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The Dimensions of Southern Identity

The fundamental reason for the 1860-1861 withdrawal of Southern States from the 1787 Union was to achieve political independence, and distance themselves from the changed and radicalizing Northern States which had become increasingly populated by immigrants fully unfamiliar with the United States Constitution. That North was seen as a threat to the safety and liberty of the Southern people and therefore a separation was inevitable. The following piece on “Southern Identity” is an excerpt from the Fall 2017 newsletter of the Abbeville Institute — the only pro-Southern “think-tank” and an invaluable online educational resource.

Please consider a generous contribution to this organization, which is tax-deductible and can be made through PayPal at the www.abbevilleinstitute.org website.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Dimensions of Southern Identity

“Southern identity is not a mere regional identity such as being a Midwesterner or a New Englander. The South was an independent country, and fought one of the bloodiest wars of the nineteenth century to maintain its independence. No group of Americans in any war have fought so hard and suffered so much for a cause.

That historic memory as well, as resistance to the unfounded charge of “treason,” is built into the Southern identity. The South seceded to continue enjoying the founding decentralized America that had dominated from 1776 to 1861. We may call it “Jeffersonian America” because it sprang from both the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson’s election which was called “the Revolution of 1800.”

This founding “Jeffersonian America” was largely created and sustained by Southern leadership. In the first 67 years only 16 saw the election of Northern presidents. In the first 72 years, five Southern presidents served two terms. No Northern president served two terms.

The Republican Party was a revolutionary “sectional party” determined to purge America of Southern leadership and transform America into a centralized regime under Northern control.

When Southerners seceded, they took the founding “Jeffersonian America” with them. The Confederate Constitution is merely the original U.S. instrument except for a few changes to block crony capitalism and prevent runaway centralization.

Part of Southern identity is its persistent loyalty to the image of decentralized Jeffersonian America. To be sure, libertarians and others outside the South have a theoretical commitment to decentralization, but none have the historical experience of suffering to preserve the founding Jeffersonian America.

But the deepest dimension of Southern identity is found in Flannery O’Conner’s statement that Southern identity in its full extent is a “mystery known only to God,” and is best approached through poetry and fiction. The humiliation of defeat and the rape of the region by its conquerors have given Southerners a clarity about the limits of political action, the reality of sin, and the need of God’s grace.”

(Abbeville: The Newsletter of the Abbeville Institute, Fall 2017, excerpts pp. 1-3)

Victories, Occupations and Annexations

The political conservatism of the American South was an enduring threat to the new, sectional, Republican Party of the North. Lincoln’s ruling party quickly convinced several States to desire no further political union with them – and more withdrew voluntarily after he lit the fuse at Fort Sumter. Under cover of war and with powers unimagined by the Founders, Lincoln replaced the Union with a consolidated group of Northern States under a centralized, dictatorial government. The defeated South was annexed and ruled from Washington.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Victories, Occupations and Annexations

“Victory over an enemy can take many forms. At the lowest level, the repulse of an invader – by force of arms or by bribes – is a victory. But, if the enemy is an enduring threat, something more than a mere defeat in the field might be required.

Some enemies have to be thrashed so vigorously they will forego aggression for at least a generation. For tougher customers – or more attractive targets – nothing less than occupation and annexation will do. Taking a page out of Roman history, it is easy to see why the Romans decided to finish off Carthage and why they annexed the Macedonian kingdoms.

In her wars, the United States has a mixed record. It is easy to justify our entrance into World War II as a necessity: No matter how culpable FDR might have been, we were, after all, attacked. In Korea we were trying to contain the spread of an enemy ideology.

The Mexican War is more complex: Both sides were provocative, and Mexico’s corrupt political system made the American land grab almost inevitable. The acquisition of so much territory, whether as the fruits of victory or the big steal, was an unquestionable advantage to the American people.

Other wars are murkier. We had no business in the Philippines, where we slaughtered hundreds of thousands of civilians and gained little advantage. The Vietnam War, if we had fought to win, might have been a success, but we had no taken the trouble to define victory. [Instead of] pounding North Vietnam into submission, we allowed Robert McNamara to play war games that cost us the lives of 58,000 men and damaged our prestige for over a decade.

The only lesson Donald Rumsfeld learned from Vietnam was that McNamara had been insufficiently ruthless. Rumsfeld’s obsession with military technology and his consequent neglect of the house to house fighting in Iraq doomed our campaign to failure.

The last time we had a president from Texas, he lost a war and spent the nation close to bankruptcy, but Lyndon Baines Johnson was a frugal pacifist compared with his spiritual descendant, Lyndon Baines Bush, thanks to whom Americans can look forward to another decade of national humiliation and diminishing economic expectations.”

