Monthly Archives: February 2020

Faith, Doubt, and the Little Things: Thoughts at the End of a Long but Good Week


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a long, tiring, yet very good week. For those who have followed me on this blog for so long, I want to say thank you. I left my last assignment broken, dispirited, struggling with my faith and calling, but as a result of a series of events regarding my retirement, my faith has been renewed and my sense of calling and joy to serve as a Priest restored. That doesn’t mean that I don’t experience doubts, or question doctrine, or even wonder about the existence of God. I wish that I can say that that wasn’t the case, but the fact is that all of us, believers or unbelievers alike live in what the German Pastor, theologian, resistier and martyr to Adolf Hitler said:

“Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them”  

Whether we believe or don’t believe; are fixed in our religious doctrine or non-religious ideology, or doubt as I so frequently do, the fact is that we live in the uncomfortable middle. Truthfully, we come from a beginning that we can only only make ultimately unprovable theological or scientific theories of origins; and move to an end, that while it certainly will happen, either in apocalyptic fury, or where either we ourselves will destroy most of the life of the planet, save the Cockroaches, or the Sun goes supernova and consumes the Earth and the rest of our pitiful solar system, unless the dreams of Gene Roddenberry come true. Truthfully, I have learned in my almost sixty years of earthly existence to be okay with that. Others religious and non-believers alike aren’t okay with that, simply because they require certitude.

The seeds of this idea were planted over 25 years ago during my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency, at Parkland Memorial Hospital confronted me about my “illusion of control” after a case conference. He was frustrated with me, and for him it was a throw away comment, but is penetrated the armored belt that I had surrounded my heart, soul, and intellect with for years, even before I became an Army officer in 1983.

I mentioned a lot of the week last night. I have felt a renewal of faith and call; a joy in ministry and caring for people that I haven’t experienced since my time in Iraq, which was quite literally, “the best of times and the worst of times. At the same time, while I believe, I doubt. As Father Andrew Greeley wrote in his novel The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St. Germain: 

“Do you exist? I think not. I have never seen you or touched you or felt you. Well, sometimes I think you’re present but that may be wish fulfillment. Intellectually, I have no reason to believe. Yet much of the time I act like I do believe …. Only when I have time to reflect do I feel doubts, and then after the doubts certainty that the universe is cold and lonely. I know that I am a hypocrite and a fool. Then I preside over the Eucharist in my unsteady bumbling way and I know that you are. I don’t believe but I know.”

The words reflected what I was going through. I believed, but I didn’t. Of course that would not only continue as my tour in Iraq progressed but got worse after I returned from Iraq. However, I discovered, much to my surprise that I was not alone. That there were a number of other very good, caring Chaplains, Priests and ministers going through similar doubts, fears and pain.

The irrepressible Bishop Blackie continued:

“Most priests, if they have any sense or any imagination, wonder if they truly believe all the things they preach. Like Jean-Claude they both believe and not believe at the same time.”

The words were and still remain an epiphany to me. Belief and unbelief co-existing simultaneously, yet in a way strangely congruent with the testimony of scripture, the anguished words of a man whose son was possessed by an evil spirit confessing to Jesus: “I believe, help my unbelief.” Maybe that is why in the Liturgy of the Eucharist we proclaim the mystery of faith, or as it is translated from Latin into German Geheimnis des Glaubens. That mystery, is that Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. That really is the mystery of what Christians call faith

We can be reasonably certain from non-Christian sources like the Jewish historian Josephus, and the Roman Letter to Trajan, written by Pliny the Younger, that there was a man name Jesus who was crucified by the Romans, and whose followers believed that he had died, been buried, had risen from the dead. Likewise, It was the testimony of those early believers in Scripture and non-canonical writings, that he would come again. Pliny described them as model citizens whose only fault, was that they would not burn incense and proclaim that Caesar was Lord, and sought the advice of Emperor Trajan on what to do with them. Before and after that many gave their lives peacefully as martyrs for this crucified man named Jesus.

That is why as strongly, or as doubtfully we believe as Christians, what we believe is based upon faith, mixed with fact, which until those words become reality, cannot be proven. Which is why some priests, like the fictional Jean Paul in Greeley’s novel and me “ both believe and not believe at the same time.”

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but in this season of Lent where Christians are called to draw near to God in order to be transformed by God’s love, and share it with others through their lives and actions, not just words, platitudes, and certitudes, but being humble servants of others we come to experience a renewal of life which can only be described as mysterious.

So that is it for the night and I hope that no matter what you believe that you experience joy, love, and even come to revel in the mystery that we call life and faith, and share that love, human, and or divine with others. After all, a smile, a friendly greeting, an expression of care from a friend or stranger, looking into someone’s eyes with care and concern, may be the only good thing that a person living a lonely, sad, and anxiety filled life, might experience that day. As my one of my football coaches in high school, Duke Pasquini told me “it’s the little things that count.” 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“But what is the good of a man being honest in his worship of dishonesty?” Spirituality and Faith in the Trump Era


Father Brown

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short thought tonight at the close of Ash Wednesday, or actually deep into the night after Ash Wednesday. Yesterday was a wonderful day, in which I began to really experience a certain joy in faith, of course as always tempered by reason, and the ministry of caring for a diverse workforce. It was probably the busiest and most meaningful Ash Wednesday I have ever experienced in close to 28 years of Chaplain ministry, which include two years where I was for all intents and purposes an agnostic hoping that God still existed after my return from Iraq, followed by another decade of of doubt, depression, and despondency regarding life, and ministry.

However, since November of last year when I was assigned to my final active duty post, that faith has began to return, as well as a renewal of my calling as a Priest and Chaplain. Likewise, Ash Wednesday became a joyous rather than an onerous observance. I was busy all day with walking about caring for people, conducting the first Ash Wednesday service in over a decade at the shipyard and being out and about responding to people who for whatever reason could not attend the service by still wanted to receive the sign of the cross marked in ash upon their foreheads. It was a day of wonderful surprises as instead of saddling people with strict dietary regulations and fretting over what they were going to have to give up I asked them to really experience God’s love by simply accepting the proposition that God loved them, accepted them, and wanted them to do the same to others.

Of course I followed the liturgy for the day, and read the designated scriptures. I did not hammer the points from the Biblical readings home as hard as I once might have been tempted to do. Nor did I try to use my position to convince people to see things my way, as I admitted, I don’t pretend to give God religious instruction, and instead decided to let the Scriptures do the preaching themselves, instead of me since they were so contrary to our materialistic American culture, and the last time I did so a parishioner attempted to have me charged and tried by Court Martial, I didn’t need to hammer home points but let the Holy Spirit of God do his or her job; with the exception of Jesus I do not ascribe gender to the Trinity. My purpose was to invite people to renewing their faith in Jesus through the confession of their sins without condemning them, and in addition make sure than whenever they come to me in whatever capacity, that I greet them and care for them with love and personal care.  I am reminded of the words of Bishop Blackie in The Archbishop Goes to Andalusia, the miscreant Auxiliary Bishop to the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago goes to Seville Spain.

In the novel Bishop Blackie makes a comment after celebrating Mass in the cathedral at Seville. He said “Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”  (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77) Honestly, I think that should be the place of the Priest  in every encounter, even those that are not sacramental. It should be an everyday part of our lives. That being said there are times that a Priest, Minister, Rabbi, Imam, or other clergy person can be beaten down by life, and even by the leaders of the institutions that they serve. I such cases it is often hard to smile or be compassionate to others because we, at that point are empty vessels, at best hoping and praying that we will again find meaning and joy in our vocations, or succumbing to the pain of rejection and evil committed by clerical leaders in the name of God.

Instead of preaching for people to obey rules, I asked them to consider showing love and care to the poor, the lost, the weak, and the lonely, and not be an ass about it by acting arrogant and brag publicly about their allegedly superior spiritual position. I noted, with quite a bit of honesty that when it came to being a Priest, Chaplain, and Husband I have barely stayed at the Mendoza Line, which is basically hitting for a batting average of about .200. This might keep me in the game due to certain skills, but it will not get me to the hall of fame.

In light of that I hardly have the right to preach to people about how they should live their lives, and follow rules that I struggle with; but instead encourage them to seek God’s love, to be honest about their lives, their strengths, and weaknesses; their successes, and failures, and then allow God to work in and through them as instruments of God’s grace and love.

When I was going through my most difficult times of doubt after Iraq it was Father Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries that kept a spark of hope and faith alive in my life. In his novel The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St. Germain, Bishop Blackie noted “Most priests, if they have any sense or any imagination, wonder if they truly believe all the things they preach. Like Jean-Claude they both believe and not believe at the same time.” I can say truthfully that I know what that is like.

More recently we have discovered the latest BBC series based on G.K. Chesterton’s “Father Brown” mysteries. Now that I have seen the series and am watching it a second time, with the addition of previously unaired episodes on Netflix, I am becoming interested in reading Chesterton’s novels, but I digress.

Today was another exceptionally busy day of ministry beginning with an employee who decided to decided to trust me with his marital and spiritual issues based on my Klingon Valentine’s Day article, which I sent out through our Public Affairs Officer to all hands note in a truncated form. He appreciated my openness, and willingness to share my failings as a husband, Priest, and human being in a way that most ministers won’t. It was a long session and I believe that we have built a relationship that will either help save his marriage, or set the stage for a divorce with a soft landing. Sometimes, and sadly, because of how embittered relationship can become, that is the most Christian thing that will happen. I hope we can work to bring reconciliation to this couple. However, I cannot predict what will happen, but promised that I would walk with them through this terrible time.

