In the May 9, 1865 edition of his newspaper the Houston Telegram, publisher Edward Hopkins Cushing encouraged his readers to keep on fighting and never to knuckle under to the Yankees.
Throughout Lone Star history, the most zealous residents have often been those who were Texan by choice rather than birth. A prime example was Vermont-born and Dartmouth-educated Cushing, who became a naturalized citizen of Texas in 1850 at the age of 21.
The educated New Englander came to teach but soon gravitated toward journalism. Seeking a forum for his strong opinions, in 1856 he bought the controlling interest in the Houston Telegram, the most influential paper on the mainland.
In a provocative series of maiden editorials, Cushing condemned King Cotton as a tyrant and urged his subjects to break the chains of one-crop oppression. “We send our cotton to Manchester and Lowell, our sugar to New York refineries, our hides to down-east tanneries and our children to Yankee colleges,” he complained in a detailed indictment of the South’s second-class status.
Within the year, hostile reactions to his heresy caused Cushing to change his tune. However, while he agreed to sing along with the pro-cotton chorus, the maverick editor penned his own lyrics.
Arguing “more cotton can be grown in Texas per acre than anywhere,” Cushing advocated a ten-fold increase in production. He claimed that attainment of this ambitious goal would enable the Lone Star State to corner the world market.
More cotton meant, of course, more slaves, an unpleasant fact of economic life that Cushing not only accepted but carried to its logical conclusion. Since the slow pace of human reproduction could not satisfy the demand for labor, the planters had no choice but to reopen the African slave trade.
Going against his northern grain, Cushing had no moral qualms about the South’s “peculiar institution.” He openly insisted that destiny decreed bondage for the black and that his toil spared the white the misery and disgrace of menial labor.
Cushing knew full well his aggressive strategy put the rival regions on a collision course certain to climax in an armed apocalypse. Nevertheless, he always showed genuine respect for Texas’ foremost Unionist and even backed Sam Houston for the presidency in 1860.
In contrast to his publishing peers, Cushing grasped from the beginning the real nature of the bitter sectional battle, which he correctly defined as a war for southern independence. He also understood that Dixie was in for a long protracted struggle against a stronger opponent with vastly superior resources.
Cushing criticized as wishful thinking the widely held belief that sympathetic European powers would intervene militarily on the side of the South. “Our people should not place any reliance upon foreign help,” he wrote in 1862. “We should continue to act as if we had to fight the war out alone.”
The hard-headed editor also refused to take at face value the rosy reports from Confederate officials on the progress of the war. He created at his own expense an efficient pony express which supplied The Telegram with eyewitness accounts of distant battles.
At the same time, Cushing condemned as “blabbermouths” those that thoughtlessly divulged information detrimental to the cause. To avoid committing the same sin, he scrupulously censored his coverage of the conflict.
A severe shortage of paper forced Cushing to improvise in order to keep the presses rolling. Late in the war, The Telegram was printed on everything from used handbills to wallpaper.
As the tide irresistibly turned against the South, Cushing stood by the embattled regime in Richmond under attack from the respective states as well as the advancing northern army. Despite the plummeting popularity of Jefferson Davis, he doggedly defended the Confederate president and his conduct of the war.
No sunshine southern patriot, Cushing cursed those Texans who proposed negotiating a separate peace, a move that might have prevented the nightmare of post-war occupation. “It has been whispered that it is the duty of the state government, in the last resort, to take care of its destiny,” he wrote in February 1865. “No more fatal, suicidal suggestion could come from any quarter.”
Three months later, in a desperate attempt to breathe new life into the Confederate corpse, Cushing issued his frantic appeal for kamikaze resistance. Texans should take to the hills and wage a guerrilla war. But four years of slaughter and sacrifice had taken the fight out of them and their fellow southerners.
The time had come to hightail it for Mexico or submit to Yankee rule.
Bartee welcomes your comments and questions at email@example.com or P.O. Box 130011, Spring, TX 77393 and invites you to visit his web site at barteehaile.com.