(If Pigs Could Fly, Thomas Fleming, Chronicles, A Magazine of American Culture, March 2007, excerpts pp. 11-12)

 

Mobilizing the Hate of the People

The Lincoln administration utilized both censorship and propaganda in its effort to conceal the immense carnage and early defeats from the Northern public, as well as portray the South as murderers of noble Union soldiers who were defending the Founders’ republic. After Lincoln’s reelection in 1864, the campaign of hatred toward the South intensified to ensure that the South would remain a subject colony and economic wasteland — plus a source of freedmen votes to ensure Republican political hegemony.

It is true that Northern men hated the draft and did not flock to the colors; generous bounties were required to attract recruits and most often these were foreigners. Many posed the question the North was reluctant to ask: “If the cause of the Union was such a noble one, why was there so much violent opposition to the idea of fighting for it.” It was British propaganda that helped bring America into the First World War, despite a president being elected on a pledge of no American boys dying on European battlefields.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Mobilizing the Hate of the People

“There was no richer field for propaganda than the United States of America in the first years of the war. Atrocities, Germany’s sole responsibility, the criminal Kaiser, and all the other fabrications started in Great Britain, were worked up by American liars with great effect.

The Belgian baby with no hands was a special favorite. There was hardly a household in which it was not discussed all over that vast continent, and even so ridiculous a scare as the concrete platforms for German guns was current in California. Villages were burned [by the Germans], women carried off, and various cruelties perpetrated.

After America entered into the war a number of “actual war picture” films (prepared at Hollywood) were released. An immense army of speakers and pamphleteers were employed by the Committee on Public Information, and the country was flooded with literature describing the iniquities of the Hun.

An interesting volume on the technique of propaganda was recently published by [political scientist and communications theorist] Professor [Howard D.] Lasswell, of Chicago, from which the following passage may be quoted:

“So great are the psychological resistances to war in modern nations that every war must appear to be a war of defense against a menacing, murderous aggressor. There must be no ambiguity about whom the public is to hate. The war must . . . be due . . . to the rapacity of the enemy. Guilt and guilelessness must be assessed geographically, and all the guilt must be on the other side of the frontier. If the propagandist is to mobilize the hate of the people, he must see to it that everything is circulated which establishes the sole responsibility of the enemy.”

(Falsehood in Wartime, Propaganda Lies of the First World War, Arthur Ponsonby, E.P. Dutton, 1929, excerpts pp. 180-182)

Roosevelt’s Progressive Party and the South

Theodore Roosevelt’s mother was Martha Bulloch (1835-1884), who grew up near today’s Roswell, Georgia on her father’s plantation worked by thirty-one slaves. Her two brothers James and Irvine had illustrious careers serving the Confederacy, and it is said that those patriotic uncles served as exemplary role models for him later in life. When he became president, TR labored in vain to entice Southern Democrats away from their party, as the damage done by the Republican party to the South seemed irreparable.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Roosevelt’s Progressive Party and the South

“When by accident Theodore Roosevelt came to the presidency in 1901, he entered that office with a desire to revise the political map of the country, for he was positive that a change in the traditional Republican attitude toward the Southern white voter would go far to break the Democratic political monopoly of the solid South.

Accordingly, in his early appointments and in his public speeches he attempted to pursue a course of conciliation calculated to entice the white citizen of the South away from the Democratic party.

After his departure from the Republican party in June 1912, however, Roosevelt realized at once that perhaps this was his chance to break the political monopoly of States below the Ohio River by organizing a rival party designed to appeal to Southern whites.

It was upon [growing] discontent [with Democratic leadership in the South] that Theodore Roosevelt proposed to found the new Progressive party in the South, which, freed of the incubus of the Republican label, would be “without one touch of sectional feeling,” and which therefore could offer the first serious opposition to Southern Democracy since the days of the old Whigs.

Yet the leader of the Progressive party was well aware that if a strong, permanent party were to be built in the South it would necessarily have to be organized upon a “lily white” basis.

[Roosevelt defined his position on race with], in the North there were numerous intelligent and honest Negroes who could be incorporated into the party machinery to the mutual good of both the individual and the party. The situation in the South, however, was a different matter. In this opinion, Roosevelt declared, he stood not on theory but upon actual observation.

For forty-five years the Republican party had been trying to build a successful organization there based upon black participation, and the result for a variety of reasons had been “lamentable from every standpoint.”

