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Happy Time Warp, tyrnn and ceruleanst!

Okay, for some reason LiveJournal thought the day was yesterday, but also thinks it's today. Makes no nevermind to me, have your Forgotten English (© Jeffrey Kacirk) anyway!

dephlegmedness
A state of being freed from water.
--Rev. John Boag's Imperial Lexicon, c. 1850


Juneteenth Observed
On this date in 1865, slaves in Galveston, Texas, became the last to learn of their newfound freedom; Union soldiers reached the city and read Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, by then two and a half years old. Though Lincoln has received much of the credit for the liberation of American slaves, he could hardly have been characterized as being zealously against this evil, at least before becoming president. In the first of the Lincoln-Douglas debates on August 21, 1858, he remarked, "I have no purpose, either directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery where it exists. I believe I have no right to do so." And even as president four years later, just before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, he wrote to Horace Greeley, "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that."

That's something that drives me absolutely nuts about the Civil War as it's popularly taught and understood. Ask a dozen people on the street and they'll tell you it was to free the slaves -- but it wasn't about slavery and never was. It was about Federal power vs. State power -- from the government P.O.V. slavery was just a propaganda tool that the average Joe in the northern states would get behind. Sorta like WMDs in Iraq. If you are scared that the country is slouching towards totalitarianism [1], thank Abraham Lincoln, he's the one who laid the groundwork for it.

Of course, the reason slavery worked as a hot-button issue is because it was such an evil (duh), which is why the Civil War is still such a problem. Who do you root for, the Overreaching Government, or the Slavers? I'd say a fair assessment is that we all lost on that one. (Except for the slaves -- at least they got something good out of it! Eventually.)

-The Gneech

[1] Despite the best efforts of the Bush administration, and for that matter the Clinton administration before them, I don't believe we're slouching towards totalitarianism. The U.S. has long had a tendency to swing like a pendulum, going from libertine to puritan and back again, and averaging somewhere in the middle. The key is to try to avoid the evils of either extreme.

Comments

( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
level_head
Jun. 19th, 2007 04:52 pm (UTC)
but it wasn't about slavery and never was.

That's an interesting assertion. From my reading, you could make a colorable argument that it wasn't only about slavery.

And I strongly suggest that you consider your sources suspicious; no one could read the entire Lincoln Douglas debates -- which were Lincoln against slavery and Douglas for -- and conclude fairly that Lincoln wasn't zealously against slavery.

But while he considered the elimination of slavery a high cause (and an eventual one; he just wanted to hurry it) he also considered the preservation of the Union a higher cause yet. Consider this in your reading of the Greeley quote -- so often repeated as an attack on Lincoln.

(It was a higher cause yet because he felt that slavery was doomed as an institution, but that the Union, once sundered, might never be put back together. Also, the abolitionists tended to be rather on the extreme side themselves, and Lincoln struggled to hold people together and still do the right thing.)

Attack books on Abraham Lincoln have become trendy -- and do not hold up well to scrutiny; I've been involved in some of that scrutiny. Remember that in those same speeches, Douglas accused Lincoln of downplaying his desire to abolish slavery. From that same debate you reference, but by Douglas:
In 1854, Mr. Abraham Lincoln and Mr. Trumbull entered into an arrangement, one with the other, and each with his respective friends, to dissolve the old Whig party on the one hand, and to dissolve the old Democratic party on the other, and to connect the members of both into an Abolition party under the name and disguise of a Republican party.
He "disguised" his Abolition party as a Republican party -- but its real purpose was abolition of slavery. On this, I'd tend to agree.

Lincoln did not want war. He did want to preserve the Union. The "propaganda tool" comment seems unsupportable, in my opinion.

But I do agree that we are not about to become a totalitarian state. ];-)

===|==============/ Level Head
the_gneech
Jun. 19th, 2007 05:58 pm (UTC)
From my reading, you could make a colorable argument that it wasn't only about slavery.

