Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Road to Civil War

 Before we begin our discussion of the Civil War we need to see and understand the South and their perspective on the Nation, the United States of America. Firstly, there was not a unified idea of the US as a nation. Recall that the neither the Constitution nor the Declaration of Independence used the word Nation. The Declaration originally did but the southern representatives had it cut from the final version.

John Marshall, Supreme Court Justice and Federalist who first asserted that the US was a Nation, in 1821.  There was a States Rights attitude in regard to the Federal Government in every aspect of Southern life. We’ll be clear that the most powerful cultural, social and FINANCIAL expression of this was Slavery and it was the only tool that the South could use to compete with the growing Industrialization of the North.

A little bit about that.

The North, after the North phased out slavery, was able to launch an industrial revolution that led to urbanization, which in turn led to increased education, which in its own turn gave ever-increasing strength to various reform movements but especially abolitionism. Seven immigrants out of eight settled in the North (and the fact that most immigrants viewed slavery with disfavor), compounded by the fact that twice as many whites left the South for the North as vice versa, contributed to the South's defensive-aggressive political behavior. It has been argued that the North and South were not only two Peoples, but two rival, hostile Peoples. Truthfully, two countries united by only a contract, the Declaration of Independence.

At the root of these cultural differences was not only the problem of slavery, but fundamental assumptions, tastes, and cultural aims of the regions which were diverging in other ways as well. More specifically, the North was rapidly modernizing in a manner threatening to the South.

The South's concept of republicanism (lower case “r” as in the ideology of governing a society or state as a republic, where the head of state is appointed by means other than heredity)  had not changed in three-quarters of a century; the North's had.... The ascension to power of the Republican Party (Capital R), with its ideology of competitive, egalitarian free-labor capitalism, was a signal to the South that the Northern majority had turned irrevocably towards this revolutionary future.
As another aside,

The politicians of the 1850s were acting in a society in which the traditional restraints that suppressed sectional conflict in the 1820s and 1850s– the most important of which being the stability of the two-party system– were being eroded as this rapid extension of mass democracy went forward in the North and South. It was an era when the mass political party galvanized voter participation to an unprecedented degree, and a time in which politics formed an essential component of American mass culture. Historians claim that political involvement was a larger concern to the average American in the 1850s than today. Politics was, in one of its functions, a form of mass entertainment, a spectacle with rallies, parades, and colorful personalities. Leading politicians, moreover, often served as a focus for popular interests, aspirations, and values.

An abundance of new parties emerged 1854–56, including the Republicans, People's party men, Anti-Nebraskans, Fusionists, Know-Nothings, Know-Somethings (anti-slavery nativists), Maine Lawites, Temperance men, Rum Democrats, Silver Gray Whigs, Hindus, Hard Shell Democrats, Soft Shells, Half Shells and Adopted Citizens. I I shit you not.  By 1858, they were mostly gone, but there was just a lot of involvement.

This is a little bit of the Cultural backdrop on which we need to paint the historical facts as they unfold.
Ok, so as the 19th Century revved up, this issue states' rights moved to the forefront. This issue of slavery polarized the union, with the Jeffersonian principles often being used by both sides—anti-slavery Northerners, and Southern slaveholders and secessionists—in debates. Supporters of slavery often argued that one of the rights of the states was the protection of slave property wherever it went. In contrast, opponents of slavery argued that the non-slave-states' rights were violated by having to bow to the laws of Slave states. In a lot of ways it is paralleled nicely with the States Rights issue of today, Gay marriage and legitimacy in Non-Gay Marriage States. Amusing that the South is now on the other side of this argument.

A major Southern argument in the 1850s was that banning slavery in the territories discriminated against states that allowed slavery, making them second-class states. In 1857 the Supreme Court sided with the states' rights supporters, declaring in Dred Scott v. Sandford that Congress had no authority to regulate slavery in the territories.

Jefferson Davis, US United States Secretary of War 1853 to 1857 and soon to be President of the Confederacy used the following argument in favor of the equal rights of states was a big slavery guy. He lamented that in joining the Union, Southern Stated had forfeited the right to make treaties and acquire new territories. He, along with many other Southerners, wanted to acquire Cuba as a perfect slave state.

