For some years I have felt that I have been living in a country occupied by a hostile enemy determined to erase every vestige of our country’s history and heritage. The people who influence our culture and politics, the academics, the news and entertainment media, and so many others, seem to be motivated by a simmering hatred of America and its people. This feeling has abated somewhat, with the election of President Donald Trump, who seems to be leading a sort of resistance against the Occupiers, but the Occupiers are not about to give up their power and they have been orchestrating a furious counter-revolution against President Trump, and the people who elected him.
After trying and failing to discredit and delegitimize President Trump by peddling false stories of Russian collusion, the editors of the NewYork Times have decided to discredit and delegitimize the entire United States of America with the 1619 Project, an audacious attempt to reframe our nation’s history by tying it to slavery.
The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.
Now, there is nothing at all wrong, in itself, with examining the history of slavery in the United States. Slavery has played a major role in American history, with an impact that can be felt to this day, more than one hundred fifty years after the institution was abolished. The New York Times, however, seems to be going farther than merely providing a historical survey. Judging from their decision to count the year slavery was introduced into what would become the United States and some of the excerpts they provide from the essays that will make up the 1619 Project, the editors of the New York Times, seem to be trying to link America incontrovertibly with slavery. The history of America is a history of slavery and the one thing that makes America exceptional among the nations of the world is slavery.
The premise of the 1619 Project is false. The essays and articles that will make up the 1619 Project may or may not be factually correct. I have no way to judge without reading them, but the central premise of the project is false. Slavery has been a major theme in American history, but the history of the United States cannot be solely defined by slavery and the United States is not exceptional because of slavery. America does have a unique and exceptional relationship with slavery, but this relationship does not exist because slavery is somehow unique to America or that slavery in America was worse than in other times and places. Slavery has existed in every culture since before recorded history. The transatlantic slave trade was in operation for almost a century before that fist slave ship appeared off the coast of Virginia. What makes America’s relationship with slavery unique and exceptional is that slavery contradicts America’s founding ideals in a way that is not true of most countries. Most nations were founded by warlords who conquered and enslaved entire populations. Think of William the Conquerer, Clovis, Charlemagne, Qin Shi Huang, and many others. In contrast, the United States of America was founded by some of the greatest and most enlightened men who have ever lived, men who could write the immortal words,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
These were the words by which our country was founded upon. These were the words that the Abolitionists used to demand the end of slavery. These were the words that Martin Luther King used to demand justice and equality for his people. No nation that was founded upon these words could ever be comfortable with slavery. The very fact that slavery and segregation were completely contrary to America’s founding ideals meant that these institutions could not endure in America. America’s true founding was in 1776, not 1619. America is a nation based on freedom, not slavery. The 1619 Project is fake history, propaganda, designed to mislead rather than inform the New York Times’s readers.
Why are they doing this? A nation conceived in tyranny and dedicated to the institutions of slavery and segregation is a detestable nation. One cannot feel pride in being a citizen of such a country, only shame. One cannot love such a country, only despise it. Such a country is not worth defending. Its institutions are not worth preserving. Its borders ought not to be protected. In fact, the quicker such a nation is consigned to the dustbin of history, the better. This is what the left thinks about America. This is what they want their fellow Americans to think about America.
This viewpoint, that America is a detestable nation founded on slavery and racism is already predominant in academia and among our supposed elite. The editors of the New York Times have decided that it is time to educate the deplorables about the true history of the nation they want to make great again. They need to realize that if America has ever been exceptional, it has not been exceptional in greatness but in iniquity. Other media outlets will follow the lead of the New York Times. It is, after all, the nation’s premier newspaper. Schools will teach this distorted history if they are not already. The New York Times has already provided a curriculum for use in the classroom. The hope is that the 1619 Project will become the consensus view of American history.
Can a nation survive when its citizens are taught to despise it? We may find out unless we work hard to teach the true history of American freedom.
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and one of the hundred or so Democratic candidates for president expressed his concerns about Thomas Jefferson’s legacy in a recent interview with Hugh Hewitt.
HH: It’s an interesting part of the book. Let’s go to policy now. A very blunt question, because you talk about going to every Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Indiana when you were running statewide. Should Jefferson-Jackson dinners be renamed everywhere because both were holders of slaves?
PB: Yeah, we’re doing that in Indiana. I think it’s the right thing to do. You know, over time, you develop and evolve on the things you choose to honor. And I think we know enough, especially Jackson, you know, you just look at what basically amounts to genocide that happened here. Jefferson’s more problematic. You know, there’s a lot to, of course, admire in his thinking and his philosophy. Then again, as you plunge into his writings, especially the notes on the state of Virginia, you know that he knew that slavery was wrong.
PB: And yet, he did it. Now we’re all morally conflicted human beings. And it’s not like we’re blotting him out of the history books, or deleting him from being the founder fathers. But you know, naming something after somebody confers a certain amount of honor. And at a time, I mean, the real reason I think there’s a lot of pressure on this is the relationship between the past and the present, that we’re finding in a million different ways that racism isn’t some curiosity out of the past that we’re embarrassed about but moved on from. It’s alive, it’s well, it’s hurting people. And it’s one of the main reasons to be in politics today is to try to change or reverse the harms that went along with that. Then, we’d better look for ways to live out and honor that principle, even in a symbolic thing.
I think we ought to cut Thomas Jefferson and the others some slack. These people did not invent the institution of slavery. Slavery in some form has been present in every civilization in history. They did not introduce slavery into the British colonies or inaugurate the trans-Atlantic slave trade. That had been done centuries before their births. For the founding fathers, slavery was simply a part of the cultural background. They were as much a product of that background as we are of ours, and could be no more expected to question the basic assumptions of that background then most of us question the basic assumptions of our our culture and society.
