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Speaking the Language of Monuments

Historians record Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) leader General John Logan of Illinois as a creative political opportunist: a prewar Stephen Douglas Democrat who favored conciliatory measures toward the South to prevent war — but correctly sensing Radical Republican power he allied with them to keep his political star ascendant. Feeling slighted as West Point-educated commanders refused him promotions he developed an aversion to that institution; in the postwar he was known for his “bloody-shirt” oratory and catering to the pension desires of GAR veterans, serving as their commander for three terms. Logan’s postwar writings underscore the Republican Party ideology of containing slaves, and later freedmen, in the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Speaking the Language of Monuments

“In short, the Grand Army [of the Republic] memory of the war represented the persistence into peacetime of the millennial, republican vision prevalent in the North before 1860 . . . [and this] older ideology of republicanism lived blissfully on in the campfires of the GAR until at least 1900.

In that view, the virtuous nation, saved until [Fort] Sumter from the ordinary travails of history, had come through the war purified of the blot of slavery and ready to lead the rest of the world into the sunshine of universal democracy. Despite the painfully obvious failure of Gilded Age America to live up to that vision, the Grand Army of the Republic (the name of the order itself is highly significant) strained to see the nation in those terms.

The past was the past, With the Republic secure, the saviors could return to lives as simple citizens. “There is not in human history, a case cited except ours, in which a million soldiers were, in a day, removed from belligerent to peaceful life,” Logan told the 1869 national encampment. “Probably, there is no government on earth, except our own, that would have dared try the experiment. I am confident there is no other in which such trial would be safe.”

These were not the words of realists trying to come to grips with a bloody and divisive war, nor those of militarists with a present-day political agenda. The members of the Grand Army had no such words in their vocabulary. Instead, the spoke the language of monuments.

[Logan announced] that “that the late war between the American States was the legitimate climax of several cooperating forces.” The North American continent, he wrote, was reserved for European civilization through “a marvelous ordering of events.” The Revolution, though it “arrested the attention of the world,” was actually the product of trends dating back “forty centuries.”

The Civil War, by removing the blot of slavery, had rendered the Declaration of Independence “the Magna Carta of all mankind, destined to last while the human race endures.” The main threat to [Logan’s] yeoman’s paradise was “class distinction,” both in the slaveholding South and at “aristocratic” West Point . . . [and] argued that the Southern slave system had been the legitimate child of monarchy.” Once cured, the country presumably could return to its pristine state, provided that “class distinction” did not come back to ravage it.” To avoid that fate, Logan wrote, the “restrictive, inadequate, and wholly un-American” military academies need to be overhauled in the interests of democracy.”

(Glorious Contentment, the Grand Army of the Republic, 1865-1900; Stuart McConnell, UNC Press, 1992, excerpts, pp. 192-198)

 

The Force Bill Fight in Congress

With Benjamin Harrison in the White House in 1889, the Republican party moved quickly to restore its political hegemony and construct numerous barriers to future Democratic victories. In a two-pronged effort the McKinley Bill would establish high tariff rates to protect northeastern manufacturers from foreign competition and encourage campaign contributions; the Force Bill ostensibly prevented corruption in Federal elections – but in reality gave Federal district judges the power to manipulate congressional elections in the South by shearing as much authority as possible from local election officials.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Force Bill Fight in Congress

“When Congress assembled in December, 1889, the Republicans were in complete control of both branches for the first time in sixteen years. With a great deal of satisfaction, therefore, their leaders revived the partisan measures that a Democratic majority in one house had previously thwarted.

In the opening days of the session they prepared several items of legislation designed to strengthen and lengthen Republican power. Their high tariff supporters were to be rewarded with the McKinley bill with its inflated schedules; the [treasury] surplus was to be obliterated by a veritable orgy of Federal spending; and any subsequent restoration of the Democratic party to power was to be hampered by a set of Federal election laws that would weaken the Solid South with Negro ballots and, if necessary, Northern bayonets.

