Browsing "Democracy"

War was Lincoln’s Choice

President James Buchanan disagreed with secession as the prerogative of a State, but admitted that he as president held no authority to levy war to stop it — and his attorney general concurred. Both were well-aware of Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying was against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” Buchanan could not use military force against a State without committing treason.

War was Lincoln’s Choice

“The States of the deep South dissolved their connection with the voluntary union of the United States with marked legality at the beginning of 1861. For a quarter of a year no one knew that there was to be a war. Then Lincoln (unauthorized by the Constitution) called for troops; and the upper South, led by Virginia, seceded.

The point is, Lincoln could have chosen to let the South go in peace on the grounds that a just government depends on the consent of the governed, and the Southern States had withdrawn that consent.

But, said the North, the majority do consent, since there are more people in the North. Even if most of the people in the South do not consent, we in the North are the majority of the whole nation. Thus, the rights of a minority, although a minority of millions, mean nothing.

This is precisely what [Alexis] de Tocqueville warned against: the tyranny of the majority. And Lord Acton was deeply convinced that the principle of States’ rights was the best limitation upon the tyranny of the majority that had ever been devised.

Thus Lee did represent the cause of freedom, and Lord Acton broke his heart over Lee’s surrender because the principle of States’ rights was finally and forever denied.

The America of today is the America that won that immense triumph in the war – the triumph of unlimited, equalitarian democracy. And its leaders have blurred the distinction between freedom and equality to the point where many people use those words as virtually interchangeable terms.”

(The Glittering Illusion: English Sympathy for the Southern Confederacy, Sheldon Vanauken, Regnery Gateway, 1989, excerpt pg. 142)

Jun 4, 2021 - Antebellum Realities, Democracy, Foreign Viewpoints, Historians on History, Uncategorized    Comments Off on Cultural Mediocrity and Majority Tyranny Sweeping the Globe

Cultural Mediocrity and Majority Tyranny Sweeping the Globe

Two young visitors from the Old World who briefly studied America, Alexis de Tocqueville of France and Russian Alexandr Lakier, were historians, jurisprudents, and both involved in public service careers. It is said that Alexis de Tocqueville was fascinated by the idea of political equality in America and wished to obtain first-hand knowledge of this. While Tocqueville, the philosopher, spoke with the upper classes, Lakier was a better reporter on the typical American. Tocqueville arrived in 1831, Lakier in 1857.

Cultural Mediocrity and Majority Tyranny Sweeping the Globe

“Tocqueville came with overpowering credentials. He was able to see everybody who was anybody – presidents, senators, judges, university presidents, scholars, men of letters. He managed, in the brief time he was here, to interview statesmen like Albert Gallatin, John Quincy Adams and Edward Livingston; jurists like Chancellor Kent and Joseph Story; scholars like Edward Everett, Francis Lieber and Jared Sparks; luminaries like Daniel Webster and William Ellerry Channing, and his thinking was profoundly influenced by what these distinguished men told him.

Lakier came on his own, and depended on fortuity for his interviews. He talked with the most miscellaneous people – shipboard acquaintances, workingmen, petty officials, farmers, fur traders, and newly arrived immigrants – a pretty good cross-section of American society.

There was a pervasive melancholy in much that Tocqueville wrote, a conviction that though democracy was indeed the wave of the future, that wave would drown out much that was precious – that democracy would expose every Old World society to the threat of cultural mediocrity, majority tyranny, and the ultimate subversion of liberty.

Lakier, who was by nature more sanguine and more buoyant, looked with confidence to the future – a future that would see the triumph of equality and a closer friendship between the United States and his own nation.

Lakier saw too, that the example of America could not be confined to the Western Hemisphere, but would sweep around the globe . . . “They will have an influence on Europe, but they will use neither arms nor sword nor fire, nor death and destruction. They will spread their influence by the strength of their inventions, their trade, and their industry. And this influence will be more durable than any conquest.”

(A Russian Looks at America: The Journey of Aleksandr Lakier Borisovich in 1857, University of Chicago Press, 1979, excerpts x-xiii)

Truth, Bromides and Sales Talk

Truth, Bromides and Sales Talk

“It has hardly been grasped that the media have assumed a strange and dominant role in American politics. They have constituted for more than half a century an impermeable barrier between the voters and the candidates. Nothing has been presented without their prior censorship. Whatever this may be, it is not democracy.

