The Moral Depravity of “Lincoln” February 24, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Civil Liberties, History, Race.
Tags: abolitionists, abraham lincoln, bill moyers, Civil Rights, civil war, clinton presidency, history, lincoln movie, Obama presidency, roger hollander, sam husseini, slavery, steven spielberg, tony kushner
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Roger’s note: This article points to a serious malaise in political discourse, the judging of the ideal against the real instead of judging the real by the ideal. It speaks to cynicism and defeatism that ignores the voice of the oppressed, of the revolutionary subject, in favor of the voice of the comfortable middle class pundit. It was the Abolitionists who defeated slavery, not Lincoln. His Emancipation Proclamation cynically and strategically freed the slaves only in Confederate held territory, while slavery remained in existence everywhere else. Read Gore Vidal’s “Lincoln.” Lincoln made it clear that if he could maintain the Union without ending slavery, that would be all right. He would have sent African Americans to a far away colony to solve the “problem” if he could. As a politician, yes, Lincoln was a genius, one of the best ever. To me that is not such a worthy accolade; but as a moral leader, Lincoln was no Gandhi.
There is not a substantial character in the movie “Lincoln” who argues — on moral grounds — that African Americans are equal to whites.
The movie opens with President Lincoln listening to a soliloquy of a young black man who argues for how he wants to get ahead; which is fine I suppose, but hardly the same as a moral case against slavery.
Abolitionists — who should be regarded as heroes — are viewed throughout the movie as near nut jobs on the few occasions when they are not ignored.
The radical Republican congressman Thaddeus Stevens is depicted going through contortions to not argue that blacks are inherently equal to whites.
A pivotal scene is between him and Lincoln in which he pleads for Lincoln for follow his moral compass. Lincoln responds that one cannot go straight north when there is a swamp there. And there the matter was settled, as if there was no response to such an argument. Compromise was the higher calling, not actually standing for what is right, which is regarded as ineffectual or counterproductive.
Even if one were to concede that that might be what politics should be about, and I don’t think that’s the case, what sort of “art” exactly glorifies that while dismissing those standing boldly for what it true and just? What sort of “art” says it’s the highest calling to be conniving in alleged purist of some higher goal? What sort of “artist” uses his talent and resources to convince the public of this message?
It’s something “Lincoln” director and producer Steven Spielberg has depicted before, for example in “Schindler’s List,” Oskar Schindler chastises German soldiers who might exterminate Jewish children by going on about how he needs their small fingers for work in his factory. And that might be a poignant case. But does lying to Nazis really apply to the U.S. in 1863? Or today?
To some extent, this is a stance of alot of progressives since the beginning of the rise of the current president: “In Obama’s Lies We Trust” has been their defacto motto. To another extent, it probably reflects the actual interests they hold while themselves pretending to want change while knowing that Obama will not actually deliver meaningful change. Most everyone is a triangulator now.
But all these games, played by Obama and supporters who glorify alleged “compromise” — does Obama “compromise” or give away the store from the get go? — not only betrays art’s higher callings, but are also ahistoric.
For a tangible glimpse into the mindset behind “Lincoln,” consider what Tony Kushner, who wrote the screen play, recently said to Bill Moyers:
“But at the same time that level of criticism has to allow for the possibility that during election cycles people who have maybe not done everything we wanted them to do can get reelected so that we can build a power base so that we can actually do things. And I think we have a balancing act. And I think we’ve gotten unused to that balance we’ve spent the entire years of the Reagan counterrevolution out of power. And so we’ve become critics.
“But it’s nonsense. You can’t pretend that Wall Street doesn’t have horrendously strong and undue influence on the country. But if you want to get regulation of the financial sector you’re going to have to unfortunately to some extent work with Wall Street. Because if you go in naively, you’ll find out very quickly how much of what happens in this country Wall Street controls. And one thing I love about Obama is that he is absolutely not naive. And you know, you don’t get elected president, when you’re a black guy if you’re naive. This man — you know, I couldn’t get elected, you know, dogcatcher in my building. He’s managed this miracle, he’s reelected American president.”
Talk about nonsense. Tony Kushner here not only pretends that Clinton was not in office for eight years, he incredibly pretends in his depiction of the interaction between Wall Street and politics that Clinton and Bob Rubin and Larry Summers (who was also Obama’s economic adviser) didn’t pass the deregulation of Wall Street in the late 90s. Now, Moyers has done good shows on this, but he totally lets Kushner and all his nonsense off the hook on this.
So who’s really naive here?
What’s the responsibility of artists in depicting the moral course of history?
Where are the movies about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis? About Nat Turner who lead a slave uprising? About John Brown, who, the the words of David S. Reynolds’ biography: “Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights”?
No, Obama’s not naive, nor is Kushner. Anyone who takes at face value what Hollywood represents is.
Sam Husseini is a writer and political activist. He is the communications director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, a D.C.-based nonprofit group that promotes progressive experts as alternative sources for mainstream media reporters. He’s the founder of WashingtonStakeout, his latest personal writings are at http://husseini.posterous.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/samhusseini
White Power to the Rescue January 28, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in History, Race, Racism.
Tags: chris hedges, civil war, confederacy, fort pillow, history, ida b. wells, jacob burkle, janis fullilove, jefferson davis, KKK, ku klux klan, memphis racism, nathan bedford forrest, oral history, racism, robert e. lee, roger hollander, slavery, slaves, underground railroad, white supremecy
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On a windy afternoon a few days ago I went to a depressed section of North Memphis to visit an old clapboard house that was once owned by a German immigrant named Jacob Burkle. Oral history—and oral history is all anyone has in this case since no written
(Illustration: Mr. Fish)
documents survive—holds that Burkle used his house as a stop on the underground railroad for escaped slaves in the decade before the Civil War. The house is now a small museum called Slave Haven. It has artifacts such as leg irons, iron collars and broadsheets advertising the sale of men, women and children. In the gray floor of the porch there is a trapdoor that leads to a long crawl space and a jagged hole in a brick cellar wall where fugitives could have pushed themselves down into the basement. Escaped slaves were purportedly guided by Burkle at night down a tunnel or trench toward the nearby Mississippi River and turned over to sympathetic river traders who took them north to Cairo, Ill., and on to freedom in Canada.
Burkle and his descendants had good reason to avoid written records and to keep their activities secret. Memphis, on the eve of the Civil War, was one of the biggest slave markets in the South. After the war the city was an epicenter for Ku Klux Klan terror that included lynching, the nighttime burning of black churches and schools and the killing of black leaders and their white supporters, atrocities that continued into the 20th century. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis in 1968. If word had gotten out that Burkle used his home to help slaves escape, the structure would almost certainly have been burned and Burkle or his descendants, at the very least, driven out of the city. The story of Burkle’s aid to slaves fleeing bondage became public knowledge only a couple of decades ago.
The modest public profile of the Burkle house stands in stunning contrast with the monument in the center of Memphis to native son Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest, who is buried in Forrest Park under a statue of himself in his Confederate general’s uniform and mounted on a horse, is one of the most odious figures in American history. A moody, barely literate, violent man—he was not averse to shooting his own troops if he deemed them to be cowards—he became a millionaire before the war as a slave trader. As a Confederate general he was noted for moronic aphorisms such as “War means fighting and fighting means killing.” He was, even by the accounts of those who served under him, a butcher. He led a massacre at Fort Pillow in Henning, Tenn., of some 300 black Union troops—who had surrendered and put down their weapons—as well as women and children who had sheltered in the fort. Forrest was, after the war, the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He used his skills as a former cavalry commander to lead armed night raids to terrorize blacks.
Forrest, like many other white racists of the antebellum South, is enjoying a disquieting renaissance. The Sons of Confederate Veterans and the West Tennessee Historical Commission last summer put up a 1,000-pound granite marker at the entrance to the park that read “Forrest Park.” The city, saying the groups had not obtained a permit, removed it with a crane. A dispute over the park name, now raging in the Memphis City Council, exposes the deep divide in Memphis and throughout much of the South between those who laud the Confederacy and those who detest it, a split that runs like a wide fault down racial lines.
