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“Nothing is Easier than to Denounce an Evil Doer; Nothing is more Important than to Understand Him” The Uncomfortable Necessity of Understanding Evil

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”

I think one of our problems is that we want to believe that evil is simply done be evil people. That is why when we see a Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or the monsters of the so-called Islamic State, we are often strangely comforted. This is often  because we can point to a single person with a wicked ideology and say “they are evil,” all the while forgetting that they are, or were, like us, also human. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us of the folly of that type of thinking:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

A few years ago I took a break from my Gettysburg studies and writing and dusted off an old academic paper dealing with the one of the more uncomfortable aspects of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. I did that because I felt that I needed to reexamine the nature of evil in the modern world. Since that time I have gone back, done more study, more writing, and made more visits to locations of Nazi evil. I will be doing more of that in the next few weeks as we go back to Germany for an eighteen day visit.

When I ponder the evil committed by supposedly civilized men and women of Germany, I realize that they are little different than others who share the culture of the West. These people were the products of a culture of learning, and of science. They were part of a culture formed by the Christian tradition, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, the age of Reason. As I pondered this I came to remember something said by the late Iris Chang, “civilization is tissue thin.”

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                                    Lynching in the American South

That series of articles about the Einsatzgruppen dealt with the ordinary men, and the bureaucratic systems that implemented an ideology so twisted and evil that it is unimaginable to most people. In fact even in the Nazi system the majority of the genocide was not committed in the death camps, but up close and personal by men standing over pits with pistols, rifles, and machine guns.

While most people in the United States know a little about the Holocaust, most do not fully comprehend how devilish and insidious the crimes of the Nazis were. More frightening is the fact that in a 2015 survey 46% of people worldwide have never heard of the Holocaust, and of the 54% who are aware of it some 32% think it is a myth or has been greatly exaggerated. The numbers will only get worse as we become farther removed from these events and the survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators die off. The same is true for other genocidal acts.

We typically know about the extermination camps like Auschwitz, but the lesser known dark side of the Holocaust, perhaps the scariest part, is the story of the men of the Einsatzgruppen. The Einsatzgruppen and affiliated units, including those of the Wehrmacht, the Waffen SS, the mobilized battalions of the Order Police, and locally recruited units, rounded up massive numbers of people and killed them up close and personal. In all these units murdered over two million people, about 1.3 million of whom were Jews.

My study of the Holocaust began in college as an undergraduate. My primary professor at California State University at Northridge, Dr. Helmut Haeussler had been an interpreter and interrogator at the Nuremberg trials. I was able to take a number of lecture classes from him a large amount of research and independent study courses in a year of graduate work while finishing my Army ROTC program at UCLA. It was an immersion in the history, sociology, and the psychology of evil, during which I was able to meet and talk with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

mass killing einsatzgruppen

                       Einsatzgruppen and Ordungspolizei in Russia

Since then I have continued to read and study. I lived in Germany for over four years, and made many other visits, during which I went to a number of Concentration Camp sites. I visited the rebuilt synagogue in Worms which had been destroyed during the infamous Kristallnacht, and other museums and Holocaust memorial sites in Germany. I visited the Zeppelin field, the site of Hitler’s massive Nazi Party rallies in Nuremburg, as well as the graveyards which contain the victims of other Nazi crimes, including the Nacht und Nebel or night and fog actions, where people simply disappeared and were murdered by the Gestapo.

For me, those visits were sobering, maybe even more so because I understood exactly what happened in those sites. These are uncomfortable places to visit, and I can understand why many people would not want to visit them, or even study them.

The darkness that they remind us of  is a part of our human condition. Traces of the evil on display in those places is present in every human being. Frankly, most people cannot bear looking into that abyss, for fear that they might be swallowed by it.

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                                                            Nankingnanking_massacre_1

I can understand that and I have to admit that it is hard to do so. I am a historian as well as a clinician with much experience dealing with death and trauma. With my training I do a pretty good job of keeping my emotional distance to maintain objectivity when confronted with evil. However, it is hard for me not to have some emotional reaction when visiting these places, or reading about the events and people, and in writing about them.

Likewise, I am very troubled by the growing lack or awareness or denial of the Holocaust. It is very hard for me not to have a virulent reaction when I see books and websites dedicated to Holocaust denial, or that minimize other well documented genocides, and crimes against humanity.

