McClellan s War
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How Little Mac's political beliefs influenced his leadership

Bold, brash, and full of ambition, George Brinton McClellan seemed destined for greatness when he assumed command of all the Union armies before he was 35. It was not to be. Ultimately deemed a failure on the battlefield by Abraham Lincoln, he was finally dismissed from command following the bloody battle of Antietam. To better understand this fascinating, however flawed, character, Ethan S. Rafuse considers the broad and complicated political climate of the earlier 19th century. Rather than blaming McClellan for the Union's military losses, Rafuse attempts to understand his political thinking as it affected his wartime strategy. As a result, Rafuse sheds light not only on McClellan's conduct on the battlefields of 1861-62 but also on United States politics and culture in the years leading up to the Civil War.

List of Maps
1. "Traditions and Associations . . . Were All on the Side of the Old Whig Party"
2. "I Can Do As Well As Anyone in Both My Studies and My Military Duties"
3. Political Realignment
4. "A Strong Democrat of the Stephen A. Douglas School"
5. To Kill Secession
6. "A New and Strange Position"
7. Supreme Command
8. "You Have No Idea of the Pressure Brought to Bear Here"
9. "What Do You Think of the Science of Generalship?"
10. The Peninsula Campaign
11. "I Do Not Like the . . . Turn That Affairs Are Taking"
12. "He Has Acted Badly"
13. "To Meet the Necessities of the Moment"
14. "The Most Terrible Battle"
15. "It Is My Duty to Submit to the Presdt's Proclamation & Quietly Continue Doing My Duty"
16. The Last Campaign



Publié par
Date de parution 23 novembre 2011
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780253006141
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 3 Mo

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The Failure of Moderation in the Struggle for the Union
Ethan S. Rafuse
Indiana University Press / Bloomington and Indianapolis
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2005 by Ethan S. Rafuse
All rights reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The Association of American University Presses Resolution on Permissions constitutes the only exception to this prohibition.

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984.

Manufactured in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Rafuse, Ethan Sepp, date- McClellan s war : the failure of moderation in the struggle for the Union / Ethan S. Rafuse.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-253-34532-4 (cloth : alk. paper)
1. McClellan, George Brinton, 1826-1885. 2. McClellan, George Brinton, 1826-1885- Military leadership. 3. United States-History-Civil War, 1861-1865-Campaigns. 4. Strategy-History-19th century. 5. Command of troops-History-19th century. 6. Generals-United States-Biography. 7. United States. Army-Biography. I. Title.
E467.1.M2R34 2005
973.7 41 092-dc22


1 2 3 4 5 10 09 08 07 06 05
To Rachel
List of Maps

1. Traditions and Associations . . . Were All on the Side of the Old Whig Party
2. I Can Do As Well As Anyone in Both My Studies and My Military Duties
3. Political Realignment
4. A Strong Democrat of the Stephen A. Douglas School
5. To Kill Secession
6. A New and Strange Position
7. Supreme Command
8. You Have No Idea of the Pressure Brought to Bear Here
9. What Do You Think of the Science of Generalship?
10. The Peninsula Campaign
11. I Do Not Like the . . . Turn That Affairs Are Taking
12. He Has Acted Badly
13. To Meet the Necessities of the Moment
14. The Most Terrible Battle
15. It Is My Duty to Submit to the Presdt s Proclamation & Quietly Continue Doing My Duty
16. The Last Campaign

1. Mexican War
2. Department of the Ohio
3. The Confederacy
4. Northern Virginia
5. Virginia
6. Peninsula Campaign
7. Seven Days Battles
8. Maryland Campaign
9. South Mountain to Sharpsburg
10. Antietam
11. Area of Operations, November 1862
I t is with great pleasure that I thank the people whose encouragement and assistance made it possible for me to bring this project to completion. First among these are the superb scholars and teachers under whose direction I had the honor and privilege to study history. Meeting Charles P. Poland, Jr., in the summer of 1987 was one of the turning points of my life, as his guidance and example transformed my interest in the American past into a passion and inspired me to make studying and teaching history a career. At George Mason University (GMU), Robert T. Hawkes, Jr., was an outstanding advisor and teacher; if I did not follow his path and make Southern history my major field, I nonetheless appreciate his keeping me from becoming overly fixated on the Civil War. Among my most vivid memories from my days at GMU is the crushing disappointment I felt whenever Joseph L. Harsh announced that his class on the Civil War and Reconstruction was over for the day. Dr. Harsh more than made up for this, however, by further stimulating and directing my interest in the Middle Period, encouraging me to do this study, and providing a model of scholarly professionalism. Finally, my doctoral advisor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Herman Hattaway, provided the sort of prodding, encouragement, friendship, guidance, and willingness to grant independence that were essential to completion of the dissertation that laid the foundation for this work. Working with him as a student and as a teaching assistant was a true honor and a privilege. I also thank David Atkinson, Robert Evanson, Eric and Kate Fair, Joseph Fitzharris, Cynthia Jones, Ronald Machoian, Doreen Maronde, Ben Martin, Sharon McDonald, Dennis Merrill, Patrick Peebles, Louis Potts, Joel Rhodes, Mark Snell, Michael Taylor, Julia Stepanenko, Jeff Wade, Michael Wilson, and William Young for all they did to make my first life in the Kansas City area productive and pleasurable.
During the two years it was my honor to serve on the faculty at the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point I incurred debts that I can never fully repay. I thank Robert A. Doughty and Lance Betros for giving me the opportunity to teach at West Point and for all they and Matthew Moten did to make working in the USMA History Department, especially the Military Division, a great experience professionally and personally. Readers in the know recognize Samuel J. Watson as this generation s unmatched authority on the antebellum army; to me, he was also a great officemate, a model of teaching and scholarly excellence, a generous reviewer of my work, and a good friend. Like Sam, Clifford J. Rogers set high standards as a scholar, teacher, and colleague and was always ready to extend a much-appreciated helping hand as I strived to meet those standards. I am also grateful for the friendship and support I received from my colleagues in the Tercio, Charles Bowery, Jr., Charles Hallman, Matthew Morton, Michael Runey, and Gail Yoshitani, and our guides through New Instructor Training in 2001, Steven Delvaux, Paul Reese, and Christopher Prigge. Matt Morton and his family deserve special thanks for their friendship and their consistently going above and beyond to make my experience at West Point personally enriching. I could not have asked for a better fellow traveler in Civil War history than Charles Bowery, whose service as a sounding board for my ideas and a boon companion on expeditions to the battlefields was much appreciated. Like Sam and Charles, Dana Mangham helped make the staff rides to Civil War battlefields we collaborated on intellectually stimulating and fun experiences. Once again, I am grateful to Frank Martini for the excellent work he did on the maps that accompany the text. I also thank all of the outstanding cadets it was my honor and pleasure to work with; however, William Baker, Matthew Deurmeier, Joshua DeJournett (an award-winning scholar of the Civil War in his own right), Gregory Hope, Daniel Lawton, Andrew Webb, and Leah Wicks deserve special mention for their outstanding work and great humor on the staff rides of the Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania battlefields we did together in 2002 and 2003. My efforts to put the finishing touches on the manuscript were greatly facilitated by the support and encouragement I received from my supervisors and colleagues at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. I am especially appreciative to Lawyn Edwards and Thomas Smith, directors of the Combat Studies Institute, and Richard Barbuto, head of the Department of Military History, as well as Christopher Gabel, Mark Gerges, and Timothy Challans for all they have done to help make my first year at Fort Leavenworth enjoyable and productive.
My efforts were easier and much more pleasurable than they should have been thanks to the outstanding staffs at the libraries and archives where I did the research for this study. I especially thank Fred Baumann and his staff for being a source of help and good cheer ever since I began poking around the Library of Congress s Manuscript Division many years ago. I am also grateful for the assistance I received from the staffs at the Henry E. Huntington Library, Chicago Historical Society, Illinois State Historical Library, Johnson County Public Library, USMA Library, Firestone Library at Princeton University, Kansas City Public Library, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, Scott Memorial Library at Thomas Jefferson University, Miller Nichols Library at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, National Archives, Newberry Library, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Pentagon Library, Philadelphia City Archives, and Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago.
A number of fine scholars have taken time from their busy schedules to offer support and constructive criticism. I hesitate to list their names out of a fear that it will raise the reader s expectations to an unreasonably high level but would be remiss if I did not express my gratitude to Mark Grimsley, John J. Hennessy, Malcolm Muir, Jr., William G. Piston, Edmund Raus, Carol Reardon, Brooks D. Simpson, Daniel E. Sutherland, and Steven E. Woodworth for being generous with advice and encouragement. I would undoubtedly be a better historian had I the good sense to follow all of their suggestions for improving my work. I also thank Robert Sloan, Jane Quinet, Jane Lyle, Sarah Brown, and Elizabeth Garman at the Indiana University Press for their guidance, patience, and encouragement throughout the process of turning the original manuscript into a book. Any faults that remain with this study are, of course, my responsibility alone.
My parents, Robert and Diane Rafuse, contributed to my work by raising me in an environment that nurtured my interest in history and giving me every opportunity to indulge it, while my brothers, Jonathan and Stephen, rigorously employed their talent for keeping me humble and reminding me with good humor that there are things to think and talk about besides history. I also thank Willard, Judith, Susanne, and Chris Lee for their support, especially taking time out of their schedules for babysitting duties. Finally, I thank my wife, Rachel. Her encouragement, friendship, and love, in combination with her seemingly infinite wisdom, common sense, and endurance, have made her the perfect partner in my endeavors. To her, and our greatest collaboration, Corinne, go my deepest thanks.
Parts of this study have appeared as articles in a variety of publications. I thank the Kent State University Press for permission to reprint material that originally appeared in McClellan and Halleck at War: The Struggle for Control of the Union War Effort in the West, November 1861-March 1862, Civil War History 49 (March 2003), 32-51; the Ohio Historical Society for permission to reprint material that originally appeared in Impractical? Unforgivable? Another Look at George B. McClellan s First Strategic Plan, Ohio History 110 (Summer-Autumn 2001), 153-64; the Lincoln Memorial University Press for permission to reprint material that originally appeared in Former Whigs in Conflict: Winfield Scott, Abraham Lincoln, and the Secession Crisis Revisited, Lincoln Herald 103 (Spring 2001), 8-22; the University Press of Kansas for permission to reprint material that originally appeared in Fighting for Defeat? George B. McClellan s Peninsula Campaign and Change of Base to the James River, in Civil War Generals in Defeat (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1999); the University of Illinois Press for permission to reprint material that originally appeared in Typhoid and Tumult: Lincoln s Response to General McClellan s Bout with Typhoid Fever during the Winter of 1861-62, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 18 (Summer 1997), 1- 16; and PRIMEDIA for permission to reprint material that originally appeared in Lincoln Takes Charge, Civil War Times Illustrated 39 (February 2001), 26-32, 62-63, and McClellan, von Clausewitz, and the Politics of War, Columbiad: A Quarterly Review of the War between the States 1 (Fall 1997), 23-37.

