Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The intraparty battles among Democrats, Omaha edition

These two pieces present useful perspectives on the intra-party Democratic feud over the candidacy of Heath Mello for Mayor of Omaha, Nebraska.

UltraViolet, Women are Watching, Bernie. Don’t Let Us Down Huffpost 04/25/2017

D.D. Guttenplan, Why Was Heath Mello Thrown Under the Bus? The Nation 04/24/2017

Despite the implication of the headline on the first, the Ultraviolet editorial is actually arguing for both of the two major Democratic Party factions today to take the right to abortion as a basic principle, a litmus test in punditspeak.

Guttenplan also notes the evidence suggesting that the corporate Dems played the progressive wing on this one:

Instead, on April 19, The Wall Street Journal ran a story noting that Mello, a practicing Catholic, is pro-life. The story also falsely claimed that Mello had co-sponsored a bill “requiring women to look at an ultrasound image of their fetus before receiving an abortion.” A similar error was made by The Washington Post, which claimed that Mello had “previously backed a bill requiring ultrasounds for women considering abortions,” and then again the following day by David Nir, political director of Daily Kos, who announced the site was withdrawing its endorsement of Mello — a move applauded by Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, who’d launched a 12-part Twitter storm linking to the WSJ article and accusing Sanders and Perez of kicking off their tour with the message “shame women; we’ll support u anyway.”

Here’s the truth about Mello’s record: Back in 2009, he co-sponsored a bill requiring a physician performing an abortion to tell a woman that an ultrasound is available (as most already did). It neither mandated that the ultrasound be performed nor, if performed, that it actually be viewed by the woman — although it did require abortion providers to position the screen in such a way that the ultrasound was easily viewable. Daily Kos member Nova Land — a Tennessean who had never heard of Mello before the controversy—posted a comprehensive, well-sourced correction to this effect the same day. That didn’t lead Nir to reconsider. Nor did it stop Perez from issuing a statement announcing that he “fundamentally disagree[s] with Heath Mello’s personal beliefs about women’s reproductive health,” which was worded in a way that appeared to cast doubt on the sincerity of Mello’s pledge that he “would never do anything to restrict access to reproductive health care.”
The Nova Land post of 04/19/2017 with an update the following day is at Daily Kos here, Heath Mello, abortion, ultrasound -- and Bernie Sanders. It's clear that Mello's policy position on abortion has evolved over time toward a more pro-choice position.

To be clear, it was the DLC position of the "New Democrats" that Democratic needed to blunt their stands on "social issues" like abortion rights. That gave us Democrats discretely bragging about the anti-abortion postures of politicians like Tim Kaine and using formulas like Hillary Clinton's longtime stance that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare." The safe, poll-tested position for Democratic candidates was, "I'm personally opposed to abortion but I support women's right to choose."

As I said in the earlier post linked at the beginning of this one, if the Democratic Party is now at a place where Mugwumping on abortion rights is no longer acceptable, I'm glad to see it.

At the same time, my initial reaction to Guttenplan's article was:



Because it was the Wall Street Journal that initially put the mayoral race in Omaha front-and-center in the intra-party contest between the corporate Dems and the prolabor progressives.

Here is a recent report from The Real News on that struggle. First, a short teaser, Temporary Truce in a Democratic Party Civil War 04/24/2017:



And the full 16-minute discussion, Temporary Truce in a Democratic Party Civil War: The Sanders & Perez Unity Tour 04/23/2017:


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2017, April 24: Removing Lost Cause monuments in New Orleans

I'm going to jump to the present day for this post. Because a moment in the opposition to neo-Confederate attitudes is making national news.

From MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show New Orleans Removes Confederate Monument 04/24/2017 with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu:



Note that Landrieu mentions a contractor's car being bombed, presumably by a neo-Confederate terrorist.

From MSNBC's Morning Joe New Orleans Mayor Discusses City’s Deportation Stance 04/25/2017, also featuring Mayor Landrieu:



And, yes, I'm running a day late on this post, so the post for April 24 is using a broadcast from April 25. Spacetime can be confusing.

In an early morning press release dated yesterday, Landrieu explained what the Liberty Place monument commemorated (City of New Orleans Begins Removal of Divisive Confederate Statues Commemorating “Cult of the Lost Cause” 04/24/2017):

The Battle of Liberty Place Monument at Iberville Street, was erected in 1891 (originally on Canal Street) in honor of the “Battle of Liberty Place,” an 1874 insurrection of the Crescent City White League, a group of all white, mostly Confederate veterans, who battled against the racially integrated New Orleans Metropolitan Police and state militia. The monument was meant to honor the members of the White League who died during the battle. In 1932, the City of New Orleans added a plaque to the monument, explicitly outlining its white supremacist sympathies, which explained that the battle was fought for the “overthrow of carpetbag government, ousting the usurpers" and that “the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state."

In 1989, construction on Canal Street forced the removal of the monument, but it was relocated to its current location on Iberville Street in 1993. At that time, the 1932 white supremacist plaque was covered with a new plaque that read: “In honor of those Americans on both sides who died in the Battle of Liberty Place… A conflict of the past that should teach us lessons for the future.”

Louis Harlan describes the event the now-removed monument celebrated in "Desegregation in New Orleans Public Schools During Reconstruction" American Historical Review 67:3 (Apr 1962):

The White League arose in 1874, spread quickly from the rural parishes to New Orleans, staged a three-day coup d'etat in September until the arrival of federal troops, and installed a Conservative city government in December. In the same period the position of mixed schools was weakened by the removal from the congressional civil rights bill of the school desegregation clause. The stage was set for the well-known school riots of December 1874, which reflected the momentary political climate of that period as clearly as the acquiescent mood of the previous three years reflected an opposite policy.

During three days of rioting, mobs often described as high school boys or "boy regulators" rudely ejected from mixed schools colored children who had been peacefully attending for years, insulted teachers, beat and threatened to hang the city superintendent. The White League and its newspaper supporters instigated and directed the mobs, which were composed mostly of men and adolescents not enrolled in the high schools, using a handful of high school rowdies as fronts. More- over, the riots failed to achieve their objective. Sober citizens persuaded the White League to call off "the boys," and the schools reopened after the holidays on a desegregated basis, remaining so for another two and a half years, until after Reconstruction.
Here are a couple of articles form the New Orleans Times-Picayune on the New Orleans Confederate monuments being removed: Kevin Litton, New Orleans Confederate monuments can come down, court rules 03/06/2017; Beau Evans, Removal of the first of four New Orleans Confederate monuments begins with Liberty Place 04/24/2017.

In another report, Litton describes the decades of protests against the pro-treason, pro-Confederate monuments: Efforts to remove Confederate monuments in New Orleans go back decades 03/14/2017.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Confederatre "Heritage" Month 2017, April 24 23: Establishing a taboo against slavery

I've recently read a couple of articles by the philosopher Seyla Benhabib dealing with issues relating the theories of Jürgen Habermas on the development of "public space" and agreements within it. I won't try to summarize Habermas' theories here. But see the article by by James Bohman and William Rehg on Jürgen Habermas Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2014.

The reason I mention this here is because Benhabib's articles set me to thinking about how such theories could be used to describe the process by which chattel slavery became taboo, taboo in the sense that it became something that was completely and permanently off the political agenda. Habermas' stresses the role of interpersonal communication and dialogue in not only coming to agreement on practical measures but also to establish basic norms.

In this passage from "The Utopian Dimension in Communicative Ethics" (New German Critique 35:1985), Benhabib calls attention to the concepts of John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas in developing normative standards through a process of communication by which a rational norm is established:

There are two premises shared by Rawls and Habermas. I will call the first the "consensus principle of legitimacy" and define it as follows: the principle of rational consensus provides the only criterion in light of which the legitimacy of norms and institutional arrangements can be justified. More significantly, Rawls and Habermas share the meta-theoretical premise: the idea of such rational consensus is to be defined procedurally. Rawls maintains that his theory of justice provides us with the only procedure of justification through which valid and binding norms of collective coexistence can be established. Habermas argues that the "ideal speech situation" defines the formal properties of discourses, by engaging in which alone we can attain a rational consensus. The fictive collective choice situation devised by Rawls and the "ideal speech situation" devised by Habermas are normative justification procedures serving to illustrate the consensus principle of legitimacy. [my emphasis in bold]
Here I have only some general thoughts about how such a theory might be used to explain the abolition of slavery. Because it clearly didn't happen by a consensus built through rational dialogue.

But values did change. And the new, post-Civil War value that slavery was unacceptable was incorporated into the US Constitution with the 13th Amendment. But it was only the catastrophe of the Civil War that ended the institution itself. The process of the Civil War convinced a big majority of Northerners that slavery really was an abomination that could not be tolerated.