Fair enough. Point is, the Civil War tends to be portrayed as the noble and righteous north versus the orcs who ran the south and only resisted the abolition of slavery 'cause they hated black people. The idea that the U.S. was supposed to be a voluntary allegiance of states, or that the people in the south may have had carefully-considered reasons for what they did beyond "dumb hickism" doesn't get much serious discussion.

An example: in Night at the Museum, a movie for kids and fairly typical of cultural attitudes, the main character sums up the Civil War as "Southern guys! You lose! Slavery is bad! Get over it!"

-The Gneech
level_head
Jun. 19th, 2007 06:51 pm (UTC)
The idea that the U.S. was supposed to be a voluntary allegiance of states, or that the people in the south may have had carefully-considered reasons for what they did beyond "dumb hickism" doesn't get much serious discussion.

It is exactly this that Lincoln discusses at length in the first and later debates, granting them the courtesy of accepting that they had good and reasonable reasons for what they did. Nevertheless, he still hated the result, and sought to end it.

Characterizing Lincoln as using the issue of slavery merely for propaganda seems less accurate than the "Get over it!" remarks. The latter is a gross oversimplification -- the former is, in my opinion, poisonously wrong and a much greater disservice to history. I urge you to reconsider.

===|==============/ Level Head
laurie_robey
Jun. 19th, 2007 11:16 pm (UTC)
I think the comment about "dumb hickism" was not supposed to apply to Lincoln. I think John was referring to attitudes of some people we have personally come across, living in various parts of Virginia. There's a certain group of people who do believe that the Civil War was only about the virtuous North fighting against the evil, prejudiced South, and that every southerner is a bigot who wishes the South had won the war. This is obviously wrong, but it doesn't change the fact that they're out there.

And, from the other side of the coin, there are Southerners who are bigots and do wish the South had won, but they are far less numerous than some people seem to think.

Living in northern Virginia, for example, we have personally encountered the attitude that because we live in Virginia instead of Maryland, that we are somehow inferior.
level_head
Jun. 20th, 2007 12:23 am (UTC)
there are Southerners who are bigots

Not only Southerners, of course. And probably not even primarily Southerners.

I've been sending a fair amount of time in conversations with a variety of people in West Virginia -- and it's struck me that they've moved in some respects further along than the northeast.

And elsewhere... Just today, I heard another in a campaign of commercials in California doing "public service announcements" about white Southern males -- "Bubbas," they're called. Watch out for them, the commercials say: They're lazy, they're stupid, and they smell bad. (Yes, they really said that.)

Just imagine them picking another ethic group and trying those adjectives.

===|==============/ Level Head
laurie_robey
Jun. 20th, 2007 01:20 am (UTC)
Just imagine them picking another ethic group and trying those adjectives.

Um, yeah.
level_head
Jun. 20th, 2007 12:37 am (UTC)
I think the comment about "dumb hickism" was not supposed to apply to Lincoln.

I understood that. The "propaganda" comment was aimed at Lincoln; that's what disappointed me.

Like you, I've experienced pretty even-handed treatment of the South in general, as far as education is concerned. An example of this occurred yesterday: I saw the "Road Scholar" catalog put out by Elderhostel; there's a tour of Gettysburg which is quite tastefully done, and remarks on the courage of soldiers from both sides. (As well as the horrors of war and the inhumane practice of slavery.) The language was something like "170,000 men fought, and more than 70,000 died, in a battle that changed the nation."

Incidentally, the concept of secession from the Union is still active: here's an ongoing attempt. Foolish, I think -- but there has never been a shortage of foolish people.

===|==============/ Level Head
level_head
Jun. 19th, 2007 07:11 pm (UTC)
Point is, the Civil War tends to be portrayed as the noble and righteous north versus the orcs who ran the south and only resisted the abolition of slavery 'cause they hated black people.

Such notions are unfortunate. They are part of a set of "political truths" that have been shown to be untrue (such as some modern ones about Iraq -- probably not the ones you're thinking), but are still part of vehement beliefs. Happily, this sort of portrayal of the Civil War does not seem to be common.

