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The Ring-Bolt to the Chain of Our Nation’s Destiny: The Declaration of Independence at 242 Years

The Thirty Three Star Fort Sumter Flag

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is July 4th and the 241st anniversary of the declaration by the leaders of 13 colonies of their independence from Britain and the founding on a new nation. It was a nation founded on a principle of the Enlightenment, the principle that all men are created equal, and as their Declaration of Independence noted that as such are “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 

Seventy-six years later the darkness of 1852 not long after the passage of the Compromise of 1850 which included an enhanced Fugitive Slave Act, it would be Frederick Douglass, the foremost Black abolitionist leader and himself an escaped slave would speak. The laws dictated that Northerners had to cooperate in the recapture and re-enslavement of blacks residing in their own states, regardless of their own state and local laws. While the Southern majority that crafted these laws always played the part of the aggrieved minority whose “states rights” were being threatened. But the reverse was true, with their majorities in the House and Senate which also included some Northern Congressmen and Senators, an always compliant White House, and a majority on the Supreme Court the Southerners used the threat of secession and civil war to enforce their mandates on the Free States.

On July 5th 1852 Douglass spoke these words these words to people who at the time were refused citizenship and who were enslaved:

“I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.”

Douglass understood this far better than many Americans in the South or the North. It would take a great and bloody war for most Americans to realize just how important the Declaration was to the destiny of the nation.  It would take far longer for the principle of an ever expanding understanding of liberty that included Blacks who were considered in law and statute as less than fully human.

One of the most notable of the apologists for White Supremacy was George Fitzhugh, a major Southern slaveholder and apologist for not only slavery but the inequality of poor whites and women. Fitzhugh spoke for many when he wrote against the principles of the Declaration:

“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.

Fitzhugh also wrote:

“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.

A greater contrast of views regarding the Declaration is hard to be found. Abraham Lincoln would say about the contrasting views of liberty at a speech in Baltimore on April 18th 1864:

“The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. 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. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name, liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names–liberty and tyranny.” 

Unfortunately these starkly contrasting views of liberty are still on display today. The President called Mexican and Central American refugees an “infestation” using a word that would to describe rats, insects or other disease carrying species. Members of his administration, Republican Congressmen and State Representatives, and members of various “conservative” media outlets, including their allies in the Alt-Right use the same language as Fitzhugh to declare for the superiority of the White race, to dehumanize Blacks, Mexicans, Arabs, and various dark skinned Asians and argue that darker skinned people are less than human and not entitled to liberty, equality and justice. A constant barrage of what quite literally amounts to state sponsored propaganda demonizes minorities, women, gays, the media, long term allies and alliances, and any potential political opponent.

Our Republic, its institutions and our freedom hinge on what Douglass called “the rig-bolt to the chains of our nation’s destiny,” and its principles “saving principles.” We must be dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal” or submit to tyranny.

The proposition in the Declaration that all men are created equal is essential to understanding or appreciating liberty. If we view others as below us, as even less than human then we cannot say that we believe in liberty. If we decide to limit the right of citizens to speak out because of their color, their national origin, their race, their religion, their gender, or sexual identity then we are not for liberty, we are no better than George Fitzhugh or others, even the Nazis, who enslaved, imprisoned, and exterminated others in the name of their power, and their right.

If our concept of liberty is so limited by our ideology that we cannot accept others having it or being equal to us then we stand against the very proposition that the United States was founded and we should bury the American experiment and stop lying about a proposition that we no longer believe in. The eminent American jurist wrote these words, which for me are like the Declaration, the Preamble of the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech are secular scripture that are sacred to my understanding of being an American, and something that I will never yield. Judge Hand said:

“Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. The spirit of Liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of Liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of Liberty is that which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.”

With that my friends I wish you a happy Independence Day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“But the Jews Weren’t the Only Ones” How Ordinary and Terrifyingly Normal People Minimize and Accept Nazi Ideology

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have to admit that the amount of ignorance in the defense of evil that I see daily is simply mind blowing. It makes me shake my head. But then I cannot be surprised anymore. Over the weekend I saw a poll in which nine percent of Americans said that holding White Supremacist or Neo-Nazi views and ideology was okay.

Now nine percent doesn’t sound like a big number or anything to worry about until you extrapolate that percentage into the numbers of people who hold that view. Based on the population of the United States that nine percent equals about thirty million individuals. Now I’m sure that many of these patriotic Americans are not card carrying Klansmen or Nazis, but the fact that they would turn a blind eye to the evil of both in the name of some incomprehensible moral equivalence as did President Trump after Charlottesville is quite disturbing. Perhaps it is his example that enables them to be so open about their acceptance of evil.

