11th Grade: Civil War Voices

Greetings,

This week, I include without comment a handout I gave the students which includes thoughts on both sides about slavery and secession.  Many thanks,

Dave

Thoughts on Secession

Pro-Secession Quotes

 No one can now be deluded that the Black Republican party is a moderate party.  It is in fact a revolutionary party.  – the ‘New Orleans Delta’ newspaper

[Secession] is a revolution of the most intense character, and can no more be checked by human effort than a prairie fire by a gardeners water pot. – Sen. Benjamin, Louisiana

Secession is an act of revolution, a mighty political revolution which will result in putting the Confederate states among the independent nations of the earth.’ – Vicksburg mayor

I never believed the Constitution recognized the right of secession.  I took up arms upon a broader ground–the right of revolution.  We were wronged.   Our properties and liberties were about to be taken from us. – Confederate Officer

Were not the men of 1776 secessionists?  – Alabama delegate

If we remain in the union, we will be deprived of that which our forefathers fought for in the revolution. – Florida delegate

Will you be slaves or independent?  Will you consent to being robbed of your property, or will you strike bravely for liberty, property, honor and life? – J. Davis

We left the union to save ourselves from a revolution–a revolution to make property in slaves so insecure as to be comparatively worthless. – J. Davis

[Our founders were wrong] if they meant to include Negroes in the phrase ‘all men.’   Our government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery is his natural and normal condition. ‘ Alexander Stephens, VP of the Confederacy

I am fighting for the rights of mankind–fighting for all we in the South hold dear. – Confederate soldier

We cannot wait for a ‘overt act’ by Lincoln.  If I find a coiled rattlesnake in my path, do I wait for his ‘overt act’ or do I smite him in his coil?’ – Alabama editor

If you are tame enough to submit, abolitionist preachers will descend to consummate the marriage of your daughters to black husbands.  Will you submit to have our wives and daughters choose between death and gratifying the hellish lust of the negro?  Better ten thousand deaths than submission to Black Republicanism. – Rev. J. Furman

Democratic liberty exists because we have black slaves, [whose presence] promotes the equality of the free.  Freedom is not possible without slavery.  – Richmond Enquirer, editorial

When secession is inaugurated in the South, we mean to do a little of the same business here and cut loose from the fanatics of New England and the North generally, including most of our own state. – New York lawyer, speaking in support of Mayor Fernando Wood, who wanted New York City to become independent.

An Interesting Quote that falls into Neither Camp Directly

Secession is nothing but revolution.  The framers of our constitution never exhausted so much labor, wisdom, and forbearance in its formation, and surrounded it with so many guards and securities, if it was intended to be broken by any member of the Confederacy at will.  Still, a Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets, and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me. If the Union is dissolved, the government disrupted, I shall return to my native state and share the miseries of my people.  Save in her defense, I will draw my sword no more. — Robert E. Lee

Anti-Secession Quotes

 The great revolution has actually taken place.   The country has once and for all thrown off the domination of the slaveholders. – Charles Francis Adams

The founders fought to establish the rights of man and principles of general humanity.  The South rebels not in the interest of general humanity, but of domestic despotism.  Their motto is not liberty but slavery.  – W. Cullen Bryant

The framers never intended to implant in its bosom the seeds of its own destruction, nor were the guilty of providing for its own dissolution.  [If secession stands] our 33 states may resolve themselves into as many petty, jarring, and hostile republics.  By such dread catastrophe the hopes of freedom throughout the world would be destroyed. – James Buchannan

I would hang every man higher than Haman who would attempt to break up the Union by resistance to its laws.  – Stephen Douglas

I hold that the election of any man on earth by the American people, according to the Constitution, is no justification for breaking up the government. – Stephen Douglas, commenting on the states that seceded after Lincoln’s election, but before he took office.

State sovereignty is a sophism.  The Union is older than any of the states, and in fact created them as states.  Having never been states, either in substance or name, outside the Union, whence this magical omnipotence of State rights, asserting a claim of power to destroy the Union itself? – A. Lincoln

Revolution is a moral right, when exercised for a morally just cause.  When exercised without such cause revolution is no right, but a wicked exercise of physical power.  The event that precipitated secession was the election of a president by a constitutional majority.  We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose.  – A. Lincoln

Disunion by armed force is treason, and treason must be put down at all hazard.  The laws of the United States must be executed–the President has no discretionary power of the subject–his duty is emphatically pronounced in the Constitution. – Illinois State Journal.

