Browsing "Lincoln’s Revolutionary Legacy"

Gullible Reporters, Fake News and Servants

Embedded reporters with Northern armies often influenced elections as in the case of the 1863 gubernatorial campaign in Ohio. They fed stories to the Cincinnati Commercial in opposition to the Democratic candidate, writing that soldiers “detested the “nasty little traitorous imposter and gambler of sedition.”

Thus inspired, and with the help of General Rosecrans, the men cast over nine thousand absentee votes for the Republican candidate versus two-hundred fifty votes for the Democrat.

Gullible Reporters, Fake News and Servants

“Making heroes was in some respects a natural preoccupation for the correspondents. The country fidgeted over the morning papers impatiently, looking for the one man with the ready answer or short cut which would bring a quick return out of the national investment in man power, energy and cash.

In an age of open frontier, Americans were used to fast results, to things that got done. They could not accept then – in fact, they never did learn to accept – the notion of a war to be won by long and bloody campaigns of strangulation. The faith in the coming of a “genius” who would carry matters through with one master stroke died hard.

The reporters who became barkers for these “geniuses” were no more gullible than most, but their position made their errors more damaging. Besides, in flattering officers for personal or political motives, they were depressing their newborn profession to the hurdy-gurdy-playing levels of army “public relations.”

Always ready with a sneering word, the Chicago Tribune, in 1862, wrote that much of the laudatory writing of the war was emitted by “army correspondents, with bellies full from the mess tables of Major Generals . . . the dissonant few being swallowed up like Pharaoh’s lean kine by the well-kept bullocks who form the majority.”

Most of the correspondents were apparently as willing to state political opinions as a party guest with a comic monologue to perform. They could not avoid the emancipation question if they tried . . . the Democratic journals acridly pointed out, the Negro was “chin capital” for the Republican press. In that press, the Negroes were painted as a band of brothers, knit by a universal desire for legalized freedom.

[But a] good many conservative orators were frightening laboring audiences with the warning that the Negroes were all too willing to work. If set free, the argument ran, they would drift northward and crowd white men out of jobs. An army correspondent of the Chicago Tribune stepped into the breach with the answer to that.

[He assured readers that] the Negroes did “not wish to remove to the cold and frigid North. This [Southern] climate is more genial, and here is their home. Only give them a fair remuneration for their labor, and strike off their shackles, and the good people of Illinois need not trouble themselves at the prospect of Negro immigration.”

As a matter of fact, many officers and men were genuinely opposed to releasing “contrabands” from camp on practical as well as political or sentimental grounds. Three war correspondents, sweating through the siege of Corinth, Mississippi, in mid-1862, had domestic arrangements typical of many members of the expedition. They shared the services of Bob and Johnny, two Negro youths who blacked their boots, pressed clothes, cooked, ran errands and more or less gentled their employers’ condition for monthly wages totaling six and twelve dollars.”

(Reporters for the Union, Bernard A. Weisberger, Little, Brown and Company, 1953, excerpts pp. 240-243)

Only Congress May Draw the Sword

Alexander H. Stephen’s criticism of President James Polk sending American troops to the Rio Grande in July 1845 and threatening Mexico, inspired his arraignment of Lincoln in 1861 for leading the country into an avoidable war.

In Lincoln’s case, his party’s governors provided the troops for his unconstitutional actions and invasion of Southern States, and subjugated a free people with an “oath of allegiance administered at the point of a bayonet.” Stephens foresaw the treatment the South would receive.

Only Congress May Draw the Sword

“From [his] first speech in Congress to his last before the war, his straight line of endeavor was to preserve the Union under the Constitution. His opposition to Texan annexation was not pleasing to the South . . . and the first to bring him into national prominence, contained the oft-quoted sentences which revived against him at the South the charges of abolitionism while at the North he was accused of laboring for slavery extension:

“My reason for wishing it [the slavery limit] settled in the beginning, I do not hesitate to make known. I fear the excitement growing out of the agitation hereafter may endanger the harmony and even existence of our present Union . . . I am no defender of slavery in the abstract. I would rejoice to see all the sons of Adam’s family in the enjoyment of those rights set forth in the Declaration of Independence as natural and inalienable . . .”