It is, in fact, rather remarkable that some of the founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington did come to see that slavery was wrong. They were among the first to realize this. With the exception of the Quakers, no one questioned the institution of slavery before the late eighteenth century. Shouldn’t men like Jefferson and Washington get some credit for realizing an institution that was a integral part of the culture they grew up in was unjust and ought to be abolished?
It is easy for us in the twenty-first century to say they ought to have freed their slaves. It was not as easy for them to actually free their slaves. Slaves were valuable property and made up a considerable portion of a slave owner’s wealth. For a master to free his slaves without compensation might have meant consigning himself to poverty and a lower social position. There have never been many people willing to impoverish themselves for their stated principles. Also, many southern planters, such as Jefferson, were deeply in debt. Even if Jefferson had wanted to free his slaves, he could not necessarily act on such a desire. Not only did he require the income from labor of their slaves to continue payments on their debts, but slaves were often used as collateral. Jefferson’s creditors might have had something to say to him if he had freed his slaves.
It is not certain whether a master who freed his slaves was actually doing them much of a favor, considering the racist nature of southern society. In many slave-owning societies, such as ancient Greece and Rome, there was no racial or ethic distinction between master and slave. A freed slave could take his place as an equal to any free man, with only a slight social stigma about his former status. This was not the case in America, either before or after independence. There, a former slave’s dark skin, forever marked him as a member of an inferior caste. Most slaves were uneducated and illiterate, with experience only in unskilled farm labor. After Nat Turner’s Rebellion, many states actually made it illegal to teach slaves to read and write. There really wasn’t much of a demand in the job market for free Black unskilled farm workers. Moreover, slave owners did not want really former slaves giving ideas about freedom, by example to their own slaves and freed slaves were often compelled to leave their homes and states.
A general emancipation of the slaves would also have been difficult. It may be offensive to modern sensibilities, but the slave owners would have had to be compensated for the loss of their property, otherwise they would not have agreed to emancipation Compensating the slave holders would have been a strain on the young nation’s finances. Then, there would be the vexing problem of what to do with the freed slaves. It would be too much to expect that former slaves and their former masters would live together in a state of equality and harmony. It is more likely that the former slaves would continue be oppressed, holding the lowest positions in society and the economy, as indeed really happened, for the most part, after the slaves were freed after the Civil War.
Instead of condemning the founding fathers for failing to end slavery, perhaps we ought to give them credit for what they did do. The northern states abolished slavery during and after the American Revolution. They included a provision in the constitution banning the trans-Atlantic slave trade twenty years after ratification. The Northwest Ordinance banned slavery in the territories north of the Ohio River, making slavery a regional issue as the nation expanded west. Most of all, Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words in his Declaration of Independence;
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
sounded the death knell for slavery in America and throughout the world. No nation whose founding documents averted that all men are created equal could truly regard slavery as simply part of the natural order of things. No matter what excuses apologists for slavery might make, the Declaration of Independence that founded they own nation spoke against them.
The generation that fought for independence and created the republican system of government we still enjoy to this day was truly the greatest generation. They accomplished more than anyone would have a right to expect. It is not reasonable to condemn them for failing to end an evil that had existed since the beginning of history. They did what they could and most of them, including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, expected their successors to continue to limit slavery until it died out. It is not their fault that succeeding generations of American leader leaders failed to continue the momentum towards eventual emancipation.
I will concede Greg Buttigieg one point, though. It is inappropriate for the modern Democratic Party to hold Jefferson-Jackson Day fundraisers. Both Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson favored small, decentralized government and the concerns of the common man over the elite, two positions anathema to the contmporary Democratic Party. I would recommend the Democrats hold Marx-Lenin Days as more representative of the Democratic Party’s ideology.
As the article in Ranker.com states, this is a map produced by the US Coast Survey which depicts the proportion of the residents of each county in the South who were slaves, the darker the shading, the higher the percentage of slaves. The darkest areas, along the Mississippi and some other regions, were counties with more than ninety percent of their population in bondage. This map clearly shows the extent in which the rural South had become dependent on slave labor, particularly in those regions most suitable for the establishment of large plantations. In many such regions, the Black slaves outnumbered the White population. The population of slaves in such urban regions that existed in the Old South along with areas, such as the Appalachian Mountains and West Texas that were ill suited for plantation agriculture was far lower.
While interesting in itself, this map of slavery might also provide an clue which tells us just what why the South seceded and what they were really fighting for in the Civil War.
It is not easy to determine just how many people in the South actually were in favor of secession. Public opinion polls did not exist yet. In most cases, the Southern states seceded by calling for special conventions of elected delegates, who voted on the question of secession. Obviously, the men who were sent to these conventions were already predisposed to be in favor of secession, but the actual votes were closer than one might expect, given the controversy that the election of Abraham Lincoln had produced throughout the South. It is possible that if enough time had been allowed for passions to cool, and for the Southern leaders opposed to secession to organize, the secession crisis might have been averted. As it was the Secessionists moved quickly and there is evidence that they acted to intimidate opponents of succession in some areas.
Still, while support for secession was far from unanimous in the South, it is likely that a majority of the people throughout the South did support secession. There was considerable regional variation, though. In general, it seems that the support for secession was greatest in the seven states of the Lower South who were the first to secede. There was likely less support for secession in the four states of the Upper South which succeeded later, as war became imminent Eastern Tennessee and Western Virginia were notorious for their pro-Union sentiments, and the western counties of Virginia themselves succeeded to form the state of West Virginia. Of the four slave states that stayed in the Union, only Delaware with almost no actual slaves had no movement towards succession, while the remaining three had at least enough people opposed to succession to keep their states in the Union, although there was enough support for succession in Missouri and Kentucky for there to be a Civil War within each state.
