well as against sharpers. The miller's flour, the farmer's corn and pork, the speculator's salt and the citizen's gun are equally private property, and it is gross injustice to seize the latter at half price and then disclaim the right to interfere with the price of the other articles. The soldier views the subject in this light, and when he sees the wealthy and influential enjoying the fat places under the Government, and the greedy capitalists, with impunity extorting the last dime from his defenseless family, is it any wonder that he shoulders his gun with reluctance, and looks with indifference, if not disgust, upon a country and a cause that [is] deeply wrong, instead of protecting him and his dearest interests? Patriotism withers under the blighting touch of injustice and ingratitude, and the Government that will not protect the soldier's wife when he is perilling [sic] his life in its defense, severs every tie -- crushes every sympathy that should endear it to the popular heart.
It is in no querulous spirit that we make these remarks, but the evils upon which they are based cry loud for a remedy, and sound policy, no less than humanity, demands their correction. In the camps and on the streets, growing discontent is manifesting itself, and the only contented parties are those whose fat officers and heavy profits make them look upon the war as a blessing; and the sufferings that attend it as none of their business. There is no reason why pork should be worth more than six dollars per hundred, four more than six dollars per barrel, except that agents and militia and monopolists have so willed it and the Government connives at the inequity. But, however satisfactory these reasons may [be they cause unhappiness and (?)] hence the rapid decline of enthusiasm in behalf of Southern rights. The soldier is not blind to the favoritism which gives ten thousand dollars to wealthy stay-at-homes for a week's rent of a pork-house, whilst he is allowed eleven dollars per month for encountering all the hardships and hazards of the camp and battlefield. He is not blind to the extensive system of swindling by which all the poor are sufferers and the rich gainers. The farmer extracts the last cent he can get for the products of his farm, and then curses the merchant and grocer for doing the same with their wares. The miller and the speculator and the Government agent pass similar compliments amongst themselves, and all grow rich, whilst the poor soldier and his poor family are the unpitied and unprotected victims of private and public capital. This state of things is as disgraceful as intolerable, and it is no wonder that it extorts from the lips of the sufferer the unwilling declaration, that Northern domination can inflict no greater curse than the starvation now threatening the poor of the South.


Clarksville Chronicle, December 13 [Friday], 1861.

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