And after the war, the Southern planters accepted that slavery as an institution was gone for good and that advocating its return was a political dead end.

But the norm wasn't established unequivocally. Apologists for the Confederacy to this day continue to defend the antebellum institution of slavery. See: Sean Quinlan and William Ramsey, Southern Slavery As It Wasn’t n/d; Aaron Rupar, Bill O’Reilly: I Wasn’t Defending Slavery, Just Saying Slaves Weren’t Treated So Bad Think Progress 07/27/2016

And there were many lingering effects of slavery and its ideology, from white racist attitudes in general to concrete discrimination against black citizens. Some aspects of the prison system from the end of the Civil War until the present have continued slavery in an explicit way. "Involuntary servitude" in the Thirteen Amendment is specifically allowed for punishment of crimes. And in the postwar South, both the prison system and the sharecropper system continued conditions in which people were confined in a status that was chattel slavery or "involuntary servitude" but wasn't exactly "free labor," either.

I don't have any strong conclusion here about what this says about Habermas' theory of public space and the rational derivation of norms via interactive communication.

But it does seem to me that it's very difficult to separate out the development of the narrative around the shifting norms on slavery from the very contentious political battles, including violent ones and ultimately war, to which the narrative was connected.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2017, April 22: Missouri Compromise and the "free labor" antislavery narrative

I've referred several times in this month's series of posts to an article by Joshua Michael Zeitz, "The Missouri Compromise Reconsidered: Antislavery Rhetoric and the Emergence of the Free Labor Synthesis" Journal of the Early Republic 20:3 (Autumn 2000) because it gives such a lucid account of the complexity of racial attitudes among whites in America prior to the Civil War. And particularly to the phenomenon described by historians like William Freehling that white opposition to slavery could be and was combined with hostility toward black people.

As Zeitz writes, "Throughout the North, emancipated slaves seemed to confirm the commonly held supposition that African Americans were more often than not a public nuisance and, on occasion, an outright threat. Much of this prejudice stemmed from the public's inability or unwillingness to distinguish between slaves and freemen." Zeitz refers to it as "this increasingly instinctive association in the white mind" between slavery and presence of black people.

Zeitz catalogues in his article a grimly impressive list of discriminatory measures taken by Northerners against free blacks living among them: restrictions; degrading and hostile attitudes; violence, even "ethnic cleansing" in some areas: bans on blacks entering a state.

He places this within the context of Northern opposition to slavery often being combined with hostility to black people, even outright hatred.

He cites a public meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1920 1820, the year of the Missouri Compromise, in which "leading Cincinnati citizens ... openly endorse[d] a doctrine of racial equality." And he describes the other side of Cincinnati racial attitudes:

Nine years later, Cincinnati mobs terrorized the city's black community with such ferocity that a large portion was persuaded to emigrate to Canada. Twelve years after that, the remaining African-American residents were so beleaguered by renewed violence that the men were disarmed and jailed for their own protection. While they waited helplessly behind bars, a white mob swept into black neighborhoods and turned on the women and children. As these episodes suggest, the history of race relations throughout the antebellum Midwest is generally one of recurrent violence.
There's no reason from Zeitz' account to assume that there was any overlap between individuals involved in the two incidents.

But it also illustrates how the real conflict between democracy and slavery kept playing itself out. They couldn't survive together in one country forever.

Zeitz' article also lets us know that what we today call "voter suppression" and related practices did not begin with white opposition to Reconstruction or to the Voting Rights Act of 1965:

New Jersey disenfranchised its black residents in 1807, Connecticut in 1814, Rhode Island in 1822, and Pennsylvania in 1837. In New York blacks were subject to a special property qualification that effectively excluded all but a scant few from the electoral process. According to Eugene Berwanger, African Americans in Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana did not cast their first legal ballots until after the Civil War. By 1840 approximately ninety-three percent of northern free blacks were denied the right to vote. In addition, Leon Litwack has found that "[b]y the 1830s, statute or custom placed Negro children in separate schools in nearly every Northern community." When in 1835 abolitionists reacted in typical fashion to this unfortunate circumstance by establishing an interracial academy in Cannan, New Hampshire, the town responded by literally ripping the building from its foundation and placing it in the village common with the help of a large army of men and oxen.
At the time of the Missouri Compromise, Zeitz sees what is known as the "free labor" narrative as gaining predominance among antislavery advocates, or hegemony, if we prefer to use a fashionable academic term, over the previously dominant abstractly moral narrative:

As white America systematically denied blacks the trappings and status of citizenship - as it came to identify the interests and inclinations of African Americans as antithetical to those of the American nation-antislavery activists found it possible to reconcile their advocacy of emancipation with the dominant protoracist tendencies of the broader culture. It became convenient and even ideologically consistent to isolate slavery, and its past and present victims, as injurious to the new dynamism and liberal social order that defined the antebellum North. If denunciations of the institution's violation of natural and religious law could coexist with a pervasive prejudicial disposition, so too could northerners conceive of their opposition to slavery as benevolent and morally grounded even while they shifted the focus of that opposition to broader social concerns. Slavery and slaves and freed slaves were newly recognized as the cause of southern depravity and impoverishment. In tum, the debate over slavery assumed new dimensions. No longer was the question a "moral" one in the strictest sense of the word. Instead, it became a vital point of contention in a broader struggle for the security of America's economic future and public character.
Not that the moral argument completely went away. But it was undergoing a transformation. In the free labor narrative, the morality stressed became one more oriented to the moral imperative to protect white citizens against the baleful effects of the Peculiar Institution.

Ironically, this version of the antislavery narrative stressing more the self-interests of whites in opposing slavery became a way for defenders of slavery to frame antislavery arguments as cynical political concoctions by Federalists and Northern Republicans. Thus, Zeitz writes, "It is not difficult to understand why commentators and observers from Thomas Jefferson to twentieth-century historians interpreted the northern antislavery forces in 1820 as primarily political and only secondarily inspired by 'moral' concerns."

But he also emphasizes, "Although there can be no doubt that baser political motives lay at the heart of some portion of the 1820 antislavery impulse, to so reduce frequent references to 'slave representation' ignores the legitimate moral indignation felt by so many northerners. It was a resentment with various roots. For some the issue was one of fairness." And democratic convictions played a real role in 1820 and afterwards. "Slavery was an affront to the revolutionary era value system northerners still held dear."

Friday, April 21, 2017

Good news/bad news: Heath Mello/Bernie Sanders edition

The good news is that the corporate/DLC Dems seem to think that no Democrats should run who aren't definitively pro-choice on abortion.

After years - excuse me, decades - of the DLCers talking about the "big tent" and taking the edge of the culture wars, and blah, blah, it's a pleasant change.

One of the things that impressed me about Hillary Clinton adjusting to a more militant Democratic base in 2016 was that she defending abortion rights straight-up as a women's rights issue. This was a fairly recent development for her. Jessica Valenti wrote in Hillary Clinton must reject the stigma that abortion should be legal but 'rare' Guardian 07/09/2014:

"Safe legal and rare" first became a pro-choice rallying cry during the Clinton administration, and has been invoked by media-makers and politicians like – even President Obama has called the mantra "the right formulation" on abortion. It's a "safe" pro-choice answer: to support abortion, but wish it wasn't necessary.

And it's a framing that Hillary Clinton – perhaps the next president of the United States – supports.

But "safe, legal and rare" is not a framework that supports women's health needs: it stigmatizes and endangers it.

In a 2010 research article, Dr Tracy Weitz, Director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) program at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote that "rare suggests that abortion is happening more than it should, and that there are some conditions for which abortions should and should not occur".

"It separates 'good' abortions from 'bad' abortions", she added. [my emphasis in bold]
This is one of many examples of Democrats taking a liberal position (supporting abortion rights) while framing it in conservative terms (abortion is bad but we should put up with it). That's one instance of the project that linguist George Lakoff has been scolding the Democrats over for the last decade or so.

Even in 2016, Hillary wanted to hedge on the issue, old-line DLC style (Myriam Renaud, Hillary Clinton’s Moral Conflicts on Abortion The Atlantic 08/06/2016):

For the most part, Clinton’s stance matches the official stance of the United Methodist Church, or UMC—the tradition in which she was raised and remains a faithful member. Clinton, who calls herself an “old-fashioned Methodist,” told a Newsweek interviewer in 1994 that abortion is morally wrong. One of her biographers, Paul Kengor, notes that she has turned to the UMC’s Book of Resolutions when she has wanted help reaching a decision or when grappling with a moral question. The Book accepts abortion but only in a qualified way. It professes “the sanctity of unborn human life” while allowing that certain circumstances—“conflicts of life with life”—may warrant terminating a pregnancy. This may explain Clinton’s recent comments on NBC’s “Meet the Press” during which, to the dismay of many pro-choicers, she described the fetus as an “unborn person.” She has also declared her support of some “late-pregnancy” restrictions that would go into effect perhaps as soon as the “unborn person” is viable, except in cases of rape or incest or when the life or mental or physical health of the mother is at risk.
And, oh yeah, there was this: Danielle Paquette, Why Tim Kaine can oppose abortion and still run with Hillary Clinton Washington Post 07/26/2017.

