Monday, April 27, 2015

Sesquicentennial, Part XLVIII: Epilogue, Part 3: ... And Dropping Them


"I yield to no one precedence in love for the South. But because I love the South, I rejoice in the failure of the Confederacy." -- Woodrow Wilson, March 1880

Is it possible to lose a war but win the peace?

Of course it is. You need look no further than Germany or Japan. If you had told one of the survivors, starving in blasted-out ruins in 1945, that in only a few short decades their nations would stand near the top of the entire world in economic growth, they'd have thought you insane. Looking back from 1970, though, it was fairly clear: Japan and Germany, far from being impoverished conquered provinces, were very wealthy and very free. They both lost their war, and by 1970 no one was all that heart-broken about it.

(As an aside, it's ironic that a liberalized and democratized Germany and Japan have achieved most of the goals that their totalitarian masters had set for influence and prosperity. But I digress.)

So it was with the South, more or less. They lost the war for independence, yes. But the patience of the Northern taxpayer would not last forever. And there were projects the Northern taxpayer had no real interest in undertaking.

The failures of Reconstruction, then, can be divided into two broad categories. First, the things the Congress never really tried to do; and second, the things it did, but stopped doing after a while.

The fundamental problem surrounding the abolition of slavery was this: aside from freedom, nothing had been given the freedman. He owned nothing, and had few to no skills. What was he supposed to do with himself? How would he earn a living?

There were half-hearted efforts by the Freedmen's Bureau to address this problem. Vocational training, for instance. And efforts to get them included in the Homestead Act. Get them a fair start with property and skills. Unfortunately the effort was starved and stymied from the start. The Freedmen's Bureau was basically gutted by 1869, and closed outright in 1872.

Even in its failure, though, there were successes. Schools and colleges were established all over the country, first simply to teach them to read and write, and then to address their needs for higher learning. And it was able to offer assistance and advice to freedmen who were adjusting to their new relationships, employee to employer rather than slave to master.

But this effort to address the fundamental issue -- that the freedman owned nothing and knew little -- was barely a drop in the bucket. And after 1872, Congress more or less forgot about the whole thing until the 1960s.

That leads us to the other reason for Reconstruction's failure: Northerners got tired of paying for, and staffing, a military occupation of the Southern states. You see, Lee was fundamentally right: the North would get tired of being on a war footing, sooner or later. It took ten to fifteen years to get there, though, far too long for the Confederacy to get any benefit.

In the immediate aftermath, the Republican super-majority in Congress could do what it damned well pleased. And often did, despite Jackson's veto. (Again, I think Lincoln would have handled this better ... but we'll never know.) The Radicals wanted, and got, a harsh version of Reconstruction that was essentially an army of occupation sitting on the South until ... well, until the North tired of the effort. While an army of occupation was sitting on top of them, they had to pay attention to things like the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. They had to pay attention to voting rights. That doesn't mean they liked it.

And so, to all intents and purposes, the minute the North looked away ... the South returned to a passable version of status quo ante. Black Codes were passed that were very little different from the Slave Codes they replaced. This system mutated a little over the years, to become the Jim Crow laws that basically ruled the South from the 1870s to the 1960s, 1970s, and in some places even later. The system that was in place by the turn of the century was very little different from that which had been in place forty years before.

There were a few differences, though. People were acknowledged to own themselves. And those who could get out, who could move North or West, found life a little more pleasant. Not a whole lot, because discrimination was rife in those places as well ... but once the soldiers left, the South re-imposed their preferred social order.

And so it was that by 1880 or thereabouts, a young Southerner could well celebrate the Confederacy's ruin. Well, not "celebrate" as such. But like Wilson, they could have both the advantages of being part of the Union, and enjoy the privileges of class that their fathers and grandfathers had known.

They had lost the war, but they had also won the peace.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sesquicentennial, Part XLVII: Epilogue, Part 2: Picking Up The Pieces...


"Laws are to govern all alike -- those opposed as well as those who favor them." -- President Ulysses S. Grant, March 4, 1869

Reconstruction meant a lot of things.

Politically, it meant the re-integration of the Union. Physically, it literally meant the re-construction of cities, rail lines, and other infrastructure that had been blasted to rubble. It had many other meanings as well, so many that it's probably a hopeless task to cover it in one, two, or a hundred essays. The fact that it's still a matter of contention a century and a half later should tell you how complicated and convoluted a matter it is.

If it was a failure, it was also a limited success. I'd like to talk about the successes first.