But just before the appointment I was called because one of our civilian administrative assistants died unexpectedly before work this morning. She was beloved, and what some people don’t realize, that in places like the Naval Shipyard, our civilian employees are like family to each other. They work with each other for decades, it’s not like the active duty military where we transfer every few years. In the case of the shipyard, which is the oldest in the Western Hemisphere, many employees have family connections going back generations to it. So I spent about half of my day with those employees doing grief counseling, and since I hung around to get to know people I ended up answering other people’s questions about faith, religion, and church history. It was wonderful. I didn’t push anything on them, and explained the differences in what different Christian denominations believe without condemning any of them. Of course that is a significant part of my spiritual “Long Strange Trip.” Because of that I am willing to appreciate the differences of different denominations, even as I am able to explain how they differ with other Christian denominations, without condemning them.

So it was a wonderful day, but it was exhausting, as at my heart I am an introvert who chooses to push my boundaries and at work function as an extrovert. Of course that means that when I come home I often withdraw into my emotional bucket in order to regenerated so I can do the next day. By the way that is a Star Trek Deep Space Nice reference. Google it if you must, but for practical purposes I am an emotional changeling, like DS 9’s Chief of Security, Odo, after so long I have to revert to my emotional introvert gelatinous state in order to regenerate at function in the military and the church. That is an odd comparison, but it is the best I can do.

But, where was I?

Oh that’s right, Ash Wednesday ministry; ministry the day following, Father Brown, and Bishop Blackie Ryan, are my inspiration. It is true that they are fictional characters, but the men who wrote their stories were not, they were very real, and their fictional characters have helped me continue to believe, Even when the Bible didn’t,  and likewise brought  a reality and joy to ministry that I didn’t know; even when I knew it all. But, as the late MLB Hall of Fame Baltimore Orioles manager, Earl Weaver noted “it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” That is quite true of my spiritual life.

Likewise, there are people who use the Bible as a weapon, in order to justify their misdeeds and hatred for others. It can be a terrible thing. In one of the Father Brown mysteries, Chesterton, writing as his character Father Brown, wrote:

“Sir Arthur St. Clare, as I have already said, was a man who read his Bible. That was what was the matter with him…. Of course, he read the Old Testament rather than the New. Of course, he found in the Old Testament anything that he wanted—lust, tyranny, treason. Oh, I dare say he was honest, as you call it. But what is the good of a man being honest in his worship of dishonesty?”

The problem is, that people of every faith tend to use select parts of their Holy Scriptures as weapons against people who they deem unworthy of the love of God. They are honest people, but as Father Brown noted: But what is the good of a man being honest in his worship of dishonesty?” Sadly, that is all too true of too much of the Christian Church, as well as the clergy of other religions.

Until tomorrow, Peace

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

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The “Fire Eaters” those that Make Ordinary Extremists Look Acceptable: the Ante-Bellum South, Reconstruction, the Southern Strategy and Today


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Well, here I go again tilting at the very real windmills of that part of American history that we have embellished in the myths of the Noble South and the Lost Cause that still thrive today, only now they have expanded far beyond the bounds of the Old South and the former Confederacy. Like I mentioned yesterday, my study of the Battle of Gettysburg forced me to go beyond the battle, beyond the movements of troops, and decisions of commanders on the battlefield. The dirty little secret, or shall we say, the great outlandish lie was that enslaved Blacks for nearly 250 years, cost the lives of nearly 750,000 military men on both sides, and another 100 after that years of struggle, and bloodshed committed by White Nationalists, including the KKK, before Blacks achieved the basics of Civil and Voting rights.

But within days of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights Act of 1965, the backlash began. The Dixiecrats, led by Senator Strom Thurmond and others who could not abide racial equality began to leave the Democratic Party, and by President Ronald Reagan’s second term, the formerly Democrat controlled Solid South, was now Republican, thanks to Richard Nixon’s racist Southern Strategy. But even worse, in the years following the Civil War, White Nationalist Extremists established themselves in the North, where many have formed so called militias, and paramilitary groups ready to fight for White Supremacy to the end. They, and their political, and media supporters, have become the modern day version of what were called the Fire Eaters in the Ante-Bellum South. 

So tonight I will recall the lives of a number of the men who were called “fire eaters,” even by other pro-slavery men. While they took extreme positions, there was little difference between their ideology and the more respectable members of the Southern aristocracy.  You see, all forms of systematic evil, need men who are able to state their support for positions so extreme that they make the mainstream supporters of that position look good by comparison. 

We see this every day in our media where outlandish and evil men build up followings and make others who hold their beliefs, without their character flaws look good by comparison. So here is tonight’s installment from one of my books dealing with the history of slavery, emancipation, and the return of Jim Crow and White Supremacy. I won’t name names, but if one has the slightest bit of imagination, one can probably name at least a dozen political, media, and, religious leaders that embody White Supremacy, oligarchy, and the subjugation of all people who are deemed less than human.

Oh, like I said last night, both sides of my family were slave owning families, and fought for the Confederacy. At one time, when I was under the influence of the twin myths of the Noble South and the Lost Cause that I honored them. I

I admit that it is not a comfortable read and unfortunately it is also all too contemporary for comfort, you see, of all the factors in human history, humanity is is the one constant in history.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

The Importance of people: Edmund Ruffin and the Fire-Eaters

Edmund-Ruffin

Edmund Ruffin 

As important as it is to understand the political, religious and ideological debate around slavery, we cannot adequately do so unless we begin to understand the people involved in the debates and the controversies of the time. As I constantly note, human beings are the one constant in history. Two of these men, there are two that I think stand out from almost all other Southern supporters of slavery. One, Edmund Ruffin, because he can be legitimately called one of the proponents of Confederate nationalism; and the other, Robert Barnwell Rhett, who was so hard line in his beliefs that he could not work within any system that required compromise, even at the end of the war.

Among the people most enraged by Northern opposition to slavery was Edmund Ruffin. Ruffin is one of the more interesting characters who stridently supported slavery, white supremacy, and secession in the ante-bellum south. Ruffin became the face of slaveholding ideology, but he not always pro-slavery, or pro-secession. As a younger man he had been a Jeffersonian Republican who as early as 1816 was concerned about growing federal power, but his writings were considered academic, scholarly, and moderate. However that began to change as the country lurched from one sectional crisis to the next.

As early as 1845 Ruffin was beginning to write about the probability of fighting the North, “We shall have to defend our rights by the strong hand against Northern abolitionists and perhaps the tariffites…” [1] But it was the passage of the Compromise of 1850, a compromise that actually did more to help Southern slaveholders than to harm them, which turned him into an ardent and hardline secessionist.

When he decided on secession he did so with the zeal of a man on consumed by something almost akin to religious conversion:

he promptly threw himself into the new cause, replacing his formerly scholarly approach to issues with a fire-eater’s polemical and emotional style. “I will not pretend,” he now announced, “to restrain my pen, nor attempt to be correct in plan or expression – as is more or less usually the case in my writing.” [2]

Ruffin’s conversion was remarkable because as young man, Ruffin believed that slavery was an evil. But he began to study the works of Thomas Dew he became convinced of the necessity of slavery and its justification. In his tract The Political Economy of Slavery he wrote,

“Slavery… would be frequently… attended with circumstances of great hardship, injustice, and sometimes atrocious cruelty. Still, the consequences and general results were highly beneficial. By this means only–the compulsion of domestic slaves–in the early conditions of society, could labor be made to produce wealth. By this aid only could leisure be afforded to the master class to cultivate mental improvement and refinement of manners; and artificial wants be created and indulged, which would stimulate the desire and produce the effect, to accumulate the products of labor, which alone constitute private and public wealth. To the operation and first results of domestic slavery were due the gradual civilization and general improvement of manners and of arts among all originally barbarous peoples, who, of themselves, or without being conquered and subjugated (or enslaved politically) by a more enlightened people, have subsequently emerged from barbarism and dark ignorance…” [3]

But Ruffin was not a unlearned or unsuccessful man. He was an agricultural reformer who pioneered the use of lime to enhance the effectiveness of other fertilizers. He edited a successful farm paper, and ran a very successful planation outside of Hopewell, Virginia, near Richmond.

Ruffin passionately argued for secession and Southern independence for fifteen years, even before the Compromise Of 1850 hardened him into the most passionate advocate of secession. He “perceived the planter civilization of the South in peril; the source of the peril was “Yankee” and union with “Yankees.” Thus he preached revolution, Ruffin was a rebel with a cause, a secular prophet…” [4] He was the type of man who understood reality far better than some of the more moderate oligarchs that populated the Southern political and social elite. He knew that the only way slavery to survive was for the South to become a nation of its own, and that meant secession. While in the years leading up to the war, these men, including John Calhoun attempted to secure the continued existence and spread of slavery within the Union through the Congress and the courts, Ruffin condemned their efforts.

As early as 1850, Ruffin recognized that in order for slavery to survive the slaveholding South would have to secede from the Union. Ruffin and other radical secessionists believed that there could be no compromise with the north. In 1850 he and James Hammond attempted to use a meeting in Nashville to “secure Cooperative State Secession and wrote to Hammond, against those who sought to use the meeting to preserve the Union, “If the Convention does not open the way to dissolution…I hope it shall never meet.” [5] Ruffin believed that slave holding states had to be independent from the North in order to maintain the institution of slavery.