A call last week by Memphis City Councilwoman Janis Fullilove, who is African-American, to strip Forrest’s name from the park and rename it after the crusading black journalist Ida B. Wells set off such an acrimonious debate between her and some white council members that Fullilove left a meeting in tears.
Wells was one of the nation’s most courageous and important journalists. She moved to Memphis as a young woman to live with her aunt. Her investigations revealed that lynching was fundamentally a mechanism to rid white businessmen of black competitors. When Thomas Moss of Memphis, a black man who ran the People’s Grocery Co., was murdered with his partners by a mob of whites and his store was looted and destroyed, Wells was incensed. “This is what opened my eyes to what lynching really was,” she wrote. She noted “that the Southerner had never gotten over this resentment that the Negro was no longer his plaything, his servant, and his source of income” and was using charges of rape against black business owners to mask this resentment. The lynching of Moss, she wrote, was “[a]n excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property and thus keep the race terrorized and ‘keep the nigger down.’ ”
Her newspaper, Free Speech, which railed against white mob violence, the inadequate black schools, segregation, discrimination and a corrupt legal system that denied justice to blacks, was destroyed by whites. Wells was forced to flee the city, becoming, as she wrote, “an exile from home for hinting at the truth.”
The split between those in Memphis who hold up authentic heroes—those who fought to protect, defend and preserve life, such as Wells and Burkle—and those who memorialize slave traders and bigots such as Forrest points up a disturbing rise of a neo-Confederate ideology in the South. Honoring figures like Forrest in Memphis while ignoring Wells would be like erecting a statue to the Nazi death camp commander Amon Goeth in the Czech Republic town of Svitavy, the birthplace of Oskar Schindler, who rescued 1,200 Jews.
The rewriting of history in the South is a retreat by beleaguered whites into a mythical self-glorification. I witnessed a similar retreat during the war in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. As Yugoslavia’s economy deteriorated, ethnic groups built fantasies of a glorious past that became a substitute for history. They sought to remove, through exclusion and finally violence, competing ethnicities to restore this mythological past. The embrace by nationalist groups of a nonreality-based belief system made communication with other ethnic groups impossible. They no longer spoke the same cultural language. There was no common historical narrative built around verifiable truth. A similar disconnect was illustrated last week in Memphis when the chairman of the city’s parks committee, William Boyd, informed the council that Forrest “promoted progress for black people in this country after the war.” Boyd argued that the KKK was “more of a social club” at its inception and didn’t begin carrying out “bad and horrific things” until it reconstituted itself with the rise of the modern civil rights movement.
“Lord, have mercy,” Fullilove muttered as she listened.
But Forrest is only one of numerous flashpoints. Fliers reading “Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Wants You to Join” appeared in the mailboxes of white families in Memphis in early January. The Ku Klux Klan also distributed pamphlets a few days ago in an Atlanta suburb. The Tennessee Legislature last year officially declared July 13 as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day to honor his birthday. There are 32 historical markers honoring Forrest in Tennessee alone and several in other Southern states. Montgomery, Ala., which I visited last fall, has a gigantic Confederate flag on the outskirts of the city, planted there by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Confederate monuments dot Montgomery’s city center. There are three Confederate state holidays in Alabama, including Martin Luther King/Robert E. Lee Day. Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi also honor Lee’s birthday. Jefferson Davis’ birthday is a state holiday in Alabama and Florida. And re-enactments of Confederate victories in the Civil War crowd Southern calendars.
The steady rise of ethnic nationalism over the past decade, the replacing of history with mendacious and sanitized versions of lost glory, is part of the moral decay that infects a dying culture. It is a frightening attempt, by those who are desperate and trapped, to escape through invented history their despair, impoverishment and hopelessness. It breeds intolerance and eventually violence. Violence becomes in this perverted belief system a cleansing agent, a way to restore a lost world. There are ample historical records that disprove the myths espoused by the neo-Confederates, who insist the Civil War was not about slavery but states’ rights and the protection of traditional Christianity. But these records are useless in puncturing their self-delusion, just as documentary evidence does nothing to blunt the self-delusion of Holocaust deniers. Those who retreat into fantasy cannot be engaged in rational discussion, for fantasy is all that is left of their tattered self-esteem. When their myths are attacked as untrue it triggers not a discussion of facts and evidence but a ferocious emotional backlash. The challenge of the myth threatens what is left of hope. And as the economy unravels, as the future looks bleaker and bleaker, this terrifying myth gains potency.
Achilles V. Clark, a soldier with the 20th Tennessee Cavalry under Forrest during the 1864 massacre at Fort Pillow, wrote to his sister after the attack: “The slaughter was awful. Words cannot describe the scene. The poor deluded negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees, and with uplifted hands scream for mercy but they were ordered to their feet and then shot down. … I, with several others, tried to stop the butchery, and at one time had partially succeeded, but General Forrest ordered them shot down like dogs and the carnage continued. Finally our men became sick of blood and the firing ceased.”
Homeland Security Prepares for Civil War August 28, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Revolution.
Tags: civil revolt, civil unrest, civil war, dhs, doug haggman, hollow point bullets, Homeland Security, jack swint, madison ruppert, revolution, roger hollander, tea party
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Roger’s note: I have no idea how reliable is the author of this article. If the facts are correct, then we have good reason to fear massive repression of civil unrest. The article suggests that it is more likely to come from the right (tea party) than the left. In either case the notion of economic disaster leading to civilian rioting being confronted by agencies armed with lethal weapons is truly frightening.
Everything you know about the Civil War is wrong June 9, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in History, War.
Tags: abolition, abolitionists, abraham lincoln, anti-catholic, Civil Rights, civil war, confederate states, david goldfield, frontier, harriet beecher stowe, history, horace greeley, jim crow, joan walsh, nativism, racism, reconstruction, Republican Party, roger hollander, slavery
Roger’s note:I have long mused over the question of whether the Civil War with its death toll of a half million was the only way to end the disgusting and inhuman institution of human slavery in the United States. Among other reasons, I believe the question is important because the noble objective of ending slavery is what we have always used to qualify the Civil War as a “just war.” Just as historian David Goldfield demonstrates complexities and underlying motives in play alongside the Abolitionist project, we find a parallel in the hidden dynamics behind the loose and disingenuous logic used by Obama and others to qualify as “just war” the aggressions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya … I am going to stop listing countries here because the under the emerging Bush/Obama Doctrine the so-called war
against terrorism “justifies” the making war on each and every inch of the globe.
Almost. Historian David Goldfield exposes how evangelical Protestants turned a conflict into a bloody conflagration
On the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, Americans are engaged in new debates over what it was about. Southern revisionists have long tried to claim it wasn’t about slavery, but rather “Northern aggression” – which is a tough sell since they seceded from the Union despite Lincoln’s attempts at compromise on slavery, and then attacked the federal Fort Sumter in South Carolina. That would be Southern aggression, by any standard.
But there’s still room for smart revisionism. Instead of the traditional view that finds the Civil War a great moral and political triumph, David Goldfield calls it “America’s greatest failure” in his fascinating new book, “America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation.” It killed a half-million Americans and devastated the South for generations, maybe through today. And while many Northern Republicans came to embrace abolishing slavery as one of the war’s goals, Goldfield shows that Southerners are partly right when they say the war’s main thrust was to establish Northern domination, in business and in culture. Most controversially, Goldfield argues passionately — with strong data and argument, but not entirely convincingly — that the Civil War was a mistake. Instead of liberating African Americans, he says, it left them subject to poverty, sharecropping and Jim Crow violence and probably retarded their progress to become free citizens.
Whether or not you accept that premise – more on that later – Goldfield shows definitively that Northern evangelical Protestants were the moral force behind the war, and once they turned it into a religious question, a matter of good v. evil, political compromise was impossible. The Second Great Awakening set its sights on purging the country of the sins of slavery, drunkenness, impiety — as well as Catholics, particularly Irish Catholic immigrants. Better than any history I’ve seen, Goldfield tracks the disturbing links between abolitionism and nativism. In fact, he starts his book with the torching of the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown, Mass. in 1834, a violent attack on Catholics which Goldfield shows was “incited” by Lyman Beecher, the father of the Beecher clan, most of whom turned out to be as anti-Irish Catholic as they were anti-slavery. To evangelical Protestant nativists, Catholicism was incompatible with democracy, because its adherents allegedly gave their loyalty to the Pope, not the president, and the religion’s emphasis on obeying a hierarchy made them unfit for self-government. Also, rebellious Irish Catholics didn’t show the proper discipline or deference to conform to emerging industrial America. The needs of Northern business were never far from some (though not all) abolitionists’ minds.