Now, if you look at that map of slavery again, you may notice that, in general, support for succession tended to be highest in those regions that that were most dependent on slave labor. Since the end of the Civil War, there have been those who have argued that secession and the Civil War were not about slavery. The Civil War was fought over states’ rights or the economic policies of the North, particularly the high, protective tariffs Northern manufacturers favored. This map gives the lie to such assertions. Support for the Confederacy was highest where slaves were most numerous. Where slavery was rare, so was enthusiasm for secession. If you don’t believe what the Southern leaders themselves said about their reasons for succession, believe what the map shows, a clear link between slavery and succession.
That is not to say that slavery was the only cause of the secession and Civil War, nor that the men who fought for the Confederate States did so in order to protect the institution of slavery. There were a lot of other factors, both political and economic, behind the sectional tensions between North and South, but slavery was the one issue that made compromise impossible. They might be able to meet each other half way on issues like tariffs, but slavery was a moral issue which aroused people’s emotions. The country could not remain half slave and half free. It is true that most of the men who enlisted in the Confederate Army were only fighting for their country, but the way wouldn’t have been fought at all if it were not for slavery.
The American Civil War was fought over slavery. There is simply no way to deny it without completely ignoring the historical evidence. The men who fought for the South May have been brave and honorable, but they were fighting for the worst cause imaginable.
The Election of 1860 was, without doubt, the most contentious election in American history, ending as it did with the secession of the South and the Civil War. For democracy to work, the loser of an election, along with his supporters have to be willing to concede to the winner. This can happen as long as the consequence of an election is not an existential threat to the lives and liberties of the losers. For the first, and so far only, time in the history of the United States a large portion of the electorate simply refused to accept the results of a democratic election, in part because they feared the results would be destructive to their way of life.
How did it come to this, that the South so feared the election of Abraham Lincoln that it was willing to secede from the Union and risk war? Slavery had been an increasingly divisive issue for decades, yet the nation had always managed to find some sort of compromise to pull back from the brink. There had been talk of secession since the beginning of the Union, but it was mostly talk. No one seemed willing to take the fateful step to dissolve the Union before 1860. After his election in 1856, President James Buchanan had even dared to hope that the contentious slavery debate would be settled by the of his term and peace and prosperity would be the rule. He could not have been more wrong. In fact, it was during President Buchanan’s administration that a series of events occurred that made Civil War if not inevitable, certainly increased sectional tensions to the breaking point.
Historians generally hold that the Civil War began when Confederate Army fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, yet in a way the Civil War had actually started almost a decade earlier in Kansas. As early as 1854 fighting had broken out between pro and anti-slavery settlers in the Kansas Territory. The Kansas-Nebraska Act had called for popular sovereignty to decide whether Kansas would be Slave or Free. Settlers from North and South poured into Kansas attempting to get a majority for their side. Election fraud was rampant and neither side was willing to concede to the other, resulting in two separate territorial legislatures. It wasn’t long before violence broke out, egged on by radicals back east only too willing to supply arms.
Then there was the Supreme Court’s decision in Dred Scott vs. Sanford, announced just two days after President Buchanan’s inauguration. This decision which overturned the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and denied the right of Congress to outlaw slavery in the territories delighted the South and infuriated the North. Because of this ruling, slavery could no longer be contained to southern territories but could spread north. Even worse, because the Court decided that Dred Scott was not free just because his master had taken him to a state where slavery was illegal, opened the door to the possibility that state laws forbidding slavery might be effectively overturned since freeing the slaves of a person who moved North could be construed as unlawfully depriving him of his property. Chief Justice Roger Taney and President Buchanan hoped that the Dred Scott decision would settle the issue of slavery once and for all, but the uncompromising nature of the decision only made things worse.
Finally, there was John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry on October 19, 1859. I don’t think the Northern abolitionists had any idea how afraid the slave owners of the South were of their own slaves. While Southern apologists depicted the Blacks as simple minded creatures, perfectly content with slavery in their propaganda, anyone who had much contact with the slaves must have known how much they resented their servitude. They had good reason to fear that the Black slaves would take a terrible revenge if they ever got the chance. When the abolitionists demanded that slavery be ended, the Southern Whites, only heard a call for their own destruction. When a terrorist from Kansas tried to incite a slave insurrection only to be hailed as a hero and a martyr by sympathetic Northerners, the Southerners must have seen their worst fears confirmed.
By the election of 1860, it must have seemed that the United States could no longer be half Free and half Slave. Either slavery would be abolished, along with a way of life that benefited the Southern elite, or slavery must spread to every part of the nation. Little wonder a Civil War resulted.
The Democratic convention was held in Charleston South Carolina in April. Since President Buchanan declined to run for reelection, the most obvious candidate was Stephen Douglas from Illinois. Douglas had served in the House of Representatives from 1843 to 1847 and then in the Senate from 1847 until his death from typhoid fever in 1861. Stephan Douglas is best known today for his famous debates with Abraham Lincoln during the Senatorial election of 1856. He was a great believer in democracy, believing that popular sovereignty should settle the slavery issue in the territories. Douglas tended to oppose the Dred Scott decision, but had to be careful lest he alienate the South.
This “pro-choice” did not please the Southern delegates at the convention who wanted a party platform that specifically protected slavery. This Douglas and the Northern delegates would not agree to and the convention broke up. This was not a good sign.
The Democrats met again the following month in Baltimore. Again the Northern and Southern delegates could not agree on a candidate or a platform, so they held separate conventions. The Northern delegates nominated Stephen Douglas, as expected, and selected Herschel V. Johnson, the governor of Georgia from 1853-1857. Their platform called for popular sovereignty in the territories.