Yesterday on my Facebook page a friend of a friend commented on an article which discussed new research that indicates that the Nazis in their occupation of the Ukraine killed perhaps a half million more Jews than previously believed. That woman made the comment that there were others, and yes that is true. Had the Nazis won the war tens of millions more of the Jews as well as the Slavs who they referred to as Untermenschen or subhumans would have been killed, either directly or through a policy of intentional starvation. But make no bones about it, from the months that Hitler spent in Landsberg prison for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 writing Mein Kampf until the end of the war as the Red Army closed in on his bunker in Berlin, the Jews above all were the object of his personal hatred.

Close to six million Jews and millions of others were killed by the Nazis. Millions of Africans were enslaved in the United States and even after emancipation were by law treated as less than full citizens. Under Jim Crow they were discriminated against at every level of government including states that were neither a part of the Confederacy or not even States when the Civil War was fought, they were impressed as forced labor under the Black Codes and thousands were murdered, often in public by people who brought their children to watch Black men die.

But these people were not just numbers. It’s all to easy to blur them into a mass of dehumanized humanity by talking about the millions, when every single one was a human being, yes, I believe created in the image of God. We have to see their faces and we have to recognize their essential humanity as men and women, children, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives, whose lives were in the case of the Jews obliterated as if they never existed, and others like African slaves who were simply property.

I explained that in quite a few fewer words and told her that she shouldn’t challenge me on the subject, which of course she did. So I went into more detail and shot her argument down in flames, to the cheers of other commentators on the post. When you have spent much of your academic life studying a subject it really gets old hearing people make excuse for evil by trying to minimize that evil, especially against the targeted people.

It’s like Confederate apologists saying that the institution of slavery which enslaved millions of Africans was actually worse for White people. Yes it is true that many poor whites benefited little from slavery, but they were not bought and sold as chattel, sold away from their wives and children, whipped, and marched across country in chains to new owners, or yes even killed simply because they were not considered human beings but property.

Sadly, as Dr. Timothy Snyder wrote “The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned.”

So there are about 30 million Americans who believe that holding Nazi and White Supremacist beliefs is okay. A few years ago I would believed that the number was lower, but after seven months of living in Trump’s America I believe that it might be even higher than the poll indicated. I only say this based on the postings I see on various social media platforms, news comment pages, the proliferation of websites that cater to these beliefs, and the lack of real condemnation of such individuals by the majority of the GOP Senate and House majorities, and the outright defense of them by other GOP representatives at the Federal and State level. These people have not learned the lessons of the Holocaust, nor American slavery.

Again I don’t believe that the majority of these people are real card carrying Nazis or Klansmen. Most would probably be considered great citizens: they work, they raise families, they go to church, and many would claim that they have “a Black or Jewish friend” so obviously they cannot be racists. But that being said they turn a blind eye to the evil of race hatred and White supremacy, and sometimes join in on social media meme wars where they mock the victims. But no matter what, not condemning the purveyors of White Supremacist or Neo-Nazi ideology, or by using the arguments of moral equivalence to minimize those crimes against humanity makes these people as complicit in the past, present, and future crimes of Naziism as if they were.

They may be ordinary people, as seemingly normal as anyone else, but as Hannah Arendt noted about Adolf Eichmann and other Nazis who advanced the destruction of the Jews was that they were so normal. She wrote:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”

That my friends is as true as the day she wrote it after Eichmann’s trial, as it is today, and why we must constantly educate people in every forum possible that it is all too easy to become either a perpetrator or evil or a bystander. As Snyder wrote: “It is less appealing, but morally more urgent, to understand the actions of the perpetrators. The moral danger, after all, is never that one might become a victim but that one might be a perpetrator or a bystander. It is tempting to say that a Nazi murderer is beyond the pale of understanding. …Yet to deny a human being his human character is to render ethics impossible. To yield to this temptation, to find other people inhuman, is to take a step toward, not away from, the Nazi position. To find other people incomprehensible is to abandon the search for understanding, and thus to abandon history.”

Since they were human beings the Nazis were not unique to history. In every era of history human beings have committed atrocities, many in the name of some kind of ethnic, religious, or nationalist ideology of supremacy that held other people to be less than human. That may sound harsh, but it is all too true based on history.

Yehuda Bauer wrote: “The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

In the movie Judgment at Nuremberg the judge played by Spencer Tracy noted something important about the defendants in the trial. His words need to be heard today as well:

Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.

It is high time that we learn that again and that we make up our minds to oppose the ideologies that made the Holocaust and Slavery possible. As Hannah Arendt observed: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Statues With Limitations: Part One


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past week I have written a number of articles about what happened in Charlottesville and I have promised to write something about the Confederate Monument controversy. Last night I posted an article about that controversy in light of one particular monument in Colfax, Louisiana, the site of one of the most brutal massacres committed in the name of White Supremacy in our nation’s history. I do hope that you read it and share it. 