Still, though nativism was widespread in the North, and within the Republican Party (which absorbed some old Know-Nothing and nativist Whig party remnants), abolitionism remained at the party’s fringe. Most Republicans were seeking compromise, not the abolition of slavery, in the years before the war, including Abraham Lincoln. Our first Republican president didn’t like slavery, and he fiercely opposed its extension to the Territories, but he also expressed doubts about African-Americans’ capacity for democracy, and he opposed black suffrage. Lincoln supported the Fugitive Slave Act, which let slave-owners call on law enforcement even in free states to capture their runaway “property.” (As a lawyer, he’d represented a slave owner trying to recapture a fugitive slave.)
And as a strict constitutionalist, Lincoln resisted abolitionism, because like it or not, the Constitution made room for slavery. The president disliked slavery, but his priority was the union. He famously told abolitionist Republican Horace Greeley (who later turned against Reconstruction and ran for president as a Democrat, abandoning African Americans as did too many other abolitionists): “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”
In fact, during Lincoln’s 1860 presidential campaign, Republicans went so far as to argue that they were the real White Man’s Party, because their commitment to keeping the Territories slave-free wasn’t about the evils of slavery; it was about keeping the West white, so white families alone could enjoy the bounty of the frontier without competition (except from Indians, who would be eradicated.) Democrats insisted they were the White Man’s Party, because slavery liberated white men to be the property owners and entrepreneurs God intended them to be, while an inferior race did their manual labor, for free. Most Republicans and Democrats agreed on white supremacy; they differed on the right way to maintain it.
Yet as the war went on, Lincoln came to see slavery as a moral cause, and he wouldn’t entertain compromise armistice proposals that let the South keep black people in bondage. In a book with few heroes, Lincoln emerges as one over time, virtually alone as an American politician in blending compassion for slaves with compassion for white Southerners. It’s popular to suggest that had Lincoln lived, Reconstruction would have been more successful. But Lincoln’s pattern of compromise throughout his political career makes speculating on what he’d have done very difficult. Goldfield makes clear, though, that Lincoln wanted reconciliation with the South, not Southern humiliation. In his subdued Second Inaugural Address, he refused to blame the war on the Confederacy, or trumpet the righteousness of the Northern cause. Because the Founders legalized slavery, he believed the country, North and South, shared responsibility for it. Lincoln closed with words made more poignant by the fact that the outcome he envisioned didn’t come to be (and still hasn’t):
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Lincoln even proposed a plan to compensate slaveowners for their losses. That might make our blood boil today, but it was actually the way slavery had been abolished in other countries. Clearly, the Southern economy was destroyed, and families suffered hugely. Most of the war took place on Southern battlefields, destroying farms, homes, churches, businesses. A quarter of Southern men between the ages of 20 and 40 died; more than 28 million Southerners, white as well as black, fled the devastated Confederate states in the decades after the war. And while Northern wealth increased 50 percent between 1860 and 1870, the South lost 60 percent of its wealth in those years, roughly half of it human “property.” Lincoln proposed legislation establishing a $400 million fund to compensate Southerners for giving up slavery, if they would recognize national sovereignty and ratify the 13th Amendment emancipating the slaves. We don’t know what Southern leaders would have said; Lincoln’s own cabinet nixed the idea.
It’s also possible Lincoln might not have taken from Confederate leaders the right to vote and hold office away, while giving it to former slaves, as Congress did after his death. Again, however fair that may seem from our distant (presumed) consensus that the pro-slavery Confederacy deserved whatever it had coming, it let Southern leaders complain they’d been “disenfranchised,” even though the stricture only affected a fraction of the Southern male population. It was also rank hypocrisy, as eight northern states rejected black suffrage, while forcing it on the former Confederacy. But we’ll never know what Lincoln would have done; he died. Meanwhile, the view of Henry Ward Beecher, staunch anti-Catholic (and a villain in this book, if it has one) prevailed: In a speech just before Lincoln’s death, he gave a sermon at Fort Sumter:
The whole guilt of this war rests upon the ambitious, educated, plotting, political leaders of the South…A day will come when God will reveal judgment and arraign at his bar these mighty miscreants…And then [they] will be whirled aloft and plunged downward forever and ever in an endless retribution.”
Contrast that with Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, and then try to figure out which man is the actual Christian leader.
Goldfield’s book has been well-reviewed, because if it’s sympathetic to Southern whites, it depicts the savagery of slavery and post-war white terrorism with unflinching and gut-wrenching clarity. (Literally. The book’s tales of slaves’ abuse and Southern white post-war savagery will make you sick.) Still, this Civil War history challenges the absolutism of the “Northerners were heroes, and Southerners were vicious, violent racists” school of history. He exposes and excoriates Southern whites’ violence against black people before and after the war. But he also links the war to the pro-business evangelical Protestant crusade to eradicate native American Indians, Mexicans, Irish and German Catholic immigrants, and an emerging class of landless Northern laborers – anyone who stood in the way of their vision of clean, hard-working, business-friendly American progress. And he counts the South as a victim of that Northern evangelical crusade. Southerners were another group that simply wasn’t conforming to their doctrine of “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men,” as the title of Eric Foner’s equally complicated and fantastic Republican Party history puts it.
Republicans were first and foremost the party of small business, an emerging class of industrialists, the nascent middle class, and anti-Catholic nativists. They despised the working class – or denied it existed. Lincoln himself talked of the emerging caste of wage-earners optimistically as “young beginners,” who would work for a time, save money, then buy land and/or their own business. Republicans either couldn’t imagine an America with a permanent class of laborers (like Lincoln), or they dreamed of one, but found ways to convince those workers it was all in their interest. In their defense, in the decades after the Civil War, the Horatio Alger, rags to riches story was never more true.
It’s indisputable that Republican zeal for the liberation of black people was always a fringe sentiment – and even among that fringe, it was short lived. After the war, Northerners wanted to get back to business, and they did, with a vengeance. During the war, the federal government had flexed muscles of taxation, conscription and land annexation. The post-war era’s emerging robber barons pointed to the Union army’s successes as a justification of their march toward monopoly. “Who can buy beef the cheapest – the housewife for her family, the steward for her club or hotel, or the commissary for the army?” Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller asked. Oil and steel businesses boomed. The transcontinental railroad was completed — as was the near-eradication of American Indians.
Goldfield shows how leading Union generals almost immediately became warriors on the frontier, bringing the zeal with which they decimated the backward South to the task of decimating backward “savages.” That new crusade had direct ramifications for Southern blacks. Even when President Ulysses S. Grant tried to use the military to beat back white Southern paramilitary groups literally massacring African-Americans trying to execute basic rights, he couldn’t, because soldiers were deployed out West in the new Civil War against Indians. One hero of the book, Mississippi Republican Gov. Adelbert Ames, tries to use his power to protect blacks from Southern Democratic violence, but there were no Federal soldiers left in his state to call upon, they were all on the anti-Indian front. As the state’s “White Line” paramilitary group tore through Mississippi to violently intimidate black voters, Ames was forced to give up his governor’s position and flee. Early in the book, Goldfield quotes a Northern newspaper editor proclaiming “We can have no peace in this country until the CATHOLICS ARE EXTERMINATED.” Near the end, he finds a Birmingham News headline that reads: “We intend to beat the negro in the battle of life, and defeat means one thing: EXTERMINATION.” That doesn’t feel heavy handed; it’s fact, and it’s tragic.