Who are these people who proliferate in print, airwaves, and the internet, and who pass down imperious moral pronouncements without any known credentials to do so? Who voted for them? Who gave them such great and irresponsible power?

Merely by speaking the truth, by refusing to bow to their pretensions, [Donald] Trump has weakened their power. That is all it took. Simply speak the truth, and the “commentators” and “reporters” are revealed as the malicious ignoramuses that they are.

The Republicans have never had the courage to do that. They follow consultants, who warn them not to look unattractively mean-spirited. Don’t speak to the people, and for Heaven’s sake, don’t listen to them. Give them bromides. Anything else will upset the smooth pursuit of office, the only goal that has ever been sought by Republican “leaders” other than protecting and enhancing wealth.

A baker’s dozen of presidential wannabes all spouted identical sales talk. “Conservative” means nothing to them except as a popular advertising slogan.”

(Sounding the Trump, Clyde Wilson, Chronicles Magazine, October 2016, excerpt pg. 16)

A Powerful Force of Militant Democracy

Had England gone to war against the United States in late 1861 over the seizure of two Confederate States diplomats from the RMS Trent, Lincoln’s ports would have been blockaded by the Royal Navy, and Northern shipping destroyed on the high seas in concert with Confederate privateers. Also contemplated was invasion of the undefended American northwest, as well as Canada West — today’s Ontario – thus creating a Northern war front.  Added to this was Maximillian’s French army in Mexico, which may have marched northward to help American’s achieve independence a second time.

A Powerful Force of Militant Democracy

“The prime minister, Viscount Palmerston, was seventy-seven years old in 1861. Born in 1784, just after the American Revolution, he was twenty-eight when Britain went to war again with the United States in 1812. Palmerston had served as foreign secretary in three British governments for a total of about fifteen years.

His involvement with several major US-British disputes had left him with the view that the Americans were pushy, ill-mannered, unyielding in their demands that their rights be respected, and totally lacking in awe of the imperial power of Britain. His continuing fears that the United States would eventually invade and annex Canada ultimately prevented him from supporting a more aggressive British policy toward the American Civil War.

One of Palmerston’s biographers, Jasper Ridley, wrote that “he believed that the British constitution and social system . . . was the best in the world . . . He was a liberal abroad because he wished to see this system replace the absolute monarchies of the Continent.”  But when he looked toward America, Palmerston was no liberal. He was hostile to the idea of a government elected by all of the citizens and, as Ridley noted, was very dubious about militant democracy in America:

“Palmerston had played a very active role in the suppression of the international slave trade . . .  But though Palmerston was delighted when slaves in the intercepted slave ships were liberated by officers and gentlemen of the Royal Navy, he was not pleased at the prospect of the slaves on cotton plantations in the Confederate States being freed by large armies . . . commanded by cigar-chomping generals in ill-fitting uniforms.  And he was as conscious as [John] Bright and the [British] Radicals that the Union armies were the most powerful force of militant democracy since the French revolutionary armies of 1793.”

Oxford professor H.C. Allen wrote that Palmerston “privately . . . hoped for success of the Confederacy because it would weaken a potential rival of Britain’s – and a democratic one . . .”

(One War at a Time: The International Dimensions of the American Civil War, Dean B. Mahin, Brassey’s, 1999, excerpt, pp. 32-33)

Catholics and Know-Nothings

Though Massachusetts created the first statutes in America establishing African slavery, Catholics were found to be far worse and unwanted strangers prior to the Civil War. A power-base for the nativist Know-Nothing party of the mid-1800s, the Massachusetts legislature desegregated its public schools in order to exclude Catholics, with one observer commenting that “the legislature might appear to have acted inconsistently, opening Massachusetts schools to one minority group while proposing discriminatory statutes against another. However, blacks were Protestants and native-born, and posed no threat to the Protestant curriculum that Know-Nothings found so important.” By 1856, the Know-Nothing party was absorbed by the new Republican party.

Catholics and Know-Nothings

“As Irish Catholic immigration to New York City and other northeastern cities skyrocketed during the Irish potato famine (1846-1850), and prelates like [Archbishop of New York, John] Hughes began to succeed in obtaining State funds for Catholic schools, nativist political resolve increased. Another factor that increased nativist hostility was the Catholic hierarchy’s refusal to condemn slavery and its [later] apparent support for the Confederacy. In his recent book “Catholicism and American Freedom,” John T. McGreevy . . . argues that the acceptance of slavery among Catholic intellectuals “rested upon the pervasive fear of liberal individualism and social order that so shaped Catholic thought during the nineteenth century, along with the anti-Catholicism of many abolitionists.”

