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“The Civil War’s Dirty Secret; It Was Always About Slavery”: Imposing Their Values On The Majority, It Was Never About States’ Rights

Seven score and ten years ago, Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, and the great American Civil War ended, or so we’ve read in high school textbooks and on Wikipedia.

The chivalrous Lee, in countless hues of grey on his white horse, and the magnanimous Grant in muddy boots were icons that the reunited-by-force United States needed desperately a century and a half ago, and that we’ve cherished ever since.

But the war did not really end at Appomattox, just as it did not really begin four years before when South Carolina militias opened fire on the tiny Union garrison in the massive, unfinished fort called Sumter that dominated Charleston Harbor.

And if we want to stop and think today about what that war was about—what made it happen—then cannons, shot and shells, minié balls, muskets and swords do not, in the end, tell us very much. Brave men were called on to fight for their homes and their ideals, or because they didn’t have better sense, and, as in every war, they kept on fighting for their brothers in arms.

In the South, the spirit of camaraderie and defiance ran so hot and so deep that for generations afterwards, and to this day in some corners of the air-conditioned Sunbelt that was once the Confederacy, people will tell you about “The Lost Cause.”

But, let’s be clear. The cause of the South was not the cause of chivalry, nor was it about the revolutionary ideals of the Boston Tea Party, as many claimed at the time. “The tea has been thrown overboard; the revolution of 1860 has been initiated,” declared Charleston’s Robert Barnwell Rhett as the Carolinians prepared to secede from the Union and precipitate the war.

Rhett was one of the coterie of radicals in the South who came to be known as “fire-eaters,” and their cause was not the cause of freedom that the founding fathers fought for in the American Revolution. Their cause was slavery: holding slaves, working slaves, buying and selling slaves—black chattel considered less than human beings by custom, by the courts, and even by the Constitution, whose authors never mentioned slavery but weasel-worded it into the founding document of the Union.

According to the original U.S. Constitution, slaves, who had no rights whatsoever as citizens, would be counted as three-fifths of a person for the census that determined a state’s representation in Congress. This constitutional right—for such it was—was not one the slave-holding states were willing to give up, because they feared if they lost their disproportionate power in Washington, eventually their “right” to own other human beings to clear their land, grow their crops, and make their fortunes for them would be challenged.

The cry of “self-preservation” in the face of the federal government was “always on the lips of a Carolinian when he is about to justify an outrage connected with Slavery,” wrote the British consul in Charleston in the 1850s.

Every so often, rumors of a “servile insurrection” stirred hysterical emotions and ruthless reprisals. One plot for a slave rebellion stoked by a “free person of color” named Denmark Vesey was crushed before it even began in the 1820s, but 40 years later it still lingered like a nightmare and a prophecy in the minds of Southerners.

The notion that had existed in the early part of the century that the hideous “peculiar institution” would somehow atrophy and disappear had itself evanesced. The cotton gin, a machine separating seeds from fiber that was invented at the end of the 18th century, had made a marginal crop into a source of enormous revenues. But the cotton economy of the South was hugely rapacious. It burned out old land so that new acreage constantly had to be opened, and that was the job of slaves.

The hunger for that fresh territory and the slaves to work it was insatiable. The annexation of Texas and the subsequent war that took a huge part of Mexico in 1848 was not enough to satisfy them, because not all that territory would be slave-owning. The South and its friends in the North (like President James Buchanan) wanted Cuba, too, and many Southerners supported efforts to invade and conquer and annex more of Mexico and much of Central America.

More land, more slaves, meant more money and more power to dominate the federal government and make it support people who wanted more land, more slaves and more money. And in the 1850s a movement grew that was best defined as “rule or ruin”: if the slave-owning South could not control the federal government, then it would break away from it. The Union, as the famous headline in the Charleston Mercury declared in December 1860, would be “dissolved.”

One of the issues that the fire-eaters played on was the reopening of the slave trade with Africa that had been banned since 1808. (The Constitution had enshrined it up until that date.) By the mid-19th century, most Americans, including most Southerners, knew that the traffic had been horrific, and many understood that it was, in fact, a holocaust. It had continued to Cuba and Brazil, and stories often reached the American press of ships packed so tightly with human cargo that, as one horrified U.S. naval officer put it, there was “scarcely space to die in.”

The fire-eaters pushing for secession argued that this was not a crime at all. Slavery, as Mr. Rhett (the would-be heir to the Tea Party) put it, was “a blessing to the African race and a system of labor appointed by God.” Such men firmly believed that the world markets for the cotton that slaves produced—especially the great military powers of Britain and France—would put aside their moral qualms and support the South for the sake of its white gold.