===|==============/ Level Head
laurie_robey
Jun. 19th, 2007 10:57 pm (UTC)
As with most things, it's an oversimplification to say any war was all about one issue or another. Slavery was one big issue that brought about the civil war, but it wasn't the only issue.

The source John's quoting is the Forgotten English calendar he has on his desk at work. It's one of these roughly 4" square "page a day" calendars. Frankly, the entry about Juneteenth didn't seem to go with today's word anyway!

As someone who grew up in southeastern Virginia and attended public school, I can honestly say that the account of the Civil War we were presented with in history class was more unbiased and fair than many people who didn't grow up in the South seem to think a southern pubic school would be likely to present.

I always wondered, though, what legal grounds the Union thought they had to wage war on the Confederates when they had seceded from the Union.

Whether the Union had legal grounds or not, they did, and I was always glad they won just because it meant the end of slavery that much sooner. But the academic point was always something I wondered about. The best answer I can come up with (and it's not really an answer) is that the U.S. would have been better off if slavery had never been permitted here in the first place!
level_head
Jun. 20th, 2007 12:03 am (UTC)
I always wondered, though, what legal grounds the Union thought they had to wage war on the Confederates when they had seceded from the Union.

A small point: The South attacked the North first, firing on the Union's Ft. Sumter. There have been some who've said "The South warned them to leave, so their refusal to leave provoked the war." I do not find that very compelling.

But as to legality ... The argument is partly around Article 1, Section 10, Clause 3 of the Constitution:
No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.
There is no procedure laid out in the Constitution that allows for secession, and as that was a two way agreement originally (and on admission of later states[1] and territories) it seems that a unilateral departure is an actionable breach.

Whether the Union had legal grounds or not, they did, and I was always glad they won just because it meant the end of slavery that much sooner. But the academic point was always something I wondered about.

It's been quite a contentious point. And the Civil War wasn't the only time states tried to leave the Union. We tend to forget what Aaron Burr and the North Eastern States were doing.

But at the time of writing the Constitution, it was not contentious. Alexander Hamilton discusses these clauses in Federalist Paper #44, describing them as basically so obvious they aren't worth much discussion. And the predecessor agreement, back when the future United States was called the Confederation, was actually strengthened when rewritten for the Constitution.

They did not want states to leave, or to gang up on the rest of the Union.

The best answer I can come up with (and it's not really an answer) is that the U.S. would have been better off if slavery had never been permitted here in the first place!

I agree in principle, but note that the US would not have been formed at all. This was a very hot point, with the brilliant compromise ultimately engineered by Benjamin Franklin to have slaves counted as three fifths of a person.

The North wanted them not to count at all; the South wanted them to count as full persons for the census. (Many people have a reversed understanding of this.)

You have to wonder what the free blacks in New York who themselves owned black slaves thought of the concept. Some of them were quite cruel. I wonder if they considered the slaves their "moral and ... intellectual equals".

===|==============/ Level Head


[1] Texas is an exception[2]; the agreement by which it joined the Union provides for secession if they choose to do so -- but only Texas had been a separate country before entering the Union.

[2] Texas hated Lincoln; for decades after the Civil War, it was all-but-illegal to erect a statue or hang a picture of Lincoln in the state. That didn't change until the 20th century. Texas, for example, refused to tell its local blacks about the end of the Civil War. That was the origin of Juneteenth -- when a group of Texas slaves were told by Union officers that they'd already been freed.
laurie_robey
Jun. 20th, 2007 12:23 am (UTC)
Yes, I realize that if they had said "no slavery," there never would have been a union in the first place because the southern agricultural industry was already dependent upon slave labor. I'm just saying from a purely moral standpoint, it never should have been started. But that's one of those "if only" arguments that doesn't really go anywhere. It's just that if they had dealt with the issue sooner, maybe it would not have almost destroyed the country and led to so many deaths. But then again, maybe it would.
level_head
Jun. 20th, 2007 12:55 am (UTC)
Only about five percent of the slaves went to the US. One subtlety that set us apart from others is that we were geographically large enough and diverse enough to have a major section that depended upon slavery, and another that did not.