The Southern delegates nominated Vice-President John C. Breckinridge for President and Joseph Lane, one of Oregon’s first two senators, for Vice-President. They supported a platform demanding federal protection of slavery in the territories.
Meanwhile, the Republicans held their convention in Chicago from May 16 to 18. Abraham Lincoln was not really one of the leaders of the Republican Party. The more prominent Republicans who were expected to get the nomination included Senator William Seward of New York. Governor Salmon P. Chase from Ohio, and Senator Simon Cameron from Pennsylvania. Lincoln’s political resume was thin compared to these leaders having only served in the House of Representatives from 1847-1849 and in the Illinois Legislature form 1834-1842. However, each of these leaders had made enemies and had alienated one faction or another of the party. Lincoln, in contrast was well liked and known to be a good debater. The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1856 had attracted national attention. Lincoln was also a shrewd politician and while he was against slavery, he was not as radical as some Republicans. Lincoln was nominated on the third ballot and Senator Hannibal Hamlin of Maine was selected as his running mate.
Then, because things were not confusing enough with three candidates, a group of former Whigs, along with a few Democrats and former Know-Nothings met in Baltimore on May 9 to organize the Constitutional Union Party. This party was for preserving the Union at any cost, and not much else. They were silent on the slavery question, perhaps hoping to make the controversy go away. The Constitutional Union Party nominated John Bell, who had served as Senator from Tennessee from 1847-1859. Bell had begun his political career as a Democratic supporter of Andrew Jackson, then he split with Jackson to become the leader of the Whig Party in Tennessee. By the 1850’s he had begun to create a third party composed of moderates from both the North and South in an effort to alleviate the increasing sectional tension. Bell’s relatively moderate views on slavery made him unpopular in the South, though he had some appeal in the border states. The Constitutional Union Party went on to nominate former Senator from Massachusetts, Edward Everett as Bell’s running mate.
Since the Democratic party was split and Lincoln wasn’t even on the ballot in the South, the the election of 1860, was essentially two separate contests, Lincoln vs Douglas in the North and Bell vs Breckinridge in the South. As one might imagine, this turned out to be an exciting and tumultuous election, with all the hoopla of American politics in the nineteenth century. Stephen Douglas broke with tradition and actually went out to campaign in person, in the South as well as the North. In the South, he pleaded for the Southerners to accept the results of the election, no matter who won. They didn’t listen. Southern newspapers continued to run editorials promising secession and war if the “Black Republican” Lincoln were elected.
The other candidates stayed at home and tried to look dignified and presidential but their supporters made up the difference in raucous energy. Bell’s supporters rang bells at rallies. Republicans were the most enthusiastic, holding parades featuring rails that the great rail splitter Abraham Lincoln had personally split. If it weren’t for the great seriousness of it all, it would have been a lot of fun.
None of the four candidates got a majority of the popular vote, but Lincoln won a plurality with 1,865,908 votes or 39.8% of the total. Douglas came in second with 1,380,202 votes (29.5%). Breckinridge was third with 848,019 votes (18.1%C) and Bell came in last with 590,901 votes (12.6%). It is slightly ironic that if the Southern Democrats had supported Stephen Douglas, he might have won the election. By leaving the convention and nominating their own candidate, they virtually guaranteed a victory for Lincoln, the one candidate they could not accept.
The Electoral vote was more decisive, with Lincoln getting a comfortable majority. The vote was divided along sectional lines. Lincoln won the entire North and West except for New Jersey, getting a total of 180 electoral votes. New Jersey split its seven votes giving four to Lincoln and three to Douglas. Douglas was second in the popular vote, but last in the Electoral College winning only Missouri’s nine votes and three of New Jersey’s for a total of 12 electoral votes. Breckinridge won all the Southern states, except for Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, and got a total of 72 electoral votes. Bell won those three states with 39 electoral votes.
Stephen Douglas realized that a Lincoln victory would divide the country and immediately after the election he traveled south and gave speeches supporting the Union. It didn’t work and on December 20, 1860 South Carolina formally succeeded from the Union. Soon, the other Southern states followed and America’s bloodiest war began.
For Dylan Matthews at Vox.com the answer to that question is yes.
This July Fourth, I’m celebrating by taking a plane from the US to the United Kingdom. The timing wasn’t intentional, but I embrace the symbolism. American independence in 1776 was a monumental mistake. We should be mourning the fact that we left the United Kingdom, not cheering it.
Of course, evaluating the wisdom of the American Revolution means dealing with counterfactuals. As any historian would tell you, this is messy business. We obviously can’t be entirely sure how America would have fared if it had stayed in the British Empire longer, perhaps gaining independence a century or so later, along with Canada.
Would we be better off today if the Revolution had not succeeded? Rather than celebrating our independence from the mother country, ought we to regret it? I am something of an anglophile, so I am a bit wistful about that regrettable separation myself. Sometimes I do think it would be nice to be part of the country that gave us Doctor Who and Mister Bean, not to mention the many more substantial gifts that the British have given the world. Still, that is not saying that we would all be better off, and it is possible that much that was good about the British Empire may not have come to be without the sentiments expressed by our founding fathers.
It is, of course, impossible to know what would have happened. It seems to me that much would depend on the way in which the American Revolution had failed. If King George and his ministers had been more statesmanlike and showed a better understanding of the sentiments of the colonists, and if cooler heads had prevailed in the colonies, the Revolution might have been averted altogether. Perhaps there might have been some trouble in 1775 which was quickly resolved by judicious compromises, in which case the North American colonies might well have developed somewhere along the lines of Canada or Australia. On the other hand, if the British had defeated the Continental Army in 1779 or 1780 and killed George Washington, things might have been very different. Years of war had increased bitterness on both sides and it is likely that the rebellious colonies would have been held as conquered and occupied provinces, much like Ireland. Like Ireland, there might have been continuing unrest and repeated rebellions. Since Mr. Matthews seems to take the former scenario, so will I.