By 1854 the earlier political manifestations of the nativist movement had matured into a full-fledged political party. The American, or Know-Nothing,” party enjoyed short-lived success in the 1854 election, when it won six governorships and achieved majorities in the State legislatures of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and California. Despite the low concentration of immigrants in western Pennsylvania, the Know-Nothings did well there . . . attributed to the high percentage of Anglo-Saxon residents in that area combined with “the belief that the Know-Nothings would advance the temperance and anti-slavery movements.”

The main object of Know-Nothing State legislatures was to introduce legislation that would prevent Catholic immigrants from voting. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine passed laws prohibiting State judges from naturalizing immigrants . . . [and] including the first literacy tests for voting, were passed in order to disenfranchise the Irish.

The party’s platform focused on voting rights . . . and requiring the exclusion of foreigners and Catholics from public office. In Massachusetts, where Know-Nothings were strongest, they passed legislation which prohibited the disbursement of public funds to private schools, required that all public school children, including Catholics, read daily from the Protestant King James Version of the Bible, and desegregated the public school system.”

(Breach of Faith: American Churches and the Immigration Crisis, James C. Russell, Representative Government Education Press, 2004, excerpt pp. 26-27)

Feb 27, 2021 - Antebellum Realities, Black Soldiers, Democracy, Foreign Viewpoints, Jeffersonian America, Patriotism, Southern Statesmen    Comments Off on An Invigorating Spirit of Patriotism

An Invigorating Spirit of Patriotism

Andrew Jackson thought of himself as not an innovator or man of ideas, but that he must revive and continue Jeffersonian principles in the federal government. He was a man hostile to the clamoring abolitionist radicals and in general to the various “isms” of the North, sure to cause strife where none should be. His conception of patriotism included a determination to uphold the national honor and interests, even at the risk of war.

An Invigorating Spirit of Patriotism

“[The] Age of Jackson appears to have been characterized by a high degree of patriotism – the patriotism of a provincial people who were virtually untouched by the internationalism of our own day and who as a whole lived close to nature and therefore perhaps had a child’s love for the homeland.

The Italian Count Francesco Arese, who traveled in the United States in 1837-38, described this invigorating spirit of patriotism, which he witnessed during a Fourth-of-July celebration in Lexington, Virginia.

After the usual fireworks, marching of the militia, and playing by the band of “Hail, Columbia” and “Yankee Doodle,” the townspeople sat down to an elaborate banquet. “There were 160-odd people,” the Count relates in his journal, “and though Americans are accused of being not too sober, I am forced to say that not a soul got drunk. After the dinner, which didn’t last over ½ hour, several toasts were drunk. The first was to “the 4th of July, 1776,” the next to General George Washington, the third to General Lafayette; and many others followed.

Among the banqueters were two old veterans that had served under Washington, one of whom was a Negro who had gone everywhere with the brave general, and for that reason, a half-century later, he was allowed the honor once every year of sitting down to the table with white men!

There was nothing, absolutely nothing in this celebration that suggested in the remotest degree that trumped-up joy, that official gaiety they gratify us with in Europe, quite contrary to our desire. Here the joy, the enthusiasm were real, natural, heartfelt. Each individual was rightly proud to feel himself an American.

Each one believed himself to share the glory of Washington, Jefferson, Marshall and all the other illustrious men whom not only America but the whole world has the right to be proud of. Oh. God, when shall my own beautiful and wretched country be able to celebrate a day like that?”

(The Leaven of Democracy: The Growth of the Democratic Spirit in the Time of Jackson, Clement Eaton, editor, George Braziller Publishers, 1963, excerpt, pp. 10-11)

A Progressive Empire, Left and Right

It can be argued that the end of American republican government ended in 1861 with the industrialized state warring upon the Constitution and the agricultural South. The triumphant North launched its Gilded Age combine of government, corporations, millionaires and financial manipulation, as well as foreign imperialism, which brought the country to European military intervention. Then came the Depression. The first European military intervention set the stage for another even more costly; an American president then warned of a military-industrial complex that had emerged.

Progressive Empire, Left and Right

“If the American Republic is defunct, and if most Americans no longer subscribe to the classical republicanism that defined the Republic as its public orthodoxy, what is the principal issue of American politics?

Ever since the Progressive Era, the issue that has divided Americans into the two political and ideological camps of “Right” and “Left” has been whether or not to preserve the Republic.