It was a much smaller issue, for example, when England ended slavery a couple of decades before; black slaves there were generally the occasional personal servants rather than droves of agricultural workers.

Sadly, there are places that still use the practice, often state-sanctioned as it is in China and North Korea. Allegedly, the current price for a male worker is US$40 in Mali.

===|==============/ Level Head
level_head
Jun. 20th, 2007 01:43 am (UTC)
I treated "Texas" above as a monolithic entity. It was not, really, and I've been looking for a reasonable explanation of that. Here's some background -- parts of Texas were certainly pro-Union.

===|==============/ Level Head
wbwolf
Jun. 20th, 2007 04:13 am (UTC)
Small point of clarification, though I'm sure that you are talking about those states that were admitted before the Civil War, but Hawai'i was also an independent country before it was forcibly made a territory and then a state. Granted, I think I find Hawai'i's claim for nationhood stronger than Texas, since it was created by a white Southern attempt to rest the land away from Mexico and make it hospitable to slavery.
level_head
Jun. 20th, 2007 03:23 pm (UTC)
Small point of clarification, though I'm sure that you are talking about those states that were admitted before the Civil War, but Hawai'i was also an independent country before it was forcibly made a territory and then a state.

*chuckle*

I almost did. I had a paragraph on Hawai'i in the original writings, and decided at the last minute that the post was large enough without the additional distraction. Hawai'i had kings -- and a queen -- and some odd situations that would tend to argue the other way. But I'd grant them nationhood before they became a protectorate/territory/state -- a long process.

But I would, also, to Texas. Its independence was short, but every bit as valid.

Granted, I think I find Hawai'i's claim for nationhood stronger than Texas, since it was created by a white Southern attempt to rest the land away from Mexico and make it hospitable to slavery.

Are nations created by white people -- or white Southerners -- not valid? I'd note that a great many inhabitants of Texas had arrived directly, or nearly so, from Europe. The German and Irish contingents were strong. And there were many "Mexican" natives of Texas who were on the side of independence. A lot of Mexicans were unhappy about the Siete Leyes changes to the Mexican government.

But I'd also note that Mexico itself had just acquired territory from Spain by treaty at the end of a decade of war. If such arrangements aren't valid, then the land of Texas belonged to Spain, not Mexico. (A trivia point: Someone 30 years old born in California or Texas at the time of the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (the end of the Mexican-American War) was actually born in Spanish territory, not Mexican.)

Slavery was certainly a big issue -- but so was religion. In order to obtain land in colonial Texas, new arrivals had to convert to Mexico's official religion.

And corruption and dictatorships and megalomania hardly serve to make the Mexican government at the time more "noble" than that of the newly independent Texas.

The new Texas government, led by Sam Houston, wasn't primarily driven to independence by the slavery issue. In fact, Houston resigned at the beginning of the Civil War rather than fight against the Union.

Slavery was big in Texas, as it was in the Southeast. But Texas was so ambivalent about it that their agreement with the US, which allowed them to become up to five states, was argued about at length: there was no division they could come up with that would still allow a majority of slave-supporters.

The result was violent suppression of dissension at the start of the Civil War, to their eternal shame.

It was a grim time -- and one that I'm glad to see us past.

===|==============/ Level Head
level_head
Jun. 20th, 2007 01:38 am (UTC)
Nor was "Juneteenth" even the nineteenth of June, originally. I'm just looking around now, and the sites that listed an "uncertain date between the 13th and 18th of June" as now being officially on the nineteenth. Interesting.

They've apparently changed it to when Granger's official proclamation was read; decades ago, it was considered to be a few days earlier when he arrived and told the first blacks he saw. So, "Juneteenth" reflected this uncertain date.