The bad news is that now Bernie Sanders' support for a Democratic mayoral candidate in Oklahoma City has the corporate Dems shocked, shocked! I tell you, shocked! that any Democrat would support a candidate for any office who wasn't clear and all-out in favor of abortion rights. Roseann Moring reports for the Omaha World-Herald (Bernie Sanders stumps for Heath Mello in Omaha, stirs national debate about definition of a progressive 04/21/2017):

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders told a cheering crowd in Omaha on Thursday that he thinks mayoral candidate Heath Mello is part of the Democratic Party of the future.

But some Democrats don’t agree, and Sanders’ appearance at a rally for Mello at Baxter Arena sparked a national debate about whether the party needs to focus on progressive policies and reject Democratic politicians like Mello who are opposed to abortion. ...

During his 45-minute speech, Sanders touched on positions that would be familiar to those who followed his presidential campaign: expanded access to health care, paid family leave, free college tuition and a pathway to citizenship for those who entered the country illegally. And, of course, he devoted much time to economic inequality. ...

Earlier Thursday, however, abortion-rights advocates argued that Sanders and the Democratic Party shouldn’t support those who favor restricting abortion. They pointed to Mello’s co-sponsorship of a 2009 bill in the Nebraska Legislature that gives a woman seeking an abortion the option to see an ultrasound, if one is done.

“The actions today by the DNC to embrace and support a candidate for office who will strip women — one of the most critical constituencies for the party — of our basic rights and freedom is not only disappointing, it is politically stupid,” said NARAL Pro-Choice President Ilyse Hogue in a statement.

Her criticism was part of the national backlash after a Thursday article in the Wall Street Journal that pointed out Mello’s opposition to abortion.

In 2009, the version of Legislative Bill 675 that became law, on a 40-5 vote, was viewed as a compromise measure. As first introduced, the bill would have required a woman to look at the ultrasound image.

Mello’s campaign said he signed on to the bill to support the compromise version.
Bernie's critics in the Democratic Party see this as a particular outrage. Imani Gandy writes in Bernie, There Will Be No Revolution Without Reproductive Rights 04/21/2017, "Bernie Sanders and many of his supporters seem perfectly content to categorize reproductive rights and abortion access as a social issue — a distraction from economic justice and reforming Wall Street, which they deem the so-called real issues."

I must have missed the change in the standard Democratic vocabulary in which "social" issues were considered to not be "real" ones. The "distraction" bit echoes the 2016 Democratic primary fight, in which Clinton once seized on Bernie's criticism of Donald Trump saying that women who get an abortion should be punished to criticize Sanders for being insufficiently pro-choice. Or something. (Dan Merica, Hillary Clinton uses Trump's abortion comments to hit Sanders CNN 03/31/2017)

Bernie's campaigning for Mello has prompted jabs like this:



And rejoinders like this:



Now, I love hair-splitting ideological debates as much as the next Democrat. But if everybody in the Democratic Party can agree that the only acceptable position for a Democratic candidate is a straighforward defense of women's right to abortion, I'm all for it.

Tom Perez' DLC will no doubt start withholding party support for any candidates who stick with a Mugmump position.

Although, given the DLC's performance the last few years, having them threaten not to support you probably isn't a very scary threat!

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2017, April 21: Complications of antislavery ideology

I want to return again to Joshua Michael Zeitz' "The Missouri Compromise Reconsidered: Antislavery Rhetoric and the Emergence of the Free Labor Synthesis" Journal of the Early Republic 20:3 (Autumn 2000) to look at some of the evidence he adduces for white antislavery sentiment that also at least moved in the direction of recognizing the human rights of black people, including slaves.

Zeitz gives some examples of such expressions from white opponents of slavery and its expansion:

In 1820, as in the revolutionary period, the belief that African Americans were human beings, as well as the accompanying disbelief that humans could be ordered hierarchically, was fundamental to the position that slavery violated both natural law and God's rule of scripture. Over fifty years before, James Otis had quoted Locke in affirming that '"creatures of the same species and rank ... should also be equal one among another."' ...

The antiextensionists did not always employ scientific terms like "species" and "genus," but they nevertheless betrayed an implicit certainty that African Americans were humans, subject to the same privileges and responsibilities as all other humans. One Philadelphia columnist, writing under the pseudonym of "A Freeman," expressed his astonishment that slavery proponents would, "at this late day [maintain that] the right of one man to hold another in bondage was justifiable by the law of Nature and of God." A Vermont congressman argued "that a right to hold a fellow human being in slavery, under any term of Government, does not exist." ... However much the frequent omission of scientific terminology complicates the characterization of northern racial thinking in 1820, one critical consistency prevails: the restrictionists [opponents of slavery extension] acknowledged no inherent distinctions between men in formulating their defense of the slave's natural and religious rights. Given the improbability that these grounds could have been as liberally maintained in similar debates three decades later, the absence of a racialist idiom during the Missouri Crisis suggests that, to many northerners, it was still second nature to reiterate that''' God created all mankind equal, and endowed them with certain inalienable rights.'" [my emphasis]
This kind of thinking was very much part of the American revolutionary heritage with philosophical, religious and political aspects. Not every white citizen shared it, obviously. And in many cases the emancipatory impulse in such thinking was clearly in conflict with other attitudes. A white person could declare their faith that there are "no inherent distinctions between men" while simultaneously seriously restricting their idea of how fair equality should extent in actual practice.

Zeitz gives us a good example of that, too, which is worth quoting at some length to catch the complexity and contradictions involved:

The Baltimore newspaper editor Hezekiah Niles ruefully observed in 1819 that it was "the policy in some sections of our country, to keep the free people of color, as well as the slaves, in the grossest ignorance possible-to deprive them as far as practicable, of the capacity of reasoning and deny them the means of improvement." But Niles also expressed a cynical disdain for those starry-eyed abolitionists who "were clamorous for emancipation, without considering the consequences that must result from it." The successful manumission and cultural integration of the slave population clearly would require a preformulated plan, and that plan would rest on the assumption that the degeneracy of black America-both slave and free-was a direct but also reversible function of slavery. "[I]t is true wisdom," Niles explained, "to exalt the minds of slaves-to invest them with the correct ideas of [their] moral duties, and encourage them in the acquirement of property."
The states in which slavery is not allowed, should offer every reasonable facility and encouragement to free people of color ... and adopt some measures to lessen the prejudices and antipathies of the whites, in qualifying the blacks to attain a respectable standing in society.
Lest his broad scheme for emancipation fall victim to skeptics, the editor explained two months later that "by adventitious mixtures, the effect of common association with the whites, and the operation of climate, the dark complexion [of the African American] might in time be nearly removed, if not wholly eradicated." This great amalgamation of the American races would be actuated "by the force of certain laws whose principles we do not understand, but whose effects are manifest throughout the works of animated nature." More importantly, it would occur "without sexual intercourse." [my emphasis in bold]
There were many complicated elements to people's motivations on both sides of fight over chattel slavery. Some of them today look more noble than others. And some of the least noble ones still play an active role in American political life today.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2017, April 20: Guessing at white attitudes about slavery in 1820 and afterwards

Measuring public opinion in the present day is often challenging. When we're looking at 1820, the year of the Missouri Compromise, it's far more different. Because there was nothing like the public opinion polls of today being done. I mean, access to telephones wasn't exactly the same back then. (Yes, that's a joke. The telephone device we know was patented by of Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. Although the ever-informative Britannica Online notes, "The word telephone, from the Greek roots tēle, “far,” and phonē, “sound,” was applied as early as the late 17th century to the string telephone familiar to children, and it was later used to refer to the megaphone and the speaking tube.")

And measuring something like racial attitudes is especially tricky even for today's pollsters. One of the innovations of the famous Authoritarian Personality project directed by Max Horkheimer int he 1940s is that it used indirect questions to get at prejudices that many people would not consider respectable to express openly. After the 2016 Presidential election in the US, we've had a whole new round of discussion about the significance of white racism in politics. See, for instance, Thomas Wood, Racism motivated Trump voters more than authoritarianism Washington Post Monkey Cage Blog 04/17/2017. And the response from Digby Parton included in Did racism or a longing for authoritarian leadership elect Donald Trump? The right answer is both Salon 04/18/2017.