In essence, they convinced themselves that King Cotton was the king of England. But that was not the case. The British government never did join the Confederates in their war with the Union. And without such support the agrarian Confederacy was all but doomed in its fight against the heavily industrialized and much more populous North. Only the genius of Robert E. Lee was able to keep the war going for as long as it went on.

The Ordinance of Secession and “Declaration of the Immediate Causes” drafted by South Carolina grandees intent not only on justifying their own state’s withdrawal from the Union in December 1860, but on persuading the other slave-holding states to join it, was concerned entirely and exclusively with the question of slavery. It quoted the Constitution. It cited the Declaration of Independence. But it was not about all men being created equal. And it was not about tariffs, as some have argued since. And it was not merely about the general principle of states’ rights. It was specifically about the states’ rights to enshrine slavery, pure and simple—and evil—as that was, and the obligation of the federal government to guarantee the rights of human-property owners. Since the Feds weren’t likely to do that under the new Lincoln administration in Washington, the Carolinians argued, “self-preservation” dictated secession. They were determined, come what may, to make their world safe for slavocracy.

So where did the Civil War begin and where did it end? One can pick many places, many times, but an illuminating version of the story can be built around one figure: a young red-haired fire-eater from Savannah, the heir to a huge banking and commercial fortune in the North as well as the South, named Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar.

In 1858, Lamar backed the voyage of a sleek 118-foot yacht called the Wanderer that sailed to the coast of Africa, loaded 471 Negroes on board, according to contemporary accounts, and landed weeks later on Georgia’s Jekyll Island. Roughly 370 Africans were offloaded there. The other 101 had died at sea: acceptable attrition when Negroes could be sold in the South for six, eight, ten times what they cost in the baracoons of  West Africa. Their bodies had simply been thrown overboard. (“The shark of the Atlantic is still, as he has ever been, the partner of the slave trader,” as one British editorialist put it.)

Lamar and his partners sent the Wanderer on its voyage not only to make money, but to flout the federal law. A whole generation of slave traders hauling their tortured cargo to Cuba under the American flag had proved, on the rare occasions when they were caught, that no U.S. court would convict them for what was supposed to be a capital crime. Indeed, Southern grand juries would not even indict them. And Lamar and his cronies proved that once again.

“They are rather amused at the idea of embarrassing the Federal Government, and perhaps, in a lesser degree, of annoying Great Britain,” the British consul in Charleston advised London in 1859, “but they will awake from their delusion.”  He predicted that the Democratic Party, which the slave interests had dominated, would be torn apart by the fire-eaters pushing for ever greater power, and the anti-slavery Republicans, the party of Abraham Lincoln, would come to power. “When this shall happen, the days of Slavery are numbered,” wrote the consul. “The prestige and power of Slave holders will be gone, never to return.”

And so it was. Lamar got what he had wished for. Most of the slave-holding states seceded from the Union, and they fought long and hard for their independence. Through much of that time, as a skilled organizer of blockade runners, Lamar not only survived but thrived. But as the Union troops of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman marched through Georgia in 1864, Lamar took up arms—and he would not put them down.

By then, it should have been obvious to all that the war was over. So desperate had the Confederates become that they even started talking about emancipating the slaves if only Britain and France would, at long last, back them. But by 1864 it was far too late for that.

On April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

On April 14, 1865, Robert Anderson, who had surrendered Fort Sumter exactly four years before, raised the Union flag there once again in a ceremony intended to write a definitive end to the war. If he had had his wishes, he said, he would have done it in silence. In attendance were many former slaves who had enlisted as Union soldiers. One of the honored guests was the son of Denmark Vesey. But the event was forever overshadowed by the murder in Washington a few hours later of President Abraham Lincoln.

Still, Lamar continued to fight, stubborn and defiant as ever.

On April 16, 1865, Union and Confederate troops clashed on the outskirts of Columbus, Georgia. There are several different accounts of how Lamar died. In one that circulated among his relatives he was trying to surrender when he was shot almost by accident. But the one preferred by Erik Colonius, whose 2006 book The Wanderer is essentially a biography of Lamar, is far more dramatic:

“In a few minutes the fighting was hand to hand,” Confederate soldier Pope Barrow recalled later. “A Federal cavalryman, whose horse had been shot from under him, stepped in front of Black Cloud, the horse Col. Lamar was riding, seized the bit with his left hand, and threw up his carbine with his right, and called on Lamar to surrender. Quick as lightning, Lamar plunged his spurs into his horse’s sides and tried to run over his opponent. At that instant—as the horse reared and plunged above the soldier—he fired, and at the crack of the carbine Lamar fell lifeless to the ground.”

And so, Charlie Lamar’s war came to an end.

But there are times, and maybe today is one of those times, when one looks at the great questions of race and rights in the United States and realizes the spirit of the fire-eaters—their rationalization of racism, their contempt for the federal government, their penchant for violence, their self-deluding vision of their place in the world, and their desire to impose their values on the majority—all that, I am afraid, lives on.