Meanwhile, attacks on Irish Catholics continued. Although the famed Civil War Irish brigades fought bravely, the Organization of Union Veterans wouldn’t include them – or black Union veterans, either. And if certain abolitionists hadn’t already shamed themselves with their anti-Irish Catholic bias, they would later, when they dropped their concern for African Americans – and in fact, joined slavery advocates in concluding that blacks were unfit for self-government. After the war, Henry Ward Beecher began hawking watches and preaching “The Gospel of Prosperity;” he also wrote a novel whose hero was an industrious white Southerner, and whose main black character was a stupid, drunken man-child incapable of self-support. Beecher remained viciously anti-Irish Catholic and opposed to the emerging labor movement (those two things were connected, by the way, for quite a few abolitionists), arguing that the era’s strikes showed that the working class was “unfit for the race of life.” During the Great Railway Strike of 1877, he denounced the strikers in his loathsome “bread and water” sermon, where he thundered: “Man cannot live by bread alone but the man who cannot live on bread and water is not fit to live.” A few days later he proclaimed: “If you are being reduced, go down boldly into poverty.” I wonder if Scott Walker is an admirer.
Harriet Beecher Stowe moved to former Confederate Florida, became an Episcopalian, wrote a best-selling book about home decorating for women, and never again troubled herself about the (former) slaves. Abolitionist Horace Greeley gave up on Reconstruction and black rights quickly. His New York Tribune, which once crusaded against slavery, began to feature “exposes” of Reconstruction, including tales of black “corruption” and political incompetence. Even the Nation magazine, which we remember as a journal of abolitionism, soured on the experiment with black suffrage. Editor E.L. Godkin proclaimed that the “blackest” legislators were the worst, particularly in South Carolina, where blacks possessed an “average of intelligence but slightly above the level of animals.”
Part of the problem was that at the same time, the North was experiencing its own political growing pains, which former egalitarians suddenly blamed on universal (male) suffrage. New York recoiled at the Boss Tweed corruption scandal of 1870. Tweed himself wasn’t Irish, but some of his on-the-take top lieutenants were, and he relied on the votes of Irish Catholic immigrants – who produced votes in excess of their already large, pro-Democratic numbers, thanks to the Tammany machine, as vote fraud was rampant. The New York Times used Tweed’s corruption as “an example of the Irish Catholic despotism that rules the City of New York.” At the same time, the once-abolitionist paper blamed “ignorant Negroes” for South Carolina’s corruption issues, which had of course predated black suffrage and would survive it.
Suddenly white Northern Republicans had a reason to sympathize with white Southern Democrats: Universal suffrage blighted both sides of the Civil War conflict. There’s no better symbol of the transformation of Northern abolitionist sentiment than the work of cartoonist Thomas Nast: The pro-Union Harper’s artist once graphically depicted the perfidy of Confederates and championed civil rights for slaves. But his most famous cartoon, from 1876, depicted Irish Catholics and African-Americans – two simian creatures labeled “Paddy” and “Sambo” — as “The Ignorant Vote.” Northerners had new appreciation for the South. It made the country whole: The North stood for reason, the South romance. Northern industrialists were happy to preserve the Old South in amber, a land of sweet magnolias and even sweeter women, who hadn’t been “masculinized” by either labor or freedom, as Northern women were. It became a shrine to our agrarian past as worshipped by the founders, permanently left behind.
In this same period, even a couple of liberal heroes fell down too. Mark Twain and Walt Whitman both lamented the messiness of universal suffrage. Their worries, paradoxically, came out of a certain kind of populism. Whitman concluded that “the appalling dangers of universal suffrage” seemed to be empowering a rapacious post-war business class. Likewise, Twain railed against the greed of “The Gilded Age,” a searing term he coined to describe the cruel era of robber barons, but he believed poor uneducated voters were letting the rich run rampant. A dinner companion reported Twain railing against “this wicked ungodly suffrage, where the vote of a man who knew nothing was as good as the vote of a man of education and industry; this endeavor to equalize what God has made unequal was a wrong and a shame.” Both troubadours of democracy believed that universal suffrage was dooming democracy, as uninformed voters backed politicians who colluded with robber barons to destroy the country. Thus they concluded, Goldfield writes, “It might be prudent to restrict democracy in order to save it.”
For many reasons, Northern Republicans gave up on the early goals of Reconstruction: to grant free blacks civil and economic rights. Goldfield quotes a Northerner observing a general desire to forget the war, and particular “apathy about the Negro” – shades of the “compassion fatigue” that would be diagnosed by neoconservatives 100 years later, after the Great Society. The parallels between the backlash against Reconstruction, and the backlash against Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights reforms, are unmistakable and chilling. The Republican Party of the 1860s, just like the Democratic Party of the 1960s, paid dearly for championing the rights of African Americans. And both parties backed away from their commitment to addressing the economic barriers to black inclusion once they dealt with the era’s pressing moral problem: In Lincoln’s case, Southern slavery, in Johnson’s, violent Southern suppression of black civil and voting rights. After each morally overdue reckoning, the parties suffered, and then they changed sides. Republicans were trounced after Reconstruction, as Democrats became the party of the South; 100 years later, Democrats were trounced, and Republicans became the party of the South. The Civil War is still not over.
Here is where Goldfield’s scrupulously fair and heart-breaking story softens up even the most ardent civil rights advocate, to begin to sympathetically contemplate his notion that the Civil War could have been avoided, and slavery eradicated without it. As much as I love this book, and believe anyone concerned about race relations and the country’s current political stalemate should read it, I couldn’t quite get there. I understand Goldfield’s reasoning. In an interview with Leonard Lopate, he contended that the abolition of slavery was inevitable “in a world that was hurtling toward the Industrial Revolution.” I can imagine that, had a more politically creative group of politicians tried to compromise on a way out of slavery – perhaps offering to compensate slaveholders for their slaves, the way every other country that abolished slavery did – we maybe, maybe, might have avoided the Civil War.
But that’s such starry-eyed conjecture, it’s hard to go there. One of the most persuasive arguments for Goldfield’s theory is the fact that it took another hundred years to end Jim Crow. And almost 50 years after that, African Americans still aren’t completely free: the legacy of what we lamely call “structural racism,” in the criminal justice system, the health care system, the housing and job market, lives on. That makes it easy, in a way, to fantasize: Hell, yeah, there had to be a way to do this in less than 150 years!
I wish. While it’s possible, I just don’t see the evidence in Goldfield’s meticulously researched, passionately argued book. Yes, decent Southerners had doubts about slavery, and even some of those who didn’t tried desperately to save the union. Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens of Georgia was an old Whig friend of Abraham Lincoln’s, and he didn’t want war. But he couldn’t compromise on slavery, not even when he met Lincoln for a secret peace summit early in 1865, as the Confederate Army lay bleeding after Sherman’s march and Grant’s late victories. And after the war, which perhaps made Southerners bitter in a way that foreclosed compromise, Goldfield depicts few if any ex-Confederates voicing contrition about their role in the war, as Lincoln did, let alone a desire for reconciliation – and certainly not support for equal rights for former slaves.
Still, with half a million Americans dead on Civil War battlefields, and 150 more years of bitter conflict, it’s worth pondering Goldfield’s challenge — if only because it might give some modern visionary a way to see beyond our current social, racial and economic stalemate. I have no doubt about Goldfield’s premise that we are still fighting the Civil War. We still need a way to end it. This book models the complicated, even contradictory, compassionate vision that might make that possible. Eventually.
- Joan Walsh is Salon’s editor at large. More: Joan Walsh
Lies About the US Civil War 150 Years Later April 13, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in History, War.
Tags: civil liberties, civil war, david swanson, history, lincoln, permanent war, roger hollander, slavery, war, war casualties, war deaths
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Tuesday marks 150 years since the start of the US Civil War. Newspapers everywhere are proclaiming it the deadliest war in US history, the costliest US war in terms of the loss of human life. That claim, like most things we say about the Civil War, is false.
Most humans, it will surprise our newspapers to learn, are not US citizens. World War II killed 100 times as many people as the US Civil War, with World War I not far behind. US wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq are among those that have killed far more human beings than the Civil War killed.
The South, we’re told, merely wanted to be independent; slavery had nothing to do with it. Of course, this is nonsense. The South wanted to be independent in order to maintain slavery.
