A More Perfect Fifty-dollar Bill
The campaign was dismissed, at first, as "those Charleston Crazies, at it again," but it grew legs and took off and now was the talk of the country. It appeared Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's days on the fifty-dollar bill were, indeed, numbered.
It was Saturday, April 9th, 2033 and Marion Square in downtown Charleston, South Carolina was jam packed with TV cameras and reporters as the debate was about to begin. A huge stage was set up on the north side of Marion Square close to Embassy Suites. A huge TV screen was set up on the south side at the back of John C. Calhoun’s statue.
The Cooper River Bridge Run, with 85,000 runners, now the largest 10K in the world across the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America, had ended on Marion Square the weekend before. The place had been swarming with people, but this crowd was twice, maybe three times as large, and was getting loud and boisterous.
"May I have your attention please," blared out a deep male voice that sounded like Trace Adkins. "Welcome to democracy and freedom of speech in ACTION!"
At that, the crowd erupted and everybody cheered loudly interspersed with shrill whistling and Rebel Yells.
"I'm John G. Gailliard of the Political Science Department of Charleston College, your moderator, and we are sponsoring this nationally broadcast event!"
There was another round of hooting, hollering, whistling and clapping as Fox News, C-SPAN and others panned the crowd.
"As most of you know, negotiators for the three parties debating today have hammered out the rules, and the Congressional Delegations of every Southern state have agreed to introduce legislation in Congress supporting the position of the winner of this debate . . ." he paused then yelled right into the microphone, "and it's WINNER TAKE ALL!"
The crowd erupted again!
Earlier, the Post and Courier had published an entire section on the debate spelling out the positions of each of the three sides.
First, there was the genealogical group that had started the whole thing, the Sons and Daughters of the Confederate South, who were descended from Confederate soldiers. They were demanding that Ulysses S. Grant's picture be removed from the fifty-dollar bill and replaced with Gen. Robert E. Lee's since Grant's house was slaveholding throughout the War Between the States, and Lee's was not. Lee did not believe in slavery, unlike Grant, who just about had to have his slaves forcibly removed after the war.
At first, the public was skeptical about claims that the greatest Confederate general was not a slaveowner during the war, while the Yankee general, supposedly fighting to free the slaves, had sworn he'd join the Confederacy before he'd let his slaves go. Were there slaves in Ulysses S. Grant's house during the War Between the States? It just didn't make sense to a lot of people, especially those who rely on public education and CNN for their information.
The second position was taken by Yankees who have felt so good about themselves for supposedly ending slavery that they were willing to overlook the fact that Grant's house definitely had slaves in it, that Sherman had no problem with slavery, that five slave states fought for the North throughout the war, and that Lincoln himself, before the fighting, supported the Corwin Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would have protected slavery forever and placed it even beyond the reach of Congress.
This second group called itself, Brothers United to Limit Lee, or B.U.L.L. They were feeling so God-awful good, they never even thought about the million people who died in the War Between the States out of a total population of 33 million. They did not care that old Honest Abe Lincoln was so racist he'd make the Grand Wizard of Ku Klux Klan blush, nor did they care that Lincoln, his whole life, favored sending blacks back to Africa. This second group just didn’t care about any of this stuff because they won and could walk around feeling good about themselves, which they had been doing for 168 years.
The third position, put forth by Scholars for Justice, had come about in sort of a logical way. These folks reasoned that Grant was not the only slave master on American money. Washington, Jefferson, all of them had been white men who owned slaves, so what we really needed to do was put a black man who owned slaves on the fifty-dollar bill. That would make things fair. Then we wouldn't have to disturb any of the other slaveowning presidents on our money, which would happen if we put the non-slaveowning Robert E. Lee on the fifty-dollar bill. With a black slaveowning man on American money, everybody would be represented except Hispanics, but they were not significant players in the War Between the States, and the Indians were all Confederates, thus they’d be covered by Gen. Lee.