Ruffin’s views were not unique to him. They formed the basis of how most slave owners and supporters felt about slavery’s economic and social benefits of slavery and the Southern cotton economy. But while many Southerners wrote about the importance and necessity of slavery, Ruffin was one of its most eloquent defenders. He wrote:

“Still, even this worst and least profitable kind of slavery (the subjection of equals and men of the same race with their masters) served as the foundation and the essential first cause of all the civilization and refinement, and improvement of arts and learning, that distinguished the oldest nations. Except where the special Providence and care of God may have interposed to guard a particular family and its descendants, there was nothing but the existence of slavery to prevent any race or society in a state of nature from sinking into the rudest barbarism. And no people could ever have been raised from that low condition without the aid and operation of slavery, either by some individuals of the community being enslaved, by conquest and subjugation, in some form, to a foreign and more enlightened people.” [6]

The most striking thing about Ruffin’s defense of slavery is the distinction that he makes between enslaving people of the same race, which he calls the “worst and least profitable kind of slavery” over the enslavement of inferior races. He did not disapprove of enslaving people of the same race, but he believed that the enslavement of people of the same race was wise, nor profitable. But Ruffin, a true believer in White Supremacy believed that enslavement of inferior races was not only permissible, but in fact the bedrock of civilization. Likewise his understanding that slavery alone was the only thing that prevented “any race or society in a state of nature from sinking into the rudest barbarism,” was common among the Southern planting class.

In 1860 the then 67-year-old Ruffin helped change the world forever when, according to popular legend he pulled the lanyard that fired the first shot at Fort Sumter. While he had joined the Palmetto Guards and was present, he probably did not fire the first shot. Instead, he was probably was given the honor of firing the first shot from his battery; as other guns from other emplacements may have fired first shot.


Robert Barnwell Rhett

But Ruffin was not alone, he was numbered with other Fire-Eaters who beginning in the 1840s began urging secession in order to protect the institution of slavery. The real “father” of Southern secession was Robert Barnwell Rhett of South Carolina. Rhett was a lawyer who was born under the name of Robert Barnwell Smith in Beaufort, South Carolina in 1800, but who adopted the surname of a famous ancestor in order to have a name which would befit him more in aristocratic South Carolina.

In a twist of irony, the man who became the father of the secessionist movement studied law under Thomas Grimke, the brother of the two famous abolitionist sisters, and “a leader of South Carolina’s anti-slavery American Colonization Society.” [8] Rhett was a talented attorney with excellent oratorical skills and he was elected to the South Carolina legislature in 1826 as the controversy over nullification began. Rhett, like other opponents of a Federal Tariff led by Senator John C. Calhoun urged secession as early as 1830 he told a crowd that before submitting to the tyranny of Federal Government, that they must be read to destroy the Union:

“Aye – disunion, rather, into a thousand fragments. And why, gentlemen! would I prefer disunion to such a Government? Because under such a Government I would be a slave – a fearful slave, ruled despotically by those who do not represent me … with every base and destructive passion of man bearing upon my shieldless destiny.” [9]

Later, in the face of President Andrew Jackson’s political strength and much congressional opposition led by Henry Clay, South Carolina dropped nullification. Rhett was angry. He told his colleagues in the legislature that “Your “northern brethren,” aye, “the entire world are in arms against your institutions…. Until this Government is made a limited Government… there is no liberty – no security for the South.” [10] He then described disunion as the only way for the South to survive and to escape what he called “unconstitutional legislation.” He described a “Confederacy of the Southern States… [as] a happy termination – happy beyond expectation, of our long struggle for our rights against oppression.” [11]

Rhett worked against compromise at every opportunity, especially compromise which would preserve the Union. Absolutely convinced of the rightness of his cause he distrusted the politicians who favored compromise and had no faith in political parties. He worked from 1833 until the very end in order to support slavery, disunion, and secession, using every crisis as an opportunity. His dream was for “all Southerners – to unite across party lines and unyieldingly defend slavery and Southern interests as he defined them.” [12] 

During the debate over secession following the Compromise of 1850, Rhett resigned his seat in the U.S. Senate which had been elected to following the death of John C. Calhoun, rather than accept the premise that the state convention’s ruling that secession was not justified.

After leaving office he became the editor, and later the full owner of the Charleston Mercury newspaper where he continued to advocate for secession in often the most outrageous ways,  “The more outrageous the Mercury’s charges, the more they were picked up and reprinted by other papers. Rhett’s propaganda technique was part of a larger secessionist strategy. “Men having both nerve and self-sacrificing patriotism,” he wrote, “must lead the movement and shape its course, controlling and compelling their inferior contemporaries.” He worked to push those without sufficient patriotic nerve – that is, moderate leaders – out of the political arena, believing correctly that without a solid middle ground to stand on, Southern voters would rally increasingly to the fire-eaters’ standard.” [13]

In 1860 Rhett “joined a drive to either rule or ruin the 1860 Democratic convention scheduled for Charleston.” [14] His work was successful, he devised the strategy to destroy the Union by first destroying the Democratic Party, and he wrote in January 1860 that “the destruction of the Union must… begin with the “demolition” of the party. So long as the Democratic Party, as a “National” organization exists in power in the South,… our public men” will “trim their sails.” [15] 

When South Carolina seceded from the Union, it was Rhett who drafted South Carolina’s secession ordinance, which claimed that South Carolina was not “perpetrating a treasonous revolution, but… simply taking back… the same powers it had temporarily surrendered… when South Carolina ratified the federal Constitution.” [16] 

Rhett was elected to the Confederate House Of Representative but However, following secession Rhett’s inability to compromise and his intemperate behavior alienated from him from Jefferson Davis and other Southern leaders. He grew increasingly isolated, and become one of Davis’s most bitter critics. As late as March of 1865, with Sherman’s Union armies having overrun South Carolina and Grant’s at the gates of Richmond, Rhett remained defiant and uncompromising. He opposed any move to compromise on the issue of slavery, even the belated attempt of Jefferson Davis and some in the Confederate Congress to grant limited emancipation to African American slaves who enlisted to fight for survival of the Confederacy.

Rhett moved to Louisiana and left the Mercury to his son, he never reentered politics and died in 1876. Ruffin made a more spectacular exit. Two months after the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Army Of Northern Virginia, Ruffin exited his earthly life.

When the war ended with the Confederacy defeated and the south in ruins, Ruffin still could not abide the result. In a carefully crafted suicide note he sent to his son the bitter and hate filled old man wrote on June 14th 1865:

“I here declare my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule- to all political, social and business connections with the Yankees and to the Yankee race. Would that I could impress these sentiments, in their full force, on every living Southerner and bequeath them to every one yet to be born! May such sentiments be held universally in the outraged and down trodden South, though in silence and stillness, until the now far-distant day shall arrive for just retribution for Yankee usurpation, oppression and outrages, and for deliverance and vengeance for the now ruined, subjugated and enslaved Southern States! … And now with my latest writing and utterance, and with what will be near my last breath, I here repeat and would willingly proclaim my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule — to all political, social and business connections with Yankees, and the perfidious, malignant and vile Yankee race.” [17]

There will be more to come.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.463

[2] Abrahamson, James L. The Men of Secession and Civil War, 1859-1861 Scholarly Resources Books, Wilmington DE 2000 pp.43-44

[3] Ruffin, Edmund The Political Economy of Slavery in McKitrick, Eric L. ed. Slavery Defended: The Views of the Old South. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall/Spectrum Books, 1963.Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/lincolns-political-economy/ 24 March 2014

[4] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.1

[5] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One: Secessionists at Bay p.481

[6] Ibid. Ruffin The Political Economy of Slaveryhttp://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/lincolns-political-economy/

[7] Catton, Bruce The Coming Fury Phoenix Press, London 1961 pp.314-315

[8] Ibid. Abrahamson The Men of Secession and Civil War, 1859-1861 p.33

[9] Goodheart, Adam The Happiest Man in the South in The New York Times Opinionator December 16th 2010 retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/16/the-happiest-man-in-the-south/?_r=0 26 July 2016

[10] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One: Secessionists at Bay p.286

[11] Ibid. Abrahamson The Men of Secession and Civil War, 1859-1861 p.34

[12] Ibid. Abrahamson The Men of Secession and Civil War, 1859-1861 p.34

[13] Ibid. Goodheart The Happiest Man in the Southhttp://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/16/the-happiest-man-in-the-south/?_r=0

[14] Ibid. Abrahamson The Men of Secession and Civil War, 1859-1861 p.34

[15] Freehling, William. The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2007 p.295

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.130

[17] Edmund Ruffin (1794-1865). Diary entry, June 18, 1865. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress Retrieved from http://blogs.loc.gov/civil-war-voices/about/edmund-ruffin/ 24 March 2014

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“Liberty for the Few – Slavery in Every Form for the Mass” Slavery, America’s Original Sin is Always a Heartbeat Away

circa 1830: A slave auction in America. (Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images)


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After the article I posted that I edited, and may some commentary late last night I am going to be posting a number of articles from my various texts dealing with the American Civil War era dealing with topics that some would want to forget, but are very important if we want to fully appreciate the struggle of African-Americans, and others for equality. This is the second of those posts.

Of course this original sin is the distinctly American version of slavery that arose in the American South, was protected in the Constitution, Under the 3/5ths compromise where slaves were counted as 3/5the of a person in slave states to bolster their representation in Congress and the Electoral College, but still were not citizens and did not have the right to vote, thus giving the slave states an important advantage. This and supported by not only the Slave holders, and their Southern political protectors, but the businessmen, bankers, and their equally complicit political allies in the North, especially the ones who built the slave ships and financed their transport to the Americas. 

I honestly wish that we had really advanced beyond that by now we would have made much more progress, But we have not, we are in fact regressing as the rights secured by the suffering of American Blacks, and the men who fought and died to free them.

We’re still dealing with what has been called our nation’s original sin. over course slavery was abolished, and African Americans given citizenship and voting rights, but those rights would become a mockery in the Post-Reconstruction Jim Crow South, and in the Sundown Towns of the North and West. Even today, after the gains of the Civil Rights Movement we still deal with the continued effects of it. Our President and his closest advisers often side with White Nationalists, and White Supremacy is thriving under his tacit blessing. I could go on with a laundry list of other issues related to this but that would turn this introduction into another book, which is ironic because the content of this article was an originally part introductory chapter of a Civil War Text about the Battle of Gettysburg that became a chapter of another book.

