POLITICAL SITUATION PRECEDING THE CIVIL WAR
About the time the pioneers of Bremer county began to feel solid rock under their feet and, with smiles on their faces, could see the rainbow of promise ahead of them, as they glanced ahead and foresaw better times approaching, the campaign for the election of a president opened up in 1860. Political tension was taut to the limit and a subdued feeling of excitement pervaded the country. The slavery question stirred in the minds and hearts of the people and would not down at the bidding of party or of men. It was an eating ulcer, and the emollient of soft words, or the indulgence of hopes of its passing away did not soothe the public mind. It was a national crime against mankind, and the wiser men, such as Lincoln, Douglas, Seward and many other great statesmen trembled with fear that the peace and prosperity of the country was actually in danger. The average man had not reached such a period then, but he hoped his party would find a solution in statesmanship, and all would be well.
Far removed as was Iowa from the center of political wisdom and manipulation, the people were deeply interested in the coming contest. Then, as now, they were a reading people and a studious people, and hated slavery and all sorts of oppression.
When the news came that Abraham Lincoln was nominated by the republicans a thrill of satisfaction swept over the party leaders, and men who detested slavery turned their thoughts toward him as the man who could, and would, solve the question, for they recalled the series of debates he had in 1858 all over Illinois with Judge Douglas, the champion of "Squatter Sovereignty." The northern democrats nominated Douglas, the southern democrats named J. C. Breckenridge, and the American party chose Bell, of Tennessee.
From the start it was well understood that the contest would be between Lincoln and Douglas, with the chances in favor of the latter. Both were intellectual giants, and knew each other perfectly, for many a time had they met as gladiators upon public platforms in joint debate. They were as unlike as two men could be in all save intellectual power, in that respect they were an even match.
The excitement reached to the remote parts of the country and Bremer county had its full share of it. W. P. Harmon led the republicans and Geo. S. Mathews the democrats. The result was a clean sweep of the county for every office by the republicans, from top to bottom. As I have said before, scores of life-long democrats forsook their party and joined the "black republicans" (for that was what the democrats called them) and very few ever went back to their first love.
Such leading men as Geo. W. Mathews, G. C. Wright, John Acken and many others fought desperately to hold their lines against the break, but without success. A hickory pole, 97 feet long, was erected on the corner of Bremer avenue and East Water street on the south side by the democrats, and a fine flag was raised in honor of Judge Douglas, on which were the words in large letters, "My country, right or wrong." As the flag unfolded in the breeze and the letters were plainly revealed, a shout went up from all the crowd assembled. W. P. Harmon, who was a witness of the proceedings and not a little perturbed over the manifested enthusiasm, as the words were read, challenged Mr. Wright by saying, "You will be compelled to choose your place in less than four years, will you stand by that motto ?"
His prophecy proved true, and regretfully it may be recorded that Mr. Wright did not stand fast by the pledge, for he and his strictly partisan friends assumed an attitude of masterful inactivity from the election of Lincoln to the close of the war, and in a way discouraged enlistments for the army when the conflict came. The republicans, not to be out-done, raised a goodly sized oak pole on the opposite corner, north from that of the democrats, from which they unfurled a large and beautiful flag bearing the names of their standard bearers, Lincoln and Hamlin. It also contained a motto, the wording of which was, as I recollect, "The union cannot exist half slave and half free."
The democratic boys, led by Bell Morrell, Harry Hazlett, Will and Clarence Tyrrell and others whom. I do not now remember, raised a pole on the corner where the Democrat office now is located and flung to the breeze a fair sized flag on which was enscribed, "Our liberties we prize, our rights we will maintain."
From these facts may be known the excitement that prevailed.
Such was the feeling that in business and social relations lifelong friends were estranged or "personna non grata" toward each other ever afterward.
Often as war was predicted by students and thinkers, the average man did not share such thoughts and accredited such talk as the logic of politicians to stir their party into vigorous action.
When the eventful April morning in 1861 bore upon the breezes the sound of a hostile gun sending a shot at the flag, people of all classes and politics awoke to the stunning fact that war was upon them.
Last updated 4/14/15
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