In many ways the Southern secession and the ensuing conflict was, to some degree, also a fiscal quarrel than a war over slavery. Northern-inspired tariffs benefited Northern interests but were detrimental to Southern interests and were destroying the economy in the South.  These tariffs would be less subject to states rights' arguments.

In 1846, as the dispute over slavery in the United States developed in the wake of the Mexican-American War, the use of the term "popular sovereignty" began to gain currency as a method to resolve the status of slavery in the country. The war ended with the United States acquisition of lands once held by Mexico.  The effort to incorporate these lands into the United States uncovered long-simmering disputes about the extension of slavery – whether slavery would be permitted, protected, abolished, or perpetuated in these newly acquired areas.  Congressional attempts to resolve this issue led to gridlock. Several congressional leaders, in an effort to resolve the "deadlock" over slavery as a term or condition for admission or administration of the territories, searched for a "middle ground."

Senator Lewis Cass introduced the idea of popular sovereignty in Congress. In an attempt to hold the Congress together as it continued to divide along sectional, rather than party lines, Cass proposed that Congress did not have the power to determine whether territories could allow slavery since this was not an enumerated power listed in the Constitution.
The question of slavery became all the more urgent with the discovery of gold in California in 1848. The next year, there was a massive influx of prospectors and miners looking to strike it rich. Most migrants to California (the uh,  'Forty-Niners') abandoned their jobs, homes, and families looking for gold.

The influx of population led to California's application of statehood in 1850. This created a renewal of sectional tension because California's admission into the Union threatened to upset the balance of power in Congress. The imminent admission of Oregon, New Mexico, and Utah also threatened to upset the balance. Many Southerners also realized that the climate of those territories did not lend themselves to the extension of slavery.

The Compromise of 1850 was proposed by "The Great Compromiser," Henry Clay and was passed by Senator Stephen A. Douglas. Through the compromise, California was admitted as a free state, Texas was financially compensated for the loss of its Western territories, the slave trade (not slavery) was abolished in the District of Columbia, the Fugitive Slave Law was passed as a concession to the South, and, most importantly, the New Mexico Territory (including modern day Arizona and the Utah Territory) would determine its status (either free or slave) by popular vote. The Compromise of 1850 temporarily defused the divisive issue, but the peace was not to last long.

Industrialization went forward in the Northeast and a rail network (and a telegraph network) linked the nation economically, opening up new markets. Immigration brought millions of European workers and farmers to the North. In the South planters shifted operations (and slaves) from the poor soils of the Southeast to the rich cotton lands of the Southwest.

The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854, nullified the Missouri Compromise and instead implemented the concept of popular sovereignty. The newly formed Republican party stood against the expansion of slavery and won control of most northern states.

After the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, border wars broke out in Kansas Territory, where the question of whether it would be admitted to the Union as a slave or free state was left to the inhabitants. Abolitionist John Brown was active in the rebellion and killing in "Bleeding Kansas", as were many white Southerners. At the same time, fears that the Slave Power was seizing full control of the national government swept anti-slavery Republicans into office.

The 1857 Dread-Scott decision, decided 7–2, held that a slave did not become free when taken into a free state; Congress could not bar slavery from a territory; and people of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves, or their descendants, could not be citizens. A state could not bar slave owners from bringing slaves into that state. Many Republicans, including Abraham Lincoln, considered the decision unjust and as proof that the Slave Power had seized control of the Supreme Court. Written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the decision effectively barred slaves and their descendants from citizenship. Abolitionists were enraged and slave owners encouraged.

The divisions became fully exposed with the 1860 presidential election. The electorate split four ways. The Southern Democrats endorsed slavery, while the Republicans denounced it. The Northern Democrats said democracy required the people to decide on slavery locally. The Constitutional Union Party said the survival of the Union was at stake and everything else should be compromised.

Lincoln, the Republican, won with a plurality of popular votes and a majority of electoral votes. Lincoln, however, did not appear on the ballots of ten southern states: thus his election necessarily split the nation along sectional lines. Many slave owners in the South feared that the real intent of the Republicans was the abolition of slavery in states where it already existed, and that the sudden emancipation of four million slaves would be problematic for the slave owners and for the economy that drew its greatest profits from the labor of people who were not paid.
So what then? Well, Reconstruction.