When I started writing that tome I had to assume the motivations of people, their causes, and their feet of clay were as important, or even more important, as movements of troops on the battlefields, and the decisions of their commanders, for they lead to truth. Even uncomfortable truths that shatter the myths of history, like sledgehammer shatters a finely crafted, but counterfeit, porcelain statue. 

American Slavery and Racism is the subject of this and the following articles. More articles will follow in the next couple of weeks. By the way, let me offer to those who think I am prejudiced against the South, my ancestors , on both sides owned slaves and fought as officers for the Confederacy, the 8th Virginia Cavalry to be specific. To make matters worse, the family patriarch on my paternal side, refused to take the loyalty oath back to United States after the Confederate defeat, and ended up losing all the family properties, except the homestead, the Baptist Church, and the family cemetery. When I was younger, I believed those myths, but the evidence shows that the South was neither Noble, nor was their “Lost Cause” worth the blood spilt, destruction, and over one hundred and fifty more years of injustice, segregation, lynchings, race hatred and division that those myths have spawned, not just in the South, but throughout the United States, and as inspiration for Adolf Hitler. That may sound harsh, but truth can be an awful thing when it shatters deeply held myths.

We may not have legal slavery today, but our economic system and its division into the oligarchs of the 1%, those getting by, and those, especially poor whites, blacks, and other ethnic or racial minorities who will never see the American Dream, is too much like Ante-Bellum Southern Society, not to take seriously and study, so the truth can triumph. 

Have a great day,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

OTCauction

Abolition versus Slave Power

The conflicting ideologies of the Abolitionists who believed that African Americans were created by God and had the same rights as whites, as well as the arguments of Southern political leaders that blacks were inferior and slavery was a positive good, were buttressed by profoundly religious arguments which were related directly to a divergence in values. These diverging values crept into every aspect of life and as such it was this “conflict of values, rather than a conflict of interests or a conflict of cultures, lay at the root of the sectional schism.” [1]   The support of the church in Europe and the Americas was key to the religious and moral belief in the rightness of slavery.

Slavery was the key issue that permeated all aspects of the Civil War to include the cultural, the economic and the ideological. David M. Potter summed up this understanding of the connection between the ideological, cultural and economic aspects of the conflict and just how the issue of slavery connected all three realms in the American Civil War:

“These three explanations – cultural, economic and ideological – have long been the standard formulas for explaining the sectional conflict. Each has been defended as though it were necessarily incompatible with the other two. But culture, economic interest, and values may all reflect the same fundamental forces at work in a society, in which case each will appear as an aspect of the other. Diversity of culture may produce both diversity of interests and diversity of values. Further, the differences between a slaveholding and a nonslaveholding society would be reflected in all three aspects. Slavery represented an inescapable ethical question which precipitated a sharp conflict of values.” [2]

Sadly this is something that those who study the war from a purely military perspective tend to miss, or even willingly gloss over in order make the war more palatable to their own prejudice tend to “blur the reality that slavery was at the heart of the matter, ignore the baser realities of the brutal fighting, romanticize our own home-grown terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan, and distort the consequences of the Civil War that still intrude on our national life.” [3] For many people it is far easier not to deal with the harsh reality that slavery and racism was at the heart of the issue and escape to the bloodless romanticism which even ignores the human cost of the war, approximately 750,000 military dead alone. If we extrapolate the percentage of the population that that 750,000 represents and compared it to today’s census that number would be the equivalent of 7.5 million Americans dead. This is a fact that many Civil War buffs tend to ignore.

The political ends of the Civil War grew out of the growing cultural, economic, ideological and religious differences between the North and South that had been widening since the 1830s. However, slavery was the one issue which helped produce this conflict in values and it was “basic to the cultural divergence of the North and South, because it was inextricably fused into the key elements of southern life – the staple crop of the plantation system, the social and political ascendency of the planter class, the authoritarian system of social control.” [4] 

Without slavery and the Southern commitment to an economy based on slave labor, the southern economy would have most likely undergone a similar transformation as what happened in the North; thus the economic divergence between North and South would “been less clear cut, and would have not met in such head-on collision.” [5] But slavery was much more than an economic policy for Southerners; it was a key component of their religious, racial and philosophic worldview. A world without slavery was unimaginable and incomprehensible to them: politics, economics, religion, philosophy, and even the interpretation the Constitution itself depended on one’s view of slavery and white supremacy.

_65344344_cottonpickers1875_getty

The issue of slavery divided the ante-bellum United States on even what the words freedom and liberty meant. The dispute can be seen in the writings of many before the war, with each side emphasizing their particular understanding of these concepts. In the South, freedom was reserved for those who occupied the positions of economic power; slavery was key to that from not only an economic point of view but as a social philosophy. The concept of human equality, which was so much a part of the Declaration of Independence was downplayed to accommodate slavery and white supremacy.

George Fitzhugh, a planter and slave owner in eastern Virginia commented that that concept “is practically impossible, and directly conflicts with all government, all separate property, and all social existence.” [6] Fitzhugh was very critical of the founder’s philosophy of natural liberty and human equality which he found repugnant and error ridden. He wrote:

“We must combat the doctrines of natural liberty and human equality, and the social contract as taught by Locke and the American sages of 1776. Under the spell of Locke and the Enlightenment, Jefferson and other misguided patriots ruined the splendid political edifice they erected by espousing dangerous abstractions – the crazy notions of liberty and equality that they wrote into the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Bill of Rights. No wonder the abolitionists loved to quote the Declaration of Independence! Its precepts are wholly at war with slavery and equally at war with all government, all subordination, all order. It is full if mendacity and error. Consider its verbose, newborn, false and unmeaning preamble…. There is, finally, no such thing as inalienable rights. Life and liberty are not inalienable…. Jefferson in sum, was the architect of ruin, the inaugurator of anarchy. As his Declaration of Independence Stands, it deserves the appropriate epithets which Major Lee somewhere applies to the thought of Mr. Jefferson, it is “exuberantly false, and absurdly fallacious.”   ” [7]

The political philosophy such as Fitzhugh’s, which was quite common in the South, and was buttressed by a profound religious belief that it was the South’s God ordained mission to maintain and expand slavery. One Methodist preacher in his justification of slavery wrote, “God as he is infinitely wise, just and holy never could authorize the practice of moral evil. But God has authorized the practice of slavery, not only by bare permission of his providence, but by the express permission of his word.” [8] Buttressed by such scriptural arguments Southerners increasingly felt that they were the only people following God. The Northern abolitionists as well as those who advocated for the concept of human equality and free labor were heretics to be damned. As such the “South’s ideological isolation within an increasingly antislavery world was not a stigma or a source of guilt but a badge of righteousness and a foundation for national identity and pride.” [9]

Speaking of the necessity for slavery, as well as limitations on the equality of human beings no matter what their race or sex; Fitzhugh penned words that explained that human relationships were not to be seen in terms of individual liberty, “but in relations of strict domination and subordination. Successful societies were those whose members acknowledged their places within that hierarchy.” [10]

Fitzhugh was quite caustic when he discussed the real implications of his philosophy:

“We conclude that about nineteen out of twenty individuals have “a natural and inalienable right” to be taken care of and protected, to have guardians, trustees, husbands or masters; in other words they have a natural and inalienable right to be slaves. The one in twenty are clearly born or educated in some way fitted for command and liberty.” [11]

Fitzhugh’s chilling conclusion was summarized in the words “Liberty for the few – slavery in every form, for the mass.” [12]

But many Southerners, including many poor whites, especially the Yeoman farmers who were the backbone of the Southern populace did not see or understand the limitations that were placed on their own liberty by the slavery system and instead saw slavery as the guarantee of their economic freedom.

John C. Calhoun said to the Senate in 1848 that “With us, the two great divisions of society are not the rich and poor, but white and black; and all of the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.” [13] Calhoun’s racial distinction is important if we are to understand why poor whites would fight and die for a social and economic idea that did not benefit them or their families, then as well as now.

But it was Abraham Lincoln, who cut to the heart of the matter when he noted the difference between his understanding of liberty and that of Calhoun and others in the South who defended slavery and the privileges of the Southern oligarchs:

“We all declare for liberty” but “in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men and the product of other men’s labor.” [14]

The growing economic disparity between the Slave and Free states became more about the expansion of slavery in federal territories as disunion and war approached; for a number of often competing reasons. These differences, amplified by the issue of slavery led to the substitution of stereotypes of each other and had the “effect of changing men’s attitudes toward the disagreements which are always certain to arise in politics: ordinary, resolvable disputes were converted into questions of principle, involving rigid, unnegotiable dogma.” [15] The Charleston Mercury noted in 1858 “on the subject of slavery…the North and the South…are not only two peoples, but they are rival, hostile peoples.” [16]

This was driven both by the South’s insistence on both maintaining slavery where it was already legal, and expanding it into new territories, even where it was forbidden by Federal laws enacted by Congress. This set it against the vocal abolitionist movement. But Southern exponents of expanding slavery were fighting an even more powerful enemy than the abolitionists, who despite their vocal protests were not yet in a position to influence policy. They were now fighting Northern industrialists who were not as idealistic as the abolitionists who were much more concerned with “economic policy designed to secure Northern domination of Western lands than the initial step in a broad plan to end slavery.” [17]

This competition between the regions not only affected politics, it affected religion and culture. In the South it produced a growing culture of victimhood, which was manifest in the words of Robert Toombs who authored Georgia’s declaration of causes for secession:

“For twenty years past, the Abolitionists and their allies in the Northern states, have been engaged in constant efforts to subvert our institutions, and to excite insurrection and servile war among us…” whose “avowed purpose is to subject our society, subject us, not only to the loss of our property but the destruction of ourselves, our wives and our children, and the dissolution of our homes, our altars, and our firesides.” [18]

As the social, economic, cultural and religious differences between the two regions grew wider and the people of the South became ever more closed off from the North. “More than other Americans, Southerners developed a sectional identity outside the national mainstream. The Southern life style tended to contradict the national norm in ways that life styles of other sections did not.” [19]

The complex relationship of Southern society where “Southern bodies social, economic, intellectual, and political were decidedly commingled” came to embrace the need for slavery and its importance to Southern society. This occurred despite the fact that the system did not benefit poor whites in the South and actually harmed them economically.