T o most Americans, George Brinton McClellan was the most prominent of the series of generals whose inability to attain success on the battlefield during the first three years of the Civil War nullified the advantages in resources enjoyed by the North and sorely tested Abraham Lincoln s patience. Before his 35th birthday would have made him eligible for the presidency, McClellan was placed in command of all the armies of the United States and hailed as the Young Napoleon who would restore the Union. He failed. In 1864, he ran for the presidency. He failed again. History does not treat losers kindly.
In their effort to explain how and why McClellan failed, many historians pinpoint the key in his personal defects. McClellan was, in the immortal words of Kenneth P. Williams, a vain and unstable man, with considerable military knowledge, who sat a horse well and wanted to be President. Some thirty years later, Stephen W. Sears would open the first major post-World War II biography of the general by proclaiming McClellan a man possessed by demons and delusions. Recent general works by James M. McPherson, Joseph T. Glatthaar, and others have reinforced this image of a man whose arrogance, vanity, and messianic complex prevented him from maintaining a proper working relationship with President Lincoln and whose congenital timidity and slowness prevented him from achieving success on the field of battle. 1
McClellan has also been criticized for his politics. Attention to McClellan s political views, as Joseph Harsh noted in 1973, is essential if we are to fully understand the general s career as a soldier. For even if he never read On War, McClellan clearly understood the famous Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz s observation that in war, The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose. McClellan never lost sight of the fact that military operations are not conducted for their own purposes but to achieve political ends not attainable by other means. He also understood Clausewitz s point that in the course of a war the perception of the political aims for which a nation is fighting and the means for achieving them can be radically altered by how military operations are conducted and the response of the people and political leaders to them. 2
Consequently, McClellan consciously shaped his actions during the war with an eye on the connection between military means and political ends and how the battlefield, the seat of government, and the home front interacted to shape the aims for which a war is fought and the means for attaining them. His military strategy, conduct of operations, and run for the presidency in 1864 were all decisively shaped by his views on the best way for the North to achieve its political objective, the restoration of a peaceful and permanent Union.
Yet during the period McClellan was in command, there was great debate in the North over how to win the war and what sort of Union would be restored. McClellan was ultimately on the losing side of the most important element of this debate; namely, whether the preservation of the Union was inextricable from the destruction of slavery. Historians have generally viewed the willingness of Lincoln, his Republican allies, and Ulysses S. Grant to attack the institution of slavery and foster a second American revolution as the product of a progressive, modern view of warfare and society. The war, according to this interpretation, was not just a struggle over Union or Southern Independence but an irrepressible conflict between the forces of modernity (the North, and particularly the Republican Party) and the forces of reaction (the South and those in the Northern Democratic Party who opposed emancipation) over whether the United States, in the words of James M. McPherson, would cut a new channel in world history. 3
Conversely, the decision by Southerners to revolt rather than accept Republican rule and the efforts of Northern Democrats like McClellan to resist Republican policies on the war and slavery are typically portrayed as products of obsolete concepts of American society and government and the principles that should shape it. For their decision to try to destroy the Union, Southerners reaped the whirlwind of defeat, deprivation, and destruction. If their fate was a less violent one, the course pursued by Northern conservatives during the war was no less destined for failure. 4
If there is one thing that all scholars of McClellan, from his legion of critics to his small cadre of defenders, agree on, it is that McClellan was a conservative. By this, they mean that McClellan resisted the expansion of Union war aims to include emancipation and the need to attack Southern property and institutions, endorsed the principle of state rights, and was a member of the Democratic Party, a party that, in the words of historian Phillip S. Paludan, stood for conservatism, for tradition, for maintaining . . . reflecting the limited understanding of the transformations that were under way. If not a Copperhead, McClellan s neo- doughface effort to preserve the Union without attacking slavery or challenging the principle of state rights, it has been argued, nonetheless reflected a lack of the vision necessary to recognize the true, modern nature of the war between North and South and the means necessary to win that war. Michael C. C. Adams has taken the argument so far as to suggest that McClellan s conservatism led him to question whether a democratic North could defeat an aristocratic, and therefore more martial, South and permanently infected the Union war effort in the East with a defeatist mentality. Other students of the Civil War have linked McClellan s effort to resist the expansion of Union war aims to include emancipation and attacks on Southern private property to his adherence to the strategic and tactical ideas of the Swiss military theorist Antoine Henri de Jomini, which were likewise outdated and unsuited to the demands of modern warfare. 5
Yet McClellan brought a very modern approach to the conduct of war. He clearly adhered to the professional model of labor organization associated with modern American society, and no one disputes that he possessed the organizational talents and appreciation of technology necessary to conduct war on a large scale in the industrial age. Reconciling this with McClellan s political conservatism was the goal I set for myself when I began this study. My first step was to look at the general social, cultural, institutional, and political milieu that shaped McClellan s cultural outlook. In the course of this endeavor I was struck by parallels between McClellan s outlook and the political culture of the antebellum Whigs. Both championed economic and institutional modernization while adhering to more traditional models of political action. Consequently, I began looking for, and found, compelling evidence of McClellan s socialization in environments where the values of the Whig Party prevailed, evidence that previous historians have either neglected altogether or mentioned only in passing. 6
By defining conservatism in the context of the politics of the 1850s and 1860s (the conservative Democrats/progressive Republicans dichotomy) and basing their study of McClellan on that definition, scholars of the war have severely limited their understanding of the general and his conduct during the war. They have also missed an invaluable opportunity for gaining insight into the broader context of American political development in the nineteenth century, and demonstrated the continuing power of what Joel Silbey labeled the Civil War Synthesis in American political history. 7 In a 1964 article in Civil War History, Silbey admonished historians of nineteenth-century American politics for overemphasizing the importance of slavery and sectionalism in defining and shaping antebellum American political development. In doing so, he argued, they had distorted the reality of political behavior in the era. As a consequence, he lamented, historians looked not for what was occurring in American politics in those years, but rather what was occurring in American politics that tended toward sectional breakdown and civil war-a quite different matter. 8
It is not necessary to embrace the conclusion of Silbey and his fellow members of the new political history movement-that ethnocultural conflicts were most important to nineteenth-century Americans-to appreciate his point on the need to step back and take a broader perspective on the subject of nineteenth-century political history. 9 The cultural and political views of men such as McClellan are not completely comprehensible if one studies them solely in the narrow context of the politics of sectionalism. Although the sectional conflict was always significant, it was but one-and not even the most important until the second half of the 1850s-of the lines of conflict that shaped the development of American political culture and institutions during the antebellum period.
The first six decades of the nineteenth century were ones of great upheaval in American life. The transition to an industrial, democratic, capitalist society forced Americans to reconsider how to find balances between the forces of tradition and modernity, liberty and order, reason and sentiment, and individualism and community that would facilitate progress without jeopardizing the republican institutions and principles inherited from the Founding Fathers.
Americans viewed the expansion of popular participation in the political process and the market revolution of the first half of the nineteenth century with a mixture of excitement and fear. Some looked upon the spread of political democracy to include all white males with enthusiasm and as the empowerment of the people and their liberation from the rule of elites. Others feared that the extension of political power to the uneducated masses would produce self-serving demagogues who would enslave the resolution of conflicts and the making of policy to the narrow prejudices and passions of the mob. Established institutions and traditional principles that gave rational order and direction to human progress would be threatened by extremism, with moderate and forward-thinking political leaders, in the immortal words of John Quincy Adams, palsied by the will of their constituents. 10
The rise of industrial capitalism likewise provoked great division. Some viewed the rise of an economy based on market values and principles and the decline of traditional, small-scale, community-based social and economic relations as positive developments. These people looked at the new economy and saw expanded opportunities for upward mobility, a stronger nation in which regional and sectional differences were subordinated to bonds of commercial interdependence, increased national wealth, and a more progressive society where individuals disciplined themselves and organized their lives along more rational lines in a quest for self-improvement. Many, however, looked with concern upon rapid economic change, with its social dislocations; individualistic, competitive ethos; and increasing concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a market and professional elite.
The conflicting responses of the American people to economic and social change inevitably found expression in politics. Only sectional differences over slavery proved capable of producing so cataclysmic an event as the Civil War. Yet during the 1830s and 1840s, the years when men, such as McClellan, who would lead the nation through the Civil War were coming to maturity, the debate over what values should govern society and the ends of government and politics did not follow sectional lines. Instead, political debate revolved around issues associated with social and economic change, which found expression in the Whig and Democratic Parties.
The central premise upon which this study is based is that the political and cultural outlook that shaped McClellan s conduct during the Civil War is best understood if studied in the larger context of the transformation of American society during the antebellum period, rather than the narrow context of the sectional politics of the 1850s and 1860s. In particular, it will illustrate that McClellan s conservatism was shaped less by his membership in the Democratic Party of the 1850s and 1860s than by his early political socialization in environments where the cultural values of the market-oriented professional classes who supported the Whig Party of the 1830s and 1840s dominated. It will then describe how McClellan s Whig outlook colored his perspective on the sectional conflict and shaped his approach to the war and conduct from the beginning of the war through his removal from command of the Army of the Potomac in November 1862.
Just as the Whigs had created great institutions to provide order and direction to the nation s economic activity, so too would McClellan, through his great Army of the Potomac, provide rational order and direction to the military effort to restore the Union. Just as the Whigs had sought to discipline capitalism and democracy to ensure that they supported rather than threatened established institutions, so too would McClellan pursue a consciously restrained policy in order to contain the passions of war so that not only would the Union and Constitution be preserved but that the values and principles they represented would be as well. Just as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster had pursued the national interest in a spirit of moderate statesmanship, so too would McClellan resist the bane of party spirit, endeavor to remain aloof from party politics, and pursue a deliberately moderate policy in order to restore the Union.
McClellan perceived his challenge in 1861-1862 not only in terms of the specific division between North and South but in the context of an eternal conflict between the forces of enlightened reason and selfish passion, moderation and extremism, harmony and discord, order and anarchy, principled statesmanship and self-serving politics. The Union, McClellan believed, had been divided by irrational passion, extremism, and self-serving politics. If allowed to influence military affairs, those same forces could sink the effort to restore it. It was essential, therefore, that the task of restoring the Union be guided by reason, moderation, and enlightened statesmanship. The success of that endeavor would be as much dependent on the ability of Northern statesmen to restrain the passions of the people, and the irresponsible politicians who stirred them up, as it would be upon the tactical skill of Billy Yank and his commanders. Success or failure in this would not only determine whether success could be achieved on the battlefield, but at what cost and what that success would mean. Would Northern victory produce a harmonious Union, quickly restored and able to resume its progress toward attaining status as a great nation? Or would it be a divided one, its people divided in mind and spirit with its ability to achieve future greatness inhibited by the legacy of a bitter, drawn-out, remorseless war?
Although this study will naturally address old lines of debate over McClellan s military career, its central themes are his political and cultural views, how and why they developed the way they did, and how they shaped his conduct during the phase of the Civil War in which he was the North s most important general. Drawing upon recent scholarship on the Jacksonian Era, antebellum army, political realignment of the 1850s, and the first two years of the Civil War, this study will look at McClellan s political views and their development in the context of wider developments in American politics and society between 1826 and 1862. It will look at these views and how they reflected and were shaped by the social and political culture of the environments that shaped his intellectual development and nineteenth-century America in general, the crisis of the Union in particular, and the North s effort to develop and implement an effective war policy.
A few words about the scope of this study and the methodology that shaped it are in order, especially the decision to end it in November 1862 even though McClellan afterward ran as the challenger to Abraham Lincoln in the presidential contest of 1864. I found November 1862 to be an appropriate stopping point for two reasons. First, one objective of this study is to look at the political socialization of General McClellan. This process had clearly ended by November 1862. Second, 1862 marked the end of McClellan s influence over how the North would conduct the war and a point of no return for the country. No matter how much McClellan or anyone else may have wished it, after November 1862 there was no turning back to the policy of conciliation.
Also, although this is not intended to be simply a narrative of McClellan s life, I do at certain points go into great detail in my description of his military career, providing day-to-day and, at times, hour-to-hour accounts of the general s activities. This is for two reasons. First, I do not think this has been done to the degree that is necessary in previous studies of McClellan s career. Instead, students have generally painted in broad brushes in their discussion of aspects of McClellan s career (for example, stringing together a series of quotes by McClellan on Lincoln and in the process removing the specific context for each one), which I believe has obscured as much as it has illuminated. Second, as Joseph L. Harsh taught me, it is only by closely following a historical actor in his day-to-day activities and confronting decisions the way he confronted them- living with him in Professor Harsh s words-that a historian can avoid the pitfalls of hindsight, understand an individual s specific decisions and how they reflected his broader outlook, and gain a true understanding of their subject. The danger of this, of course, is that the attempt to see things through a historical actor s eyes will lead one to become too close to that person with the result that analysis gives way to advocacy. Clearly, my analysis of the sources and events have led me to a more sympathetic view of McClellan and the Whig/Conservative Unionist perspective on the war than most students of the Civil War possess. I leave to readers and reviewers to determine whether I have crossed the line from explanation and analysis to rationalization and apologia. In the interests of full disclosure, I will add that my personal view is that the great tragedy of the Civil War Era was not the failure of conciliation but the fact that the death and destruction the war produced was not redeemed by a more thorough redistribution of economic and political power in the South along the lines proposed by Radical Republicans like Thaddeus Stevens.
The first objective of this study is to contribute to the continuing debate over McClellan and his role in the Civil War, and American history in general, by providing a different perspective on his mentalite and its inextricable influence on his role as the North s most important military figure during the first two years of the war. It will also endeavor to synthesize and build upon arguments and lines of investigation suggested by other historians. Most prominent among these are Joseph Harsh s call for attention to how political considerations shaped McClellan s military strategy; Daniel Walker Howe s scholarship on faculty psychology and Whig political culture; Edward Hagerman s observations on how McClellan s career was shaped by his status as the first product of the increasingly professional army officer corps to assume a high command in wartime and Phillip S. Paludan s arguments on how this produced clashes with more traditionalist elements among the Northern public; Mark Grimsley s study of the evolution of Union war policy during McClellan s tenure in command; and William W. Freehling s call for a reintegration of American history that connects cultural, social, military, and political history. 11 Finally, it is hoped that this study will encourage future students of other major Civil War figures to step back from the traditionally narrow context of the sectional conflict and take a broader perspective on nineteenth-century American politics and warfare and how they shaped one another and the history of the Middle Period.
Traditions and Associations . . . Were All on the Side of the Old Whig Party
D ecember 1826 was a time of anxiety and excitement in the American republic. Only a few months earlier, the country had celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. All Americans agreed that their ability to preserve their experiment in republican government for so long was cause for much celebration; yet it was also clear that profound changes were taking place in their economy, society, and politics that were generating deep anxieties regarding the republic s future. Only six years after James Monroe had run unopposed for his second term as president, these anxieties had produced great divisions in the country, symbolized by the continuing uproar over the outcome of the 1824 presidential election. Depending on one s point of view, John Quincy Adams and his supporters either stole the election from Andrew Jackson in defiance of the popular will or saved the republic from the dangers of unfettered mob rule. 1 Out of the passions stirred by this controversy and the divisions in American society it reflected would emerge the political culture in which George Brinton McClellan spent his formative years.
McClellan was born on December 3, 1826, the second of George and Elizabeth Brinton McClellan s three sons, in a house on Fourth Street between Walnut and Spruce Streets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Shortly after his birth the family moved first to a house on Washington Square and then to one at 246 Walnut Street, directly across the street from the building that housed the First Bank of the United States. There the family resided when McClellan departed for West Point in 1842. 2
The first sixteen years of McClellan s life have received little attention from historians. Although somewhat understandable, given the paucity of source material related to McClellan s childhood, by glossing over this period of his life, scholars have neglected a crucial period in the future general s story. Moreover, even if it is impossible to reconstruct the year-to-year course of McClellan s early life, it is possible to gain a clear sense of the general milieu within which he spent the first fifteen years of his life and the forces that first shaped his distinctive political and cultural outlook. 3
During McClellan s formative years American political culture was shaped by a fundamental reordering of economic life that historians have labeled the market revolution. In 1800, most Americans were small farmers or small-scale manufacturers. Living in relatively isolated rural communities, yeoman farmers produced crops to attain subsistence for their households, while artisans, working in their homes or independent shops, manufactured a relatively limited number of products utilizing skills learned through a long apprenticeship. The efforts of artisans and farmers to achieve subsistence were supported by the labor of the entire household and informal networks of community cooperation, with goods and services exchanged on a barter basis. Although this subsistence economy did not produce great wealth, it did provide its members with a sense of personal independence and community as well as a fairly even distribution of wealth. 4
During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, however, the United States began to change from a country of subsistence economies and communities to a commercial society. By the 1790s, a rapidly growing population had begun to exceed the amount of available productive land in the Northeast, producing an agrarian crisis that strained the ability of family patriarchs to maintain a sufficient level of subsistence for their households. At the same time, war in Europe created a boom in prices for American agricultural products, while improvements in transportation significantly reduced the cost of transporting goods and introduced formerly isolated subsistence communities to a dramatically wider range of luxury items. Farmers eager to take advantage of these developments began producing surpluses of certain crops, eschewing barter exchange, and joining regional trade networks where they exchanged goods with merchants for cash. 5
Meanwhile, those displaced by the agrarian crisis and the emergence of commercial agriculture provided New England entrepreneurs with the cheap labor necessary to create the first large-scale industrial enterprises in the country. These mechanized and broke down the manufacture of goods into a series of simple tasks to lower labor costs and produce goods of higher quality in greater quantity, and lower cost, than the small shops of the skilled artisans. Accompanying the emergence of a commercial society were complex problems of labor management, capital formation, and market exchange. To manage them a white-collar bourgeoisie of clerks, bankers, and merchants emerged, who, along with members of more traditionally specialized fields-lawyers, ministers, and physicians -began to develop a distinct middle-class culture in America s towns and cities. 6
The shift to a market economy accelerated dramatically after 1815 thanks in part to the assistance it received from government. The Fourteenth Congress that met in the aftermath of the War of 1812 was dominated by a nationalistic and commercially oriented faction in the Republican Party. Led by Henry Clay, these National Republicans embraced the new market economy and looked to use the power of the state to promote and give rational direction to economic modernization and national consolidation. With the blessing of Presidents James Madison and James Monroe, Clay and his allies were able to enact much of what would be known as the American System : a Bank of the United States to regulate credit, high tariffs to promote domestic manufacturing, and federal support for internal improvements. 7
The McClellan family s roots in this emerging commercial society were established well before the 1790s. The future general could trace his roots back to William Bradford of the Mayflower, although the McClellan name did not reach America until his great-grandfather emigrated to Worcester, Massachusetts, after participating in the Scottish struggle against British rule at the 1745 battle of Culloden. A member of the second generation of American McClellans, Samuel, then migrated to South Woodstock, a farming community in the northeastern corner of Connecticut, after marrying into one of the town s prominent families in 1757 and serving as an officer in the Seven Years War. 8
Samuel McClellan acquired a farm upon his arrival in South Woodstock but quickly abandoned efforts to cultivate crops in the poor upland soil of Windham County to open a store. He soon prospered as a merchant and trader who imported goods from as far away as Great Britain and became a link between northeastern Connecticut s subsistence culture and the larger commercial world. Economic success and a strategic marriage quickly catapulted him to prominence within his community. In October 1773, McClellan was appointed captain of a local cavalry unit and, although his unit was mobilized after Lexington and Concord, was selected to represent Woodstock in the Connecticut General Assembly in 1775 and 1776. By 1778, McClellan had risen to the rank of colonel, but served primarily in administrative posts during the Revolution. In June 1784, he was promoted to brigadier general and thereafter was known to friends and family as General Sam. 9
General Sam had three children with his first wife, Jemima, of whom little is known. Two years after Jemima s death, Samuel married Rachel Abbe, to whom future generations of McClellans would owe their connection to the Mayflower. Samuel and Rachel McClellan had five children, the second of whom, James, the grandfather of the Civil War general, had four children. James would become a prominent person in the community in his own right, holding at various times the posts of justice of the peace and postmaster, although it was his elder brother, John, who was groomed to assume the role of family patriarch upon General Sam s death. By the time the old soldier died in October 1807, John was a prominent lawyer, a leading figure in the community, and a member of the Connecticut General Assembly, where he served several terms between 1792 and 1824. 10
Woodstock was at the epicenter of New England s agrarian crisis during the 1790s. During the War for Independence, Connecticut experienced a commercial boom, with interior towns such as Woodstock enjoying unprecedented prosperity as the center of trade moved away from the vulnerable coastline. After the war, traders and merchants flooded the market with consumer goods that drained the state of specie, produced a severe economic depression, and pushed Connecticut farmers to search for a cash crop. However, the thin Connecticut soil, particularly in upland counties such as Windham, was already too exhausted to produce sufficient crops for individual farm families to maintain self-sufficiency much less a cash crop that would help the state regain a satisfactory balance of trade. 11
Several other developments during the Early National Period pushed Connecticut s shift to a market economy. The adoption of the Constitution, which the state overwhelming endorsed, and the outbreak of war in Europe produced a commercial boom in the 1790s that helped restore prosperity. Entrepreneurs looking to take advantage of the increasingly large population of unskilled laborers displaced by the agrarian crisis successfully petitioned the state government for aid in developing manufacturing enterprises through the granting of monopolies and the privilege of incorporation and subsidizing textile production. To facilitate trade, the state also aided the construction of turnpikes. Workhouses were also created for the purpose of reforming vagrants, beggars, and criminals, so that they might develop the personal qualities that would enable them to become productive members of commercial society. In Woodstock, General Sam was appointed administrator of the town s workhouse. 12
As merchants, the McClellans brought the market revolution and its values to their community. Although trained as a lawyer, General McClellan s grandfather focused his energies on running James McClellan & Co., a mercantile firm, while maintaining a wool-growing interest on the side. As the prosperity of the 1790s boosted trade and the need for better links between Woodstock and outside markets became evident, the McClellans were among Woodstock s most conspicuous champions of internal improvements. Their association with the Norwich and Worcester Turnpike Company played a critical role in nurturing community support for its construction, which was completed in 1801. During the 1830s, James served on a committee that endeavored to get a railroad being constructed between Norwich, Connecticut, and Worcester, Massachusetts, routed through Woodstock. With their wool-growing interests, the McClellans were also active champions of government assistance to cloth manufacturers during the early nineteenth century. 13
As was typical of Americans who embraced the new market economy and its ethos of modernization and improvement, the McClellans took an active interest in education. When the Connecticut state legislature authorized establishment of Woodstock Academy in 1802, General Sam was named a proprietor/trustee of the school. Although not named in the legislation creating the school as their father was, James and John McClellan also served as proprietors/trustees of Woodstock Academy. In their search for a teacher, the school s administrators naturally looked to Connecticut s Yale College. The first master of the school, Thomas Williams, came on the recommendation of Yale President Timothy Dwight-as did nine of eleven men who served in that post between 1801 and 1819. 14
It was at Yale, under Dwight s leadership, that the most significant effort to give theological sanction to the emerging commercial economy was made. Dwight and his followers staunchly defended Connecticut s established Federalist order against the infidel doctrines of the French Revolution, Jeffersonian Republicanism, and the more democratic Baptist and Methodist sects. Suspicious of the rural masses and determined to preserve traditional patterns of deference to elites, they purged the New Light divinity of Jonathan Edwards of its anti-establishment, egalitarian thrust. Dwight s Moderate Light theology gave sanction and encouragement to capitalist ambition by, in the words of historian Charles Sellers, equating Christian grace with capitalist effort, poverty with sinful self-indulgence. This New Divinity also championed a concept of social paternalism that held that those who achieved success and membership in the elite were obligated to give leadership and direction to the rest of society. 15
In 1812, James McClellan decided to send his 16-year-old first son, George, to Yale. Dwight s Yale was an intellectually rigorous and tightly ordered place. Yet Dwight did not enforce discipline through punishment. In line with his belief in a social hierarchy where power was in the hands of a paternal and enlightened elite, Dwight believed bonds between rulers and ruled must be based on mutual confidence. Force was, in his mind, the tool of the uncultivated despot and resort to it a symptom of moral weakness in a leader, who should lead by the power of his intellect and setting an example of self-restraint and discipline. Consequently, Dwight opposed the use of corporal punishment or coercive measures to instill discipline in his young charges. (When George McClellan sent his son, the future general, to the preparatory school at the University of Pennsylvania, he pointedly instructed him not to permit himself to be whipped.) 16
Dwight believed the best way to instill proper values and standards of behavior in both his students and society as a whole was through a paternal style of leadership. Leaders, he believed, must appeal to the intellect and reason of their followers to persuade them to follow the proper path and set a proper example if they were to expect their charges to follow their direction. It was difficult for a young man not to be impressed by Dwight, who possessed a commanding presence and a powerful intellect and carried himself with the dignified air of a truly great man. Although a man of firm principles and beliefs, as an educator he continually challenged his students to consider all sides of the moral, cultural, and political issues that faced the country and use their reasoning powers to find the proper solutions. The power of Dwight s personality was such, however, that it was rare that a student at Yale who properly utilized his reasoning powers did not develop a correct view of things. 17
George McClellan excelled in his studies at Yale. After twelve years of study under the direction of Dwight prot g s at Woodstock Academy, he was well prepared for the program at New Haven. Described by one contemporary as a small, well set, active youth, his energy, intellect, and ambition quickly set him apart from his classmates. He developed a close circle of friends who gave him a nickname that would later be attached to his son: Little Mac. His excellent classical education, recalled one observer, was blended with a continued fondness for literary pursuits, and a lively interest in general science. McClellan s talent for science attracted the attention of Benjamin Silliman, Yale s celebrated professor of chemistry and natural sciences, who took McClellan under his wing. Silliman had himself been closely mentored by Dwight while a student at Yale and fully shared his mentor s conservative politics. Close interaction with Dwight and Silliman served to reinforce the views of society and politics George McClellan had brought to Yale from Woodstock. 18
After obtaining his degree from Yale in 1815, McClellan spent a year studying in the office of Dr. Thomas Hubbard in Pomfret, Connecticut, before going to Philadelphia, the nation s leading city in medical education, armed with a letter of recommendation from Silliman, to study medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. McClellan received his doctorate in the spring of 1819, with the subject of his thesis being the tying of arteries. During his time as a student, McClellan impressed Philadelphia society with his energy, character, and intellect, and demonstrated that he embraced the social paternalism of the New Divinity through service at the hospital of the Philadelphia Almshouse. This marked the beginning of an active and enthusiastic lifelong engagement in charity work, for which he would attract, his eldest son John later recalled, the most unbounded popularity among the poorer classes. His truest mourners, one observer predicted on the occasion of Dr. McClellan s death in 1847, will be the innumerous crowd who daily filled his halls, receiving without fee, the aid of his unrivalled skill and his ever-ready sympathy and aid. 19
During his first years of practice, Dr. McClellan confirmed the high expectations he had inspired as a student and before long was recognized as one of the finest physicians in the country. He thought, executed, and communicated in a day, a contemporary recalled, more than others did in a week- his weeks were as the months of ordinary men. . . . He consequently distanced his contemporaries, and, as a youth, was found among his seniors and the masterspirits of his profession. After only two years of practice, McClellan began a distinguished career as an educator by founding an institution to study diseases of the eye and a private school. The latter, where he taught anatomy and surgery, quickly became the most successful of its kind in Philadelphia. 20
A successful school and recognition as an exceptional practitioner were not enough to fully satisfy Dr. McClellan s energy and ambition. Although still only in his 20s, in 1824 he assumed leadership of a campaign to establish a second medical college in Philadelphia. Such a step was long overdue but nonetheless prompted bitter resistance from McClellan s alma mater, which used its power in the state legislature to block his effort to secure for his school an act of incorporation. After meeting frustration with the legislature, McClellan took his case to the trustees of Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, and persuaded them to establish a medical department in Philadelphia, which opened in 1825 as the Jefferson Medical College. 21
McClellan s belief that Philadelphia could support two medical colleges was quickly vindicated. Under his direction, Jefferson flourished without diminishing the reputation of his alma mater in the least. McClellan taught anatomy and surgery at Jefferson, where his lectures, recalled an observer, were models of terse statement and lucid analysis. Yet McClellan also possessed a streak of self-righteousness and could be impolitic when he was certain of his course, which fueled a controversy, the subject of which is lost to history, that led to his dismissal from the faculty at Jefferson in 1838. Later in life, McClellan would confide to a friend that he deeply regretted the differences into which he was led by the impulsive indiscretion of youth; and emphatically declared, that were it possible to live that part of his life over again, his course should be influenced by greater conciliation and forbearance. By the time of his death McClellan had, one newspaper noted, succeeded . . . in conquering the prejudices and subduing the resentments which had rendered his outset of life stormy, and in making friends of many who had once been enemies. After leaving Jefferson, McClellan established another medical school, this one connected with Pennsylvania (later Gettysburg) College. Meanwhile, he maintained his private practice, contributed numerous papers to professional journals, and remained actively engaged in charity work. 22
In 1821, Dr. McClellan further secured his place in the upper strata of Philadelphia s social hierarchy by marrying Elizabeth Brinton, a descendent of Pennsylvania s original Quaker settlers, whose family had accumulated spectacular wealth during the late eighteenth century by transforming their modest southeastern Pennsylvania farms into full-fledged capitalist enterprises. Elizabeth McClellan was a highly intelligent woman who took a keen interest in the professional fortunes of her family and the political events of the time. Letters between her and her soldier son George from the 1850s indicate that he relied on her to keep him updated on events when he was stationed on the frontier and respected her opinions, which she freely shared. Yet it is also clear that she adhered to the role assigned to her by a social ideal embraced by America s emerging commercial and professional middle class called the cult of domesticity. No longer needing their labor to support the household s material wants, commercial society assigned women the task of overseeing the moral and intellectual development of their children and the maintenance of the home as a bastion of morality that nurtured proper values in children and provided a refuge from the exclusively male world of business and politics. 23
The cult of domesticity was a manifestation of the preoccupation with order, efficiency, discipline, rationality, and self-improvement of the new American middle class that gave rise to a secular ideal known as politeness. Polite culture, in the words of historian Daniel Walker Howe, undertook to make the world a better place by reshaping individuals into better people through a code of behavior that emphasized self-restraint, proper etiquette, and personal dignity. The ability to adhere to the code of gentility, like success in the marketplace, did not come naturally but required conscious development of the self. If an individual adhered to standards of good taste, personal morality, social responsibility, and proper manners, this told others that he shared the passion for self-improvement and had the control over his appetites that distinguished the well-constructed character. As a consequence, observes historian Robert H. Wiebe, sons and daughters of respectable Americans learned to judge one another through a set of readily observed or inferred qualities of character. . . . [E]verybody s true self stood nakedly on display. 24
Adherents to polite culture were part of an emerging transatlantic culture known as Victorianism. Central to the thinking of Victorian Americans was the problem of accommodating society to economic modernization. Members of the emerging commercial, managerial, and professional classes like Dr. McClellan viewed the market revolution as a positive development that fostered a spirit of improvement in individuals by providing them with opportunities for upward mobility. Out of this, in their view, came not only modernization of the economy but of society and individuals as well. The nature of commercial society and the way it distributed rewards had the salutary effect of compelling humans to reorder their personal habits and economic and social relations and adopt a value structure that emphasized rational calculation, specialization, cosmopolitanism, and a progressive mindset. Market-oriented Americans, in the words of historian Charles Sellers, passed from a use-value world permeated by familial/communal ties . . . to a market world that takes the competitive ego for human nature and rationality for revelation. . . . Success required not only unremitting effort but a habit of rational calculation, beginning with measurement and counting of labor-time, capital, commodities, and money. 25
Cosmopolitan and nationalistic in outlook, economically progressive but culturally conservative, highly competitive, and keenly ambitious, Victorians sought, in Howe s words, to humanize the emergent industrial-capitalist order by infusing it with a measure of social responsibility, strict personal morality, and respect for cultural standards. Preoccupied with consciously arranged order and improvement, they sought to make order and improvement the central traits of their character through education, self-discipline, and rational planning. Convinced of their own moral, cultural, and intellectual superiority, Victorians also perceived a duty to provide paternalistic direction to society through active involvement in education, social reform, and benevolent institutions. 26
Dr. McClellan s profession was not, however, one where great wealth was attained, and when his son entered West Point, the family s economic status was reported as moderate. It did, however, provide sufficient income (which Dr. McClellan, like many who participated in the market economy, supplemented through credit, resulting in his leaving considerable debts to his family when he died suddenly in 1847) for the maintenance of a proper Victorian household. George and Elizabeth McClellan observed the conventions of polite culture, pushed their children to pursue self-improvement through education, and trained the children to view personal refinement as a reflection of character. Dr. McClellan s professional accomplishments, good marriage, and personal qualities propelled him into the forefront of Philadelphia society, where his influence, one newspaper editor wrote several years later, was large and commanding. He was, in every sense of the word, a genius, Philadelphia s Whig newspaper eulogized after his death. All his qualities, moral and intellectual were of the highest order. . . . His first striking trait of character was independence; a manly pride which . . . refused to owe anything to patronage, and which sought all, and won all, by simply deserving all. . . . [H]is sense of honor, or moral sense, graduated to the highest scale of manly refinement. . . . He was indeed the most placable and forgiving of foes; and the truest, warmest, and most constant of friends. 27
The market revolution did not, however, distribute its benefits equally. Although people who, like the McClellans, possessed the ambition and self-discipline necessary to thrive in commercial society experienced dramatic improvements in their economic and social lives, for artisans, small farmers, and working-class Americans the first half of nineteenth century was a time of crisis. Unable or unwilling to adapt to the new order, some ended up in the ranks of the rural poor; others ended up working in factories for wages. These losers of the market revolution lived a miserable existence, endured horrible working conditions that offered limited rewards, and lost the personal independence, security, and satisfaction that gave dignity to artisan manufacturing and subsistence agriculture. 28
Speaking for these people in the aftermath of the War of 1812 was a faction within the Republican Party that believed the National Republican program to promote the market revolution was contrary to the nation s republican principles. Before the 1820s, however, the Old Republicans experienced frustration in their efforts to rally the masses in opposition to the National Republican agenda. In part, this was due to the end of party competition with the demise of the Federalist Party, which fostered popular apathy toward politics, but it was also a product of the postwar economic boom, which encouraged an infectious spirit of commerce and enterprise. Too many Americans were too busy enjoying the fruits of the market revolution to deal with the questions Old Republicans, displaced small farmers, wage laborers, and struggling artisans were raising about the market revolution and its values. 29
The Panic of 1819 and the depression that followed dramatically changed the situation. Hard times shook Americans out of their political apathy and in many cases replaced it with anger. Hostility became particularly severe toward banks that tightened credit during hard times and the National Republicans, who, by attributing the boom of the postwar period to their policies, had firmly linked economic outcomes to government policy in the public mind. As a consequence of economic hard times, a growing number of Americans began to agree with the Old Republicans that the National Republicans and their policies were the tools of corrupt and selfish aristocrats; these Americans then energized efforts to roll back the activist government measures of the National Republicans. 30
The event that precipitated the end of the one-party rule of the Era of Good Feelings-and the formation of the first modern political parties around the economic, social, and cultural divisions in society produced by the market revolution-was the presidential election of 1824. In that contest, John Quincy Adams, a supporter of the National Republican agenda, finished second to Andrew Jackson in the popular vote and the electoral college. Jackson, however, failed to win a majority in the electoral college, and in the House of Representatives Henry Clay used his influence to swing the election to Adams. Adams then selected Clay to be secretary of state and laid out an ambitious agenda to further expand the use of the federal government s power to promote the market revolution. Taken together with the circumstances surrounding the 1824 election, Adams s actions provided his opponents with a powerful idea around which to rally the common man against the National Republicans: the notion that a corrupt bargain had been made by political and economic elites who looked to destroy republican government. 31
The efforts of Jackson s followers to portray Adams and his supporters as anti-republican elites were facilitated by the fact that the National Republicans were manifestly unenthusiastic about the democratization of politics during the early nineteenth century that resulted from states lowering or eliminating property restrictions on who could vote or hold office. National Republicans preferred that political power rest in the hands of an aristocracy of talent and believed government worked best if elites were unconstrained by the parochial whims of the masses. This would allow them to exercise their broad knowledge and intellect to make public policy decisions based on reason and the needs of the country as a whole, while forging compromises between competing interests that preserved national unity and institutional stability. 32
Embracing the democratization of politics and repudiating the National Republicans ideal of deferential politics with a vengeance, Jackson s supporters responded to the corrupt bargain by organizing the first truly popularly based political party. Under the direction of professional politicians like Martin Van Buren, money was raised to purchase newspapers to promote Jackson and attack the corrupt bargain ; conventions, parades, barbecues, and rallies were organized to rally the faithful and attract new followers; and loyalties were cemented through the distribution of patronage. In 1828, the Democrats and their new style of politics elected Jackson president. Nostalgia for the consensus of the Era of Good Feelings and a traditional model of politics combined with a disdain for the divisive tone of mass democratic politics to initially retard efforts by Jackson s opponents to organize themselves into a single, unified, and effective party. Defeats to Jackson in 1832 and Martin Van Buren four years later, however, finally convinced the National Republicans to join with other anti-Jackson forces to establish the Whig Party and adopt the organizational techniques of their adversaries. By 1840, the United States had a vibrant, highly competitive two-party system. 33
During the 1830s, most Americans came to view partisan politics as critical to the success of republican government. For a republic to work, citizens needed to believe that they could change what government did. By offering voters clear policy alternatives, the two parties provided Americans with confidence that they could alter policy by changing the direction of the government. Although fundamentally sound, it was believed that republicanism demanded eternal vigilance to protect those institutions from conspiracies by self-seeking individuals and groups. In their appeals to the electorate, both parties sought to portray the principles and policies of the other party as deviants from the republican creed and themselves as the defenders of the republic. 34
Democrats tended to belong to segments of society that resented the economic and social changes associated with the market revolution-artisans, wage laborers, and small farmers. To them, the class stratification and concentration of economic power produced by the market revolution were incompatible with the egalitarian values upon which republicanism rested. Democrats viewed the world as a place where the virtuous masses battled with corrupt, self-serving elites who sought to enslave and exploit them, and they looked to political action to protect society and individuals from institutions that restricted liberty. They saw in National Republican programs a design to build up a Money Power by giving special privileges to private interests. Unlike the National Republicans, Democrats welcomed the expansion of suffrage and the rise of mass democratic politics and extolled what historian Joel Silbey has labeled the partisan imperative. They believed political parties provided the virtuous majority with the necessary organizational means for preventing selfish elites from using government power to serve their own narrow interests. Democrats embraced the concept of political parties, professional politicians, and the tactics of mass democratic politics, viewing all three as necessary tools for maintaining vigilance over government. 35
The Jacksonian attitude toward government also flowed from their faith in human intuition and skepticism toward special claims of expertise in any field. Believing true wealth was created by the labor of farmers, mechanics, and wage earners, Democrats were suspicious of lawyers, bankers, and other white-collar professionals and viewed with hostility their bourgeois values and their belief that training and education gave them a special monopoly on particular fields of human endeavor. With their faith in the common man, Democrats rejected the notion of an aristocracy of talent. Because they envisioned a limited role for government and a simple society, Democrats rejected Whig claims that the task of governing was, or should be, so complex as to require special training, talents, or expertise. Common sense and responsiveness to constituents were the most important qualities the Jacksonian Democrat looked for in his leaders. 36
Whigs tended to be members of the upwardly mobile commercial and professional middle class that embraced the market revolution but were less comfortable with the modernization of politics. The professionals, evangelicals and members of traditional established churches, merchants, and commercial farmers who supported the Whig Party viewed themselves as the sober, church-going, educated, respectable classes. They championed the market economy on the grounds that it rewarded hard work, self-discipline, and the calculated pursuit of self-interest, but were concerned that the rise of a more individualistic society and political democracy posed a threat to social order, harmony, and stability. What Democrats viewed as tools by which elites enslaved and exploited the common man, Whigs believed were essential means to give order and rational direction to society. Democrats, in the minds of Whigs, threatened republicanism by encouraging mob rule, attacking institutions and values that gave order to society, appealing to self-interested passion, and slavishly following an impulsive, reckless military chieftain. 37
Whig political culture owed much to Common Sense moral philosophy. Like the American Whigs, the Scottish Enlightenment intellectuals who formulated Common Sense precepts during the eighteenth century were members of their society s cosmopolitan, commercial, and socially conservative upper middle class and championed the economic modernization and political consolidation of their societies. Central to Common Sense moral philosophy was faculty psychology. The faculty psychology paradigm conceived, in the words of historian Daniel Walker Howe, of human nature as consisting of a hierarchically arranged series of powers or faculties. In competition for supremacy were the lower faculties of emotion and selfish appetite-the passions -and the higher faculties of reason and conscience. In the well-constructed individual, the faculties were balanced, with passion subordinate to reason. The higher faculties, unfortunately, were by nature the weakest, and passion the strongest, of the faculties. Yet individuals could overcome this and achieve the status of a self-made man, which meant possession of a moderate temperament and balanced character regulated by dispassionate reason, if they cultivated their higher faculties through education and constant self-discipline. 38
Whigs not only applied faculty psychology to their analysis of individuals but to society and politics as well. When a Whig looked at the world, he saw a contest for supremacy between the forces of enlightened reason and unrestrained passion. In contrast to the Democratic definition of progress as the liberation of people from artificial restraints, Whigs emphasized the need for conscious, careful, deliberate, goal-oriented planning based on established principles to foster the ascendancy of reason and restraint of passions that distinguished a progressive, enlightened society. To Whigs, their struggle with the Democrats for power would determine whether society would be governed by free men able to regulate themselves or by the forces of ignorance and fanaticism. 39
The vision of society as a contest between passion and reason shaped Whig attitudes toward the ends to which political action should be directed. A desire to ensure a harmonious polity in which reason was ascendant led Whigs to extol the virtues of moderation. Recognizing that American society was composed of diverse economic, religious, and social groups, and that competition for power among these groups could be a source of instability, Whigs championed a vision of political action called constitutional unionism. Constitutional unionism celebrated the art of compromise, which, by assigning primacy to moderation, practicality, and conciliation, ensured the ascendancy of reason, civility, and the general good over fanaticism, extremism, and narrow-minded parochialism. 40
Whigs rejected the Jacksonian complaint that the market revolution and the use of government power to promote it endangered republicanism. It was inevitable, they argued, that individuals who developed their talents through education, worked hard, practiced rational planning, and exercised self-discipline would acquire a disproportionate share of power and wealth. Whigs believed the opportunity for upward mobility into the aristocracy of talent provided by the new economy encouraged Americans to develop the moral discipline and control over the passions that made them good republican citizens. 41
Whig attitudes toward economic development were complemented by their views on ethnocultural conflicts in Jacksonian America. In the decades after the contested election of 1824, the United States experienced a steadily growing influx of immigrants from Ireland and Germany who brought to America alien customs, cultural values, and Catholicism, which conflicted with the religious and social values espoused by Whigs. These values were shaped by a religious and spiritual movement known as the Second Great Awakening, which gave theological justification to capitalism and drew its support from the entrepreneurial and professional middle class. Inspired by a belief in the perfectibility of mankind, evangelicals launched moral reform movements that looked to promote the middle-class values of order, politeness, and sobriety by encouraging individuals to discipline their passions. 42
Indeed, Whigs believed the control over the passions and cultivation of the higher faculties that made economic success and true piety attainable made those who achieved it particularly well suited to the task of providing leadership to others. The concept of paternalism was central to notions of political leadership that were popular among Whigs with roots in Federalism or National Republicanism. Although they adopted the tactics of mass democratic politics- most spectacularly in the log cabin and hard cider campaign of 1840-Whigs commitment to consensus building meant that they tended to resist the partisan imperative. This was manifest in a powerful antipathy toward professional politicians. The politician was scorned as a selfish and unprincipled man who lacked the independence or intellectual capacity to comprehend the complex problems of governance, vision to fashion constructive policies, or self-discipline to control his own passions. Instead, he pandered to the ignorant masses and worked solely to advance the narrow interests of his own constituents rather than the general good. 43
Whig paternalism and distaste for party politics and politicians was manifest in idealization of the figure of the statesman. Unlike Democrats, who had faith in the common man s ability to identify his own interests, Whigs believed that without educated leaders to provide guidance and instruction, individuals tended to take a narrow perspective on problems and worry only about their own interests. Guided by his moderate temperament, powerful intellect, and broad perspective, the statesman rose above party, local, and personal prejudices to solve problems in a manner that served the long-term interests of the entire country. Only men who possessed exceptional knowledge and breadth of vision, self-discipline, and public spiritedness were believed to be capable of carrying out the difficult task of balancing, reconciling, and harmonizing competing interests through compromise and developing rational methods for accommodating change and republicanism. 44
In few places in antebellum America were the fault lines produced by the market revolution and the rise of mass democratic politics sharper than they were in Philadelphia, which during the 1830s and 1840s was being rapidly transformed from an eighteenth-century seaport to a modern industrial city. Whereas economic relations had previously supported community-based social relations, the rise of the factory system and market-based economic exchange undermined this source of social stability. This, of course, was a change that communities throughout the nation were experiencing. In Philadelphia, however, the changes associated with the market revolution were played out in a major population center. Consequently, they were much more dramatic and the conflicts they produced were much more intense. And as young George B. McClellan looked on, the economic and social tensions produced by the market revolution fueled a fierce contest for power between Whigs and Democrats that was played out in the city s shops, political salons, and streets. 45
The most important result of the dramatic change in the city s economy was the displacement of the small-shop artisans. As was the case throughout the nation, some adapted to the new emphasis on specialization and rationalization of economic tasks associated with industrialization and moved into the middle class as entrepreneurs, factory managers, or merchants. Many were not so fortunate and slipped into the ranks of the permanent working class. Their frustration gave rise in 1828 to a Workingman s Party, which nominated candidates for public office from 1828 to 1831 and took anti-privilege, limited government positions. The persistent inability of this organization to secure control of city and state governments led to a change in tactics. In 1835-1836, the city experienced a series of strikes that represented the peak of the organized labor movement during the antebellum period. The Panic of 1837, however, drove a stake into the heart of the labor movement and it was absorbed by the Jacksonian Democratic Party. 46
As their inability to overturn the city s political and economic power structure became evident, working-class anger and frustration in Philadelphia was increasingly directed against the city s large African American population. Racism was one value Philadelphia s lower and upper classes shared, for the city was in style and temperament a Southern city. Popular antagonism toward blacks and abolitionists by these groups was exacerbated during the 1830s by a dramatic increase in antislavery activity in the city. Philadelphia s respectable middle and upper classes disapproved of the antislavery movement, which they, like many conservative Northerners, viewed as a threat to social order and traditional lines of social and political life. Thus, during the 1830s anti-black and anti-abolitionist violence was a feature of life in Philadelphia. In August 1834, the city experienced the first in a series of destructive race riots. One year later a group of rioters seized and dumped stacks of antislavery pamphlets in the Delaware River. In 1838, a mob burned Pennsylvania Hall to the ground to break up an antislavery convention. 47
At the center of the commercially oriented, cosmopolitan, and politically conservative Philadelphia elite to which the McClellans belonged was Nicholas Biddle, the brilliant president of the Second Bank of the United States. The tendency of Philadelphia s aristocracy of talent to embrace a National Republican-Whig vision of politics and society was manifest even before Jackson and the Democrats declared war on the National Bank in 1832. This was partially rooted in a sense of connection with Benjamin Franklin, the country s early exemplar of commercial society, the ideal of self-improvement through development of the higher faculties, and Enlightenment rationalism. Viewing themselves as stewards of the republic, members of the McClellans social and economic circle possessed the preoccupation of conservative Whigs with the preservation of social order. To eliminate the threat from below posed by the ignorant masses, they promoted education and prison reform. To preserve harmony among themselves, Philadelphia s elites supported political leaders who sought consensus and worked to forge compromises and cooperation among competing interests. 48
Almost as soon as the Federalist Party had disappeared, the Jeffersonian-Republicans in Philadelphia split into two bitterly antagonistic factions. The New School faction was composed of the city s traditionally Federalist elite and its new entrepreneurial and professional classes, who supported National Republican efforts to promote the market revolution and the consensual harmony of the Era of Good Feelings. Opposing them was an Old School faction supported by artisans and working-class immigrants who, allied with farmers in the interior, were instrumental in the organization of the national Democratic Party. Not until Jackson declared war on the Second Bank of the United States did the New School faction accept the need for an organized party if they were to save their vision of an orderly and harmonious republic from King Andrew and mob rule. Nonetheless, the Philadelphia elite were able to keep their city, particularly the Dock Ward in which the McClellans resided, firmly in the Whig column throughout the 1830s and 1840s. 49
As a member of Philadelphia s aristocracy of talent who had roots in Federalism, Dr. McClellan shared the social and political outlook of the National Republicans. Although he did not enter the field of electoral politics, during his son s youth, Dr. McClellan became, in the words of a Democratic newspaper editor, one of the most devoted of Whigs and an active presence in Whig circles. During the effort to revive the Bank of the United States in the early 1840s, Dr. McClellan reviewed a memorandum for Biddle defending his management of the Second Bank and counseled Whig Senator John M. Clayton of Delaware on his efforts to rally public support for the bank. Courage . . . my dear fellow, and lay it on tough & tight, he advised Clayton, making every point strong before the people. If the Whigs succeed at all they must succeed with and by means of a Bank & a few bold & strong spirits . . . [to] lead public opinion to the right point. 50
Dr. McClellan was especially close to Clayton, one of Henry Clay s and Daniel Webster s key lieutenants during the 1830s and 1840s. Clayton had been a classmate at Yale and would be a warm acquaintance of the McClellan family until his death in 1856. In 1849, army officer George B. McClellan would write to the senator seeking his aid in blocking congressional efforts to enact legislation that would, in his opinion, wrongly provide for the discharge of the enlisted men of his company. Six months later, McClellan solicited Clayton s help for his efforts to get the War Department to send him to Europe to observe military operations during the Hungarian revolution of that year. In 1856, McClellan sent Clayton a long letter laying out his views on the state of American military preparedness and closed the letter by writing, as you were my father s friend, and have always shown a warm interest in me, I can speak perfectly unreservedly to you. 51
Dr. McClellan also took great pride in his association with Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. McClellan was, in the words of Democratic newspaperman John W. Forney, one of Henry Clay s sincerest friends, and worked tirelessly in 1843 and 1844 for the Kentucky statesman s presidential campaign. Keep up our good Whig course at all costs, Dr. McClellan exhorted a friend in 1843, I have done some great things in surgery of late but nothing which has gratified me half as much as the success I know I have had in turning the current of opinion for the glorious old fellow Henry Clay. . . . I will make him President if the heavens do not fall. Clay s defeat in 1844 was a bitter blow to McClellan. One evening shortly after the election, he encountered Forney and could not resist expressing his bitterness over Clay s defeat before they closed the controversy in a glass of wine. 52
Two years later Dr. McClellan had the melancholy duty of informing Clay that his grandson had died while in McClellan s care. Clay wrote back unreservedly expressing his anguish. It is a great consolation, wrote Clay, to know that, in his last days, he . . . had the kind attention and care of yourself. . . . [M]y dear friend, I hope you have had a less measure of affliction than has fallen to my lot. When Dr. McClellan died in 1847, Philadelphia s Whig newspaper predicted that Clay s Ashland would be among the homes of genius in the nation where tears would be shed. 53
Webster was a patient and intimate friend of Dr. McClellan, whose soldier son became a fervent admirer of the Massachusetts statesman. While stationed in Washington during the winter of 1851-1852, the future general made a point of watching noble Daniel Webster argue a case before the Supreme Court and was captivated. Afterward he wrote his brother that