Other Thoughts

Slavery is the divinely appointed condition for the highest good of the slave – ‘Richmond Whig’

The free labor system educates all alike, and by opening all fields of employment to all classes of men.  It brings the highest possible activity all the physical and mental energies of man. — William Seward, Governor of New York

Free society!  We sicken at the name.  What is it but a conglomeration of greasy mechanics, filthy operatives, and moon struck theorists?  They are hardly fit for association with any Southern gentlemen’s body servant.  – ‘Muscogee Messenger’

Slavery is the natural and normal condition of society.  The situation in the North is abnormal.   To give equality of rights is but giving the strong license to protect the weak, for capital exercises a more perfect compulsion than human masters over slaves, for free laborers must work or starve, and slaves are fed whether they work or not. – G. Fitzhugh, Virginia politician

Slavery is destined, as it began in blood, so to end. – Abolitionist Thomas Higginson

Slavery lies at the root of all the shame, poverty, ignorance, and imbecility of the South.  Slavery is against education.  – Hinton Helper, North Carolina author

Invictus Diplomacy

Historians are people too, and they need jobs just like everyone else.  One way some seek to perpetuate their role in society is by coming up with new and different perspectives on the past.  I am all for reexamining things and keeping them fresh, but . . .  recently I have noticed a few attempts to redeem Rome’s most notorious Emperors, Nero and Caligula, and I wonder if this carries things a bit too far.*  Still, despite my concerns that this represents something “weird for the sake of being weird,” we must contend, for example, with the fact that Nero had a great deal of popularity with the masses in general.  We need not assume that Tacitus and Suetonius deliberately lied and distorted things to wonder if they failed to give us the full picture.

Aloys Winterling recently published a well-received biography of Caligula.  Some reviews got my ire up with the word “rehabilitation,” but upon further examination, Winterling seeks to condemn Caligula in a different way, and not “rehabilitate” him.  Winterling allows us to understand Rome and his reign in a different light.  Traditionally most assume that Caligula’s actions had their roots in some type of madness, and this allows for us to excuse them in some ways, obscuring Caligula’s true motives.**

The Augustan synthesis fixed the bleeding in Rome after a century of intermittent civil war, but at a price of the straightforward approach Rome prided itself on.  Augustus may have “pretended” not to want power and the Senate likely “pretended” to rule.  But in the end, Augustus had the power and the senate didn’t. Augustus performed an intricate kibuki dance of sorts that allowed everyone to assume, if they wished, that Rome was still Rome, after all.

Caligula wanted to end this charade, Winterling argues, by carrying its logic as far it went.  He deliberately sought to expose the hypocrisy involved amongst Roman elite.  So, he made his horse a senator and consul as a deliberate insult, as a joke, not because he was “crazy.”  Nero had a thing for the stage and part of me wonders if we might not see Caligula’s time in power as something akin to Andy Kauffman as Emperor, where all masks come off because all masks are on, and things are funny because they are . . . not really that funny.  His goal seemed to be make people feel uncomfortable, something slightly akin to an act of social ‘violence,’^ which of course would presage the very real violence that characterized Caligula’s reign.

In attempting to strip off masks by putting on masks–such as “pretending” to be a god (though he might really have believed it?  Anything is possible). Many other examples exist of this.  When Caligula fell ill one Senator prayed for his recovery and, in an act of great ‘devotion,’ pledged his life for the health of the emperor.  When he recovered, Caligula made him go through with his pledge and end his life. No more masks, no more empty words. Caligula sought to break everything down and rule by himself with no need for social niceties.  One might think of Caligula’s reign as a 3 1/2 year stage act of a much more evil version of Andy Kauffman.

Diplomacy (and most aspects ofpolitics, I suppose) involves masks, and wearing such things must get tiresome.  One has to say things indirectly, if at all.  One says things with posture, and what one eats.  The job grants one high status and honor, yet it often requires a self-effacing temperment that often will not mesh with such requirements.  To say what one wants, to be an authentic man, such is the dream of every romantic.  It is this same romantic who no doubt envisions that his bracing personality is just what the world has been waiting for.