Likewise I have I have posted quite a few articles and links to articles regarding what happened at Charlottesville and the subsequent debate about removing Confederate statues on my Facebook and Twitter pages. 

Today I am beginning a two part article dealing with my thoughts on the monuments themselves. This section is more of a background article before part two which will deal with my thoughts about the monuments themselves in the broader context of them, as well as other monuments not necessarily connected with the Confederate monuments. 

First, as to the Confederate Monuments, my comments are not meant to impugn the lives of people’s ancestors. My family on both my paternal and maternal sides fought as members of the 8th Virginia Cavalry on the side of the Confederacy even though their part of Virginia officially sided with the Union. One of them, the family patriarch on my paternal side was a slave holder who after the war refused to swear his allegiance to the United States and probably was a member of White Supremacist groups after the war. There is no doubt of what he fought for, and the fact that he was a traitor and remained a traitor to our country. I don’t know as many details about the maternal side except they were part of the same regiment, except that they were not subject to conscription and as such all volunteered willingly to fight against the United States. For that is a problem, I find it hard to honor their military service because it was against the United States. There are no records that I know of, no letters that they wrote which say what they thought, and they are not “mentioned in dispatches” (the manner in which the Confederate Army honored soldiers) for any particular gallantry, in fact the history of the regiment mentions that my paternal family patriarch deserted in February of 1865. 

I do draw a distinction between the kinds of men that served in the Confederate Army. In particular I make a distinction between those that were eager volunteers for the Confederacy and those who were unwilling conscripted in the Confederate Draft beginning in early 1862 because the Confederate Army could not get enough willing volunteers. These men were drafted, often against their will. Most had no means to pay for a substitute or did not have political connections. Interestingly one of the notable exemptions to the Confederate Draft were the men who were exempted  because they owned more than ten slaves or worked for someone that owned more than 20 slaves. This was known as the Twenty Slave Rule, which modified in Draft Law of 1864 to 15 slaves. As you can imagine many poor Whites who owned no slaves found the rule to be quite unjust, but privilege is just that, quite unjust. 

As a result the conscripts were frequently abused by the willing volunteers and frequently deserted. When found, most were summarily executed following a Drumhead Trial. As the war became more desperate, deserters were summarily exectuted without trial. Hundreds of deserters from the Army of Northern Virginia were executed in the last months of the war by the direct order of Robert E. Lee simply because they were trying to go home to their families who had been displaced by the advance of Sherman’s army in Georgia and the Carolinas. These men were victims of the war and secessionist leaders as much as anyone. If you read some of their letters they are heartbreaking. 

Those who volunteered to serve the Confederate cause, especially men who had been officers in the United States Army or Navy no-matter their reason for serving the Confederacy, their gallantry as soldiers, battlefield heroics, leadership skills, or tactical brilliance were traitors to the United States. Yes they were Americans, and many had served honorably before the Civil War, but that makes them no less traitors. After the war a good number of the survivors reconciled with the Union, opposed the growing myth of the Lost Cause, and took no part in subsequent violence or in implementing discriminatory measures against the now free Blacks. Among the most prominent of these men were Lee’s lieutenants James Longstreet, Richard Ewell, John Mosby, and Billy Mahone. I have no doubt that A.P. Hill would have joined them had he not been killed in action at the end of the war, and following the war his widow opposed Jubal Early and other proponents of the Lost Cause. Robert E. Lee himself did reconcile and opposed the use of the Confederate flags, uniforms, and monuments. I will explore Lee’s actions before, during and after the war in another article that I have already started to draft. 

Interestingly, very few monuments, except those on battlefields are dedicated to these men in the South, except from Robert E. Lee who ironically wanted no part of them. Nor are there monuments in the South to Southern officers who remained loyal to the Union during the war including Generals Winfield Scott, George Thomas, John Buford, John Gibbon, Montgomery Miegs, and Admiral David Farragut. 

Likewise there is another class of men who have to be considered when dealing with the Monument Controversy. These were the political leaders whose actions led directly to the deaths of three quarters of a million men, including hundreds of thousands of Southern men, and the destruction of much of the South. How even the most devoted Southerner who wants to honor their soldiers can tolerate monuments to these leaders in their back yards is beyond me. These were also the men who ensured that every state legislature made sure that the primary reason they gave for secession in their various articles of secession was preserving and expanding slavery, while maintain white superiority. As Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens noted in his Cornerstone Speech:

“Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

There is a final group that needs to be considered. These were Confederate veterans, including notables like General Nathan Bedford Forrest, as well as men who did not serve in the war who joined paramilitaries that terrorized and killed newly free blacks. There were others who established the Black Codes which were pre-Jim Crow laws that placed many former slaves into a form of slavery by other means, imprisoning them and making them forced laborers on plantations, and businesses, many owned by Northerners. 