I've stressed in this year's series of Confederate "Heritage" Month posts the ways in which white opposition to slavery could be combined with disdain and/or hatred toward black people, even free blacks. I've relied heavily on the carefully constructed arguments on that point by historian William Freehling. And I've stressed that form of antislavery sentiment because of the particular role arguments about Northern white racism play in the neo-Confederate pseudohistorical analysis.

But what the attitudes of ordinary whites were and in what proportion and intensities has to be estimated by elections, positions taking by elected officials, legislative enactments touching on race-related issues, statements in newspapers, pamphlets and books, recorded sermons by clergy, etc. If those measurement are less than precise in 2017, making them in retrospect to 1820 involves even more estimation and inference.

One of the most famous and influential antebellum antislavery books was The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It (1857) by Hinton Helper (1829-1909). But Helper himself had overtly racist attitudes toward black people, which he publicly expressed after the Civil War. Helper served as US Consul to Argentina 1861-1866, a period which overlapped the Argentine Presidency of Bartolomé Mitre (1861-68). Helper married an Argentine woman. David Brown reports in Southern Outcast: Hinton Rowan Helper and the Impending Crisis of the South (2006) that three months after his wedding 1863, he wrote in a letter eventually transmitted to the US Secretary of State William Seward in which he addressed his wife's background. "Although his bride was a Buenos Aires native, she came from 'pure Spanish descent.' helper suggested a strong contrast between the 'pure descent' of upper-class Argentines with that of what he believed was the less worthy Creole background of the masses, highlighting the significance of blood lines in his assessment of personal character." Creole was used to refer to people of Spanish descent but born in a Latin American country. In the racial hierarchies inherited from Spanish colonial days, Spaniards from Spain were considered the more "pure" racial group, with native-born people of full Spanish descent considered the next down in the racial hierarchy.

Hinton Helper (1829-1909)

J.J. Cardoso provides an illustrative description of Helper's racial attitudes in "Hinton Rowan Helper as a Racist in the Abolitionist Camp," Journal of Negro History 55:4 (Oct 1970):

Helper never became an "uncompromising abolitionist" of the Wendell Phillips genre. He was, in fact, a colonizer in a technical sense and a racist in a real one. As a child of the predominantly non-slaveholding class of whites living in the Piedmont frontier of North Carolina, Helper's bias against slavery was indigeonus to his anti-Negro thinking. There was no room in his South or in his United States for the black man. The spectre of emancipated blacks living and associating equally in white America in pursuit of the American dream frightened and angered him. Both publicly and privately he dedicated himself to proscription of the Negro from white society. Helper's yeomen sensibilities rebelled against the idea of abolitionists encouraging the bondsmen to join in common revolution to bring about emancipation, and he divorced himself from any plan concerning racial equality. For Helper the blacks were inert chattel to be freed and removed. He reiterated the principles set forth in his book [Impending Crisis], principles which called for the southern slaveowners either to renounce the institution or to suffer the result of having it taken from them. His program was devoid of any comprehension of the all-inclusive and pervasive nature of slavery. The destruction of slavery and the removal of the Negro, for Helper, meant the creation of a truly democratic white southern society. He relied on the naive hope that middling, non-slaveholding whites would vote slavery out of existence. [my emphasis]
In an ironic twist, "Oddly, Helper's notoriety and personal association with abolitionists caused his name to be associated with [John] Brown's raid" on Harper's Ferry in 1859.

He goes on to observe that Helper's "racial attitudes perhaps epitomized those of Northern free-soilers, middling and poor southern non-slaveholders, and even Lincoln himself in 1860."

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2017, April 19: Missouri Compromise as a transition point in the pro- and antislavery narratives

Joshua Michael Zeitz in "The Missouri Compromise Reconsidered: Antislavery Rhetoric and the Emergence of the Free Labor Synthesis" Journal of the Early Republic 20:3 (Autumn, 2000) focuses on the Missouri Compromise as an historical marker of a shift in the rhetoric on both sides of the slavery issue:

In many ways, the Compromise of 1820 presents itself as a natural transition point between two very thematically and rhetorically divergent stages in the history of the antislavery movement. Arriving too late for the "Era of Good Feelings" but too early for the "Age of Jackson," the compromise found itself directly situated on the chronological divide between two distinct periods in American history-what historians normally term the "Early Republic" and "Antebellum America," respectively. Because the year 1820 and the Missouri Compromise fall awkwardly between temporal categories, they provide useful insights into the timing and nature of the critical transition between an antislavery language grounded in the culture of eighteenth-century republicanism to one founded on the principles of "free labor, free soil and free men."
Zeitz describes the emerging Free Labor narrative this way:

In the years following the War of 1812, increasingly divergent cultural patterns and disagreement over questions of political economy aroused a dormant sectionalism that had existed since the earliest days of confederation. This development in tum transformed the language and substance of the northern antislavery impulse. Grafted onto the familiar rhetoric of the revolutionary period - the easily identifiable "moral" strain of early abolitionism, as expressed in natural rights and religious terms - the new northern critique of southern society assumed moralistic undertones, even as it sterilized its opposition to human bondage. New focus was given to slavery's impact on the American nation as a whole. If the peculiar institution was objectionable in its violation of human rights, it was also invidious in its cultural consequences. Its victim was as much white America as the black slave. Using the Missouri Compromise debates as a historical lens, this interpretation is at once straightforward and paradoxical, as it portrays a political culture that was still surprisingly sympathetic to the natural and religious rights of black Americans, even as it incrementally placed them outside of its boundaries. [my emphasis]
What he describes here is a reminder that white antislavery advocates were acting from a variety of motives, without abandoning an outlook of white racial superiority. It was not only possible but very frequently the case that whites were antislavery without being anti-racist.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2017, April 18: Two results of the Missouri Compromise

Ethan Kytle's "The Contradiction at the Heart of American Democracy" (Reviews in American History 36:3; Sept 2008) is a review essay on Robert Pierce Forbes' The Missouri Compromise and Its Aftermath: Slavery and the Meaning of America (2007).

Quoting frequently from Forbes, Kytle emphasizes "that the story of American democracy cannot be told apart from the story of America slavery." Kytle discusses two key results of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which admitted Missouri as a slave state, Maine as a free state and banned slavery north of the 36°
30'parallel line. One risk that antislavery advocates worried about was the Compromise "'evasion' would lead inevitably to the conclusion that 'a free black is not a citizen' (p. 119)."

The latter response was prescient. For, as Forbes argues, the Missouri controversy had two critical legacies. One legacy was that the second compromise contained the seeds of destruction for the key antislavery measure - the 36°30' prohibition line - in the first. By providing a precedent for depriving blacks of citizenship rights, Clay's ambiguously worded bill laid the foundation for the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford decision. That decision, in turn, ruled that the 36° 30' prohibition line was unconstitutional.

The second legacy of the Missouri Compromise was convincing many Americans that slavery posed the gravest of dangers to the republic. And, in the decade following the Missouri Compromise, most American politicians took this lesson to heart, studiously avoiding the divisive issue. Thinking the slavery question too explosive, if not completely settled, northerners and southerners found themselves drawn into intersectional coalitions that tend to shock later observers. The People's Party of New York, which was led by James Tallmadge [the Congressman who set off the Missouri crisis by proposing to ban slavery there], for example, backed proslavery leader John C. Calhoun, while Georgian William Crawford received the endorsement of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.
The latter is another reminder of how the slavery issue mixed into partisan and intra-party conflicts in ways that seem bizarre, especially from today's perspective.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2017, April 17: The domestic slave trade

In my last post, I mentioned how the international slave trade illustrated the cruelty and inhumanity of the slave system.

But there was a domestic slave trade, as well. The international slave trade was forbidden in the US during the Jefferson Administration. But the domestic trade lasted as long as slavery did. And it was an even more visible sign to free citizens of the ugliness of the slave system. Even planters regarded slave traders themselves as undirable characters. Which, of course, did not lead them to refrain from utilizing their services.

J. William Harris writes in "Eugene Genovese's Old South: A Review Essay" Journal of Southern History 80:2 (May 2014) about the slave trade in the quotation below. He was explaining why Eugene Genovese's interpretation of the slave system as fundamentally a paternalistic one failed to win the agreement of so many historians. Genovese's view was that the slaveowners' paternalism involved seeing the slaves in a protective way as part of an extended household.