The longest-lasting success was a fundamental alteration of the nature of the United States. Originally, the United States were envisioned as a compact amongst independent, sovereign States; banded together for the purpose of securing and protecting their independence first from Great Britain, and then from anyone else who might take an interest. And, by and large, this was how the United States of America thought of themselves, up until the 1860s.

That nation died in the conflagration that began at Fort Sumter and ended at Appomattox.

The United States that emerged from the Civil War thought of itself -- unquestioningly and unflinchingly -- as a single Union. One nation. Indivisible. You've probably said those three words fairly often, and may not have given much thought to what they meant. It's an expression of a new national identity, an identity Americans didn't actually have before. The Union veterans who returned home still felt an attachment to their home States, to be sure, but they'd stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their brothers-in-arms from other States, and had fought and bled for the same cause. The former Confederates who returned home could say the same. Like Shelby Foote once said, North and South alike, they no longer thought of the United States as an "are", they thought of it as an "is".

More to the point, though, the War established the supremacy of the Federal government over the States. It's pointless to elaborate. What was Appomattox, if not the ultimate expression of Federal supremacy? While you hear grumbling from time to time about States' Rights, and while we still have clear divisions of power amongst and between the various levels of government in this country, where the Federal tier asserts supremacy, they get it.

The next longest-lasting success were the three so-called Reconstruction Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Constitutional Amendments are important. The Constitution is the Law of the Land. What the Constitution permits is allowed everywhere, what it forbids is allowed nowhere. So when an Amendment adds a new thou shalt or thou shalt not, that's kind of a big deal. The Reconstruction Era added three new chapters to our fundamental law.

The Thirteenth Amendment was the only one President Lincoln lived to see. This was the amendment that banned slavery, everywhere in the United States and for all time. It was presented to the States for ratification on January 31, 1865. Lincoln didn't see it come into force, though; with its ratification by Georgia on December 8th, it was declared to have become law by Secretary of State William Seward on December 18th.

The Fourteenth Amendment proved to be far more important, though, and far more sweeping. The first section of the Fourteenth Amendment is probably the most-litigated section in the entire Constitution. Citizenship, due process, privileges and immunities, equal protection -- all of those come from the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment. It, along with the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude," were bitterly contested by the South. But both Amendments entered force anyway: the Fourteenth in 1868 and the Fifteenth in 1870. Whether or not the spirit of the law has always been observed is open to question .. but the law, once on the books, could be litigated by people demanding equal protection under the law.

Another of the successes of Reconstruction is less obvious. It's an old story. Revolution is followed by counter-revolution, coup, junta, in an endless cycle of recrimination and revenge. This was largely avoided after the Civil War. The soldiers were simply sent home, with none of them being tried for treason. Well, poor old Henry Wirz was hanged for commanding the Andersonville prison camp, held to account for the hell-hole it became. But besides him, not a single Confederate officer danced his last jig at the end of a rope. Lincoln didn't want to exact revenge, he wanted reconciliation. That is why he instructed Grant to offer Lee the terms he did, and Sherman offered similar terms to Johnson. The defeated rebels were simply allowed to pick up the pieces, and get on with their lives. Now, don't get me wrong, there was plenty of rancor in the hearts of ex-Confederates ... but with time, and generations, it does tend to fade. There's still ribbing between Northerner and Southerner, but it's verbal and not physical. We've managed to avoid the endless cycle of revenge that has riven so many countries over the years.

Of course, that masks some spectacular instances of post-War violence. But that's for next time, when we talk about Reconstruction's failures.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sesquicentennial, Part XLVI: Epilogue, Part 1 -- What If ...


"Buzzard's guts, man! I am the President of the United States, clothed in immense power! You will procure me those votes." -- President Abraham Lincoln (as portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis)

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theater on April 15, 1865. And that's about all I have to say on that subject. A great deal has already been written about it, after all, and I don't think I have anything especially new or interesting to add to that conversation. Except ... for a curious observation.

Have you ever considered the fact that all of our Presidents who wielded sweeping wartime powers came to bad ends?

Abraham Lincoln basically invented the wartime Presidency.  Invented it out of whole cloth, if we're being truly honest about it. Certainly there's no explicit definition of the powers Lincoln wielded within the Constitution. There's a splendid scene in the recent movie Lincoln, where Daniel Day-Lewis waxes eloquent on his powers, and their somewhat dubious Constitutionality. I'm paraphrasing a little, but he says in effect, "I took an oath to protect the Constitution, so I decided that in order to uphold that oath, I needed to have these powers." And, for the most part, no one called him on it. No one called him on it, so it became precedent. In World War I, and again in World War II, Presidents Wilson and Roosevelt, respectively, laid hold of those same powers.