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                                      Soviet Mass Killings in Ukraine

My sensitivity to human suffering and the terrible indifference of people in this country to it was greatly increased by my experience of war, and my post-war struggles with PTSD, depression, anxiety, which at points left me very close to committing suicide. A non-chaplain friend, a now retired Navy Command Master Chief Petty Officer that I served with at my last duty station recently remarked that I am a tremendously empathic person, and that I have a large capacity to feel the pain and suffering of others. This capacity for empathy and the ability to feel the suffering of others is part of who I am. It is a good thing, but it makes my work studying and writing about the Holocaust, other genocides, crimes against humanity, and subjects like American slavery, racism, and Jim Crow a sometimes difficult and often very emotionally consuming task. This sometimes leaves me even more sleepless and anxious than normal; especially when I see the indifference of so many people to the suffering of others today.

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                                                  The Killing Fields

It is that indifference which motivates me to write; because if these events are not recalled and retold, they, like any part of history will be ignored and then forgotten. The statistics bear this out. There are people today, who say that we should stop talking about these events, that they are old news, and they cannot happen again; but history tells us different, and not just the Holocaust, but indeed every genocide. Then there are those who shamelessly use the Holocaust imagery to spread fear among their followers even as they openly demonize minority groups and religions as the Nazis did to the Jews.

I have to agree with Elie Wiesel who said, “Indifference to me, is the epitome of all evil.”

The late Iris Chang, who wrote The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II wrote something that is pertinent to almost every modern episode of genocide, or other crime against humanity. It is the ability of leaders, be they political, military, or religious to convince people to rationalize actions that they normally would find repulsive.

“After reading several file cabinets’ worth of documents on Japanese war crimes as well as accounts of ancient atrocities from the pantheon of world history, I would have to conclude that Japan’s behavior during World War II was less a product of dangerous people than of a dangerous government, in a vulnerable culture, in dangerous times, able to sell dangerous rationalizations to those whose human instincts told them otherwise.”

There are many other such events that we could note; the American decimation and genocide committed against native American tribes that spanned close to two centuries, the 1915 Turkish genocide of Armenians, the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the Serbian atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Chinese Communist “Great Leap Forward,” the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the more recent but seldom discussed action of the Myanmar government and military against its Rohingya Muslim minority.

                        Rwandan Genocide

What we call civilization, to use the words of Iris Chang, is tissue thin. That is why we must never forget these terrible events of history, and that part of human nature, and in a sense part of every one of us, that makes them so easy to repeat. That is why we must periodically take the time to remember and reflect on the Holocaust, other genocides and crimes against humanity.

It is even more important now with the rise of fascist, nationalist, and racist regimes around the world. Even in the United States these demons of the past, racism, nationalism, and fascism have come out into the open as those who believe in them have become emboldened by the words of President Trump and members of his administration.

In fact in trying to clean up his inaction after the violence committed by neo-Nazis and KKK sympathizers in Charlottesville the President first equated the Nazis and Klansmen with the people that they attacked and under pressure made a speech condemning the Nazis and Klansmen. According to Bob Woodward, when a Fox News correspondent said that was an admission that he was almost an admission that he was wrong.” The President exploded at Rob Porter, the aide who convinced him to make the speech: “That was the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made,” the President told Porter. “You never make those concessions. You never apologize. I didn’t do anything wrong in the first place. Why look weak?” A few days later the President returned to the subject and again made the argument of moral equivalence.

Coupled with so many of the President’s words and policies directed against Blacks, Mexicans and Central Americans, Arabs, Africans, and others; as well as his attacks on the First Amendment and his praise and defense of cold blooded dictators around the world one has to take it more seriously.

This is not an issue that simply lurks in the past, it is a very real part of the present. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

 

Yes, these are terribly uncomfortable subjects, but we cannot allow this generation to allow them to be forgotten, lest they be repeated. That is why that I must continue to write about them and do my best to make sure that they are not forgotten as we cannot afford to let them happen again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, nazi germany, Political Commentary, racism, world war two in europe

The Disadvantage Of Belonging to so called Inferior Races: Race and Slavery in Ante-Bellum America

negroes_and_negro_-slavery

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am tired after working in the house most of the weekend and providing some help to a friend who has fallen on hard times. The good thing is that I am finally really responding well to my aquatic physical therapy and the gel injections in my knees. The damage to both is still there, but my pain levels in both knees have gone from a continuous 7-10 on the pain scale to a livable 2-5. I get my final  set of injections tomorrow morning after aquatic PT. If my recovery progresses as it has I should be, able to do much more than I am now, which is a hell of a lot more than a month ago when I was walking with the aid of a cane or crutches.