I never heard so clear, so logical, & so impressive a speech. No ranting, no straining for effect. But the sledge hammer blows of an intellectual giant. What an appearance he has! . . . The worn out simile of the lion pacing about his cage was truly applicate to him. You would pick him out of a crowd as the only man who could be Daniel Webster. 54
While serving on an expedition exploring the Red River in 1852, McClellan was offered the honor of naming the highest mountain in the Wichita mountain chain and reported to his family with delight that he christened it Mount Webster. He also passed his pride in the family s association with Webster on to his own son. The celebrated daguerreotype of Webster in the beaver hat, George Brinton McClellan, Jr., would boast in his autobiography, was taken in my grandfather s company. During the Civil War, General McClellan would name his favorite horse Dan Webster. 55
No man cultivated the image of the republican statesman that appealed to Whigs like the McClellans as assiduously or successfully as Daniel Webster. As historian Irving Bartlett has observed, a cult of Webster emerged among segments of Northern society who cherished traditional notions of statesmanship and were uneasy with the tactics and divisiveness of mass democratic politics. To these admirers, Webster personified the Whig values of political moderation and disinterested statesmanship and was celebrated for being above the petty partisanship, parochialism, and undignified hullabaloo of mass democratic politics. 56
To Webster, the ultimate end of American politics was to preserve and defend the three great institutions inherited from the Founding Fathers: the Union, the rule of law, and the Constitution. Like his admirers, Webster was concerned with the problem of preserving social and political stability and civic virtue in a democratic, capitalistic society and sought to promote and direct the forces of progress and improvement so that they would support, rather than threaten, the institutions and values that gave order to society. Disturbed by the existence of centrifugal tendencies that threatened to divide the nation, he sought to promote institutions and values that encouraged people to rise above their selfish interests, recognize the existence of a harmony of interests, and develop a sense of unity and shared destiny. Foremost among these were the Union and the Constitution. 57
The resistance to party discipline that Webster s admirers found so admirable in fact flowed in part from the fact that the party line and the personal ambitions of his rival Henry Clay were often one and the same. Yet Webster s attitude on political partisanship also paralleled his religious ecumenism. Webster worshipped at Episcopal, Congregational, or Presbyterian churches depending on where he was at any particular time; did not concern himself with the theological niceties that distinguished one denomination from another; and lacked the burning piety from which was derived, in the words of historian Daniel Walker Howe, that driving spirit to remake the world that characterized many of the Whig evangelicals. Although he extolled American society for providing its citizens opportunities for social and economic improvement and sympathized with the movement for reform, he placed a higher value on stability, harmony, and order. 58
Not only did Dr. McClellan s roots in New England Federalism and membership in the nation s professional aristocracy of talent orient him toward the brand of Whiggery that Godlike Daniel championed, his religious outlook also appears to have paralleled Webster s. Although the McClellans who emigrated to America were of Scotch Presbyterian stock, upon relocating to Woodstock and marrying into one of its most prominent families, General Sam joined the community s Congregational Church. If this provoked any concerns in the McClellan family they were no doubt alleviated by Timothy Dwight s success bringing the Presbyterian and Congregational Churches together in his 1801 Plan of Union. Upon settling in Philadelphia and marrying a member of the Brinton family, however, Dr. McClellan abandoned the Presbygational churches of his youth and Yale College. The services at his funeral were of the Episcopal Church and all five of his children were baptized into that denomination. Four were baptized at St. James s Episcopal Church. The other child, George Brinton, was baptized at St. Peter s Episcopal Church. Until 1832, both of these Episcopal churches were part of what was known as the United Churches, which consisted of the two congregations and their mother church, historic Christ Church. 59
Dr. McClellan s acceptance of Episcopalianism and willingness to see his children baptized into that denomination were no doubt due in part to the character of the man who led the Episcopal Churches in Philadelphia. Like Timothy Dwight, Bishop William White, rector of the United Churches during much of General McClellan s youth, was a man of strong character, moderate temperament, and powerful intellect who possessed a powerful sense of dignity. From his personality flowed a theological outlook that, in the words of one historian, stressed reason rather than emotion in religion, looking to Scripture and history for empirical evidence to support his beliefs. White also shared Dwight s paternal approach to spreading the Gospel. White did not seek to impose his views through appeals to the emotions or threats of eternal damnation. Instead he consciously endeavored to cultivate his parishioners higher faculties and to serve as an exemplar of the virtues of self-discipline, piety, and charity. White was also tolerant toward other Protestant sects, although he disapproved of the militant character of the evangelical movements produced by the Second Great Awakening and the frenzied preaching style of evangelical ministers, which he felt unnecessarily stirred up passions by appealing to the animal sensibilities of their congregations. 60
Like Webster, Dr. McClellan s approach to religion was conservative and ecumenical, in line with the Whig emphasis on social harmony and vision of a public servant s obligation to society. In an 1836 address to the graduates of Jefferson Medical College, McClellan warned them not to let themselves be shipwrecked by associating with political or sectarian branches of society. Professional men, he added, had a duty to rise above parochial interests and perspectives and keep their hearts open to all denominations and parties so they would not compromise their ability to serve all of society. Moreover, although he clearly embraced the ideals of upward mobility, self-discipline, and social paternalism of the New Divinity, Dr. McClellan did not possess the driving spirit to remake the world that spawned reform movements such as temperance and abolitionism. The religious views that prevailed in the McClellan household endorsed worldly ambition and promoted the calculated pursuit of self-improvement and progress but also supported social stability by downplaying sectarian differences and emphasizing the values of rationalism, moderation, and order. 61
Dr. McClellan s son George Brinton formally began the process of earning his own place in America s aristocracy of talent when he was 5 years old. Already fond of books and study, his sister would later write, and always the soul of honor, McClellan first attended a school directed by a Mrs. Donaldson a few blocks away from his home. Soon thereafter, feeling too old to go to a woman s school, he joined his older brother, John, at a school directed by Sears Cooke Walker. Walker was, McClellan later recalled, a man of high scientific attainment who after leaving the school went on to a prominent career as an astronomer. After leaving Walker s school, McClellan studied under a man named Schiffen, whom he described as a magnificent classical scholar and an excellent teacher. After Schiffen s death, McClellan entered Reverend Samuel W. Crawford s preparatory school at the University of Pennsylvania and then, at age 13, began studies at the university itself, evidently with the intention of preparing for a career in that most bourgeois and cosmopolitan of professions, the law. 62
Yet as he neared completion of his studies at the University of Pennsylvania, another profession beckoned. McClellan later traced his desire, in his father s words, to go through the West Point school for the serious purpose of devoting his life to the service of the Army of the U[nited] States to his days at Walker s school when a fellow student left to enter West Point. McClellan s interest in the military may also have been nourished by the family s martial heritage as well as the numerous militia units and fire companies in Philadelphia, whose glamorous uniforms and colorful parades were a prominent part of the city s social scene. Moreover, although there are allusions to eventually leaving the military to pursue a career in the law during his years at West Point and his early military career, there is evidence that suggests McClellan saw the legal profession as an inadequate outlet for his ambition. 63
In 1842, Dr. McClellan s close friend and Whig Congressman Joseph R. Ingersoll submitted George Brinton McClellan s name to the War Department as an applicant to enter West Point. Dr. McClellan himself also wrote personally to President John Tyler and Secretary of War John B. Spencer when his son s name was not included on a list of nominees, even after the Engineer department issued a formal notice of receipt of a February 25 letter submitting McClellan s name to the secretary of war. Finally, on April 23, 1842, George B. McClellan, with his father s endorsement, formally informed the War Department of his acceptance of conditional appointment as a cadet at West Point. 64

Dr. George B. McClellan, Lt. George B. McClellan, and one of his younger siblings in 1846. Courtesy Princeton University Firestone Library.
Scholars of political socialization have determined that, as the first agent of socialization, the family s influence in establishing lifelong patterns and fundamental dispositions in regard to society and politics, especially in the area of party affiliation, is enormous. After extensive study of the role fathers play in the formation of a child s political outlook, sociologists have identified three ways in which they influence their sons to adopt their own: maintaining a close personal relationship, serving as an overt and covert model for emulation, and placing the child in a particular social and cultural context. 65
Dr. McClellan was successful in all three regards. The relationship between him and his second son was by all accounts extremely close. His death in 1847 was a devastating blow to his son, who several months later described it as an event I do and cannot speak [of], for it can but call to our minds the remembrance of as noble a being as ever graced the earth. It is also clear that the future general viewed his father s personal character as worthy of emulation and possessed great pride in being Dr. George McClellan s son. In a letter to his younger brother, Arthur, in 1855, McClellan directed him to make it your rule in life to love his memory & do honor to their father s name, which is a proud legacy he has left us-more valuable than any riches, which other more calculating, but less noble, less intellectual beings have left behind. Finally, Dr. McClellan maintained a household where, his son would recall in the first draft of his memoirs, traditions and associations . . . were all on the side of the old Whig Party. 66
These traditions and associations instilled in George B. McClellan a Whig worldview that would shape his actions before and during the Civil War. Like most Victorians, the McClellans were selective in their acceptance of the forms the modernization of American society took. During his youth, McClellan s family instilled in him a cosmopolitan outlook as well as the market revolution s emphasis on the disciplined pursuit of self-improvement, organizational and institutional innovation, and personal refinement. McClellan also developed the Whig view of society as a hierarchy based on merit and skepticism toward the egalitarian and libertarian thrust of post-1815 America. His Whig tendency to apply the faculty psychology paradigm s concept of the world as a place where reason and passion battled for ascendancy led him to adhere to a concept of politics and government that emphasized consensus and harmony and would be manifest in a vicious hostility toward politicians and party politics. McClellan embraced the Whig model of statesmanship that looked for men of reason, moderate temperament, and refinement who could forge compromises that preserved social order and stability by conciliating competing interests and who could give paternalistic direction to national development and social progress.
An attachment to the values of Whiggery would stand George B. McClellan in good stead at West Point. If Dr. McClellan s household was not the most auspicious environment for the shaping of a political and cultural outlook rooted in Whig values, the military academy on the Hudson River was one of the few that surpassed it.
I Can Do As Well As Anyone in Both My Studies and My Military Duties
B y the time the ink was dry on his first letter home from West Point on June 28, 1842, 15-year-old conditional cadet George Brinton McClellan had already learned that gaining admission to the United States Military Academy was but the first hurdle he had to clear in order to obtain a commission in the U.S. Army. As he started his letter, thirty prospective members of the class of 1846 had already been rejected by surgeons, and, although homesickness and a pair of sore feet that had rendered him awkward at drill did not make the prospect all that unappealing at the time, McClellan was concerned he might be found on account of my age and sent back home. He was not, and, four years later, after an intensive experience of professional and personal socialization, he obtained his commission and with it formal entrance into the subculture of the Army officer corps. 1

During the Early National Period, the structure of the U.S. Army and its place in American society reflected the popular suspicion of centralized power and formal institutions that characterized the agrarian republic of loosely connected rural communities. For land defense, the country relied primarily upon state militias composed of citizen-soldiers, whose patriotism and natural common sense were presumed to be all the qualities needed to defend the country, led by untrained officers who owed their positions to political influence. Few perceived a need for a systematic process for recruiting and training officers for the regular army, and popular fear of the threat a standing army could pose to political liberty precluded providing it with the infrastructure necessary for it to be an efficient institution. 2
However, in the aftermath of the War of 1812, an army reform movement laid the foundation for the emergence of an officer corps that possessed the qualities political scientist Samuel P. Huntington identified as distinguishing a profession: unique, specialized expertise in a significant field of human endeavor . . . acquired only by prolonged education and experience ; exclusive responsibility for performing a particular service to society that is essential to its functioning; and a conscious corporate sense of organic unity and membership in a group apart from layman. The first factor driving the movement for reform was the poor performance of American arms during War of 1812. Although they by no means shattered the Americans people s faith in the citizen-soldier ideal, embarrassing defeats at the hands of the British did foster in influential circles a desire to improve the regular army. At the same time a new generation of officers came to prominence who looked to make the military a career and wanted to make the Army an efficient and respectable institution. 3
The reform movement that laid the foundation for a professional officer corps was also a manifestation of developments that were reshaping warfare and society as a whole. During the first half of the nineteenth century, the scale and complexity of warfare were dramatically increasing due to new technologies- such as steamboats, railroads, rifled weaponry, and the telegraph-that made it possible to sustain and coordinate the operations of large armies in the field. As armies grew in size they presented new organizational, administrative, and technical challenges that, as in civilian life, spurred the development of occupational specialization and formal, bureaucratically organized institutions. Not coincidentally the post-1815 push for army reform came from the same members of the Republican coalition who embraced the nationalistic spirit of the Era of Good Feelings and looked to strengthen and restructure institutions to promote economic modernization and national development. The direction army reform took reflected their viewpoints to no small degree. 4
The most important civilian associated with army reform was John C. Calhoun, one of the most enthusiastic champions of the National Republican program. During his tenure as secretary of war, Calhoun implemented important institutional reforms that fostered the eventual development of a well-organized and professionally officered regular army. He reorganized the army s staff structure to bring about greater uniformity in all areas of administration, and he developed the expansible army concept, which would reduce the number of enlisted men but maintain a disproportionately large officer corps around which the army could expand. Although not formally adopted by Congress, this concept became the basis for U.S. military policy, marking a growing recognition that the task of managing and leading armies required specialized expertise and indicating a shift away from placing primary responsibility for the nation s defense upon citizen-soldiers to emphasizing professional direction in military affairs that could only come from a permanent, well-trained officer corps. 5
The most important force for the development of military professionalism in the United States was the military academy at West Point. The key event in West Point s emergence as a stable source of professionally minded officers was the appointment of Sylvanus Thayer as superintendent in 1817. During his sixteen-year tenure Thayer transformed the academy into a model of the sort of institution through which the National Republicans and Whigs looked to shape the intellects and characters of young men. Thayer imposed rational order and discipline on the operational structure of the academy by establishing clear lines of authority and a fixed curriculum. He also created a strictly regimented, spartan, and ordered world designed to transform the young cadets into disciplined leaders who embraced the values and culture of their professional community and appreciated the value of method, system, and order in all things. Every aspect of cadet life was governed by a strict, impersonal system of regulations and procedures that fostered order and discipline, strict attention to hierarchy of rank based on merit, and an intensely competitive atmosphere. 6
Central to Thayer s efforts to establish an atmosphere of intense, but structured and orderly, competition at West Point was the merit roll, which ranked students on the basis of their performance in the classroom and general conduct. Classroom performance was assessed daily according to a precise grading system and classes were divided into sections according to ability. General examinations were administered twice a year to determine academic ranking. Order and discipline were maintained by an elaborate system of punishments and demerits, with the latter factoring into the calculation of the overall merit roll. Thayer s efforts to instill competitiveness, discipline, and consciousness of rank, already present in those like McClellan who were drawn from the upwardly mobile bourgeois middle classes, in the character of the corps of cadets was reinforced by the direct link between one s professional prospects to his performance at West Point. Cadets were well aware of the fact that assignments after graduation and their place on promotion lists were determined by class rank. 7
Although less influential than the general environment in shaping the minds of the cadets, the curriculum also reflected parallels between the academy s approach to intellectual and character development and the Scottish Common Sense moral philosophy that shaped the values of the Whig Party. Although primarily a function of the elite status of the Corps of Engineers within the army and the prevailing influence of that branch of the service over the academy, the technical curriculum was also prized for its effects on the minds of those who did not go into the technical branches of artillery and engineering. If a cadet was able to endure what one of McClellan s classmates described as the continuous chain of reasoning which our mathematical course requires, it was believed he would develop an efficient, disciplined, and orderly mind where logic and reason prevailed. 8 One of the most important objects of the Academy, the Academic Board that governed West Point proclaimed in 1843, was:

to subject each cadet . . . to a thorough course of mental as well as military discipline . . . to teach him to reason accurately. . . . If the course has been properly taught, the reasoning powers have been strongly exercised and disciplined, and a system and habit of thought acquired, which are invaluable in the pursuit of any profession. 9
Many, if not most, of the young men who went through the program at West Point resisted at least some aspects of the institutional dynamics and value system that prevailed at the military academy. Yet, along with the family, it is the schools and peer group that scholars have demonstrated are the most influential agents of political socialization. The West Point years were particularly well timed to shape the mental outlook of cadets, for it is between the ages of 17 and 25 that an individual develops his or her distinctive personal outlook and defines who he or she is in relation to society. And it was the rare cadet indeed who could survive the intense four-year program of professional training and socialization that young George McClellan commenced in the summer of 1842 without absorbing most of the prevailing ethos. For someone like McClellan, who had already been socialized in environments that extolled upward mobility, rationalism, and consciously arranged order, the West Point experience served to reinforce his attachment to those values. 10
As historian Matthew Moten has perceptively observed, West Point also fostered an engineering mindset distinguished by a deductive and formulaic, rather than inductive and creative, approach to problems. When faced with problems, West Pointers, especially those like McClellan who fully embraced the academy and its ethos, attempted to proactively impose order and rational direction by taking accepted paradigms and principles and fitting the particulars of any particular situation or problem into them. They were not encouraged and therefore did not become adept at, in Moten s words, reactively starting from specifics and analyzing information to develop new theories, principles, or formulas of their own. This system of thought, of course, paralleled that of Whiggery, which drew on and sought to impose formulas and concepts (the American System, faculty psychology, etc.), in order to control and properly shape society, rather than improvise in response to specific problems. 11
Two days after passing his physical examination, McClellan took the academic examination designed to test whether he was able to understand the four fundamental rules of arithmetic, single and double proportion, to write a fairly good hand, and to spell passably well. This was followed in July by his first summer encampment, in which he received instruction in infantry drill, artillery, and the multitude of tasks that make up a soldier s life. During the encampment McClellan and his classmates learned the virtues of discipline and attention to detail, as upperclassmen were quick to find and report even the slightest violation of regulations in their dress, deportment, or execution of duties. Finally, in September, McClellan and his classmates began their academic work. They were initially seated in the classroom according to alphabetical order. Consequently, for the first few weeks, McClellan found himself seated next to Dabney H. Maury, who had also already completed a course of study at a civilian university. For a very brief space it was, Maury later recalled, for he pushed at once to the head of the class. 12
Although two years younger than the rest of his class, McClellan quickly exhibited an affinity for the competitive, hierarchical, and tightly structured atmosphere of West Point. His studies with Walker and Crawford and at the University of Pennsylvania had prepared him well for the classroom, and his ordered mind enabled him to quickly adapt to the general milieu of the academy. Indeed, by the time he finished his first letter home, he had overcome his sore feet and given a stellar performance at drill. He then informed his parents that he was determined to do better than all the rest and was confident of his ability to go through here, & do my duty as well as anyone who ever did. . . . I know I can do as well as anyone in both my studies and my military duties. 13
Seven months later McClellan s fondness for military subjects, which he nourished by borrowing works on Jomini, Napoleon, Charlemagne, and other military figures from the academy library, and life along the Hudson remained high. Every day, he informed his brother John, I am more pleased at my having come here. His performance in the first round of examinations in January 1843 placed him at the head of his class, a distinction, he immediately proclaimed to his brother, well worth having. His pride in that accomplishment was heightened by an appreciation of the unique rigor of the program and the keenness of the competition. Rather different from that of taking the first honor at College, he informed his family. I suppose those who stood before me at the infernal school I used to go to when I was a little boy will say that they might easily do the same thing here. No such thing, they could not do it to save their lives. 14
Not only did McClellan experience immediate success academically, he quickly became popular with his fellow cadets and acquired a number of close and enduring friendships. Erasmus D. Keyes, an instructor at the academy at the time, later recalled not only being struck with the facility with which he learned his lessons but by his strong attachments to friends-qualities for which he has always been remarkable. Classmate William Gardner later described McClellan as amiable and agreeable . . . in everything a gentleman in the highest interpretation of the term. In the same letter home in which he reported his success in the January examinations, McClellan described his social circle, noting with some surprise that all my associates, indeed all of them-are Southerners. . . . [T]he manners, feelings & opinions of the Southerners are far, far preferable to those of the majority of the Northerners. 15

West Point in the 1840s, watercolor by Augustus Kollner. U.S. Military Academy Library, Archives and Special Collections.
That McClellan would be drawn to Southerners is not surprising considering how closely the Victorian cultural ideals of the antebellum Southern gentry paralleled those of the Northern bourgeois middle class. Both groups welcomed and eagerly participated in the market economy but sought, in the words of Daniel Walker Howe, to humanize the emergent industrial-capitalist order with a measure of social responsibility, strict personal morality, and respect for cultural standards. Likewise, both groups shared an attachment to the notion that leadership should rest with an enlightened, paternalistic elite and were greatly concerned about the threat that the rise of unbridled individualism and egalitarian democracy posed to the maintenance of a stable social order. 16
Although some had ties to the landed gentry, McClellan s friends tended to come from market-oriented households where the father s primary occupation was professional or commercial. His closest friend, James Stuart of South Carolina, who would be killed in a skirmish with Indians in 1851, was the son of a newspaper editor. After the death of his father, a naval officer, Dabney Maury was raised by his uncle, the distinguished scientist Matthew Fontaine Maury. Maury s fellow Virginian, Ambrose P. Hill, was the son of a merchant. Alfred Gibbs, McClellan s closest Northern friend, was the grandson of Oliver Wolcott, who had been Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington and John Adams. 17
Despite his high ambitions, after his first term McClellan did not always apply himself as rigorously to his studies as he could have. During the second term of his plebe year he dropped from first to third place on the merit roll but nonetheless earned promotion to corporal and was selected to tutor the class of 1847 during their plebe year. He remained third at the end of his second year but dropped one place during his third year. The prospect of remaining in fourth place was anathema to his competitive nature, however, and stimulated him to redouble his efforts inside and outside the classroom during his fourth year. In March 1846 he reported to his mother that between plenty of hard work in the line of Engineering, Ethics, Artillery & c & c . . . and being obliged to spend my Saturday evening at the Dialectic [the academy s elite debating society over which McClellan presided during his fourth year] I have but little leisure. 18
Cadets received limited exposure to the liberal arts in the course of their studies. What instruction they did receive in history, ethics, and philosophy came in the form of a course taken during their final year. This omnibus course reinforced the overall rationalist thrust of the institution. The main text used when McClellan took the course was Elements of Moral Science, whose author, Francis Wayland, was perhaps the nation s foremost proponent of Scottish Common Sense moral philosophy and faculty psychology. Elements of Moral Science was the best known of his writings and was used at academic institutions across the country. 19
In Wayland s work, McClellan found moral action defined as the voluntary action of an intelligent agent, who is capable of . . . distinguishing what he ought, from what he ought not, to do. The ability of individuals to distinguish right from wrong and behave correctly, Wayland asserted, depended on the outcome of a contest between the impulsive and restraining faculties of man. The ascendancy of the latter over the passions, which impelled man to seek immediate gratification, without respect to the consequences, either to ourselves or others, was essential both to the happiness of the individual and society. The man who disregarded the impulses of passion, and appetite, and self-love, act[ing], under all circumstances, unmoved and unallured by pleasure, and unawed by power, according to Wayland, attained to the highest eminence to which our nature can aspire. The higher faculties, he wrote, in words echoed by West Point s Academic Board in 1843, also followed the general law, by which the improvement of all our other faculties is regulated. Strengthened by use, it is impaired by disuse. . . . [E]very time a man does right, he gains a victory over his lower propensities, acquires self-control, and becomes more emphatically a freeman. 20
Wayland also addressed the question of political leadership and political discourse in the context of the great contest between passion and reason. No liberty, he wrote, can exist without restraint. . . . A free people surrendered up to their passions, must be held in subjection by force. He also rejected the argument that a political leader s sole responsibility was to represent the interests of his particular constituency. The legislative officer was, Wayland asserted, not the organ of a section, or of a district, much less of a party, but of the society at large . . . he who uses his power for the benefit of a section, or of a party, is false to his duty, to his country, and to his God. Wayland likewise endorsed the paternalistic model of political and social leadership embraced by the Whigs. Although he recognized the need for incentives and punishments to discipline society and individuals, he preferred that leaders set a proper moral example and rely on appeals to conscience to shape the behavior of others. Wayland particularly deplored rhetoric that attacked the motives and morality of others, on the grounds that it excited dangerous passions, and instead urged forbearance and tolerance for differing political views and viewed the proper settlement of differences to be a matter concession and mutual adjustment to prevent the rise of fanaticism. 21
In addition to the course on ethics and moral philosophy, McClellan also took Dennis Hart Mahan s course on Military and Civil Engineering and the Science of War during his final year at West Point. By far the most important and influential of all the members of the faculty ( the real superintendent of the academy in most matters of major importance, writes Mahan s biographer, Thomas E. Griess), Mahan had graduated at the head of his class in 1824 and had been a disciple of Thayer s. He chaired the 1843 Academic Board that produced the report lauding the development of mental discipline and the reasoning faculties through a highly technical curriculum. For cadets, Mahan was a demanding and exacting taskmaster who exhibited little tolerance for cadets who failed to demonstrate the mental discipline, tough-minded rationality, personal refinement, and strict adherence to regulations he considered essential to those who would command men in battle. Although a vigorous champion of the notion that proficiency in military science could only be obtained through specialized training, Mahan s course focused primarily on civil engineering and fortifications and only gave cadets a cursory introduction to strategy and the problem of commanding armies in the field. Nonetheless, for some young men, like McClellan, Mahan s class laid the foundation for a lifetime of enthusiastic study of the art of war. 22
Mahan s approach to the study of the art of war rested on the assumption that the essential principles of strategy were universal and constant and in peacetime could best be learned through the study of military history. However, he did not teach a rigid, inflexible approach to the military art. Instead, Mahan urged his students to deductively apply strategic principles pragmatically according to the dictates of reason and common sense. In fact, writes historian James L. Morrison, Jr., the professor preached the use of reason in military matters so vehemently and so frequently, the students nicknamed him Old Cobbon Sense in deference to the effect a chronic nasal infection had on Mahan s pronunciation of his favorite dictum. Mahan especially emphasized the need to adapt doctrine to the unique conditions that shaped American military policy. Particular emphasis was given to the fact that the bulk of the nation s land forces in war would consist of citizen-soldiers. Not only did volunteers lack discipline and efficiency, which could be alleviated somewhat by proper organization and training, but they were also voting citizens who retained connections to their home communities during wartime. In order to avoid excessive casualties that could kindle public passions and create political difficulties, Mahan advocated protecting troops behind entrenchments, avoiding frontal assaults, and achieving victory through maneuver. 23
In between classes and drill, McClellan managed to keep up with politics. The political sympathies he occasionally expressed in letters to his family from the military academy indicate that West Point did nothing to lead him to abandon the political faith of his father. In a letter to his brother he inquired as to a relative s progress in his legal studies, musing he is no doubt a second Clay or Webster and proclaimed himself delighted to hear such fine accounts of Mr. Clay s progress in the South. After surveying political developments in 1843, he wrote home expressing satisfaction that his father s friend, Mr. Clayton[,] has gone to the Senate, we have need of such men there I imagine, and noted that Webster too, I see has taken his place there. 24
In his valedictory address to the Dialectic Society in June 1846, McClellan provided the first extended exposition of the value system that fifteen years among Philadelphia s upwardly mobile professional elite and four years at West Point had instilled in him. In this speech, McClellan articulated the Whig exaltation of reason over passion, the paternalistic leader, and a view of history as the story of man progressively gaining control over his lower impulses. Employing the language of faculty psychology, he contrasted the vain nature of war in antiquity, when the passions of man had the mastery over his reason, with that of Napoleon, which demonstrated the immense effects of science. In the field of war, he argued, it was the officer s duty to check by his influence . . . the very worst and meanest of our passions . . . to impose that order and discipline without which it [would be] vain to hope for constant victory. Although wary of the impetuous zeal of the young Republican, McClellan took comfort in the numerous debating clubs in the nation that provided a means for dissipating that zeal. He closed by urging his fellow cadets, should sectionalism ever threaten the beautiful fabric which our fathers have raised so high, to incline to the conservative party. That party, he reminded his fellow cadets (borrowing from one of Webster s most celebrated orations), was the one whose motto shall be The Union, one & inseparable. 25
Graduation from West Point marked McClellan s official entry into the antebellum officer corps. Although disappointed at not achieving first place in his class (that honor went to Charles Stewart of New York), his vigorous fourth year had been enough to lift him to second place in the class of 1846, which allowed him to choose which branch of the service he would enter. It was an easy choice; the elite status of the Corps of Engineers within the Army was unquestioned. It, McClellan informed his mother, holds in every respect the very highest rank in our service. . . . [E]verything is expected of them in time of trouble. In addition, four years at the academy had left him passionately fond of Military Engineering & Military Studies and committed to developing his abilities as an officer. I can in this Corps, he advised his mother in March 1846, indulge this propensity, [and] make myself a better officer. 26
The engineers it would be. After a brief post-graduation trip home to Philadelphia, McClellan returned to West Point to begin duty as the third ranking officer in a company of engineers being organized under the direction of Captain Alexander J. Swift, with McClellan s good friend Gustavus W. Smith as second in command. Swift and Smith were among the most highly regarded junior officers in the army and were inspired to ask for McClellan s appointment after observing his performance as a cadet in Mahan s class. That it was made was an unmistakable indication of official confidence in McClellan s ability and potential. The unit was the first of its kind and from the time Congress authorized its creation in May 1846, the Army leadership intended it would serve as a model of technical expertise and military professionalism. 27
By the time McClellan graduated from West Point, the Army officer corps had developed the characteristics associated with professionalism, common styles of behavior, and shared views on their role in society and politics. The value system that distinguished the antebellum military mind had its roots in the West Point experience and was reinforced by the general milieu that shaped how officers interacted with each other and the rest of society. The men who survived the program at West Point (and less than half of those who entered the academy with McClellan in 1842 did) developed a powerful and justifiable sense of pride in their accomplishment, fellowship with those who shared the same experience, and a thinly concealed contempt for those who had not. This elitism was especially apparent in their attitudes toward those in society who did not share the belief that special training or expertise was necessary to carry out the task of defending the nation and challenged the West Point-trained officer s unique claim to direction over the nation s military affairs. 28
Although briefly muted during the period of National Republican ascendancy, popular antipathy toward standing armies never really disappeared. During the Age of the Common Man ushered in by Jackson s election as president, the regular army, its officer corps, and West Point came under fierce attack from those who included them among the bastions of elitism and special privilege in American society that needed to be destroyed. The military academy was attacked as an institution whose authoritarian values and faith in specialized expertise were incompatible with the democratic principle that the common man s patriotism and native common sense provided all the qualities necessary to exercise military leadership. If Jackson did not fully share this view (he once referred to West Point as the best school in the world ), he did little to discourage his followers denigration of expertise or their suspicions that there was something wrong with the regular army. Jackson s intense dislike for Thayer, Calhoun, and Winfield Scott, the three figures most closely associated with the professionalization of the army, was well known both inside and outside of the army. Jackson also repeatedly meddled in the operations at West Point during his first term in office, which ultimately led to Thayer s resignation from the superintendency. 29
The suspicions of Jacksonian Democrats that regular army officers held opinions and attitudes that were antithetical to their own were not without basis in reality. Although not the partisan instrument it had been prior to 1812, the officer corps subculture was distinguished by attitudes toward American society and politics that closely paralleled those of other professional groups that supported the Whig Party. From the time they entered West Point, army officers were placed in environments that encouraged them to embrace order, discipline, hierarchy, and reason and to deprecate the divisiveness, egalitarian individualism, and rough-and-tumble style of Jacksonian America. West Pointers shared the Whig view of politicians as self-serving, divisive, and unscrupulous characters who placed sectional, party, and self-interest above the national interest, and who were too willing to stir up the passions of the ignorant masses to attain power. In contrast, officers viewed themselves and the army as above politics and motivated solely by a public-spirited concern for the interests of the nation as a whole, rather than any particular section or party. 30
The officer corps dislike for the divisiveness of Jacksonian political culture also reflected a disdain for extremism and ideological zealotry rooted in the national character of the army. Although the effort to detach members of the officer corps from traditional loyalties was by no means an unqualified success, the general milieu of antebellum army life, in particular West Point s preoccupation with practicality and rationality and the need to maintain harmony in a close-knit army society, did have a tendency to foster a spirit of moderation and toleration of differences on matters unrelated to professional concerns. Unlike most Americans, who spent their lives as members of relatively homogeneous communities defined by geography, class, and religion and rarely came into contact with members of other groups, West Pointers spent an intensive process of professional socialization and most of their adult lives in a community where they were in constant contact with individuals of different backgrounds. Consequently, they tended not to develop the distorted and stereotypical views of people from other regions, classes, or religious denominations that provided much of the venom that energized political conflict in antebellum America. 31
At the same time, however, the peacetime army was anything but a picture of harmony. The men of the officer corps were a contentious and touchy bunch, capable of exhibiting all the self-righteousness and uncompromising obstinacy they loathed in politicians. Yet the sources of conflict were generally related to professional matters rather than ideological differences rooted in sectionalism or party politics. After doing all it could at West Point to instill the young officer-to-be with a strong sense of competitiveness, self-importance, and honor, the army then-almost cruelly-offered few opportunities to satisfy his ambitions. The typical antebellum West Point graduate could expect to be in his late 20s before he received promotion to first lieutenant and in his mid-30s before attaining the rank of captain. And from there the rate of promotion became even slower. 32
Concern for the maintenance of professional standards was most clearly manifest in a deep hostility toward citizen-soldiers and political meddling in military affairs. Both challenged the notion that regular officers possessed a special claim over direction of military affairs. Regulars were virtually unanimous in their denunciations of amateur soldiers as undisciplined, unreliable, and unruly mobs led by incompetent officers who owed their positions to political influence and were more concerned about preserving their popularity with their fellow citizens-in-arms than commanding them. Likewise, politicians were viewed as meddlesome figures, wholly ignorant of military affairs, whose willingness to contradict and challenge the professional judgment and authority of the West Point-trained officer to indulge the ignorant masses was an obstacle to the maintenance of efficiency during peace and a liability in wartime. 33
Although it brought the disagreeable prospect of extensive interaction with politicians, citizen-soldiers, and the civilian world in general, the officer corps nonetheless enthusiastically welcomed the outbreak of war with Mexico in 1846. War of fered West Pointers the opportunity to attain glory and professional advancement, to apply their training, and to prove the value of a professional officer corps. In the course of the war, professional officers like McClellan would also find plenty to reinforce their preexisting attitudes toward both the civilian world and politics. 34
As he spent the first two months of his military career drilling and training the Company of Engineers, McClellan kept a close eye on developments to the south. One of the factors that led him to proclaim his assignment to be all that I could hope, ask, or expect was the prospect that he would be the only one of my class (of those who entered the Engineers) who is to go to Mexico. Although most Whigs deplored President James K. Polk s decision to go to war, McClellan greeted the news with unrestrained enthusiasm. Hip! Hip! Hurrah! he exulted. War at last sure enough . . . . [O]ur wishes have been gratified. McClellan was so determined to get to Mexico that he briefly considered choosing assignment in the line rather than the Engineers. 35
His enthusiasm was somewhat tempered, however, by the fact that direction of military affairs would rest with the Democratic Polk administration and the prospect of having to serve alongside volunteers. It now appears, he wrote to his sister in May, the government has placed Genl [Zachary] Taylor in a very dangerous situation. . . . [M]ay the Lord deliver him, for it is pretty certain that the volunteers won t. . . . [I]f 7000 regulars had been at Genl Taylor s disposal on the Rio Grande, the war would in all probability have been finished at one blow. West Point-trained officers, he was certain, would be able to handle anything thrown at them and upon their shoulders rested hopes for victory. In contrast, great reliance, he reported, is not placed upon the present privates in the army (they being composed of these wretched Dutch and Irish immigrants). The fancy volunteers could not be relied on either. None, he reckoned, would be able to stand more than six months of hard service in the field. 36
In September, McClellan and his company made their eagerly anticipated departure from West Point for the Rio Grande. To his chagrin, they arrived too late to contribute to Zachary Taylor s victories at Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, and Monterrey. Nonetheless, the first few weeks in Mexico were rough ones for McClellan. Upon his arrival at Brazos de Santiago, he was stricken with a severe case of dysentery and malaria. However, he recovered in time to accompany Robert Patterson s division of volunteers on its four-hundred-mile march to Tampico via Victoria in early December 1846. After reaching Tampico on January 23, 1847, McClellan s company was incorporated into the army General-in-Chief Winfield Scott was assembling in preparation for a campaign against Mexico City from Vera Cruz. 37
Although he had not graduated from West Point, no man embodied the professional ethos of the antebellum officer corps or ever dominated the army more than Winfield Scott. A giant in physical size, intellect, and ego, with a record of service and commitment to the professionalization of the Army that few could match, Old Fuss and Feathers was a father figure, role model, and source of inspiration for the officer corps. Even Ulysses S. Grant, who resisted much of the program at West Point and possessed a distinct apathy toward the army in general, recalled being captivated by Scott s presence. With his commanding figure, his quite colossal size and showy uniform I thought him the finest specimen of manhood my eyes have ever beheld, Grant wrote in his memoirs, and the most to be envied. 38