Racism and slavery was at the heart of the war, and it was not just a Southern problem. Many Northern businesses and banks had a strong financial interest in slavery, and there was a strong anti-war, pro-Confederate movement in the North that fully approved of slavery, the post-war Black Codes, and Jim Crow. Likewise there were many Northerners who were just as racist before, during and after the war. There were and are still are many Sundown Towns in the North and states that were never a part of the Confederacy. In no way can Northerners be fully excused from the crime of slavery, nor can they be absolved of being as racist any pro-slavery Confederate or Jim Crow proponent. Some of these men have monuments built in their honor which likewise should be examined if we are going to talk about the Confederate monuments. 

As to the monuments themselves, the vast majority were erected after the Plessy v. Ferguson case that legalized the Jim Crow Laws and empowered the movement to disenfranchise blacks, to fire them from positions in Federal and State governments, and to use violence against Blacks to keep them in line. Almost all of the monuments which were erected between 1895 and 1930 were put up not to honor the men who served but to remind Blacks of their status. The same is true of the next major surge of monument building which occurred during the Civil Rights movement, again to demonstrate to Blacks that they were subordinate to Whites, and many of these monuments were erected in places where no Confederate soldiers came from, and others which commemorate men who committed terrorist acts and murder against Blacks in the years after the war. In many case these monuments are located in cities and towns that are heavily African American. Two of these are no far from where I live in Norfolk and Portsmouth Virginia. They have different histories which I think leads to a discussion about their context. 

So, that is some of the background. I’ve written a lot about slavery, secession, and Jim Crow and will put some of those articles out again, and tomorrow I will have my proposal on what I think should be done with the various monuments. This will take into the context each type of monument and how to respectfully deal with them and how people feel about them, both opponents and supporters. In looking at what I wrote here the series may well be more than two parts. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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Stand by Those Principles, Against All Foes, At Any Cost: Independence Day 2017


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is July 4th and the 241st anniversary of the declaration by the leaders of 13 colonies of their independence from Britain and the founding on a new nation. It was a nation founded on a principle of the Enlightenment, the principle that all men are created equal, and as their Declaration of Independence noted that as such are “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 

That founding principle was revolutionary and regardless of how badly it was many times lived out in the history of our nation, it was and still is the first time that a nation was not founded on the basis of ethnicity or religion, but rather a principle, a proposition that no matter how noble was, and still is often despised by Americans. 

One of the most notable was George Fitzhugh, a major Southern slaveholder and apologist for not only slavery but the inequality of poor whites and women 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.

Fitzhugh also wrote: 

“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.”

But he was not alone. In 1860 South Carolina led a procession of 11 states out of the Union based on the proposition that only certain men were created equal. Every declaration of secession had at its heart the statement that the institution of slavery was to be protected and expanded with the implication that African American slaves could never be equal, free, or enjoy the slightest legal protections of citizenship. These states were willing to fight a war for this and even at the end of that war many of their leaders resisted any call for granting emancipation to blacks, and then when that was over use terrorism and law to again strip away the rights from newly freed blacks through lynching, the Black Codes, and Jim Crow. 

In 1852 not long after the passage of the Compromise of 1850 which included an enhanced Fugitive Slave Act which dictated that Northerners had to cooperate in the recapture and reenslavement of blacks residing in their free states, Frederick Douglass preached one of the most damning sermons about what July 4th meant to slaves. He said:

“I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.” 

Even so men like Fitzhugh would proclaim: “Liberty for the few – slavery in every form, for the mass.”

Of course such is not liberty, it is tyranny and it is the seedbed of dictatorship. The word liberty is often abused by those who seek total power and control over the lives of others. Abraham Lincoln said as much when he noted: 

“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.” 

The proposition in the Declaration that all men are created equal is essential to understanding or appreciating liberty. If we view others as below us, as even less than human then we cannot say that we believe in liberty. If we decide to limit the right of citizens to speak out because of their color, their national origin, their race, their religion, their gender, or sexual identity then we are not for liberty, we are no better than George Fitzhugh or others, even the Nazis, who enslaved, imprisoned, and exterminated others in the name of their power, and their right. 

If our concept of liberty is so limited by our ideology that we cannot accept others having it or being equal to us then we stand against the very proposition that the United States was founded and we should bury the American experiment and stop lying about a proposition that we no longer believe in. The eminent American jurist wrote these words, which for me are like the Declaration, the Preamble of the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech are secular scripture that are sacred to my understanding of being an American, and something that I will never yield. Judge Hand said: 

“Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. The spirit of Liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of Liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of Liberty is that which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.”

So today, on this 241st anniversary of our independence when the rights of citizenship, the rights of suffrage, the rights of the freedom of the press and freedom of speech are under assault for the man occupying the highest office in the land I do not despair. I do not despair because the spirit of liberty still lives in my heart as it does many others who still believe in that sacred and revolutionary proposition that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

In the darkness of 1852 Frederick Douglass said these words to people who at the time were refused citizenship and who were enslaved:  

“I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.”