If the Democrats were to survive the onslaught that the Republicans planned for them, they would require unflagging minority leadership in Congress. Shrewd parliamentary leadership would be needed there to employ effectively the minority’s somewhat limited resources.

The elections bill . . . was designed to appeal to lovers of human, rather than property rights. Its provisions were to be simple, just, and, to all outward appearance, eminently nonpartisan. Those who opposed its passage would place themselves in the position of defending Negro disenfranchisement, unconstitutional usurpation by Southern whites, and downright criminality. To attack the elections bill would be equivalent to a shameless confession of guilt.

Both measures were designed to cripple the Democratic party. The Tariff bill was not simply the negation of avowed Democratic principle; it was both the repayment of Republican campaign debts and the promise of future contributions.

“Fat-frying” had made Republican victories possible in 1888; high tariff schedules would now satisfy old customers and establish a new group of beneficiaries whose financial support might ensure Democratic defeat indefinitely.

The ulterior motives behind the elections bill were equally clear. Pious declarations that it was not a political weapon might assist its passage, but once it became law, the President would be empowered to enforce its provisions with the full support of the Army and Navy.

By this time it was clear to everyone that the Republicans were not motivated by humanitarian impulses in their efforts to protect the Negro in his constitutional rights; they were attempting to restore the political control over the Southern election machinery which they had exercised during the Reconstruction era”

(Arthur Pue Gorman, John R. Lambert, Louisiana State University Press, 1953, excerpts, pp. 145-148; 157)

The Seductive Promises of Demagogues

The late M.E. Bradford understood that the centrality of freedom was the core of Southerners’ insistence on their right to govern their private and local affairs in their own way, and was the same for citizens of all other States. He held that “the only equality Americans can universally approve is accidental, a corollary of liberty or simple equality before the law with limited scope.” Bradford made his readers painfully aware of Lenin’s belief that the only way to make men equal is to treat them unequally.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Seductive Promises of Demagogues

“The wrath [Bradford] directed against Lincoln, like the wrath he directed against Julia Ward Howe, the authors of the Reconstruction amendments, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and all those who had imposed the teleological will of an instrumental government and judiciary upon an unsuspecting nation, had little to do with personal animosity.

It stemmed from his indignation against people he viewed as so intellectually blind as to be incapable of understanding the enormity they had wrought or so morally blind as not to care, provided only that they accomplished their immediate ends. Such attitudes, for Bradford, embodied the reverse – indeed the repudiation – of the obligations of stewardship and amounted to the despoiling of the children as well as the desecration of the fathers.

Bradford refused to apologize for the severity of his message – that the Northern victory had extracted a terrible cost from the country and its culture. Rejecting the cult of equality as the opiate of the intellectuals, Bradford rejected the fashionable identification of the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution, referring to “the Great Divide of the War Between the States.”

He explained: “it has been more and more the habit of our historians, jurists, and political scientists to read the Continental Enlightenment, and the Age of Revolution that was its political consequence, back into the beginnings of our national beginnings by way of an anachronistic gloss upon the Declaration of Independence.”

He constantly reminds his readers that the Constitution, not the Declaration, embodies the country’s law, which it exists to articulate and protect. Thus, he argues in an uncharacteristically optimistic vein, the “Constitution makes it difficult or even impossible for us to alter our political identity on whim or when momentarily carried away by the adjuration of demagogues.”

By the time Bradford died [in 1993], he had reason to know that the American political identity he cherished was under formidable assault, primarily at the hands of the Supreme Court justices – those supposed custodians and interpreters of the Constitution itself.

Experience and history taught Bradford, as he believed they had taught the Framers, that in politics one must conjoin the “caution of David Hume and the pessimism of Saint Paul,” especially with respect to the seductive promises of demagogues. In the time of the Framers, as in our own, he insisted, caution and pessimism should lead to a deep mistrust of the myths of equality with which demagogues love to seduce the more gullible of the citizenry, and he approvingly quoted Rufus King of Massachusetts, “the unnatural Genius of Equality [is] the arch Enemy of the moral world.”