To repeat the experiment, he felt, would make a Progressive party victory impossible in the South, and would do nothing for the Negro except “to create another impotent little corrupt faction of would-be office holders, of delegates whose expenses had to be paid, and whose votes sometimes had to be bought.”

In conclusion, he maintained that the only man who could help the Negro in the South was his white neighbor; and therefore he hoped the Progressive party would put the leadership of the South into the hands of “intelligent and benevolent” white men who would see to it that the Negro got a measure of justice, something which the Northerner could not obtain for him, and something he could not obtain himself. Thus, Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens were publicly disavowed by a former Republican president.”

(The South and the Progressive Lily White Party of 1912, George E. Mowry, Journal of Southern History, VI, May 1940, excerpts, pp. 237-242)

Convincing Southerners of Republican Hostility

Lincoln’s only attempt at including a Southerner in his cabinet was sounding out North Carolinian and Congressman John Gilmer, who was “wary, mistrustful of Lincoln and reluctant to ally himself with an administration” opposed to the interests of his State and section. Conservatives feared that should Gilmer not accept, Lincoln would select radical hard-liner Montgomery Blair and add fuel to the sectional fire.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Convincing Southerners of Republican Hostility

“[Far from Fort Sumter] the president-elect was still at work composing his cabinet . . . [and] the impossibly tangled party considerations that continued to vex him. As [President James] Buchanan’s advisors planned their reinforcement expedition . . . Lincoln was committing the first major blunder of his administration. It began on Sunday, December 30 . . . when he met with that “greatest of Pennsylvania wirepullers,” Simon Cameron, about a place in the cabinet.

[Lincoln] knew it would be a controversial appointment. For one thing, Cameron’s easy movements from the [Democrats] to the Know Nothings to the Republicans had gained him a reputation as an unprincipled opportunist.

More damaging was the taint of corruption that surrounded him. Known to his critics as “the Great Winnebago Chief” for his mishandling of Indian funds in the 1830s, Cameron was also charged with manipulation elections and legislatures through bribery. Yet so many recommendations poured into Springfield that Lincoln could hardly see how not to appoint him.

It was one of the first important choices Lincoln had made for himself since the election, and he immediately had cause to regret foregoing his usual process of passing his decisions by [Lyman] Trumbull and [Hannibal] Hamlin . . . word of the selection [of Cameron] provoked a flood of outraged letters and visits from Republican leaders.

Displaying an indecision that was characteristic in those early months, Lincoln immediately reversed himself . . . [and] addressed a short, private note to Cameron rescinding his offer . . . [but] the imbroglio . . . exploded into what one historian has called “a mighty battle of Republican factions.” For the next several weeks Republican managers throughout the North appeared considerably more concerned with the patronage than with secession.

Placing [Salmon P.] Chase at the head of the Treasury Department [would reconcile] the powerful New York radicals to [William] Seward’s appointment [as Secretary of State].

[But] Lincoln was aware of the predicament of Southern unionists and the damage Republican rigidity [against compromise] might do to their cause. Nominating Chase, a long-acknowledged leader of the radicals, would give secessionists a powerful weapon in their fight to convince Southerners of Republican hostility.”

(Lincoln and the Decision for War, the Northern Response to Secession, Russell McClintock, UNC Press, 2008, excerpts pp. 123-125)

 

 

 

Resisting New England’s Cultural Imperialism

The war was the result of a revolution in American politics as the Whigs disintegrated after the election of 1852 and the Democrats came apart in 1860 – resulting in the loss of the national spirit in the parties and the onset of purely political sectional opinion. The pattern of support for the new Republican Party in 1856 was a map of greater New England and new States colonized by the descendants of Puritan migration. Author David Hackett Fischer (below) writes of Lincoln: “On his father’s side, Lincoln was descended from New England Puritans who had intermarried with Pennsylvania Quakers and migrated to Appalachia and the Ohio Valley. He represented every regional components of the Republican coalition.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Resisting New England’s Cultural Imperialism

“In defense of their different cultures, the two sections also fought differently. The armies of the North were at first very much like those of Fairfax in the English Civil War; gradually they became another New model Army, ruthless, methodical and efficient. The Army of Northern Virginia, important parts of it at least, consciously modeled itself upon the beau sabreurs of Prince Rupert. At the same time, the Confederate armies of the southwest marched into battle behind the cross of St. Andrew, and called themselves “Southrons” on the model of their border ancestors.

The events of the war itself radically transformed Northern attitudes toward Southern folkways. As casualty lists grew longer Northern war aims changed from an intention merely to resist the expansion of Southern culture to a determination to transform it. As this attitude spread through the Northern States the Civil War became a cultural revolution.