Southern society had become dependent on a race based social hierarchy in which dissent was neither welcome or tolerated. This

system of subordination reached out still further to require a certain kind of society, one in which certain questions were not publically discussed. It must give blacks no hope of cultivating dissention among the whites. It must commit non slaveholders to the unquestioning support of racial subordination…. In short, the South became increasingly a closed society, distrustful of isms from outside and unsympathetic to dissenters. Such were the pervasive consequences of giving top priority to the maintenance of a system of racial subordination.” [21]

A number of slave revolts, and planned slave revolts which were caught before they could erupt serve to heighten the fear and paranoia of Southerners living in the “Black belts” where slaves outnumbered whites by great margins. “In thickly enslaved areas, fancied dangers united white classes and sexes. Whites in black belts shared horror images about freed blacks as rioters, rapists, arsonists, and cannibals. The whites characteristically thought that using slavery to control alleged barbarians meant saving civilization.”[22]

Even before the abolitionist movement took any recognizable form in the North, “with an intensity that escalated through the Civil War, planters declared war on all open criticism of the peculiar institution.” [23] As Northern abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and his newspaper The Liberator grew in its distribution and began to appear in the South various elected officials throughout the South “suppressed antislavery books, newspapers, lectures, and sermons and strove generally to deny critics of bondage access to any public forum. [24] Despite this resistance, abolitionists continued to use the U.S. Mail service to send their literature south provoking even more drastic action from Southern legislators.

garrison by jocelyn 1833

William Lloyd Garrison 

But Garrison and the more radical abolitionists did not have a great following even in the North, most Northerners who even leaned toward abolition were supporters of a very gradual emancipation and not supportive of the immediate emancipation demanded by Garrison and his allies. In fact in the North, Garrison and his followers were not popular, they were “a small and often despised group.” [25] This was born out by facts that Garrison understood all too well, which made him even more uncompromising in his message even as support for it dropped. Even in the North Garrison was considered an unlikeable extremist.

In 1840, support for Garrison extremism peaked at around 2 percent of the northern voting population. The other 98 percent of northern citizens considered immediate abolition to be too extreme to be American, too problack to be tolerable, too keen on seizing property to be capitalistic, and too antisouthern to be safe for the Union.” [26] 

Garrison despised his northern opponents and wrote that he found among them “contempt more bitter, opposition more active, detraction more relentless, prejudice more stubborn, and apathy more frozen, than among slave owners themselves.” [27] Opponents broke up his meetings and on one occasion paraded Garrison “through the streets of Boston with a rope around his neck.” [28]

But Southerners, particularly those in the Black Belts where slaves constituted a majority of the population were further outraged by Garrison and his follower’s incendiary words and what they considered to be “almost pornographic diatribes,” which they felt had assaulted their “self-respect and sense of honor.” [29] In response to the proliferation of abolitionist literature in the South which was being sent through the mail, Senator John C. Calhoun proposed that Congress pass a law to prosecute “any postmaster who would “knowingly receive or put into the mail any pamphlet, newspaper, handbill, or any printed, written, or pictorial representation touching the subject of slavery.” [30] The law was a direct assault on the First Amendment, but in the South anything and anyone that took a stand against slavery had no Constitutional rights.

Calhoun was not alone as other members of Congress as well as state legislatures worked to restrict the import of what they considered subversive and dangerous literature. The condescending attitude of the radical abolitionists provoked an “emotional wildfire” [31] in the South, which united slave owners and poor whites in the Black Belt regions and served to increase their fear and loathing of Yankees who they believed wanted to destroy them and their way of life. Had they really understood just how united much of the North was with them they may not have pushed as hard to force Northern allies to accept laws that eventually offended the sensibilities of even non-abolitionists Northerners.

attention-southern-men

But Southern fears of real and imagined slave revolts, and hatred of radicals like Garrison brought about a host of new problem. Southerners now attempted to crush First Amendment protections of free speech in the north and to blot out any mention of slavery in the House of Representatives.

Beginning in 1836 the House of Representatives, led by Southern members of Congress passed a “gag rule” for its members. The “Gag Rule” “banned all petitions, memorials, resolutions, propositions, or papers related in any way or to any extent whatever to the subject of slavery.” [32]Former President John Quincy Adams continually challenged the gag-rule beginning in 1842, as did a number of others. The pressure was such that in 1844 the House finally voted to rescind it.

anti-slavery-meetings

However, Southern politicians were unhappy with the recension of the Gag Rule and “began to spout demands that the federal government and the Northern states issue assurances that the abolitionists would never be allowed to tamper with what John Calhoun had described as the South’s “peculiar domestic institution.” [33] As tensions grew between the regions; the issue of slavery more than any other issue, “transformed political action from a process of accommodation to a mode of combat.” [34]

Around the same time as the gag rule was played out in Congress the Supreme Court had ruled that the Federal government alone “had jurisdiction where escaped slaves were concerned”which resulted in several states enacting “personal liberty laws”to “forbid their own elected officials from those pursuing fugitives.” Southern politicians at the federal and state levels reacted strongly to these moves, which they believed to be an assault on their institutions and their rights to their human property. Virginia legislators said these laws were a “disgusting and revolting exhibition of faithless and unconstitutional legislation.” [35]

The issue of slavery shaped political debate and “structured and polarized many random, unoriented points of conflict on which sectional interest diverged.” [36] As the divide grew, leaders and people in both the North and the South began to react to the most distorted images of each other imaginable- “the North to an image of a southern world of lascivious and sadistic slave drivers; the South to the image of a northern world of cunning Yankee traders and radical abolitionists plotting slave insurrections.” [37]

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis: America before the Civil War 1848-1861 completed and edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher Harper Collins Publishers, New York 1976 p.41

[2] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.41

[3] Burns, Ken A Conflict’s Acoustic Shadows in The New York Times Disunion: Modern Historians Revisit and Reconsider the Civil War from Lincoln’s Election to the Emancipation Proclamation Black Dog and Leventhal Publishing, New York 2013 p.102

[4] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.42

[5] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.42

[6] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War Revised Edition p.140

[7] Fitzhugh, George. New Haven Lecture 1855, in The Approaching Fury: Voices From the Storm, 1820-1861 Stephen B. Oates, Editor, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1997 p.135

[8] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom: Evangelicalism, Proslavery, and the Causes of the Civil War pp.63-64

[9] Ibid. Faust, Drew The Creation of Confederate Nationalism: Ideology and Identity in the Civil War South p.61

[10] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.140

[11] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.140

[12] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.141

[13] McPherson, James M. Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1996 p.50

[14] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.122

[15] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

[16] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.16

[17] Egnal, Marc Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War Hill and Wang a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York 2009 p.6

[18] Dew, Charles B. Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville and London 2001 p.12

[19] Thomas, Emory The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 Harper Perennial, New York and London 1979 p.5

[20] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.5

[21] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis pp.457-458

[22] Freehling, William W. The South vs. The South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2001 p.20

[23] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.166

[24] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.166

[25] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation p.27

[26] Ibid. Freehling The South vs. The South p. 34

[27] Ibid. Varon Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War 1789-1858 pp.70-71

[28] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.27

[29] Ibid. Freehling The South vs. The South p.22

[30] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning pp.50-51

[31] Ibid. Freehling The South vs. The South p.22

[32] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.169-170

[33] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning pp.51-52

[34] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

[35] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.169-170

[36] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

[37] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

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Slavery and the Electoral College: America’s Original Sin Which Still Poisons our Country, Part One

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am going to be posting a number of articles from my various texts dealing with the American Civil War era dealing with topics that some would want to forget, but are very important if we want to fully appreciate the struggle of African-Americans for equality.

Of course this original sin is the distinctly American version of slavery that arose in the American South, was protected in the Constitution, and supported by not only the Slave holders, and their Southern political protectors, but the businessmen, bankers, and equally complicit political allies in the North.

The comprise on the issue of slavery resulted in the creation of the Electoral College which gave slave states a more powerful block when it came to the election of the President. When slavery was officially ended in 1865 in the 13th Amendment, anyone born in the United States was made a citizen in the 14th Amendment, and Black (male) suffrage was granted in the 15th Amendment, the former slave states, as well as many of the newly created states of the West enacted laws that still persecuted and disenfranchised blacks, and as before had a disproportionate share of power in the Electoral College, over states which are far more numerous and diverse in population. As a matter of fact based on population and Electoral College representation the vote of someone in a mainly white, sparsely populated state like North Dakota or West Virginia is worth far more than a vote in New York or California. This has created a number of elections, including 2016, where the candidate with far more of the popular voted was denied the Presidency due to the outdated and highly prejudiced electoral college, but as usual I digress, this was simply the modern context of an outdated and prejudicial part of our Constitution which needs to be repealed if our electoral system, and the checks and balances between the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of our government are to have any meaning. 

