More Profiles in Courage from Lincoln

lincoln on horsebackI have my fingers crossed that Lincoln will be a multiple-Oscar-winner.

That’s not just because Lincoln and FDR tie as my favorite president. I was glad to see George H. Yeaman get his 15 minutes of fame in the hit movie.

Yeaman, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, was a gutsy Kentucky Unionist congressman. His key vote helped the House Republican majority pass the 13th Amendment by the necessary two-thirds majority.

The amendment ended the last vestiges of slavery in the United States . Ironically, Kentucky was one of the last two states to give up human bondage.

You wouldn’t know it from the film. But three other Unionists from my native Bluegrass State voted “aye:” Lucian Anderson of Mayfield, where I was born, reared and still live; William H. Randall of London and Green Clay Smith of Covington.

By backing the amendment, Yeaman, from Owensboro, doomed himself politically.

In Kentucky, Confederate sympathizers weren’t the only pro-slavery white supremacists. Nearly every Kentucky Unionist was pro-Union and pro-slavery. They hated Yankee abolitionists and Rebel secessionists about equally.

I wouldn’t for a minute take anything away from Yeaman, Smith and Randall. But Anderson risked more than his political future by voting for the 13th Amendment. He put his life on the line.

Owensboro was pretty evenly divided. Covington leaned toward the Union side and London was a Unionist bastion.

Mayfield was one of the most pro-Confederate and pro-slavery towns in the state.

“Lush” – pronounced “Loosh” – Anderson was probably the most despised man in Mayfield during the Civil War. Confederate soldiers kidnapped him. Confederate guerrillas threatened to kill him. So did some of his secessionist neighbors, who also threatened to burn down his house, which still stands as the oldest building in Mayfield.

Anderson was virtually friendless. His wife stood by him, though her family included secessionists. Lucian’s brother was a leading local Rebel.

Anderson, whose father founded Mayfield, came from a family of well-to-do slave owners. But he ultimately turned against slavery and joined the GOP of “Lincoln and Liberty.” He was a Kentucky delegate to the 1864 Republican national convention that re-nominated the president.

Anderson, Yeaman, Randall and Smith would have made good subjects for President John F. Kennedy’s famous book, Profiles in Courage.

Anderson knew he couldn’t have won a seat in Congress had Kentucky’s pro-Union legislature not passed laws disfranchising Southern sympathizers as traitors. Union troops backed up the law. (Unionists were jailed, exiled or scared into silence in the Confederacy.)

Yeaman, who also became a Republican, stood for reelection in August, 1865, after the war was over. He lost to a white supremacist Democrat.

Anderson chose not to run again. A white supremacist Democrat succeeded him, too. (Randall and Smith also turned Republican but won.)

Berry CraigSadly, the party of Lincoln, Lush Anderson, Green Clay Smith, William H. Randall and George H. Yeaman is long gone. Regrettably, so too are the sort of Republicans even a lefty, union-card carrying Democrat like me could admire in my salad days: Ed Brooke, Jake Javits, Cliff Case, Mac Mathias and Kentucky’s own John Sherman Cooper, for instance.

I’ve heard it joked that if Lincoln were alive today he’d be a Democrat and if Jeff Davis, the Confederate president, came back, he’d be a Republican. Many a truth is spoken in jest.

Berry Craig

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Published by the LA Progressive on February 20, 2013
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About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is an emeritus professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, the recording secretary for the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, and the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. He is a native of Mayfield, Ky., where he lives with his wife of 33 years and their 20-year-old son.