The right of the Union to “acquire territory” and the wisdom of doing so were questioned. He declared for expansion but against imperialism: “This [annexation] is an important step settling the principle of our future extension. We are reminded of the growth of the Roman Empire which fell of its own weight; and of England, who is hardly able to keep together her extensive parts. Rome extended her dominions by conquest, she compelled provinces to bear the yoke; England extends hers upon the principle of colonization; her distant dependencies are subject to her laws but are deprived of the rights of representation.

With us, a new system has commenced, characteristic of the age. It is a system of a Republic formed by the union of separate independent States, yielding so much of their sovereign powers as are necessary for national and foreign purposes, and retaining all others for local and domestic objects. Who shall undertake to say how far this system may not go?”

He said, speaking of Mexican territory:

“No principle is more dangerous than that of compelling other people to adopt our form of government. It is not only wrong in itself, but contrary to the whole spirit and genius of liberty we enjoy.”

Asking if the Mexican war was waged for conquest:

“If so, I protest . . . I am no enemy to the extension of our domain . . . but it is not to be accomplished by the sword. We can only properly enlarge by voluntary accessions.”

In his denunciation of [President James] Polk’s abuse of power . . . :

“Only Congress can constitutionally draw the sword. The President cannot. The war was brought upon us while Congress was in session and without our knowledge. The new and strange doctrine is put forth that Congress has nothing to do with the conduct of the war; that the President is entitled to uncontrolled management; that we can do nothing but vote men and money to whatever extent his folly and caprice may dictate.

Neighboring States may be subjugated, extensive territories annexed, provincial governments erected, the rights of conscience violated, and the oath of allegiance administered at the point of the bayonet . . .”

(Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens, Myrta L. Avary, editor, LSU Press, 1998, excerpts pp. 31-32)

Exercising All the War Powers of Congress

The Founders were wary of a standing army and gave only to Congress the power to raise troops and declare war. Should a sitting president venture to call for troops at his whim, as did Lincoln, the republic of those Founders was at an end.

Lincoln and the governors of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York who supplied him with troops for the purpose of waging war against other States and adhering to their enemies, were all were guilty of treason according to Article III, Section 3 of the United States Constitution.

There was a peaceful alternative which was not pursued by Lincoln and his party, and Southern Unionists pleas for peaceful diplomacy and compromise were ignored in favor of intentional duplicity at Charleston.

Exercising All the War Powers of Congress

“The day after Fort Sumter surrendered President Lincoln called on the several States for seventy-five thousand militia for ninety days service. The troops were to suppress “combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the Marshals by law, a curiously legalistic phraseology probably adopted in an attempt to bring the proclamation under the Acts of 1795 and 1807 governing the calling out of the posse comitatus.

Amid immense enthusiasm, the established militia regiments in the eastern cities moved at once. Pennsylvania troops, a few companies, reached Washington the next day; Massachusetts troops came within four days, in spite of the violent resistance to the transfer of the regiment across Baltimore between the railroad stations; New York’s first regiment was but a day behind Massachusetts.

The Governors of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri sharply declined to honor the President’s requisition for troops to be used against the seven States of the Confederacy. The Governor of Delaware reported that he had no authority for raising troops.

Neither, for that matter, had President Lincoln, under strict construction of the laws. In his first proclamation he called Congress into special session, but not to meet until the Fourth of July, more than two and a half months later.

In the meanwhile, free from interference, he drove ahead to organize his war, making laws or breaking them as he had need to, creating armies, enlarging the Navy, declaring blockades, exercising all the war powers of Congress.