Map 1. Mexican War
The bond between Scott and McClellan was reinforced by the general s personal friendship with Dr. McClellan. When they crossed paths at Tampico, Scott took time from his busy schedule to talk with the young second lieutenant of Engineers, and, McClellan informed his father, inquired particularly if I had heard from you, & desired to be remembered to you when I wrote next. A warm personal and professional relationship between the younger McClellan and Scott continued throughout the antebellum period. In 1851, Scott would sponsor the publication of a bayonet manual McClellan had written and nine years later would solicit McClellan s advice on railroad investments. By the end of the Mexican War, McClellan would proclaim the old general a very great man, an opinion that fifteen years of further exposure to Scott had done little to change in 1861, when McClellan would write to Scott that Next to maintaining the honor of my country, the first aim of my life is to justify the good opinion you have expressed concerning me. 39
Scott could be petty, self-righteous, and vindictive in dealing with those who crossed swords with him professionally. However, his social views reflected a strong attachment to order, discipline, and efficiency tempered by a spirit of benevolence toward others. As commanding general, he constantly encouraged officers to exercise self-discipline, rigorously apply themselves to attaining professional efficiency, and treat subordinates paternalistically. In politics and diplomacy Scott was a firm believer in cool, reasoned moderation. In discussing his great antagonist Andrew Jackson, Scott wrote that Old Hickory was in many ways a remarkable man but lamented that his finer qualities were too often negated by his uncontrollable passions. 40
Scott s moderation was nowhere more evident than in his actions as commander of U.S. troops at Charleston, South Carolina, during the nullification crisis of 1833. Unlike Jackson, who loudly rattled his saber and proclaimed his intention to hang every Nullifier, Scott pursued a deliberate, non-provocative policy designed to cool passions on both sides and allow the forces of reason and moderation to assert themselves. He instructed his troops to maintain strict discipline and avoid any actions that might induce the Nullifiers to resort to violence. Scott also made a point of encouraging interaction between his troops and the Charlestonians in order to ensure the latter of the federal government s good will while impressing upon them the power it had at its disposal. Peace was maintained and Congress managed to forge a compromise. Charleston was not the only place where Scott s moderation helped alleviate potential sources of strife. By pursuing similar policies of conciliation, he also helped quell potential conflicts with the Cherokee Indians over their removal west of the Mississippi in the 1830s, as well as between British Canada and the United States along the Niagara frontier in 1838, in the wilderness of northern Maine in the 1840s, and in Puget Sound in 1859. 41
Despite his disdain for the new style of politics that emerged during the Jacksonian Era, Scott s intense ambition rendered him incapable of remaining aloof from politics. His first sympathies were with the Jeffersonian Republican Party that dominated his native Virginia during the first decade of the nineteenth century. When the Republican Party split into National and Old Republican factions, Scott s political moderation, elitism, and antipathy toward Jackson and Jacksonism led him to become a National Republican during the 1810s and a Whig afterward. In 1840, 1844, and 1848, he was an active aspirant for the party s presidential nomination, which he finally attained in 1852. Before they became rivals for the presidency, Scott, like McClellan, was a particular admirer of Daniel Webster. Indeed, so high was his opinion of Webster, one staff officer recalled in his memoirs, that during a trip they took together in 1839, Scott paid the Massachusetts senator the unusual compliment of allowing him to do nearly all of the talking, while the general listened attentively. 42
Conflict between Scott and President Polk was almost inevitable in 1846. Polk was first and foremost a fiercely partisan Democrat. Consequently, he began the Mexican War gravely concerned that it would produce Whig heroes who would make formidable candidates in the 1848 presidential election. He was also determined to play an active role in military affairs and convinced that American citizen-soldiers would achieve a quick and easy victory. Scott s efforts to inject reality into military planning, correspondence with political supporters, and a series of ill-advised writings confirmed Polk s fears that the general hoped to advance his political ambitions at the administration s expense. Consequently, Polk abandoned his attempts at bipartisanship and withdrew his initial decision to give Scott command of the army in the field. Scott would eventually command the campaign against Mexico City but only after Polk had been unable to find a more acceptable alternative to Taylor, whose victories along the Rio Grande had earned him mention in Whig ranks as a contender for the presidency. 43
It was not just Polk s petty and politically motivated treatment of Scott that offended the professional sensibilities of the officer corps. Polk fully shared the Jacksonian suspicion of the regular army and rejected the notion that a West Point education gave an individual a special claim to military expertise. Polk s penultimate effort to wrest control of the army from the professionals by creating the rank of lieutenant general so he could give it to one of his political supporters fell short in Congress. However, he did seize upon the opportunity to appoint general officers to lead the new regiments authorized for service in Mexico (McClellan s company had been created by that same act but kept firmly in the hands of the Engineers) to demonstrate his attitude toward West Point and the Army. 44
Command of the 1st and 2nd Divisions of Volunteers went to prominent Democrats William O. Butler and Robert Patterson, both of whom had served in the War of 1812 but left the army afterward. All six of the new brigadiers were Democrats appointed from civilian life, including the notoriously incompetent Gideon J. Pillow, whose main qualification to command was his close friendship with Polk. Subalterns in the regular army who hoped to obtain higher rank in the temporary regiments were bitterly disappointed when Polk decided to give commissions almost entirely (only five regulars received promotion into one of the new regiments) to civilians with political clout rather than long-serving regulars. Regular second lieutenants, such as McClellan, had to endure being outranked by captains and first lieutenants whose sole claim to their commissions was their ability to win popularity with their men, as at the company level in the state regiments the traditional practice of electing officers was followed. 45
By the time he reached Tampico, McClellan had witnessed more than enough to confirm his disdain for the merits of volunteer soldiers and the intrusion of politics into military affairs. He saw enlisted men suffer because neither they nor their volunteer officers paid sufficient attention to sanitation or supplies, unprovoked outrages against Mexican civilians, confusion and straggling on the march because politically minded officers were unwilling to sacrifice their popularity in order to maintain discipline, and persistent incompetence by political generals. Arrival at Victoria on January 4, 1847, brought McClellan and his men back in contact with regulars. You can form no idea, he explained to his mother a month later, of the pleasure it gave us to meet the regulars after having been so long with the cursed volunteers. 46
Concerned about the approach of the yellow fever season, Scott had hoped to begin operations against Vera Cruz in mid-February, but bungling at the War Department resulted in transportation shortages that forced him to wait until the end of the month to begin his campaign. The delay tried both Scott s patience and McClellan s. The operations which have taken place-if worthy of the name-are disgraceful, he wrote his father while in Tampico, the merest tyro in the Military Art would have done more than we have done. McClellan, of course, did not blame Scott. The problem, in his mind, was the Polk administration. What can you expect, he lamented, of a government afraid for its popularity; striving to withdraw its diminished head from the messes which envelop it. Our dear sovereigns & those who lead them by the noses, in McClellan s mind, were compromising the war effort by treating a military education as an indication of unfitness for military command and indulg[ing] in the pleasant delusion that anyone who is elected as officer of Vols. becomes . . . as good an officer as those who have for 4 years gone through the strict discipline of West Point. 47
In late February, McClellan s company moved from Tampico to Isla de Lobos and from there to Sacrificios, the island Scott chose as the jumping-off point for operations against the Mexican seaport of Vera Cruz. While at Sacrificios, Swift fell ill and was forced to return to the United States, elevating Smith to command of the company and McClellan to second-in-command. On March 9 Scott s grand campaign finally commenced with an amphibious landing three miles south of Vera Cruz, which was quickly encircled and placed under siege. 48
While engaged in his duties at Vera Cruz McClellan received his last letter from his father, who would die on May 9, 1847. Dr. McClellan, perhaps with his son s recent illness in mind, took the time to advise his son to make a bargain with Smith & the Capt to take a guard upon one another. Political developments were also on Dr. McClellan s mind. The country, he reported, was heartily sick of the war, which bode well for Whig prospects in 1848. As it now stands, he wrote, Taylor will go ahead of all the aspirants for the Presidential chair. Dr. McClellan, however, made clear his preference for the family s excellent old friend Gen. Scott and expressed optimism that events might place him on a par with old Rough and Ready in the vulgar estimation. 49
After Vera Cruz surrendered on March 29, Scott moved inland. On April 18 he won the Battle of Cerro Gordo through a brilliant turning movement and advanced from there to Puebla, where he paused for three months to await replacements for volunteers whose enlistments had expired. Scott then pushed on to Mexico City and, after a series of hard-fought battles, captured the Mexican capital in September. During the campaign McClellan turned in honorable service during the siege of Vera Cruz, the march to Mexico City, and in the battles around the Mexican capital, winning favorable notice in official reports and brevet promotions for his performances at the battles of Contreras and Churubusco. 50
Scott brought to the problem of war the same Whig moderation and belief in the virtues of restraint and enlightened reason that shaped his diplomacy and politics. Keenly appreciative of the link between politics and warfare, he developed his operational and tactical methods not only to win battles but to also convince Mexico s political leadership to accept defeat as quickly as possible on terms satisfactory to the administration and the American people. Consequently, he tightly controlled his army s movements and the conditions under which battles were fought throughout the campaign with an eye on achieving victories that would convince the Mexican government that continued resistance was futile without the sort of casualties that would inflame passions and make it difficult, if not impossible, to make a reasonable peace that both sides could accept. Scott avoided frontal assaults whenever possible in favor of carefully prepared and controlled turning movements that, as designed, produced decisive victories over superior forces, the capture of Mexico City, and, most important of all, peace. 51
Scott s fear of unrestrained passion also shaped his treatment of the civilian population. Scott was keenly aware that the population that lined the National Road between Vera Cruz and Mexico City could become a formidable and potentially uncontrollable guerilla force. Guerilla warfare was anathema to a man of Scott s temperament. Not only would it complicate efforts to maintain communications with Vera Cruz and deplete manpower needed for fighting Mexico s organized armies, but guerilla warfare was injurious to discipline and extremely difficult to control. The very nature of guerrilla warfare, with its endless cycle of retribution, would invariably inflame passions on both sides and, by further destabilizing Mexico s social and political institutions, seriously complicate the task of negotiating a peace. 52
To ensure the outcome of the campaign would be determined by conventional armies subject to rational direction, Scott actively cultivated good relations with the civil population. He made a point of assuring the Mexican people that their property, persons, and institutions would be secure as long as they cooperated with American authorities. He ignored the administration s recommendation that supplies be seized rather than paid for and took advantage of delays prior to the campaign and at Puebla to vigorously drill and discipline his volunteers, which not only paid dividends in battle but along the march and in camp as well. Unlike during Taylor s operations the year before, where the brutality of the volunteers had alienated the local population, Scott s army operated with a high degree of order and discipline. The deportment of Scott s command, his success suppressing the bands of outlaws who plagued the Mexican countryside, and the fairness and evenhandedness of his rule impressed the people of Mexico. His strict but benevolent rule was not only effective in keeping the conflict within manageable bounds but brought unprecedented order and stability to the people who came under his control. 53
Nonetheless, Scott s relations with the administration continued to deteriorate after the capture of Mexico City, culminating in open warfare between Scott and two of his subordinates: William J. Worth and the man who served as Polk s eyes and ears within the army, the ubiquitous Pillow. The dispute began when Scott directed Pillow to correct reports in which he exaggerated the quality of his performance so they better squared with reality. Pillow refused and accounts of the campaign soon appeared in a New Orleans newspaper praising Pillow and Worth and presenting a less-than-flattering portrait of Scott s leadership. Scott responded by issuing orders reprimanding the anonymous (although it was not difficult to deduce their identities) officers and reminding the army that the release of reports without first clearing them with the commanding general was a violation of regulations. Eventually, Scott placed both Pillow and Worth under arrest for insubordination. Polk then stepped in, dismissed the charges against the two officers, and ordered their release. He then relieved Scott from command and directed that a court of inquiry be convened to investigate the general. 54
Neither Scott nor the administration came out of the hearings that followed looking particularly good. However, the entire affair exacerbated the regulars sense of mistreatment at the hands of petty politicians. You may imagine what utter disgust & anger we feel, McClellan wrote to his brother in February 1848, in having our old chief under whom we have so often fought and conquered taken away from us. . . . I cannot dwell on the subject without becoming outraged. He followed the course of the court of inquiry closely and expressed satisfaction that noble old Gen. Scott is coming out of it most magnificently, Pillow is getting mired worse & worse every day. He has already been proven to be a liar, a scoundrel, & a mean, pitiful rouge. You cannot imagine, he wrote his mother, the feeling in the old regular army in reference to Gen. Scott. No general ever possessed the hearts of his troops to a greater extent. 55
While following the Scott affair, McClellan also waited impatiently for confirmation of a treaty that would end the war. The eight months of garrison duty that followed the capture of Mexico were by no means unpleasant and were considerably brightened by his association with fellow officers in what was known as the Aztec Club. Nonetheless, McClellan quickly grew tired of a war in which there is nothing to be gained except a broken head or a wooden leg, and his distaste for politicians intensified. In February he wrote his brother that although he hoped the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo would be confirmed, he did not expect it to happen any time soon. There is so much rascality in both Congresses, he wrote, that I have no faith in them. . . . It is to be hoped that our sovereign Congress will in the course of time get through their important business of President making, and remember that we are here. 56
Congress finally ratified the treaty on March 10, 1848. On May 13, Mexico and the United States exchanged ratifications and preparations for the evacuation of American soldiers immediately began. In exchange for a $15 million payment to the Mexican government, the United States acquired the territories of California and New Mexico and the recognition of the Rio Grande border for Texas. In the process, the seeds had also been sown for an even larger, and bloodier, conflict that would kill over six hundred thousand Americans. But that was in the future. All 21-year-old Brevet Captain McClellan knew was that he was finally going home. On June 6, 1848, he received instructions to take his company back to the military academy. Less than three weeks later, he reported his arrival at West Point and began settling in for what would be a three-year stay. 57