And the record shows: Lincoln was assassinated, Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke, and Roosevelt died scarcely a month before the victory in Europe.

It's almost enough to make you wonder if Someone didn't want them to last long enough to see peacetime...

And so we've never had the question answered: Can a President who's held so much untrammeled power come down the scale, and govern as a peacetime President?

It's probably just as well. The answer might have been "no." But let's assume the answer is "yes," at least in Lincoln's case, so we can move on to a very popular matter of speculation. To wit -- what would Lincoln's second term have actually looked like, were he not assassinated? Would Lincoln have fared better than Johnson?

The second question there is far easier to answer, so I'll answer it first with a confident and assured "yes." Lincoln was a damn sight better politician than Johnson, a better negotiator, and far more pragmatic. And more to the point, Lincoln, as the President who saved the Union, had an immense store of political capital upon which he could draw to get his way with Congress. The question that occupies us, and which brings us back to the first question above, is this -- on which issues would Lincoln spend that capital?

I have no real idea how to answer that question. I do know this, though; at least in its rough outlines, Presidential Reconstruction closely mirrored what Lincoln wanted. No harsh reprisals, and political re-integration into the Union as soon as practicable. He'd have run into Radical Republican opposition on this, just as Johnson did. But, Lincoln being Lincoln, he'd have done some horse-trading with them, giving them a little of what they wanted so he'd get most of what he wanted.

I think this is what Stephen Carter's book The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln gets a little bit wrong. I'm sure that Thaddeus Stevens would be angry enough at Lincoln to spit nails. But Lincoln is far too slippery, and far too pragmatic, to be caught so easily. Plus there's the aforementioned political capital, some of which he could spend defensively. He'd have a fractious relationship with the Radical wing of his party, but what else is new? Besides which, while the Republicans held a veto-proof majority in Congress, the Radicals didn't. Lincoln could play off the factions against one another long enough ... well, long enough. He only had to keep up the dance for four more years. Compared to the last four, it'd be a cake walk.

In this scenario, I think it's likely that Reconstruction wouldn't have been as extensive or as sweeping, but because Lincoln's reach didn't outrun his grasp, its effects may have lasted longer. I'm not sure exactly what form that would have taken. A better-funded Freedman's Bureau, perhaps, and/or a longer-lasting one. Smaller civil rights gains, but gains that actually bit and held, as opposed to being rapidly rolled back. Radicals chafed at Lincoln's "lack of vision", rather than seeing that Lincoln had little interest in that which could not be realistically achieved.

It would have been a contentious second term. Second terms almost always are. And Lincoln wouldn't have had any measurable appetite for a third one, so someone else takes over in 1868. Probably Grant, because he stood as high in everyone's esteem as anyone else did, and I don't see much of anything changing that.

But we'll never know. A disgruntled actor at Ford's Theater made sure of that. For good or ill, that's the world John Wilkes Booth left us. And so, we'll always wonder: What if...

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Sesquicentennial, Part XLV: The End, Part Two


"That was an order! Steiner's attack was an order! How dare you ignore my orders?!?"
  -- Adolf Hitler, 4/22/1945

On April 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln sat at a desk. This wasn't especially unusual. He'd done so just about every day of his adult life, either as a student, attorney, Congressman or President. The fact he was sitting at a desk wasn't especially unusual, but the details -- at which desk, in particular -- were. Because this desk was in a particular city, at a particular place ... the city, Richmond ... the building, the Confederate White House.

Davis had departed in some haste a few days earlier, and the Confederate armies were in headlong retreat along the Appomattox River. Lincoln was sitting at the desk so recently occupied by his intractable adversary, contemplating what would come after. The war wasn't over yet, but it soon would be.

Green Eagle brought up a point that bears some examination. It's arguable whether or not history repeats itself, but there are definitely echoes, if you should care enough to listen for them. Jefferson Davis' call for eternal resistance has echoes eighty years hence, when Adolf Hitler bellowed incoherently at his senior generals in the bunker, raving about orders given to armies that no longer existed, except within his imagination. Of course, Hitler was taking up to nine injections per day of a witch's brew called Vitamultin, a frightening concoction devised by his "physician" Dr. Morell. Methamphetamine was but one of the ingredients. So, if you ever wondered why the Third Reich's overall strategy looked like the work of a hobo on crank ... yeah. Turns out, there's a reason for that.

