In 1853, a newly elected, twenty-six year old State representative stood to defend his “Negro Exclusion” bill against bitter attacks by anti-slavery legislators in his State. He made this a centerpiece of his campaign in 1852, railed against “Negro equality” and supported the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. The bill found support from the majority of the people of his State, had been passed through committee votes by crushing majorities, and had substantial support in the legislature. The State already denied blacks the right to vote or serve in the militia, and had voted by a two to one majority in 1848 that a law must be passed to exclude blacks from the State. This seemed to be the next logical step in the process.

A few days prior to the debate on the bill, some anti-slavery legislators attempted to repeal the “Black Codes” in the State. This failed by a vote of 58 to 7. This brash new representative argued that such a move would have led to a wave of interracial marriage and racial equality. When pressed on the importance of the exclusion law, he argued that blacks would ruin the State because they would become immoral and lawless paupers incapable of assimilation into white society.

He wrapped up his speech on the bill by blasting his seemingly less race conscious opponents:

“Nor can I understand how it is that men can become so fanatical in their notions as to forget that they are white. Forget the sympathy over the white man and have his bosom heaving with it for those persons of color. It has almost become an offense to be a white man. Unfortunate were these gentlemen in their birth that they could not have been ushered into existence with black skin and a wooly head….Unless this bill shall pass, you will hear it again next session and again until something shall be done to protect those people [in his district] from inundation of the colored population.”

The bill passed both houses of the legislature by comfortable majorities and was also supported by most of the people in the State. It remained on the books until 1863, two years into the War, and was enforced a few times against blacks attempting to migrate into the State.

The State? Illinois.

The representative? John A. “Black Jack” Logan, a vocal proponent of Reconstruction and the man responsible for the modern “Memorial Day” holiday.

In 1853, Logan was an ambitious man with lofty political aspirations. He aligned himself with Senator Stephen Douglas, “The Little Giant”, and quickly found favor among Illinois Democrats. His father and uncle controlled much of the Democratic Party in what was called “Little Egypt,” the southern most section of Illinois that bordered both Kentucky and Missouri. Logan followed in his father’s footsteps and considered politics to be his future. He fought in the Mexican War, passed the bar exam and dabbled in law and served for a time as a State’s attorney, but like other Illinois politicos like Douglas and Lincoln, he worked hard at being a good politician, whatever that entailed. His supporters in 1855 called him “a particularly violent and very young Democrat who was outspoken in his pro-slavery and Southern sympathies.”

Logan consistently warned against secession and considered Southern fire-eaters to be a cancer in the Democratic Party, but he feared abolitionists more and thought they were dragging the Union into turmoil. He attacked anyone who supported John Brown and abolition and sought compromise on terms that would be agreeable to sectional harmony. At the same time, Logan always insisted his support for “Union” should never be confused for racial egalitarianism.

During the 1860 election, Logan stumped for Douglas and refused to support John C. Breckenridge, even when it became clear that Lincoln was going to carry Illinois. He offered to buy out a local Democratic newspaper that had offered support for Lincoln, for as Logan said, he would be “damned” to ever show support for “Honest Abe.”

Logan was elected to Congress in 1858 and 1860, and he was present during the heated debates over secession and coercion during “Secession Winter.” He supported every compromise proposal presented during the session. He called Lincoln a “strictly sectional candidate” who was nothing more than a “political puppet” to the “Black abolitionist Republicans.” He compared Lincoln and the Republicans to Nero and the corrupt Romans:

“History informs us that Nero, a royal but insane and bloody thirsty man fiddled while Rome was burning, and it does seem to me that the President elect and his friends flushed and drunken with victory are plunging deeper into their fanatical orgies, the nearer our beloved country is undone.”

In February 1861, Logan insisted that coercion would destroy any amicable feelings between the sections. He called Southerners his “kinsmen” and insisted they “should be dealt with kindly.” He labeled secession “unconstitutional” and “illegal”, but so was the use of force. This sentiment echoed that of Jeremiah Black, President James Buchanan’s Secretary of State. He voted to protect slavery where it already existed, supported the continuation of “popular sovereignty” in the territories, and voted against calling up the militia in Virginia, a move that he and other Democrats viewed as an act of aggression.

Logan met with Lincoln after he assumed office, and years later he wrote in his The Great Conspiracy that he told Lincoln he would do everything possible to put down the “rebellion.” This was a lie. Logan, like Lincoln, never let a political opportunity go to waste. Logan wrote The Great Conspiracy after the War as a political polemic designed to gain favor from Northern Republicans who questioned his dedication to the Party and to defend his actions before the War. They had right to do so. Logan, even in the waning days of the War, always considered himself to be a Democrat who had little support for the social reconstruction of the United States.