The Progressives (at least their dominant wing) argued that the small-scale government, entrepreneurial business economy, and localized and private social and cultural fabric that made a republic possible was obsolete at best and at worst repressive and exploitive.

They and their descendants in New Deal/Great Society liberalism pushed for an enlarged state fused with corporations and unions into the economy with massive, bureaucratized cultural and educational organizations. In contrast, the “Right” pulled in the opposite direction, defending the Republic and the social and economic structure that enabled republicanism to flourish, but with less success and with ever-diminishing understanding of what they were doing.

Today the conflict over that issue is finished. The Progressive Empire has replaced the old American Republic, and even on the self-proclaimed “Right” today, virtually no one other than the beleaguered “paleo-conservatives” defends republicanism in anything like its pristine form.

The collapse of the conflict over republicanism is the main reason why the labels “Left” and “Right” no longer make much sense and also why – much more than the end of the Reagan administration and the Cold War – the “conservative coalition” of the Reagan era is falling apart.

Mr. Reagan’s main legacy was to show his followers, who for decades griped against “Big Government,” that they too could climb aboard the Big Government hayride and nibble crumbs at its picnic. With such “conservatism” now centered mainly in Washington and its exponents happily dependent on the federal mega-state, the historic raison d’etre of the American “Right” has ceased to exist.

Such conservatives no longer even pretend to want to preserve or restore the old Republic, and it now turns out that even when the said they did, it was all pretty much a charade anyway.”

(Revolution from the Middle, Samuel T. Francis, Middle American Press, 1997, excerpts pp. 90-91)

Jan 27, 2021 - Abolitionists & Disunionists, Democracy, Prescient Warnings, Southern Conservatives    Comments Off on Democracy and Liberty

Democracy and Liberty

George Fitzhugh, a Virginian born in 1806, never progressed in formal education “beyond the old field school” and his learning in the law was picked up on his own. His real education came from independent and wide reading, including what he described as “whole files of infidel and abolition papers” such as the New York Tribune and Liberator. In the early 1850s he wrote that “Liberty and equality are new things under the sun,” that France and the Northern States had proved the experiment was “self-destructive and impracticable.” He saw “half of mankind [as] but grown up children” and it was apparent that “liberty is as fatal to them as it would be to children.”

Democracy and Liberty

“Democracy and liberty are antagonistic; for liberty permits and encourages the weak to oppress the strong, whilst democracy proposes, so far as possible, to equalize advantages, by fairly dividing the burdens of life and rigidly enforcing the performance of every social duty by every member of society, according to his capacity and ability.” George Fitzhugh

(Cannibals All! Or, Slaves Without Masters, George Fitzhugh, Harvard University Press, 1960, excerpt, pg. 82)

Lincoln’s Reelection in 1864

In mid-1864 Lincoln’s prospects for defeating the South’s bid for independence were bleak, and cracks appeared in his shaky coalition dominated by Radicals.  It was at this time that Southern commissioners were in Canada planning a northern front with freed prisoners at Johnson’s Island and burning New York City in retaliation for Atlanta. Had this found success, and Generals Joe Johnston and Nathan Bedford Forrest been left to harass and defeat Sherman’s army before Atlanta, a negotiated peace and thousands of lives saved might have resulted.

But, as Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana wrote, “All the power and influence of the War Department . . . was employed to secure the re-election of Mr. Lincoln.” In his study of Lincoln as politician, author Don C. Seitz writes that “something like two hundred thousand soldiers were furloughed to go home and vote.”

Lincoln’s Reelection in 1864

“Apathy and disheartenment reached even into the upper circles of the [Republican] party and penetrated the White House. Henry J. Raymond, editor of the New York Times, heard only discouraging reports and learned only of a general conviction that a change was needed. The consensus seemed to be that the war languished and Lincoln would not or could not bring peace. War-weariness and a desire for peace was everywhere.

Something had to be done, Raymond told [Secretary of War Simon] Cameron, to attract public attention. “Great victories might do it – but we are not likely to get them.” Raymond asked Cameron’s advice on another step: let Lincoln propose to Jeff Davis that both sides disband their armies and stop the war “on the best basis of recognizing the supremacy of the constitution” and refer all disputed questions to a convention of the States!

Raymond went to Washington to lay the proposal before the President, but Lincoln did not accept it. Instead he wrote a memorandum sealed it, had the members of the cabinet witness the envelope, and put it in his desk. The memorandum read: “This morning as for some days past, it seems exceedingly possible that this administration will not be elected.  Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration as he will have secured his election on such grounds that he cannot possibly save it afterwards.”