Dylan Matthews gives three reasons for believing that the American Revolution was a mistake.
But I’m reasonably confident a world in which the revolution never happened would be better than the one we live in now, for three main reasons: Slavery would’ve been abolished earlier, American Indians would’ve faced rampant persecution but not the outright ethnic cleansing Andrew Jackson and other American leaders perpetrated, and America would have a parliamentary system of government that makes policymaking easier and lessens the risk of democratic collapse.
I believe all three reasons are mistaken. I do not think that slavery would have been abolished earlier, that the policy towards the Indians would have been greatly different if the American Revolution had not succeeded, nor do I believe that a parliamentary system of government is superior.
The main reason the revolution was a mistake is that the British Empire, in all likelihood, would have abolished slavery earlier than the US did, and with less bloodshed.
This alone is enough to make the case against the revolution. Decades less slavery is a massive humanitarian gain that almost certainly dominates whatever gains came to the colonists from independence.
According to Matthews, the American Revolution was fought by White men, for White men and everyone else would have been better off if they had failed.
The main benefit of the revolution to colonists was that it gave more political power to America’s white male minority. For the vast majority of the country — its women, slaves, American Indians — the difference between disenfranchisement in an independent America and disenfranchisement in a British-controlled colonial America was negligible. If anything, the latter would’ve been preferable, since at least women and minorities wouldn’t be singled out for disenfranchisement. From the vantage point of most of the country, who cares if white men had to suffer through what everyone else did for a while longer, especially if them doing so meant slaves gained decades of free life?
Though he admits that abolishing slavery would have been harder if the North American colonies were still in the British Empire.
It’s true that had the US stayed, Britain would have had much more to gain from the continuance of slavery than it did without America. It controlled a number of dependencies with slave economies — notably Jamaica and other islands in the West Indies — but nothing on the scale of the American South. Adding that into the mix would’ve made abolition significantly more costly.
But the South’s political influence within the British Empire would have been vastly smaller than its influence in the early American republic. For one thing, the South, like all other British dependencies, lacked representation in Parliament. The Southern states were colonies, and their interests were discounted by the British government accordingly. But the South was also simply smaller as a chunk of the British Empire’s economy at the time than it was as a portion of America’s. The British crown had less to lose from the abolition of slavery than white elites in an independent America did.
It is not clear to what extent abolitionism would have gained any traction in Britain if a major part of their empire depended on slave labor and if the principles of equality and consent by the governed that were expressed so well by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence had remained unwritten. In any case, slavery would not have been confined to the South. In 1776, slavery was legal and accepted in all thirteen colonies. It was only after the American Revolution had been won that the first wave of abolitionism, prompted in part by the obvious hypocrisy of declaring all men equal while still holding slaves, led to the Northern states to abolish slavery. In 1787 the Continental Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, organizing the Northwest territories and prohibiting slavery. Most people believed that it was only a matter of time before slavery was ended in the South. This didn’t happen partly because of the invention of the cotton gin and partly because the expansion into the south west, where slavery hadn’t been prohibited, was made easier by slave labor.
It seems likely, then, that by 1834 slavery would still be legal throughout North America both in the original thirteen colonies and in the settled lands beyond the Appalachians. Would the British Parliament still have abolished slavery, knowing that such an act would lead to revolution in the colonies. We would have fought the American Revolution in the 1830’s instead of the 1770’s. It seems likely that the Parliament might have delayed abolishing slavery for many years rather than lose the colonies, especially if the French, no Louisiana Purchase, and the Spanish, no Florida cession and perhaps no revolutions in Latin America, maintained some presence in North America.
What about the Indians?
Starting with the Proclamation of 1763, the British colonial government placed firm limits on westward settlement in the United States. It wasn’t motivated by an altruistic desire to keep American Indians from being subjugated or anything; it just wanted to avoid border conflicts. But all the same, the policy enraged American settlers, who were appalled that the British would seem to side with Indians over white men.
American Indians would have still, in all likelihood, faced violence and oppression absent American independence, just as First Nations people in Canada did. But American-scale ethnic cleansing wouldn’t have occurred. And like America’s slaves, American Indians knew this. Most tribes sided with the British or stayed neutral; only a small minority backed the rebels.
Ethnic cleansing is a loaded word that is not particularly applicable to what occurred in the relations between the Indian tribes and the American government. It was never an official policy of the U.S. government to exterminate the Native Americans. Here is what the Northwest Ordinance had to say about the Native inhabitants of the Northwest territory.
Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged. The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and, in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity, shall from time to time be made for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them.
Condescending, to be sure, but meant well. Unfortunately both Indians and settlers wanted the same lands so there was war and the Indians were defeated. This is bad enough but not the same as rounding people up and exterminating them in camps. But, who cares about accuracy when we have a chance to portray America as the Evil Empire? In any case, there is no reason to believe that the Indian policy, both intended or actual, would have been greatly different. The Proclamation of 1763 could not have been enforced for any period of time, given the demographic pressures that led the British colonists to want to expand westward. Matthews compares the treatment of the Indians by America and Canada, in Canada’s favor, but there were fewer settlers in Canada and the lands were less desirable.