Liuprand of Cremona came from northern Italy as an ambassador for Emperor Otto in the middle of the 10th century A.D.  Otto sent him to Constantinople in hopes of arranging a royal marriage.  Liuprand’s life as a churchman gave him an excellent education, and he had a reputation as a fine speaker.  He seemed the best possible candidate to navigate the highly developed and occasionally strange world of Byzantium.

Liuprand wrote Otto an account of all of his exploits, and what makes his work so enjoyable is that he thinks he’s doing a great job.  He’s “telling it like it is,” not giving the Byzantines an inch!  He fights a valiant war of words on behalf of his emperor, of whom he seems to forget . . . wants a marriage into the Byzantine royal family.

One exchange, involving precedence and the tension between eastern and western churches, got a bit testy.  The Byzantines speak first (Liuprand writes in the first person) . . .

“But he will do that,” said Basil, the head of the imperial bedchamber, “when he makes Rome and the Roman church obedient to his nod.”

Then I said, “A certain fellow, having suffered much harm from another, approached God and said, “Lord, avenge me of my enemy!” God answered him, “I will do it, on the day on which I will give each according to his deeds.”

But to this Basil relpied, “How late!” [this exchange weaves together quotes from Ps. 61:13, Lk 18:3].

Then they all left the disputation shaking with laughter . . .

Liuprand walks away angry, but doesn’t seem to recognize the light-hearted touch from the Byzantines throughout this conversation, obvious in their laughter over his theological “zinger.”

In another instance, Liuprand grows incensed at the “masks” of the Byzantines, as they honored the emperor’s father, with the traditional song, “God grant you many years,” often sung in Orthodox churches even today.  We enter his narrative moments after he has been chastised by the emperor for finding their food too dainty and smelly.

[The Emperor] did not permit me a reply to his words, but instead ordered me back to the table.  Then his father entered and sat down, a man, it seemed, born 150 years before.  In their praises, or rather, their venting, the Greeks sang out, asking God  to multiply his years.

From this we can discern just how ignorant and greedy the Greeks are, and how enamored they are of their own glory.  They wish upon an old man, indeed–a walking corpse–what they certainly know nature will not allow, and the walking corpse wishes that which he knows will never happen, which he knows God will not do, and would not even be good for him if He did do it, but bad.

Liuprand is just the man to set them straight, if only they would listen!  How greedy the Greeks are, indeed!

As one might surmise, Liuprand failed to secure a royal bride for Otto. He has no capability to see his role in this disaster, or perhaps thinks it just as well.  How awful, he must have thought, to think of his leige Otto allying himself with these fish-eating onion lovers. Early during his visit he had been allowed to purchase some costly robes (though LIuprand seemed to despise all he saw and met, he did like their robes), but now the Emperor asked for them back.

When this was done, they took from me five very precious purple robes, judging that you [that is, Otto] and all the Italians, Saxons, Franks, Bavarians, Swabians, indeed all the nations, are unworthy to go about decked in cloth of that quality.  But how unsuitable and how insulting it is that soft, effeminate, long-sleeved, tiara wearing, hooded, lying, unsexed, idle people strut about in purple, while heroes, that is, strong men, who know war, full of faith and charity, in submission to God, full of virtues, do not!  What an insult, if that is not!” [he does add, we should note, that they reimbursed him for the price of the robes].

Thus ended his hilariously inept diplomatic career.

I know that many noble and worthy souls love the poem “Invictus,” by William Ernst Henley, but I have never liked a thing about it. The bald pagan statements in the poem always seemed to me a bit ridiculous and silly coming from the pen of a Victorian Brit.  I won’t argue the point too strongly, but I think we can at least say this, that when diplomats and politicians in sticky situations attempt to be “captains of their souls” and give nothing to no man, they become at best failures, at worst, a horrible wreck of humanity.  The final irony may be that such scrupulously confident people often end up the butt of jokes.

Dave

*Most academics, especially in the humanities, tend to lean left politically.  I wonder then, if we should be encouraged or worried that a variety of them seem to be trying to redeem, or perhaps lean towards “explaining away,” autocratic emperors.