Before the guns spoke at Sumter and the President answered with his call for troops, there was everywhere, in the North, in the Border States unhappily torn between loyalties, and even in those States which had seceded, a strong party for peace. The fire of Sumter swept away all that in the North; the call of Lincoln for troops, in the South.

The New Orleans True Delta, which had opposed secession and sought peace, “spurned the compact with them who would enforce its free conditions with blood” — an attitude that was general among those who were not original secessionists.”

(The Story of the Confederacy, Robert Selph Henry, Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1931, excerpts pp. 34-35)

Saddled with Another Absolutist Regime

Alexander Hamilton was no friend of the Articles of Confederation and the decentralized republic it represented, but he did know the limits of newly-created federal power within the new constitution. His view was that States retained any authority not specifically delegated, and that State troops, as in 1861-1865, would constitutionally resist any invasion to preserve their independence and sovereignty.

James Madison wrote of this as well, stating that more than one State might band together, as in the later Confederate States of America, to resist any and all encroachments on State sovereignty by the federal agent created by the States.

Alexis de Toqueville, the French traveler in the America of 1831-32, saw firsthand the powers of “this strange new democratic monster” that would within thirty years gain control of the federal government and consolidate all, by force, into one common mass.

Saddled with Another Absolutist Regime

“In Toqueville’s opinion, the many levels of responsibility acted as buffers against the tyranny of the majority that ordinarily characterized democracy. Then United States possessed a centralized government but not a centralized administration.

To what extent American self-government was an outgrowth of the federal constitution, or merely a by-product of their habits and experiences, remains to be seen. This much, however, is clear: no subject so agitated the founding fathers as the possible loss of local responsibility under a federal government. The new constitution had to be designed in a way that maximized State autonomy.

As Hamilton put it in Federalist 62, “The equal vote allowed to each State [i.e. in the Senate] is at once a constitutional recognition of the portion of sovereignty remaining in the individual States, and an instrument for preserving that residual sovereignty.”

Although Hamilton favored a centralized economic authority, he argued that the federal government could not legitimately use the taxing power as an excuse to interfere in the internal government of the States. In Federalist 28, he argued that State militias would be called out to resist invasions of sovereignty.

[James] Madison concurred, and in Federalist 46 suggested that the States would band together to prevent such encroachments. Even the arch-federalist John Marshall declared (in McCulloch v. Maryland) that “no political dreamer was ever wild enough to think of breaking down the lines which separate the States, and of compounding the American people into one common mass.”

Interference in the life of local communities had been one of the complaints against the royal government. The anti-Federalists were afraid that, by adopting the Federal Constitution, they were saddling themselves with another absolutist regime. Mass democracy, as Toqueville realized, was dangerous.”

(The Politics of Human Nature, Thomas Fleming, Transaction Publishers, 1988, excerpts pg. 200)

“Force of a Most Formidable Character”

In early March 1861, the new Confederate States government adopted a virtual free tariff, which quickly brought Northern merchants to their economic senses. Moses Kelly of the US Department of the Interior overheard many Southerners state that Southern ports planning direct trade with Europe “promised to deprive northern merchants of their position as middlemen and to eject northern manufacturers from the southern market in favor of European competitors.”

Further, the Philadelphia Press asked rhetorically: “If South Carolina is permitted to establish a free port with impunity, and to invite to her harbor all the ships of foreign nations, would not disaster in that event fall upon all our great northern interests?” It accurately predicted “an early reawakening of the Union sentiment in New York.” Thus true reason for total war against the South and destruction of her economic base was clearly revealed.

“Force of a Most Formidable Character”

“[By March 1861] it was evident that northern businessmen had carefully measured the consequences of disunion and the collapse of central authority and decided that they were intolerable. They had called for appeasement, but when that failed they were soon reconciled to the use of force.

Many of them concluded that property had received about as much damage from the crisis as it could, that “no new phase which the [secession] movement may take can have any further effect.”