So today, and for the next couple of days  I’m posting sections my book “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” Race, Religion, Ideology and Politics in the Civil War Era”  dealing with American Slavery in the ante-bellum period. I will do so again the next two days as I continue to catch up on things needed in the house that I couldn’t do for 10 months. Thankfully, my friend who was helping he with laying down our floors last summer after our upstairs flood is helping me to wrap that up and give me advice that will help us sell our house so we can get a ranch house without all the steps that we have to navigate now. Honestly, when you purchase a house with lots of steps in your mid-40s you don’t think about the ravages of time and what happens to your knees. This past year Judy has had both of her knees replaced, I have had a failed meniscus surgery on my left knee and failed injection treatments on my right knee. I am finally getting better. She is on the road to recovery but still suffering a lot of pain.

These next articles deal with the subject of what happens when laws are made that further restrict the liberty of already despised, or enslaved people. In this case the subject is the Compromise of 1850 and its associated laws such as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

This is an uncomfortable period of history for Americans with either a sense of conscience, or those who believe the racist myths surrounding the “Noble South” and “The Lost Cause.”  I hope that you find them interesting, especially in light of current events in the United States as many of the same attitudes and justifications are being used in order to justify discrimination and even violence against immigrants and citizens of darker skin colors. President Trump’s Tweets today about non-white female Congress members shows that the sentiment that justified the enslavement American Blacks and slaves is still alive and well.  As Mark Twain noted, “history does not repeat itself but it does rhyme.” 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

                                               The Background 

The ante-bellum South was an agrarian society that depended on the free labor provided by slaves. In a socio-political sense the South was an oligarchy that offered no freedom to slaves, openly discriminated against free blacks and provided little hope of social or economic advancement for poor and middle class whites.  However, despite this, even poor whites supported it.  Many Southern Yeoman farmers were willing to tolerate their second class status because they: “feared the fall from independent producer to dependent proletarian, a status he equated with enslavement” [1] more than remaining subservient to planters and plantation owners. In fact, for them slavery was the one institution that kept them above the despised black.

In 1861, Dr. J.H. Van Evrie, promoted the scientific racist of ichthyologist Louis Agassiz in a pamphlet entitled “Negroes and Negro Slavery;” The First an Inferior Race – The Latter, Its Normal Condition” expressed how most Southerners felt about African Americans be they slave or free, and Jefferson Davis hoped that Van Evrie’s arguments would persuade people to adopt the view that racial equality was a fallacy which could not be tolerated, Van Evrie wrote:

“He is not a black white man, or merely a man with a black skin, but a DIFFERENT AND INFERIOR SPECIES OF MAN; – that this difference is radical and total… that so called slavery is neither a “wrong” nor an “evil, but a natural relation based upon the “higher law,” in harmony with the order, progress, and general well-being of the superior one, and absolutely in keeping with the existence of the inferior race.”  [2]

While all Northern states had abolished slavery, or were in the process of gradual abolition in the after independence and the Civil War and had moved to an economic concept of free labor, the South had tied its economy and society to the institution of slavery. The contrast was well said by the members of an Alabama agricultural society, which noted in 1846:

“Our condition is quite different from that of the non-slaveholding section of the United States. With them their only property consists of lands, cattle and planting implements. Their laborers are merely hirelings, while with us our laborers are our property.” [3]

Van Evrie was not the only person making such distinction between the races. Dr. Samuel Cartwright wove the pseudo-science of the day into the narrative of the Bible, noting:

“I have thus hastily and imperfectly noticed some of the more striking anatomical and physiological peculiarities of the Negro race. The question may be asked, Does he belong to the same race as the white man? Is he a son of Adam? Does his particular physical confirmation stand in opposition to the Bible, or does it prove its truth?… Anatomy and physiology have been interrogated, and the response is, that the Ethiopian, or Canaanite, is unfitted for the duties of a free man….” [4]

He also noted:

“The Declaration of Independence, which was drawn up at a time when negroes were scarcely regarded as human beings, “That all men are by nature free and equal,” was only intended to apply to white men…” [5]