**We should not call Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc., “mad” unless we do wish to excuse them in some way.

^For any who might not know, Tony Clifton is Andy Kaufmann.  I am one of those who (his Might Mouse routine aside), do not find him all that funny.  In my defense, reading the entire Great Gatsby on stage as his ‘act’ might be audacious (he actually did this at least once), but is it funny?  You might laugh at hearing about it, but would you pay to see it?

 

11th Grade: Who Owns the Past?

Greetings,

This week we brought some of the  events leading up to the Civil War to a close, and examined a few different issues.  Studying the Civil War usually brings strong political passions to the fore, and this class has been no exception.  I wanted to try and cut to core of what divided the country, and reduce the argument to its essentials.

The past formed a key battleground between the North and South.  Both sides claimed sonship from what it meant to be an “American,” and both had different ideas on the meaning of liberty.

The South claimed to be the “heirs of the American Revolution” because

  • Our founders feared strong central authority, and set up a government designed to give primacy to the states.  Lincoln’s Republican administration would (in their view) upset this balance by restricting slavery and inserting themselves into their private lives.  The federal government had no right to arbitrate moral questions like slavery for the states.  For them to do so amounted to tyranny.  “Don’t tread on me,” might have been their motto.
  • The founders had a vision that was primarily political in nature.  They spent a great deal of time discussing the structure of government, and much less on its purpose.  If the structure of government changed, what it meant to be an American changed.

The North countered with

  • The founders vision obviously had political overtones, but primarily had a moral character.  The phrase, “All men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” gives birth to our nation.  The founders did not fully follow through on that vision.  Therefore, a political system that seeks the perpetuation and extension of slavery can have nothing to do with what our country should be about.
  • The American Revolution did not fully finish until we found a stable government in the Constitution.  The Constitution, ratified by all southern states, sought to form “a more perfect union,” and increased the power of the federal government.
  • While many founders owned slaves, most of them believed (erroneously) that slavery would die out on its own.  The Northwest Ordinance of 1789 banned slavery in the newly created mid-western states, showing that the Federal Government did have jurisdiction over slavery in new territories, and showing that even slave states understood that slavery would not expand into new territory.

These differences have their resonance in many hot-button issues of the day.  Should the federal government make you wear a helmet on a motorcycle?  Should the federal government have the right to ban gay marriage or abortion?  What role do we want to give them in our private lives?  How much power should they have to stop evil?

Classical theorists on government like Aristotle drew rationale for the state based on the family, so an analogy of the family might help us.  We can imagine the parents as the originators of the family and those most interested in preserving family unity and harmony between siblings (i.e., the federal government).  We can put states in the role of grown children.  Some children seem to be leading wayward lives.  But what control should parents still have?  They might urge a child to stop doing ‘x’ behavior, but what if the child did not listen?  What power should the parents have?  Should they have access to a means of force to compel their 30 year old children to come to a family reunion or face punishment?  What kind of punishments can a parent of a 30 year-old mete out anyway?

Obviously the analogy breaks down at points.  But for the federal government to assert that slave-owning states must not own slaves sounded to southern states, “You do not have the ability to govern yourselves.  You are not equal to us, who have that ability.  You are lesser, and therefore we can dictate to you.”

Those against slavery might have used a different analogy.  Perhaps here the children are teens, not independent adults.  Independent adults are akin to separate nations with their own families, but the U.S. is still a family of 50 states.  Parents grant their teens a certain measure of independence.  But parents would grant their teen so much freedom that the integrity of the family unit gets jeopardized.

In the excerpts from Democracy in America that we discussed this week, De Tocqueville talked about how the ideals of liberty and equality ultimately compete against each other.  We cannot have equal amounts of liberty and equality, so we must choose where the balance lies.  Different people would give different priorities to either liberty or equality.

Scholars have debated for years the cause of the war.  Some say that war was about slavery, others say that slavery had nothing to do with it, and instead the war centered on the rights of the states.  I prefer to split the horns of the dilemma.  In 1861 the issue boiled down to Union v. Secession, but slavery formed the vast majority of the subtext related to this question.  It lurked underneath most every significant political debate from at least 1846 on, and in some ways, dominated discussions decades before that.  Economic issues did play a part, but they too had a lot to do with slavery.  The map below shows the concentration of slaves in the various states.  The darker the color, the higher the concentration.