Logan’s commitment to the Union after May or June 1861 was unquestioned. But in March 1861, he was still denouncing Lincoln, urging compromise, and arguing against coercion. In April 1861 he told a political ally that and that he would never take up arms against his “Southern brethren” unless it was to sustain the Government, and “if war was prosecuted solely for the purpose of freeing Negroes, he would not ground his arms but would turn and shoot them North.” He also broke with Douglas when Douglas threw his support behind Lincoln’s military response to Sumter and secession. Logan did eventually sign up to serve in the Union army, though some of his political foes circulated a rumor that he helped organized a pro-secession militia company that marched off to Kentucky. Evidence is hard to find to verify the claim, but it was used for years to hinder his political dreams. He fought at First Manassas, organized the 31st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and achieved the rank of major general during the War. He was wounded once, and served with distinction.

Yet, with the War over, he could either be on the winning side or the losing side. Logan abandoned his old allies, probably because many abandoned him, and joined the Republican Party. He initially supported Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction plan and argued that all Southern leaders should be tried for treason and executed. This was not inconsistent with his sentiments on secession before the War, but four years of fighting made him less inclined to deal with Southerners “kindly.” Logan spent time in Kentucky after the War trying to keep Union soldiers from robbing the local population blind. He supported the Thirteenth Amendment and said the War had been fought to end slavery, though he also said in a well attended public speech in July 1865 that, “The Negro equality talk against the amendment is all a bug-bear and humbug. I don’t consider a ‘nigger’ my equal.” He also insisted Kentucky could keep freedmen from voting if it wished. In his mind, the Constitution was clear on the issue. No State could be forced to put people on its voting roles by the federal government.

Like other Union officers stationed in the South after the War, Logan speculated in cotton and waited for the right time to throw his hat into the political arena. Northern cotton speculators paid him $5000 for his advice–per transaction–or roughly $100,000 current dollars. The War made him rich. Logan decided that being a Johnson Democrat, or any Democrat for that matter, offered no future, and so in 1866, he became a Republican and yearned for “something more” than re-election to his old seat in Congress. He stumped for Union candidates in other States and helped form the most important Northern political action committee in the late nineteenth century, the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). In fact, Logan hoped that the G.A.R. would help him unseat Senator Lyman Trumbull, the man who helped write the Thirteenth Amendment and who had substantial political clout in Illinois but who lacked support from more radical minded Republicans who viewed him as a moderate. Logan wanted to convert his popularity among Union soldiers into votes during Reconstruction.

Logan campaigned almost exclusively at events held for former soldiers. He ardently “waved the bloody shirt”, called the Democratic Party an organization of “traitors” and “Copperheads”, and completely forgot his own statements critical of the Republican Party in general and the radical wing in particular in the years leading to the War. He attended the first state G.A.R. convention in Springfield, Illinois in 1866 looking for votes. But even they saw through Logan’s open electioneering. His opponents dredged up his pre-war nickname, “Dirty Work Logan”, in an effort to crush his new Republican political ambitions. No on really trusted Logan, and some thought that if Johnson threw more patronage Logan’s way, he would quickly bolt and rejoin the Democrats. The G.A.R. instead supported John M. Palmer, another popular Illinois veteran with a sterling war record and future governor of the State. Palmer was eventually nominated by the conservative Gold Democrats for president in 1896.

Logan reluctantly accepted the nomination from the Republican Party for a seat in the House of Representatives. He promoted himself as the soldiers’ candidate waging a crusade to purge the United States of disloyal Copperheads. President Johnson sent a spy to infiltrate a meeting of Midwestern Republican leaders, including Logan, and concluded that they intended to use the G.A.R. as a paramilitary organization and to perhaps seize power by  appointing a dictatorship. Evidence is hard to find to prove these accusations, but others corroborated them.

As the G.A.R. spread east, Logan became a darling of the organization and a popular representative of the “bloody shirt” cause. Logan often stretched the truth while campaigning. The G.A.R. sent bands to his speeches and played loudly to emphasize every partisan point and to drown out those who tried to shout him down. Logan also said he supported compromise before the War but quickly joined the Union cause once South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter. This was clearly untrue, but Logan needed to rewrite history in order to gain office. His opponents correctly stated that he “entered the war…for the same reason he entered politics–to get office…” an irrefutable point.

Democrats attempted to paint Logan as a secessionist before the War. Logan sent his wife on a mission to get his former political allies to verify that he never supported the secessionist sentiments of his district, but most refused, probably because Logan had, in fact, supported secession in early 1861. When it became clear the path to political success did not go through the South or the Northern Democratic Party, he became an ardent Unionist.

Logan served two terms in the House between 1867 and 1871 and concurrently as the Commander in Chief of the G.A.R. In 1866, several Southern States and cities began holding annual “Decoration Day” ceremonies in honor of both Union and Confederate dead. The opportunistic Logan co-opted the events to make it an exclusively Union centered holiday. Fraternity vanished, and the same vitriol that Logan unleashed on his political foes found a voice in 1868’s General Order No. 11. “What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms,” he wrote. Southerners were actively beating swords into plowshares while Logan continued to demonize his defeated opponents and codify his new version of the War and the sectional conflict, an effort that ultimately resulted in the narrative of his The Great Conspiracy.

