January 24, 2013
Steven Speilberg’s movie Lincoln portrays the 16th president’s actions to have the Thirteenth Amendment adopted to abolish slavery, end the Civil War, and reunite the country. Passage of the Amendment required passage in the House of Representatives. What captured my attention pursuant to the Amendment’s passage was focused mainly upon the acrimonious debate between Fernando Wood , Lee Pace acting, and Thaddeus Stevens, Tommy Lee Jones acting the role. Their dramatic confrontational firebrand rhetoric and acrimonious debating style displayed that underlying the discussion was assumed the prevailing view of most people regarding race, all colored people slave or free. The scene has Stevens’ politically crafty reply to Wood’s and his colleague George Pendelton’s insistent questioning whether he endorsed social equality for African-Americans: I don’t hold equality in all things, just equality before the law, nothing more”. Viewing the movie twice I wished to be sure of Stevens reply. Who were these debate protagonists and what was their stance on the race question? Both Wood and Stevens were important personages with whom I became familiar in graduate school.
Fernando Wood was leader of the New York Tamanny Hall Democratic political machine, erstwhile mayor of New York, member of Congress 1863-1865. As mayor he supported the Confederacy and suggested New York secede from the Union to continue the profitable cotton in place to maintain revenues needed for patronage. The war was viewed as War of Northern Aggression and he considered national union with slavery as essential. The political cost, in Wood’s view, of having New York citizens fight for a war to end slavery as too costly. During the Civil War he proved to be an obstructive political problem for Lincoln. George Pendelton , Wood’s colleague, an enraged lame duck Ohio antiwar Democrat from Ohio joined the fray. He had been nominated for vice-president in the election of 1864 as a peace Democrat running with war Democrat George McClellan
Thaddeus Stevens, congressman from Pennsylvania, was a key leader of the Radical Republican faction, himself a radical abolitionist, and a consistent opponent of slavery. Two decades prior to the Civil War he fought against what was seen as the Southern Slave Power blocking the progress of liberty. The “abolition of slavery became his primary political and personal focus”. (Wikipedia) He actively had supported the Underground Railroad aiding runaway slaves to safety in Canada. Stephens advocated total war and was opposed to restoring the Union with slavery preserved. Emancipation of the slaves as war aim was essential to weaken and destroy the Southern slavery economy and, thus, undermine the rebellion. Steven’s shared leadership in the passage of the 13th Amendment that assured outlawing slavery and involuntary servitude. Later as the Radical Republican leader during the Period of Reconstruction he fought for securing justice for the Freedmen. Stevens was instrumental in drafting prior to his death 1868 both the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing rights of citizenship for the Freedmen and also the Reconstruction Act of 1867. He was buried in an integrated cemetery.
Protagonist’s Debate Rhetoric
Fernando Wood: “Estimable colleagues. Two bloody years ago this month, his Highness, King Abraham Africanus the First – our Great Usurping Caesar, violator of habeas corpus and freedom of the press, abuser of states’ rights – (brief interlude) Radical republican autocrat ruling by fiat and martial law affixed his name to his heinous and illicit Emancipation Proclamation . . . He claimed as tyrants do, that the war’s emergencies permitted him to turn our army into the unwilling instrument of his monarchical ambitions and radical Republicanisms abolitionist fanaticism! His Emancipation Proclamation has obliterated millions of dollars worth of personal property rights and ‘liberated’ the hundreds of thousands of hopelessly indolent Negro refugees, bred by nature for servility, to settle in squalor in our Northern cities! But all that is not enough for this dictator, who now seeks to insinuate his miscegenist pollution into the Constitution itself!” (after a brief interlude) George Pendelton interjected addressing Thaddeus Stevens: “what is natural, in your opinion? Nigghas casting ballots? Niggrah representatives? Is that natural, Stevens? Intermarriage?” Thaddeus Stevens replied to the racist rhetoric of Wood and Pendelton with simple and savvy political reply: “I don’t hold equality in all things, just equality before the law, Nothing More.” (cfr. tumblr.)