William Ellison, the famous cotton gin maker from Sumter County, immediately came up because he was one of the largest slaveowners in South Carolina, and he was black. The Sons and Daughters of the Confederate South supported this position on a secondary basis because it only seemed fair. BULL was flat-out against it.
The concept that blacks willingly fought for the Confederacy -- because to Southern blacks, the South was home -- is another concept that people who rely on public education and CNN have a hard time believing, though these same people will sometimes believe that blacks fought in the American Revolution for America, and back then every American colony was slaveholding. The reason they believe blacks fought in the Revolution for America is because they know stories like Crispus Attucks, a black man and great American patriot, who was the first man killed by the British in the Boston Massacre in 1770, God rest his soul.
The night before, a fight had broken out in the courtyard of the Blind Tiger on Broad Street between one of the Sons and Daughters, and a member of BULL. There was a table full of members of the Sons and Daughters of the Confederate South drinking and talking and having a good time in their gray Confederate coats, next to a table full of BULL drinking and talking and having a good time in their blue Yankee coats, next to a table full of Scholars for Justice drinking and talking and having a good time in their stylish black coats that looked sort of like tuxedo coats but had brown elbow pads on the sleeves.
Things started out with civility and fun, but the War Between the States was only 172 years ago, and that might as well have been yesterday, so it’s understandable that emotions are always high.
“Why would you people glorify the side that wanted to destroy America?” said a member of BULL in jest, his chest poking out proudly.
“We don’t. We just wanted to be left alone to govern ourselves, like the Colonies in 1776 wanted Great Britain to leave them alone so they could govern themselves,” said a Confederate Son.
“That’s hardly the same thing,” said the BULL member.
“Oh yea, your Horace Greeley said it was exactly the same thing. If it was OK in 1776 for three million colonists to secede from Great Britain, it was certainly OK in 1861 for nine million Southrons to secede from the federal Union. That’s what your Greeley himself wrote in his New York Tribune before the war.”
“But that was treason. They had no right,” said the member of BULL.
“Au contraire, they most certainly had the right. The right of secession was never questioned by the Founding Fathers. In the beginning, even Yankees didn’t question it. You ever hear of the Hartford Convention of New England?”
“Yea, but they didn’t actually secede.”
“True, but they sure as hell wanted to. They voted to secede and sent a delegate to Washington to announce that they had seceded, but the War of 1812 ended before he got there.”
The member of BULL had picked the wrong Son to argue with, but he grabbed his mug of beer and continued on. “Don’t you think we are a great nation today? Why would you people want to destroy that?”
“We would have been two great nations, even greater. A million people didn’t have to die to prove it. We would have been friends, North and South, and all fought Hitler together and traded together and things would have been fine.”
“Including your black slaves, huh.”
“Well, you Yankees brought them all here and made huge fortunes in the process. You built the entire infrastructure of the Old North on profits from the slave trade.”
“Yea, but if there had not been a market for slaves in the South, we never would have done that.”
“True, but there were slaves in the North until massive white immigration from Europe made it cheaper to hire a white man than buy a black. Only then did Northern states phase out slavery.”
“At least we did phase it out.”
“Let me ask you this. Every Northern state used gradual, compensated emancipation. There were still slaves in the North when the war started. Many Northerners waited until just before a slave was due to be emancipated, like just before his 21st birthday, then sold him back into slavery in the South. Not a pretty record.”
“I don’t know if I believe all that.”
“It’s absolutely true, but here’s my question. If the North really wanted to end Southern slavery, why didn’t you suggest doing it in the South the same way you had done it in the North, with gradual, compensated emancipation?”
Another member of the Sons and Daughters blurted out, “Because damn Yankees were not going to spend their hard-earned sweat shop money to free blacks in the South. They could care less.”
Another Son added, “That’s right, because freed blacks going North were job competition for the Northern working man and unemployment was already so bad, there was near anarchy in many Northern cities. Ever hear of ‘Blood or Bread!’” He was referring to bad riots in Northern cities in the Panic of 1857. Of course, the South had been stable.
“I still say secession was treason,” said another BULL member.
