Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,549

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,549


This is the grave of Duff Green.

Born in 1791 in Woodford County, Kentucky (among our tastiest counties), Green grew up a boy of the frontier. He taught school, fought under William Henry Harrison in the wars of genocide during the War of 1812, and rose quickly. In fact, he was promoted all the way to brigadier general by the time the war ended. He liked that. Southern men have always loved a good military honorific in front of their names. At least Green earned his and didn’t just make it up out of whole cloth.

After the war, Green moved to Missouri, Kentucky I guess being too settled by this time. He taught again and was involved in local politics, including being part of the constitutional convention that wrote the state’s first constitution in 1820. He served a single term in both houses of the new state’s legislature in the early 1820s, but then realized journalism might be more his bag. So he started a newspaper in St. Louis. This was the end of the Era of Good Feelings and the much desired single party where everyone would naturally agree (the ultimate in politics without politics, early 19th century style) under the Monroe administration was disintegrating. Green became a partisan of Andrew Jackson in the 1824 election and when Congress gave the election to John Quincy Adams, Green became a top ally in the reaction against that by Jacksonian forces.

As such, Green moved to Washington to start a newspaper there, which more or less became the official organ of the Jacksonians. This was the The United States Telegraph. When Jackson won the presidency in 1828, he made the Telegraph the official organ of the government. Talk about some good spoils system action at work. He made serious money off this too, upwards of $50,000 a year at a time when that was really a lot of money. He became one of Jackson’s closest advisors, a member of the so-called Kitchen Cabinet.

However, Green and Jackson broke on the nullification issue. Green was an early supporter of southern extremism and deeply committed to slavery. So when John C. Calhoun led the reaction against the so-called Tariff of Abominations and Jackson publicly threatened to hang his own VP if anything really happened in South Carolina, Green went all-in for Calhoun. A furious Jackson cut Green off entirely. The paper still ran. However, for personal reasons, a South Carolina congressman and opium addict named James Blair beat the ever living shit out of Green in 1833, breaking several of the editor’s bones. Blair was a mess and shot himself the next year. Green continued to edit the paper until 1835, basically serving as the mouthpiece for burgeoning southern nationalism that would soon threaten the nation’s existence.

When Calhoun was tossed out of office for Jackson’s second term, the Telegraph closed and Green moved around a bit, starting new papers in support of radical doctrines of slavery and states’ rights. That included in New York City, which actually made sense since all the way through the Civil War, the city was a bastion of southern sympathies and extraordinary levels of racism. However, Green was also a vile anti-Catholic and writing crazy anti-Catholic editorials was what you couldn’t do in the Democratic Party. So the papers tended to close pretty quickly.

But when John Tyler became president in 1841, His Accidentcy found a more than willing worker in Green. He sent Green to England as his personal representative in 1841 and he did a lot of work over there promoting the American positions on what became the Webster-Ashburton Treaty on the boundary dispute between Maine and Canada that threatened what would have been a very stupid war between the two nations. When Calhoun became Secretary of State and the expansion of slavery official U.S. foreign policy for the remainder of the Tyler administration, he sent Green to Texas to help prepare the way for Texas annexation. But Green became useful to Whigs too when it came to foreign policy. The Taylor administration sent Green to Mexico City to work out the payment of the money owed to the Mexican government to steal half the country in defense of slavery. .

In the 1850s, Green became a wealthy railroad investor working in the South. Based out of Dalton, Georgia, he worked to build a bunch of lines in Georgia and Alabama. This paid off pretty handsomely, as the railroads did for their executives. He was a big southern development guy and his connections on the frontier led him to work toward building a railroad to New Mexico, although it didn’t happen.

Green embraced treason in defense of slavery with a ton of enthusiasm. Generally, he was an informal advisor to the traitor government in the war, as well as using his railroads for the purpose. Where Green really comes up in the Civil War is in this remarkable exchange in 1865. When Lincoln traveled to Virginia to hopefully help work out a peaceful end to this horrible conflict, Green was on the Confederate side of all this. They met. Now, we have to take this kind of report with a grain of salt, since it is the memories of Admiral David Dixon Porter, who later wrote it down. But the way the story goes is that Lincoln tried to be friendly, but Green began to berate Lincoln publicly. Lincoln was a patient man, but he was not going to put up with this. So he shut Green down big time. According to Porter, Lincoln said:

Stop, you political tramp. You, the aider and abettor of those who have brought all this ruin upon your country, without the courage to risk your person in defense of the principles you profess to espouse! A fellow who stood by to gather up the loaves and fishes, if any should fall to you! A man who had no principles in the North, and took none South with him! A political hyena who robbed the graves of the dead, and adopted their language as his own! You talk of the North cutting the throats of the Southern people. You have all cut your own throats, and, unfortunately, have cut many of those of the North. Miserable impostor, vile intruder! Go, before I forget myself and the high position I hold! Go, I tell you, and don’t desecrate this national vessel another minute!

If this is even close to accurate, God bless Lincoln for shutting down that asshole. Meanwhile, Green couldn’t believe anyone who speak to him this way. He was Duff Green. He walked out, slamming the door on the way out.

After the war, Andrew Johnson pardoned Green because of course he did. Green went back to his railroads. He was marginally involved in Credit Mobilier, the 1872 railroad scandal that paid off leading politicians to steal railroad money. He also wrote a book in 1872 on paying off the national debt.

Also, I love late-era Green going full Old Testament prophet for this Matthew Brady photograph:

Seems lovely.

Green died in 1875. He was 83 years old.

Duff Green is buried in West Hill Cemetery, Dalton, Georgia.

If you would like this series to visit other members of Jackson’s Kitchen Cabinet, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Amos Kimball is in Washington, D.C. and William B. Lewis is in Nashville. I will also note that this week will be the first of upcoming southern trips and if you want a taste of the future of the grave series, it is terrible people like Duff Green, if you choose to help make it happen. Thanks to everyone who helped pay for these trips last week! Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.

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