Northerners on the other hand, even in states where the last vestiges of slavery held on, nearly universally ascribed to the understanding that there was a dignity to labor and that free labor was essential if people were to have a better life. It undergirded their understanding of human dignity and that “labor was the source of all value.” [6]

That understanding of the intrinsic value of free labor continued to gain ground in the North in the decades preceding the Civil War and found much of its support in the Calvinist theology that predominated in most Protestant Northern denominations. Labor was intrinsic to one’s calling as a Christian and a human being, slave labor, at least in the eyes of many Northerners undercut that idea. Success in one’s calling glorified God and provided earthly evidence that a person was among the elect. For many Northern Christians, “the pursuit of wealth thus became a way of serving God on earth, and labor, which had been imposed on fallen man as a curse, was transmuted into a religious value, a Christian calling.” [7]  Such ideas found their way into Republican political thought even when not directly related to religion.  William Evarts said in 1856 “Labor gentlemen, we of the free States acknowledge to be the source of all of our wealth, of all our progress, of all our dignity and value.” [8] Abraham Lincoln noted that “the free labor system…opens the way for all, and energy and progress, and improvement in condition for all,” [9] and Lincoln also noted something inherent in the economic theory of Adam Smith that Labor is prior to, and independent of capital…in fact, capital is the fruit of labor.” [10]

However, the South by the 1830s had completely wedded itself to slavery and southern advocates of slavery deplored the free-labor movement as wage slavery and extolled the virtue of slavery. James H. Hammond condemned the free-labor movement in his King Cotton speech to the Senate in 1858:

“In all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life…. It constitutes the very mudsill of society….Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other that leads to progress, civilization and refinement….Your whole hireling class of manual laborers and ‘operatives,’ as you call them, are essentially slaves. The difference between us is, that our slaves are hired for life and well compensated…yours are hired by the day, not cared for, and scantily compensated.” [11]

Even so, the fact that the slave barons “were forced at every election to solicit the votes of “ignorant, slovenly, white trash in the country” with “frequent treats that disgrace our elections,” [12] rankled and humiliated many members of the Southern aristocracy. It was a marriage of two disparate parties linked by their membership in a superior race, something that only the continued existence of slavery ensured.

Lincoln extolled the virtues of free-labor, noting his own experiences after his election: “I am not ashamed to confess that twenty five years ago I was a hired laborer, mauling rails, at work on a flat boat – just what might happen to any poor man’s son.”  [13] Other Northerners lauded free-labor as the basis of upward mobility, and the New York Times noted that “Our paupers to-day, thanks to free labor, are our yeomen and merchants of tomorrow.” [14]

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                                                       Slave Coffle

But whites in the South held labor in contempt due to the system of slavery, and the divergent views of each side were noted by Thomas Ewing who noted that labor “is held honorable by all on one side of the line because it is the vocation of freedmen – degrading in the eyes of some on the other side because it is the task of slaves.” [15] Of course with labor being the task of African slaves for southerners, the issue was entwined with race, and “Even if slavery was wrong, its wrongs were cancelled out for nonslaveholders by the more monstrous specter of racial equity.”  [16]

Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown emphasized the threat to whites in that blacks would be their social equals and competitors should slavery end. The racial component assured poor southern whites that they were superior to blacks and an Alabama lawyer wrote “The privilege of belonging to the superior race and being free was a bond that tied all Southern whites together… and it seemed from a Southern stand-point, to have for its purpose the leveling of all distinctions between the white man and the slave hard by.” [17] But poor white workers who remained in the South “repeatedly complained about having to compete with slaves as well as poorly paid free blacks” [18] leading many to seek a new livelihood in either Free States or the new territories.

For Southern politicians and slaveholders, the expansion of slavery was essential to its continued maintenance in the states where it was already legal. “Because of the need to maintain a balance in the Senate, check unruly slaves, and cultivate fertile soils, many planters and small plantation owners- particularly those living in the southern districts of the cotton states- asserted that their survival depended on new territory.” [19] In those decades “a huge involuntary migration took place. Between 800,000 and 1 million slaves were moved westward….” [20]

The need for slaves caused prices to soar, largely due to the ban on the import of slaves from Africa. This made the interregional trade much more important and linked the upper and lower south as well as the new slave-holding territories into “a regionwide slave market that tied together all of the various slaveowning interests into a common economic concern.” [21] In some older states like Virginia where fewer slaves were required, the exportation of slaves became a major industry:

“male slaves were marched in coffles of forty or fifty, handcuffed to each other in pairs, with a long chain through the handcuffs passing down the column to keep it together, closely guarded by mounted slave traders followed by an equal number of female slaves and their children. Most of them were taken to Wheeling, Virginia, the “busiest slave port” in the United States, and from there they were transported by steamboat to New Orleans, Natchez, and Memphis.”[22]

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With Sword p.50

[2] Van Evrie, J.H. “Negroes and Negro Slavery;” The First an Inferior Race – The Latter, Its Normal Condition 1861 in The Confederate and Neo-Confederate ReaderThe Great Truth about the Lost Cause, Loewen, James W. And Sebesta, Edward H. Editors, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 2010 p.75

[3] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.19

[4] Cartwright, Samuel A. Diseases and Peculiarities of the negro Race, 1851 in Loewen, James W and Sebesta, Edward H. The Confederate and Neo-Confederate reader: The Great Truth about the Lost Cause University of Mississippi Press, Jackson 2010 p.66

[5] Ibid. Cartwright Diseases and Peculiarities of the negro Race, 1851 p.70

[6] Foner, Eric Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1970 and 1995 p.7

[7] Ibid. Foner Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men pp.12-13

[8] Ibid. Foner Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men p.12

[9] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era p.28

[10] Ibid. Foner Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men p.12

[11] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.196

[12] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.38

[13] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.28

[14] Ibid. Foner Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men p.16

[15] Ibid. Foner Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men p.16

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.38

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.39

[18] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.44

[19] Ibid. Egnal  Clash of Extremes pp.125-126

[20] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.203

[21] Deyle, Steven The Domestic Slave Trade in Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition edited by Michael Perman and Amy Murrell Taylor Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.53

[22] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee  p.203

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, ethics, History, laws and legislation, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism

The Nature Of Evil

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Thirty years ago when I was in seminary my Philosophy Of Religion Professor, Dr. Yandall Woodfin told our class that until we had death with the realities of evil, death, and suffering we had not yet done Christian theology. He was right, but I have not learned that by wrestling with theology per say, but rather human experience as recorded by history, especially my studies of the Holocaust, and American Slavery, as well as what the and as observed in my life as a trauma and surgery department chaplain in a number of large and medium sized hospitals, including Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.

Since that time I have witnessed hundreds of violent deaths. Most in the United States but some in Iraq. I have seen cruelty, committed by human beings that only can be described as evil. I have also spoken directly with men who killed in cold blood, including an assassination type hit on a man and his son who owed him fifty dollars. That man was a Navy Hospital Corpsmen with a wife and a child, his victims a couple of locals. When I looked in his eyes there was no feeling, it didn’t matter what he had did, he was a classic sociopath. He had no empathy for the men he killed or the devastation he left in the lives of his wife and child. The state he committed the murder in does have the death penalty, but he received two back to back life sentences. The Navy discharged him and that cut off my attempts to communicate with him.

But the question always comes back to the nature of evil itself, and the willing ignorance of many people of it. Having come face to face with this man and others like him, I have to agree with the comments of Captain and psychologist Gustave Gilbert about the Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg:

“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”

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. About two years ago 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. 

A while back 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.”

But then there are those who have no problem with it, sociopaths who have an extreme absence of empathy.

So until tomorrow, 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Better to Die Glorious than to Die Infamous” the Assassination Of Abraham Lincoln

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today may be Palm or Passion Sunday, but due to the nature of the of the Christian Liturgical calendar, 154 years ago April 14th was Good Friday, and the most tragic Good Friday in American history.

Good Friday is somber day, and I think that there was none more somber than Good Friday 1865. Shortly after 10 P.M. at Ford’s theater a handsome and well known actor walked into the booth occupied by President Lincoln at Washington’s Ford’s Theater. The President was there with his wife Mary Todd Lincoln and another couple after a very full day of business to watch the play Our American Cousin a farcical look at the visit of an American visiting his English relatives when going to settle the family estate.