“The first forty years of America’s existence, nobody questioned the right of secession. Do you think the colonists who fought a bloody war to be independent from the British would immediately lock themselves into another government they couldn’t get out of? Are you crazy?”
The BULL members were getting agitated. Everybody in the courtyard was tuned in with great interest because this was an excellent bar room debate that had gotten loud.”
“Oh hell, let’s have another round of beers and cool down.”
More beers were brought but soon two women were into it.
“The Southern aristocracy or slaveocracy,” said a dark-haired female BULL with a sneer, “caused the war. They weren’t gonna give up their black mistresses without a fight.”
A very pretty blonde Daughter who looked like Shannon Bream, said, “Southerners debated the issue of secession for months. Every single Southern state called a convention, elected delegates, debated the issue then voted to secede.”
“So what,” said the dark-haired BULL girl.
“The convention votes were then ratified by a popular vote of the people in every single Southern state, just like happened with the Constitution. It was pure democracy in action.”
“I can’t believe the backward South knew to do all that,” replied the female BULL.
“The ‘backward South’ supplied almost every Founding Father. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Randolph, Mason, Henry, all of them Southerners. In 1861, Southrons believed they were heirs to the Founding Fathers. It was Yankees that had changed from the original republic.”
“Yankee progress,” said the female BULL.
“Yankee anarchy,” replied the blonde Daughter. “Massive immigration from Europe kept the North wild and needing an outlet for its extra people, which is why so many went west. Like Horace Greeley said, ‘Go west, young man, and grow up with the country!’”
The blonde Daughter took a sip of her beer then quickly added, “The South was producing most of the wealth of the nation. Yankees were stealing it with tariffs and monopolies. Like Robert Toombs said, the federal government was a ‘suction pump’ sucking wealth out of the South and depositing it in the North. Hell, the North couldn’t even feed itself.”
“Bullshit. We had great cities, all the banks, money and most of the shipping in the country.”
“That’s true, all of it earned by selling Northern goods to the South. The South was nothing but a big captive market for Northern factories. Without the South, Northern factories stood idle, and the North was nothing.”
Another Son added, “Northerners were benefiting from slavery as much as Southerners.”
One of the BULL members smirked and said, “By seceding, you were threatening our economy, the stability of our nation. We had every right to fight.”
“Fair enough,” said the Son, “so don’t go around saying the war was fought to free the slaves. That’s a pile of you-know-what. White Yankees could care less about black slaves, and damn sure didn’t want them in the North.”
There was a pause. Both sides were disgusted and on edge. The Scholars for Justice found the whole thing fascinating, as if they were at a college lecture, and everybody else in the courtyard was all ears.
“Youse guys started the war. We finished it,” said a raspy-voiced member of BULL.
“Lincoln started the war by lying to Confederates in Charleston Harbor in April, 1861. He swore he would not send troops to Fort Sumter. He lied. He knew he was starting the war. Lincoln the liar.”
“Lincoln had every right to reinforce a federal garrison under siege,” said a BULL member.
“The Charlestonians were feeding the Yankees in Fort Sumter. The fort was in sovereign South Carolina waters occupied by a hostile foreign power threatening one of our most important cities. We had every right to demand that it be evacuated.”
Another Daughter added, “Hell, we had representatives in Washington at that very time trying to pay Lincoln for all federal property in the South. He kept promising to move the troops out, but he couldn’t.”
“And just why couldn’t he,” said the dark haired female BULL member.
“Because when the first seven Southern states seceded and formed the Confederacy, the economy of the North collapsed and was in complete anarchy. Factories were closed. Ships were idle or moving South to Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans. Goods were rotting on Northern docks. Property values had gone down to nothing. Mobs were in the streets. Lincoln was starting to be hated by his own party. War solved all of his problems. Gave him ‘a magnificent burst of patriotism,’ I think, is the way one Yankee put it.”
A BULL member said, “You Southerners. You don’t get your way so you quit. You’re like a bunch of big frigg’in babies.”