After the War . . . The Republican coalition dominated national politics by its electoral majorities in the north, and by military occupation in the South. Radical reconstruction was an attempt to impose by force the cultures of New England and the midlands upon the coastal and highland South. The Southern States were compelled to accept Yankee constitutions and Yankee judges, Yankee politics and Yankee politicians, Yankee schools and Yankee schoolma’ams, Yankee capitalists and a Yankee labor system.

The cultural revolution continued in some parts of the South until 1876. It succeeded for a time in modifying many Southern institutions . . . with the exception of slavery itself, most effects lasted only as long as they were supported by Northern bayonets. As long as the old folkways survived in the South, it was inevitable that the material and institutional order of Southern life would rapidly revive when Yankee soldiers went home.

After the elections of 1876 . . . Union troops were withdrawn. Yankee school systems were abolished; Yankee schoolma’ams were shipped back to New England; Yankee constitutions were rewritten. Despite talk of a “new South” after 1876, young Southerners (both white and black) continued to learn the old folkways.”

(Albion’s Seed, Four British Folkways in America, David Hackett Fischer, Oxford University Press, 1989, pp. 860-863)

 

Ensuring Northern Political Hegemony

On May 29, 1865, President Andrew Johnson issued his North Carolina Proclamation which made no provision for the extension of the vote to freedmen, and only those who voted before May 20, 1861 and who had taken the amnesty oath to the US government could take part in the constitutional convention. This enraged Radical Republicans and their supporters who saw permanent political hegemony over the South through black voters herded to the polls with Republican ballots in hand. Political opportunists rather than statesmen reigned in the North – led by Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner –all who had little if any understanding of the intent of the Framers and their Constitution, or the proper orbits of States and the federal agent of strictly limited powers they had created in 1789.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Ensuring Northern Political Hegemony

“At the time when the North Carolina Proclamation was issued, only six States in the North and West had granted suffrage to Negroes. Even in New York colored voters were required to own $250 worth of property as a condition of being permitted to register [to vote]. Lincoln had recognized provisional governments in Arkansas and Louisiana from which Negroes had been excluded as voters.

Logically, therefore, Johnson’s position [of following Lincoln’s example] was sound, and in conformity with the principle of States’ Rights in which he so ardently believed. His great mistake was in omitting to take into consideration the temper of the people of the North, who feared with some reason that the Southern States would return to Congress the same type of men they had elected before the War.

Such men, and their allies, the Northern and Western Democrats, might form a coalition strong enough to undo what the War had accomplished [for the Republican Party]. The enfranchisement of the Negro, for which they showed little enthusiasm at first, might at least change the balance of power in the South, and enable good Union men to be returned to Congress.

The Constitution of the United States had made no provision for secession . . . Johnson . . . had come to the conclusion that the Union had never been dissolved [and that secession] had been unconstitutional and ineffective. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania had repeatedly urged that the South be treated as a conquered nation. Charles Sumner [thought] the seceded States had “committed suicide” and no longer existed as legally organized governments. He had declared that it would be contrary to the Constitution to readmit these States on their prewar basis.

The right of the Negro to suffrage had in his opinion been won in the War, and to exclude them as voters in the South would be a betrayal of their cause and of the principles for which the war had been fought.”

(The Uncivil War: Washington During the Reconstruction, 1865-1878, James H. Whyte, Twayne Publishers, 1958, excerpts, pp. 45-47)

The Men of America’s Natural Aristocracy

American political theorist and historian Russell Kirk wrote that the Framers of the United States Constitution were gentlemen-politicians rather than philosophers, “whose perceptions of the human condition came from the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.” Kirk contrasted these learned men who fought to preserve their British heritage with the arrogant French revolutionaries who were drunk on theories and revenge, who opened the way for a self-appointed emperor. The men of America’s natural aristocracy governed the Republic from 1775 to 1825 — their Republic afterward frayed and was pulling apart by 1830. By 1850, constituent States were speaking loudly of withdrawal, and by 1861 it had unraveled completely with an American dictator enthroned.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Men of America’s Natural Aristocracy

“Sometimes the Constitution of the United States is commended as if it had been created out of whole cloth, overnight, from the glowing imagination of the Framers. That notion is far from the truth. Sometimes the Framers themselves are spoken of with the veneration like that accorded to the Hebrew prophets or the mystical founders of Greek cities. But actually the Constitution grew out of centuries of practical experience on either side of the Atlantic, rather than springing from ingenious fine-spun innovating theory.