Stocks had reached their lowest average quotations in December when the government seemed weakest, and even the approach of war failed to depress them that much again. As one commercial writer saw it, business was already suffering “all it could from a state of actual war.” And when war finally came the northern men of property united behind Lincoln to save the Union and restore the prestige of the national government.

When Yankee capitalists finally endorsed the use of military force against secessionists, they accepted the final remedy for a solemn threat to their property and future profits. Inevitably the holders of government securities looked upon disunion as a menace to their investments.

One conservative nervously declared: “So long as the right of secession is acknowledged, United States bonds must still be denounced as entirely unsafe property to hold . . .” To permit States to leave the Union at will, he warned, would mean that the “United States stocks are really worth no more than old Continental money.” With this in mind, when another government loan was offered in January, an observer shrewdly predicted: “Every dollar [New] York takes binds her capitalists to the Union, and the North.”

A basic tenet of the northern middle classes was that the value of property depended upon political stability. In effect, secessionists had made an indirect attack upon the possessions of every property holder. They had invited property-less Northerners, the revolutionary “sans culottes,” “the unwashed and unterrified,” to precipitate the country into “rough and tumble anarchy.” This “social and moral deterioration” might easily infect the lower classes with the radical idea “that a raid upon property can be justified by the plea of necessity.”

Conservatives looked apprehensively at the “immense foreign element” in northern cities and feared that revolution was “nearer our doors than we imagine.” From these recent immigrants could come the mobs to set aside all law and order and, with “revolver and stiletto,” sink the nation “into confusion and riotous chaos.” The only alternative, it was repeatedly argued, was to enforce respect for the Federal government everywhere.

[Northern] businessmen gradually became convinced that Southern independence would be almost fatal to northern commerce. American maritime power in the Caribbean and Gulf . . . would vanish . . . exclude the North from their trade . . . Even trade with the Pacific would be at the mercy of the South.

The northern monopoly in the coasting trade was a further casualty of the disunion movement. Vowing that he had “an interest and proprietorship in the Union of all these States,” [a] New Yorker concluded that secession would have to be checkmated by “force of a most formidable character.”

(And the War Came: The North and the Secession Crisis, 1860-1861 Kenneth M. Stampp, LSU Press, 1950, excerpts pp. 223-230)

“Wolves Snapping at the Throat of Democracy”

After a long career as the Commonwealth’s Attorney of Lynchburg, Robert “Cap’n Bob” Yancey’s wife suggested that thirty-four years in that position was long enough and he should retire. But Yancey had been the State’s attorney “for so long that he considered the office his own prerogative.”

In his 1925 re-election bid the regeneration of the Ku Klux Klan became an important issue: that regeneration since 1915 was the result of New Yorker Theodore Roosevelt’s “100% Americanism,” increased foreign immigration since the 1880s, and Woodrow Wilson’s war and its intense anti-German propaganda.

The original late -1860s Ku Klux Klan was a defensive reaction to the Republican party’s Union League intimidation and voter-suppression activities in the immediate postwar. It had no official flag and disbanded in 1869 after Union League activities diminished. Later incarnations of the Klan bore little if any resemblance to the original.

“Wolves Snapping at the Throat of Democracy”

“Nobody thought Father could be elected in 1925 because, in that year, the candidate who opposed him had the support of the Ku Klux Klan. And Father scorned the Ku Klux Klan with the most outspoken contempt.

“Anti-Jew, anti-Catholic, anti Negro!” said my father scathingly. “Why don’t they reduce it to a summary and conclusion and call it anti-Christ!” My father could not fight the Ku Klux Klan hard enough to suit himself. It was an insult to the South that the name Ku Klux Klan had been revived.

Historically, it had been necessary. The only purpose of its existence had been the protection of a defenseless people during a period of national madness. It had been disbanded by its own members as soon as the necessity for it was at an end. It was an insult to the memory of those first, desperate Klansmen that the name should now be made to stand for boycotting the rights of our best American citizens.