The North, we’re told, merely wanted to free the slaves; power, empire, profit, and politics had nothing to do with it. Of course, this too is nonsense. The war was well underway before Lincoln “freed the slaves.” Actually he did not free those slaves whom he actually could free in the border states, but only those he could not free unless the North won the war. Freeing the slaves, like bringing democracy to Iraq or saving the Jews from Hitler, was a belated justification for a war that had other motivations. Adding that moral mission to the war helped keep European nations from backing the South and helped keep Northerners killing and dying in sufficient numbers.
Regardless of who said what when, the war did end slavery and was therefore justifiable. Or so we’re told. Yet, every other nation that ended slavery did so without a civil war. Similarly, we justify the American war for independence because it brought independence, even though Canada and countless other countries achieved independence without war. If we had used a war to create public schools, we would denounce critics of that war as opponents of education. To seriously justify a war, however, would require showing that anything it accomplished could not have been accomplished without all the killing, wounding, traumatizing, and destroying. What if the North had allowed the South to secede and repealed the fugitive slave law? What if an independent North had used trade, diplomacy, and morality to pressure the South to end slavery? Would slavery have lasted longer than the Civil War raged? If so, we are still talking, at best, about a war to hasten the end of slavery.
Even if the war was really launched for national power, to keep states together in a nation for the nation’s sake, we are all better off as a result. Or so we’re taught. But is it true? Most Americans believe that our system of representative government is badly broken, as of course it is. Our politicians are bought and sold, directed by corporate media outlets, and controlled by two political parties rather than the citizenry. One reason it’s difficult to bring public pressure to bear on elected officials is that our nation is too darn big. Most US citizens can’t join a protest in their nation’s capital if they want to. A resistance movement in Wisconsin can’t very well spread to other key cities; they’re all hundreds or thousands of miles away. In the years that followed the “preservation of the union,” the United States completed its conquest of the continent and began building an overseas empire, driven in large part by pressure from the same interests that had profited from the Civil War.
Secession has as bad a name as socialism, but Wisconsin could secede, ban foreign (US) money from its elections and create a government of, by, and for the people by next year. A seceded California could be one of the most pleasant nations to live in on earth. Vermont would have a civilized healthcare system already if not for Washington, DC Yes, the North helped end Jim Crow in the South, but the South did most of that on its own, and we all helped end Apartheid in South Africa without being South Africa. In the absence of viable representative government, we won’t do much else on a national scale that we can be proud of. We now, in the United States, imprison more people of African descent than were enslaved here at the time of the Civil War, and it is national policies, completely out of the control of the American people, that produce that mass incarceration.
Those who fought in the Civil War, regardless of the politics or results, were heroes. Or so we are told. But most of the men who killed and died were not the generals whose names we are taught. They were soldiers, lined up like cogs in a machine, killing and dying on command. The vast majority of them, as with soldiers on both sides of all wars prior to late-20th century conditioning, avoided killing if at all possible. Many simply reloaded their guns over and over again, fetched supplies for others, or lay in the dirt. Killing human beings does not come easily to most human beings, and many will avoid it — unless properly conditioned to brainlessly kill — even at risk to their own lives. To be sure, many killed and many who did not kill died or lost their limbs. There was much bravery and sacrifice and even noble intention. But it was all for a tragically pointless exercise in collective stupidity, lunacy, and horror. Reassuring as it is to put a pretty gloss on a tragedy like this, we would be better served by facing the facts and avoiding the next one.
A century and a half after this madness burst forth, the United States has established a permanent military and permanent war time, with military bases in over 100 other countries, multiple major wars, and numerous small-scale secretive wars underway. Our weapons industry, born out of the Civil War, is our biggest industry, the world’s biggest arms supplier, and the source for the armaments used by many of the nations we fight our modern wars against. The civil liberties, the right to habeas corpus, everything that Lincoln temporarily stripped away for the War Between the States, also known — quite accurately — as the War of Northern Aggression, has now been stripped away for good by Justice Department lawyers and prostituted pundits pointing to Lincoln’s example. The legacy of the Civil War has been death, destruction, the erosion of democracy, and the propaganda that produces more of the same. Enough is enough. Let’s get our history right. Let’s glorify those years in our past during which we did not all try to kill each other.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, bush/cheney, cheney, civil war, dave lindorff, freedon, George Bush, history, Iraq, Iraq war, khe sanh, marja, memorial day, mercenaries, military industrial complex, mosul, patriotism, peace, roger hollander, war, War Crimes, war profiteers, world wars
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It’s Memorial Day Weekend and I am sick to death of the glorification of war in America.
And I am even sicker of politicians who wrap themselves in the bloody flag and try to rub off some of the stench of death from the bodies of those who have died, mostly in vain for worthless causes, in hopes that taking on some of the odor will cause them to be perceived as admirable patriots themselves.
President George W. Bush, who dodged danger in the Vietnam War by signing up for the Texas National Guard and then ducked even that domestic duty, and Vice President Dick Cheney who used five different excuses to duck military service, morbidly rubbed themselves with that flag for eight long years, even as they sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women into harm’s for their own personal political advantage.
President Barack Obama (who also avoided military service), continued this obscene tradition when, in his weekly PR address to the nation, he urged Americans to “leave a flower” on the grave of a soldier who died in one of America’s wars “so the rest of us might inherit the blessings of this nation.” Obama is also sending young Americans to kill and die halfway around the world in a war that has no purpose other than to demonstrate his political “toughness.” Yet he disingenuously declares that it was “to preserve America and advance the ideals we cherish” that “led patriots in each generation to sacrifice their own lives to secure the life of our nation, from the trenches of World War I to the battles of World War II, from Inchon and Khe Sanh, from Mosul to Marja.”
What utter crap and nonsense!
I’ll grant you that there were noble motivations that led many Americans to die fighting for this country’s independence. The same can be said for those soldiers who fought and died on the Union side in the Civil War who had the noble goal of ending the crime of slavery. And indeed it was the decision by a group of freed slaves in 1866 in South Carolina to disinter the bodies of Union soldiers who had died in Confederate captivity and who had been unceremoniously dumped in a collective grave, and to give them all decent burials, that established the first Memorial Day.
But to claim that the over 100,000 American soldiers who died on the front lines in World War I were defending American freedoms, as Memorial Day speakers like Obama do year after year, is simply a lie. World War I was never about a threat to America. It was a war of empire, fought by the European powers, none of which was any better or worse than the others, and the US joined that conflict not for noble reasons or for defense, but in hopes of picking up some of the pieces. My own maternal grandfather, a promising sprinter who had Olympic aspirations, was struck with mustard gas in the trenches and, unable to run anymore with his permanently scarred lungs, ended up having to settle for coaching high school as a career. (My paternal grandfather won a silver star for heroism as an ambulance driver on the front, but was so damaged by what he experienced that he never talked about it at all, my father says.) Sadly, their sacrifices and heroism served no noble cause.
World War II, at least in Europe, may have had some moral justification, though there can be some legitimate debate as to whether the US and its freedoms were ever really threatened, and certainly many of the Americans who died in that war saw their struggle as worthy, so that we may at least in good conscience honor their deaths.
But Khe Sanh? Mosul? And for god’s sake, Marjah? Let’s get real.
Khe Sanh, one of the major battles in the Vietnam War, was just one little piece of a huge malignant disaster in a war that was criminal from its inception, and that had no purpose beyond perpetuating the neocolonialist control by the US of a long-subjugated people who were fighting to be free, just as our own ancestors had done. The over 58,000 Americans who died in that war, who contributed to the killing of over 2 million Vietnamese, many or most of them civilians, may have engaged in personal acts of bravery, but they were not, as a group, heroes. Nor were they over there fighting for American freedom. Some, like Lt. William Calley, who did not die, were no doubt murderers. Most, though, were simply victims–victims of their own government’s years of lying and deceit.
If we memorialize them, it should be by vowing never again to allow our government to commit such crimes, and to send Americans to fight and die for such criminal policies.
Sadly, we’ve already allowed that to happen, though, over and over again–in the Panama, in Grenada, in Iraq, and now in Afghanistan and perhaps, before long, Iran and/or Pakistan.