If Lincoln had in mind following Raymond’s plan, he was merely adopting [Horatio] Seymour’s proposals for a negotiated peace.  The prospect frightened [Massachusetts Governor] John Andrew and he dashed about furiously writing letters  . . . asking help [in saving] Lincoln from evil influences.

Sherman’s victory before Atlanta reinvigorated the Republican campaign. The President wrote to [General W.T.] Sherman to let Indiana’s soldiers, “or any part of them, go home at vote at the State election.” This was, Lincoln explained, in no sense an order. Sherman understood that it was a command. He sent soldiers home, and on election day in October the soldiers gathered at the Indiana polls. The Nineteenth Regiment of Vermont Volunteers voted in Indiana that day, but many a Democrat found his vote challenged. When the votes were counted, [Governor Oliver P.] Morton had been elected by a majority of 22,000.

On that same day the need for Lincoln’s aid was illustrated in Pennsylvania.  Under the law the Democratic minority had no rights, But Republican [Governor Andrew] Curtin, disgusted with the situation generally, determined to appoint some Democratic commissioners to collect the soldiers’ vote.  As the commissioners passed through Washington, however, the Democrats among them disappeared, under [Secretary of War Edwin] Stanton’s orders, into the Old Capitol Prison.”

(Lincoln and the War Governors, William B. Hesseltine, Albert A. Knopf, 1955, pp. 377-379)

 

A New Nation of Men of Lesser Minds

The brief Gettysburg address of Lincoln was described by listeners as “a wet blanket” after Edward Everett’s stirring oration, but it did announce the end of the original confederation of States. While Northern governors expected words of appreciation for the sacrifices of the various States supporting his war, “Lincoln rose at Gettysburg to talk of the nation.” He did not “mention that four score and seven years before, the Father had brought forth thirteen independent States.”  As Lincoln spoke of government of the people and by the people, few were aware that a hundred miles away General Robert Schenck’s blue-clad soldiers were patrolling the election polls in Delaware.

A New Nation of Men of Lesser Minds

“Only three times did groups of [Northern] governors assemble to formulate policy. The Cleveland meeting of Western governors and [Pennsylvania’s Governor] Curtin in May 1861 came at the height of initial enthusiasm for the war, and the governors merely demanded that more attention be given to the West.  Lincoln accepted their pledge of cooperation and gave the governors so much work in raising troops that they had no time for further consultation over campaign strategy.

The Providence meeting of New England governors sent a committee to Lincoln to demand cabinet changes, but the President skillfully . . . turned them away. [Massachusetts Governor] Andrew led his neighbors from Providence to Altoona, but was unable to get agreement from other governors for schemes to use Negro troops [to avoid drafting white men] and replace McClellan with Fremont.

On the eve of the conference Lincoln issued the preliminary emancipation proclamation and cut the ground out from under Andrew’s radical plot.  Thereafter the governors attempted no meeting, and Lincoln dealt with them separately.

Lincoln had an enormously swollen patronage to dispense . . . but no part of the patronage was at the disposal of the governors. Moreover, the military patronage was at the President’s disposal. Governors might appoint company and regimental officers, but promotions from grade to grade and the selection of general officers depended on the President. The army and the civil patronage – as the experiences in the Border States, in Ohio in 1863, and in the campaign of 1864 proved – put the Republican Party exclusively in Lincoln’s hands.

But in the long run Lincoln’s victory over the governors was the triumph of a superior intellect. Of the sixty-three chief executives of the States only [New York’s] Horatio Seymour could approach the President in quality of mind. Seymour’s partial success in blocking conscription was a tribute to his intellectual power [and he] might have prevented the destruction of States’ rights [in the North].  But Seymour stood alone [and most] of the others were mediocrities who owed their positions to “availability” rather than to ability.

And this, above all, made Lincoln the architect of the new nation. The victory of nationalism over localism, of centralization over States’ rights, was, in the last analysis, a victory of a keener intellect over men of lesser minds. The new nation that emerged from the Civil War was not solely the result of the military defeat of the armies of Robert E. Lee. It was equally the result of the political victory that Abraham Lincoln’s mind and personality won over the governors of the Northern States.”

(Lincoln and the War Governors, William B. Hesseltine, Albert A. Knopf, 1955, pp. 391-392)