(M.E. Bradford’s Historical Vision, EF & ED Genovese; A Defender of Southern Conservatism, M.E. Bradford and His Achievements, Clyde N. Wilson, editor, University of Missouri Press, 1999, pp. 79-82)

Two Views on the Destruction of Historic Monuments

 

Noted speaker and author of “Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain, Robert K. Krick:

“We live in an age riven by shrill and intemperate voices, from all perspectives and on most topics. No sane person today would embrace, endorse, or tolerate slavery.

A casual observer, readily able to convince himself that he would have behaved similarly in the 1860s, can vault to the high ground with the greatest of ease. Doing that gratifies the powerful self-righteousness strain that runs through all of us, for better or worse.

In fact, it leaps far ahead of the Federal politicians (Lincoln among them) who said emphatically that slavery was not the issue, and millions of Northern soldiers who fought, bled and died in windrows to save the Union – but were noisily offended by mid-war emancipation.

It is impossible to imagine a United States in the current atmosphere that does not include zealots eager to obliterate any culture not precisely their own, destroying monuments in the fashion of Soviets after a purge, and antiquities in the manner of ISIS.

The trend is redolent of the misery that inundated the planet during the aptly-named Dark Ages, arising from savages who believed, as a matter of religion in that instance, that anyone with opinions different than their own was not just wrong, but craven and evil, and must be brutalized into conformity.

On the other hand, a generous proportion of the country now, and always, eschews extremism, and embraces tolerance of others’ cultures and inheritances and beliefs. Such folk will always be society’s salvation.”

 

Thos. V. Strain, Jr., Commander-in-Chief, Sons of Confederate Veterans:

“. . . It is my opinion, and that of many others, that these [monument] removals are an attempt to erase history. If you take some time to read the comments on social media and on the websites of the news organizations reporting these removals, it is obvious that only a few people support the removals. What it boils down to is that the politicians are telling those that elect them that their wishes mean absolutely nothing to them.

Just this week one of these politicians that voted to remove a statue in Virginia lost in the primary for reelection, and he noted that his stance on the removal more than likely cost him the election.

In the end, what we really have, in my humble opinion, is a group of people who are following their own personal agendas and saying, “to hell with the people” and moving forward with these removals. It isn’t what we want, it is all about them.”

(Civil War Times, October 2017, excerpts, pp. 32; 37)

Censorship and Favorable Publicity

Prior to 1861, the New York Associated Press was playing an important role in transforming American journalism by centralizing a network of like-minded newspapers to distribute news to the country. After commencing hostilities, the Lincoln administration began censoring news stories regarding the war almost immediately and what followed was a constant suppression of stories regarding war financing in Congress, the imminent bankruptcy of the government, Northern casualties figures, and war profiteering by war materiel contractors.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Censorship and Favorable Publicity

“At the outset of the Civil War – and for the first time in American history – the federal government created an apparatus to censor news stories. For the first ten months of the war, responsibility for the Washington censorship shifted among cabinet officials. Given this arrangement, the censorship imposed on correspondents during the crucial early phase of the conflict was as much political as military.

In December 1861, the House of Representatives authorized the Judiciary Committee “to inquire if a telegraphic censorship of the press has been established in this city; if so, by whose authority, and by whom is it now controlled.” The committee held hearings during January and February before submitting its fourteen-page report to the House in February 1862.

On April 19 . . . reporters gathered details from the battered [6th Massachusetts Regiment returning from Baltimore] and hurried to the Washington telegraph office to file their stories for Northern newspapers. When they arrived, however, they found the office guarded by a militia squad . . . no one quite accepted responsibility for the decision to ban the transmission of news, though [William] Seward mentioned that the cabinet had been discussing the need for some type of telegraphic censorship.

[News organization owners were told that] Messages about military operations were to be detained, as was anything “injurious to the interest of the Government.” The circular closed with the admonition, “Of course the strictest secrecy must be observed in respect to these instructions.” Near the end of April, the War Department assumed control of the telegraph and the censorship program.