McClellan s experiences at West Point and in the Mexican War reinforced the commitment to the Whig perspectives on politics and society he developed in the household of Dr. McClellan. Political scientists have identified three primary agents of socialization: family, school, and the peer group. In McClellan s case, all of these shared an orientation toward the values of Whiggery: consciously directed order and discipline, hierarchy, moderation, and enlightened reason. Scott also provided a role model who offered an impressive example of the virtues of professionalism and conducting military affairs according to proper strategic principles, while the general s struggles with the Polk administration illustrated how narrow-minded partisanship and an egalitarian refusal to defer to expertise could compromise military affairs. This reinforced McClellan s Whiggish distaste for mass democratic politics and his disdain for politicians as meddlesome, narrow-minded partisans whose zealotry threatened social harmony and the ascendancy of reason. By the end of Polk s term, McClellan s distaste for the Democrats had become so great that he developed, in his brother s words, a mortal aversion to receiving any favors from his administration. And although his professional and personal sensibilities precluded his casting a vote, in private letters McClellan expressed full support for Whig candidate Zachary Taylor in the 1848 presidential election. 58
Political Realignment
D uring the three years McClellan spent at West Point after the Mexican War, he found great pleasure in the company of a clique of junior officers stationed at the academy that included future Civil War notables William B. Franklin, Dabney H. Maury, Fitz John Porter, and Edmund Kirby Smith. McClellan was also able to indulge his interest in military history at West Point, both through private study and as a member of the Napoleon Club, an informal organization composed of officers stationed at the academy, presided over by Professor Mahan, that studied the great Corsican s campaigns. McClellan presented lengthy papers to the group on the Wagram Campaign of 1809 and the Russian Campaign of 1812. On his own, McClellan carefully studied the writings of the eighteenth-century French marshal Maurice, Comte de Saxe, the quintessential practitioner of limited war during the Age of Reason, whose operational methods during the War of the Austrian Succession almost exactly anticipated McClellan s in the Civil War. In his campaigns in Flanders and the Low Countries in 1745-1747, Saxe advanced cautiously and methodically along rivers to ensure secure logistics for his army, preferred to maneuver for position rather than seek battle, avoided rash attacks and fought defensively behind fortifications whenever possible to spare soldiers lives, and relied on siege operations to overcome enemy positions when maneuver was not possible. Saxe also endeavored to spare civilians the hardships of war in order to avoid stirring up popular passions, and to preserve a political and cultural environment that would allow professional officers to conduct military affairs purely on the basis of scientific principles. 1
The years at West Point were primarily ones of frustration for McClellan, however. In June 1850, McClellan became commanding officer of the Engineer Company when Swift s replacement, Captain George Cullum, fell ill and Smith went on extended leave. Although his men liked and respected him, garrison duty was dull and insufficient to satisfy McClellan s ambition. Thus, he persistently petitioned the War Department, his family, and Senator John Clayton for assistance in obtaining more exciting and professionally rewarding assignments. You can t imagine, he told his sister less than five months after returning from Mexico, how dull the monotony of a garrison life is after a year or two in campaign. In an April 1851 letter begging for reassignment, McClellan proclaimed, I am sick and tired of West Point. His discontent was somewhat muted by the pleasant set of young officers who are now here, which he proclaimed the only one redeeming feature about the place, but did manifest itself in undignified squabbles with his superiors. 2
To his great relief, McClellan s service at West Point ended in June 1851 when he received orders to report to the Pea Patch, an island in the Delaware River south of Philadelphia, to assist in the construction of Fort Delaware. McClellan was at that post for only a few months before he was ordered to Washington to keep an eye on affairs for the Corps of Engineers and prepare a bayonet manual he had drafted at West Point for publication. Although he finished the manual by mid-December, he remained in the capital the entire winter of 1851-1852 and spent his time pressing for an assignment in the West. Finally, in March 1852 he received orders to report for duty as second-in-command in the force Captain Randolph B. Marcy was organizing at Fort Smith, Arkansas, for an expedition to explore the sources of the Red River. 3
While in Washington, McClellan also spent his time sightseeing. He attended receptions at the White House, where he encountered a number of quaint but dignified Indian chiefs. McClellan s experiences in the capital also reinforced his contempt for politicians. He found little hope that anything positive would be done for the army or Corps of Engineers, as Congress seemed to lack the slightest intention of doing anything, save arranging matters for the next election. Senator John J. Crittenden, McClellan complained, was the only great man he could see in the entire Senate, although he was impressed by the physical appearance of Sam Houston and Pierre Soul , and found Stephen A. Douglas to be a small, quick person, with a large head & a quick, bright eye. Lewis Cass, who had unsuccessfully run as the Democratic nominee for the presidency in 1848, seemed to McClellan to be no more than a fat, rather stupid looking man. Overall, McClellan informed his brother, I can see but little or nothing of the venerable & impressive amongst them. . . . I don t believe that it takes such a vast amount of talent to be a senator just at present. If unimpressed by the Senate, McClellan was positively appalled by the House of Representatives. Nothing but loud bawling & course ranting, he disgustedly reported. Mutual abuse & party politics seem to be the usual topics of discussion. He watched one congressman deliver quite a blood and thunder speech . . . to his heart s content. [And] very quickly to mine, for I left in about 20 minutes. Of all the places I have ever seen, he concluded, Washington is the strangest . . . a great place to laugh at people, & be laughed at yourself. 4
Although McClellan saw little of significance going on in Washington, in 1852 fundamental changes in the nation s economy, society, and politics were undermining the potency of the issues that had shaped the Second Party System and elevating new ones to prominence. This took place at a critical time in McClellan s life, for according to social scientists it is between the ages of 17 and 25, which in McClellan s case spanned the years 1843 to 1851, when an individual s distinctive personal outlook on politics emerges, which remains essentially unchanged through old age. In 1851 McClellan was fully committed to the values of old-line Whiggery that were instilled in him by his upbringing in Dr. McClellan s household and reinforced by his experiences at West Point and in the antebellum army. Yet in 1851 the Whig Party was in a death spiral as new issues and new leaders emerged that would lead McClellan and many others like him to seek a new party that would defend the values and institutions he cherished. 5
The viability of the Second Party System rested on the ability of the Whigs and Democrats to provide clearly distinctive messages and programs that were relevant to the problems facing the country. One of the main principles that had divided the two parties was the Whig belief that the federal government must play an active role to facilitate the development of a vigorous market economy. However, the influx of gold from California and foreign investment fostered an economic boom after the Mexican War that accelerated the development of a market-based national economy despite the absence of a national bank, protective tariff, or federally sponsored system of internal improvements, which undermined popular support for the Whig economic platform. At the same time some Northern Democrats began to soften their opposition to government intervention in the economy. The catalyst for this was the iron horse. Politicians from both parties, particularly in the North, eagerly supported government efforts to support railroad construction. Consequently, during the 1850s a conservative, pro-business wing, which included New York financiers and railroad men such as Samuel L. M. Barlow and August Belmont, would emerge as a key player in Democratic politics. 6
As the old debates over economic policy lost much of their potency, new issues took their place. Massive immigration after 1846 stimulated the rise of nativism, which gave birth to the American, or Know-Nothing, Party. Another source of debate was the railroads, which were completing the breakdown of the isolation of rural communities from the market economy and drawing regional economies into a national one. In the end, however, all of these issues were subsumed to the great sectional debate over slavery. 7
Although differences over slavery had existed since the founding of the republic, a combination of factors relegated slavery to a relatively minor role in American politics until the late 1840s. The first was the ascendancy of economic, cultural, and political issues. Another factor was the general agreement that slavery was a state issue that was of no concern to the national government. The issue of slavery in the territories, the only area where the federal government had any jurisdiction, had been settled in 1820 by the Missouri Compromise. 8
However, when the nation acquired vast new territories in the 1840s, the slavery issue began its rise to status as the defining issue in American politics. The issue of slavery in Texas was already settled when it entered the Union. The status of slavery in the territories that the Polk administration hoped to obtain from Mexico, however, was unclear in 1846 when the United States went to war. Then, in August 1846 a Pennsylvania Democrat named David Wilmot proposed an amendment to a military appropriations bill that provided for the exclusion of slavery from any territory acquired from Mexico. The Wilmot Proviso shattered party lines, with Northern Whigs and Democrats voting together to support it and Southern Whigs and Democrats uniting in opposition. 9
Northern support for the Wilmot Proviso was rooted in several sources. Among Northern Democrats, free-soil sentiment had its roots in a perception that their past support for measures that protected slavery for the sake of party unity was not sufficiently appreciated by the Southern wing of the party. Support for the Wilmot Proviso was in part a manifestation of resentment on the part of Northern Democrats over the denial of the 1844 nomination for the presidency to Martin Van Buren, the Polk administration s compromise on the Oregon territory, and the reduction of the tariff in 1846. These events led many Northern Democrats to conclude the South had too much power within the party, in defiance of the Jacksonian principle of majority rule. To radical anti-bank, anti-monopoly Jackson men such as Wilmot, Francis P. Blair, Gideon Welles, and James G. Birney, resistance to ambitions of this undemocratic Slave Power was the descendent of the struggle Jackson had waged against the Money Power to preserve the egalitarian republic. 10
Northern Whigs also resented the South s political power. However, antislavery sentiment among Northern Whigs was also fueled by their passion for social improvement and antislavery evangelicals who provided much of their political base. Although their desire to use government power to advance their goals led the evangelicals to back the Whigs during the 1830s and 1840s, the reform movements were also influenced by the egalitarianism, suspicion of established elites, and view of politics as a clash between irreconcilable values and interests that distinguished Jacksonian mass politics. The reformers identified slavery as one of the social ills that needed to be eliminated, and during the Jacksonian Era increasingly directed their opposition to slavery through political channels. They had limited success until the issue became whether the western territories were to be for free labor or slave labor. 11
The rise of sectional conflict over the expansion of slavery exposed an inherent tension within Whiggery between its ideals of social improvement and social order. Those who placed greater priority on the former embraced the antislavery cause and viewed the contest with the South for the territories as a moralistic crusade. To free-soil Whigs, the Wilmot Proviso was seen as a means by which the nation reaffirmed its commitment to the principles of liberty and majority rule, which were threatened by the Slave Power. The members of this faction in the North, which included men such as Benjamin Wade, Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, and William Seward, tended to trace their political roots back to the popularly based evangelical and Antimasonic movements rather than the Madisonian republicanism of the Era of Good Feelings. They embraced the organizational and propaganda techniques of Jacksonian Era politics and the view of politics as a clash between irreconcilable interests and principles. Consequently, free-soilers did not view efforts to conciliate and forge compromises on slavery to preserve sectional peace as acts of disinterested statesmanship but as signs of moral weakness. 12
The free-soilers approach to the slavery issue brought them into conflict with the wing of the Whig Party led by Webster and Clay, which championed traditional models of political discourse and statesmanship and included men like McClellan, Winfield Scott, and John J. Crittenden. Believing that sectional differences over slavery, like all political issues, should be approached in a spirit of reason, moderation, and mutual forbearance, these Whigs were uneasy with the moral absolutism, divisiveness, and impassioned rhetoric of the antislavery movement. Abolitionists, like Jacksonian Democrats, were viewed as irresponsible fanatics who recklessly pandered to the parochial passions of the masses and threatened social stability and the nation s established institutions. 13
Nowhere was intraparty conflict over slavery fiercer than in Massachusetts, where the free-soil wing of the party, led by Charles Sumner and Charles Francis Adams, challenged the traditional, Cotton Whigs led by Webster and their efforts on behalf of sectional conciliation. Included among the pro-compromise Whigs were men who would gravitate toward and become associates of McClellan s during the Civil War. George Ticknor Curtis, Webster s close friend and literary executor, became a vigorous supporter and lifelong friend of the general. George S. Hillard, who as editor of the Boston Courier was one of the first Whigs to express interest in supporting Democrats in order to halt the spread of Republicanism, wrote a campaign biography of McClellan in 1864. Robert C. Winthrop, a long-time Massachusetts Whig politician, was a regular correspondent with McClellan in 1863 and 1864 and gave several major speeches in support of his presidential candidacy. Edward Everett, second only to Webster in the Cotton Whig pantheon, was a strong supporter of McClellan and his return to command until the general s acceptance of the Copperhead-tainted Democratic nomination. Indeed, until that event Conservative Unionists alienated by Lincoln s adoption of emancipation as a war aim, which they, like McClellan, felt would prolong and complicate the effort to restore the Union, made efforts to organize a Union ticket with McClellan at its head in 1864. 14
The crisis over California s admission into the Union and the debates that produced the Compromise of 1850 exacerbated the division within the Whig Party over slavery and illustrated the free-soil wing s growing power in the Northern Whig Party. When Clay introduced a comprehensive package of measures to resolve the crisis only two Whig senators from free states backed them: Webster and James M. Cooper of Pennsylvania, both of whom were battling free-soilers for control of their state parties, with the pro-compromise position most eloquently expressed by Webster. In his famous Seventh of March Address, Webster urged both sides to reject extremism, rise above their parochial prejudices, and think of the long-term interests of the nation as a whole. Webster repudiated the free-soil argument that the nation needed to unequivocally commit itself to the principle of freedom by legislating against slavery in the territories. Viewing morality as an imprecise and divisive basis for making policy, he urged the North to be practical in dealing with slavery. The Lord, he also advised his free-soil colleagues, had made the western territories unsuited to slavery; thus, progress would come through natural processes if social stability and established institutions were respected and preserved. This could only be done if the North abandoned efforts to impose the unnecessary Wilmot Proviso and respected the South s constitutional rights by passing a stronger Fugitive Slave Law. At the same time, he warned Southerners that peaceable secession was impossible and their true interests rested with the Union. 15
Webster s appeal for statesmanship and moderation, however, fell upon deaf ears. Southern Democrats, who since 1846 had adopted a militant tone in defense of slavery, and Northern Whigs, backed by Zachary Taylor s administration and led by William Seward, remained unalterably opposed to compromise. On July 31, 1850, Clay s omnibus package of measures went down to defeat. 16
When poor health forced Clay to leave Washington, leadership of the effort to forge a compromise passed to Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. Douglas broke up Clay s omnibus package of proposals and had Congress vote on them separately, relying on sectional majorities-plus a small swing group that voted for at least four of the five measures and was dominated by Douglas s Northern Democratic followers-to pass each of the measures. With the help of Millard Fillmore, who ascended to the presidency upon Taylor s death in July 1850 and favored pro-compromise men in dispensing patronage, most notably by appointing Webster secretary of state, the Compromise of 1850 finally passed. 17
The debates that produced the Compromise of 1850 marked a turning point in the politics of Union in antebellum America. Clay had provided the formula, and Webster the eloquence, but in the end it was Douglas and his Democratic followers that steered the compromise to passage. It was clear the Northern Whig Party was now under the control of a new generation of leadership who embraced the free-soil cause and rejected Webster s and Clay s appeals for high-minded statesmanship, moderation, and sectional conciliation. As the 1850s proceeded, and Webster and Clay passed from the scene, the effort to find a middle ground between antislavery Northerners and Southern fire-eaters to preserve the Union would increasingly rest upon Douglas and Northern Democrats.
No evidence exists of McClellan s views on the Wilmot Proviso. It is clear, however, that he followed the debates and supported Webster s and Clay s efforts to forge a compromise. He personally viewed the dissolution of the Union as madness and took comfort in a belief that there are too many sensible people in this large country to consent to it. In a letter to his mother, he expressed satisfaction at the Pennsylvania legislature s February 22 adoption of a series of resolutions expressing its determination to sustain the Union. McClellan also condemned extremists on both sides. He praised a speech by William H. Bissell of Illinois that gave it to the South with about as much vim as they deserved and proclaimed abolitionist speeches against repatriation of runaway slaves as rank & open treason. 18
After passage of the Compromise of 1850, Fillmore and Webster sought to make the compromise the final solution to the slavery question. The key, they recognized, was the controversial Fugitive Slave Law. Southern support for the compromise was contingent upon rigid enforcement of the law, which a substantial minority of Northerners were prepared to defy. In February 1851, a Boston mob rescued a fugitive named Shadrach from the federal courthouse. Outraged by this defiance of federal authority and determined to uphold the law and the compromise, Fillmore sent federal troops, and Webster went in person, to Boston to ensure the return of another fugitive slave, Thomas Sims, to captivity. 19
In their efforts to foster sectional conciliation, Webster and Fillmore also attempted to reshape the Whig Party into a Union party committed to the finality of the Compromise of 1850. However, the Northern wing of the party was firmly in the grip of Seward and anti-compromise free-soilers. Thus, Webster spent the last two years of his life (he died on October 24, 1852, four months after Clay) attempting to bring his supporters and pro-compromise Democrats together to create a new party dedicated to the Union. Clay also thought the time ripe for a realignment of parties but was too ill to play an active role in bringing one about. However, although they shared Webster s desire to preserve the compromise, Douglas and other like-minded Democrats were too confident of their own party s fidelity to the Union to join Webster. Nonetheless, Webster did achieve some short-term success in this venture in the South and parts of the North. One state where Webster s influence did have an impact on party alignments in the aftermath of the passage of the compromise was McClellan s native Pennsylvania. 20
From the time of its organization in the 1830s, the Whig Party in the Keystone State was an uneasy alliance between its National Republican wing based in Philadelphia, which loyally followed Clay and Webster, and a more democratic, reform-minded wing led by Thaddeus Stevens, whose roots were in the Antimasonic Party of the late 1820s and 1830s. United almost solely by their antagonism toward King Andrew and the Democrats, each wing viewed the other with suspicion. The Antimasons (a label to which many continued to cling as a symbol of their independence from the Philadelphia Whigs) were notably cool toward Clay and Webster and resented the elitism of the Philadelphia Whigs. For their part, the Clay and Webster Whigs viewed Stevens s followers as vulgar, impassioned radicals and hack politicians whose nativism and antislavery sentiments posed a threat to social stability. 21
Pennsylvania s incumbent governor in 1851, William F. Johnston, was a former Democrat who had switched parties in protest of the Polk administration s tariff policies. Upon joining the Whigs, Johnston allied himself with the party s free-soil wing, which by the late 1840s was clearly gaining ascendancy. He rose quickly to become speaker of the state senate, and then governor pro tempore when Governor Francis Shunk died. In 1848, Johnston secured the Whig nomination for reelection on a platform pledging opposition to the extension of slavery. Johnston won the governorship in 1848, and, thanks to Taylor s decision to bypass Clay s and Webster s supporters in favor of free-soilers, the post-election contest with the conservative wing of the state party, led by Senator James Cooper, for patronage. During the debates over the Compromise of 1850, Johnston and his followers consistently supported the Taylor administration s refusal to conciliate the South. After passage of the compromise, Johnston made clear his disapproval of the Fugitive Slave Law, stating that although he would honor his legal obligation to comply with its provisions, he hoped his constituents would pressure Congress to change it. 22
When the Pennsylvania Whigs met at Lancaster in June 1851 to choose their nominee for that year s governor s race, Johnston s free-soil faction was firmly in control. Over the objection of the pro-Fillmore National faction led by Cooper, the convention renominated Johnston for governor and rejected a resolution pledging support for the Fugitive Slave Law and the finality of the Compromise of 1850. Pennsylvania Democrats, in their convention at Reading that same month, nominated William Bigler and, over the objections of their free-soil faction led by Wilmot and Simon Cameron, adopted a platform pledging support for the Fugitive Slave Law and the compromise as the final solution of the slavery issue. 23
Because Pennsylvania was one of the largest states in the Union and the two parties in the commonwealth took such clear-cut stances on the compromise, the contest between Bigler and Johnston attracted national attention as a test of Northern support for the compromise in general and the Fugitive Slave Law in particular. The national spotlight became particularly intense due to events in Lancaster County on September 11, 1851. That morning a Maryland farmer named Edward Gorusch with the help of a federal marshal cornered four of his former slaves in a house near Christiana. The runaways, supported by over twenty armed black men, refused to surrender and a riot broke out in which Gorusch was killed and his body mutilated. The fugitives subsequently fled to Canada. Determined to stamp out resistance to the law, Webster, with Fill-more s full support and Cooper serving as counsel, attempted unsuccessfully to prosecute white bystanders for treason. Johnston, who had passed through Christiana while the riot was going on, immediately came under intense criticism from Democrats and pro-compromise Whigs for encouraging antislavery violence by refusing to endorse the Fugitive Slave Law and making clear his intention not to enforce it vigorously. 24
Like Webster and other old-line Whigs, McClellan had been greatly disturbed by the growing power of free-soilers within the party, defiance of the law by abolitionists, and the threat they posed to the Union. He denounced efforts to obstruct enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law and applauded the actions of the Fillmore administration in the Sims case. The abolitionists, he noted to his sister, are making a great fuss. He proclaimed it rank and open treason. Nothing more nor less. 25
It was the 1851 Pennsylvania gubernatorial election, however, that marked McClellan s break with the party of his father. As an abolitionist, Johnston was completely unacceptable in McClellan s eyes. (McClellan appears not to have made distinctions between free-soil and abolitionist sentiments.) Bigler, he noted with approval, was a strong compromise man, whom he predicted many Whigs, especially in Phila. will vote for. He was confident that Penna. will come out all right . . . [and] will doubtless exercise a great influence. If she comes out strongly & decidedly for the Union it must greatly strengthen the cause of the Union in both sections. There was no doubt in McClellan s mind where his family, and he himself, must stand: It is to be hoped . . . Johnston, will be entirely defeated. . . . John of course (& I if I can vote) will of course go for Bigler. 26
Thanks in part to the defection of National Whigs like the McClellans, Bigler won the election and the Pennsylvania Whig Party was left in shambles. After the election Johnston and his supporters bitterly accused Webster, Fillmore, and their followers in Philadelphia of sabotaging his reelection bid. The split in Pennsylvania Whiggery would never heal. In part, this was because the Pennsylvania Democracy provided a satisfactory new home for many National Whigs. Governor Bigler followed the lead of Stephen A. Douglas during the first half of the 1850s and pursued a conservative course on sectional issues that fostered an image of the Democrats as the party of moderation, stability, and conciliation. He consistently made clear in word and deed that he would rigorously enforce the Fugitive Slave Law and supported the national party s decision in 1852 to endorse the finality of the Compromise of 1850. Bigler s efforts to make the Pennsylvania Democracy the party of Union received an added boost when its free-soil faction left the party in the aftermath of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. 27
Another contributor to the decline of Whiggery in Pennsylvania, and the nation as a whole, was the disastrous candidacy of Winfield Scott in 1852. Although a conservative and firm supporter of the Compromise of 1850, Scott was the candidate of and widely viewed as a prot g of Seward and the free-soil wing of the party. His nomination destroyed what was left of the party in the Lower South and exacerbated divisions among Northern Whigs. Webster-whose refusal to transfer his support to Fillmore at the convention until it was too late enabled Scott to secure the nomination-refused to endorse the general. 28
Equally important in contributing to the erosion of popular support for the Whigs were two other developments in the campaign of 1852. First, the Whig Party, like the Democrats, endorsed the Compromise of 1850 at their national convention. Second, Scott attempted to appeal to Catholic voters. Both actions alienated large segments of the party s base, and by erasing partisan differences on the most significant issues of the day, they destroyed the image of the Whigs as a true opposition party at a time when changes in society, politics, and the economy were producing uneasiness in the populace over American republicanism and a desire for political action. The party suffered a crushing electoral defeat in 1852 and went into a rapid decline that ended with its disintegration in 1854-1855 under the weight of Know-Nothingism and Northern outrage over the Kansas-Nebraska Act. 29
After 1851, neither George nor the McClellan family ever returned to the Whig Party, although the 1852 presidential race did lead McClellan to reconsider the Whigs. In August 1852 McClellan had yet fully to shed his loyalty to the party of his father, in part because of his personal affection for Scott. So Genl Scott is the candidate after all, he wrote. I fear that the Old Veteran will not unite the Whigs firmly enough to secure his election. However, he also spoke highly of the Democratic nominee, Franklin Pierce. He is, McClellan informed his mother, a fine man. I have met him several times both in Mexico & in the U.S. & always regarded him as an excellent, gentlemanly, talented man. He would doubtless fill the place well. In early September he remained undecided, writing to his brother that I don t care about it for one-except that I want that one who will do the most for the army. Can you guess who that is? Don t think you can very easily. Finally, at the end of September, he made up his mind, endorsing his brother s decision to vote for Pierce. 30
Service on Marcy s Red River expedition was the first of a number of exciting and professionally rewarding assignments that came McClellan s way during the 1850s. These provided a welcome change from the boredom of garrison duty in the East and allowed him to travel extensively. He saw much and recorded his impressions of the people and places he saw in correspondence with his family and friends, which often revealed as much about him as it did about the places he saw. In these writings he demonstrated that although he had become a Democrat, he was by no means a Jacksonian who sympathized with those fond, in his words, of building up fine theories as to universal liberty & c. & c. for whom the truism that ignorance is bliss is most peculiarly applicable. 31
The trip to Fort Smith, Arkansas, the jumping off point for the Red River expedition, brought McClellan into contact with boisterous frontier communities along the Arkansas River. At first the self-described quiet young gentleman found it a little astounding. Here was one group examining bowie knifes [sic] & pistols, he informed a relative in March after a day in one river town, expressing more earnest than kind intentions to kill. He quickly deduced, however, that as nobody has been killed yet, I begin to think that the people are not so very vicious as they seem at first. While at Little Rock, which presented the usual inactive & sluggish appearance of most Southern towns, McClellan encountered the governor and another state official, whom he noted, enjoy their toddies as well as any of the smaller fry. On the principle of do in Turkey as the Turkies do, he condescended to join the uncouth, goodnatured citizenry for a drink before continuing on to Fort Smith. 32
The expedition itself was a rewarding experience for McClellan. The party accomplished its mission of tracing the source of the Red River and McClellan established a warm personal relationship with Marcy. When the expedition ended in July 1852, McClellan was ordered to Texas, where he served as an aide to department commander Persifor F. Smith as he conducted an inspection tour of posts on the frontier. In the fall, McClellan was assigned the task of surveying rivers and harbors along the Texas coast. He enjoyed traveling through wild, unsettled country in the Lone Star State, but found Galveston and the unruly Texans difficult to stomach. He described the former as a queer sort of town. Well enough for Texas, but would not be thought much of in the States. He avoided contact with the civilian population, whom he described to his family as generally a poor set, and took comfort in a very pleasant little Army society that was relatively isolated from the citizenry. He was also exasperated to find abuse of the Army a favorite topic among stump speakers as a result of the War Department s refusal to muster into the service vagabonds calling themselves Texas Rangers to deal with a non-existent Indian threat. 33
McClellan completed the confounded River and Harbors business in March 1853 and formally submitted his report to the chief of Engineers on April 18. That same month, he was directed to report to Isaac I. Stevens, a former army officer turned territorial governor, and help survey possible routes in the Pacific Northwest for a transcontinental railroad. McClellan left for the Northwest a clear month s pay ahead of the world for the first time in his life and enthusiastic about his new assignment. While in Oregon he received word of his official promotion to first lieutenant and established a friendship with George Gibbs, a brother of his West Point classmate Alfred Gibbs, and a prominent lawyer, scientist, and Whig politician. Otherwise, McClellan s experience in Washington was largely a negative one. His relations with Stevens were distinguished by conflict and acrimony, in part because McClellan felt the governor improperly mixed politics and surveys, and he did not distinguish himself professionally. 34
In March 1854, McClellan returned to Washington and reported to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, who sent him to the Caribbean to scout potential coaling stations on the island of Santo Domingo. After returning to Washington, Davis, who had come to look upon McClellan as something of a prot g , directed him to collect information on railroads for the War Department. After this assignment, in which he traveled over almost all of Yankee land, McClellan spent the winter of 1854-1855 splitting his time between Philadelphia and Washington. Although he enjoyed a comfortable billet at Willard s Hotel, McClellan s distaste for Washington and politicians had not faded since his days in Mexico. In June 1854, he sarcastically lamented that Congress has adjourned for a few days so that we are even deprived of the edification of watching the antics of that respectable and learned body . . . pity the Constitution hadn t required our pay to be the same as that of members of Congress. Six months later he described Washington as this den of thieves. Most of the animals have arrived & the performances of the bear garden are fairly begun. 35
McClellan s distaste for politicians did not, however, prevent him from cultivating political connections that could advance his prospects for promotion into one of the new regiments Congress considered creating in 1853. If political influence is to determine these matters, he urged his brother John, why go it & help me along. . . . [B]ring all the influence you can to bear. . . . I would be content with a Captaincy, but if anything more can be had, for the lord s sake try to get it. McClellan s efforts paid off. On March 22, 1855, he accepted promotion to captain in the newly organized 1st Cavalry Regiment. But before he could assume his new duties, he was tapped for the premier peacetime assignment of his prewar army career: service on a special three-man commission to study European military systems and observe operations in the Crimea. 36
The commission, which in addition to McClellan, included Majors Richard Delafield and Alfred Mordecai, arrived in Liverpool, England, on April 22 after what McClellan described as an uncomfortable, stale, [and] uninteresting voyage. The commission was in London for only a brief time before proceeding to Paris. While in London, McClellan formed a low opinion of fellow Pennsylvanian James Buchanan, who was at that time serving as American minister to the British court. With all due deference to your partiality to Mr. Buchanan, McClellan wrote his mother from London, allow me to say that we are in no manner indebted to him. . . . He has not even given us the official aid we had a right to demand. 37
The commission left London on May 6 and proceeded to Paris. Although unimpressed by the appearance of Napoleon III, whom he proclaimed a solid, stupid looking man, the emperor s paternalistic rule did appeal to McClellan s Whig sensibilities. The people of France, he advised his mother, owe much to him. Perfect order reigns. Paris is continually being improved. While waiting for the terms of their visit to French camps in the Crimea to be established, McClellan spent a great deal of time playing whist with former President Martin Van Buren, who was staying at the same house as the commission. After several weeks of delay, the French government finally informed the Americans that they would not be allowed to visit the Allied lines in the Crimea unless they gave assurances they would not subsequently visit the Russian camps. After rejecting the French terms, the Americans proceeded to St. Petersburg via Berlin and Warsaw, reaching the Russian capital on June 19. 38
McClellan found Berlin and the Prussians much to his liking. He was impressed by the city and in a letter to a friend proclaimed its monument to Frederick the Great the most superb thing I have yet seen. The physical terrain he found less interesting. An American, he advised his brother with a touch of jingoistic pride, is very much struck by the insignificance of the streams and mountains of Europe. He was also unimpressed by much of the population. Ladies and gentlemen one meets everywhere, he reported, but in the lower walks of life there is nothing to be admired. The appearance of the Poles and Jews residing in the villages he passed en route to St. Petersburg also offended his Victorian sensibilities. The Jews, he informed his brother, were as dirty & wretched a race as you ever saw. . . . [T]he appearance of the Poles is anything but favorable. They look like a stupid degraded race. 39
McClellan was, however, greatly impressed by Tsarist Russia. After a quick tour of installations around St. Petersburg, he proclaimed the Russian army behind none in Europe. He was particularly impressed by the Russian schools. No country, he informed his brother, possesses more noble institutions for the education of boys and girls . . . organized in a most enlightened manner. He also expressed decided sympathy for the Russian cause in the Crimean War and contempt for the Allies, particularly the British. It seems to me, he advised his brother, that England has passed her culminating point & is descending to the west. . . . From a nation of adventurous men, she has degenerated into a mass of shopkeepers. In contrast, he predicted a buoyant future for the United States. The more I see of Europe, he proclaimed, the more proud I feel of my own country. . . . [O]ur great continent & Australia are the germs of two great Empires that would, he predicted, one day look back upon Europe with contempt. 40
The commission, however, enjoyed no more success in their efforts to secure permission from the Russians to visit the Crimea than they had with the French. While their request bounced around the Russian bureaucracy, they went to work gathering information on European armies. They proceeded westward, visiting installations at K nigsberg, Stettin, Posen, and Danzig, and reached Berlin in late August 1855. Relations with both the Russian and Prussian officers McClellan encountered continued to be warm. He remained sympathetic to the Russian cause, writing from Berlin that Russia has yet a great part to play in this world. . . . Russians say that their mission & ours is the same. That we must work together. . . . I think they are right . . . & wish them success. McClellan found Prussian officers were likewise sympathetic to Russia and great company. They know, he informed his brother, a great deal about our country . . . not being like the French & English, who are so wrapped up in their own importance. McClellan also managed to acquire from his hosts a number of books describing the Prussian military system, which, he noted, on account of the peculiarities of their mode of filling the ranks is a very interesting one to us. 41
McClellan and his fellow members of the commission finally reached the Crimea in October. They decided to accept the French terms after the Russians abandoned their works at Sebastopol. The effects of the siege left a powerful impression on McClellan. Ruin and desolation reigned, he wrote. Heaven grant that no such ruin as that of Sebastopol may overtake any of our cities. The Russian entrenchments also impressed him. Although no more than field works, he concluded that with properly supported and better disciplined troops they would have held. As it was, he wrongly concluded that even after capturing Sebastopol, the Allies were no closer to achieving a victory that would end the war. 42
After leaving the Crimea, the Americans resumed their grand tour of European capitals and military installations. By the time they returned to the United States in April 1856 McClellan had seen all the major cities of Europe, gathered a wealth of military information, visited Waterloo and Austerlitz, and hobnobbed with aristocrats and military men in nearly every country. Upon returning to the United States, he secured permission from Secretary of War Davis to repair to Philadelphia so he could work on his report there rather than in that den of thieves, Washington. The finished report, which was submitted to the War Department in January 1857, was widely praised and confirmed McClellan s reputation as an officer of ability. The government adopted a tactical manual for cavalry he prepared (he was the commission s specialist in cavalry, even though he had never seen a day of active service in that branch) and a model for a new saddle he had adapted from a Hungarian model being used by the Prussians. 43
McClellan s report also offered some revealing insights into the future general s mind. As historian Matthew Moten has noted, these reports were reflective of a mind that was derivative and deductive, rather than innovative and analytical, and preferred to work within existing paradigms, rather than think creatively. For instance, although McClellan stated that U.S. cavalry organization and doctrine should be adapted to the peculiarities of Indian warfare, his recommendations in the area of doctrine and organization were derived from his observations of the Russian Cossacks. It appears, writes Moten, that McClellan simply exchanged Indians for Cossacks in his translation, much as he equated American and Russian light cavalry in the rest of the text. What McClellan saw in his travels also reinforced his preexisting belief in the need for professional officers and the virtues of methodical warfare that emphasized engineering and artillery. McClellan was not alone among the members of the commission in this respect, however. Delafield s and Mordecai s reports were also characterized by the same derivative reliance on paradigms and models, which made them, like McClellan s, a manifestation of, in Moten s words, how much these officers were shaped by West Point s system and habit of thought. 44
Although McClellan had left the Whigs by 1855, his reactions to what he saw and experienced as a member of the Delafield Commission reflected his retention of a conservative Whig mentality. During the summer of 1856, he also demonstrated that he had little enthusiasm for the egalitarian ethos of the age in the United States. In July, he accepted an invitation to visit an encampment that a volunteer company in Philadelphia had named after the young officer. To his consternation he found himself engulfed by admirers upon his arrival at Camp McClellan. Unable to escape, he resolved to carry the thing through smiling. I played the democrat most beautifully, he reported to a friend. Chatted with Smith, flattered Brown, won the heart of Jenkins, and overwhelmed Jones, and made Johnson & Black my friends for life. 45
He also retained his competitiveness and ambition, and throughout his antebellum army service missed no opportunity to develop his professional abilities and pursue opportunities for advancement. His travels also reinforced his commitment to military professionalism. In a lengthy letter to Senator Clayton he wrote while in Strasbourg, McClellan urged devoting the Treasury surplus to the regular army. With raw militia, he wrote, you cannot manoeuvre. You can only expect them to fight bravely behind intrenchments. . . . [A] defensive campaign, with such material, can only by accident produce great results. 46
McClellan s persistent attachment to the values of Whiggery was also revealed in two letters he wrote during his travels to his younger brother, Arthur, offering brotherly advice about the world. First, he noted that McClellans were not aristocrats free to pursue lives of leisure but must make their own way in life. You have, he wrote, no wealth to smooth your path through life & it is better for you that it is so. . . . Never forget that your future must depend upon yourself. Yet if Dr. McClellan had not left wealth for his sons, George reminded his brother that he had provided something more important: a proud legacy of professional and intellectual accomplishment and personal character, which it was the duty of we three brothers . . . to uphold through lives of accomplishment and distinction. He pointed to his brother John as a model, and noted that although he had not yet had the opportunity of doing anything of note. . . . I can say with pride that I have not been found altogether wanting in the humble sphere in which I have thus far moved. 47
George instructed his brother that if he was to live a life of accomplishment that would uphold his obligation to the family, it was essential for him to exercise self-discipline and always strive to develop his higher faculties. Let honor, justice, self denial, unselfishness, he advised, characterize your thoughts as well as actions. He applauded Arthur s fondness for reading and urged him to study to understand, & acquire the habit of bringing your whole mind to bear. He also advised Arthur to read history . . . it is the key to human nature and urged him to develop a broad perspective and reject the narrow spirit of localism pervasive in much of American society that teaches that only one s own town & one s own people are right & good & desirable. To this end, he told Arthur to see a little more of the world . . . it will bring you in contact with new people and ideas [and] destroy the narrow views that almost necessarily characterize those who spend all their time in one locality. 48
Although McClellan s experiences in the antebellum army reflected and reinforced his orientation toward Whig values and principles, by the time he returned to America in 1856 the Whig Party was dead. In the presidential election of that year the nation was presented with three candidates. Ex-President Fill-more headed the ticket of the nativist American, or Know-Nothing, Party. McClellan had little sympathy for the Know-Nothings and while in Europe had applauded their defeat in Virginia. The Americans were never really a serious threat anyway, as by 1856 nativist politics had lost much of its steam. That left the Republicans, whose ticket was headed by John C. Fr mont, and the Democrats, who nominated James Buchanan. Riding a wave of Northern outrage over the efforts of proslavery forces in 1855-1856 to make territorial Kansas a slave state through fraud and violence, the Republicans appealed to Northern voters by pledging uncompromising opposition to slavery and the Slave Power. This provoked Southern threats that they would secede from the Union rather than submit to Black Republican rule. Meanwhile, Democrats portrayed Buchanan as the candidate of moderation and sectional conciliation and characterized the Republicans as extremists whose policies would undermine white supremacy, social order and stability, and the Union. 49
It was an effective tactic. Both Clay s and Webster s sons, along with many ex-Whigs, openly supported the Democrats in 1856. And although Fr mont was a former regular army officer (though not a West Pointer), the Army also took on, in the words of historian William B. Skelton, a decidedly Democratic flavor in response to the rise of the Republicans. McClellan s future father-in-law Captain Marcy spoke for many officers when he hoped that Buchanan would defeat the miserable set of abolitionists as they are most contemptible and their success would be a serious calamity. Despite George s letters from London criticizing Buchanan, by 1856 the McClellan family s move into the Democratic camp, like that of most former Philadelphia Whigs of a conservative bent, was irrevocable. Their partiality toward Old Buck was expressed at the polls, where they contributed to Buchanan s margin of victory. 50 The McClellan realignment was complete.
A Strong Democrat of the Stephen A. Douglas School
T he first months of 1857 suggested a bright future lay ahead for the Union. Federal troops had restored a semblance of peace to Kansas and there was hope that the incoming president, James Buchanan, who had run as the candidate of sectional conciliation, would bring the territory into the Union without further strife. Although the strength of the Republican Party remained a source of concern for those who wished the sectional conflict would go away, with peace in Kansas the party appeared to have lost its greatest propaganda weapon. Some even ventured to hope that Fr mont s defeat marked the beginning of their end, which would help blunt the appeal of secession in the South. After all, the past decade had seen the Liberty, Free-Soil, Whig, and Know-Nothing Parties disappear from the scene-who was to say the Republicans would not follow them into the ash bin of history? 1
The months between the 1856 elections and Buchanan s inauguration in March 1857 also marked a turning point in George B. McClellan s life. On November 26, 1856, he tendered his resignation from the army to the War Department, with the request that it may take effect 15th Jany 1857. It was accepted on January 17, 1857, to take effect the previous day. 2
McClellan s reasons for leaving the Army are not difficult to discern. Although in comparison with most junior officers McClellan had so far enjoyed an intellectually stimulating career and relatively rapid promotion, with the departure of his patron Jefferson Davis from the War Department, his future prospects were not particularly promising. Upon completion of his Crimea report, his next assignment would be with his regiment, which was helping keep the peace in Kansas. Service with the 1st Cavalry, his friend Joseph E. Johnston and others informed him, was neither rewarding nor pleasant. Soldiers, Johnston advised McClellan, were never on more disgusting service. You need feel no regrets on account of your absence. . . . Stay in Washington as long as you have useful & respectable occupation. . . . [A]fter seeing the regiment you ll attempt to negotiate a transfer immediately. 3
A man of McClellan s accomplishments and connections was well situated for the transition to civilian life. Although he urged McClellan to reconsider leaving the army, upon hearing he was contemplating resigning his commission, W. Raymond Lee pledged his best endeavor for you among the cotton spin. There is no indication that anything came of Lee s efforts, but McClellan did receive an offer from A. H. Bowman to serve on a project to expand the Treasury building in Washington. His most valuable benefactor, however, proved to be Gustavus W. Smith, who had left the army after the Mexican War to pursue employment as a civil engineer. Through Smith s efforts and those of New York financier Samuel L. M. Barlow, McClellan was placed in contact with William H. Osborn, president of the Illinois Central Railroad. Illinois Central Director Abram S. Hewitt threw his support behind McClellan as well. He is an A1 man, Hewitt advised his colleagues. He is a gentleman of lengthened education, and for mental and physical endurance has no rival in the army. He is . . . in my judgment the best man to be secured in the country. In November 1856, Osborn offered McClellan a three-year contract as chief engineer of the Illinois Central at double his army pay, which was accepted. 4
The Illinois Central was a private company and in offering McClellan the post of chief engineer Osborn firmly instructed him not to get involved in local politics. However, the road was inextricably connected with the world of Illinois politics. The Illinois Central owed its existence to the efforts of Stephen A. Douglas, who pushed the land grant railroad bill of 1850 through Congress, the first such legislation in the nation s history, with the assistance of Daniel Webster. Construction began on the Illinois Central on December 23, 1851, and upon its completion in September 1856 it was the longest railroad in the world and already one of the most politically and economically powerful institutions in the Old Northwest. 5
Although maintaining the Illinois Central s over seven hundred miles of track was no mean feat and he regretted the loss of companionship with his old army comrades, McClellan was at first quite happy with his new station. He welcomed the independent authority he wielded and treatment as one of the powers that be by the people of the state, whom he found in February 1857 to be rather primitive in their appearance & habits. In contrast to garrison duty in the West, it also offered, in his words, brighter prospects for the future & ample occupation for whatever small brains one may possess. With my usual impudence, he wrote, I feel quite equal to the task. 6
McClellan was indeed equal to the task and quickly gained a reputation as one of the most capable railroad executives in the country. In the aftermath of the Panic of 1857, which hit the Illinois Central hard (the value of its stock dropped nearly in half and traffic on the road did not reach pre-1857 levels until 1860), the company s directors remained in New York, which made McClellan the company s senior officer in Illinois. He responded by slashing costs wherever he could without reducing the company s services or inflicting undue distress on its workers, even going so far as to inform Osborn in October 1857 that he would work for expenses only. That same month he was appointed head of a special committee to which the company s property was assigned to protect its creditors. Thanks in no small part to his efforts, the company made it through the crisis and by 1858 was once again attracting European investment. In recognition of his performance, the Illinois Central s board of directors elected McClellan company vice president in December 1857. 7
Despite initial satisfaction with his work with the Illinois Central, by the end of his first year with the company McClellan was already restless and ( with admirable consistency, he noted to a friend) contemplated returning to the army. He pined for the companionship of his old comrades and never failed to open his home in Chicago to them when they were in the area. He also pursued his interest in military science through private study. Indeed, during the Franco-Italian War of 1859, complaints would arise among Illinois Central officials that McClellan, seemed to forget their business . . . busied with maps stretched out on the floor . . . penn[ing] out the points of battle and strategy when he ought to have been attending to passenger trains and traffic. But this was not enough to keep him happy. My position is satisfactory, he informed a friend in November 1858, but I like the old business better. When conflict with the Mormons led to proposals for an increase in the size of the regular army, McClellan undertook a vigorous campaign to secure backers for his effort to secure a commission in one of the new regiments. McClellan also maintained active correspondence with Johnston and Johnson K. Duncan regarding service on filibustering expeditions in Central America. 8
Although able to secure support from Douglas, Davis, Professor Mahan, and his father s old friend John J. Crittenden, nothing came of McClellan s efforts to return to the service. The Mormon War was resolved without serious bloodshed and the bill for new regiments died in Congress, while Buchanan s reluctance to antagonize the North by sanctioning proslavery filibustering combined with the Panic of 1857 to squelch prospects for service in the Caribbean. McClellan was also informed by G. W. Smith that the Illinois Central directors would not be inclined in any case to let him out of his three-year obligation to the company. 9 Consequently, McClellan remained in civilian life the rest of the antebellum period and became actively involved in politics for the first time.
As previously mentioned, Buchanan entered the executive mansion in March 1857 riding a wave of good feelings inspired by hopes that at least the sectional conflict over slavery was apparently coming to an end. Support for Buchanan was certainly strong among McClellan s friends and associates. In November 1856, G. W. Smith and John C. Breckinridge both wrote to McClellan expressing satisfaction that his native Pennsylvania, a key swing state, had gone for Buchanan and hopes that he would have a successful term in office. (Breckinridge s satisfaction, of course, was also attributable to his elevation to the vice presidency.) 10
Sympathy for Old Buck was also strong among members of the McClellan family. Four days after the inauguration, McClellan s mother wrote him a letter lauding Buchanan s Inaugural Address, in which the new president endorsed the principle of popular sovereignty to remove the issue of slavery from national politics, denounced slavery agitation, and proclaimed sectional conciliation to be the supreme goal of his administration. He came out boldly on the slavery question, she wrote. Every reasonable Christian man must be satisfied with him on that subject. . . . [W]e ought to feel proud of such a President. On March 12, McClellan s brother Arthur informed him that he liked [Buchanan s] Inaugural Address very much. There is no clap trap or gas about it. . . . [I]f he acts up to it he will make a fine president. 11
In their letters, however, Arthur and his mother both expressed concern about their friend John W. Forney. Forney, as editor of the Philadelphia Pennsylvanian, had been a devoted supporter of Buchanan s since the 1840s and his influence and efforts during the 1856 campaign had been critical to Buchanan s election. After the election, however, Buchanan buckled to Southern pressure and selected another man to edit the national party organ, a post Forney felt his efforts entitled him to. Instead of going to Washington for the inauguration, McClellan s mother reported that Forney had visited George s older brother, John, to whom he expressed his bitterness. Forney was, she wrote, very deeply mortified & feels very badly treated. Buchanan would come to regret his decision. 12
Slighting Forney was but one of the many missteps Buchanan took during his first year in office. First, he endorsed the Supreme Court s decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford, issued two days after his inauguration. In his inaugural address, Buchanan, who had prior knowledge that the Court would declare the Missouri Compromise s restriction against slavery in the territories unconstitutional, urged the nation to accept the forthcoming decision as the final settlement of the question of slavery s status in the territories. Buchanan anticipated the Dred Scott decision would crush the Republicans by depriving them of their most potent issue, that of slavery in the territories. Instead, it re-energized the Republicans by giving additional weight to their charges that the Slave Power had corrupted national institutions in order to eliminate all restrictions on slavery and transform the republic into a slave empire. 13
The great issue of 1857, however, was once again Kansas. In January the proslavery territorial legislature, elected by the votes of proslavery border ruffians in 1855, called a constitutional convention. The free-soil majority in the territory boycotted the election for delegates, which had been rigged to ensure a proslavery majority. The convention that met at Lecompton in September then wrote a constitution that legalized slavery. It also, in defiance of Buchanan s promise that whatever constitution the convention produced would be submitted to Kansas voters for approval, decided to send it to Congress without a referendum, along with a petition for statehood. In November, the convention did bow to public pressure and agreed to a referendum, but it was so farcically organized that free-soilers once again refused to participate. The Lecompton Constitution passed and was sent to Washington. Under pressure from Southern Democrats, Buchanan urged Congress to bring Kansas into the Union as a slave state. 14
The great obstacle to acceptance of the Lecompton Constitution proved not to be the Republicans, but Stephen A. Douglas. Douglas, angry that his warnings that the proceedings in Kansas had made a mockery of popular sovereignty and that passage of the Lecompton Fraud would destroy the Democratic Party in the North had gone unheeded, broke with the administration. With the support of the embittered Forney, whose new paper, the Philadelphia Press, became the leading Democratic paper in Pennsylvania, Douglas rallied Northern Democrats and Republicans in opposition to the Lecompton Constitution. Despite the administration s efforts to crush Forney, Douglas, and other dissidents, enough Northern Democrats in the House of Representatives switched sides to defeat the Lecompton Constitution. The Lecompton battle, however, left Northern Democrats bitterly divided between Buchanan s supporters and Douglas s. Southern Democrats, who had once considered the Illinois senator a great ally, would never forgive him. 15
Among those who supported Douglas in the Lecompton controversy were the McClellans. As Congress assembled to debate the Kansas constitution in December 1857, John informed George that Buchanan is altogether in the wrong and will have to back out. . . . [T]his attempt to force slavery where the people do not want it & the course and tone some of the southern gentlemen are taking is a little too much for my northern feelings. He also reported that his friend Forney was at the head & front of the opposition to Mr. Buchanan s course & has been read out of the party. . . . [T]he president has issued his fiat that he must be put down. McClellan s mother noted with satisfaction that Douglas enjoyed a splendid reception in Philadelphia when he arrived there during the Christmas recess to consult with Forney, whose paper, she reported, we all like . . . very much. 16
With no figure in American antebellum politics would McClellan be more closely associated than Senator Douglas. No record exists of the first meeting between the two, but after 1857, through their mutual interest in the Illinois Central, the two men were frequently in contact. In May 1857, McClellan used his position as the company s chief engineer to procure a pass for Douglas that allowed the senator to travel on the road free of charge. Accompanying the pass was a letter in which McClellan asked Douglas to be kind enough to inform me by what train you wish to go, that a suitable car may be placed at your disposal. Two months later, he wrote to Douglas regarding Chicago industries that were causing a nuisance by dumping filth in Lake Michigan. Then, in January 1858, McClellan asked Douglas to intercede in the case of an army officer who was working for the Illinois Central while on furlough and wanted that furlough extended for another full year. One month later, he wrote to Douglas seeking help steering a federal mail contract for the Illinois Central and securing the road s status as a bonded line to facilitate its operations. 17
When he discussed his political views in the first draft of his memoirs in 1866 McClellan wrote that when the Whig Party was destroyed his conservative views naturally attracted him to the wing of the Democratic Party whose general views were represented by Stephen A. Douglas. In the final published edition of McClellan s Own Story, the early reference to the Whigs was dropped, but he continued to assert that he was a strong Democrat of the Stephen A. Douglas school. 18
Douglas was popular with the entire McClellan family. In addition to supporting him in his confrontation with the administration over Lecompton, they were also staunch supporters of the senator s presidential ambitions. In September 1859, John was as enthusiastic about Douglas as his father had been for Henry Clay fifteen years earlier. I do not believe the democracy can elect any other man, he advised George, I believe him entirely and thoroughly right in his course and platform, and have this much faith in the good sense of our people to see them carried out. From his mother, McClellan learned of Forney s support for Douglas and his prediction that the little giant of the West would be the next president. This pleased her enormously, as she anticipated a friend of ours living in Chicago & late of the Army, must be his Secretary of War . . . or Minister to Russia. 19
In terms of their personal and political backgrounds, on the surface Douglas and McClellan had little in common. McClellan had spent his entire life prior to 1857 in cosmopolitan, professionally oriented environments where a view of politics and society prevailed that prized moderation, rationalism, and gentility, and his political sympathies had been with the Whig Party. Douglas s character, on the other hand, was forged in the backwoods of Vermont and on the frontier of Illinois, where he attained prominence as a fiercely partisan supporter of Andrew Jackson and zealous practitioner of the style of rowdy, mass democratic politics that Whigs despised. 20
During the 1830s and 1840s Douglas and McClellan were on opposite sides of the political fence. Yet they shared personal qualities and views that as a consequence of changes in American political culture during the 1850s became more important than their differences. Both were highly ambitious men who believed the United States had a special mission to develop the West, expand its territory, and use its influence to encourage the spread of republican institutions in the Americas. They also shared an antipathy toward Great Britain, which they viewed as the United States s natural enemy and the greatest obstacle to the achievement of American greatness. Moreover, in terms of his political style and ambitions, by 1858 Douglas, in the words of historian Allan Nevins, was steadily becoming less of a politician and more of a statesman. 21
Thus, by the late 1850s Douglas shared many qualities with Daniel Webster that helped make him worthy of respect and admiration in McClellan s mind. Unlike many Democrats, Douglas, like Webster and McClellan, welcomed the new market economy and its ethos of self-improvement and national development. Douglas also agreed with Webster that government had a role to play in promoting economic development, and from the beginning of his political career had deviated from Jacksonian laissez-faire economic theory to advocate state support for internal improvements. Webster and Douglas also shared an outlook on life and politics that emphasized practicality, sectional harmony, and the settlement of differences through compromise, and had little patience for those who approached politics as a clash of irreconcilable principles and moral imperatives. 22
Nowhere was the convergence between Douglas and Webster more pronounced than in their approaches to the sectional conflict over slavery. During the 1850s Douglas emerged as, in the words of historian Eric Foner, the last of the great Unionist, compromising politicians, the heir of Clay and Webster, and other spokesmen for the center. Like Webster, Douglas was a passionate nationalist for whom all other issues were secondary to the preservation of the Union. Both men approached the issue of slavery s expansion into the territories the way they approached all other issues-as a practical, rather than a moral, issue. Like Webster, Douglas believed the western territories were unsuited for slavery and that provocative measures such as the Wilmot Proviso were unnecessary. Both were confident that the people who settled in the territories would reject slavery as impractical, and, when the time for statehood came, most, if not all, would enter the Union as free states. 23
Webster and Douglas both blamed the sectional conflict on irresponsible ultras in both sections who, in Douglas s words, appeal to the passions and prejudices of [their] own section against the peace of the whole country. They reserved their greatest criticism, however, for antislavery agitators in the North, whom they viewed as reckless fanatics whose crusade to impose their views of morality on the rest of the nation fueled the sectional conflict. In a speech to Congress in 1860, a copy of which McClellan kept among his personal papers, Douglas urged all conservative men who will not be abolitionized or sectionalized to reject appeals to the passions, prejudices, and ambition of [their] own section, against the peace and harmony of the whole country. During the presidential campaign that year, Douglas made a point of linking his own commitment to moderation and sectional compromise with Webster s. 24