At war's end, one president was murdered and another was imprisoned. Uncertainty gripped both North and South. Families everywhere mourned the deaths and maiming of countless young men. Four million Americans who had been enslaved were free. An entire social system and much of the South's wealth had been destroyed. For the first time, many Americans knew the bitter taste of total defeat. The Confederacy was dead, but so too was the old Union. What would take its place? What was America to be?

The process of reconstruction really began during the war as President Abraham Lincoln experimented with policies to restore Union-held areas of the Confederacy to their "proper relationship" with the federal government. To most people, however, the term Reconstruction means the period of federal intervention in the South from the end of the war until the withdrawal of troops in 1877. This was a confusing and contradictory era in which all the former Confederate states were readmitted to the United States; African Americans, mostly former slaves, were elected to political office for the first time; and the Ku Klux Klan was born. One thing is certain: Reconstruction did not end wartime conflicts.

The Civil War laid the groundwork for the rapid postwar economic growth and industrialization of America, stimulated by such federal initiatives as the transcontinental railroad, homesteading in the West, land grant colleges (such as Virginia Tech, Michigan State, and Texas A&M), and a national paper currency known as the "greenback." The South, devastated by war, shared little in the economic growth of the nation as a whole until World War II.

The Civil War was a formative experience for many Americans who helped build the nation we know today. People such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Mark Twain, and Oliver Wendell Holmes shaped modern America.
In the South, the war left loss, devastation, poverty, and desolation in its wake. Some thirty-seven percent of all Southern white males of military age were wounded or killed, affecting almost every white family. One thing Southerners could hold onto was their heritage of military valor and sacrifice. Another was opposition to the social revolution that Reconstruction had forced on them.

The abandonment of Reconstruction left black Americans to work for a return to the ideals of freedom and equality that had prevailed during the war and Reconstruction.

The Civil War, its causes and legacies have had an enormous impact on American culture. For example, American literature would be almost unrecognizable without such classics as Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, Walt Whitman's O Captain! My Captain!, Allen Tate's Ode to the Confederate Dead, Toni Morrison's Beloved, Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, Ernest J. Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying, and William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! The war similarly impacted American popular culture, music, painting, and sculpture.

Within a few decades of the Civil War, an American nation consolidated by Union victory stepped onto the world stage. An industrial powerhouse separated from the petty squabbles of Europe by an ocean and with Naval access to both Oceans and therefore trade connections to the old west and the rising East. We had a European Powerhouse here in the new world dominating an entire hemisphere of up and coming Neo-Colonies. The Monroe Doctrine only worked with this new United States of America.

In many ways the Civil War made America the new world power.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

History: What you need to know.

I have spent the last few decades thinking about history.  I spent much of that time reading history and sitting through hours and hours of lectures on history. Asian  history (I like the Meiji Period in Japan and the great Mongolian conquests of the Huns), European History, Mesoamerican History, and most recently I have spent a lot of time on the early days of the Russian people and the invention of the concept of “race”.

I realized this a long time ago but am just getting around to fleshing out my conclusion. We are all aware that history is more than a recitation of facts. There are dynamics and relationships which move these facts into place and fill them with meaning. I have come to realize that understanding a period requires understanding it from a few different perspectives.

Three overlapping Magisteria: Politics, Class and Culture.  This is what you need to know as a student of history.

Politics, the way power is held. A democracy, a theocracy, a dictatorship, or what have you.

Class, the divisions which make up our communities. Today we use money and academic status. A few hundred years ago it was aristocratic birth order.

Culture, the glue of civilization. One might argue that this one encompasses the other two but there are some lines I like to draw.  Culture is the glue of society. It is academia, economic systems, means of production and societal standing (slaves, minorities, women, gays and the like.).

Combined these three are all you need to know about any society and facts are useless without the necessary context. What did the discovery of the New World mean in 1492? Now we need to understand Spain and its place in Europe and the world. We need to look to our overlapping Magesteria.

Same could be said for the Atomic Bomb, Apartheid, The Communist Revolution in the USSR or China, The Democratic Revolutions in the US or France, or Constantine's conversion to Christianity. These events mean things only in the broader sense of the culture or society in question. 

So I suggest, as you will probably guess, that instead of memorizing facts we spend a little more time understanding the worlds they take place in.