Telegraphic reports about the outcome of [First Manassas] on July 21 damaged the credibility of both the government and the press and prompted changes in censorship. Early accounts of the battle telegraphed to Northern newspapers suggested an imminent Union victory . . . [and] left the public unprepared for the news that followed: the battle ended in an ignominious rout of the Union army.

Only days after Gen. George B. McClellan assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, he met with reporters and proposed a code that governed news sent by telegraph . . . “that may furnish aid and comfort to the enemy.” Eleven correspondents representing leading newspapers in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Cincinnati, and Washington signed, as did General McClellan.

The ultimate arbiter of what could pass over the wires from Washington, Secretary of War Simon Cameron, was well-positioned to cultivate favorable publicity. He directed the censor to let the “despatches of Mr. [Samuel] Wilkeson, of the New York Tribune, go over the wires as written . . . as Wilkeson enjoyed the latitude to offer comments, even editorialize, in his reports from Washington. “The privilege was to be used wholly in [reference] to the policy of sustaining the govt – sustaining the War Dept.,” Wilkeson testified.

Wilkeson’s reports to the Tribune regularly defended Cameron and the War Department from the many charges of scandal and mismanagement in awarding military contracts.”

(The Telegraph, Censorship and Politics; Richard B. Kielbowicz, Civil War History, Vol. XL, 1994, Kent State University Press, excerpts, pp. 96-101)

Exhortative Liberalism

The term “virtue signaling” is defined as “an act of affirmation of some liberal value or shibboleth, intended to establish or reaffirm the sender’s reputation as a socialized, politically correct, and tolerant person.” In the not-too-distant-past, Christian morality dominated American culture and one had no need to signal the virtue one already had in his or her heart.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Exhortative Liberalism

“Even the strongest political conservatives – people who believe in the free market and resist statism, support a strong military defense, and go to church every Sunday – participate in virtue signaling to display their generous intentions, maintain social harmony, and compensate for their illiberal opinions regarding fundamental political, economic and social issues.

Virtue signaling is one aspect of the urgent exhortative tone characteristic of modern liberal society – the “OK guys – let’s all go out today and do the ethical thing!” society.

The spirit behind exhortative liberalism is purely liberal-bourgeois, yet its pedigree traces from the civic boosterism of the conservative bourgeoisie of the 1920’s to whom Sinclair Lewis’s fictional character of the decade gave the name “Babbittry.” In fact there has always been an intimate connection between liberalism and social and intellectual vulgarity . . . Liberalism as an idea is ideally suited to the moral, aesthetic, and political vulgarity of modern commercial-democratic society.

The [Laramie, Wyoming] newspaper [the Boomerang] was founded in 1881 . . . What hard news there is at hand to report daily is buried under alerts, announcements, feature stories and photographs promoting a variety of “awarenesses,” “sensitivities,” and other liberal totems: Big Brother-Big Sister, Violence Against Women Week, Run for the Cure races, rallies to save the climate and fight discrimination against the “LGBT community,” Latina seminars, safe-sex crusades, and Special Olympics weekends.

In the Boomerang’s world, everyone “cares,” “gives back,” “supports,” and “tolerates” from morn to set of sun, and – no doubt – in his dreams as well.

It’s not “nice” to mock, let alone object to, false sentimentality, moralistic self-satisfaction, and virtue signaling, assuming even that people are aware of these things, now as natural a part of the municipal atmosphere as . . . the overflowing bars downtown on Saturday nights, and the ubiquitous message T-shirts advertising (in about equal numbers) commercial products, liberal causes and organizations, and sports teams.

(Message T-shirts are another ubiquitous message from the Exhortative Society, delivered by bipedal human billboards who imagine their fellow bipeds care a tinker’s damn what products they buy, what left-wing causes they support, or what teams the root for.)”

