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August 29, 1861: San Jose

August 29, 2011


Tea Party rally in San Francisco, 2010; by Generik11, on Flickr

Camp 48

Thursday I spent in trying to sell mules, could not, so gave up, and dined out….

One event…must not be forgotten—a grand barbecue of the Breckenridge Democrats (Secession), in a grove about a mile from camp. The Breckenridge party is quite large in this state and is much feared. Some of its men are open and avowed Secessionists, but the majority call themselves Union men, Peace men, most bitterly opposed to the Administration and opposed to any war policy—in fact, are for letting all secede who wish to. They are making great exertions just now, and hope to carry the state at the election next Wednesday. If they do I fear this state will be plunged into the same condition that Missouri is in. There are many more Secessionists in this state than you in the East believe, and many of them are desperadoes ready for anything in the shape of a row.

But to my story. From quite early in the morning a stream of carriages and horses poured into the grove—men, women, children. After dinner Hoffmann and I rode out. Such a political meeting I never before saw. It seemed a cross between a camp meeting and a German May picnic. There were as many women and children as men, some listening to fierce political speeches, but more loitering in the shade of the large sycamores. All were well dressed, as if for a festival, and all good natured.

Dinner was announced. A long ditch or trench had been dug, a fire built in it, and spitted over it on iron rods laid across were immense quantities of mutton, beef, and pork, finely roasted. These were served up at long tables, with bread, peaches, etc., and if poor Lincoln’s army is assaulted as vigorously as was that pile of eatables it stands a narrow chance, and if Secessionists fight as valiantly as they eat, then the Union is indeed in danger.

It was a scene for a Hogarth or a Cruikshank. Here a youth with a huge bone in one hand and a chunk of bread to match in the other—there a rustic beauty, her cheeks distended with juicy meat—another maiden with countenance equally indicative of bread—children with faces, from their eyes down, daubed with pie, happy and greasy—men with fingers distended and hands elevated, greasy, and afraid to touch anything because of it—old ladies in agony for fear the gravy would get on their best frocks—matrons attending to the wants of a numerous band of rising and growing, but youthful, Democrats—young men helping their sweethearts—family groups, friendly groups, crowded spots, solitary eaters.

Then, the scene of desolation over the tables half an hour later, as women begin to wipe their fingers, children ask if there are any more peaches, young men and large boys begin to parade, each with a long nine cigar stuck in one cheek, men begin to talk of crops, mules, horses, hard times, or politics, children to play, and women to look up acquaintances and inquire why on earth they had stayed away so long and not been to see them, or talk of family cares and domestic duties.

Then the speeches commenced again. Men and women were seated, and the eloquent speakers told of the horrible designs of the other parties, of their infamous doctrines, of their wonderful inconsistencies, of the scoundrels who were the leaders; and they pathetically told of the cruel persecutions and slanderings their own party had received, of its patriotic leaders and pure principles, of its innocence and the immaculate purity of its office seekers.

I sat and listened for a while, and as I gazed on the scene around I felt sad that so pure a party should not have all the offices, and the scoundrels of the other parties could not all be instantly hung.

Two or three women near me, who were feeding their infants in the natural way, impressed me deeply with the productiveness of the state, and its capacity for feeding the rising population.

There was much good humor, no fighting, some faint cheering for the Union, some equally faint for Jeff Davis and his cause.

We left and went to camp, through a dust the like of which you never saw. The wind was high, and the dust of a thronged road in this dry climate, where not a drop of rain has fallen for three or four months, can never be appreciated until it is seen and felt. The fiercest snowstorm is not more blinding.

[This] evening I heard Conness, the candidate of the Douglas Democrats for governor. I then learned that it was the other party that were plotting the downfall of the state and general ruin of mankind, which terrible catastrophe could be averted only by voting the ticket of this patriotic and moral party.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. joel hanes permalink
    August 29, 2011 10:21 am

    The Democratic Party tradition of the circular firing squad has deep roots.

  2. William H. Brewer permalink*
    August 29, 2011 2:13 pm

    Heh. Indeed.

    Snark aside, the Breckinridge/Douglas split in 1860 really did set the pattern for the Democratic party up until the mid-’60s: the pro-segregation southern wing was heir to the Breckinridge Democrats, and the (generally) more liberal northern wing was descended from the Douglas Democrats. That all changed after Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and Nixon adopted the Southern Strategy, and what had been the Breckinridge wing went over to the GOP.

    As Quentin Compson says, the past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.

  3. August 30, 2011 9:52 am

    Great photo to illustrate the post, too!

    • William H. Brewer permalink*
      August 30, 2011 2:17 pm

      Thanks…my friend Erik (Generik11) got a bunch of great shots of that Tea Party rally, and this one just seemed like the perfect accompaniment to Brewer’s description.

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