Lithograph of Lincoln and Douglas. Courtesy Chicago Historical Society.
Before Douglas could save the Union in 1860, he had to hold on to his seat in the Senate in 1858 against a formidable challenger by the name of Abraham Lincoln. During the campaign McClellan actively supported Douglas and used his position to throw the resources of the Illinois Central behind the Little Giant. McClellan personally invited Douglas to make use of his private car, and on election day took advantage of his position to foil a scheme by Republican partisans to use the railroad to cast fraudulent ballots. So open was McClellan s support for Douglas that the state auditor, a friend of Lincoln s, subsequently filed a suit against the company for failure to pay adequate taxes in 1857. In an interesting turn of events the counsel for the Illinois Central in the case, which ultimately was decided in the company s favor, was none other than Lincoln himself, aided greatly by close collaboration with Vice President McClellan! 25
In his memoirs, McClellan recalled one particular incident from his travels with Douglas during the 1858 campaign. We started late in the evening, he wrote, [and] reached Bloomington early in the afternoon of the next day. Douglas, however, had stayed up the entire night with his advisors and a half hour before reaching the town the young railroad executive dreaded a failure . . . the Little Giant certainly had no opportunity of thinking of the subject of the debate, and did not seem to be in fit condition to carry it on. However, after a brief period of rest in McClellan s personal car, Douglas emerged perfectly fresh and ready for the work before him; so much so that I thought his speech of that day his best during the campaign. That November McClellan cast his first ever vote for Douglas. 26
The question of whether Lincoln s and McClellan s relations in Illinois had any impact on their ability to work together during the Civil War has naturally attracted attention from McClellan s two best biographers. Stephen W. Sears and William Starr Myers agree that seeds for future difficulties were sown during the antebellum period and attribute McClellan s support for Douglas to defects in the future general s personality. Myers argues that during his time in Illinois McClellan developed a total lack of understanding and sympathy with the eccentric and mystical, but yet great-hearted and stupendous genius. Sears concludes McClellan developed a contempt for Lincoln as his social and intellectual inferior . . . on first meeting Lincoln, and, typically, his mind was not changed by closer acquaintance. 27
In their treatment of the Illinois years, however, both works offer understandably limited discussions of the issues that shaped the great contest between Lincoln and Douglas, and how they might have influenced McClellan. Sears simply asserts that Lincoln and McClellan had nothing in common politically, while Myers merely offers a discussion of McClellan s views on emancipation and state rights and how they clashed with the more aggressive leaders of the Republican administration during the war. Consequently, neither scholar fully discusses the issues and interpersonal dynamics that shaped the contest between Lincoln and Douglas, the role of this election in the evolution of Lincoln s political career and thought during the 1850s, or its place in the evolving sectional conflict. 28
McClellan first came into contact with his future commander in chief through the Illinois Central, which Lincoln frequently served as counsel, and there is, in fact, no evidence that any personal animosity developed between Lincoln and McClellan during the 1850s. Indeed, McClellan would later remember his association with Lincoln in Illinois with some measure of fondness. In his memoirs, McClellan affectionately recalled sharing sleeping accommodations with Lincoln in out-of-the-way county seats where some important case was being tried . . . in front of a stove listening to the unceasing flow of anecdotes from his lips. He was never at a loss, and I could never quite make up my mind how many of them he really heard before and how many he invented on the spur of the moment. 29
Indeed, one of the most intriguing and ignored aspects of the McClellan-Lincoln relationship is the degree to which they in fact shared a common view of the world. Like McClellan, Lincoln was a member of the upwardly mobile Northern bourgeoisie and shared the Whig preoccupation with self-improvement, discipline, and rational order. Both men read Francis Wayland s writings on moral philosophy and embraced the Whig view of the world as a place where the forces of reason and passion battled for ascendancy. Indeed, in one of his first major speeches, Lincoln expressed sentiments that McClellan would echo eight years later in his address to the Dialectic Society at West Point. Passion, Lincoln argued in 1838, will in the future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason must furnish all the materials for our future support. 30
Like McClellan, Lincoln was a member of the Whig Party during the 1830s and 1840s. Nonetheless, there were fundamental differences between the two men s attitudes toward politics. As historian Joel Silbey noted in 1986, the observation of scholars Thomas Brown and Lynn Marshall that Whigs generally liked to think of themselves as the part of enlightened, independent statesmanship is accurate but should not be taken too far. Not all Whigs were uncomfortable with the all-consuming partisanship and circus-like, noisy campaigns, the simplifying of difficult issues, and the general rowdiness that distinguished Jacksonian Era politics. It is more accurate, Silbey persuasively argues, to group Northern Whigs into three categories based on their different attitudes toward party politics. 31
The political thinking of the pre-party, conservative, statesman group was shaped in the era of National Republican ascendancy after the War of 1812 or in environments where that party s ethos prevailed. Members of this faction of the Whig Party, such as McClellan, Clay, Webster, Winfield Scott, and John J. Crittenden, prized social stability, harmony, and order, above all else. Conservative and elitist in their outlook and nostalgic for the period of one-party rule during the Era of Good Feelings, they embraced a Madisonian view of politics that extolled the virtues of enlightened statesmanship, moderation, and compromise. In frustration and revulsion, Silbey notes, these men tried to remain aloof from the contamination of partisan warfare. A second type of Whig, those Silbey describes as moral crusading, reformist, purifying Whigs, shared the pre-party statesmen s aversion to party discipline, but for different reasons. Viewing the achievement of their goals as a moral imperative, men such as Joshua Giddings, Charles Sumner, Thaddeus Stevens, and Henry Wilson had little taste for the compromises necessary to build coalitions broad enough to gain power and rule a society of diverse faiths and interests. 32
Finally, there were those Whigs who were uncomfortable with the moral and ideological zealotry of the reformers but recognized the National Republican concept of statesmanship was ill suited to the Age of the Common Man. The men Silbey labels the pragmatic-politician Whigs embraced the all-consuming partisanship pioneered by the Jacksonian Democrats. Shrewd political operators, in Silbey s words, at home with the new system, or at least willing to play by its rules, they realized that building and maintaining a tightly disciplined and well-organized party was essential to attaining success at the polls. They shaped their actions to serve party interests, distributed patronage in such a way as to reward the loyal and punish the disloyal, and reveled in divisive rhetoric that simplified complex issues for the public and characterized political opponents as subverters of republican government. 33
Few men were as representative of the pragmatic-politician type of Whig as was Abraham Lincoln. Although he idolized Henry Clay and deprecated partisanship in his rhetoric, Lincoln was much more in step with the democratic spirit of the age than were Webster, Clay, and McClellan. Unlike McClellan, who spent his entire life in environments that prized order, hierarchy, and moderation, Lincoln had raised himself up from humble beginnings in the egalitarian, rough-and-tumble world of the frontier. Although he spent his entire life trying to distance himself from his frontier upbringing, Lincoln never lost his sense of connection and association with the common man. He had little sympathy for the elitism and paternalism of the Madisonian style of politics and became an enthusiastic practitioner of the new democratic mass politics. Thoroughly attuned, in the words of historian Robert W. Johannsen, to the single-minded partisanship of the Jackson era, Lincoln was an indefatigable party organizer and disciplinarian with a talent and zeal for political combat that few could match. 34
Lincoln s political career was to a great extent defined by his opposition to Douglas, and he was keenly sensitive to the contrast between his and Douglas s respective fortunes in the political arena. Yet prospects for deposing his old rival in 1858 initially appeared promising. Discontent with Douglas was high in Illinois, the Buchanan administration was working to undermine him, and the Dred Scott decision and upheaval in Kansas had heightened public receptiveness to Republican criticism of the Slave Power and the Northern Democratic Party. 35
Douglas s leadership in the fight against the Lecompton Constitution dramatically altered the situation. Hopeful that an alliance with the Illinois senator could advance the effort to restrict slavery s extension, a few prominent Republicans openly flirted with the idea of supporting Douglas s reelection in 1858. Lincoln was stunned. Have [the Republicans in Washington] concluded, he asked, that the republican cause, generally, can be best promoted by sacrificing us here in Illinois? It appeared essential that if the Republican Party in Illinois to which he had hitched his own political future was to remain viable as an opposition party, Douglas s antislavery credentials must be destroyed and the differences between Douglas and Lincoln on the issue of slavery be defined in such a way as to make it impossible for anyone to doubt who would be the most trustworthy opponent of the Slave Power in Washington. 36
During the early and mid-1850s Lincoln had directed his energies toward reversing the disintegration of the Whig Party and his own political career. The Kansas-Nebraska Act initially appeared to be just what the doctor ordered, and Lincoln immediately set himself to rallying anti-Nebraska sentiment to the Whig standard. With resurrection of the Whigs as a national party as his main ambition, he initially avoided speaking of slavery or the conflict with the South in moral terms. Instead, he linked his views on slavery to Clay s, appealed to the spirit of sectional compromise, and focused on condemning Douglas for the crime of repealing the Missouri Compromise. Yet, although he condemned Douglas s doctrine of popular sovereignty and clearly aligned himself with those who wished to prevent the expansion of slavery, Lincoln also expressed toleration for the institution where it existed. In a speech in October 1854 he stated that, Much as I hate slavery, I would consent to the extension of it rather than see the Union dissolved. Lincoln s failure to obtain election to the U.S. Senate in 1855, however, led him to conclude that anti-Nebraska forces in Illinois would not accept leadership from a conservative Whig who remained open to any form of cooperation with slaveholders. Reluctantly, Lincoln abandoned the Whigs and joined the new Republican Party. 37
Although they inherited the Whig Party s positions on cultural and economic issues (despite efforts to mute both points for the sake of party unity, Republicans were the party of native-born Protestantism and endorsed government support for economic development), the political culture of the Republican party differed significantly from that of the Whigs. Republican political thought centered around a free labor ideology that rejected the elitism and paternalism of the Whigs and saw an irrepressible conflict between the North and South. With their political base in the small towns and rural areas of the North where revivalism and New England roots were strong, Republicans embraced the small producer ideology of the Jacksonians, as well as their egalitarianism, provincialism, suspicion of intellectuals, and rejection of the notion that direction of human affairs should be left to elites. 38
To Republicans, the great issue in American politics was whether the national government would serve the interests of the democratic, free labor North or the aristocratic, slave labor South. The Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott decision, and the Lecompton controversy convinced Republicans that an aggressive Slave Power conspiracy, working through the Democratic Party, had reversed the antislavery intentions of the founders. To restore the republic, Republicans argued that the Slave Power must be driven from the national government. 39
The Republican leadership included Jacksonian Democrats such as Frances P. Blair, Salmon Chase, Preston King, and Gideon Welles, and Whigs such as William H. Seward and Thaddeus Stevens, whose roots were in the evangelical reform movements or the popularly based Antimasonic party. Consequently, the Republicans were much more in tune with the egalitarian, individualistic, and democratic tone of antebellum American politics than were old-line Whigs, many of whom, like McClellan, Clay s and Webster s sons, and Webster s former allies in Massachusetts s Cotton Whig aristocracy, became Democrats during the 1850s. The Republicans also embraced the organizational tactics, zealous partisanship, and belief that the purpose of parties was to define differences rather than seek grounds for compromise of Jacksonian Era politics. To Republicans, the preservation of the territories for free labor and redemption of the republic from the Slave Power were moral imperatives. In the contest with the Slave Power, Whig ideals of moderation, compromise, and statesmanship were, in the minds of Republicans, inapplicable. 40
Upon joining the Republicans, a new argument began to appear in Lincoln s rhetoric that gained greater prominence in the aftermath of Dred Scott and the Lecompton controversy: that national policy must be directed toward the ultimate extinction of slavery. Then, when the need arose to draw a clear line between himself and Douglas in 1858, Lincoln began to express his opposition to slavery s extension into the territories in moralistic terms. In his celebrated House Divided speech and throughout the 1858 campaign, Lincoln made the morality of slavery the centerpiece of his appeal to Illinois voters. Ignoring admonitions from Douglas that such rhetoric endangered national harmony, Lincoln argued that the contest between North and South over slavery was a part of the eternal struggle between these two principles-right and wrong. There could be no middle ground and no compromise between the two camps into which the nation was divided. In the first camp were those who cherished the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence, recognized slavery as morally wrong, and should rally behind the Republicans and their pledge to stop slavery s expansion as a first step toward its ultimate extinction. In the opposing camp, Lincoln argued, resided those who either supported slavery or, like Douglas, refused to treat the policy of stopping its extension into the territories as a moral imperative and thereby facilitated the Slave Power s conspiracy to nationalize slavery. 41
Although he lost the election, Lincoln s tactics unified Republicans behind his candidacy and established his reputation as a formidable national figure. However, by embracing the Republicans, taking a no compromise position on slavery s expansion, and arguing that opposition to slavery was a moral imperative, he had from McClellan s perspective abandoned the Whig tradition of moderation and compromise. Had Lincoln, as Republicans and politicians in general were frequently accused of doing, placed the interests of the party and self above the Union? More importantly, if Lincoln were to take the moderate position of the statesman in the future, could he maintain it if it did not serve party interests? If the answers to these questions were not unqualified no s in McClellan s mind when the Civil War began, he evidently felt little cause for optimism based on his experiences in Illinois. You and I both know, a friend from Illinois would remind McClellan in early 1861, L[incoln] is not a bold man. Has not nerve to differ with his party. . . . [A]nd we do know that he can not face the opposition which would arise if he were to take the right stand. 42
Despite success as a businessman, a distinguished military record, and association with some of the most powerful individuals in the country, McClellan remained anything but content two years after leaving the army. His efforts to return to the army had failed. But that was perhaps for the best, for from correspondence with friends he had come to the conclusion that the army was going to the deuce. He continued to correspond with friends regarding service in Central America but was informed that there was at present no escape from Civil Engineering for you. McClellan s personal life in Chicago was brightened somewhat in 1857 by the arrival of Ambrose Burnside and his wife in Chicago, whom McClellan invited to share his home on Park Row after securing his old friend a job with the Illinois Central. McClellan also enjoyed membership in a number of distinguished scientific and cultural organizations, including the Academy of Natural Sciences at Philadelphia and Chicago Historical Society. Nonetheless, the former soldier remained unsatisfied. The best he could hope for in life, he was coming to believe, was quiet contentedness with some quiet young woman of a moral turn of mind, who can sew on buttons, look happy when I come home, drive off my neuralgia, & make herself generally useful. Yet even the prospects for that, he lamented at one point, seem[ed] to have passed away. 43
That all changed dramatically in October 1859. That month McClellan won the hand of Mary Ellen Nelly Marcy. The two first met in the spring of 1854. He fell in love immediately and, with the encouragement of her parents, proposed marriage in June but was turned down. Although devastated by this, McClellan maintained an active correspondence with the Marcys, whose support for his suit rarely wavered. By the time he began his service with the Illinois Central, McClellan and Nelly were actively corresponding again and on October 25, 1859, she agreed to marry him. With Winfield Scott, as well as future Civil War notables Cadmus Wilcox, G. W. Smith, Joseph E. Johnston, and Gordon Granger in attendance, the two were married at Calvary Protestant Episcopal Church in New York City on May 22, 1860. 44
That his marriage had an impact on McClellan s outlook, particularly his religious views, is unmistakable. During their engagement, McClellan embraced the evangelical Presbyterianism of the Marcys. Inspired by Nelly, he began reading the Bible daily and working toward becoming a better man and perhaps a truer Christian. Yet the degree to which McClellan s marriage changed his perspectives on life should not be overdone, for the Presbyterianism of the Marcys by no means contradicted the fundamentally Whiggish perspectives that distinguished his outlook prior to 1859. He was under the influence of a belief that Divine Providence was shaping every event, one of McClellan s closest friends would write after his death. Yet in all of this there was not the least tinge of what is sometimes called fanaticism. It was a sober, regulated, deep conviction that the affairs of this world are under the government of God. . . . [A]t the same time, he never omitted . . . to use all human means to insure success. 45
Historian Curtis Johnson has cogently argued that antebellum white evangelicals can be grouped into two general categories: formalist and antiformalist, with the divisions between the two generally paralleling divisions within society over political, economic, and social modernization. Formalist sects appealed primarily to the upwardly mobile market elite, as formalist doctrine gave religious sanction to their values. Influenced by Scottish Common Sense philosophy, it celebrated reason, discipline, moderation, education, and a hierarchical society. It also encouraged worldly ambition by presenting success in life as a product of virtue and a sign of God s grace. Antiformalist sects generally practiced a more parochial and egalitarian religion and practiced an emotional style of worship where the unleashing of the passions was viewed as a manifestation of piety. During the Jacksonian Era, formalists were overwhelmingly Whig in their politics, while antiformalists tended to support the Democrats. 46
Like the Episcopalianism into which McClellan was baptized and the Presbygationalism of his father, the Presbyterianism of the Marcys fit squarely into the formalist category. The Marcys were an ambitious, upwardly mobile family that valued education and worldly accomplishment and endeavored to maintain Victorian standards of respectability. Their favor for McClellan s suit was motivated by an expectation that he would secure for their daughter high status in society and save her from the hardships associated with life in the line branches in the army. Yet for all their religious piety and devotion, the Marcys were by no means rigidly dogmatic or sectarian. (There is no evidence that Ellen s marriage in an Episcopal, rather than a Presbyterian, Church caused any problems.) They also rejected the inclination toward antislavery politics that distinguished many evangelicals. Moreover, they found in their religion spiritual sanction for their ambition, which Captain Marcy advised his daughter at one point was perfectly in accordance with Christianity. 47
In short, although exposure to the evangelical Presbyterianism of the Marcys did increase the intensity of his religious devotion, it by no means produced a radical change in McClellan s political or social views. It did not fundamentally alter his preeminently moderate and rationalist approach to the world. Nor did it inspire in him desire to remake the world or increase his patience for those who did possess such a desire.
During his engagement McClellan s three-year commitment to the Illinois Central ended, and a few months after the wedding his friend Barlow secured for him appointment as superintendent and president of the eastern division of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad. With new bride in tow, he relocated to Cincinnati in the summer of 1860 to assume his new position at the princely salary of $10,000 a year. His tasks were not particularly pleasant; the road had been hit hard by the Panic of 1857 and was still deep in debt when McClellan was hired, and his relations with the president of the road s western division were perpetually strained. But he gave no thought to returning to the service. He confessed to his wife that the old profession stirs my blood & delights me more than any other pursuit, but assured her that only war on a large scale could induce him back into uniform. 48
A beautiful wife, financial security, and status as one of the leading railroad men in the country were enough to provide McClellan with all the personal and professional satisfaction he could wish for. The restlessness and sense of unfulfilled ambition prevalent in his previous correspondence disappeared. After the rough wandering life that has been my lot, he informed his mother, alone & without any object in life . . . I believe that I am the happiest man that ever lived. 49
Yet just as McClellan had found satisfaction in his life, the nation was coming apart. In April 1860, Southern delegates, frustrated at their inability to either secure a pledge for a federal slave code for the territories in the party platform or destroy Douglas s candidacy for the presidency, walked out of the Democratic convention in Charleston. When the party reconvened in Baltimore six weeks later, the Southern delegates still did not have the strength to stop Douglas and again walked out, this time for good. As the remaining delegates nominated Douglas, the bolters convened a separate convention and chose John C. Breckinridge as their standard bearer. The Democratic split made the election of the Republican nominee, Abraham Lincoln, all but inevitable. And Southerners made it clear that the election to the presidency of a man who was opposed to slavery s expansion and committed to its ultimate extinction would have dire consequences for the Union. 50
Douglas took Southern threats seriously. Convinced the Union was in danger, he traveled to nearly every state in the Union urging voters to reject the voices of extremism and rally around his candidacy and the Union. After state elections held in October indicated a Republican victory was almost certain in November, he went South and pleaded with Southerners to accept Lincoln s election and warned them of the consequences if they should act on their threat to leave the Union. It was to no avail. After Lincoln s victory in November, seven states, led by South Carolina, would leave the Union. 51
Douglas was not the only man in America who feared the nation was on the road to civil war in 1860. When George B. McClellan negotiated a three-year lease for a house in Cincinnati that autumn he insisted on the inclusion of a clause allowing him to break it if hostilities broke out. For if war came, there was no question that he would be called upon to employ his talents. 52