Whenever my mother would hear of the things that Father was broadcasting against the Ku Klux Klan, she would shake her head. “If you father really wants to win this election,” she would say, “he had better stop his bitter attacks upon the Ku Klux Klan. The temper of the working people has gradually been changing since the World War. The working classes are tired of paternalism in politics: the people of this new generation want things in their own hands. A good many of them take the Klan seriously. Your father shouldn’t antagonize them in this way.”

My father had a very devoted friend named Mr. Thomas Welch . . . [who was] disturbed about Father’s lack of restraint in his criticism of the Ku Klux Klan.

“Cap’n Bob,” he said, with genuine concern written all over his broad honest face, “Cap’n Bob, sir, I know just exactly how you feel – but you can’t keep this up and be elected. “Taint like it was during Prohibition. The people is different now. The gossip is that a man can’t git nowhere in politics without the Ku Klux backs him. I don’t ask you not to dislike them. I just ask you not to dislike ‘em so loud. If you keep a little quieter I think we can git you elected.”

“Ku Klux!” snorted my father unsubmissively. “Ku Klux! Wolves in sheet clothing! Wolves snapping at the throat of democracy,” said my father in a voice that made my backbone tingle . . . “Well, I won’t keep quiet. The damned thing is too wrong in principle. I won’t be hushed up – elected or not elected: I’ll just be damned if I will.”

And father did continue to give the Ku Klux a fit. And much to everybody’s surprise, he was elected in 1925.”

(The Vanishing Virginian, Rebecca Yancey Williams, E.P. Dutton & Company, 1940, excerpts pp. 265-269)

Florida’s Postwar Politics

During Reconstruction-era Florida, political boss Leonard G. Dennis became one of that State’s wealthiest men by selling political endorsements to the highest bidders and then taking a part of the monthly salary of each. To secure the cooperation of his appointees, he kept signed letters of resignation from each political applicant before being granted the office.

Dennis was a Massachusetts-born soldier who settled postwar in Alachua County, Florida where he became politically active, largely through his control over the freedmen, and known as the “Little Giant.” In 1876, he helped throw the presidential election to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, known afterward as “His Fraudulency.”

Florida’s Postwar Politics

“The last Statewide Republican victory of the Reconstruction era occurred in 1873 when the legislature elected [New Jersey-native] Dr. Simon B. Conover, a Tallahassee carpetbagger, to the United States Senate. In 1875 the legislature elected the first Democrat to the Senate since the Republicans had come to power. Mainly self-educated, Charles W. Jones was an Irish-born ex-carpenter from Pensacola . . . [and] elected by only one vote, Republican control of the legislature was broken.

While internal corruption and the hatred of white Southerners played important roles in its downfall, the Republican party throughout Reconstruction lacked strength because it lacked leadership. With the exception of scalawag Ossian Hart and blacks Jonathan Gibbs and Josiah T. Walls, it depended on Northern carpetbaggers with only a superficial knowledge of the State and the needs of the freedmen.

Political rewards for Negroes other than minor offices were rare despite the fact that almost the entire party voting strength was Negro. Walls came to Florida from Virginia shortly after the war and engaged in cabbage growing in Alachua County. Prospering while most of his white neighbors were poverty-stricken, Walls reached the economic status of planter.

Entering politics Walls soon became joint leader of the Alachua County Republican machine, sharing this position with Leonard G. Dennis . . . a corrupt, self-seeking demagogue, forever willing to sacrifice the Negro on the altar of opportunism.”

(Florida Politics in the Gilded Age, 1877-1893, Edward C. Williamson, University of Florida, 1976, excerpts pp. 9-10)

Conservative Southern Democrats of 1917

Washington’s warning regarding foreign entanglements, as well as John Quincy Adam’s belief that America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy, were forgotten by Woodrow Wilson’s reign. In the latter’s time there were those in Congress who saw that Britain was a preferred creditor of American business interests and thus had to be bailed out with American lives and fortune.