I honestly wish that we had really advanced beyond where we are now. But we are not. We’re still dealing with what has been called our nation’s original sin. over course slavery was abolished, and African Americans given citizenship and voting rights, but those rights would become a mockery in the Post-Reconstruction Jim Crow South, and in the Sundown Towns of the North and West. Even today, after the gains of the Civil Rights Movement we still deal with the continued effects of it. Our President and his closest advisers are White Nationalists, and White Supremacy is thriving under his tacit blessing. But that’s not enough, men like the Democratic Party Governor of Virginia posed in black face or in a KKK hood in his medical school yearbook. I could go on with a laundry list of other issues related to this but that would turn this introduction into another book, which is ironic because the content of this article was an introductory chapter of a Civil War Text about the Battle of Gettysburg that became part of a book of its own.

American Slavery and Racism is the subject of this and the following articles. More articles will follow in the next couple of weeks. Oh, and by the way as a display of transparency, both sides of my family owned slaves before the American Civil War and fought for the Confederacy. Personally, all though I had nothing to do with their actions, based on my knowledge of history, and my rejection of the twin myths, that of the Noble South, and the Lost Cause, that have sustained the South in the decades following the war, their actions were inhuman, traitorous, and destructive to our country, and have been used against every minority group in the history of our country. 

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

slavescars

The Slave Economy and the Divide between North and South

“Thy bond-men and thy bond-maids which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you: of them you shall buy bond-men and bond-maids. Moreover, of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them he shall buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land. And they shall be your possession. And you shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, they shall be your bond-men forever.” Leviticus 25:44-46

thewanderer_lastslaveship

Early Slavery in the Americas and the African Slave Trade

If we are to really understand the Civil War we have to understand the ideological clash between Abolitionists in the North, and Southern proponents of slavery. Slavery began very early in the history of the American colonies and though the British and the Dutch were the largest traders of slaves in those early days, the first American slave ship made its first voyage to bring Africans to the new world. Historian Howard Zinn noted:

By 1800, 10 to 15 million blacks had been transported to the Americas, representing perhaps one-third of those originally seized in Africa. It is roughly estimated that Africa lost 50 million human beings to death and slavery in those centuries we call the beginnings of modern Western civilization, at the hands of slave traders and plantation owners in Western Europe and America, the countries deemed the most advanced in the world.” [1]

Slavery in the Americas grew out of the economic need of planters to for laborers on the vast plantations of the new world as “the number of arriving whites, whether free or indentured servants (under four to seven year contract) was not enough to meet the demand of the plantations.” [2] Thus, land owners needed more workers, and unwilling to employ free men who would need to be paid, thus decreasing profit, they resorted to the use of slaves brought from Africa who were then bought.

But the use of slaves in the new American colonies was significantly different than previous forms of slavery in Africa, where slavery was one of a number of forms of labor. In Africa, slaves “worked within the households of their owners and had well-defined rights, such as possessing property and marrying free persons. It was not uncommon for slaves in Africa to acquire their freedom.” [3] In fact the plantation form of slavery practiced in the Americas differed radically from traditional forms of African slavery and was characterized by “the frenzy for limitless profit that comes from capitalistic agriculture; the reduction of the slave to less than human status by the use of race hatred, with that relentless clarity based on color, where white was master, black was slave.” [4]

American slavery took on a new form, that of the plantation. The plantation system allowed owners to amass “large concentrations of laborers under the control of a single owner produced goods – sugar, tobacco, rice, and cotton – for the free market.” [5] Beginning with the Spanish and the Portuguese in the early 1500s, the African slave trade became a major part of the world economy, and “slave labor played an indispensable part in its rapid growth.” [6] 

Not only was this in the world economy, but to the economy of the English colonies in North America and the new American nation it was indispensable. The paradox was rich, especially in a new nation founded upon, and supposed dedicated to liberty and equality. The “Atlantic slave trade, which flourished from 1500 into the nineteenth century was a regularized business in which European merchants, African traders, and American planters engaged in a highly complex and profitable bargaining in human lives.” [7]

It was economic gain that prompted the growth in American slavery, and for which slaves were essential for profit. As such, the “first mass consumer goods in international trade were produced by slaves – sugar, rice, coffee, and tobacco. The profits from slavery stimulated the rise of British ports such as Liverpool and Bristol, and the growth of banking, shipbuilding, and insurance, and helped to finance the early industrial revolution. The centrality of slavery to the British empire encouraged an ever-closer identification of freedom with whites and slavery with blacks.” [8]

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The Constitution, Slavery and Disunion 

When the United State won its independence the founders of the new nation had to deal with the already existing institution of slavery. It also had to deal with the threat to the Union that the institution and the real possibility of disunion, something that almost all of them feared more than anything. Slavery was an institution that even some powerful politicians who owned slaves were uncomfortable; Patrick Henry noted in 1773 that “to do so was “repugnant to humanity” and “inconsistent with the Bible,” while George Washington wrote in 1786 “There is not a man living…who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan for the gradual abolition of it.” [9]

Slavery was an issue that divided the newly independent states as they gathered for the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and Washington confided to a friend before the convention that “he could “foresee no greater evil than disunion,” and now the “mere discussion of slavery” was poisoning the atmosphere.” [10] James Madison was one of the first to recognize this and noted that “the states differed “primarily from the effects of their having or not having slaves.” [11]

Thus the issue came to a head around how the population of the states would be represented in the new government and how to balance the power between the federal government and the various state governments. To do this the founders divided Congress into two houses, the House of Representatives who were directly elected by the voters of each state with the population of the state determining the number of representative each would have; and in the Senate, whose members were elected by the state legislatures, each state would have two members regardless of the size of its population. The division of the legislature in the Constitution “enabled the individual states to retain a large measure of their jealously guarded autonomy.” [12] Eligible voters in each state elected the President by electing “electors” for the Electoral College, and each state was given an amount of electors equal to its representation in the Senate and the House of Representatives. In a real sense, the Electoral College was designed to support the political power of the Slave States.

The heart of the matter came to the issue of what people would be counted in each state. The Northern states wanted to base the number on each state’s white population. The Southern states wanted to “swell their power by counting both white citizens and black non-citizens.” [13] Doing so would give Southern States more power in the House of Representatives which, when coupled with the equality each state had in the Senate, gave the less populous Southern disproportionate power in the national government. A representative from New Jersey, Gouverneur Morris believed that if slaves “were human enough to boost the representation of the Southern States…they should be treated as persons and not property in the South.” [14]There was debate on this issue and to bridge the sectional divide the Convention passed what is now known as the three-fifths compromise.

This measure had profound results. It stipulated that the size of a state’s congressional delegation and its Electoral College electors; and the state’s tax burden would be determined by their population. The population was determined by counting free-persons as a full person, and then adding the words “three-fifths of all other persons.” Of course the “other persons” were slaves, but the language was carefully crafted to avoid the use of the terms slave or slavery to make the document acceptable to Northern delegations. The compromise was the first of many made by the Northern states to appease the South and maintain national unity. The South got less than it wanted, as its delegates wanted slaves to count as a whole person for population sake without considering them as such.

When all was said and done in 1790 “southern states, possessing around 40% of the nations’ white population, controlled around 47% of the House and Electoral College.” [15] Gouverneur Morris understood that the compromise would exaggerate Southern power and predicted that “the three-fifths clause’s real legacy would be to give slaveholders majority control over electoral politics.” [16] However, Morris’s warning was unheeded for decades by many in the North, though through electoral experience Northern leaders began to realize what the compromise had wrought but could not change the process without amending the Constitution.

Morris was correct. During the election of 1802 in the Electoral College the “three-fifths clause gave the Southerners 14 extra electors, the Republicans’ Thomas Jefferson defeated the Federalists’ John Adams, 73-65. Jefferson swept South’s extra electors 12-2. If no three-fifths clause had existed and House apportionment been based strictly on white numbers, Adams would have likely squeaked by, 63-61.” [17] The compromise had major impacts on the Electoral College. In the first 36 years of the Republic, only one President came from the North, John Adams. The rest, Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe were all Virginian’s, and all were slaveholders.

Apart from John Quincy Adams who served from 1825-1829 every other President until Abraham Lincoln was either a Southern slaveholder, or a Northern supporter of the South’s position on the preservation and or expansion of slavery. In fact the South dominated all branches of the Federal government from 1789-1861, often with the cooperation of Northern political and business interests.

James McPherson wrote:

“A Southern slaveholder had been president of the United States two-thirds of the years between 1789 and 1861, and two-thirds of the Speakers of the House and president pro tem of the Senate had also been Southerners. Twenty of the thirty-five Supreme Court justices during that period had been from slave states, which always had a majority on the court before 1861.” [18] 

Those who believed in the South’s moral, religious, and cultural supremacy over the North often used the Southern domination of American politics as proof of that superiority, despite the fact that the system was rigged to support their status as a minority which depended on the institution of slavery.

Two other compromises were made by the delegates to the convention. The first dealt with ending the African slave trade. This was contentious and in response to the threat of ending the trade the delegates from South Carolina, John Rutledge and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney insisted that “South Carolina could not join the proposed Union if the slave trade was prohibited.” [19] The compromise allowed the African slave trade to remain legal until 1808 unless Congress voted to allow it to continue. However, this was the first of many threats by Southern leaders and states to threaten disunion over the issue of slavery. A final compromise required states to “extradite and deliver any fugitive from service to his or her master and state of origin.” [20] The wording of the law was purposely vague and could include indentured servants, but the real target was escaped slaves.

The early compromises set the stage for future compromises, in large part because Federalist politicians preferred compromise over disunion, and their fear was that “failure to compromise would bring disunion” [21] and with it disaster. Thus the convention approved the compromises and the states, even Northern states which had abolished or were on the way to abolishing slavery ratified it.