 

By: Christopher Dickey, The Daily Beast, April 10, 2015

April 12, 2015 Posted by | Civil War, Slavery, States Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Our Democracy Is Dying”: For All Intents And Purposes, Our Government Is Merely The Handmaiden Of Corporations

In case anybody hasn’t noticed, democracy in America is dying now. This isn’t an overstatement; it’s a fact. Corporate interests dominate our politics so much at this point that our government, for all intents and purposes, is merely its handmaiden. Whatever Wall Street wants, Wall Street gets. Corporatism is the new order of the day. One political party stands for it; the other political party won’t stand against it.

The word inertia means the tendency of an object to move in whatever direction its been moving until and unless there’s the introduction of a counterforce, and the Democratic Party is simply not providing the necessary counterforce to the corporatist agenda so exalted by the Republicans. Such a possibility is undermined by Democrats with corporatist agendas of their own. Watch them trying to sideline Elizabeth Warren as I write this. It’s all gotten so terribly predictable.

Some people are pussyfooting around the word, but others are realizing it’s time to say it: we need a peaceful revolution in America. In the words of President John F. Kennedy, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” The American people have simply got to stand up now. This isn’t the time for any of us to go mute – whether it’s those who feel there’s no point in saying anything, or those who feel there’s too big a risk in saying anything. And you know who you are.

The social revolution we need is comprised of two major categories: What we say No to, and what we say Yes to. In the American Revolution, with the Declaration of Independence we said no to what we would no longer accept (living under British rule). In ratifying the Constitution, we said yes to what we would do instead (form our own system of government). The template was genius then, and it’s genius now. Today, we need to say no to a situation in which our government is bought and paid for, and yes to a return to democracy. Nothing short of an historic, nothing namby-pamby-about-it, serious social movement will take us out of our free fall and set America back on the track to real liberty. Today, lobbyists – not the people – are in control. And that is not freedom.

The situation has shaken out – and thank you, Senators McConnell and Reid for adding to the disaster of Citizens United by upping the amount people can contribute to political parties; that really helps (not) – in such a way that nothing short of a Constitutional Amendment will stop the big money flowing into our political campaigns like poison into the veins of our democracy. The best bet now — given the resistance within both major parties to seriously taking down the dastardly “For Sale” sign posted on the front yard of our government — is for the people ourselves to call for a Constitutional Convention, state by state. And that’s what has started to happen.

If something inside you says, “That’s true,” then I hope you get active. We’re in serious straits now and things won’t get better by themselves. In denial about this? Go stand over there. Too cynical to think we can change things? Go stand over there. Too sedated to be upset yet? Go stand over there. An apologist for the system? Go stand over there. Ready to kick ass? Go to http://www.wolf-pac.com/ and express yourself big time. Work with that organization, or with any other you like. But this isn’t a time to sit on the sidelines. Our democracy is sick – it is really, really sick — and all of us are needed now to nourish it and make it well.

 

By: Marianne Williamson, The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 14, 2014

December 15, 2014 Posted by | Corporations, Democracy, Wall Street | , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Jelly Belly Flag Wavers”: Remembering Why The Right Doesn’t Own The Stars and Stripes

Like many men who volunteered for the U.S. Army in World War II, my late father never boasted about his years in uniform. A patriot to his core, he nevertheless despised what he called the “jelly-bellied flag flappers.” But in the decade or so before he passed away, he began to sport a small, eagle-shaped pin on his lapel, known as a “ruptured duck.” Displaying the mark of his military service said that this lifelong liberal loved his country as much as any conservative — and had proved it.

Are such gestures still necessary today? For decades right-wingers have sought to establish a near-monopoly on patriotic expression, all too often with the dumb collusion of some of its adversaries on the left. But on July 4, when we celebrate the nation’s revolutionary founding, I always find myself pondering just how fraudulent and full of irony this right-wing tactic is. It is only our collective ignorance of our own history that permits conservatives to assert their exclusive franchise on the flag, the Declaration of Independence, and the whole panoply of national symbols, without provoking brutal mockery.

But we need not play their style of politics to argue that the left is equally entitled to a share of America’s heritage — indeed, in the light of history, perhaps more entitled than its rivals. So let’s begin, in honor of the holiday, at the official beginning.

Although “right” and “left” didn’t define political combat at that time on these shores, there isn’t much doubt that behind the American Revolution, and in particular the Declaration of Independence, was not only a colonial elite but a cabal of left-wing radicals as well.