We see how slavery concentrated near water, or in low lying tidewater areas (i.e. Southeastern VA and MD).  This in turn led to the predominance of labor intensive cash crops like cotton or tobacco.  Below is a map of how various southern counties voted on the secession question.  Obviously, not all wanted secession.  The South was not monolithic.  But there is a striking link between the counties who voted for secession and the presence of slavery.  Clearly, the moral question of slavery and the political issue of slavery went hand-in-hand in 1860-61.

Slavery was an issue in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, in 1820, 1848, 1850, 1854, 1856, it was the main topic of discussion in the Lincoln/Douglas debates of 1858 — why did the various compromises on the issue fail?  In fact, could they be said to have made things worse? As time went by and slavery became more prevalent, their attitude went from ‘necessary evil’ to ‘positive good.’  What can explain this shift?

I think we can say the following:
  • Industrialization in England and the north gobbled up cotton produced in the deep south and helped solidify the power of large plantation farms.  The North implicated themselves to a degree in this and did not mind getting cheap cotton from the South.
  • I don’t think we should miss the psychological/moral component.  Shakespeare’s line of “Methinks he doth protest too much,” applies here.  Those of you have (or remember having) smaller children know that when you say, “It’s time for bed,” and they immediately whine and shout, “I’m not tired! I’m not tired!” are in fact showing how tired they really are.

This hardening of their views on slavery covered over many contradictions.  Masters supposedly civilized their slaves, but they constantly feared slave insurrections.  Masters claimed to “enlighten” their slaves but often actually educating them was forbidden by law.

As I mentioned earlier a “North=Good, South=Bad” paradigm will not help us understand the period or the war itself.  Many northerners differed little in their view of blacks from the South.  Had the North treated blacks better, some of the evils of slavery might have been exposed sooner.  Of course, there were those in the south who respected blacks and treated them with dignity.  But it is still true to say that the North had an anti-slavery bent even if many had ambiguous feelings about abolishing it.  And it is still true to say that many in the South wanted not only to preserve, but extend an institution that broke up families and and allowed masters to use other humans as they saw fit.

These differences over slavery also had links to broader cultural differences rooted in the typical differences between urban and rural societies.  Generally speaking. . .

Urban areas

  • View change as a positive
  • Believe that we “should not stand still”
  • Look more to the future than the past

and Rural areas

  • Seek to avoid change whenever possible
  • Like to be guided by tradition
  • Look more to past than the future

These different values form different priorities, and this may also help explain the conflict.

Relic

The Introduction to Relic opens this way:

American government is dysfunctional . . . .  As a decision-maker Congress is inexcusably bad . . . utterly incapable of taking responsible, effective action . . .

So why is this happening?  The common view is that Congress’ problems are due to the polarization of the [political] parties over the last few decades.  By this rendering, if the nation could move towards a more moderate brand of politics–say by reforming primary elections or campaign finance–Congress could get back to the way it functioned in the good old days when it (allegedly) did a fine job of making public policy.

But this isn’t so.  . . . The brute reality is that the good old days were not good. . . . Congress’ fundamental inadequacies are not due to polarization.  Nor are they of recent vintage.  Congress is irresponsible largely because it is wired to be that way–and it’s wiring is due to Constitutional design.

[Congress’] pathologies are not really of it’s own making.  They are rooted in the Constitution, and it is the Constitution that is the fundamental problem.

I have concerns over the growth of presidential power in the last few generations, but . . . I love it 41XKcNSIeQLwhen writers undertake such magnificent and almost dashing glove-slaps to our received wisdom.  Authors William Howell and Terry Moe teach at the University of Chicago and Stanford respectively, so this is not a talk-show rant.  They write with an apolitical bent for the most part and take a broad view.  They focus on clarity and concision and don’t try and dazzle us with their erudition.

I don’t think I agree with them, but I admire their efforts.  We need more books with these strengths.

Their basic argument runs as follows:

Before the Revolutionary War each colony acted almost entirely independently of one another.  No one had any idea of a “United States of America.”  During the war we created the Articles of Confederation, which, while it created a national government, made it exceedingly weak.