Studies of the slave trade have perhaps done more than any other area of research to undermine the paternalist interpretation. Research by Michael Tadman showed that, between 1820 and 1860, nearly 900,000 slaves were taken from southeastern states to those in the Old Southwest, over half through the interstate trading system. Tadman estimated that over half of all interstate sales either split husbands from wives or took children under age fifteen away from their parents. Walter Johnson's cultural history of the trade argued that slaves and slaveholders held "radically incommensurable views" of the relationship of the trade to slavery itself; for slaves it was the trade, more than the plantation, that bared the essence of a system that made the slave into a commodity, "a person with a price." Paternalism, Johnson argued, "was a way of imagining, describing, and justifying slavery rather than a direct reflection of underlying social relations"; paternalism could, indeed, be "something slaveholders could buy in the slave market," based on a fantasy that they were doing slaves a favor by purchasing them. In a separate essay, Johnson noted that many planters' expressions of paternalism appeared in comments on the deaths of favorite slaves or in postwar memoirs. Such paternalism, he wrote, "as often expressed a sort of nostalgia for dead slaves and the lost cause as it did the actively governing ideology of a ruling class" and thus "seems more properly read as a sort of a pose that slaveholders put on for one another than as a praxis through which they governed their slaves." [my emphasis]

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2017, April 16: Antislavery and "diffusion" (2)

This year, we've been looking at the Missouri Compromise of 1820 with particular reference to William Freehling's discussion of it in The Road to Disunion, Vol. 1: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854 (1990).

In both volumes of that work, Freehling gives a great deal of attention to the narratives on both sides of the slavery debate and how they evolved over time. He identifies the Missouri crisis as an important moment in that evolution. The traditional justification of slavery in the US had been a paternalist one, that slavery was lifting backward African peoples up to the level of white, European civilization. This was a view reinforced by Enlightenment assumptions about the superiority of that civilization and of linear historical progress.

The cruelty of the institution and the barbarity of the international slave trade that supplied it were daily and hourly refutations of the notion that it was in any way notable, humane or generous. But that's not to say that some substantial number of whites didn't believe it.

At the time of the Missouri Compromise, Freehling explains that a different proslavery narrative was current, if somewhat geographically confined:

The ensuing southern public debate [of ], mirroring southern congressional speeches, demonstrated a section set against both permanent slavery and outside impositions to end temporary slavery. Only in South Carolina - so often, only in South Carolina - did a southern leader advocate perpetual slavery. United States Senator William Smith, anticipating later proslavery polemics, called slavery universal throughout history, sanctioned by the Bible, honored by the Greeks, needed by infantile blacks, and exalted by the South into a patriarchal relationship between master and slave. "No class of laboring people in any country upon the globe," soared Smith, "are better clothed, better fed, or more cheerful, or labor less" than our indulged serviles.
After 1820, the "South Carolina" explanation became more common and then prominent, particularly in the Lower South states.

But in the Missouri controversy, Southerners faced a shift in the antislavery approach represented in New York Congressman James Tallmadge's proposals, which led them to embrace the "diffusion" argument previously used by opponents of slavery:

... the New Yorker's southern-style remedy [i.e., gradual emancipation] came accompanied with an anti-southern moral attack, an anti-southern bid for power, and the anti-southern idea that outsiders, not insiders, should decide slavery's fate. Tallmadge would furthermore abolish slavery not during the territorial phase of a region's development, as southern nonextensionists bad previously proposed, but during the statehood process. The shift in timing violated southern insistence that each state must decide for itself about slavery.

Southern attack on this Yankee poisoning of southern conceptions came accompanied with a crucial swerve in slaveholder thought. Speaker after southern speaker, in Congress and out, urged that spreading, not containing the institution would best create conditions for terminating bondage. This important so-called diffusion argument was not so much new as newly accepted. Land speculators, when seeking repeal of the Northwest Ordinance's ban on slavery extension, bad urged that diffusing blacks over midwestern areas would dilute southern racial anxieties and thus further racial reform. Most midwestern and southern proponents of the Northwest Ordinance had scoffed at this "liberalism."
But now they were ready to use it as a proslavery argument. One that became more cynical over time.

Gradual emancipation, which Freehling also calls Conditional Termination, was intimately connected with the diffusion argument.
And he explains that it was very much connected with the association of slavery with the presence of blacks: "The Conditional Termination mentality was a vision of getting blacks safely out, of whitening a world, of removing the race to other plains."

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2017, April 15: Antislavery and "diffusion" (1)

Continuing our discussion of William Freehling's discusion of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 with particular reference to William Freehling's discussion of it in The Road to Disunion, Vol. 1: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854 (1990), he gives a good explanation of the "diffusion" argument, which was associated with the antislavery advocates but also was used to argue against Congress restricting the spread of slavery to new states and territories.

The diffusion argument held that spreading slavery to more territories would not only weaken the institution of slavery. But also that such a diffusion was necessary to the eventual abolition of slavery. Spreading slavery is necessary to end it? Freehling asks, "Is posterity supposed to believe that Southerners believed this stuff? That expanding slavery could best end it?! That saving the institution in Missouri could best eliminate it elsewhere?! These propositions the more strain credulity because they functioned so self-servingly. What a wonderful way to feel good about a supposedly evil way to make profits: expand the profits and you will end the evil!"

And he answers, "The diffusion argument, for some Southerners all the time and for all Southerners some of the time, operated as just this kind of noxious sedative." Yet he adds, "But to dismiss diffusion as entirely cynical or self-serving is to miss a revelation of the southern mentality. From posterity's perspective, as from [New York Republican Congressman] James Tallmadge's, stopping slavery from expanding seems the path towards ending it, while allowing slavery to spread seems the trail towards saving the institution."

As Freehling details in that book, the abolition of slavery happened in northern states as the white population grew and the black slave population declined. That not only meant the reduction of the power of slaveowners in relation to competing interests, like white fears of competition from enslaved labor, concerns that slavery would undermine the (white men's) democracy, and even genuine moral and religious opposition to slavery.

Tallmadge in 1819 had offered two amendments to the statehood bill for Missouri to restrict slavery. And his proposals built on the experience of what was known as gradual emancipation in New York, in particular:

In 1817, the congressman had helped secure New York's final emancipation act, freeing all slaves ten years hence. In 1819, the Tallmadge Amendments proposed a more limited abolition, reserved exclusively for slaves thereafter born in Missouri. Tallmadge's proposed age for freeing post-nati[vity] slaves in Missouri, 25, was exactly what New York had enacted in 1799 for post-nati black females (New York post-nati males had been declared freed at 28). In 1819, Missouri had about the same small number of blacks, around 10,000, as did New York. Missouri's relatively low slave percentage, around 16%, was about the same as New York's in the colonial period. The proposed new state of Missouri, not very enslaved or very black or very far south, invited a Yankee attempt to nudge southern apologists away from procrastination.

James Tallmadge proposed Thomas Jefferson's sort of gingerly nudge. No black born before 1820 would be freed. No slave born after the law passed need be freed before 1844, or indeed ever. Nor need a large Missouri free black population ever exist. Black ratios were low, no slave could enter in the future, and blacks could be sold down river before emancipating birthdays, as had been done in Tallmadge's state. [my emphasis]
This is an important point in understanding the antebellum politics of slavery. The disappearance of slavery was associated in real history with a reduction in the relative presence of blacks. And, conversely, the presence of black people was associated with the presence of slavery. There were certainly irrational elements in that sensibility. But political opinions are not always driven by careful analysis of sociological data, to put it mildly. (Not to mention that sociology as such didn't even exist in 1820.)

It's also an important element in debunking neo-Confederate pseudohistory. One of the polemical arguments the pseudohistory makes is that the Civil War couldn't have been about ending slavery, because Yankee whites hated black people, too.

And it's true that most white Yankees had racist attitudes toward blacks, and in many cases it was virulent. That kind of hatred was on open display in violent protest and even murders against Abolitionists, and some Northern riots against free blacks. The most notorious of the latter was the anti-draft riot in New York in 1863 during the Civil War.