“Yeah, babies tired of being robbed by Northern thieves. Southerners were paying seventy-five percent of the taxes through high tariffs and monopolies that protected Northern industry, but seventy-five percent of the tax money was being spent in the North. You damn right we were tired of all that!”
Another Son added, “Seventy-five percent was a hell of a lot more money than the British were robbing from the Colonies in 1776.”
“Good Lord. If it wasn’t for us, you’d still have slaves, wouldn’t you.”
“Always back to the slavery issue which y’all admitted was bull a few minutes ago. Yankee bull.”
“I’ve had enough of this,” said the most vocal BULL member who got up and when he did, spilled a beer on one of the Daughters. He looked at her then, without apologizing, started to walk off. A son jumped up and grabbed him and said, “Hey, you owe the lady an apology.”
The BULL member jerked his arm away and put his finger in the Son’s chest, so the Son decked him, causing both tables to empty like a baseball game brawl.
The bartender, Sean, blew a foghorn, and that deafening sound in the small courtyard backed everybody off for a moment. “We’re not puttin' up with this crap! Y’all are gonna have to leave!”
“Damn,” said one of the Scholars for Justice. “Just as it was getting good.”
Another Scholar for Justice said, “What if we moderate the discussion and keep it from elevating into fisticuffs. Could we stay then? Please?”
Both sides seemed to want to go along with that. Nobody wants to leave the courtyard of a good Charleston bar on a starry night in April.
Sean looked undecided for a second, but must have been thinking about all the beers and tips he’d miss if they left. “OK, y’all shake hands. Dammit, I mean it. If y’all are gonna stay, it’s gonna be friendly. That’s the deal. We’re all Americans, you know.”
For about twenty minutes, nothing happened. People talked in their groups, laughed. Then one of the Sons said over to the BULL members table, “You know, a nation has to say why it is fighting BEFORE it goes to war. All nations in all of history have done that. Right or wrong, they’ve all spelled out their reasons before fighting and killing other people.”
“We don’t disagree with that,” said a BULL member.
“Then why do you say the war was fought over slavery, when Lincoln himself said over and over, it was to preserve the Union. Nobody in the North, I mean NOBODY said they were marching armies into the South to free the slaves. Hell, no white Yankees would have signed up to die for Southern slaves, and you damn well know it.”
“The war was to preserve the Union when it started, then later, it was to free the slaves.”
“You mean, later, when you needed a justification for murdering and raping hundreds of thousands of people, it becomes a noble quest to free the slaves. Before that, it was to preserve the Southern tax base for the Union, am I right?”
“Hell no, you’re not right, asshole.”
One of the Scholars for Justice, a big dude, quickly stood and looked at both sides and said, “Y’all want to get kicked out of here? Cool it.”
“You Southerners fought because you wanted to keep your black mistresses,” said that same dark-haired female BULL member who brought it up earlier and was obviously titillated by the thought.
“Nope. We Southerners fought because Yankee murderers and rapists invaded the South. You invaded our country. That’s why we fought.”
Another Son said, “Hell, at first, Virginia voted against secession. They were not even gonna secede, and Virginia was the biggest Southern state.”
“Virginia was smart,” said a BULL member. “I’ll admit Lincoln tried to get Robert E. Lee to lead the Northern armies but Lee stayed loyal to Virginia.”
“So, why did Virginia secede?”
A couple Sons and a Daughter tried to answer at the same time. “Because Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to invade the South. That’s when Virginia seceded.”
Another Son added, “Try to say Virginia seceded to preserve slavery. You’d be a liar. Virginia’s secession convention reconvened the day after Lincoln called for the invasion of the lower South, and they promptly seceded because they did not believe in federal coercion of another sovereign state. Virginia seceded on principle. It had nothing to do with slavery.”
Somebody added from a couple tables away, “And Virginia was followed by the three remaining Southern states not yet in the Confederacy, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas. They all seceded right after Virginia to show their disapproval of federal tyranny and coercion.”