This then, is their first main point.  Yes, the Constitution created a stronger national government–but not that strong.  We have to understand the Constitution’s grant of executive power not in a vacuum but in relation to the Articles of Confederation.  The Constitution still allowed for states to have the pre-eminent place in people’s hearts.*

The design of our federal government reflects this by giving nearly all the most important powers to Congress.  This in turn makes it very difficult to enact national policy.  This was not a mistake.  This is the exact intention of most of the founders (though not all, such as Alexander Hamilton, who argued for a much stronger executive at the Constitutional Convention).

When we manage to create a national policy, such policies get diluted, confusing, and sometimes absurd because of the fact that all laws have to come through Congress.  Everyone wants their piece of pork, everyone needs something to crow about.   The confusion of many laws, and the expense needed to enforce them, weakens government, expands bureaucracy, and lowers quality of life.  Again, the authors don’t blame Congress for this.  Our representatives have job of representing their districts, not the national interest.

The authors argue that Congress has never solved a national problem.  It has either taken either national emergencies (like war, disasters, etc.) or unusually shrewd or charismatic presidents to get Congress to move.  They concede that perhaps our form of government worked in the pre-industrial era when towns remained largely isolated from one another (though Congress certainly could not solve the slavery issue, the biggest contributor to the Civil War). But the Industrial Revolution created a new country that drew the states much closer together.  We now think of ourselves as “Americans” and need national policies on a consistent basis.  Again, we should not say that Congress will not solve them. Congress cannot solve them, just as pigs can’t fly.  We have, in fact, many problems on the horizon that have existed for decades that Congress will never solve, such as Social Security reform, the tax code, the national debt, and so on.  And while the American Revolution inspired a variety of democratic movements across the globe, no one has copied our system of government.**  This should tell us something.

Their solution mirrors the simplicity of their writing.  They know that rewriting the Constitution is impossible, and officially amending it very difficult.  Instead they seek “fast-track” authority for certain kinds of legislation.

Lest we deride their analysis as overblown, the authors point out that we already recognize the foolishness of our constitutional design with international treaties and trade agreements.  We give the president power to negotiate such agreements without congressional interference.  Presidents then can present them to Congress for a simple “yes”/”no” vote.

The authors propose that we simply allow presidents to submit legislation to Congress involving national policy for this kind of yes/no vote.  No pork, no earmarks, no preferments, no deals. Congress needs to keep its diseased hands away from issues like the national debt, health-care, and national defense. If such laws passed they would have the clarity and unity needed for effective policy.

That’s it.  No fuss, no muss.  It preserves the Constitutional role for Congress and merely expands slightly the powers of the executive.

The authors write with great force, but part of me wonders, has it really been so bad?  Sure, the separation of powers brings problems, but America has a top notch military, technological innovation, a leading economy, a high standard of living, and so on.  Yes, we have difficult social issues, but we also have much greater challenges in this regard than most other nations.  Ok, we have rocky outcroppings in many parts of our history, but so too do other modern democracies.

It’s hard to disagree, however, that Congress annoys us like no other branch of government.

As much as I enjoyed the book, the authors missed the root question.  Of course their suggestion would make government more efficient and policy more workable.  The authors argue that their proposed alteration involves no real philosophical issue.  We simply need something that works.  Wanting a dishwasher that works, for example, need not involve politics, philosophy, or theology.

Part of my hesitation to jump in with the authors, however, lies with just these concerns.  We should concern ourselves with more than whether or not something works.  We should consider the implications of increased executive power.  Many of the founders were philosophers as well as practical politicians.  We owe it to our past to at least consider such things before going far beyond what they intended.

Dave

*I wonder if the authors would have agreed with Napoleon’s assessment of America while in exile on St. Helena in 1816.  Napoleon foresaw the Civil War, among other things.  He commented,

What is needed for national defense? Unity and permanence in government. America remains united for now due to their common interest of their emancipation from the English crown. But their existence as a great nation was impeded by their federal constitution. A dissonance exists between northern and southern states which reflects on the weakness of the federal principle. Either the national government will be strengthened by conquest, or else national unity will be broken by local interests and commercial rivalries.

**This is a good point, but America also had a unique historical situation that preceded their revolution.