Take the president’s mention of Mosul. It is a city in Iraq, and the Americans who died there and in other Iraqi cities died because of the criminality of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who manufactured a criminal war of aggression against Iraq, a country that posed no threat to the US. They died too because of the cowardice and venality of the Democrats in Congress who allowed themselves to be bullied and extorted into supporting that criminal war. The five thousand Americans who died, and the hundreds of thousands more who have been gravely wounded in that war, not to mention the more than a million who fought there or worked in support roles for others who fought, were not defending any of our “cherished ideals.” They were simply helping oil companies like Exxon/Mobil, Chevron, Shell and yes, British Petroleum, secure control of the Iraqi oilfields. They were simply helping Bush and Cheney win re-election. They were simply helping inflate the profits of Halliburton, Boeing, Lockheed, Blackwater and other war profiteers.
Noble deaths indeed.
As for Marjah, its mention at all in the same breath as the American Revolution or the Civil War is simply laughable, but it is also truly grotesque. The little farming communities that the Pentagon PR machine lyingly described as a small city swarming with Taliban fighters was nothing but a staged and carefully managed battle set, designed to make Americans forget that the US was (and is) bogged down in an unwinnable war of conquest and occupation in Afghanistan. The few American soldiers and Marines who died there died for the sake of White House and Pentagon propaganda, not for the sake of defending Americans’ vaunted freedoms. The set has now been torn down, the klieg lights have been turned off, and “Marjah” has reverted to Taliban territory again.
This blind worship of US militarism has got to stop!
Never again should Americans be sent to kill and die for politicians.
If and when America and American freedom are really threatened, I have no doubt that American men and women will rise to the occasion and show the kind of nobility and heroism that was evident in the Revolution and the Civil War. But in the meantime, we need to stop glorifying all these wars that were criminal, or that could have been avoided. Memorial Day should be a day to demand peace, a day to demand an end to a military-industrial complex that claims nearly half of the nation’s general funds, a day to focus on the real threats to American’s “cherished ideals,” most of which are purely domestic, and a day to celebrate what those ideals are: equalty before the law, freedom of speech and assembly, freedom from government intrusion in our lives, the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty by a jury of our peers, and the right to stand up and say that our political leaders are, for the most part, crooks, charlatans and even war criminals.
Dubois’s Revenge: Reinterrogating American Democratic Theory … or Why We Need a Revolutionary Black Research Agenda in the 21st Century March 29, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in History, Uncategorized.
Tags: adam clayton powell, afro-american history, american colonies, american history, american negro, black history, black reconstruction, black study, capitalism, civil war, colonialism, democracy, democratic theory, discrimination, dixiecrat, du bois, fawn brodie, indentured servants, indian slave trade, indian slavery, institutional racism, jamestown, jamestown settlement, jamestown virginia, jim crow, john rankin, negro history, powhatan, Race, racism, roger hollander, segregation, slave labor, slave trade, slavery, US constitution, virginia company, w.e.b.dubois, white superiority, william strickland
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William (Bill) Strickland
www.blackcommentator.com, March 26, 2009
In 1899, one year after completing what many consider to be the first real Black Study, his magisterial sociological analysis, The Philadelphia Negro, W.E.B. Du Bois addressed the American Academy in Philadelphia and proposed what might also be considered the first real Black Research Agenda.
To the white scholars gathered in Philadelphia, Du Bois proposed a path-breaking study of the Negro people:
However, persuaded that they were already in possession of ‘the truth’ about race, and perhaps equally unpersuaded that Negroes belonged to ‘a great race of people,’ the Academy declined to participate in Du Bois’s project.
Characteristically then, and largely unaided, Du Bois, for the next twenty years—first from Atlanta and later from New York—pursued the racial research we now know as the famous Atlanta University Studies; constructing virtually single-handedly, to all intents and purposes, what was the first Black Studies program in America. (By celebrating Du Bois in this way, there is no intent to slight George Washington Williams, who Vincent Harding calls “the first substantial scholarly historian of Blacks in America,”  and whose 1883 opus, History Of The Negro Race In America From 1619-1880 V2: Negroes As Slaves, As Soldiers, And As Citizens , still stands as the original foundational text of black history. Nor can one overlook Carter G. Woodson, generally regarded as the Father of Negro History. Rather one wishes simply to call attention to the fact that in regard to Black Studies, Du Bois was, as in so much else, there “at the creation.”)
But Du Bois’s work in pursuit of the truth about the race’s past and present increasingly led him into a collision with America’s self-definition as a “democratic land” which, despite its negligible “negro problem,” still saw and proclaimed itself, in the classical Panglossian sense, “the best of all possible worlds.”
Du Bois vs. the Historical Establishment
Du Bois’s confrontation with the American historiography that had not changed its opinion of the essential unworthiness of the Negro in the three plus decades since Philadelphia, came to a head in 1935 when he published his seminal reinterpretation of the Reconstruction era, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880.
Concluding the volume with a chapter entitled, “The Propaganda of History,” Du Bois charged that “the facts of American history have in the last half century been falsified because the nation was ashamed. The South was ashamed because it fought to perpetuate human slavery, the North was ashamed because it had to call in the black men to save the Union, abolish slavery and establish democracy” (emphasis mine). 
This critique was both revolutionary and heretical since it not only attributed what we now routinely describe as “agency” to black people but it also struck a Joe Louis-like blow against white supremacy by asserting that black people had been the Salvationists of the Civil War Republic! Therefore what Du Bois’s perspective represented and what it called for, implicitly, was a new history of America.
Du Bois made that implication explicit on the global level as well in a 1943 letter to Will Alexander, a special assistant in the office of the War Manpower Commission who had written Du Bois from Washington that “there is a small group of scholars here, men of wide experience in international matters, who feel that there is need of a universal history of racism as it has appeared in various places around the world.” 
Two weeks after receiving Alexander’s November letter, Du Bois responded from Atlanta “that a universal history of racism would be an excellent undertaking but . . . if you are going to take the wide definition of race including nationalism, minorities, status, slavery, etc., it would be attempting a new universal history on a vast scale” (emphasis mine). 
Du Bois’s view that applying a “wide” definition of race to world history would, ipso facto, produce a new historical paradigm, a virtual reformulation of the way that one thought about the past and present world, is what I want to suggest is also both true and necessary for American political history and theory; that the need to reinterrogate the various ways that race and racism have impacted upon and, indeed, shaped the American nation state is also a history that must be reconceptualized “on a vast scale” if we wish to take up Du Bois’s crusade for “scientific truth.”
At bottom, the question that underlies such an enquiry is quite simple: Since public policy and constitutional law in America have sanctioned slavery, segregation, discrimination and institutional racism, how is it possible to reconcile the democratic theory of the state with the black civic experience? For example, the state may be conceptualized as an autonomous actor, a neutral arbiter, a gendarme, or an instrument of race, class and gender oppression. But whichever way the state is conceived, it unquestionably performs a certain role in allocating wealth, status, privilege and resources to some while withholding those perquisites from others. Moreover, although a taboo subject in conventional American appraisals, the chief means employed by the state and society to maintain and perpetuate the racial social order has been the resort to violence.
Slavery was violent and was only overthrown by violence. Reconstruction was dismantled by violence. The system of Jim Crow rested upon the theory and praxis of violence and the resistance to the freedom movement was, at its core, violent. The challenge, therefore, is to look longitudinally at American political history to try and gain a more accurate understanding of how the Republic has related actually, rather than mythically, to the black presence in its midst. Consider this example both of one problem unexamined and the kind of research needed to bring it to light.
The Southern Question
In 1944, Adam Clayton Powell was elected to Congress from Harlem and arrived in Washington in 1945, the last year of World War II’s fight against fascism. 
But what did Adam have to contend with once he had taken his seat? He had to contend with the racist rantings of Southern Congressmen like John Rankin of Mississippi who were still freely indulging the epithet “nigger” on the House floor. (Rankin was an equal opportunity bigot since he also assailed columnist Walter Winchell as “a little kike.”) 
To his credit, and despite the expectation that freshmen Congressmen were to be seen and not heard, Adam rose after another Rankin outburst to say that “the time has arrived to impeach Rankin, or at least expel him from the party.” 