The question must be asked: Had Britain been left on its own to seek an armistice with Germany, and Kaiser Wilhelm remaining on the throne, would a German nationalist rising out of American intervention and German defeat have occurred?

Conservative Southern Democrats of 1917

“[In] the period of neutrality of the First World War more Southerners opposed intervention and Wilson’s foreign policies than they did intervention and [FDR’s] foreign policies in the period of neutrality of the Second World War.

In an editorial of March 11, 1917, the Greensboro Daily News said the rich and the heads of corporate industry wanted war, not the great, silent masses. It was persuaded by its readers’ letters, it said, “that the masses of people of this section have little desire to take a hand in Europe’s slaughter and confusion.”

Several Southerners in Congress, such as Claude Kitchin of North Carolina, majority leader in the House of Representatives, and Senator James K. Vardaman of Mississippi, opposed Wilson’s foreign policy and upheld traditional isolationist views. Vardaman belonged to that “little band of willful men” who in February 1917 successfully filibustered against Wilson’s Armed Neutrality bill and was one of the six senators who voted against war with Germany.

In his opposition speech of April 8, 1917, to Wilson’s request for war, Kitchin insisted that the President’s foreign policy had been pro-British from the outbreak of hostilities. “We are to make their quarrel, right or wrong, our quarrel,” Kitchin said. “We are to fight out, with all the resources in men, money and credit of the Government and its people a difference between the belligerents of Europe to which we were and are utter strangers.” This was a view many isolationists, North and South, could accept.

Kitchin and the South resented, among other things, Britain’s blockade because of its adverse effect on cotton and tobacco growers . . . [as] in the first two years of the war, the South suffered more from the blockade than any other section. The possibility that the Southerners in Congress might join with the German-American and Irish-American elements to force a retaliatory arms embargo against the British for suppression of the cotton trade with Central Europe appeared in 1915 as a grave threat to Anglo-American relations.

“The cotton producers of North Carolina and the entire South are aroused over the action of Great Britain in declaring cotton contraband,” Claude Kitchin announced, according the Greensboro Daily News of August 27, 1915, “and they want the Administration to be as emphatic in dealing with England on this score as it has been dealing with Germany over others.”

Throughout the South there was a widespread campaign for retaliation against the British government.

The British, to pacify the South, finally made a secret agreement with the American government to buy enough cotton to stabilize the price at ten cents a pound. British buying . . . soon drove up cotton prices and the crisis passed.”

(The South and Isolationism, Alexander Deconde; The South and the Sectional Image, The Sectional Theme Since Reconstruction, Dewey W. Grantham, editor, Harper & Row, 1967, excerpts pp. 120-121)

America’s Slide Toward Totalism

Robert A. Taft, son of William Howard Taft, was the last prominent Republican who might be considered a classical liberal and conservative Republican. Another would not appear until Barry Goldwater in the mid-1960s, and no more to this day. For the 1952 presidential election, he was cast aside by the Republican Party to make way for Dwight Eisenhower, a career military man with no political ideals or experience.

Though a constant critic of Roosevelt’s assumption of powers not granted to the executive, it is difficult to understand how Taft could state that he was an admirer of Abraham Lincoln, who began in earnest the erosion of constitutional principles and whom FDR emulated.

America’s Slide Toward Totalism

“By the time Bob Taft was elected to Congress, the New Dealers’ admiration for the Soviet experiment had diminished markedly, yet there remained the possibility that the United States might slide, almost unwittingly, toward totalist politics.

The maintenance of ordered freedom being the root of Taft’s politics, he never ceased to warn the American public against the erosion of constitutional principles, and he never was deterred by ridicule.

“The trend of thought on forms of government throughout the entire world,” Taft insisted, “has been pushing all peoples consciously or unconsciously away from democracy to different forms of totalitarianism. In Europe, democratic ideals were crushed between the dynamic dogmas of Communism and Fascism.