May we not forget those words on this day when the founding proposition of our country is under attack. 

Cherish our independence and never stop believing in or fighting for liberty. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: The Beginnings of a Book

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Hannah Arendt wrote:

“Slavery’s crime against humanity did not begin when one people defeated and enslaved its enemies (though of course this was bad enough), but when slavery became an institution in which some men were ‘born’ free and others slave, when it was forgotten that it was man who had deprived his fellow-men of freedom, and when the sanction for the crime was attributed to nature.”

It has been a very busy few weeks and one of the exiting things that is in the process of happening is that my literary agent has informed me that he has some promising leads in trying to get one of my book drafts published. The book, which I have given the tentative title Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory! Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era began as one of the introductory chapters to my Gettysburg Staff Ride text and took on a life of its own. As I read, researched, and wrote my search led me to more and more aspects of slavery and abolition that opened my eyes to the very religious, and Christian justifications for both, especially the words of Southern preachers which I have a hard time getting out of my head because of how perverse those views were, and still are.

Over the past couple of years I have posted parts of it on this site and I feel that it is really important work as so many of the issues of the ante-bellum era in regard to the institution of slavery: the Civil War with emancipation and the Thirteenth Amendment that outlawed slavery in the United States; Reconstruction with the Fourteenth Amendment which granted citizenship to freed African Americans, and which became foundational for other Civil Rights causes, and the Fifteenth Amendment which gave Black men the right to vote. These were followed by the Civil Rights act of 1875, and then with the end of Reconstruction came the return of White Rule, the overthrow of the Civil Rights Act, and the reestablishment of slavery by another name with Black Codes, Jim Crow, and violent White Supremacist groups, and finally the emergence of a new Civil Rights movement in the late 1940s. First Baseball and then the military were desegregated, then finally in 1964 the Voter’s Rights Act was passed and then in 1965 the a new Civil Rights Act.

During the interregnum between the end of Reconstruction and the high point of the Civil Rights movement, many African Americans, famous, and those not so famous worked to establish equality. Men like Frederick Douglass, W.E.B DuBois, Jackie Robinson, Benjamin O. Davis and Benjamin O. Davis Jr., James Meredith, John Lewis, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and women like Rosa Parks fought discrimination, segregation and racism through peaceful protests and strong personal leadership and example. The Buffalo Soldiers served their country proudly even though they faced discrimination almost everywhere in the United States. But they all persevered.

Their story is the story of America, and intertwined in it are the themes of religion, racism, ideology, and politics; sometimes used for the purpose of freedom, but all too often perverted to deprive others of that same freedom. The institution of slavery needed racist ideology and a theology to cover the evil that it was, and can be again. That is why I write about it, and why I led this article with the quote by Hannah Arendt. The fact that after a great Civil War that claimed the lives of about 750,000 American soldiers, North and South, that others within months attempted to re-establish slavery by other means, and then when Reconstruction ended succeeded in using the law to make Blacks both second class citizens as well treating them as less than human. The poison of this philosophy spread to Europe where Hitler and his Nazi Party zealots crafted race laws against the Jews that were based in part on the American model of Jim Crow and the Black Codes.

The resurgence of White Supremacist groups across the United States and in Europe show us that we cannot ignore history without ourselves committing similar crimes against humanity. I guess that’s why I started this article with the quote by Hannah Arendt. It wasn’t just the enslavement of people, it was the institutionalization of that as well as its defense by ideologues, business leaders, politicians, and worst of all, supposedly Christian religious leaders.

So anyway, that is why I write. Anyway, I’m going to have a lot to do working with my agent over the coming days and weeks. Have a great day. I’ll keep you posted.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Slavery Under Another Name: The Black Codes

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Blacks Sentenced to Work Planatations Under the Black Codes

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another of my continued series of articles pulled from my various Civil War texts dealing with Emancipation and the early attempts to gain civil rights for African Americans. This section that I will cover for the next few days deals with the post-war period, a period marked by conflicting political and social desires for equality, justice, revenge, and the re-victimization of Blacks who had so recently been emancipated.

I hope that you find these helpful.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Southern Resistance to Reconstruction and the Black Codes

White Southerners including the newly pardoned Confederates enacted black codes that “codified explicit second-class citizenship for freedpeople.” [1] The legislature of Mississippi refused to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, and did not do so until 1995. One Southerner noted that “Johnson “held up before us the hope of a ‘white man’s government,’ and this led us to set aside negro suffrage…. It was natural that we should yield to our old prejudices.” [2] Former Confederates, including Alexander Stephens the former Vice President of the Confederacy were elected to high office, Stephens to the United States Senate and the aggrieved Republicans in Congress in turn refused to admit the former Confederates. Many Union veterans were incensed by Johnson’s actions, one New York artilleryman noted “I would not pardon the rebels, especially the leaders, until they should kneel in the dust of humiliation and show their deeds that they sincerely repent.” [3] He was not alone, many Northern Veterans who formed the integrated Grand Army of the Republic veterans maintained a patent disregard, if not hatred of what the old South stood for and felt that their efforts in the war had been betrayed by the government.