“So, all that proves is that Virginia is as traitorous as the rest of the South. It just took her a little longer to show it.”
“Glad you brought that up,” said a Son who had been quiet during most of this argument. “Three states, when they ratified the U.S. Constitution, specifically preserved the right of secession. Virginia, New York and Rhode Island. All three of them demanded that their right of secession be put in writing as a condition prior to accepting the U.S. Constitution. In Virginia’s Ordinance of Secession, she used the exact language from that right of secession that had been preserved and acknowledged by all the other states acceding to the Constitution seventy-nine years earlier.”
Both sides began talking among themselves and the discussion died down except for one BULL member who said that South Carolina was still a hot-headed state like their ancestors who had seceded first and started the whole thing.
That pretty blonde-haired Daughter quickly said, “South Carolina supplied approximately 60,000 Confederate soldiers to Southern armies in the War Between the States, and 40,000 of them were killed or wounded. That’s a legacy of honor, valor and sacrifice unsurpassed in American history. No money-grubbing Yankee state can touch it.”
BULL members were quiet for the first time all night, but not for long. “Yep, that’s a lot of Rebs we killed. I thought one Reb could whip ten Yankees?”
“Well, let me ask you a question. We Southrons were outnumbered four-to-one, we were out-gunned a hundred-to-one, y’all had most of the ships, factories, a functioning government and pipeline to foreign immigration to feed your army with. We had to start everything from scratch. My question to you is, how come we were still able to kill the same number of y’all, that y’all killed of us?”
“Say what?” a member of BULL said.
“That’s absolutely true. Some 350,000 Southerners died, but 350,000 Yankees died too, ‘Stiff in Southern dust,’ as the song goes. So you see, we’ve been feeling pretty good about our valor and honor all these years.”
The lights came on and “Last call for alcohol” was made. Three of the Scholars for Justice stood and addressed both groups. “This has been a fascinating discussion. Both sides have made their points. We have a proposition to make. Can you meet us tomorrow morning before the debate at Magnolia Cemetery, by Soldier’s Ground, next to the Confederate Soldier’s monument. Don’t worry, there’s Yankees buried there too. We want to address both groups together and I’m serious, you will not regret coming. Please come. Ten o’clock.”
There was some discussion in the two groups but it was agreed they would all meet on Soldier’s Ground at Magnolia Cemetery at 10 o’clock the next morning. People headed out the bar and into the beautiful Charleston night. The cool air felt good on their faces. There was a slither of a moon up there and a billion beautiful stars.
The next morning a good crowd showed up at Magnolia Cemetery by the big Confederate soldier’s monument. The Scholars for Justice had set up a podium and loudspeakers. At 10 o’clock sharp, one of the scholars walked to the podium.
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming. As we said last night, you will not regret it.
“At the end of the War Between the States, Gen. Robert E. Lee told his defeated Southern army to go back home and be good Americans. Southerners have done exactly that
“It is OK that we disagree on the causes of the war. I am a Southerner so, in last night’s debate, I agreed with the Sons and Daughters of the Confederate South. However, my best friend, here, William Yang, is a Yankee and disagrees with me, and I respect that.
“I want to propose something to you, but first, I want to read this beautiful poem that was written right after the War Between the States by Miss Agnes Leonard. It’s called After the Battle, and it was first published in the Chicago Journal of Commerce in June, l868, and later in Confederate Veteran magazine. Here, on this sacred ground, at Magnolia Cemetery, is a most appropriate place to read this beautiful, sad poem:
There wasn’t a dry eye anywhere. Gray-coated Southerners and blue-coated Yankees were hugging each other and shaking hands and patting each other on the back, while the Scholar for Justice reading the poem recomposed himself because it had touched him too. He had barely been able to get through it.
“We have a proposition for the Sons and Daughters of the Confederate South, and Brothers United to Limit Lee. First, we have had considerable debate among the Scholars for Justice about putting black slaveowner William Ellison on the fifty-dollar bill. It had not occurred to us at first but a lot of African Americans probably would not like the idea of a black slaveowner on our money.