In the US, activists wanting to put a price on carbon emissions spent years trying to put together a coalition to make it happen, mobilizing sympathetic businesses and philanthropists and attempting to make bipartisan coalition — and they still failed to pass cap and trade, after millions of dollars and man hours. In the UK, the Conservative government decided it wanted a carbon tax. So there was a carbon tax. Just like that. Passing big, necessary legislation — in this case, legislation that’s literally necessary to save the planet — is a whole lot easier with parliaments than with presidential systems.
This is no trivial matter. Efficient passage of legislation has huge humanitarian consequences. It makes measures of planetary importance, like carbon taxes, easier to get through; they still face political pushback, of course — Australia’s tax got repealed, after all — but they can be enacted in the first place, which is far harder in the US system. And the efficiency of parliamentary systems enables larger social welfare programs that reduce inequality and improve life for poor citizens. Government spending in parliamentary countries is about 5 percent of GDP higher, after controlling for other factors, than in presidential countries. If you believe in redistribution, that’s very good news indeed.
This is actually the best argument I could make against a parliamentary system. It is too easy to pass legislation. Under Britain’s current system all that is needed to make any changes imaginable is a majority in the House of Commons. There are no checks and balances. Any dictator would only need that majority to impose whatever rules he wanted. It is only tradition and the good sense of most Britons that has prevented anyone from trying, so far. I would be happier if the House of Lords had equal power with the House of Commons and the Monarch would still exercise a veto over legislation. This would be undemocratic, but many people confuse democracy with liberty, or ends and means. The end of government is the preservation of liberty. Democracy is only a means to that end. A democratic government can fail to preserve liberty and tyranny under a democracy is every bit as odious as any other kind. Frankly, I prefer freedom to efficiency in government.
After reading this article, I am not convinced that the American Revolution was a mistake. If anything, I am more grateful than ever that the founding fathers made the sacrifices they did to make the United States of America a free and independent country. I do not believe the world would have been a better place if the revolution had failed. It is more likely to have been less free and less prosperous. So, I will continue to celebrate the Fourth of July, while being grateful that the British are our best friends.
I found this YouTube video by Newsbusters courtesy of Moonbattery.com. MSNBC correspondent Martin Bashir calls Sarah Palin America’s resident dunce for suggesting that the result of our ever growing national debt will be to condemn our children and grandchildren to slavery. He is outraged by the abuses and atrocities that slave owners committed against their slaves and suggests that Palin ought to be subject to the same abuses.
I am sure that what bothers most viewers of thus clip, at least the decent viewers, is the venomous hatred Bashir spews against Sarah Palin. What impresses me however, is that the joke is actually on the man who thinks that Sarah Palin is an idiot. As it happens, one of the most common forms of slavery through the ages and even today is debt slavery.
Debt slavery is a situation in which someone will borrow money and to repay the loan will agree to work for his creditor. Somehow because of interest and other charges levied on the debtor, he never is quite able to work off the loan. This form of slavery was very common in ancient Rome and many other parts of the world, including the American colonies where white settlers became indentured servants in order to pay the cost of passage across the Atlantic. It is still prevalent today even though it is prohibited by international law. So, it may just be possible that Sarah Palin knew what she was talking about.
Actually, Martin Bashir doesn’t seem to know very much about slavery at all, judging from his commentary. He seems to believe that slavery was invented in the American colonies in the sixteenth century and that the conditions faced by the black slaves were somehow uniquely horrible. In fact, slavery has existed throughout human history in various forms, some more oppressive than others. The conditions of the black slaves on the North American mainland were more humane than in the Caribbean islands where the slaves were worked to death. Slavery in the Roman Empire was especially cruel as a slave owner had the legal right to kill or rape his slaves. Moreover the Arabs were involved in the African slave trade for centuries before the Europeans and continued the trade until the European powers ended it with the colonization of Africa
. Of course slavery is always oppressive and degrading but perhaps Bashir should learn that America was not the only place slaves were kept and that there have been many different types of slavery.
Here is a video of a rant by a radical, extreme, anti-government teabagger who is undoubtedly a racist and a member of the Religious Right. Her family may even own guns.
How dare this peasant, this serf lecture her betters. Who does she think she is, a free American? If she had any education at all, which living in flyover country, she doesn’t, she would know that all of our rights and freedoms are granted to us by the government. Rather that fearing government tyranny, she should realize that government is everybody doing things together, all in one great collective village, as envisioned by our Dear Leader.
Slavery in America was abolished with the ratification of the thirteenth amendment to the constitution in 1865. Although discrimination against Blacks continued, especially in the former Confederate states of the South, a great evil was finally ended. Since slavery was ended 148 years ago, you wouldn’t expect to find any former slaves still living, but you would be wrong. Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee has affirmed, in a recent speech on the House floor, that she is a freed slave.
She certainly doesn’t look like she’s at least 150 years old. I wonder what her secret to preserving her youth is. Perhaps Ponce de Leon was looking for the fountain of youth in the wrong state.
Looking over her Wikipedia article, I see that this isn’t the first stupid thing she has said.
In July 2010 Jackson Lee said: “Today, we have two Vietnams, side by side, North and South, exchanging and working. We may not agree with all that North Vietnam is doing, but they are living in peace. I would look for a better human rights record for North Vietnam, but they are living side by side.” It was noted that Vietnam had not been split for four decades.
The Hill reported in 1997 that Jackson Lee had asked NASA officials whether the Mars Pathfinder photographed the U.S. flag that Neil Armstrong had planted on Mars. When this incident was reported, her chief of staff wrote a letter to the editor suggesting that she was targeted because she was black.
In February 2013, Jackson Lee called herself a “freed slave” while talking on the House floor.
Sheila Jackson Lee serves on the Committee of Homeland Security and the Committee on the Judiciary. Lord help us.