The implication of this argument is that white Americans in the antebellum period would only have opposed slavery if most of them embraced something that looked likely the Kennedy-Johnson liberal attitudes on race of the 1960s. That's a logical leap. But far more importantly, in the real history of the United States, hostility to slavery widely coexisted with hostility toward black people. The white Abolitionist John Brown's his egalitarian outlook on the full equality of whites and blacks was more of an outlier in the US of the 1850s than it was representative.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Syria, endless war and corporate media cheerleaders

Paul Pillar, among other experienced analysts, is wondering what if any strategic goals may have been behind Trump's apparently impulsive missile strike on Syria last week (Syria and the Call of the Quagmire The National Interest 04/06/2017):

... there has been a surge of cries to “do something” in response to a reported chemical weapons attack in Syria, which the Trump administration has answered with a cruise missile strike against a Syrian airbase. The secretary of state is talking about regime change in Syria just a week after he had appeared to rule out such change as an objective. We have heard this sort of belligerent uproar after previous battlefield developments in the Syrian war that have elicited outrage. There was an earlier reported use of chemical weapons, and several months ago there was a similar popular reaction to the situation in Aleppo in the final days before the regime recaptured the remainder of that city. These reactions are essentially expressions of mass emotion rather than a reflection of any careful consideration about what actions would or would not be in U.S. interests.
Pillar's commentary is worth reading in full. Especially worth noting is his judgment, "the make-up of whatever regime rules in Damascus is not an important U.S. interest, and certainly not important enough to warrant the costs and risks of immersion in someone else’s civil war." And he reminds us that "direct U.S. military intervention in this war carries a significant risk of escalation into a much wider war, especially when facing the large military requirements of establishing something like the much-talked-about safe zones."

In a segment titled, How will Trump foreign policy evolve after U.S. strike on Syria? 04/07/2017, the PBS Newshour featured historian Andrew Bacevich, former Under Secretary of State Sarah Sewall, and retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, former chief commander in Afghanistan of the joint International Security Assistance Force.



Allen is happy to see the escalation of the US role in Syria. And he repeated some of the worst inclinations of the current militarized policy atmosphere, in which "doing something" is always considered advisable, and "doing something" is assumed to be the use of military force:

What we have got to be very careful about is looking for all the reasons why the United States shouldn’t act. And there are plenty. We have heard them tonight. But, at some point, the United States, I believe, has a moral obligation to act.

And selling short the decision to make this attack, I think, in some respects, doesn’t take into account some very, very serious strategic minds that are at work right now. We have a secretary of defense, we have a chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and we have a national security adviser and a secretary of state who are very serious thinkers and strategic leaders. [my emphasis]
Bacevich points out that problem in Allen's approach:

We have not heard anything that remotely resembles a strategy from this president or from this administration. We now have the president’s response to the first crisis that he has faced. And the response is one to opt for military force, which, of course, has become exceedingly routine in the way we approach the world.

But this conversation, I think, reveals the difficulty. We don’t know what is the context in which this decision was made. And I think we desperately need to hear that context, to hear some vision, to get a sense of strategy.

I’m not particularly encouraged by the fact that three out of the four people that General Allen just ticked off are generals. It strikes me that that is suggestive of a mind-set that is likely to opt for force as the preferred response to almost any situation. [my emphasis]

Andrew Bacevich raised some appropriate questions:

If indeed, as some people suggest, this is a one-off event, then my guess is, a week from now, we won’t even be talking abut it, and it will quickly be forgotten.

If, as some people suggest, this shows a more assertive Trump administration, that somehow we’re going to ratchet up the pressure on the Assad regime, trying to produce regime change, then I would be very much interested in hearing more about how that is going to occur and, beyond that, if and when it occurs, if Assad is forced out, then what?

What do we think the United States will inherit, and what will the United States do with that inheritance? Recalling the situation after regime change in Iraq and Libya, you know, those seem to be the reasonable questions.
And he addresses the dangers of a foreign policy driven by unstable Presidential impulses:

A week ago, the president was largely indifferent to events in Syria. It appears that, when he saw the videotapes of the aftermath of the Syrian chemical weapons attack, he was outraged, and then basically, in about a 48-hour period, he went from being indifferent to deciding we had to attack Syria.

And I have to say that strikes me as not so much a change in policy, but really a change in impulses. We have an impulsive president. We see little in our president that suggests that he acts after serious reflection.

And so, yes, indeed, if somebody like Kim Jong-un in North Korea is reflecting on the implications of the Syrian attack, are the implications one that would cause Kim Jong-un to be more prudent, or does he say, holy cow, holy cow, we got a crazy guy on the other end of this relationship?
Sarah Sewell brings up the thorny question of how to distinguish the types of outrages that will call for which kind of American response:

First of all, if all we’re doing is a red line on chemical weapons, that’s not immaterial, but it’s really not the point. The point is that Assad is a butcher.

And so the question becomes for the civilians, do I care if I’m being gassed or I’m being hit by barrel bombs? The problem is still there.

Second, look at the Russian issue. Now we have got a much more commingled battlefield with higher risk of actual escalation. Do we really want that? Is that a smart move? What happens if something does escalate?

Third, look at the order of battle on the ground. We talk about whether or not you can use force to get a political settlement. Who are the biggest, most powerful actors among the rebels? They’re al-Qaida and ISIS.

So, even if we’re willing to commit to try to use enough force to get a negotiated settlement, we’re actually at risk of strengthening the hand of the rebels that we have nominally vowed to fight in the war on terror. [my emphasis]
That's what makes it so disturbing that the American TV coverage has so heavily focused on the show-business aspects of the "beautiful" air strikes, as Brian Williams infamously described them.

That would be this Brian Williams (Cenk Uygur's Final Judgment: Brian Williams The Young Turks 02/11/2015):



The Young Turks this year addressed Williams' war-porn attitude as well as the continuing warmongering of the mainstreame media in Corporate Media Pounding The War Drums 04/07/2017:



Fred Kaplan reminds us about how misguided the PR rah-rah approach the corporate media takes to war is (The Morning After in Syria Slate 04/07/2017):
At the start of every war that the United States has entered in the last quarter-century, much has been made—by officials, officers, and pundits—of the number of missiles fired, the brightness of the blasts, and the firm “message” that the president was sending to whatever international outlaw needed punishing.

But the real issues, which can’t be assessed at the start and usually wind up with a less burnished glow, are these: how much damage the strikes actually wreaked, how the object of the attack responds, what the president does as a follow-on, and—ultimately—how this whole sequence of events affects the rest of the war and the political struggles underlying it.

Retired Army Col. Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was Secretary of State, didn't find the strike so advisable, Wilkerson: Trump Attack on Syria Driven by Domestic Politics The Real News 04/07/2017:



Hillary Clinton and other corporate Democrats generally approved of the Syria attack, as well. So far, they haven't managed much more in the way of criticism that saying that Congress should pass a new authorization for military action so they can vote for it, and urging Trump to escalate more.

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2017, April 14: Anti-slavery as a partisan tool

In the previous post in this series, we looked at the ways in which the abolitionist cause became associated with partisan interests, including intra-party rivalries, a development that emerged in a more pronounced way with the Missouri crisis of 1819-20. Joshua Michael Zeitz provides these examples in "The Missouri Compromise Reconsidered: Antislavery Rhetoric and the Emergence of the Free Labor Synthesis" Journal of the Early Republic 20:3 (Autumn 2000):

In retrospect, the more that he pondered its dynamics, the more certain Thomas Jefferson grew that the Missouri Crisis had been orchestrated for political purposes by a group of sly Federalist operatives. "The Missouri question is a mere party trick," he wrote to Charles Pinckney, several months after Congress formulated the well known 36 °30' line. "The leaders of federalism, defeated in their schemes of obtaining power by rallying partisans to the principle of monarchism ... are taking advantage of the virtuous feelings of the people to effect a division of parties by a geographical line." Former President James Madison agreed that the proponents of slavery restriction shared "an object very different from the welfare of the slaves," while his successor and Virginia neighbor, President James Monroe, was certain that the sole intent of the antislavery forces was "undoubtedly to acquire power."
As time went on, this position looked more and more like a cynical defense of slavery. Which it surely always was to some degree, depending on the person.

But politics is a tribal affair, as we are constantly reminded. Partisan loyalties grow over time and become connected to a variety of social, cultural, class and political interests and issues. And there is also a strong temptation to regard the other side as acting in bad faith in their use of issues. Which, as we see regularly, is often actually the case.

The antislavery issue became associated with Northern Democrats, the remnants of the Federalist Party (notably the archetypical conservative Daniel Webster), the Whigs and eventually the Republicans. But the antislavery advocates were also often associated with a tendency to favor government by wealthy industrial and banking elites, support for the Bank of the United States, and opposition to the expansion of the right to vote. The sectional alignments were primarily though not exclusively based on slavery, but sectionalism also functioned as a distinct source of political alignments.

We shouldn't lose sight on the main point, that slavery was wrong and incompatible with democracy and democratic freedoms. As we've also seen, the ways in which the slave system in practice imposed more and more obvious restrictions on democracy for whites in both slave and free states. And that meant that white voters had a rational selfish reason for hating slavery. That meant that antislavery sentiment could be and often was associated with hatred of black people, as well. Or, in another way of putting it, white voters and politicians could be "sincerely" and practically opposed to slavery and/or its expansion, while not being "sincere" in expressing concern for the well-being of the black slaves themselves.