Slavery in the Early Years of the United States

Slavery expanded in the American colonies and continued to do so after American independence despite the fact that a number of prominent slaveholders including George Washington voluntarily emancipated their slaves in the 1780s and 1790s. In large part this was due to fact that the United States “purposely built a weak central state, dispersing power to govern from the center to the constituent (some would have said still sovereign) parts.” [22] 

That being said the in the new Constitution the founders ensured that the central government was far stronger than the attempt made in the initial Confederation of States in matters of tariffs, taxes and laws to protect bondholders, slaveowners, and land speculators. In this government the land owners of the Southern states, as well as the merchants of the North held the bulk of the economic, political and social power. Significantly, “most of the makers of the Constitution had some direct interest in establishing a strong federal government: the manufacturers needed protective tariffs; the moneylenders wanted to stop the use of paper money to pay off debts; the land speculators wanted protection as they invaded Indian lands; slaveowners needed federal security against slave revolts and runaways; bondholders wanted a government able to raise money by nationwide taxation, to pay off those bonds.” [23] The Constitution ensured that the Federal Government was strong enough to protect those interests, but not strong enough to encroach on the powers granted to the states, especially the powers of slave states.

The conflict between supporters of slavery and those who opposed it on either humanitarian, religious or political-ideological grounds would become more of a source of even conflict following slavery’s boost by Eli Whitney’s invention of the Cotton Gin.

The machine made the production of cotton and its export an even more profitable enterprise requiring more slaves to meet the expanding demand and it was not something that those who believed that slavery would expire of its own accord expected. Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1805 that in regard to slavery that “interest is really going over to the side of morality. The value of the slave is every day lessening; his burden on his master dayly increasing. Interest is therefore preparing for the disposition to be just.” [24] Of course Jefferson, who owned over 200 slaves and had built much of his political base among Virginia planters was wrong, and despite the misgivings that he expresses in some of his letters and papers, including the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, he never took the lead or a public stand on the abolition of slavery.

The difference made by the cotton gin was starling, it enabled greater production and increased the need for slaves, and with the end of the legal African slave trade in 1808 the price of slaves already in the United States went up considerably, making the interstate trafficking of slaves much more profitable. In 1790 “a thousand tons of cotton were being produced every year in the South. By 1860, it was a million tons. In the same period, 500,000 slaves grew to 4 million.” [25] This enriched Northerners as well, “Northern ships carried cotton to New York and Europe, northern bankers and merchants financed the cotton crop, northern companies insured it, and northern factories turned cotton into textiles. The “free states” had abolished slavery, but they remained intimately linked to the peculiar institution.” [26] Thus the institution of slavery’s tentacles reached out to much of America and with the threat of slave rebellions in the South which could upset the economic status quo the nation “developed a network of controls in the southern states, backed by laws, courts, armed forces, and race prejudice of the nation’s political leaders.” [27]

But during the early nineteenth century slavery was on the decline in the rest of the Americas as the Spanish, Portuguese and French lost most of their American possessions. Likewise, Britain emancipated its slaves and the slaves in its colonies in the 1830s. Russia emancipated its serfs, and most countries, even the United States banned the African slave trade.

These events would lead to increasing calls for the abolition of slavery in the United States. In the Free States Of the North abolitionist societies, newspapers and stepped up efforts to help slaves escape their bonds. With the advent of these small, but vocal abolitionist organizations, there was a movement, particularly in Southern religious circles to justify and defend the peculiar institution.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Ibid. Zinn A People’s History of the United States p.29

[2] Ibid. Zinn A People’s History of the United States p.32

[3] Foner, Eric Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2005 p.6

[4] Ibid. Zinn A People’s History of the United States p.28

[5] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.6

[6] Foner, Eric A Short History of Reconstruction Harper and Row, New York 1990 p.1

[7] Ibid. Foner Forever Free pp.6-7

[8] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.7

[9] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War Revised Edition p.5

[10] Ibid. Varon Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War 1789-1858 p.24

[11] Ibid. Varon Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War 1789-1858 p.22

[12] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.7

[13] Freehling, William W. The Road to Disunion Volume One: Secessionists at Bay Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1990 p.146

[14] Ibid. Varon Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War 1789-1858 p.23

[15] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One: Secessionists at Bay p.147

[16] Ibid. Varon Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War 1789-1858 p.23

[17] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One: Secessionists at Bay p.147

[18] McPherson, James The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2015 p.7

[19] Ibid. Varon Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War 1789-1858 p.23

[20] Ibid. Varon Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War 1789-1858 p.24

[21] Ibid. Varon Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War 1789-1858 p.24

[22] McCurry, Stephanie Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South Harvard University Press, Cambridge and London 2010 p.220

[23] Ibid. Zinn A People’s History of the United States pp.90-91

[24] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War Revised Edition p.8

[25] Ibid. Zinn A People’s History of the United States p.171

[26] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.13

[27] Ibid. Zinn A People’s History of the United States p.171

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Money, Power, and Election Spending 1933 and Today

    Hitler With German Industrialists 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Lord Acton noted:

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.”

Less than a month after his appointment as Chancellor by President Hindenburg and before the Reichstag Fire, Adolf Hitler met with German industrialists at Hermann Goering’s Estate on February 20th 1933. The purpose of the meeting was to secure financial support for the Nazi Party in the upcoming Reichstag election, an election that would be the last in Hitler’s Germany.

The invitees were a “who’s who” of German industrialists and by the end of the day they had pledged over Two Million Reichsmarks to the Nazi cause.

It wasn’t hard for Hitler to win them over. They feared a Communist counter revolution against the Nazis and they were still unsure of the economic plans of the Nazis, as the Nazis did have a Wing that believed in a more socialist vision. Their leaders included Ernst Röhm leader of the Brownshirt SA, or Stürmabteilung which numbered over three million members and eyed itself as a people’s army to replace the 100,000 man Reichswehr. Likewise, the Stasser brothers, Otto and Gregor, attempted to wrest leadership and policy of the NSDAP from Hitler, who they believed was to friendly with the industrialists. Röhm even openly talked of a second revolution. But the industrialists had nothing to fear, by the next summer Röhm most of the SA senior leadership  was dead, as was Gregor Strasser, murdered during the Night of the Long Knives, while Otto Strasser fled the country.  The threat of a second revolution was over, and the German conservative establishment was safe.

Knowing the industrialists better than they knew themselves, Hitler played to their worst fears as William Shier recorded in his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich:

Hitler began a long speech with a sop to the industrialists. “Private enterprise,” he said, “cannot be maintained in the age of democracy; it is conceivable only if the people have a sound idea of authority and personality… All the worldly goods we possess we owe to the struggle of the chosen… We must not forget that all the benefits of culture must be introduced more or less with an iron fist.” He promised the businessmen that he would “eliminate” the Marxists and restore the Wehrmacht (the latter was of special interest to such industries as Krupp, United Steel and I. G. Farben, which stood to gain the most from rearmament). “Now we stand before the last election,” Hitler concluded, and he promised his listeners that “regardless of the outcome, there will be no retreat.” If he did not win, he would stay in power “by other means… with other weapons.” Goering, talking more to the immediate point, stressed the necessity of “financial sacrifices” which “surely would be much easier for industry to bear if it realized that the election of March fifth will surely be the last one for the next ten years, probably even for the next hundred years.”

Money and power, the sacrifice of hard earned freedoms, the selling out of political openness, workers, and Jews were irrelevant in the end. What mattered was profit and the protection of it and their status by an authoritarian state in perpetuity. As such the German industrialists, championed by Hjalmar Schachtsold their souls and their nation to Hitler. They included the head of Krupp Industries, Gustav Krupp, the head of Opel, Fritz von Opel, as well as the leaders of the electronics powerhouse Siemens, chemical and pharmacy giant IG Farben, one of the leading German insurance agencies Allianz, and numerous others. Hitler’s goal for the meeting was basically a shakedown of the industrialist leaders to raise enough money to ensure a two-thirds majority in the Reichstag to pass his Enabling Act which would enable Hitler to rule by decree, in effect, to establish a dictatorship, by parliamentary means. Historian Adam Tooze, the author of The Wages of Destruction wrote:

The meeting of 20 February and its aftermath are the most notorious instances of the willingness of German big business to assist Hitler in establishing his dictatorial regime. The evidence cannot be dodged.

Between the meeting and the election the Reichstag, scheduled for March 5th, the Reichstag was burned, and the Reichstag Fire Decree enacted. In the elections that followed the Nazis still not achieve a majority in the Reichstag, much less a two-thirds majority. Even so, with the surrender and acquiescence of every remaining party but the Socialists, the Nazis passed the Enabling Act. The leaders of the German economic and banking establishment, Nazi or not, were pleased, their mortal enemies could now be persecuted. By June, all opposition parties were liquidated, mostly by themselves, or outlawed, as was the SPD. All independent labor unions were dissolved and forcibly incorporated into Robert Ley´s German Labor Front, which ironically occurred the day after Hitler declared May 1st as a National Holiday to honor German Workers.

Hitler’s economic supporters included corporate and banking leaders from other countries, including Henry Ford of the United States, whose German factories as well as GM‘s German subsidiary Opel, produced much of Germany’s war materials.

The curious thing is that in many countries, including the United States, leaders of great corporations, the banking industry, builders, manufacturers are little different than their predecessors in Nazi Germany and so many other democracies that succumbed to dictatorship. Money needs power, and those that desire power need money, and are willing to spend it to their advantage, regardless of which candidate or party they donate.

Let’s take that as a warning for every politician who seeks the money of corporate lobbyists, and corporate leaders who seek political power, regardless of what ideology or party they represent, especially the religious, “patriotic,” or nationalist ones.

This is a lesson we all need to learn today. In 2016, some 6.5 Billion dollars was spent on Presidential and Congressional elections by all parties. Recent studies indicate that over 10 billion dollars, over 6 billion on traditional television and radio, media, as well as internet and social media advertising will be spent in the 2020 primary campaigns and general elections, the latter often manipulated by Russia, as it was in 2016. Regardless of the outcome in November, that cannot be a good thing.