Lincoln was looking forward to the play. Though the war continued the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant on April 9th for all intents and purposes had placed the final nail in the Confederacy’s malevolent coffin, and it was if a burden have been removed from Lincoln’s shoulders. His task now what the reintegration of the rebellious states back into the Union, a task that he believed needed to be accomplished without malice while still seeking justice. He made this clear in his Second Inaugural Address just over a month before:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Just three days before Lincoln had given his last public speech at the White House. It was a practical speech dealing with the nuts and bolts reuniting the country including announcing his support for Negro Suffrage. He said:

“By these recent successes the re-inauguration of the national authority — reconstruction — which has had a large share of thought from the first, is pressed much more closely upon our attention. It is fraught with great difficulty. Unlike a case of a war between independent nations, there is no authorized organ for us to treat with. No one man has authority to give up the rebellion for any other man. We simply must begin with, and mould from, disorganized and discordant elements. Nor is it a small additional embarrassment that we, the loyal people, differ among ourselves as to the mode, manner, and means of reconstruction.”

In the speech Lincoln discussed the issues related to the new government of Louisiana and its dealings with African Americans, which did not go far enough for Lincoln, who was intent on extending the franchise to vote for all blacks, even if it took time to make it so. John Wilkes Booth was in attendance that day and as he listened he became ever angrier and he vowed to a fellow conspirator Lewis Powell, “That is the last speech he will make” and Booth was going to ensure this himself.

Lincoln had been troubled for some time by terrible insomnia and dreams, both bizarre and ghoulish. A few days before he had told Mary and others sharing dinner with them of a troubling dream which he described in detail, Mary and those at the table so accustomed to Lincoln’s customary wit and humor were stunned as Lincoln spoke. He closed the description with these words:

“Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and shocking, I kept on until I entered the East Room, which I entered. There I was met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and a throng of people, some gazing mournfully at the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully: ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers. ‘The President’ was the answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin!’ “Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd…” 

Mary and the others were so upset, particularly with the large number of death threats Lincoln had received throughout the war. However, Lincoln told them all not to worry as “it was only a dream.”

On that Good Friday Lincoln was determined not to mourn, instead of attending Good Friday services or contemplating the war, or reconstruction, he simply wanted to laugh and chose to attend the play, wanting General Grant and his wife to attend. However Grant needed to travel to New Jersey and declined the offer.

Despite this Lincoln was in a cheerful mood, looking forward to the future and discussing all the things that he wanted to see and do after his term in office. Mary was startled by his cheerfulness and Lincoln told her “I have never felt better in my life.” Lincoln and his party arrived late to the cheers of the cast and took their seats in the box about 8:30 to the strains of Hail to the Chief. As the play resumed Lincoln’s bodyguard slipped away to get a drink and about twelve minutes after ten Booth slipped into the box where Lincoln sat watching the play. As the crowd roared its delight at a particularly funny scene a shot rang out and Lincoln’s arm jerked up and he slumped over. Booth then jumped to the stage from the box, injuring his leg and shouting “Sic semper tyrannis” or thus always to tyrants. It was the beginning of a series of attempted assassinations designed to decapitate the Federal government, Secretary of State Seward was badly wounded by Lewis Payne, a third assassin backed out at the last minute and failed to attack Vice President Johnson.

Though physicians sought to save the President the wound was mortal, the bullet having ender the back of his head, and dug deep into his brain, lodging behind his left eye. At 7:22 A.M. Abraham Lincoln was dead. It was a disaster for the nation as the new President, Andrew Johnson was a political enemy of Lincoln and not in line with Lincoln’s understanding of reconstruction and reconciliation. A poor Southerner from Tennessee, Johnson hated the Southern plantation aristocracy and would act as a punisher, while radical reconstructionist members of the cabinet and Congress would act in such a way that reconstruction would never achieve all that Lincoln believed that it could.

While radical Confederates rejoiced in Lincoln’s death others were more circumspect. Jefferson Davis who was fleeing and hoping to continue the war realized that the South would not fare as well under Johnson as Lincoln. In fact Johnson’s lack of understanding of the nuances of northern politics as well as his loathing of blacks, his “beliefs, prejudices, personality traits were a recipe for disaster at a time when an unprecedented national crisis put a premium on the capacity to think in new and creative ways.”

The Army of the Potomac learned of Lincoln’s assassination on Easter Sunday. Joshua Chamberlain told a woman whose mansion was at the center of his division’s camp when she asked what disturbed him “It is bad news for the South.” When the woman asked if it was Lee or Davis Chamberlain told her that it was Lincoln and said “The South has lost its best friend, Madam.” 