The racist view of Wood and Pendelton is blatantly proclaimed in their political rhetoric, namely, “abolitionist fanaticism, heinous and illicit Emancipation Proclamation, hopelessly indolent Negro refugees, bred by nature for servility, miscegenist pollution, and intermarriage”, finally, political and social rights contrary to nature. Had Thaddeus Stevens responded with radical abolitionist racial views in their fulness advancing Negro political ,social, and racial equality that would have placed passage of the 13th Amendment in peril. It should be kept in mind that most whites north or south had the view that Negroes slave or free were racially inferior and without merit as to social or political equality with whites. Enough to simply state: just equality before the law, nothing more.
Interpretive observations – see Spielberg gets Lincoln Wrong by Kelly Cabdele, LA Review of books. Spielberg’s movie epic Lincoln has generated debate among historians and journalists. Despite Lincoln’s great accomplishment there is considerable debate as to historical accuracy and limited context of the film. Especially notable is the virtual inviisibility of the blacks as having a fundamental role in their own liberation. “Despite Lincoln’s great accomplishment historians overturned long ago a Lincoln- centered view of emancipation. The destruction was a process by which slavery collapsed under the pressure of federal arms and the slaves’ determination to place their own liberty on the wartime agenda . . . how slaves accomplished their own libertion and shaped the destiny of the nation”.
January 3, 2013
New Year Eve Day a StarTribune op-ed was titled: WHEN THE WATCHWORD WAS FREEDOM. Wallace Alcorn observes: “One hundred and fifty years ago this evening, on New Year’s Eve 1862, thousands of black people across the South Carolina sea islands surrounding Port Royal Sound gathered in their small churches for another Watch Night Service . . . Although they understood they had received spiritual freedom, they remained slaves – at the stroke of midnight, they would become free men and women.” Alcorn explains: “Here at Port Royal 150 years ago, these slaves were freed by the Proclamation, because it pertained to Union held territory within the Confederate States, and the Union Army was occupying the area.” Enforcement of the Proclamation and freeing of all slaves waited one and a half years for the ending of the war and enactment of the 13th Amendment.
New Year’s Day mid-morning the Becketwood Man Cave habitual visitors met with Happy New Year greetings and then on to discussion. Dominating the conversation was the previous day’s op-ed: WHEN THE WATCHWORD WAS FREEDOM. Read more
November 5, 2012
Four days prior to the General Election Dr. Charles (Chuck) Graham presented a lecture: Why We Love To Hate Politician. His audience was his fellow Becketwood Cooperative members. Known as Chuck here at Becketwood he is beloved and respected and a stimulating contributor to Mancave discussion. With a doctorate in political science he served as an aid to Senator Proxmire of Wisconsin in Washington, served as professor, and is President Emeritus of St. Cloud and Hamline Universities. I took notes of his lecture much as I did as an undergraduate and graduate student. Because of interest and relevance to the current political scene I share my notes. I realize consideration of the subjectivity of what I recorded is to be taken into account. But I attempted to be faithful in recording what I heard.
Why do politicians behave as they do? Why the often negative view of politicians? As Mark Twain put it politicians are “Like diapers need changing and for the same reasons.” Running down politicians is sport for many. Politicians have to please their constituents but this is a very difficult thing to do. Politicians have to speak in generalities to avoid offending. Only recourse is to dodge matters and hedge their statements. Campaign rhetoric can be a hazard and backfire. Recall Romney’s recent attack on Sesame Street’s Big Bird, or his undercutting FEMA prior to Sandy and his need in recent days to support FEMA. Politicians have to tread a fine line having to be politically realistic and also champion the personal mandate of ideological principle. Recall President George H.W. Bush campaign rhetoric “Read my lips – No new Taxes.” The realistic necessity of “new taxes” may very well be the cause of his one term presidency. Life is, therefore, very difficult for the politician due to the very complexity of the voter constituencies in terms of religion and ethnicity. Nineteenth century American political landscape, on the other hand, was rather uniform – rural, agricultural, Protestant, and white. A much more welcoming context for the politician.
Europe has a multiparty political system. Each political area has proportionate representation. Our system having one party candidates makes it necessary to seek allies inside the party. This leads to contention. We think in terms of groups and not as individuals. This necessitates building coalitions. Consider the New Deal coalition of FDR joining Southern conservatives with Northern business interests. The parties are after the same constituents. Sharp opinions are expressed often with vitriolic language. This results in the need for negativity in the give-and-take of American democratic politics. Negativity is further increased in our contemporary political system influenced by TV political advertising. There is a need for political compromise but gridlock seems inevitable. Politicians need to make deals and compromise. Politicians must determine for principle (their mandate) or compromise. Which shall it be? Added to this is the need for campaign funding. “Deep Pockets” become involved but those interests are not for all and may represent political extremes. It is hard to have democracy function well with extreme divisive issues such as abortion or gay marriage.