Logan never contemplated “reconciliation”. He voted to impeach Andrew Johnson and served as one of the House managers for the trial, energetically favored military Reconstruction, and used his influence to block efforts to overturn the conviction of court-martial of Fitz John Porter even when men like Ulysses S. Grant favored restoring Porter’s good name. He eventually gained a seat in the United States Senate and was nominated for Vice President in 1884 with James G. Blaine of Maine at the top of the Republican ticket. Both men were implicated in the Credit Mobilier scandal, and while Logan professed his innocence and was cleared of any involvement, his penchant for corruption and drive to get ahead made pinning involvement on “Dirty Work” an easy charge. Every election including Logan as a candidate included some element of corruption.

The modern general public seems to either have forgotten or willfully ignore Logan’s views on American blacks, a luxury that no Southerner is granted. He (eventually) had the “correct” view of the War and secession and favored punishing ex-Confederates. He supported the Freedman’s Bureau but concurrently considered blacks to be inferior, a view that most Americans held at the time. When he died in 1886, almost every publication offered a laudatory assessment of his life and career. “Dirty Work” reformed his image. Monuments were dedicated in his honor, and counties, schools, businesses, cemeteries, and cities were named after him. Logan’s body lay in state at the Capitol. No one mentions that he never considered a “nigger” to be his “equal”, that he wondered why white people wanted to have “black skin and a wooly head”, or that he was responsible for the law excluding blacks from Illinois for nearly a decade. Such is the success of crooked and ambitious politicos when they become the majority. Any Southerner or Northern Democrat who held these views is currently being canceled, including members of the founding generation, but not “Dirty Work” John Logan. By the way, you know who never used this type of racial language? Robert E. Lee.

Logan’s “Decoration Day” never had the same conciliatory spirit as Southern versions of the event, and while Northerners were slapping themselves on the back for a job well done during the War, they seemed to embrace men like Logan, perhaps because the Republican Party had long been a home for the politically unscrupulous and corrupt, including “Honest Abe”, the man Logan once called “dangerous.” But principles never really mattered to Logan, nor did healing the wounds of the War.

Southern ladies answered the call to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers after Logan’s general order. In 1869, some entered Arlington Cemetery to place flowers on the graves of thirty Confederate soldiers buried there. They were met with bayonets and told to leave. That was Logan’s “Decoration Day.” Yet, the next day, all of the flowers that had been placed on the graves of Union soldiers were blown on to the mounds of the thirty Confederates by an overnight storm.

Bayonets versus flowers; reconciliation versus conflict. While the “Lost Cause” is typically used as a pejorative, no one seems to question the motivation or historical revisionism of John Logan or the propensity for political violence that his view of the post-war period helped inspire. Maybe Logan’s monuments should meet the same fate as Robert E. Lee’s, but that would require our esteemed establishment “historians” to rethink the real myths of American history, most importantly Logan’s favorite, the “Righteous Cause.” At the very least, modern Americans should remember the Southern vision of “Decoration Day” as a time of healing and reflection rather than a the politically motivated version John Logan favored in 1868.

Brion McClanahan

Brion McClanahan is the author or co-author of six books, How Alexander Hamilton Screwed Up America (Regnery History, 2017), 9 Presidents Who Screwed Up America and Four Who Tried to Save Her (Regnery History, 2016), The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers, (Regnery, 2009), The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution (Regnery History, 2012), Forgotten Conservatives in American History (Pelican, 2012), and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Real American Heroes, (Regnery, 2012). He received a B.A. in History from Salisbury University in 1997 and an M.A. in History from the University of South Carolina in 1999. He finished his Ph.D. in History at the University of South Carolina in 2006, and had the privilege of being Clyde Wilson’s last doctoral student. He lives in Alabama with his wife and three daughters.


  • Karen L. Stokes says:

    General John A. Logan commanded the 15th Corps of Sherman’s army during the “marches” through Georgia and South Carolina. The XV Corps had the reputation as the most brutal and destructive unit of that army.

  • Harrell Pratt says:

    Why did John McCain come to mind during my reading of this Logan article?🤔

  • William Quinton Platt III says:

    48ers’ role in the midwest cannot be overstated…600,000 communists were exiled from euroland…they brought their insanity with them.

    John Brown led an armed invasion of Virginia…the same John Brown who split 5 pro-slavery settlers from nave to chaps with a broadsword.

    Lincoln had to mobile an army to go collect his taxes…he couldn’t be bothered with unconstitutional “liberty” laws, in defiance of fedgov’s power….but if there had been taxes owed, you can bet he’d have marched on Massachusetts.

  • Matt C. says:

    Interesting article, Mr. McClanahan. Thank you.

  • Paul Yarbrough says:

    “…the Republican Party had long been a home for the politically unscrupulous and corrupt…”
    And continues to be…

  • Mann Page Ciesemier says:

    Outstanding! Thank you. We have Logan square here in Chicago. I know better now

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