(The Easiness of Being Liberal, Chilton Williamson, Jr., Chronicles, December 2016, excerpts, pp. 9-10)

Russia’s Modified Capitalist Setup

In the mid-1930’s, FDR’s administration absorbed Soviet-friendly advisors and he actively courted the socialist and communist vote for election victory. FDR’s labor consultant since his governorship of New York was Sidney Hillman of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations), and who supported pro-Soviet Henry Wallace as FDR’s vice presidential pick in 1940 – which infuriated conservative Southern Democrats. Hillman created the first political action committee in 1936 which raised labor union money for FDR’s reelection.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Russia’s Modified Capitalist Setup

“In Churchill’s celebrated phrase, Russia may have been “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” but in the United States most people believed the two nations could work together without friction after the war. Fulbright was among them—and he was far from alone.

In ’43, everything Russian, from folk songs to Shostakovich’s symphonies was popular. At Madison Square Garden, Donald Nelson, the head of the War Production Board would share a platform with Paul Robeson and Corliss Lamont and tell a wildly cheering audience that the Russians “understand the meaning of a square deal and a firm agreement.”

Joseph Davies, the former ambassador to Moscow, would say that to question Stalin’s good faith was “bad Christianity, bad sportsmanship, bad sense.” Collier’s magazine, after studying the Russians at the end of that year would conclude that the Soviet Union was neither Stalinist nor Communist, but rather a “modified capitalist setup” evolving toward something resembling our own and Great Britain’s democracy.”

Life magazine in the same period, would call the Russians “one hell of a people” who “look like Americans, dress like Americans, and think like Americans.” Even Rotarian magazine was printing highly sympathetic accounts of Russia . . . And at the annual meeting of the DAR, Mrs. Tryphosa Duncan Bates Batchellor, a leading daughter, would describe Stalin as “a man who, when he sees a great mistake, admits it and corrects it.”

Indeed, as Irving Howe and Lewis Coser would conclude in a study later, for a realistic description of the Russian state “one could turn neither to the popular American press not even to the most extreme right-wing papers, but to such obscure and harassed weeklies of the anti-Stalinist left as The New Leader, The Socialist Call, and Labor Action.”

(Fulbright, The Dissenter, Johnson and Gwertzman, Doubleday & Company, 1968, excerpt, page 75)

 

War to Enhance the Power of Lesser Regions

Copperheads, or Peace Democrats, were not Southern secession sympathizers but those who saw peaceful solutions in compromises worked out in a Constitutional convention of the States, which would end the bloody war between Americans. Northern leaders like the eloquent and rational Horatio Seymour of New York were regarded with suspicion by Lincoln and his supporters, and nothing more than an ambitious schemer for power. They awaited an opportunity to put Seymour at a disadvantage, and then seek ways to remove him from office.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

War to Enhance the Power of Lesser Regions

“The Democratic upsurge in the elections of 1862, the widespread suspicion of the federal government’s growing power, the deep popular objection to the abolitionists and the Emancipation Proclamation were all embodied in Horatio Seymour, newly elected Governor of New York. As chief executive of the Union’s most populous State, Seymour was in a position to assume the leadership of the States’ rights forces – a leadership that might take him into the White House. Seymour brought an integrity that was incorruptible and a scholarly intelligence beyond the wont of politicians. Neither quality, however – even when backed by the mounting discontent and growing war-weariness – could prevail against the power and propaganda of the national government. Abraham Lincoln beheld the rise of Horatio Seymour with well-place apprehension.

The governor’s inaugural address began by calling attention to his oath to support the constitutions of both the United States and New York . . . [and that] the rights of the States must be sacred. A consolidated government, declared the governor, would destroy “the essential home-rights and liberties of the people.”

With a realism strange to the political oratory of war, Seymour placed the unionism of the central and Western States on economic grounds; the West needed the Southern markets. But there were constitutional implications as well in the situation. Division of the country would produce a centralization of power. The small States, explained Seymour – and by small States he meant New England – were more willing than the larger ones to centralize power, because they had a disproportionate power in the national government.

The division of the Union, or the disenfranchisement of the Southern States – making them territories – would enhance the power of the lesser regions. And in turn, this concentration of political power would place the national economy in leading-strings to the limited economic pursuits of New England. The national debt would be owned on the Atlantic seaboard and would divide the country into the “perilous sectional relations of debtor and creditor regions.” Then, the Governor continued, the advantages of the protective tariff, growing out of this debt, would accrue to the same creditor States that enjoyed the excessive political power.