Dr. Graham suggested that actually Romney and Obama are really rather close in viewpoint ( observe how in view of Hurricane Sandy Romney now embraces a role for FEMA). Once in office in either case the parties can come together in political compromise.
The 100th birthdays of Ronald Reagan and Hubert Humphrey occurred early this year. Rick Perlstein’s op ed, America’s Forgotten Liberal, appeared in the NY Times on 5/27/2011. Humphrey is that forgotten liberal. Perlstein is the author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. Perlstein opines that “our current malaise as a nation” is the result of Humphrey’s razor-thin defeat and Nixon’s election in 1968. The Nixon presidency lead to the fracturing of America Read more
Conversation in the Becketwood Mancave (basement workroom) recently had a Yankee GI veteran describe a confrontation he had with segregation in the Jim Crow wartime South. A gentleman in his early nineties and a quietly reserved Mancave regular, raised in Minnesota, stated he had virtually no awareness of or interaction with African-Americans prior to military training in the South during WWII. He recalls his dismay and lack of understanding as to either the nature, history, social context, or rationale of Jim Crow racial segregation he experienced in the South.. Why separate black and white water fountains, rest and waiting rooms? Read more
September 30, 2012
As family archivist my sister recently placed into my care some of our father’s courtship correspondence with our mother spanning the years 1916 through 1919. Among the letters was a Chicago Tribune clipping, yellow with age, describing Chicago’s celebration of the Armistice with Germany, November 11, 1918. After some thought the presence of these clippings included among her prized love letters was for me not too surprising.
On one occasion I recall asking my mother at her rather advanced age what events in her life stood out in memory. Without hesitation she announced: “The Two Wars”. Read more
April, 6, 2011
The Republican Party controlled both houses of Congress in 1947-1948. During the presidential campaign of 1948 – “The Give Em’ Hell Harry” campaign – Truman attacked the 80th. Congress as “The Do Nothing Congress”. After 14 years out of power The GOP attempted to undo the New Deal of FDR and the Fair Deal program of Truman (New Deal approach). It was assumed the GOP candidate Tom Dewey would easily gain the election. Remember the Chicago Tribune headline: DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN? Read more
September 18, 2012
The liberal magazine Mother Jones divulged today that Romney last May in a mischievous secret video divided the electorate into makers and moochers. Speaking to wealthy donors he characterized 47% of the electorate as “dependent on government” and folks who “believe they are victims”. These are those, Romney continued, “who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them. Who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing”. They represent virtually half the population and pay no federal income tax. They will vote , he notes, for President Obama. Just who are the 47% so dependent on government? Many of those lumped into the ” Dependency” group are those who benefit from the “entitlement state”. They are middle class more than the dependent poor. Many, as well, are Republican elderly who along with many middle class folk in general have no love for big government. Read more
September 9, 2012
My current reading includes Richard J. Evans’ The Third Reich in Power (2005), an account of peacetime Nazi rule 1933-39 emphasizing economic and cultural events. This work is the second volume in Evan’s magisterial The Third Reich Trilogy (2003 -2008), a work as one reviewer asserts, “a masterpiece of historical scholarship”. The Prologue sets the stage for explanation of the rapid establishment of the totalitarian regime in 1933 known as the Third Reich. Adolf Hitler’s appointment as chancellor in January 1933 led to the Nazi seizure of power and the dictatorship of one-party totalitarian control. Read more
August 30, 2012
The Second Annual Bartling Lecture is scheduled at Concordia University in St. Paul October 17th, 11:45-12:45. This convocation lecture will be given by Donna Gabbaccia of the University of Minnesota Department of History. Among her varied specialties is included US immigration history. Her impressive resume can be accessed at http://www.ihrc.um.edu/whoWeAre/profile.php?UID=drg.
Professor Cabaccia provides the following description of her lecture.
“Does the freedom to move exist? And if not, who should hold the power to limit human mobility and under what conditions? My lecture asks the audience to consider these questions through a look at world and American history. Read more