The Cultural Consequences of the American Civil War

On Wednesday, 13 May 2020, blogger Audre Myers posted a piece at Nebraska Energy Observer entitled “What Do You Think?”  The piece prompted readers to answer the question “Would we be the America we are if the Civil War had never been fought?”

Below is my response, which you can also view here.  The TL;DR summary of my answer is that, while it was good that the Union was preserved and that slavery was abolished, it came with some heavy fees—the expansion of federal power (and the loss of liberty inverse to federal expansion), the erosion of States’ rights, and—most importantly—the triumph of Yankee progressivism over Southern traditionalism.

The temptation is always to reduce the American Civil War to being ONLY about slavery.  Slavery was, obviously, a huge part of the Southern economy and culture, and motivated a great deal of Southern politics at the national level.  But slavery was not the be-all, end-all of the “Lost Cause.”  There were legitimate constitutional questions at play.  Indeed, an open question—one the American Civil War closed by force of arms—was that, having opted into the Constitution, could States later opt out?  John Randolph of Roanoke, among others, seemed to believe this question was legitimate, and such an exit was allowed—even acknowledged.

Of course, the slavery narrative serves modern progressive ends.  It allows for throwing the baby—States’ rights—out with the bathwater.  Suddenly, States’ rights becomes “code,” in the progressive mind, for justifying slavery or segregation.  Yes, States’ rights was invoked to support wicked things.  Nevertheless, it is fully constitutional—just ask the Tenth Amendment.

Nullification and secession were dangerous doctrines, but the loss of them also meant that the federal government could expand with far fewer limits on its power.  The States lost the nuclear option, so to speak, of bucking unconstitutional acts (although, to be fair, States can challenge such acts more peacefully through lawsuits against the federal government—even if those cases are heard in federal courts).  Seeing as we’re living in times when a peaceful separation between fundamentally opposed ideologies may be the most attractive option for the future of our nation, it’s worth reviewing the history of these ideas.

Well, that’s enough preamble.  After two days of self-indulgent, girly navel-gazing, it’s time for some substance:

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Lazy Sunday XLIV: SubscribeStar Posts, Part II – The Search for More Money

Well, after a successful opening night and two other excellent performances, the play is in the books!  My girlfriend and I celebrated with a trip to Columbia to hear the South Carolina Philharmonic (more on that tomorrow), and I’m finally back home.  It’s been an exhausting, but artistically fulfilling, few weeks.

This week’s Lazy Sunday features some recent SubscribeStar Saturday exclusives.  To read the full posts, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

There’s not much to link these together thematically, other than they all will cost you a buck to read (not each, though—that just covers the subscription, and then you can binge them all for $1 total).  But they are some of my better SubscribeStar posts.

  • The Tedium of (Teaching) Slavery” – Teaching about slavery is a tedious slog, not because the topic isn’t interesting or worthy of discussion, but because it devolves into a set of magical incantations to ward against the curse of “racism.”  Political correctness deals historical education another blow.
  • End-of-the-Decade Reflections; Age and Class” – Some reflections about the long decade of the Teens, as well as an examination of the difficult financial environment in which Millennials, et. al., endure.
  • The Twenties” – Some historical writing, looking back to the 1920s, and drawing some comparisons between that turbulent, raucous decade and our own times.

Well, that’s it.  Apologies for the late posting, but here’s hoping you enjoyed a wonderful—and lazy!—Saturday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

SubscribeStar Saturday: The Tedium of (Teaching) Slavery

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

A major part of American history was, of course, slavery.  As I typed that sentence, I nearly wrote “the unfortunate legacy of slavery,” though we’re still living that, just not in the way the race-baiters and social justice warriors claim.

But phrases like “the unfortunate legacy of slavery” have become incredibly cliched.  It and similar phrases (“slavery is our great national sin”) act as magic talismans, incantations that, when invoked, protect the speaker (presumably) from the ultimate curse, the label of “racist.”

Of course, slavery was wrong, and slavery is immoral.  It was our great national sin (paid for, as Lincoln pointed out in his Second Inaugural Address, with the blood “drawn by the sword” in the American Civil War).  It continues to have an “unfortunate legacy,” in that race-baiting charlatans continue to blame it for virtually every pathology in black American culture.