Zeitz continues:

By December 1820 [the year the Missouri Compromise was concluded] Jefferson could assure his old friend, Marquis de Lafayette, that the debate had not been "a moral question, but one merely of power." Eight months later he detected no more lasting harm done than that the episode had "given resurrection to the Hartford Convention men." Some three years after the crisis had passed, the sage of Monticello remained indignant that "the people of the North [had been] blindfolded into the snare [and had] followed their leaders for awhile with a zeal truly moral and laudable, until they became sensible" that the Missouri question had been "got up" under a "false front."
We don't have to take such claims as those by Jefferson just quoted at face value. He was a retired politician, but very much a politician, diplomat and polemicist nevertheless. However, understanding the role that this claim played is important to understanding the evolution of the slavery debate at that time.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Pod Pundits celebrate war (Yes, I know, what else is new?)

This is both disappointing and fascinating. But, sadly, not surprising. I mean the giddiness of our Pod Pundits after the Syrian missile strike last week. Followed by the MOAB bomb drop in Afghanistan this week.

It's on full display in this Morning Joe segment from today, Trump White House Undergoes Shift In Policy And Tone Toward Foreign Policy MSNBC 04/12/2017:



And in this one, Ignatius: President Donald Trump Becoming Credible Foreign Policy Leader 04/14/2017



This is a symptom of the problem that Gregory Daddis describes in the Army War College's quarterly journal Parameters (Faith in War: The American Roots of Global Conflict 46:4 Winter 2016–17):

If subversive Islamic fundamentalists selectively interpret the sacred text of the Qurʾān to justify violence, is it possible Americans are equally discriminatory when defending their own, seemingly moral, obligations for waging war? In truth, much of America’s deployment of military power during the last 50 years, even back to the early twentieth century, rested on a set of absolute beliefs, convictions amounting to a sort of secular fundamentalism. Policymakers and citizens alike possess an enduring faith that the United States, via its military forces, has the power to transform societies abroad.
Some of the more sober commentary on this matter includes:

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2017, April 13: Slavery vs. democracy (even for whites) in the Missouri crisis

In my last post in this series, I referred to the intriguing but challenging analysis of the evolution of the slavery issue by William Freehling in The Road to Disunion, Vol. 1: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854 (1990) with particular reference to the Missouri crisis of 1819-1820. And I mentioned how the three-fifths clause of the Constitution set up a situation which, over time, became more and more obviously a limitation of democracy for whites. And for the most part, American democracy then was restricted to adult white men. When the more radical democrats talked about defending needs of the common man, they mainly really did mean man.

What we now call the Missouri crisis is understood to have begun when the Missouri Territory, which had been part of the Louisiana Purchase, applied for admission to the Union as a state. New York Republican Congressman James Tallmadge, Jr. (1778–1853) introduced a bill to require the phased elimination of slavery in Missouri as a condition of admission as a state. On February 16 of that year, he declared in Congress (from Annals of Congress):

Sir, ... my purpose is fixed, it is interwoven with my existence, its durability is limited with my life, it is a great and glorious cause, setting bounds to a slavery the most cruel and debasing the world ever witnessed; it is the freedom of man; it is the cause of unredeemed aud unregenerated human beings.

Sir, if a dissolution of the Union must take place, let it be so! If civil war, which gentlemen so much threaten, must come, I can only
say, let it come! My hold on life is probably as frail as that of any man who now hears me; but, while that hold lasts, it shall be devoted to the service of my country - to the freedom of man. If blood is necessary to extinguish any fire which I have assisted to kindle, I can assure gentlemen, while I regret the necessity, I shall not forbear to contribute my mite. Sir, the violence to which gentlemen have resorted on this subject will not move my purpose, nor drive me from my place, I have the fortune and the honor to stand here as the representative of freemen, who possess intelligence to know their rights, who have the spirit to maintain them. Whatever might be my own private sentiments on this subject, standing here as the representative of others, no choice is left me. l know the will of my constituents, and, regardless of consequences, I will avow it; as their representative, I will proclaim their hatred to slavery in every shape; as their representative, here will I hold my stand, until this floor, with the Constitution of my country which supports it, shall sink beneath me. [my emphasis]
Freehling explains the sectional resentment of Yankee critics of slavery in this way:

Another southern state, Yankees argued, meant more illegitimate political power for the South, more slaveholding Presidents, more northern politicians relegated to undeservedly inferior positions. The North was not yet ready to slice the three-fifths clause from an otherwise healthy Constitution. The better remedy earlier seemed to be containment of the disease. James Tallmadge would slowly eliminate a new state's slaves and thus prevent the three-fifths clause from swelling the Slavepower. This proposal showed no concern for blacks. Instead, for the first of many times, Northerners demanded their own liberation from slaveholders' unrepublican rule. [my emphasis]
The view of slavery as a limit to or diminution of (white) democracy combined with the changing understanding of slavery in free and slave states and with the lessons that critics of slavery drew from the experience of abolishing slavery in Northern states to produce a strange result, in which opposition to slavery was often merged with hostility and active hatred toward blacks. Freehling's reference to Tallmadge's proposal "showed no concern for blacks" in his Missouri proposal is probably too harsh a judgment. But it references how the abolitionist viewpoint at that time was heavily influenced by the belief that "diffusion" of the slaves over a broader territory was key to the ultimate abolition of slavery. These are issues we'll examine further in following posts.

Freehling also quotes New York Sen. Rufus King (1755–1827), who had been the Federalist Party's last Presidential candidate in 1816, on the Missouri controversy:

Proponents of Tallmadge's Amendments admitted that they sought only white men's egalitarianism. I have no business with slavery as a social system over blacks, Rufus King declared. I oppose slavery's expansion because it bears upon whites' "great political interests." The three-fifths clause would rob Northerners of all "political power or influence in the Union. The slave region will parcel out the great offices, will determine all questions," and will forever "remain our Masters."
That reference to Southern slaveowners acting as masters to white citizens of the North was an expression of the deep and ultimately irreconcilable contradiction of democracy and republican principles, on the one hand, and slavery, on the other.

And that difference also manifested itself felt in practical politics, both as Federalists vs. Republicans, as North/South differences within the Democratic Party and later as differences within the Whig Party, as well as various factional manifestations along the way. Only with the formation of the Republican Party in 1854 was there a major party committed to antislavery principles. And its position was to contain slavery, as Tallmadge attempted to do with the admission of Missouri, not to abolish it within states where it existed.

Another prominent New York Republican Congressman who co-sponsored the Tallmadge Amendment was John Taylor (1784–1854), who would later become Speaker of the House. William Johnson ("Prelude to the Missouri Compromise" Arkansas Historical Quarterly 2:1 (Spring 1965), described Taylor's approach in an attempt to extend the proposed antislavery provision from the incoming state of Missouri to the Arkansas Territory, as well:

Now, in 1819, along with his colleague Tallmadge and the other restrictionists, Taylor was attempting to exclude the institution of slavery from all United States territory west of the Mississippi, except for Louisiana which had already entered the Union as a Slave State. He had good reason to be confident of success since many of the Southerners conceded that Congress had full constitutional authority to legislate concerning slavery in a Territory, although they insisted that no such right existed in the case of a State. If Taylor could only maintain the Northern majority achieved by the restrictionists in the vote on Missouri, the task would be accomplished.
An admiring biographical article from 1920 gushed, "During the Missouri controversy [Taylor] had had no equal in boldness, persistency, or vigilance." (D. S. Alexander, "John W. Taylor" Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association 1:2; Jan 1920)

Here I want to call particular attention to the fact that slavery had now become a partisan club in conventional politics. Freehling:

Southerners answered that jealous Rufus Kings and James Tallmadges sought the White House, not equality for whites. That cynicism both shrewdly diagnosed and partially ignored northern malaise. Yankees assuredly resented Virginians' power. But Northerners' sorest point was that the Slavepower's unequal ascendency defied the new egalitarian wisdom. If black slaves were allowed to spread, areas of white men's egalitarianism would further shrink: that was the political fire ignited in the North. [my emphasis]
Political motives on major issues are typically overdetermined. The fact that a moral issue became useful in partisan disputes doesn't mean that there is no moral issue involved. That antislavery politicians focused on the cost of slavery to free whites doesn't mean that their attacks on slavery were a matter of indifference to black slaves and their future. Freehling usefully calls attention to the partisan incentives for politicians on both sides of the slavery issue:

Of the 18 Yankees who either voted the South's way [on the Missouri Compromise] or (as helpfully) voted not at all, only one was a Federalist. The 17 northern Republicans who leaned southwards talked publicly of saving the Union. They also feared privately that a Rufus King triumph on Missouri might revitalize the Federalist Party. Their attitudes, partisan and nonpartisan, prefigured the opportunity the minority South would seize again and again to control the North-dominated House of Representatives in pre-Civil War crises. In the Missouri Controversy, as later, the minority South could secure no concessions on slavery from northern nationalists, Federalist or Whig. But appeals to Union and party could attract some saving Yankee states' righters, Jeffersonian or Jacksonian.