What other description would have fitted such figures as Samuel Adams and Thomas Paine, who declared their contempt for monarchy and aristocracy? Their wealthier, more cautious colleagues in the Continental Congress regarded Adams as a reckless adventurer “of bankrupt fortune,” and Paine as a rabble-rousing scribbler. Popular democracy was itself a wildly radical doctrine in the colonial era, tamed in the writing of the Constitution by the new nation’s land-owning elites and slaveholders.

The right-wingers of the Revolutionary era were Tories — colonists who remained loyal to the British crown, fearful of change and, in their assistance to the occupying army of George III, the precise opposite of patriots. Only from the perspective of two centuries of ideological shift can the republican faith of the Founding Fathers be described as “conservative.”

The Civil War, too, was a struggle between left and right, between patriots and … well, in those days the Confederate leaders were deemed traitors (an epithet now usually avoided out of a decent concern for Southern sensibilities). Academics will argue forever about that war’s underlying economic and social causes, but it was the contemporary left that sought to abolish slavery and preserve the Union, while the right fought to preserve slavery and dissolve the Union. Today, reverence for the Confederacy remains the emotional province of extremely right-wing Southern politicians and intellectuals (as well as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi skinheads, and not a few members of the Tea Party). These disreputable figures denigrate Lincoln, our greatest president, and wax nostalgic for the plantation culture.

At the risk of offending every furious diehard who still waves the Stars and Bars, it is fair to wonder what, exactly, is patriotic about that?

Yet another inglorious episode in the annals of conservatism preceded the global war against fascism. The so-called America First movement that opposed U.S. intervention against Hitler camouflaged itself with red, white and blue but proved to be a haven for foreign agents who were plotting against the United States. While Communists and some other radicals also initially opposed American entry into World War II for their own reasons, the broad-based left of the New Deal coalition understood the Axis threat very early. Most conservatives honorably joined the war effort after Pearl Harbor, but more than a few on the right continued to promote defeatism and appeasement even then. And with all due respect to neoconservatives and other late-arriving right-wingers, the historical roots of postwar conservatism — the “Old Right” of Joe McCarthy and Pat Buchanan, the Buckleys and the Kochs — can be traced to those prewar sympathizers of the Axis.

The criminal excesses of the Cold War in Vietnam and elsewhere, so eagerly indulged by the right to this day, alienated many Americans on the left from their country for a time. Conservatives seized the opportunity presented by flag-burning protests and other adolescent displays to marginalize their ideological opponents as un-American, although only a tiny minority dove off that deep end. But how many conservatives like Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh beat the Vietnam draft while liberals like John Kerry, Al Gore, and Wesley Clark all served? And who truly protected this country’s best interests back then — the politicians who dispatched 50,000 young Americans to their deaths in the rice paddies, or those who dissented?

It is a lesson we didn’t learn in time to save us from another debacle in Iraq, when dissent was again vilified – and again proved more sane and patriotic than the bloodlust of the chicken-hawks.

Yet somehow our wingers always manage to wrap themselves in Old Glory, as if it belongs to them alone. But on this holiday, and every day, it assuredly does not.

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, July 2, 2013

July 4, 2013 Posted by | Independence Day | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Taxation Without Representation”: American Citizens Sould Be Treated Like American Citizens

Vice President Joe Biden is right: There should be two senators from the District of Columbia, not to mention at least one voting member of the U.S. House. Americans living in the U.S. capital, in other words, should have the basic rights of citizenship that they are currently denied.

The fact that more than 630,000 U.S. citizens living in the United States of America are not represented in Congress is an outrage and an insult to the most fundamental right due to all American citizens: representation in government. Remember the American Revolution (and the original tea party)? They were complaining about taxation without representation. More than two centuries later those residing in what should be the living symbol of democratic ideals of representative government are experiencing taxation without representation.

As a point of comparison, imagine the outrage if Boston (with an estimated 2011 population of more than 625,000) was removed from the congressional map; or Seattle (more than 620,000 as of 2011); or Milwaukee (597,000 in 2011); Las Vegas (589,000 in 2011); or Atlanta (432,000 in 2011).

This is a mostly but not entirely partisan issue, though it is often seen through that rather puerile lens. It’s gotten support from prominent conservatives like Ken Starr and Viet Dinh. And at least partial restoration of these basic American rights nearly occurred four years ago before it was derailed by – wait for it – a squabble over gun rights.

Parting thought: For the first 10 years of the District of Columbia’s existence, before it became the seat of the federal government in 1800, D.C. citizens had congressional representation. When Maryland and Virginia ceded the land to the government for the creation of the District, those living there were still allowed to vote in their old states’ congressional and legislative races. Once the federal government moved to D.C., those basic rights were revoked. That revocation is a festering wound on the country’s democratic spirit.

Congress gaveth and then tooketh away … it’s time it giveth back.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, May 3, 2013

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Democracy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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