Think about it, let it sink in.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Do You Believe in Miracles? The Miracle on Ice at 40

Friends of Padre Steve‘s World,

We all remember tend to remember where we were and what we were doing when various tragedies happened.  No one living can forget where they were when John or Bobby Kennedy or the Reverend Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated. Likewise few can forget where they were when the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up in 1986, or the events of September 11th 2001.

However, in spite of the fact that good news is not always as memorable as tragedy, there was a sentinel event in my life where a group of unknown US college hockey players accomplished something that has never been forgotten, at least by those alive then. If you were alive then, and had some conscious memories, you probably remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when it took place.  Of course I am speaking about the victory of the US hockey team, Team USA over the Soviet team at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games, in Lake Placid New York.

Forty years ago today I was a 19 year old college sophomore in Stockton, California. I had grown up with hockey. When my dad was stationed in Oak Harbor Washington while serving in the Navy, while I was a child from 1965 through the end of 1969 I grew up with the weekly broadcast of “Hockey Night in Canada” on the Canadian Broadcasting Network.  When we moved to Long Beach my dad would take my brother and me to see Los Angeles Kings games, and then when we moved to Stockton, he would take us to see the California Seals in Oakland.

While in Stockton I played in a youth hockey league for a couple of years, playing defenseman, occasional right wing and for 4 games, a goalie when our goalkeeper was injured.  As a goalkeeper I went 2 for 2 in those four games and can tell you that there is almost nothing as frightening as having a 2 on 1 or one or two man breakaway coming at you full bore.  Goalies are a special breed and I don’t think that I would want that kind of pressure on me to make a living, being through combat and dealing with life and death situations is hard enough. Great goalkeepers, be they in hockey or soccer have my utmost respect.

So hockey to a lesser extent than baseball has been a part of my life for a very long time.  I remember watching my first Winter Olympics when I was in Stockton back in 1972.  Back then Team USA was nothing more than a bunch of American college kids playing teams of Warsaw pact professional all-stars from powerhouse teams such as the Soviet Red Army team.  The Soviets had dominated the international tournaments since 1956, and with the exception of the US Gold Medal team of 1960 had won every Olympic gold medal, and in 1980 were once again expected to win Olympic Gold.

But in 1980 times were tough in the United States. The country was suffering from double digit inflation, 20% interest rates, a gas crisis, economic recession, the residual effects of the Vietnam War, and the humiliation that the Iranians were inflicting on the United States on a daily basis following the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran by “students” during the seemingly  unending hostage crisis.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was yet another thumb in the eye of the United States.  As the United States prepared to host the Winter Games at Lake Placid New York there was not much to cheer about.  The country was mired in political crisis, as the sitting President Jimmy Carter was continually at odds with his own Democratic Party and appeared weak in dealing with the Soviets, their satellites, and the Iranians.  When he made his “malaise” speech in July 1979 I was in the UK touring as a spotlight tech with a Christian singing group and the reaction by the Brits and other Europeans was ridicule of the President and pity for the United States.  The United States had hit bottom, despite the fact that he was speaking the truth.

When it came to the Olympic hockey tournament, no one expected much from the U.S. national Team, with the exception of head coach Herb Brooks.  Brooks and his collection of college players, a number of whom would later become stars in the NHL, began their time together inauspiciously conducting a 61 game exhibition tour against teams from around the world.  In the final game on February 9th 1980 the Americans faced the Soviets at Madison Square Garden and were handily beaten by a score of 10-3 by the Soviet team.  The Soviets on the other hand had enjoyed nothing but success against NHL teams with Soviet teams going 5-3-1 against their NHL counterparts, the best professional teams in the world. The previous year a Soviet team had shut out an NHL All-Star team 6-0.

When the Olympic completion began the Soviets, as was expected dominated their opponents in the preliminary round going 5-0 and outscoring their opponents 51-10.  The United States surprised everyone tying Sweden 2-2 with a last minute goal and then stunning a highly favored Czech team 7-3 before defeating Norway, Romania, and West Germany to advance to the medal round.

Brooks practiced the team hard as they prepared for the Soviets who they were scheduled to meet in the opening round of the medal competition. A loss for the Americans would force them to play for Bronze and no one expected the Americans to defeat the might Soviet team. Yet when the day came, the Lake Placid Field House was packed with 8500 fans decked out in Red White and Blue, with American flags displayed everywhere. In the area the crowd was spontaneously singing “God Bless America.” But because the Soviets refused to allow a later start time, the game was not televised live nor broadcast live on the radio in the States.

On February 22nd I had finished work making and rolling pizza dough at Shakey’s Pizza in Stockton, went home showered and then got in my car to head over to Judy’s house.  On my way over I was listening to the radio when ABC radio broke in to air final few seconds of the game live, as Al Michaels made the famous call “Eleven seconds, you’ve got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!”

The Soviets lead 3-2 at the beginning of the Third Period, and with the lead none of the Soviet players believed they could lose, but in the next ten minutes the underdog U.S. team pulled ahead 4-3 powered by goals from Mark Johnson who scored the tying goal, and team Captain Mike Eruzione, who scored what would be the winning goal with exactly ten minutes left to play, in those ten minutes the Soviets launched a powerful attack and did not stop, but they failed to score.  With the stadium afire with the shouts of USA! USA! American Goaltender Jim Craig turned away every shot. Al Michaels, who called the game for ABC later described the scene:

“The Soviets were putting so much pressure on the American team at the end of the game, and it was a one-goal game, the crowd is going absolutely insane, we were on a platform that was shaking, the production truck was going crazy.”

I could not believe what I was hearing and was screaming in the car. As soon as I got to Judy’s I went in and told her and her parents, who actually were not that interested in the game. When the game was televised that evening, I watched it with undivided attention and to this day I cannot forget that night.  The Americans had beaten the vaunted Soviet team 4-3 and would go on to defeat Finland in the Gold medal game 4-2.  The next day they were guests at the White House and after that the team broke up. Thirteen of the players would go on to NHL careers, and Brooks would lead the 2002 Team USA to a Silver in 2002 before being killed in a car crash in 2003.

The Soviet people and their news media were stunned by the loss. The fact that the Soviet Team won Silver by defeating Sweden 9-2, the team had lost its luster. The Team and its players returned home in shame. None of the team returned their silver medals to have their names engraved on them, and the Soviet Union and its state media was stunned. Soviet forward Sergei Makarov recalled in the book “The Boys of Winter” by Wayne Coffey, “Soviet forward Sergei Makarov recalled in the book “The Boys of Winter” by Wayne Coffey, “the politicians almost wanted to kill” the team when it stepped off the plane back in Russia.the team when it stepped off the plane back in Russia. After the loss the KGB kept a close watch On the team whenever it traveled outside the USSR, but Soviet players began to defect to play in the NHL. Likewise, Marakov‘s teammate Valery Vasilyev blamed the Soviet coach for the defeat. After the Soviet Coach, Viktor Tikhonov relieved legendary Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak at the end of the First Period after Mark Johnson scored to make the game a 2-2 tie at the end of the period, some Soviet players felt an unease. “The whole team was not happy when Tikhonov made the switch,” forward Sergei Makarov told Coffey. “It was the worst moment of Vlady’s career. Tikhonov was panicking. He couldn’t control himself. That’s what it was — panic.”

When the game was over Tikhonov, in a rage blamed the main Soviet stars for the loss, including Tretiak for the loss. Tikhonov pointed to the failure of Tretiak, and of the big line of Petrov, Boris Mikhailov and Valery Kharlamov. One by one, Tikhonov jabbed a finger in the faces of those four players, saying: “This is your loss! This is your loss!” On the plane back to the Soviet Union Vasilyev grabbed Tikhonov by the throat and threatened to kill him, but he was pulled away by his teammates.

Later, Vasilyev recalled: “For me, it was a ‘Mirage on Ice,..I still can’t understand how we could have lost to the Americans. I still can’t believe in that – as if it were a dream…I believed then and I still believe that our dismissive attitude to the U.S. team had led to our defeat,” he said. “We simply hadn’t taken them seriously.” 

Soviet Defenseman Slava Fetisov recalled: “Our team played a good game, but the U.S. team put together team speed, they never give up, and they got great support from their fans, I learned a pretty good lesson: Never underestimate your opponent.” Good advice  for anyone in a competitive sport, politics, or war. Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitols, Born five years after that game, and now one of the greatest players to ever play in the NHL noted in 2015:

“In Olympics, sometimes you can play great, but just the moment is not on your side, I don’t know what happened there. . . . Maybe they weren’t concentrating. Maybe it was bad luck.”

While the Soviet team remained dominant In international competitions until the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1990, the loss to the unheralded upstarts of Team USA in 1980 was the end of an era.  In the 1989-1990 season six of the 1980 Soviet team players, Helmuts Balderis, Viacheslav Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov, Vladimir Krutov, Sergei Makarov, and Sergei Starikov were  allowed, to play in the NHL. Today, some 30 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, many Russian players star in the NHL and remain in the United States even after their careers are over.

Forty years later the triumph of Team USA against all odds on that night is remembered as an event nearly unequaled in sports history as well as contemporary American history. It is considered one of the greatest games in hockey history. The game actually marked a return of pride to the country after a decade of discontent, defeat and discouragement.  That team and its members did something that no one expected in defeating the Soviets and going on to win the Gold medal against the Finns.  No one could have expected the effect on the country either. It was a miracle, a miracle on ice.

I don’t know about you, but I still believe in miracles, even in the age of Trump; and no, what Trump is doing is not miraculous, but rather a film flam show, mastering the media, and the most vile and base emotions of his supporters, while doing all he can to destroy the Constitutional and institutional guardrails against authoritarianism which have protected our country from tyranny for over two centuries. We need another miracle, but this time a hockey game won’t suffice.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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