The only way to prevent these developments was the restoration of the Union – complete in all its parts. The vigor of the war would be increased when the national effort was concentrated on restoring the Union, and not upon a “bloody, barbarous, revolutionary, and unconstitutional scheme” that gratified hatred, party ambition, and sectional advantage!

Interspersed through this economic and political dissertation, and illustrating his exposition, were Seymour’s comments on the unconstitutionality of the Emancipation Proclamation, arbitrary arrests, and conscription.

Promptly the address became a sensation . . . [though] William Cullen Bryant of the Post ruminated that while Seymour spoke much truth on arbitrary arrests, yet these methods had saved Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri for the Union. But Horace Greeley, eschewing any thought of rationality, denounced the address as “dexterous dishonesty” concocted of cowardice, drunkenness, and masked disloyalty by a demagogue.”

(Lincoln and the War Governors, William B. Hesseltine, Alfred A. Knopf, 1955, excerpts, pp. 281-284)

 

Isolationism and America

In his address on the Fourth of July, 1821, President John Adams reiterated the foundation-stone of American foreign policy with: “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion only of her own. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication . . . [and in doing so] She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Isolationism and America

“[President George Washington said]: Put not your trust in allies, especially those who are stronger than you. At worst they will betray or disappoint you; at best they will make you the pawn in their games. Trust instead in the Lord and yourselves in your dealings with aliens, and cast not away the protection conferred by a generous Providence.

The second great tradition of US foreign policy is habitually dubbed “isolationism.” This, despite dogged efforts by some diplomatic historians to instruct us that no such principle ever informed American government, and that the word came into general use only in the 1930s.

In the post-Civil War decades the word “isolation” up more often, but as an echo of Victorian Britain’s slogan of Splendid Isolation. What brought “isolation” to the consciousness of the American public was the propaganda of navalists like Captain A.T. Mahan, who sought to pin on their anti-imperialist critics a tag that implied they were old-fashioned curmudgeons.

Thus the Washington Post proclaimed at the time of the Spanish-American War that “the policy of isolation is dead,” and the Oxford English Dictionary first made reference to the concept in 1901: “Hence, Isolationist, one who favors or advocates isolation. In US politics, one who thinks the Republic ought to pursue a policy of political isolation.”

The Encyclopaedia Britannica never made “isolation” a rubric, and only after World War II did its articles on diplomacy refer to the phenomenon. Most telling of all, not even the “isolationists” of the 1930s had any use for the term, preferring to call themselves neutralists or nationalists. So, our vaunted tradition of “isolationism” is no tradition at all, but a dirty word that interventionists, especially since Pearl Harbor, hurl at anyone who questions their policies.

Let us dispense with the term altogether and substitute for it a word that really describes the second great tradition in American foreign relations: Unilateralism. It was a natural, even inevitable corollary of the first American tradition, for if the essence of Exceptionalism was liberty at home, the essence of Unilateralism was to be at liberty to make foreign policy independent of the “toils of European ambition.”

Unilateralism never meant that the United States should, or for that matter could, sequester itself or pursue an ostrich-like policy toward all foreign countries. It simply meant, as Hamilton and Jefferson both underscored, that the self-evident course for the United States was to avoid permanent, entangling alliances and to remain neutral in Europe’s wars except when our Liberty – the first hallowed tradition – was at risk.

[And] if the United States became enmeshed in war and imperialism on the European model, it would have to raise large armies and navies, tax and conscript its people, and generally compromise domestic freedom, the [American] Republic’s raison d’etre.

[And if] it became enmeshed in foreign conflicts, the European powers would compete for Americans’ affections, corrupt their politics with propaganda and bribes, and split them into factions. And finally, if the United States joined in Europe’s rivalries, the arenas of battle would surely include America’s own lands and waters, as they had for over a century.”