So how do we theorize about this incident? Were Rankin’s fulminations simply an individual expression of racist sentiment or symptomatic of something more organic to American political life? What, for example, did the apparent tolerance of the behavior signify? And how far back did this normative racism go? All the way back to 1790? Or was it only a twentieth century phenomenon? That is, did racial insults abate in Congress during the thirty years, from 1871 to 1901, when black men sat in the Congress? In fine, what is the historical record of racist discourse—and the advancement of racist interests–in the House and Senate of the United States? Researching that question in the Congressional Record, the Congressional Globe, et al., would be a massive undertaking—and aside from William Lee Miller’s Arguing about Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress (Knopf, 1995) which details the 1830’s Congressional fight over petitions against slavery–so far as I know no one has yet done it. But questions such as these need to be answered if we are ever to truly fathom the nature of the American racial state.
Also one might raise many other questions about Dixiecrat power for one’s research agenda, like the political side of the reparations question. For while the subject of reparations for unpaid slave labor has generated heated political discussion for decades, there has been no similar effort to systematically appraise the cost of federal programs and public policy which the South steered to itself on the backs of the expropriated political power of disenfranchised Blacks.
We know, for example, that the Freedmen’s Bank was burgled by government-affiliated speculators after the Civil War. We know that many black veterans of World War I were never given their pensions. We know that the Union army paid its black soldiers only half of what they paid white soldiers until black soldier protest and war exigencies forced the government to relent in the last year of the war. And we know that the funds of the New Deal programs were discriminatorily disbursed during the Depression. But we can’t put a dollar figure on these serial betrayals by the national government nor on the spin-off benefits which the South enjoyed because of its stolen political power. How many public projects and military bases were sited in the former Confederacy, one wonders? And government subsidies? And tax breaks?
The questions are endless but the answers will help us illuminate the suppressed dimension of the American racial state.
So where might we begin? At the beginning, of course, with the sacrosanct foundation myths of American exceptionalism.
II. ON THE POLITICS OF MISREPRESENTATION
The problem of reinterpreting America’s history and politics is only partly a problem of new discovery since much of the actual history is known. It exists in records, documents, oral history and in books, both old and new.
The problem is that non-mainstream history is an embarrassment to the national myths that make up America’s identity so it is banished from the national memory; hidden from national view; concealed behind what Du Bois called The Veil. What we are left with is invented history, abetted by various “masking devices” such as historical patterns that go uncommented upon; euphemistic language such as “landed gentry” instead of slave-owners; “racial riots” instead of pogroms; “violence” instead of murder; “harassment and intimidation” instead of racial terror, ad infinitum. (emphasis mine) Another ploy is the examination of the “thoughts” and “minds” of Great White Men while shying away from their deeds.
But the most persistent disguising tradition has been simply to ignore the messenger. . . the fate of most black critical voices over the ages. Indeed, Manisha Sinha, in the January 2007 issue of the William and Mary Quarterly, points out that “Historians have yet to fully appreciate the alternative and radical nature of black abolitionist ideology. . . [that] not only pointed to the shortcomings of American revolutionary ideals but also exposed their complicity in upholding racial slavery.”  And, if ignoring the messenger did not suffice, then the reaction was to professionally slay the renegade scholar. That was the fate meted out to the late Fawn Brodie whose 1974 volume, Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, dared to suggest an “intimate relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings. . .” Her reward was to be almost unanimously pilloried by the academic establishment. So what, at bottom, are we dealing with?
Is America just another case of national vanity run amok since nearly all societies, like nearly all religions, tend to think of themselves as special and adhere to creation myths which attest to their uniqueness? Or is something more at stake? Something like America’s aspiration to world leadership based on its self-image of being specially favored and specially blessed? It is to answer that question that one turns to the past because it is the past which best contextualizes today’s diabolical policies of preemptive war, international kidnappings, secret prisons, sanctioned torture, the gulag of Guantanamo, the excesses of the FBI and the administration’s scornful disregard of the Constitution, the Geneva Convention, and the right of habeas corpus.
The past conceptualizes these practices because, although chronologically new, they are remarkably akin to deeds which Du Bois deplored some fifty years ago:
The significance of Du Bois’s critique is that he saw America not as most Americans see it but through his own racial lens; utilizing the second sight he had gained as a lifelong racial outsider in the land of his birth:
So Fawn Brodie questioned an icon while Du Bois questioned the “social order.” Both interrogations suggest new interpretative spaces where the meaning of America can be remapped in order to investigate the line of historical continuity from the international slave trade to the multi-national corporation, from the Indian “wars” of yesterday to the Iraqi occupation of today, from America’s oft-invoked democratic claims to its oft-enacted undemocratic actions.
III. ON RACIAL (AND OTHER) CONTRADICTIONS
To review American political history from top to bottom is obviously beyond the scope of this paper. What it seeks to do is reanalyze America’s founding years by piggy-backing on some of the excellent works written both recently and in past years, which have significantly contributed to our understanding of non-mythical American history.
In that connection James Loewen’s pioneering, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, Revised and Updated Edition (New Press, NY, 1995) must be mentioned as well as THINKING AND RETHINKING U.S. HISTORY , edited by Gerald Horne and published by the Council on Interracial Books for Children in 1988. (In fact, Horne has been exemplary in resurrecting neglected history as in his Black and Brown: African Americans and the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920 (American History and Culture Series) (NYU Press, 2005).  He has also provided us with a critically new perspective on the role of race in World War II in his Race War!: White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire (NYU, 2004) which “delves into forgotten history to reveal how European racism and colonialism were deftly exploited by the Japanese to create allies among formerly colonized people of color.”  )
The methodology of inquiry will be to carry on a dialogue with these books; outlining what new historical hypotheses they seem to represent and what new questions and issues arising from them might deservedly constitute a research agenda of the future.
IV. THE FOUNDING UNROMATICIZED: COLONIALISM, CAPITALISM, AND CITIZENSHIP BEFORE THE MAYFLOWER
In 1964, Eli Ginsberg and Alfred Eichner published their book Troublesome Presence: American Democracy and the Black-Americans (hereafter G&E) which painted quite a different picture of American settlers from the archetypical image of freedom-seeking Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock in 1620. They wrote that. . . “of the several million persons who reached Great Britain’s North American colonies before 1776, it is conservatively estimated that close to 80 percent arrived under some form of servitude.”  (emphasis mine)
Since we are accustomed to think of servitude and/or slavery as being the lot only of Africans and their descendants and also know that, as of the first official census in America in 1790, these persons comprised approximately 20 percent of the American population, we are left to wonder about the status of this majority of unknown white settlers. Who were they, these non-Pilgrims?
A partial answer can be found in G&E and also in Gary Nash’s classic work of colonial history, Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of Early North America (5th Edition). Both direct our attention to the Jamestown Landing of 1607 where the two constituent elements of American exceptionalism first came into being, i.e., the awarding of “free” land to the settlers and their gaining of the right to vote. However, both of these bestowals by the architects of the Jamestown project, the Virginia Company of London, arose out of the financial imperatives of settlement not out of any sentiments of democratic idealism. More importantly these concessions were made by the London businessmen whose desperate hope was to turn Jamestown into a successful profit-making enterprise as the Spaniards had done in Mexico and Peru.
Witness Gary Nash:
Thus America was birthed by capitalism, not by freedom. Indeed the Jamestown Project’s partnership between the corporation and the state was to serve as a useful model later in the century when the Royal African Company was granted a monopoly of the English slave trade with West Africa in 1672 by King Charles II.
Not Colonists But Conquistadors
We have come to think of slavery and the slave trade as the prime incubators and instigators of American racism with the American South as its birthplace. Except. . . the first racial slaves in America were not Africans but Indians and the first state to legally sanction slavery was not Virginia in 1661 but Massachusetts in 1641. 
Moreover Massachusetts’s involvement in the slave trade antedates even their first slave law, e.g., “The first definitely authenticated American-built vessel to carry slaves was the Desire built in Marblehead [Massachusetts] and sailing out of Salem in 1638 [carrying] a cargo, among other things, of seventeen Pequot Indians, whom she sold in the West Indies.”  (emphasis mine) What this neglected history of Indian slavery suggests is that we must see the Indian as well as the African as the original racial “other,” the negation of whose humanity was the dialectical affirmation of white superiority in America; that slavery and the slave trade tie Massachusetts and Virginia together and demonstrate the North-South national pattern of racial exploitation that evolves so seamlessly into racism.