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General William Tecumseh Sherman provide for Freed Blacks to have land 

Johnson’s restoration of property to the former white owners drove tens of thousands of blacks off lands that they had been farming, or left them as laborers for their former slave masters. Johnson countermanded General William Tecumseh Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s Field Order 15 to “divide abandoned and confiscated lands on the Sea Islands and in a portion of the Low Country coast south of Charleston into forty-acre plots for each black family.” [4] As such many freed blacks were now at the mercy of their former white owners for any hope of economic sustenance.

Johnson worked stridently, and often successfully to frustrate the efforts of the Freedmen’s Bureau headed by Major General Oliver Howard to help freed blacks to become landowners and to protect their legal rights. In immediate post-war South states organized all white police forces and state militias composed primarily of Confederate veterans, many still wearing their gray or butternut uniforms. In such a climate blacks had few rights, and officers of the Freedmen’s Bureau lamented the situation. In Georgia one officer wrote that no jury would “convict a white man for killing a freedman,” or “fail to hang” a black man who killed a white in self-defense. Blacks commented another agent, “would be just as well off with no law at all or no Government,” as with the legal system established in the South under Andrew Johnson. “If you call this Freedom,” wrote one black veteran, “what do you call slavery?” [5]

The struggle between Johnson and Congress intensified when the President vetoed the Civil Rights Bill. Congress responded by overriding his veto. Eventually the battle between Johnson and Congress climaxed when Johnson was impeached when he tried to remove Secretary of War Stanton from office. Johnson barely survived the impeachment proceedings and was acquitted by one vote in the Senate in 1868.

The various black codes enacted throughout the South were draconian measures to codify and institutionalize racism and White Supremacy:

“passed labor laws that bound blacks to employers almost as tightly as slavery once bound them to their masters. Other codes established patterns of racial segregation that had been impossible under slavery, barred African Americans from serving on juries or offering testimony in court against whites, made “vagrancy,” “insulting gestures,” and “mischief” offenses by blacks punishable by fines or imprisonment, forbade black-white intermarriage, ad banned ownership by blacks of “fire-arms of any kind, or any ammunition, dirk or bowie-knife.” [6]

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African Americans leased out to build Railroad 

Mississippi’s Black Codes were the first of these and among the sections dealt with a change in vagrancy laws, specifically aimed at emancipated blacks and those whites who might associate with them:

“That all freedmen, free Negroes, and mulattoes in this state over the age of eighteen years found on the second Monday in January, 1866, or thereafter, with no lawful employment or business, or found unlawfully assembling themselves together in the day or night time, and all white persons so assembling with freedmen, free Negroes, or mulattoes on terms of equality, or living in adultery with a freedwoman, free Negro, or mulatto, shall be deemed vagrants; and on conviction thereof shall be fined…and imprisoned….”  [7]

The black codes were condoned and supported by President Johnson. While the black codes recognized the bare minimal elements of black freedom, their provisions confirmed the observations of one journalist who wrote “the whites seem wholly unable to comprehend that freedom for the negro means the same thing as freedom for them. They readily admit that the Government has made him free, but appear to believe that the have the right to exercise the old control.” [8] As state after state followed the lead of Mississippi, which was the first state to enact black codes Northern anger grew and some newspapers took the lead in condemn the black codes. “We tell the white men of Mississippi,” exploded the Chicago Tribune on December 1, “ that the men of the North will convert the state of Mississippi into a frog pond before they allow any such laws to disgrace one foot of soil in which the bones of our soldiers sleep and over which the flag of freedom waves.”  [9]

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The Memphis Massacre

Within weeks of the end of the war, violence against blacks began to break out in different parts of the South and it continued to spread as Johnson and the new Congress battled each other in regard to Reconstruction policy:

“In Memphis, Tennessee, in May of 1866, whites on a rampage of murder killed forty-six Negroes, most of them veterans of the Union army, as well as two white sympathizers. Five Negro women were raped. Ninety homes, twelve schools and four churches were burned. In New Orleans in the summer of 1866, another riot against blacks killed thirty-five Negroes and three whites.” [10]

