Our Civil War

April 13, 2011

This week is the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War.  Also known as:  The War Between the States; The War of Succession; War of Southern/Northern Agression; and The War for Southern Independence, among others things.   I prefer The War of Southern Rebellion or The Slave Society Rebellion Against the Union.  No matter how you spin it, and the spins are mighty, the cause of the war was slavery.

The South was a society built on slavery, and it could not coexist with the industrializing North.  The southerners rebelled to preserve their way of life, a plantation economy ruled by an elite of large slave owners, and a rabble of whites (antecedents of the storied “white trash“)  who at least weren’t black slaves.  After the war smashed the South, the former slaves enjoyed a brief period of freedom during Reconstruction, but the North made a deal that allowed it to reap the benefits of the South’s resources of agriculture and cheap labor, and left the African-Americans to fend for themselves in the neo-slavery of Jim Crow.  Slavery was done, and that was enough for most in the North.

Not everyone felt this way.  Thaddeus Stevens and his fellows understood that the South had rebelled, and left the Union.  He wanted the leaders of the Confederacy rounded up and shot, or at least imprisoned.  He wanted the plantations confiscated and parceled out to the former slaves, and used to compensate Union veterans.  He wanted the rebel states to be denied congressional representation until they could demonstrate that they deserved it yet again.  His view did not prevail, and the torrent of self-serving, sentimentalizing, dishonest, distorted and reactionary narratives began to pour forth from the North and South.  Today, the Confederate flag flies proudly in many locales – it’s just a cultural thing.  Yep, and I’m sure there are some old Germans who would like to display the swastika and SS skulls, just to preserve that culture…

You cannot understand American culture and politics today if you don’t contemplate the Civil War and its aftermath.

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Radical Republicans!?

September 26, 2007

thaddeus-stevens-4.jpg

The very term, “Radical Republicans,” sounds like an oxymoron, or it used to. That was before GW started on his blundering path down the road of reactionary leadership, and appointment of judges who seem to be living in the 19th century. Pretty radical to me.

Well, history makes strange turns indeed. After the Civil War (recall, Lincoln was a Republican) there was a big debate about how to treat the defeated South, i.e., the Confederacy, aka, the Rebels. Had they ever genuinely seceded from the Union, or, since that was not allowed, were they simply defeated rebels? Conquered belligerent nation or errant citizens entitled to due process? Thaddeus Stevens, the leader of the Republican Radicals, opted for the first description. A rock-solid egalitarian, he wanted equal rights for all, voting rights, established and protected for the freedmen (former slaves), and confiscation of the property of the southern elite to fund veteran’s benefits and land distribution to the blacks. He got some of it, but never all he wanted.

The north, and his party, were divided. Many did not like the notion of “negro rights.” Slavery was bad, but that was over, and it was time to move on. Some were eager to bring the rebels back into the fold of the Union, get their states’ delegations seated in Congress. Of course, many southerners, except for the minority of Unionists who were quaking in their boots in the midst of the general hostility around them, wanted to get back to normal as soon as possible so they could try to restore the status quo ante bellum. That is, slavery might be gone, but there was still plenty to do to keep the negroes down, what with lynching, racial cleansing of towns, debt peonage, and the like. Stevens understood all this and worked tirelessly for a Reconstruction program that would prevent it.

Eventually, in 1876, Reconstruction ended, and Jim Crow rushed in to fill the void in full force. The South stayed Democratic for generations, until Nixon managed to pry it loose on the basis of “values” politics. The Democratic Party evolved into the more liberal-progressive of the two major parties in the USA, but it always had to deal with its racist-segregationist element with deeply reactionary instincts that ruled the southern states.

As I say, the past is always present.