Friday, April 13, 2012

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2012, April 13: Events leading to the Civil War

There is a website called Baptists and the American Civil War: In Their Own Words whose self-description is as follows:

Baptists and the American Civil War: In Their Own Words is a digital project created and authored by historian Bruce T. Gourley .... The documentary material is drawn from a wide range of sources, both online and offline, with citations and source links allowing interested readers to further explore items of particular interest.
The site includes blurbs from religion scholar Martin Marty and historian Paul Harvey.

It's a site with interesting and useful information. For instance, this undated page by Gourley, The Politics of the Civil War, gives a number of links to sources on the Civil War and to information about particular events leading up to it. Here are the events that as of this writing he lists, with my comments:

  • South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification (1832): nominally about tariffs, this represented a dry run for nullification and secession directed behind the scenes by John C. Calhoun, the intellectual and political godfather of the secession and the Civil War. Calhoun understood very well that it was about slavery.
  • United States Force Bill (1833): The law with which Andrew Jackson crushed South Carolina's treasonous effort. A slaveowner and a supporter of slavery himself, Jackson understood that this threat from the Calhounites represented a potentially fatal attack on American democracy, and he chose the side of democracy in that fight. He also defined American patriotism as democratic patriotism, which to this day defines progressive concepts of patriotism in the United States. I wish I could say it defines American patriotism generally to this day, and in some sense it does; most Americans assume that democracy is synonymous with patriotism. But it's also clear that for many Republicans, patriotism means little more than nationalist jingoism. Nor is the Democratic Party entirely free of that problem. Jackson would have suppressed the effort by force if South Carolina had not backed down.
  • American Anti-Slavery Society Manifesto (1833): Yes, It Was About Slavery ... (the title of another of Gourley's post; he should probably date these pieces)
  • Wilmot Proviso (1846): The dispute over the extension of slavery that resulted from the Mexican War, which President James Polk initiated with the enthusiastic support of Southern slaveowners who wanted to acquire more territory for slavery, and which many abolitionists, including Congressman Abraham Lincoln, opposed for that same reason.
  • Compromise of 1850: Gourley notes, "Extremists on both sides were upset with the Compromise, none more so than Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina." By the standards of today's star pundits whose worship at the altar of Centrism, that would by definition make it good. In fact, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 - insisted upon by Southerners who in this case as in all others didn't hesitate to override "states rights" when doing so was in defense of slavery - that was part of this toxic compromise infuriated many people in free states, and didn't stop Southerners from further attempts to impose the Slave Power's demands on the whole country.
  • Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854): Another case in which an alleged compromise solution dramatically escalated tensions over slavery. A mini-civil war broke out in Kansas Territory, in which no one doubted that the central issue was slavery. It was in this conflict that John Brown first earned national fame as an antislavery guerrilla fighter.
  • Republican Party Platform (1856): Yes, it was still about slavery. Southerners referred to the new Republican Party as "Black Republicans". Strange to think today, the Republican Party could genuinely be said to have had a revolutionary platform, aimed at ending the institution of slavery by confining it within its current bounds, thus insuring that slave states would hold a minority of seats in the Senate as well as the House.
  • Dred Scot v. Sandford (1857): Surely the worst, most destructive Supreme Court ruling in American history, a reminder that respect for the Supreme Court doesn't mean that citizens have to look the other way when the Court takes a decision that represents a clear danger for American democracy, and this one clearly did. In fact, it pretty much made the Civil War inevitable. Heckuva job by the Slave Power-dominated Supreme Court!
  • Crittenden Compromise (1860): A last-ditch attempt to "compromise" with the Slave Power in such a way that slavery could in practice never be abolished under the Constitution. Fortunately, it failed. In any case, it was too late to avoid Civil War by any further compromise on the part of the free states. It was either confront the slave states' treasonous secession, or surrender for good on the issue of slavery.
And, yes, it was about slavery!

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