The hatred of blacks and the violence against them was not limited to adults, children joined in as well. In Natchez Mississippi an incident that showed how deep the antipathy towards blacks was when on a Sunday afternoon, “an elderly freedman protested to a small white boy raiding his turnip patch. The boy shot him dead, and that was that. In Vicksburg the Herald complained that the town’s children were hitting innocent bystanders when using their “nigger shooters.” [11]

Colonel Samuel Thomas, the director of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Mississippi noted the attitudes that he saw in many whites toward the newly emancipated African Americans. He wrote that white public sentiment had not progressed and that whites had not “come to the attitude in which it can conceive of the negro having any rights at all. Men, who are honorable in their dealings with their white neighbors, without feeling a single twinge of honor…. And however much they confess that the President’s proclamation broke up the relation of the individual slave to their owners, they still have the ingrained feeling that the black people at large belong to whites at large.” [12] Sadly, the attitude reported by Colonel Thomas not only remained but also grew more violent with each passing month.

Another lesser-discussed aspect of the Black Codes was their use to return African Americans who had been convicted under the “vagrancy” statutes to a new type of slavery in all but name. The state governments then leased the prisoners to various corporations; railroads, mines and plantations, even former Confederate General and founder of the Ku Klux Klan Nathan Bedford Forrest received his share of prisoners to work his land.

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The practice became a lucrative source of revenue, for not only did the states collect the fees from the companies, but did not have to spend tax dollars to incarcerate, feed or otherwise care for the prisoners. Mortality rates were very high among the prisoners in private custody and the regulations, which stipulated that prisoners would be adequately fed, housed and treated, were not enforced.

By 1877 “every former Confederate state except Virginia had adopted the practice of leasing black prisoners into commercial hands. There were variations among the states, but all shared the same basic formula. Nearly all the penal functions of government were turned over to the companies purchasing convicts. In return for what they paid each state, the companies received absolute control of the prisoners… Company guards were empowered to chain prisoners, shoot those attempting to flee, torture any who wouldn’t submit, and whip the disobedient – naked or clothed – almost without limit. Over eight decades, almost never were there penalties to any acquirer of these slaves for their mistreatment or deeds.” [13]

The profitability of these ventures brought Northern investors, including the owners and shareholders of U.S. Steel into the scheme allowing financial houses and Northern corporations to grow their wealth, as they had during the pre-war days off the backs of slaves. However, the practice was also detrimental to poor Southern Whites who could not compete fairly in the labor market. In 1891 miners of the “Tennessee Coal Company were asked to sign an “iron-clad contract”: pledging no strikes, agreeing to get paid in scrip, and giving up the right to check the weight of the coal they mined (they were paid by weight). They refused to sign and were evicted from their houses. Convicts were brought in to replace them.” [14] The company’s response brought about an insurrection by the miners who took control of the mine and the area around it and freed 500 of the convict-slaves. The leaders were primarily Union Army veterans and members of the Grand Army of the Republic veteran’s organization. The company backed down, but others learned the lesson and began to employ heavily armed Pinkerton agents as well as the state militias to deal with the growing labor movement, not only in the South but also in the North.

Non-convict black laborers as well as poor white “sharecroppers” on the large plantations were forced back into servitude of another manner, where legislatures gave “precedence to a landlord’s claim to his share of the crop over that of the laborer for wages or a merchant for supplies, thus shifting the risk of farming from employer to employee.” Likewise, “a series of court decisions defined the sharecropper not as a partner in agriculture or a renter with a property right in the growing crop, but as a wage laborer possessing “only a right to go on the land to plant, work, and gather the crop.” [15]

The practice did not end until Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered his Attorney General Francis Biddle to order Federal prosecutors who had for decades looked the other way begin prosecuting individuals and companies involved in this form of slavery. Biddle was the first U.S. Attorney General to admit the fact that “African Americans were not free and to assertively enforce the statutes written to protect them.” [16] Biddle, who later sat as a justice at the Nuremberg trials of major Nazi War Criminals commented during the war “One response of this country to the challenge to the ideals of democracy made by the new ideologies of Fascism and Communism has been a deepened realization of the values of a government based on a belief in the dignity and the rights of man.” [17] Biddle charged the newly formed Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department to shift its focus from organized crime to cases of discrimination and racial abuse. Biddle repudiated the rational that allowed for the practice and wrote that the “law is fixed and established to protect the weak-minded the poor, the miserable” and that the contracts of the states that allowed the practices were “null and void.” [18] It was the beginning of another twenty-year process in which African Americans and their allies in the Civil Rights Movement worked to bring about what Lincoln referred to as “a new birth of freedom.”

To be continued….