Chamberlain ordered chaplain to conduct a field memorial for the fallen President. The division chaplain a Catholic Priest, Father Egan spoke and roused the men, and Egan ended his service “Better so, Better to die glorious, than live infamous. Better to be buried beneath a nation’s tears, than to walk the earth guilty of the nation’s blood.”

During the war Lincoln had endeared himself to his soldiers and they responded with great emotion. One burst into tears and sobbed “He was our best friend. God bless him,” another wrote home “What a hold Old Abe had on the hearts of the soldiers of the army could only be told by the way they showed their mourning for him.” Admiral David Dixon Porter wrote “The United States has lost the greatest man she ever produced.” 

The bullet fired by John Wilkes Booth was a disaster for the country. Sadly, there are some today, in particular the White Supremacist group The League of the South are choosing to celebrate the assassination of the man that they so hate, and honor the assassin as a hero. However, I have to agree with Admiral Porter, there has never been a President before or after who was anything like this man, and I dedicate myself to the quest for equality of all people and for a reconciliation. I will continue to work for that “new birth of freedom” that Lincoln so believed in.

Maybe too, they are words our current President reflect should upon and take to heart, but since he has no heart or interest in history he will not. Lincoln died in glory, Trump, will live and die in infamy.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Alexander Stephen’s Cornerstone Speech and the Continuing Curse Of White Supremacy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On March 21st 1861 in the midst of the Secession crisis, the newly elected Vice President Of the Confederacy, The former Georgia Senator, Alexander Stephens made a speech in Savannah Georgia demonstrating just how much the new Confederacy was different that the Republic founded in 1776 and who those founders struggled with the morality of slavery.

For people who like to comfort themselves in the myth of the Noble South, The Lost Cause, or the illusion that the war was brought about by Northern infringements on the States Rights Of the Slave States, the Speech is damning. The American version of White Nationalism and the superiority of the White Race over African slaves, and in more recent times Eastern Europeans, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Hispanics (especially Mexicans), and Arabs can be refuted by Stephens’ words. He spoke:

“But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other — though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone 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. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind-from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics; their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just-but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

In the conflict thus far, success has been on our side, complete throughout the length and breadth of the Confederate States. It is upon this, as I have stated, our social fabric is firmly planted; and I cannot permit myself to doubt the ultimate success of a full recognition of this principle throughout the civilized and enlightened world.

As I have stated, the truth of this principle may be slow in development, as all truths are and ever have been, in the various branches of science. It was so with the principles announced by Galileo-it was so with Adam Smith and his principles of political economy. It was so with Harvey, and his theory of the circulation of the blood. It is stated that not a single one of the medical profession, living at the time of the announcement of the truths made by him, admitted them. Now, they are universally acknowledged. May we not, therefore, look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgment of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of his ordinances, or to question them. For his own purposes, he has made one race to differ from another, as he has made “one star to differ from another star in glory.”

Stephens honesty infuriated Confederate President Jefferson Davis who while he agreed with Stephens was infuriated by the international response to the speech. On learning of the speech and its contents Davis, who had counseled his cabinet members to downplay slavery as an issue wrote:

“That speech infuriated me, Oh, what Stephens had said was true, perfectly true, but could anything hurt us more abroad than such impolitic remarks? It was the beginning of a fatal falling out between me and that rebellious and vindictive dwarf, who was hell-bent on forming his own policies and disputing mine with niggardly deviousness.”

Unfortunately, what is called America’s Original Sin remains with us. We have a President who historian John Meacham points this out repeatedly in his book The Soul Of America.

So, before anyone wants to defend Southern Secession based on anything other than the maintenance and expansion of slavery and White Supremacy at the expense of Free States as evidenced in the Compromise Of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Law Of 1850, compounded by the Dred Scott Decision, and the attempted takeover of Kansas and the battle over the Lecompton Constitution which would have made it a slave state over the majority of its population, try to defend the words of the President and Vice President of the Confederacy.

I bet you can’t.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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America’s Original Sin, Part Three: The Fire Eaters

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today the third installment of this series on American slavery. Today I discuss a number of the men who were called “fire eaters,” even by other pro-slavery men. 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 admit that it is not a comfortable read and unfortunately it is also all too contemporary for comfort.

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.

220px-robert_barnwell_rhett_sr

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 moves 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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America’s Original Sin and Its Continuing Legacy: 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.

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.

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

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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.

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United States Slave Trade

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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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