Any new research agenda thus needs to reconceptualize white–Indian along with white-African relations to gain a fuller understanding of the role of race in shaping both the racial and cultural identity of America and in making possible its political and economic development. Volumes such as Almon Lauber’s Indian Slavery in Colonial Times (Amsterdam, NY, 1969 but originally published in 1913), Allan Gallay’s The Indian Slave Trade, 1670-1717 (Yale, New Haven, 2002), and others like Karen Ordahl Kupperman’s Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America (Cornell, NY, 2000) and her most recent book, The Jamestown Project (Harvard, Cambridge, MA, 2007) tell the more inclusive story of how considerations of race dominate early American relations. . . As we can see by returning to the saga of Virginia:
“In the autumn of 1607. . . when food supplies were running perilously low and all but a handful of Jamestown settlers had fallen too ill to work, the colony was saved by Powhatan, whose men brought sufficient food to keep the struggling settlement alive until the sick recovered and the relief ship arrived.”  (emphasis mine) So Powhatan, more famous in the white-washed history as the father of Pocahontas, saves the Jamestown settlers in 1607, years before the Pilgrims landing and years before the holiday we now celebrate as Thanksgiving. But Powhatan’s life-saving graciousness has gone unlearned, unappreciated, unspoken of—even this year, the 400th anniversary of Jamestown’s Founding. Perhaps that is because, as Du Bois wrote about the black contribution to the Civil War, the settlers were ashamed of being indebted to those whom they considered their inferiors. Or maybe it’s the historians who should be held accountable. Whatever…. In the historical scheme of things, this oversight does not seem to have mattered because the new settlers soon re-righted their racial world at the behest of their superiors; to wit:
In 1609, the royal governor of Jamestown was ordered by the Virginia Company “to effect a military occupation of the region . . . to make all tribes tributary to him rather than to Powhatan, to extract corn, furs, dyes, and labor from each tribe and, if possible, to mold the natives into an agricultural labor force as the Spanish had done in their colonies.”  (emphasis mine)
“As the Spanish had done in their colonies” meant, of course, that the settlers, told to emulate the Spanish conquistadors, were to subjugate the Indians to their will, establish racial rule over them, divide and conquer where possible, appropriate anything of value the Indians might possess—from food provisions to trade goods—and, first and foremost, enslave them . . . or as the company delicately put it—“mold them into an agricultural labor force.”
But the 30,000 Indians of the Chesapeake would not be “molded.” They perished from the white man’s diseases. They fought back. So the Company had to try a new business plan of luring settlers to Virginia by promising them free land at the end of seven years labor. But after five years the strategy of trying to turn a profit from these white indentured servants had also not succeeded so the company again raised the inducements for settlement: “This time 100 acres of land was offered outright to anyone in England who would journey to the colony. . . [Thus] Instead of pledging limited servitude for the chance to become sole possessor of the land, an Englishman trapped at the lower rungs of society at home could now become an independent landowner in no more time than it took to reach the Chesapeake.”  (emphasis mine)
It is in this fashion that American exceptionalism is born via the gift of land which in Europe is owned by the monarchy, the church and the aristocracy. But in America it is made available in a transaction of profit-making speculation. Englishmen “trapped at the lower rungs of society” can then rise to become “independent landowners.”
But there was still one more “gift” to come: “In 1619 the resident governor was ordered to allow the election of a representative assembly, which would participate in governing the colony and thus bind the colonists emotionally to the land.”  (emphasis mine)
The pillar of democracy, the right to vote, was conferred upon the settlers not by the Goddess of Liberty but by the Goddess of Capitalism, as was the means of social and economic uplift, the land of the Indian. And all of this occurred, we are reminded once again, by 1619—and before the fantasy-ennobling year of 1620. Two other momentous things, whose significance, historian Lerone Bennett, Jr. reminds us, cannot be overstated, also took place in 1619.
Speaking of the first Africans to arrive in British America whom he calls the Jamestown Twenty, Lerone sums up the contradictions of Jamestown which were to become America’s own:
Or to put it another way, the Jamestown Experiment codified the race, class, gender and political identity of America. It also demolishes the myth of American exceptionalism because it establishes America as simply one of a number of white settler states like the former Rhodesia, South Africa and French Algeria, and those like New Zealand, Australia, et al. who have morphed from those origins to the “civilizations” we see today. Speaking of Australia, we can now answer the question that we posed pages ago about who these non-Pilgrim white colonists were.
Some were servants, and some were indentures and redemptioners as we have seen. Others were slaves like the white women sold at Jamestown, and many were the victims of kidnappings because:
But many of these “settlers” in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were criminals . Between 1718 and 1785 Britain banished 50,000 convicts to America, a fact rarely cited in American textbooks.  In fact, it seems a matter of some historical discomfort to reveal the fact that America was Britain’s first penal colony. Australia only assumed that role after the American Revolution when America’s shores were closed to that traffic. Indeed the whole subject of white servitude and convict labor has received scant historical attention. But the evidence is there. It just is not permitted to confront or alter the tenets of mainstream history.
Again, Gary Nash:
his commentary also appears in Souls.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board Member William L. (Bill) Strickland Teaches political science in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is also the Director of the Du Bois Papers Collection. The Du Bois Papers are housed at the University of Massachusetts library, which is named in honor of this prominent African American intellectual and Massachusetts native. Professor Strickland is a founding member of the independent black think tank in Atlanta the Institute of the Black World (IBW), headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. Strickland was a consultant to both series of the prize-winning documentary on the civil rights movement, Eyes on the Prize (PBS Mini Series Boxed Set), and the senior consultant on the PBS documentary, The American Experience: Malcolm X: Make It Plain. He also wrote the companion book Malcolm X: Make It Plain. Most recently, Professor Strickland was a consultant on the Louis Massiah film on W.E.B. Du Bois – W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices. Click here to contact Mr. Strickland.
 Du Bois, W.E.B., Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois, International Press, NY, 1988,
 Vincent Harding, “Beyond Chaos: Black History and the Search for New Land,” in Amistad I: Writings on Black History and Culture, ed. John A. Williams and Charles F. Harris (New York: Vintage Books, 1970), p. 271.
 Du Bois, W.E.B. Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880. Athenaeum, NY, 1983, p. 711.
 Aptheker, Herbert. Correspondence of the W.E.B. Du Bois, 1934-1944, vol. 2, UMass Press, 1978, p. 369.
 Ibid., p. 370.
 The irony of Amerca’s fighting fascism abroad while segregating Blacks in the military and permitting lynching at home inspired the black community in those war years to launch “the double V” campaign: Victory over the enemies without and within.
 Haygood, Wil. King of the Cats. Houghton Mifflin, NY. 1993, p. 118.
 Sinha, Manisha. “To ‘cast just obloquy’ on oppressors: Black radicalism in the age of revolution,” William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 64, #1, January 2007, p. 153.
 Ibid., p. 160.
 Du Bois, W.E.B. Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois, International Press, NY, 1988,
 Ibid., p. 155.
 Horne, Gerald, Race War: White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire, New York University Press, 2004, book jacket.
 Eli Ginsberg and Alfred Eichner, Troublesome Presence: Democracy and Black Americans, New Jersey, p. 11.
 Nash, Gary. Red White and Black: The People of Early North America, Prentice Hall, NJ, 1974, p. 46.
 G&E, p. 16.
 Mannix & Cowley, Black Cargoes, Viking, New York, 1962, p. 6.
 Nash, p. 56.
 Ibid., p. 59.
 Ibid., p. 52.
 Ibid., p.52.
 Johnson, The Shaping of Black America, Chicago, 1975, p. 8.
 Mannix & Cowley, p. 56.
 A. Roger Ekirch, Bound for America: The transportation of British convicts to America, 1718-1785, (Clarendon, Oxford, 1990).
 Nash, ibid., p. 52.