Dang it… I screwed up the incantation with that last bit.  I’d better kiss my job goodbye right now.

To read the rest of this post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.

Remembering 1519

The start of the school year always means the start of the grand narrative of American history.  It dawned on me some years ago that, over the course of roughly 180 days, I undertake an annual, oral retelling of the story of the United States.  One day, I plan to record my lectures, taking the best bits, and compiling them into a lengthy podcast series.  After that, I’ll never have to teach again!

Regardless, the story always starts the same:  a brief overview of the pre-Columbian Americans (what we used to call “Indians,” and more clumsily “Native Americans”), followed up with Spanish exploration from Christopher Columbus through Hernan Cortez and on.

A major part of those early lessons is the encounter of the bloodthirsty Aztecs and the gold-mad Spaniards.  Students love the story of the advanced Aztecs, sacrificing humans to ensure the sunrise, and the arrival of the fiery-haired Cortez and his ragtag band of conquistadors and buccaneers.

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Historical Moment – The Formation of the Republican Party

I’ve missed two days—this past Friday and yesterday—due to back-to-school insanity, coupled with returning to my flood-prone abode (and celebrating my niece’s third birthday).  School starts back Wednesday, and some online courses I teach at a local technical college launched yesterday, so I may be adopting a new posting schedule soon—probably one or two pieces a week, or some shorter posts.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here is a transcript of remarks I gave to the Florence County Republican Party last night.  Our guest speaker for our monthly program was South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Drew McKissick, a man with a genius for grassroots organizing.  As such, I decided to talk about the formation of the Republican Party back in 1854.  Enjoy!  –TPP

There is some disagreement about exactly when and where the Republican Party first originated.  The national GOP website says the Party came into being in Jackson, Michigan, on 6 July 1854.  The anti-slavery convention, also called the “Under the Oaks” convention because the conventioneers met in an oak grove, nominated statewide candidates, and their Convention Platform read, “we will cooperate and be known as REPUBLICANS.”

The South Carolina GOP website, on the other hand, points to a meeting in Ripon, Wisconsin, earlier in 1854, where a group of abolitionists met to fight the expansion of slavery, although it also mentions the Jackson, Michigan convention was when the Party was “formally organized.”  Two years later, Philadelphia hosted the first Republican National Convention, which nominated John C. Fremont as the first Republican candidate for President.

Regardless of where the GOP formally began, the climate for its formation was eerily similar to our own political situation.  The “peculiar institution” of slavery bitterly divided the country.  The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the brainchild of Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, proposed applying “popular sovereignty” to western territories; essentially, territories would decide whether to allow slavery, or remain “free soil.”

That Act embroiled Kansas in a bloody guerrilla war between pro-slavery “Fire-Eaters” and radical abolitionists, the latter of whom sent “Beecher’s Bibles”—rifles—to free soilers attempting to keep the territory free.  In 1856, John Brown, the deranged abolitionist, and his sons massacred pro-slavery advocates with swords in the Pottawatomie Massacre, a retaliation for an earlier attack on the abolitionists.

The old Whig Party, originally organized in protest over the policies Democratic President Andrew Jackson, collapsed over the issue of slavery and “popular sovereignty.”  The conditions were ripe for a new party to emerge, one dedicated to “Free Soil, Free Labor, and Free Men” (not quite as catchy as “Make America Great Again,” but it explained the Republican Party’s platform succinctly).

Over the course of the 1850s, the young Republican Party spread rapidly throughout Northern States, bringing together abolitionists, anti-slavery Democrats, and other constituencies disillusioned with the Democratic Party’s policies on slavery and the economy.  The Republican Party from its inception opposed the expansion, if not always the outright abolition, of slavery, and hoped to keep it out of any new territories.  Southern Democrats so feared a Republican victory, they threatened to secede from the Union should a Republican President be elected.

Of course, Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican elected in a four-way race in 1860—the Democratic Party split into Northern and Southern wings, while the Constitutional Union Party gained votes in the Upper South and Appalachia—and South Carolina seceded in December 1860.

Our first President was a good one, though, and the Republican Party has endured ever since, continuing to fight for the unborn, the working man and woman, and the values that make our country great.