Ever since Abraham Lincoln s election to the presidency triggered the secession of seven states from the Union, Americans have wondered why they could not resolve their differences over slavery peacefully in the 1860s. In twentieth-century scholarship, debate over the causes of the Civil War generally revolved around the question of whether the war was an irrepressible conflict between irreconcilably different societies or, as argued by revisionist historians, the work of a generation of blundering politicians who created a needless war. Not surprisingly, the generation that fought the war also debated its causes. The lines of debate that dominated their thinking on this subject were established during the war and driven by the desire of each side for vindication. Northerners argued that the war was fought to defend republican institutions against a wicked rebellion; Southerners argued that they were defending their rights against Northern tyranny. 53
Yet there were Americans who attempted to rise above sectional bias in their effort to comprehend why the war had been fought. During and in the immediate aftermath of the war, men such as Orestes A. Brownson and former President James Buchanan anticipated many of the arguments of the revisionists by attributing the war to the actions of irresponsible extremists in both sections. 54 It was in their camp that George B. McClellan, in his interpretation of the causes of the Civil War, firmly rested.
McClellan s view of the causes of the Civil War was an eminently Whiggish one and would be enthusiastically endorsed by Daniel Webster s close friend and literary executor George Ticknor Curtis, who during the Civil War was, after Edward Everett, the most prominent surviving member of Massachusetts s Cotton Whig intelligentsia. Curtis was also America s foremost constitutional scholar at the time of the Civil War, and his writings, the most famous of which was History of the Origin, Formation and Adoption of the Constitution of the United States (1854-1858), were, in the words of one student of the subject, the classic treatment of the Constitution from the Federalist, Websterian point of view. McClellan was, Curtis would proclaim in 1886, a better instructed constitutional statesman than nine-tenths of the public men of the time. . . . I have not known any man not specially trained in the philosophy of politics whose views of public and constitutional questions were so sound and wise as his. 55
To McClellan, the sectional crisis of 1860-1861 was a product of the ultimate Whig fear coming to fruition; namely, that the voices of passion and extremism-antislavery radicals in the North and fire-eating reactionaries in the South-would gain ascendancy over the voices of reason and moderation in American politics. Events were precipitated, he asserted in his memoirs, by the violent course of a comparatively small number of men on both sides. . . . [I]t is the distinct lesson of history that this is always so: that the great crises in the world s history are induced by the words and actions of a few earnest or violent men who stir up the masses. Although McClellan recognized there were differences between the North and South, he did not believe they were irreconcilable, and he speculated that if only for two or three generations back all the men of both sections had risen above their parochial interests, and taken a moderate, long-range approach to politics, the sectional conflict would have been avoided. Unfortunately, McClellan would lament in 1864, during the antebellum period political leaders who to the highest abilities united the same spirit of conciliation which animated the founders of the Republic were supplanted by men who forgot that conciliation, common interest, and mutual charity had been the foundation and must be the support of our government. 56
In the North the problem was, as McClellan saw it, the antislavery movement s insufficient regard for the established institutions that provided order and stability to society. Consequently, they furnished the occasion, eagerly seized as a pretext by equally extreme men in the other [section], for abandoning the pacific remedies and protection afforded by the Constitution. Of William H. Seward, whose essentially moderate views had been obscured by his militant rhetoric and role in the collapse of the Whig Party, McClellan wrote in 1861, he has done more than any other one man to bring all this misery upon the country. 57
The argument that all Northerners had a vested interest in stopping the machinations of a Slave Power rang hollow to McClellan. To him, the notion that Southern friends and acquaintances such as Jefferson Davis, Pierre G. T. Beauregard, Gustavus W. Smith, and John C. Breckinridge were conspiring to subvert the republic must have seemed preposterous. Indeed, McClellan recognized that his life experiences had instilled in him a cosmopolitan viewpoint; the ability to appreciate the true sentiments, motives, and nature of people in both North and South; and a broader view of matters that made him relatively unique. Had enough people possessed this perspective, he believed a great tragedy might have been averted. Unfortunately, he lamented, the people of both sections did not understand each other, which facilitated the efforts of the few and earnest men who stir up the masses. 58
Although he unambiguously stated in wartime letters that he would never be an abolitionist, McClellan was not a rigid conservative on the issue of slavery. He shared Lincoln s belief that slavery was a great evil and should be put on the path to ultimate extinction and was always prepared to make it one of the essential conditions of peace that slavery should be abolished. When the day of adjustment comes, he assured his wife in late 1861, I will, if successful, throw my sword into the scale to force an improvement in the condition of those poor blacks. 59
Like most white Americans in the nineteenth century, McClellan viewed African Americans as inferior to whites. He did not, however, share the Jacksonian view of society as rigidly divided with all whites inherently equal in their political and social status and blacks suited only for slavery. Like most Whigs, he viewed the world as a hierarchy where one s position was based on education, talent, and personal refinement and believed power and authority should rest in the hands of paternalistic elites if society was to be governed according to the dictates of reason. McClellan did not view the Arkansas frontiersman, Illinois politician, and Tennessee mustang general as the equal of the Philadelphia gentleman, Massachusetts statesman, and West Point-trained officer. Yet he did not base his assessment of an individual s social, political, or professional status on the accident of birth but on differences in merit that were subject to change. The Tennessee officer s place in the hierarchy could be advanced if he received a military education at West Point; the Arkansas frontiersman s if he disciplined himself and pursued personal refinement; and the Illinois politician s if he endeavored to rise above the transient, parochial passions of the masses and worked to serve the long-term interests of the nation as a whole. 60
Just as he rejected the egalitarianism of the Jacksonians, McClellan also rejected the notion that African Americans were inherently unfit for, and thus could not make the transition to, freedom. He insisted, however, that emancipation should be accomplished gradually and under the supervision of a reasonable, paternalistic regime that would prepare African Americans for freedom through certain preparatory steps in the way of education, recognition of the rights of family and marriage, prohibition against selling them without their own consent, the freedom of those born after a certain date, etc. 61
Thus, McClellan s quarrel with antislavery radicals rested not upon differences over ends but upon the inability or unwillingness of the radicals to recognize the effect their impassioned rhetoric and the radical means they proposed for attaining their goals had upon national harmony. McClellan s approach to the great issues of the age was shaped by an unwavering adherence to a rationalist, moderate, Whiggish mindset distinguished by a belief that social progress must be pursued pragmatically. Central to this mindset was the notion that carelessness or undue haste in the calculation of means could be counterproductive to the achievement of one s larger ends and that true progress was achieved gradually by working through established institutions. Although humans could and should through application of reason do their part to facilitate social and political progress, failure to resist the impulse to rush progress could endanger social stability and the established institutions that gave order to society. McClellan was simply incapable of viewing the call for sweeping measures of emancipation, with the tremendous upheaval they would produce, as a well-reasoned, practical solution to the problem of slavery. No real statesman could ever, he believed, contemplate so sweeping and serious a measure as sudden and general emancipation without looking to the future and providing for its consequences. 62
If critical of the North for falling under the sway of irresponsible politicians and its undue haste in the pursuit of progress, McClellan was equally critical of the South for its extremism and rigidity in resisting progress. On the one hand, he endorsed the South s efforts to oppose the tendency of Northern Republicans . . . towards a centralized power. In a nation as large and diverse as the United States, McClellan thought it was impractical for the central government to make laws on domestic concerns satisfactory to all. If sectional harmony was to be preserved, he believed, diverse views and interests must be tolerated and the impulse to impose one moral standard upon the entire nation, as was evidently the intention of the abolitionists, resisted. Substituting the legislation of the general government, in his words, for that of the States in regard to the local and domestic affairs of the people, would soon cause as much discontent and suffering as to result in a resort to secession. 63
If McClellan, in his desire to preserve sectional harmony, was willing to endorse the notion that the national government should be limited in its functions, he nonetheless repudiated the South s extreme state rights doctrines. If individual states were free to decide which laws, institutions, and constitutional procedures would be obeyed, he believed it would completely paralyze the general government, rendering it an object of just contempt. The nation would then revert to the disorder of the Confederation period, when private property was unprotected, anarchy reigned, and the institutional and social stability necessary for the nation and its people to achieve greatness was subverted by parochialism, unrestrained individualism, and mobocracy. 64
As in the North, McClellan believed that the people of the Confederacy had been duped into accepting the validity and necessity of secession by politicians for whom sectional and personal prejudices and interests outweighed all considerations for the general good. He was especially bitter after the war toward Southern Democrats for abandoning Senator Douglas in 1860. If the election of Mr. Lincoln meant a more determined attack upon slavery, they of the South, he argued, were responsible. Even with Lincoln s election, he noted, their rights and interests would have been safe if they had behaved rationally and acted in concert with the moderate Northern Democrats, seeking their remedy and protection within the Union, the Constitution, and the laws. 65
It was not just in their reaction to the crisis of 1860-1861 that McClellan felt the South had ignored the voices of moderation and reason. No sensible observer could ignore the fact that by the 1860s slavery was an increasingly archaic institution. If left to their own cool judgment, McClellan believed the majority of white Southerners would have eventually realized that slavery could not exist much longer, and that their wisest course was to recognize that fact . . . and provide for its gradual extinction. Unfortunately, he lamented, reckless counsels prevailed and Southern conservatism and resistance to the forces of change on the issue of slavery became as rigid, uncompromising, and impractical as Northern abolitionism. The moderate course, which McClellan believed would end slavery without threatening social stability and sectional harmony, was ignored. Thus a state of feeling arose, wrote McClellan, which could only be quieted by the drastic methods of war. 66
But neither McClellan nor those in Washington who shared his commitment to sectional harmony accepted fratricidal war as inevitable when the states of the Lower South began expressing their disapproval of Lincoln s election in December 1860 by calling conventions to consider secession from the Union. In response to the crisis, Stephen A. Douglas and John J. Crittenden assumed leadership of efforts in Congress to forge a compromise. By the end of 1860 they had developed what came to be known as the Crittenden Compromise. This consisted of a series of irrevocable amendments to the Constitution that would guarantee slavery where it already existed, extend the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific Ocean, deny Congress any power to regulate the interstate slave trade, and provide compensation to slave owners unable to recover fugitive slaves in the Northern states. 67
McClellan fully supported the effort to forge a compromise. As the outlines of Crittenden s plan were becoming evident in late December 1860, he asked a very intelligent Republican . . . the direct question whether he and his friends were willing to run the Missouri Compromise to the Pacific & to repeal the Personal Liberty Bills. To his delight, McClellan was informed, they would gladly do the first & more than the second. I am sure, he informed a friend, this is the feeling of the Republican party in the West. More than this- the feeling of all people here is that the North West will do justice to the South. . . . Most men here acknowledge the South has much to ask that the North ought to & would grant. The problem, as he saw it, was whether the South would take counsel of reason and veer off the path to war, or go off half cocked & listen to nothing but the Republican politicians at Washington. On this he was less than optimistic: The general opinion is that it will be war. 68
By February, McClellan was more confident the crisis might be resolved peacefully. Although Crittenden s proposals died in committee and delegates from the seven states of the Lower South that had seceded met in Montgomery to announce creation of the Confederate States of America, in early February 1861 the prospects for the Union brightened considerably. On February 4, the Union cause won a tremendous victory in Virginia, the most important slave state, when secessionists suffered an overwhelming defeat in the election for delegates to the state convention. Secessionists would subsequently suffer similar setbacks in Tennessee, Arkansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware. Union men across the country breathed a collective sigh of relief as it appeared their conviction that secession was a transient phenomenon that would soon be reversed was in fact correct. 69
In a letter written three days after Virginia had rejected secession, McClellan expressed increased optimism that the crisis would be resolved peacefully. Leaving out the ultra men in certain limited districts, McClellan assured his brother-in-law in Alabama that the people of the North were strongly in favor of doing justice to the South. (McClellan s reading of the public mood was evidently correct. Horace Greeley, no friend of the compromise measures, would later concede they would probably have passed if subjected to a popular referendum.) With the Crittenden measures enacted, McClellan believed the border states would be satisfied, and with that accomplished, he did not believe that, save South Carolina, persuading the other slave states to return to the Union would be all that difficult. 70
Ultimately, however, all recognized that the fate of efforts to resolve the crisis rested upon the actions of the man whose election to the presidency had brought it about. Would Lincoln approach the crisis with what McClellan believed to be the moderate perspective of the statesman and be strong enough, in the words of McClellan s friend John M. Douglas, to face the opposition which would arise if he were to take the right stand ? Or would he lack the nerve to differ with his party and its leaders and widen the breach between the North and South? 71
Lincoln was not opposed to efforts to find a formula that would placate the South. He was willing to support rigorous enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, repeal of Northern personal liberty laws, and the maintenance of slavery in the District of Columbia, as well as disavow any intention to molest slavery where it existed. Yet on one point, he let it be known in no uncertain terms that he was inflexible. On slavery extension, he advised fellow Republicans, There is no possible compromise. . . . On that point hold firm, as with a chain of steel. 72
Lincoln s commitment to the Union was, of course, just as powerful as McClellan s. Yet Lincoln developed a view of the secession crisis and the means necessary to settle that was substantially at odds with McClellan s. First, unlike McClellan, whose contacts in the South led him to conclude that Southerners were serious about secession and some form of compromise was necessary to prevent it, Lincoln consistently underestimated the power of secessionist sentiment in the South. Claiming independence from the Union was surely the most extreme of the threats dreamed up by Southern politicians to blackmail the North into concessions, but Lincoln did not believe they or the Southern people would really go to war for an independent Southern nation. Instead, he believed in time passions would cool and allow Southern Unionism to reassert itself. All that would be necessary, he believed, would be for the people on both sides [to] keep their self-possession, and just as other clouds have cleared way in due time, so will this. 73
In addition, Lincoln was concerned about the effect concessions on the issue of slavery s extension would have on his party. The Republican Party in 1861 was a coalition of former Democrats, Whigs, and Know-Nothings unified almost exclusively by their belief that slavery must not be allowed to expand into the territories. To abandon this position by accepting the entire Crittenden Compromise would have in all likelihood provoked a revolt within the party just as it had achieved victory that would cripple Lincoln s ability to govern. Moreover, Lincoln and Republicans throughout the North sincerely believed and had run on the principle that for over a generation the Northern majority had consistently been bullied and blackmailed into making concessions to the minority South by threats of secession. Republicans had, in the words of historian Phillip Shaw Paludan, campaigned as the party of energy, or action, of backbone; now it was the time to act. To give in yet again to the secessionist bluff would only reinforce an image of Northern weakness that would embolden the Slave Power and dishearten Unionists in the South. 74
And this time, Lincoln correctly perceived, as Crittenden and McClellan did not, the stakes were not simply the status of the territories or the morality of slavery. This time the South was attempting to blackmail Northerners into surrendering no less than the very principle of self-government. We have, wrote Lincoln, carried an election on principles fairly stated to the people. Now we are told in advance, the government shall be broken up, unless we surrender to those we have beaten. Is it desired, he asked, that I shall shift the ground upon which I have been elected? I can not do it, he concluded, if we surrender, it is the end of us, and of the government. 75
In rejecting compromise on the issue of slavery s extension Lincoln did not believe he was necessarily choosing war, for he thought the Union could be restored peacefully without compromising Republican principles. The key factor in his thinking was the silent Unionist majorities he believed had been temporarily cowed by secessionist minorities exploiting popular fears stimulated by the results of the election. As he saw it, the first step toward a peaceful reconstruction was keeping the eight states of the upper South in the Union. Once this was done, a task that the events of February suggested could be accomplished without sacrificing the Republican Party s stance on the extension of slavery, it was postulated that it would only be a matter of time before Unionists in the cotton states, alarmed about their isolation from their brethren in the Upper South, would rise up, overthrow the secessionists, and return their states voluntarily to the Union. 76
Yet to keep the Upper South in the Union and facilitate voluntary reconstruction it seemed paramount to conservatives that the new administration take a conciliatory approach toward the South and refrain from any provocative measures that suggested an intention to use force to coerce the Lower South back into the Union. 77
Among the most prominent champions of a policy of watchful waiting to facilitate voluntary reconstruction was General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, who, like McClellan, had an extensive circle of acquaintances who kept him fully informed of developments inside and outside Washington and convinced him the secessionist threat was serious. To encourage the administration to adopt a conservative and conciliatory course, he drafted a letter to the man Lincoln had designated to be his secretary of state, William H. Seward, on March 3, 1861, which he expected would be put before Lincoln, arguing that a war to conquer the South would be neither cheap nor easy. Scott postulated that a military victory over the Confederacy might be accomplished in two or three years at the cost of over a hundred thousand lives and frightful destruction in the seceded states. The ultimate outcome would not, however, be a happy and glorious union but Fifteen devastated provinces! . . . to be held for generations, with heavy garrisons, at an expense quadruple the net duties or taxes which it would be possible to extort from them, followed by a protector or an empire. To avoid such a conflict, Scott urged Lincoln to cast aside party labels and adopt the conciliatory measures proposed by Mr. Crittenden. If this was done, he was sure, we shall have not a new case of secession; but, on the contrary, an early return of many, if not all of the states which have already broken off. 78
Although he had already killed the prospects for Mr. Crittenden s compromise, Lincoln was inclined toward Scott s policy of watchful waiting when he took office in March 1861 and held out the olive branch of conciliation to the South in his inaugural address. Lincoln s commitment to a policy of conciliation and restraint in dealing with the South rested on an expectation that there would be no occasion in the aftermath of his taking office where his resolve would be tested. The very next day, however, Lincoln received dispatches from South Carolina reporting that if the federal garrison at Fort Sumter were not resupplied within six weeks, the fort and the pledge Lincoln had made in his inaugural address to hold onto federal property in the South would have to be surrendered. 79
Lincoln turned to Scott and his cabinet for advice but found them divided on the issue.

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