With all of the silly talk about states seceding we have had after the last election, perhaps it is time to take a look at a past election in which the talk of secession was deadly serious. I refer, of course, to the election of 1860, the election that preceded and sparked the American Civil War. Slavery and secession were the two main issues of that Presidential campaign, and before I write any more about the campaign, I will have to give a little historical background on each of these issues.
Slavery was legal in all thirteen colonies when the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress in 1776. Slavery was rather rare in the northernmost states, such as New Hampshire and Massachusetts and much more common in the southern states where the climate and land permitted large-scale plantations. Nevertheless, slavery was not a sectional issue at that time.
During and after the War of Independence, it seemed obvious to many that the institution of slavery was incompatible with the ideals of liberty expressed in the Declaration and a movement to end slavery developed. In the northern states, slavery was largely abolished by the beginning of the nineteenth century, although because the larger states legislated gradual emancipation, there were still a few slaves in bondage as late as 1830. More importantly for the future of the new nation, slavery was prohibited in the Northwest Territory was the Northwestern Ordinance of 1787.
The founding fathers who held slaves had somewhat ambiguous feelings about the institution. They thought it necessary, but disliked it and believed that over time it would gradually die out. This didn’t happen. The invention of the cotton gin made slavery more profitable and attitudes hardened over time. In the north a newer generation of abolitionists were no longer willing for slavery to gradually die out, especially since it was beginning to show few signs of doing so. They wanted slavery abolished immediately, or at the least prevented from expanding into the new territories. The abolitionists were never a majority in the north but they were a vocal minority and over time their numbers and stridency grew. In the south, slave holders became increasingly defensive about their “peculiar institution”, all the more so as slavery was abolished throughout the civilized world. By 1860, only Brazil and the Spanish colony of Cuba still practiced slavery. By 1860, it was becoming increasingly clear that the United States could not continue to exist as a nation in which slavery was legal in half the country and prohibited in the other half. Either the country would have to be all free, all slave, or split into two.
This brings us to secession. In the early decades of the country, it was never entirely clear whether the United States was a federation of smaller sovereign states or a nation with sovereignty shared between the central government and the states but with the federal government pre-eminent. As early as 179, John Tyler of Virginia proposed that Virginia secede over the Alien and Sedition Acts. Thomas Jefferson wanted the Kentucky and Virginia legislatures to nullify the acts. In 1814, there was a movement in New England to secede over the War of 1812. South Carolina threatened to secede over the “Tariff of Abominations” in 1828, over the admission of California as a free state in 1850, and was the first state to secede in 1860.
Now, I can get to the election of 1860. The previous election, that of 1856 had seen the end of the second party system in the United States with the break up of the Whig Party and the rise of the anti-slavery Republicans. In that election, the Democrats had won the entire south, while the Republicans won New England and a few mid-western states. In the next four years, sectional tensions grew in the United States until a division between North and South became a real possibility. Already there was a sort of miniature civil war in Kansas over whether the territory would be admitted as a free state or a slave state. The infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857 polarized opinion as did the publication of the phenomenally successful Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry by John Brown terrified the South, naturally fearful of a slave revolt led by abolitionist, while Brown’s execution made him a martyr among abolitionists.
The Democratic convention was held in Charleston South Carolina in April. The obvious candidate was Stephen Douglas from Illinois who campaigned on a popular sovereignty position on the slavery issue. This “pro-choice” position did not please the increasingly radical southern delegates who wanted an out right pro-slavery platform in which slavery would be permitted in all territories under federal protection. This, the northern delegates would not agree to, so the convention broke up.
The Democrats met again the following month in Baltimore, this time the northern and southern delegates holding separate conventions. The northern delegates selected Stephen Douglas while the southerners nominated John C. Breckinridge from Kentucky. The irony here is that if the Democrats had united behind one candidate, that candidate would almost certainly have won the election since the Republican Party was not even on the ballot in the south. By dividing their efforts between two candidates they allowed the Republicans to win.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party had its convention in Chicago. William H. Seward of New York was a favorite at the convention but he had made too many political enemies. Although he had not had an especially prominent political career previously, Abraham Lincoln was well liked and articulate. He was firm on the slavery issue but not too radical, so he was selected on the third ballot.
Then, because things were not confusing enough with three candidates, a fourth candidate jumped into the ring. There was another nominating convention in Baltimore in May. This was a group of former Whigs who were determined to keep the Union together at all costs. Calling themselves the Constitutional Union Party, they nominated John Bell, a former Speaker of the House from Tennessee.
As one might imagine, this turned out to be an exciting and tumultuous election. Stephen Douglas broke with tradition and actually went out to campaign in person, all over the country. The other candidates stayed at home and tried to look dignified and presidential but their supporters made up the difference in raucous energy. Bell’s supporters rang bells at rallies. Republicans held parades featuring rails that the great rail splitter Abraham Lincoln had personally split. Breckenridge’s people warned that a Lincoln victory would split the country. If it weren’t for the great seriousness of it all, it would have been a lot of fun.
You probably already know the result of the election of 1860. No candidate got a majority of the popular vote but Lincoln won a plurality with 1,866,452 votes or 40% of the total. Douglas was second with 1,376,957 votes or 29 %. Breckinridge got 849,781 or 18 % and Bell 588,879 or 13%. The electoral vote was more decisive. Lincoln won all of the northern states except New Jersey which was split between Lincoln and Douglas for a total of 180 electoral votes. Douglas, although second in popular votes was last in electoral votes winning only Missouri and three New Jersey votes for a total of 12. Breckinridge won all of the south except for the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia for a total of 72 votes. Bell won those three states and 39 electoral votes.