(Promised Land, Crusader State, Walter A. McDougall, Houghton-Mifflin, 1997, excerpts, pp. 39-40; 42)

Veritable Social Revolution in the South

FDR’s Secretary of Labor, Francis Perkins, belief that more Southerners wearing shoes would spark a consumer tsunami, is on par with New England’s early wartime belief that much good would come from giving former slaves land to cultivate on occupied Hilton Head and the Sea Islands. The logic was that the new-found wealth of the freedmen would be spent on Yankee notions and manufactured goods, and Northern industry would benefit.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Veritable Social Revolution in the South

“Some years ago Secretary of Labor Francis Perkins raised the temperature of many Southerners to fever height by suggesting that if the people of that section could be persuaded to wear shoes a veritable “social revolution” would result. The mass-production system of the United States, the secretary told a welfare council in May, 1933, depends upon purchasing power, the proper development of which would lead to prosperity beyond anything we “have ever dared to dream of.”

If the wages of the millworkers of the South could be raised to such a level that they could afford shoes, a great demand for footwear would result. Indeed, said the secretary, when it is realized that “the whole South is an untapped market for shoes” it becomes clear that great “social benefits” and “social good” would inevitably come from the development of our “mass-production system” to meet this latent consuming power.

Southern editors and speakers indignantly denied the canard that Southerners bought no shoes and retorted that such comments were only what might have been expected from a woman, especially one who knew nothing about the South.

It was even suggested that should all the inhabitants of the South suddenly wake to wearing shoes the resultant wear and tear on streets, sidewalks, and hotel carpets might cause grave financial loss to the area.

That was in 1933 . . . [and it was maintained that] Markets can only exist where there is demand; demand comes close upon the heels of knowledge. Knowledge, or education in the ways of the West, has therefore been considered essential if “backward” peoples are to be induced to purchase western goods. [Henry M.] Stanley, the African explorer, in an address before the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, published in 1884 [asserted] that if Christian missionaries should clothe naked Negroes of the Congo, even in one dress for use on the Sabbath, “320,000,000 yards of Manchester cotton cloth” would be required . . . Should they become sufficiently educated in the European moral code to feel the necessity for a change of clothing every day, cloth to the value of [26 million pounds] a year would be necessary.

When the natives have been educated they would abandon their idleness and sloth, [John Williams, missionary to Tahiti said in 1817], and become industrious workers. Then, he asserted, they will apply to our merchants for goods . . . “

[When FDR called for a New Deal in the South] He certainly must have been aware of the implications of the thesis that the poorly housed, undernourished, and ill-clad Southerner must be given greatly increased purchasing power to enable him to better his economic condition, thus strengthening the demand for manufacture products and consequently improving the economy of the nation as a whole.

It is also certain that the concern which Secretary Perkins felt for the shoeless Southerner was not without precedent. When the armies of Grant and Sherman liberated the Southern Negro, the economic implications were not lost on the people of the victorious section. Following in the wake of the Union armies a host of teachers and missionaries flocked to the South, determined to Christianize and educate the freed Negro . . . with a decidedly abolitionist tinge, to be sure.

[These] people, their robes of self-righteousness wrapped firmly around them . . . carried with them the New England school, complete with curriculum, texts and method, but they also took with them the attitudes and beliefs of the social reformer and, specifically, the militant abolitionist. Politically, the teachers and missionaries became the tools of the [Republican] Radicals in their program of reconstruction . . .

Sensing in the alphabet and the book the key to the white man’s position of dominance, the open-sesame which would unlock the magic door of equality and wealth, the Negro, like the Polynesian, flocked to the church and the school. As one observer wrote, the “spelling book and primer” seemed to them Alladin’s [sic] lamp, which will command over all the riches and glory of the world. In brief, they believed that education was “the white man’s fetish,” which would guarantee wealth, power, and social position.

Some of the teachers [and missionaries] understood the inevitable result of the extension of freedom, Christianity, and education to the Negro – the development of a vast new market for northern goods, which would result in great profits to northern mills.”

(Northern Interest in the Shoeless Southerner, Henry L. Swint; Journal of Southern History, Volume XVI, Number 4, November 1950, excerpts, pp. 457-462)