In the United States, we often lose sight of the real nature of the principles on which freedom depends, in our desire to remake our world according to the popular method of the day – methods formulated for the most part by European socialists.”

The American people had perceived by 1938, he said, that this tendency was most perilous; but the coming of the war diverted public attention from such fundamental concerns. So in speech upon speech, during the Second World War, Taft prodded Americans into vigilance against the encroachment of collectivist ideas and measures at home. Some of the basic principles of American politics already had been damaged, he declared in 1941:

“We have seen during the past twelve years a steady increase in government regulation of business and of the individual, and we have seen, through courts which are hardly independent of the executive, a constant tendency to increase the powers of the federal government over the States, and the powers of the Executive over the individual.”

He saw his prediction[s] fulfilled:

“In our efforts to protect the freedom of this country against aggression from without, we are in a situation today where we must constantly be on guard against the suppression of freedom in the United States itself . . . Unfortunately the [Roosevelt] administration, more than any other in the history of the country, is utterly unscrupulous in its demand for more power . . .”

(The Political Principles of Robert Taft, Russell Kirk and James McClellan, Fleet Press Corporation, 1967, excerpts pp. 62-64)

Stereotypes and White Trash in Little Rock

The Little Rock episode of government force used in the integration of Arkansas schools caused little damage to Governor Orval Faubus as he easily secured reelection in 1958, and served three more terms.

Hollywood used Little Rock to advance their stereotypes of the Southern citizenry, with “A Face in the Crowd” described below, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit.”

The latter two paint a damning picture of poor Southern white people with the Ewell family depicted as untrustworthy “poor white trash”; Gregory Peck provided “a pale imitation of the primal Cajun doing his dance to drumbeats.” “Redneck” and “white trash” were often used interchangeably; “hillbilly” was waiting in the wings if the other two did not suffice.

Stereotypes and White Trash in Little Rock

“Little Rock was the most important domestic news story of 1957. It transformed the Central High neighborhood into a newsroom, attracting reporters from the major newspapers, magazines and television networks. By the end of September, the number of press people had grown from a handful to 225 highly visible journalists and cameramen. The standoff between the courts and the governor – the “crisis” environment swirling around the school grounds – grabbed the world’s attention.

The media easily slipped into Southern stereotypes, depicting “many in overalls,” “tobacco-chewing white men,” or as one New York Times article highlighted, a “scrawny redneck man” yelling insults at the soldiers. Local Arkansas journalists similarly dismissed the demonstrators as “a lot of rednecks.” Unruly women who stood by became “slattern housewives” and “harpies.” One Southern reporter said it outright: “Hell, look at them. They’re just poor white trash, mostly.”

In Nashville, mob violence erupted that same month after the integration of an elementary school. There, a Time [magazine] reporter had a field day trashing the women in the crowd: “vacant-faced women in curlers and loose-hanging blouses,” not to mention a rock-throwing waitress with a tattooed arm.

These were all predictable motifs, serving to distance rabble-rousers from the “normal” good people of Arkansas and Tennessee. By 1959, the Times Literary Supplement acknowledged that it was the “ugly faces” of “rednecks, crackers, tar-heels and other poor white trash” that would be forever remembered from Central High.

In the same year that Little Rock consumed the news media, Hollywood produced a feature-length film that capitalized on the redneck image. Starring Andy Griffith and directed by Elia Kazan, A Face in the Crowd was . . . “a dark drama that followed “Lonesome Rhodes,” a down-and-out man discovered playing guitar in an Arkansas jail, and traced his rapid rise into the national limelight as a powerful and ruthless TV star.

For reviewers, Griffith’s performance was a cross between Huey Long and Elvis Presley – a hollering, singing “redneck gone berserk with power.”

(White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, Nancy Isenberg, Viking Press, 2016, excerpts pp. 251-252)

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