Notes 

[1] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 177

[2] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.491

[3] Jordan, Brian Matthew. Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War Liveright Publishing Corporation a Division of W.W. Norton and Company Inc. New York and London 2014 p.119

[4] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.411

[5] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.96

[6] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.491

[7] ____________ Mississippi’s Black Code, November 24-29, 1865 in the Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause” Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. Editors, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2010 Amazon Kindle edition location 4505 of 8647

[8] Ibid. Foner Forever Free pp.93-94

[9] Lord, Walter The Past that Would Not Die Harper Collins Publishers, New York 1965 p.12

[10] Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War p.55

[11] Ibid. Lord The Past that Would Not Die p.8

[12] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.92

[13] Blackmon, Douglas A. Slavery By another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II Anchor Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2008 p.56

[14] Ibid. Zinn A People’s History of the United States p.275

[15] Ibid. Foner A Short History of Reconstruction p.250

[16] Ibid. Blackmon Slavery By another Name pp.378-379

[17] Ibid. Blackmon Slavery By another Name p.378

[18] Ibid. Blackmon Slavery By another Name p.379

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Rebels and Racism in Gettysburg 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Gettysburg is hallowed ground for all who love this country. It is the site of a defeat which ended any hope for a Confederate military victory, and at which Abraham Lincoln spoke of a new birth of freedom. It is a place that veterans of both sides began to gather both to remember their service and comrades but also to promote reconciliation between the North and the South. 

But it has also become a place in recent years for neo-Confederates to gather, not to remember the new birth of freedom, but to arrogantly defile the site by spewing hate, proclaiming racism, while openly speaking of their hatred of the United States and love of the late Confederacy. Some drive around town and in front of the Soldier’s Cemetery in large and loud pickup trucks, sometimes blaring their horns, while flying large 3′ x 5′ Confederate Battle Flags flying as if to mock the Union soldiers buried there. 

It is also interesting to note that many of these openly racist people are not from the South, nor do they have southern roots. They simply tend to be racist and anti-government and gather around the flag of the Confederacy.  I remember having a beer with a man from upstate New York in a bar a year or so ago who said he was the chaplain for a Confederate reenactment unit (in uniform) and went on to discuss his hatred for the United States, as well as African Americans, and other non-white American citizens. Likewise on another visit an older couple who said they were from Georgia listened to me talk with my students in the Soldier’s Cemetery, and when I was finished with reading the Gettysburg Address, the man made sure that he told me that all people were not created equal. 

But let me be clear, there are also Southerners who love this country very much, who when they come to Gettysburg to remember their fallen ancestors, do so with a reverence which is perfectly in keeping with the desire for reconciliation of the Southern veterans as who returned to Gettysburg in the decades after the war. 

I was walking by one of the gift shops in town and noticed a t-shirt on display. The shirt was adorned with the Confederate Battle Flag and and the words “I will not be reconstructed and I don’t give a damn!” 

To some that may seem like a simple snarky statement. However, when you understand what the phase really means it should leave you cold. In 1866 it became part of the lyrics of a song called Oh, I’m a Good ole Rebel, a song that has been recorded numerous times in the years since it was written. 

It was a phase used by Southerners after the Civil War who opposed the process of reconstruction, opposed all civil rights for blacks, and pushed for the return of white rule, which they achieved in 1877 when Reconstruction ended. At that point nearly every hard fought for right of African Americans was reversed, suppressed, or made so difficult to use as to be effectively revoked. Those rights would not begin to be restored until 1954 when the Supreme Court issued the Brown v. Board of Education decision which overturned the  Plessy v. Ferguson ruling of 1894. This ruling declared that the segregation laws and Black Codes of the Jim Crow era were unconstitutional. It took another ten years for Congress in the face of heated opposition to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1965. 

But among segregationists those rulings were reviled. Governors fought to keep African Americans from entering segregated public schools and universities, civil rights workers were attacked and sometimes killed, civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr were assassinated. Alabama governor George Wallace, who in his 1963 governor’s inauguration address proclaimed “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” ran on a segregationist platform in the 1968 election and won 13.53% of the popular vote. He won Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas, while collecting 45 electoral votes. Interestingly enough, the demographics of Wallace’s supporters, heavily white male and lesser educated, were very much like those of current GOP nominee Donald Trump. 

But I digress, yet the fact of the matter is that the open proclamation of the phrase I will not be reconstructed on a shirt displaying the flag of the republic that Confederate Vice President Alexander said, was founded on the superiority of the white race and subordination of the negro as slaves. They are the words of the KKK, the Red Shirts, and the White Leagues who used violence and terrorism to intimidate blacks and any of their white supporters. 

So a a historian I will not attempt to silence those people’s free speech rights, as repugnant as I find them to be. But have to call their words what they are, a call for the return to Jim Crow and worse. They are meant to intimidate people, and I find that message evil, in fact it goes against everything that makes America great. Maybe those who say they will “make America great again” should take heed to the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and realize what really makes America great instead of spewing the hate of those who fought the propositions of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness at every turn, even to begin a bloody civil war. 

So until tomorrow have a great Monday.

Peace,

Padre Steve+


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