In the Missouri Controversy, as later, the South needed only a few Yankee allies because the Slavepower possessed extra House power. The three-fifths clause, the most important reason why the James Tallmadges fought the enslavement of Missouri, ultimately defeated the Tallmadge Amendments. In a House apportioned sheerly on white numbers, the South would have had 17 fewer members in 1820. The Slavepower needed almost all those 17 boosts in power to defeat Tallmadge by three votes. [my emphasis]

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2017, April 12: Missouri Compromise and the three-fifths clause

Returning to William Freehling's 1990 The Road to Disunion, Vol. 1: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854, he explains some critical ways in which the Missouri Compromise marked a new stage in the argument over slavery, a stage that differed notably from previous such controversies. And it framed later controversies over slavery, including the annexation of Texas and Texas statehood, until the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 exploded the Missouri Compromise's pact that slavery would not be allowed in new states above the 36°30' parallel.

One key element of the situation in 1920 was the growing northern concern about the disproportionate representation of slave state whites due to the infamous "three-fifths clause" of the Constitution of 1789. That was part of another famous Compromise. I'll let the reliably stodgy Britannica Online explain, from the article Constitution of the United States (internal links omitted):

The Constitution was the product of political compromise after long and often rancorous debates over issues such as states’ rights, representation, and slavery. Delegates from small and large states disagreed over whether the number of representatives in the new federal legislature should be the same for each state — as was the case under the Articles of Confederation — or different depending on a state’s population. In addition, some delegates from Northern states sought to abolish slavery or, failing that, to make representation dependent on the size of a state’s free population. At the same time, some Southern delegates threatened to abandon the convention if their demands to keep slavery and the slave trade legal and to count slaves for representation purposes were not met. Eventually the framers resolved their disputes by adopting a proposal put forward by the Connecticut delegation. The Great Compromise, as it came to be known, created a bicameral legislature with a Senate, in which all states would be equally represented, and a House of Representatives, in which representation would be apportioned on the basis of a state’s free population plus three-fifths of its slave population. (The inclusion of the slave population was known separately as the three-fifths compromise.) [my emphasis in bold]
This created a bonus number of Congressional Representatives for slave states. As Sanford Levinson comments, "That compromise gave slave-owning states a bonus in the House of Representation and the Electoral College by counting slaves among those 'represented,' even though this was obviously a complete fiction." (Three-Fifths Compromise Was an Understandable Deal on Slavery New York Times 07/01/2015)

As always, it's important to keep in mind the extent as well as the limits of what American democracy was at this time. When the Constitution was written, the Framers were setting up a government for a democracy of white men, whose ability to vote could be and was subject to property requirements if states and localities so decided. Neither black men nor women or Native Americans were considered to eligible to vote by right.

Judith Wellman in The Road to Seneca Falls (2004) notes that New Jersey's 1776 constitution had extended the vote to women and blacks, subject to age and property requirements. "In 1807, however, the legislature used the occasion of widespread fraud in one local election to exclude women from voting. At the same time, they virtually eliminated property qualifications for adult white males." A great example in which an important step of progress (eliminating property qualifications) came joined at the hip with a huge step backward for the rights of women. It's also a reminder that real mischief can be done in the name of combating "voter fraud."

But it was also the case in 1789 that the Constitution envisaged a wider access to male suffrage and democratic control of government than European governments. This Getting the Vote website from the UK National Archives explains suffrage rights in Britain:

In early-19th-century Britain very few people had the right to vote. A survey conducted in 1780 revealed that the electorate in England and Wales consisted of just 214,000 people - less than 3% of the total population of approximately 8 million. In Scotland the electorate was even smaller: in 1831 a mere 4,500 men, out of a population of more than 2.6 million people, were entitled to vote in parliamentary elections. Large industrial cities like Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester did not have a single MP between them, whereas 'rotten boroughs' such as Dunwich in Suffolk (which had a population of 32 in 1831) were still sending two MPs to Westminster. The British electoral system was unrepresentative and outdated.
By 1820, the premium representations the slave states were getting from the three-fifths clause were looking more and more "unrepresentuive and outdated."

The Senate itself was set up to give each state equal representation, which gave power in the Senate to less populated states equal to that of the most populated ones. And still does, for that matter. In 2017, California with its population of 39 million has the same number of Senators as Wyoming has with its 586 thousand. An individual voter's vote in Wyoming counts for a lot more in the Senate than one in California.

Democratic trends in American history have ebbed and flowed. Often at the same time. But the trend toward more democracy and equality was there. And as time went on since the ratification of the Constitution, the slavery bonus in representation from the three-fifths clause was looking less and less democratic to the voters of the free states. Freehling describes the initial arrangement established by the Constitution as "aristocratic Union." He writes, "Both North and South had to give in a little if aristocratic Union was to begin. Hence the resulting compromise, with each white counting as one soul and each slave as three-fifths of a human when apportioning each state's share of House seats."

It would be misleading to think of the ruling elite of 1787 as an aristocracy like those of Europe in the sociological-economic sense. But if we take "aristocratic" as a description of style and attitude, it gives us a useful perspective. Freehling argues that initially, "The three-fifths clause only slightly boosted the Slavepower's power." But he also points out, "If no three-fifths clause had existed and House
apportionment had been based strictly on white numbers, [John] Adams would have likely squeaked by, 63-61" in the Presidential election of 1800. It's understandable that even a "slight" boost that could make the difference in a Presidential election would be cause for concerned by the disadvantaged parties.

But the time, they were a'changin':

The nineteenth-century change from elitist to egalitarian republican sensibilities·best explains why the first mainstream northern assault on the Slavepower came not after the American Revolution but 40 years later, during the transition from the Age of Jefferson to the Age of Jackson. The three-fifths clause, which seemed republican according to aristocratic assumptions of the Age of the American Revolution, became anti-republican according to egalitarian assumptions of the Age of the Common Man. In state legislatures, city councils, and national presidential elections, leaders and followers insisted that the people, not the propertied, must rule. "The people" meant adult white males, ruling on a one-citizen, one-vote base. The three-fifths clause, awarding the Slavepower extra representatives for enslaved noncitizens, was the most anti-republican relic of a repudiated political outlook.
As we'll see in later posts, the rising hostility to slavery and the slave power in the free states was not exclusively, or even primarily, a matter of moral concern, though that concern was real for many whites, as well. But as we see in this look at the three-fifths clause, the existence of slavery was diminishing and inhibiting democracy among the white males who were its only full citizens at that time. And the contradiction between slavery and democracy became stronger and more evident as the years went on.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2017, April 11: Missouri crisis as a turning point

I've learned a lot about the evolution of the slavery issue in the US from the work of William Freehling, particularly in his two-volume The Road to Disunion. In the first volume, Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854 (1990), he writes about the Missouri crisis, which he here calls the Missouri Controversy:

According to the current conventional wisdom, the South gave up the attempt to abolish slavery after reformers' first real test. The Missouri Controversy of 1819-20 supposedly annihilated "Jeffersonian antislavery," with Thomas Jefferson himself slaying his offspring. Jefferson's 1820 letter after the Missouri Compromise to Congressman John Holmes is the supposed critical proof that the Sage of Monticello drew close to John C. Calhoun.

Jefferson's Holmes letter does reveal revised tactics. But this and other evidence hardly shows that southern apologists became warriors for slavery's perpetuation. Instead, the Missouri Controversy scared the Jeffersons towards new efforts to remove slaves from America.
I plan to discuss his analysis further in following posts.

But Freehling makes several points critical to understanding how the slavery issue played out in real time. The Missouri crisis was an inflection point in various ways. After that time, the typical justifications of slavery changed from the necessary evil kind of justification favored by Jefferson to the Calhounian defense of slavery as a good thing and the necessary foundation for white republican civilization. It also marked a turning point in which Northern Republicans and the remnants of the Federalist Party embraced emancipation as a partisan club to use against the southern Republicans and the Jacksonian Democrats north and south. And it marked a public outbreak of the real contradictions between democracy and slavery, and between democracy and the economic liberalism of the time. American slavery was a capitalist institution. And the defense of private property in the US of 1820 also meant the defense of private property in human flesh, which is what slavery was.