“We then had a spirited debate about putting Jim Limber’s picture on there. As you know, he was the adopted black son of Confederate President Jefferson Davis during the war. We have no children on our money so we reasoned that Jim Limber would be seen as reaching out and bringing us together.
“In the end, though, we have decided that it’s time for a non-slaveowning man from that era to be on our American money. We are dropping William Ellison and Jim Limber and will support the Sons and Daughters of the Confederate South in putting non-slaveowning Gen. Robert E. Lee on the fifty-dollar bill in place of slaveowning Ulysses S. Grant.”
Blue-coated members of BULL were shaking their heads as Rebel Yells went up to the heavens from the sacred ground at Magnolia Cemetery.
Later that day, on Marion Square, right after John G. Gailliard of the Political Science Department of Charleston College had said that the debate was winner take all, he informed the crowd that the Scholars for Justice were now supporting the Sons and Daughters of the Confederate South in their quest to put Robert E. Lee on the fifty-dollar bill. The debate itself was anticlimactic as the Sons and Daughters with the Scholars soundly defeated BULL and paved the way for the first non-slaveowner from that important era of American history – Confederate General Robert E. Lee – to be honored by having his picture on our American fifty-dollar bill.
* Grant's quotation, at the beginning of the story, is documented in Footnote 24 of my book, Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States, The Irrefutable Argument., which you can find on Charleston Athenaeum Press. Here is Footnote 24 from page 16:
There is a well-known story about Ulysses S. Grant wherein Grant states that he is fighting to preserve the Union and if anybody accuses him of fighting to free the slaves, he will promptly go join the Confederacy and fight on their side. There may be some truth to it, and maybe not. Grant did own one slave whom he freed in 1859, but his wife, Julia, owned four throughout much of the war, therefore Grant's household was a slaveholding household. Grant's supposed quotation was published in 1868 in the Democratic Speaker's Hand-Book, which was a Democratic Party campaign document in the 1868 campaign when Grant was running for president as a Republican. However, in 1861, Grant was a Democrat, and, as stated, living in a slaveholding household. The Democratic Speaker's Hand-Book on page 33 states that Grant was the Colonel of the Twenty-first Illinois, stationed near Mexico in 1861, and that Grant's quotation was provided by the editor of the Randolph Citizen, a Missouri newspaper. It starts: "In a public conversation in Ringo's banking-house, a sterling Union man put this question to him [Grant]: 'What do you honestly think was the real object of this war on the part of the Federal Government?'"
'Sir, said Grant, 'I have no doubt in the world that the sole object is the restoration of the Union. I will say further, though, that I am a Democrat - every man in my regiment is a Democrat - and whenever I shall be convinced that this war has for its object anything else than what I have mentioned, or that the Government designed using its soldiers to execute the purposes of the abolitionists, I pledge you my honor as a man and a soldier that I will carry my sword to the other side, and cast my lot with that people.'
Source: Democratic Speaker's Hand-Book: Containing every thing necessary for the defense of the national democracy in the coming presidential campaign, and for the assault of the radical enemies of the country and its constitution, compiled by Matthew Carey, Jr. Cincinnati: Miami Printing and Publishing Company, 1868.
Gene Kizer, Jr. is an author and historian in Charleston, South Carolina, and founder of Charleston Athenaeum Press. He graduated magna cum laude from the College of Charleston in 2000 at middle age with History Departmental Honors, the Rebecca Motte American History Award, and the highest award for the History Department, the Outstanding Student Award. He is author of Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States, The Irrefutable Argument.; The Elements of Academic Success, How to Graduate Magna Cum Laude from College (or how to just graduate, PERIOD!); and Charleston, SC Short Stories, Book One. He married his last ex- by sneaking into Fort Johnson and saying vows on the exact ground from where the first shot of the War Between the States was fired, at 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861. He lives on James Island where he is also broker-in-charge of Charleston Saltwater Realty . Please contact him through Charleston Athenaeum Press.