Stephen Douglas realized that a Lincoln victory would divide the country and immediately after the election he traveled south and gave speeches upholding the Union. It was of no avail, however, and a month after the election , on December 20 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union and America’s bloodiest war began.
For the eight years of George W. Bush’s administration, Liberals would tell each other that he was the worst president in American history, or as they put it; Worst. President. Ever. Since Barack Obama was elected, Conservatives have been pleased to return the compliment, with perhaps considerably more reason. Still, the truth is that it is too soon to properly evaluate either man’s presidential ranking and announcing that either is the absolute worst shows a sort of shortsighted historical ignorance that is all too common these days.
Most historians consider that the worst American President was James Buchanan, largely because of his inaction on the eve of the American Civil War. It is possible that the war could have been won earlier and far less bloodily, or even averted altogether if Buchanan at acted at once to suppress the rebellion. As it was, his dithering may have condemned the country to its bloodiest war.
To look at Buchanan’s resume, one would think he would make at least a decent President. Not one of the greatest perhaps, but certainly not the worst. He was born in 1791 in a log cabin in Pennsylvania, thus fulfilling the most important requirement for a nineteenth century politician. Buchanan never married and it is possible he was the first homosexual President. There were rumors that he and his friend Vice-President William Rufus King had an intimate relationship. In fact, the two were referred to as Buchanan and his wife. Unfortunately, King died in 1853 and so was unable to serve as first lady when Buchanan became President. On the other hand, it is also possible that this was no more than hostile gossip. Buchanan was engaged to Ann Caroline Coleman, the daughter of a wealthy businessman. She broke off the engagement and died soon after, devastating the young Buchanan.
James Buchanan fought in the War of 1812, helping to defend Baltimore from the British. He entered politics as a Federalist in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1814-1816. He then left the legislature to pursue a successful career as a lawyer. He reentered politics in 1820, winning a seat in Congress as a Federalist. By this time, the Federalist Party was all but defunct so Buchanan became a democrat and a supporter of Andrew Jackson. He helped Jackson in the elections of 1824 and 1828 and in return, Jackson appointed him minister to Russia in 1832.
Buchanan was successful in this post as well, negotiating the first trade treaty between the United States and Russia. He returned to the United States the following year and served in the Senate from 1834-1845. He resigned to serve as President Polk’s Secretary of State and he was largely responsible for Polk’s successful policy of territorial expansion. He also served as minister to Great Britain from 1853 to 1856.
In 1856, the Democratic Party nominated James Buchanan for the presidency. The key issue in American politics at the time was slavery and the increasing sectional tensions that slavery was causing. Anyone who expressed a strong opinion for or against slavery, or who was identified too strongly with the North or the South was sure to alienate half the country and was therefore unelectable
Buchanan, therefore, had two advantages. He had been out of the country and so had not taken a position on the crisis in Kansas, and he was known to be a northerner who was sympathetic to slavery. He won easily enough, carrying every single slave state, except for Maryland, which went for Millard Fillmore, while the Republican; John Fremont carried most of the Northern states. This was not a good sign.
Under ordinary circumstances, James Buchanan might have been a decent president. Buchanan was largely successful in dealing with issues like a depression in 1857 and trouble with the Mormons in the Utah Territory. But these were not ordinary times. Slavery was tearing the country apart and Buchanan simply out of his depth. Caught between the two sides, he never really understood how passionate the issue had become to so many people, North and South. Slavery was no longer an issue on which it was possible to compromise, if it ever was.
To the extent that James Buchanan involved himself in the slavery dispute, he invariably made things worse. Two days after his inauguration, the Supreme Court issued the Dred Scott decision. The fact that this decision denied Dred Scott his freedom was outrageous enough to the abolitionists, but the broader decision to declare the Compromise of 1820 unconstitutional, denying Congress the power to outlaw slavery infuriated many northerners who had previously been relatively apathetic. Buchanan had written to Justice Taney urging the broader decision to be made to settle the slavery issue. His action only drove the two sides farther apart.
Then there was Kansas. There was already a civil war being fought in Kansas between those who wanted Kansas admitted to the union as a free state, and those who wanted Kansas to be a slave state. Buchanan tried his best to have Kansas admitted as slave state. This cost him all his support among northern Democrats and left his rival Stephen Douglas in charge of the party.
It should not be too surprising that by the time his term had ended, President Buchanan was deeply unpopular. The Republicans had managed to gain control of Congress in 1858 and the two branches of government were locked in gridlock. Buchanan had declared he would only serve one term at his inauguration his administration had so divided the country that the election of 1860 became the most contentious in American history. The Democrats probably would have won but the Democratic Party had become divided by section. The northern Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas while the southerner nominated Vice-President John C. Breckinridge. John Bell ran under the Constitutional Union party banner while the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln.
Because the Democrats were divided, Lincoln won a plurality of the votes cast, only 39.8%. He had a clear majority in the Electoral College and so was elected president, without a single Southern vote. As a result of the election, seven states seceded and formed the Confederate States of America. Four other states soon joined them.
This was the greatest crisis in American history. If ever the country needed leadership, this was the occasion. Unfortunately, this happened to be the time when James Buchanan would show that he did deserve to be considered the worst President ever. He did nothing. He did nothing to suppress the growing rebellion. He did nothing to prevent the Confederates from forming a government and an army and then seizing federal forts and arsenals. If he had taken some sort of decisive action, the rebellion might have been ended relatively quickly. Instead, he bequeathed to his successor, Lincoln, a bloody war with a rival nation fully prepared for a long struggle.
James Buchanan lived until June 1, 1868. He wrote his memoirs to defend his administration. The day before his death, he declared, “History will vindicate my memory”. It hasn’t.