Apparently some history has been re-written since I wrote about Juneteenth several years ago. ];-)

===|==============/ Level Head
level_head
Jun. 19th, 2007 05:20 pm (UTC)
And here's the rest of the passage -- of that quote referenced in the "Juneteenth" snippet:
I will say here, while upon this subject, that I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary, but I hold that, notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. [Loud cheers.]

I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects-certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without the leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man. [Great applause.]
A comment about the "not my [color and maybe moral/intellectual] equal" phrase next.

===|==============/ Level Head
wbwolf
Jun. 19th, 2007 05:47 pm (UTC)
That quote illustrates a lot of things. First, context is everything; the tone of the snippet and placed with the larger context are vastly different.

Secondly, and more importantly, I think it illustrates Lincoln's ambivalence about the issue of race very well, and I've seen similar sort of statements elsewhere from Lincoln. There is a tendency to either completely valorize him, to think of him some sort of American Messiah, or try to vilify him for not being pure enough. But this sort of uncertainty, while extraordinary at the time from most politicians, shows him to be merely human. I don't think he suffers for the worst of it in the end.
level_head
Jun. 19th, 2007 06:47 pm (UTC)
But this sort of uncertainty, while extraordinary at the time from most politicians, shows him to be merely human.

Indeed -- and he was willing to say this much in front of a crowd of people who had just been loudly cheering Judge Douglas. My own take, from a large amount of reading, was that he was more comfortable with social equality than this suggests -- but was easing his potential constituency into the notion.

Don't forget that he had clear and stated goals for equality under the law, even to this crowd, and the social/moral business was something of a political sop.

But judge him by his works, and he fares well indeed on the slavery issue. He would only regret not having been able to make that come to pass without the collateral damage to the country.

===|==============/ Level Head
level_head
Jun. 19th, 2007 06:56 pm (UTC)
Hmm...

My "don't forget" above sounds more pedantic than I intended; it was a conversational turn of phrase in my mind. I recognize that you too have read other Lincoln writings and statements.

===|==============/ Level Head
wbwolf
Jun. 19th, 2007 07:13 pm (UTC)
Don't worry about it. I do the same thing in my own conversations, so I took no offense.
level_head
Jun. 19th, 2007 07:26 pm (UTC)
Note that Abraham Lincoln had earlier acknowledged that this notion of "superiority" may well turn out, with time, to be foolish -- but foolish or not, it was an current impediment:
"I think, and shall try to show, that it is wrong; wrong in its direct effect, letting slavery into Kansas and Nebraska-and wrong in its prospective principle, allowing it to spread to every other part of the wide world, where men can be found inclined to take it.

"This declared indifference, but, as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world-enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites-causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty-criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.

"Before proceeding, let me say I think I have no prejudice against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist among them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up. This I believe of the masses North and South. Doubtless there are individuals on both sides, who would not hold slaves under any circumstances; and others who would gladly introduce slavery anew, if it were out of existence. We know that some Southern men do free their slaves, go North, and become tiptop Abolitionists; while some Northern ones go South, and become most cruel slave-masters.

"When Southern people tell us they are no more responsible for the origin of slavery than we, I acknowledge the fact. When it is said that the institution exists, and that it is very difficult to get rid of it, in any satisfactory way, I can understand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia,-to their own native land. But a moment's reflection would convince me, that whatever of high hope, (as I think there is) there may be in this, in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible. If they were all landed there in a day, they would all perish in the next ten days; and there are not surplus shipping and surplus money enough in the world to carry them there in many times ten days. What then? Free them all, and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition? I think I would not hold one in slavery at any rate; yet the point is not clear enough to me to denounce people upon. What next? Free them, and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not. Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgment, is not the sole question, if, indeed, it is any part of it. A universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, cannot be safely disregarded. We cannot, then, make them equals. It does seem to me that systems of gradual emancipation might be adopted; but for their tardiness in this, I will not undertake to judge our brethren of the South.
===|==============/ Level Head
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