Davis had no such excuse. Well, maybe he got hold of some moldy rye bread. I've heard that can make you see purple monkeys, among other things. Or maybe it was just stubborn pride. Pride's a hell of a drug. It can make a man do -- and say --  incredibly stupid things.

Lee was also a proud man, and stubborn, but not to that degree. He still had an army of sorts, and the means to resist. While his army was reeling from hammer-blow after hammer-blow during the retreat, the retreat never quite degenerated into a rout. There were supplies ahead, and ammunition. Maybe even a defensible position.

It's purely a shame that Phil Sheridan got there first.

And, at long last, that tore it. Lee was willing to resist as long as there were the means for doing so. But now? A good many of his men were unarmed. Those that were armed were desperately short of ammunition. No one had much food to speak of. Arms, ammunition, food; an army must have these to function as such. He now had none, and no hope of obtaining more.

It was more or less at this point that General Grant offered terms of surrender.

Once again, Grant here fails to live up to his nickname of "Unconditional Surrender", but this time it was at the behest of his Commander-in-Chief. Lincoln wanted him to offer generous terms. Officers could keep their sidearms. Officers and men who owned their horses could take them, too, and no one would examine that claim very closely. It was planting season, after all, and a surrendered population needs to be able to feed itself.

Lee said he'd rather die a thousand deaths than surrender ... but for the sake of his men, he accepted these terms, knowing he'd never get a better deal if he lived to be a hundred.

On April 9th, then, the Army of Northern Virginia stacked its arms and ceased to exist. Its men went home on parole.

Sporadic fighting would continue for months, here and there. But once word trickled through the South that Lee had given up ... Everyone was heartily sick and tired of fighting, of the privations of war. If Lee had surrendered, they they, too could surrender with their honor intact. But it would take time for the news to get around.

Joseph Johnston surrendered to Sherman later in the month of April. Other Confederate forces would surrender, in fits and starts as they got the news, all through the summer. The very last Confederate unit to surrender was the commerce raider CSS Shenandoah on November 6th. Importantly, Shenandoah surrendered to the Royal Navy rather than the US Navy, because her captain feared facing piracy charges.

Davis managed to evade capture for a while, but only for a while. Little more than a month after Lee's surrender, Davis was captured in Georgia.

What you called it depended upon whose side you were on. Some called it the Civil War. Others the War Between the States. But whatever you might have called it, it was over. Nearly three million Americans served, and over six hundred thousand died.

And now, the people who were left would have to clean up the mess.

[Ed. Note: There will be a few "Epilogue" chapters to come, dealing with Reconstruction and other things, so we're not quite done yet.]

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Cold Iron

by Rudyard Kipling

"Gold is for the mistress -- silver for the maid --
 Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade."
"Good!" said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
"But Iron -- Cold Iron -- is master of them all."

So he made rebellion 'gainst the King his liege,
Camped before his citadel and summoned it to siege.
"Nay!" said the cannoneer on the castle wall,
"But Iron -- Cold Iron -- shall be master of you all!"

Woe for the Baron and his knights so strong,
When the cruel cannon-balls laid them all along;
He was taken prisoner, he was cast in thrall,
And Iron -- Cold Iron -- was master of it all!

Yet his King spake kindly (ah, how kind a Lord!)
"What if I release thee now and give thee back thy sword?"
"Nay!" said the Baron, "mock not at my fall,
 For Iron -- Cold Iron -- is master of men all."

"Tears are for the craven, prayers are for the clown --
 Halters for the silly neck that cannot keep a crown."
"As my loss is grievous, so my hope is small,
 For Iron -- Cold Iron -- must be master of men all!"

Yet his King made answer (few such Kings there be!)
"Here is Bread and here is Wine -- sit and sup with me.
 Eat and drink in Mary's Name, the whiles I do recall,
 How Iron -- Cold Iron -- can be master of men all!"

He took the Wine and blessed it, He blessed and brake the Bread,
With His own Hands He served Them, and presently He said:
"See! These Hands they pierced with nails, outside My city wall,
 Show Iron -- Cold Iron -- to be master of men all."

"Wounds are for the desperate, blows are for the strong.
 Balm and oil for weary hearts all cut and bruised with wrong.
 I forgive thy treason -- I redeem thy fall --
 For Iron -- Cold Iron -- must be master of men all!"

"Crowns are for the valiant -- sceptres for the bold!
 Thrones and powers for mighty men who dare to take and hold!"
"Nay!" said the Baron, kneeling in his hall,
"But Iron -- Cold Iron -- is master of men all!
 Iron out of Calvary is master of men all!"