Truly the Constitution is a bundle of compromises among interests and classes: a principal merit of the Framers was their ready recognition of this electable fact. As Burke said of government generally, it is a contrivance of human wisdom to supply human wants. In the sagacious words of Daniel Boorstin, “The American future was never to be contained in a theory.”

The politicians who framed the Constitution were not an elite of theorists, but an assembly of governors, in the old signification of that word “governor.” They were representatives of a class, in every former colony, that had exercised authority almost from the early years of British settlement in North America; they were drawn from a natural aristocracy.

Experience, education, and wealth, passed on from generation to generation of Americans, tended to develop a continuity of public influence within leading families; while the relatively broad franchises that came to pass in most colonies nevertheless gave provincial and local government a democratic cast.

Broadly speaking, it was the body of men familiar with America’s provincial and local governments who made both the Revolution and the Constitution. This was a class that, far from intending any subversion of the social and moral order in America, took alarm at Shay’s Rebellion and so forged a strong Constitution.

Long participation in provincial and local public affairs shaped this American natural aristocracy; while the French revolutionaries, for the most part, were men previously excluded from any effective exercise of power, and so naïve in great questions of political policy.”

(The Essential Russell Kirk, Selected Essays, George A. Panichas, editor, ISI Books, 2007, excerpts, pp. 452-453)

 

The Southern Confederacy’s Objective

If we are true to the English language and its usage, what is referred to as the American Revolution was in reality a civil war as opposing sides fought for control of the governance of the American Colonies.  The 1861-1865 war was not a civil war as several Southern States had withdrawn from their voluntary political compact with other States, and formed their own voluntary Union.  The South, then, had no interest in governing the North and truly fought in self-defense; the North, then, truly fought the war for conquest.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lincoln’s War

“Matthew Forney Steele in his 1951 American Campaigns points out that the American Civil War was unusual for a civil war in having a purely sectional bias. Allegiance in this civil war was decided by one’s geographic location rather than class, religion, political allegiance, ethnicity or other factors that usually set the battling factions in a civil war apart from each other.  This meant, in practical terms, that in the American Civil War the sides fought not among themselves but arrayed against each other.

The Southern Confederacy’s objective was simply to be left alone.  The Union’s determination was to deny them that forbearance.  Thus, an “invasion” of the Southern portion of the country, in Abraham Lincoln’s blandly legal phraseology, to “subdue combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings,” became the war’s inevitable strategy.”

(Maps and Mapmakers of the Civil War, Earl B. McElfresh, H.N. Abrams Publishers, 1990, excerpt, pg. 20)

Lincoln’s Illinois Opposition

Though Republican organs like the Chicago Tribune defended Lincoln’s unconstitutional actions in prosecuting his war against the South, a majority of people of Lincoln’s own State opposed the war. In that newspaper’s view, anyone opposing its editorials or Lincoln’s actions was guilty of disloyalty and treason.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lincoln’s Illinois Opposition

“{Stephen A.] Douglas had originally secured the support of the Democrats in Illinois for the war; but Douglas had died, and the North had suffered a long series of humiliating defeats on the battlefields. The Lincoln administration had announced in September, 1862, that on January 1 he would issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Many had pressed Lincoln to take that step. He had resisted largely through fear of losing the support of the War Democrats.

Governor [Richard] Yates, a Republican, in his address to the [Illinois] legislature scraped the raw wounds. He congratulated the country on the prolongation of the war since it had resulted in the Emancipation Proclamation. The house at first refused to print this message except with “a solemn protest against its revolutionary and unconstitutional doctrines.”

The first task of the legislature was the election of a United States Senator. There were several candidates who, according to the Chicago Tribune, “vied with each other in their expression of disloyalty.” One of the candidates was [Melville Weston] Fuller’s sponsor [Democrat W.C.] Goudy. Goudy declared that “in the event of the President’s refusing to withdraw the [Emancipation] Proclamation he was in favor of marching an army to Washington and hurling the officers of the present administration from their positions.”

“A Union man,” the Tribune reported, “is in as much danger in some localities here as if he were in Richmond.” Both the Illinois and Indiana legislatures were Democratic in 1863, while the governors of both States were Republicans. In each State the House of Representatives as a strict party measure passed resolutions protesting against further prosecution of the war unless the Emancipation Proclamation were withdrawn.

In Illinois this resolution denounced “the flagrant and monstrous usurpations” of the administration, demanded an immediate armistice, and appointed several prominent Democrats . . . as commissioners to secure the cooperation of other States for a peace convention at Louisville, Kentucky.”

(Melville Weston Fuller, Chief Justice of the United States, 1888-1910, Willard L. King, MacMillan Company, 1950, excerpts, pp. 54-55)

 

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